Sunday, April 30, 2006

Three Days of Rain in NYC

Although the rain was a bit of a hindrance, we've grown quite accustomed to raindrops falling on our heads in SF. So on Saturday, April 22 we began the day with a glorious brunch at Cafe des Artistes. The Edwardian ambience complete with hothouse flowers blooming in the windows and murals painted by Howard Chandler Christy reminded me a bit of Liberty in London. Then onto the Frick where the line wrapped around the block in pouring rain awaiting a glimpse of the Goya exhibit. Needless to say, we chose to roam the main collection instead and then toured the modern galleries at the Met. Later drinks at Ava Lounge housed in the penthouse and rooftop of Dream Hotel followed by dinner at John's Pizzeria. On Sunday more rain. "Rain rain go away come again another day" as my daughter would say and unfortunately for us it did. We marched to Payard, but it was closed so we happened upon a charming Italian spot, Via Quadronno. Then the Guggenheim museum and the stunning Klee exhibit at the Neue Gallerie. Afterward, we enjoyed Viennese hot chocolate served in wine goblets at the lovely Cafe Sabarsky. After a brief detour to Zabar's, we stopped in at the second floor bar at Sardi's -an old NY tradition I had long wished to experience. As it was opening night across the street for The History Boys, Nicholas Hynter's play and soon-to-be movie, we spied gorgeous Ralph Fiennes among other luminaries from our bar-side perch. I really loved the compelling production of Three Days of Rain with Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Julia Roberts. Julia should have owned the second act as a former Georiga Peach, but instead she came off as Blanche Dubois-- too twangy and severe.

On Monday, I enjoyed lunch with my editor and publicists at Giorgione and then Kim and I walked until we couldn't take another step. The sun had finally emerged and we could take in a typical spring day in NY abloom with lilacs and cherry trees heavy with flowers. 21 proved the final epitome of the gentleman's club. I noticed as soon as a man was seated, moments later a glass of bourbon on the rocks would magically appear in his hands, before he could even utter, "I'm on a high" or "Show me the money." I could have spent all night watching these men in their last bastion of male dominion and blatant superiority. And yet, as out of my element as I felt, the staff were so friendly and generous to us. We were seated in a comfortable booth with optimal spying and eavesdropping opportunity. I was in Heaven. I loved it all-- the campy jockeys on the front steps, the steak house vibe in the main dining room with rusting objects hanging from every available ceiling space, to the cocktail names on the bar menu-- "Bee's Knees," "Puncheon," and of course the "21" manhattan and martini.

If a close male friend is ever miserably dumped and broken-hearted, I will send him directly to 21, (No passes. Don't stop at the jockey on the curb) to lift his spirits and give his wounded male ego a sudden rocket boost. Kim gushed to our waiter about the history of the place and thank God she did. For just as she smiled encouragingly at him, he asked if we'd like a private tour? Would we? Traipsing through the private dining rooms among haughty club members didn't seem particularly appealing, but how could we turn down the opportunity to explore the male psyche and an invitation from a Gentlemen's Club, no less. I marveled at our good fortune and instantly recalled Isak Dinesen (as convincingly portrayed by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa) as she strode through the private Nairobi club with head held high as the men puffed on their cigars and ruffled their newspapers disapprovingly. A charming young waiter escorted us through the kitchen past the giggling prep cooks to a low-hanging opening and steps leading to the motherlode below. He presented the unassuming entryway as one of the last remaining secret passageways from Prohibition days. Uh huh. The door was made to appear as hidden as possible with shelves in front to mask what lies behind it. He joked the door weighed 15 tons and would we like to give it a push? No, Mr. Strong Waiter, please be our guest. Once inside the wine cellar, we were surrounded by the private collections of Elizabeth Taylor (strategically placed in the front), Richard Nixon, Sammy Davis, Jr., and a bottle of Cristal, a present from the Clintons to Chelsea on her birthday. He explained, that once the older celebrities kick the can their stash goes to their estate. Apparently, Nixon's daughter still calls to ensure her father's bottles are still there. We continued into a formal dining room with a long oval table ready to accommodate a five course dinner with wine pairings for 21 guests. Ooh-la-la! Donald Trump has also been known to host his apprentices here. In the corner, I noticed an intricately carved mahogany booth and went over to examine it more closely. I was considering the "mayor's booth," a spot where the mayor could sup and carouse undisturbed. During a government raid, one mayor was rumored to have had the police cars towed. As we took our leave from 21, I took a deep whiff from the highly polished wood and thanked my lucky stars I could return to the real world outside.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

