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IF YOU GO-OH TO SAN FRANCISCO …
Surprise(s)

So many surprises come with Urs Fischer: The Public & the Private, the newest exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, maybe it’s best to list them. Here goes …
1. The exhibit (which runs through July 2) starts outside the museum, in the courtyard. From there, it moves through eight galleries inside.
2. The outside work is, yes, crowd-sourced by the artist. In the shadow of Rodin’s Thinker, it kinda’ pales. Interesting, contemporary, but not strong artistry.
3. Ah, but inside, Fischer’s solo creations are knockouts — commanding, incisive, startling and funny. A Swiss contemporary artist with a sense of humor? That’s a surprise.
4. Unlike its sister museum, the de Young, the Legion’