On The Road Again

Kim and I leave for NY tomorrow for readings with Marisa de los Santos and Jennifer Weiner at Borders in Wynnewood, PA on Tuesday, April 25 at 7 and another huge panel reading (8 contributors!) at BookCourt in Brooklyn on Wednesday, April 26 at 8. Look for a piece about us in the spring issue of Park Slope Reader. On May 9 in San Francisco Chronicle's Datebook, Heidi Benson briefly quotes me in an article about the prevalence of women's anthologies of late. Also go see Erin Ergenbright and Laila Lalami read from their essays this Saturday at Portland's Wordstock. Brooklyn, here we come!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sunshine On My Shoulders

There's nothing like a sunny day in Santa Cruz to cure your blues from two solid months of rain. Wednesday morning began with breakie at Cafe do Brasil. Um yum! Steak and eggs with cocote sauce and a fabuloso fruit concoction with papaya, pineapple, lime, and mint. Everyone seemed blissed out in their own hippie vibe--from the vendors at the Farmer's Market to the young women smoking outside Bookshop Santa Cruz on Pacific Avenue. As a long-time Santa Cruz resident, Kim's sister, Chris, was our tour guide for the day. She sent us to Cafe Pergolesi for free WiFi and strong coffee. I highly recommend their chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. I was happy to find The May Queen on the new non-fiction table at Borders on Pacific and even happier to sign a few copies and slap the "autographed copy" sticker on them.

After a few hours of glorious, healing Santa Cruz sunshine, we went back over "the hill" as the locals call it (or Hwy 17) to Palo Alto. We stopped in at Kepler's and then Bell's Books- my absolute favorite bookstore in the bay area- where I bought a copy of Kitten's First Full Moon (a 2005 Caldecott winner) for Lily. Before our last reading, we enjoyed a glass of syrah at Bella Luna. Skip Barrett and the staff at Books, Inc. were so kind to us. They gave us book bags and gift-wrapped journals as sweet mementos of the night.

Tanya Shaffer, Erin Ergenbright, and Kim Askew read from most of their essays. Kim played the crowd like a fiddle and her story was met with uproarious laughter. It was good fun listening to Tanya read her story of meeting her husband David Green as she had informed me earlier he would be in the audience that evening. When she confessed she was considering sperm donation as a last-ditch effort to have a child, he admitted to "practically swimming in sperm." My good friend, Lenore Espanola, bought four copies of the book. Also my husband's family were there in full force-- cousins Jeff and Margery with baby Maya who cooed sweetly during the readings. Linda Dalton and daughter Erica had many questions during the Q&A session like, "Nicki, how did you do this?" Ancient Chinese secret. At Erin's suggestion, we ended the evening with a Chianti and tea toast and chocolate cake at Babbo's! (Photos of Erin Ergenbright and Kim Askew in front of the window and me pleading "no autographs, please!" with David while Chris Askew laughs in the background.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Love is a Battlefield for Winkie Rose

We were joined by an amusing assortment of little old ladies on the second- octogenarian- row at Capitola Book Cafe last Tuesday night. Winkie Rose was their unappointed spokesperson and boy did she have a lot to say! The panel discussion was really more of a conversation, but we felt lucky for the words of wisdom imparted. Contributors reading included Kim Askew, Meghan Daum, Erin Ergenbright, and Heather Juergensen. As we were a smaller group than the previous night, the contributors had an opportunity to read a bit more from their pieces. The audience was enthusiastic and supportive. During the quick Q&A session, Winkie chimed in quite a few times with experience from beyond her thirties. One audience member asked where we thought we would be at 50. Heather said she'd like to continue increasing her body of work and just continue making more movies. Kim said she'd like to keep traveling more-- maybe visit a pyramid. Heather also spoke of "getting out of her own way" and truly enjoying living in the moment. When she said we're all swimming in this "soup" or life, I was reminded of her use of the word "marinate" in Kissing Jessica Stein. Erin talked of finally feeling comfortable in her own skin. I think Meghan also appreciated Winkie's bravado and laughed along with the rest of us. Janet Leimeister the event coordinator was very thoughtful and full of questions during any lull in the conversation. I was touched that she liked the epigraphs included in the book. We made a point afterwards of showing Winkie Kim's epigraph by Lana Turner.

After the reading, I had a chance to ask Heather what she's working on now. She's in the throes of creating a film about a midwestern women's sports team in the 60's and how beauty was made overly important to them in their lives. She'll play their hairdresser in a bouffant coiffure and heavy make-up. I believe she said her husband is directing the film.

Once we finally extricated ourselves from the spunky Ms. Rose's conversation on her Democratic Club and thoughts of suicide in her forties, Meghan and Heather hit the road for LA. Then Erin, Kim, Kim's sis- Chris, and I headed over to nearby Castaways sports bar for snooker, Dominos pizza, and torch songs on the jukebox. Oh the tunes did they bring me back. Kim chose Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar, The Cure's A Letter to Elise, and Eminem's Cleaning out my Closet. Chris picked a song by Foreigner and Erin chose one from Jane's Addiction. They played Love Song for me. It felt a bit like a night out with the girls and it was exactly what I needed.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Some Enchanted Evening

My boots were made for walking down Van Ness, though I was still surprisingly clammy and giddy minutes before our first reading at A Clean Well-Lighted Place. I gave a guy selling Street Sheet a few bucks for good luck and moseyed into the cozy store. I noticed Erin Cressida Wilson and Tanya Shaffer engrossed in conversation in the back row and the rest of the seats empty only twenty minutes before showtime. Gasp. Lovely Linda Good was patiently waiting in the front row. Thank God for her reassuring presence. As I sat in the "green room" as the contributors strolled in, I thought to myself how wonderfully surreal it was to finally meet the contributors for the first time. Wendy Sheanin of ACWLP gave a touching introduction to the book in which she recounted how it had spoken to both she and her mother-of-three sister living a life very different from her own. She promised the contributors would each offer a small taste or "swedish meatball" as she put it from her essay. I thanked the contributors for being willing to reveal themselves so openly and confessionally. The reading order went like so... Heather Juergesen, Erin Cressida Wilson, Kimberley Askew, Carla Kihlstedt, Michelle Richmond, Tanya Shaffer, Erin Ergenbright, and Meghan Daum. Flor Morales chose not to read and Samina Ali had to cancel at the last minute due to illness.

And then finally the dreaded Q&A. Whew! I was so proud of Flor when she stood up and spoke clearly and calmly in response to Emily Vassos' question about telling her story of fleeing from her alcoholic husband in El Salvador. My proudest moment as a tutor ever!! When Cheryl Cechvala asked who I had approached and been turned down by, I told my story of vacuuming and answering the phone to Minnie Driver's agent who very curtly said, "Ms. Driver will not be able to submit an essay to your anthology. Good-bye." Click. Good bye indeed and back to hoovering my living room. Rrrrrrrr Loved Minnie in Good Will Hunting and Grosse Pointe Blank, but ah well. My personal favorite rejection came from Sarah Vowell who informed me she had been a girl rock critic in the mid-nineties and thus had literally nothing left to say gender-wise. Truly a brilliant yet shrinking violet.

An English woman in the crowd, who I presume is a friend of Erin C. Wilson, asked if we felt more free to be eccentric as women in our 30s to which I replied, "Do you mean by wearing funny hats? " She was wearing a very charming black felt hat, but I tend to get punchy when I feel as if I'm being interrogated and at this point most of the panel had remained somewhat tight-lipped. Thank God for David Brownell, a colleague from my Red Herring days, who asked, "A question from the shady side of 60, what have you all discovered about yoursleves that's different from being in your 30s?" Michelle Richmond crowed, "Longer orgasms!" Then Carla Kihlstedt likened the book to a game of Exquisite Corpse. Huh? Erin C. Wilson confessed she had been reading the book at night by flashlight in bed and found the collection as a whole very "empowering." She joked that she has never cut her son Liam's hair so people often mistake him for a girl. I noticed her rose-cheeked son wandering around afterwards. He's exactly one day older than my daughter and could easily pass for her sister.

Later at the Hotel Rex after toasting with a glass of Mumm Napa Valley sparkling wine, I welcomed Ed Champion at our Algonquin, clock-faced roundtable before our podcast interview. I must confess I was impressed by how very well-prepared Ed appeared with questions for all of us (Kim Askew, Meghan Daum, Erin Ergenbright, Heather Juergensen, Michelle Richmond, and myself). The man does his research which I found gratifying after being blasted by idiotic male spectators on blogs of late. It seems to me that men should listen closely to what these women have to say. Just a helpful tip. Ed asked Meghan about her piece. We talked about the GRUPs article that Kevin Smokler had mentioned at the reading for a bit, and the chick lit phenonmenon which led to an angry response from Michelle to Curtis Sittenfeld's scathing NY Times review of Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spot. Ed should have the podcast up in a few weeks. Until then, the book is available at your local independent bookseller. Enquiring minds want to know. Thank you Jung Yun for your splendid photos and to all the contributors for joining me. It was such a fantastic night!
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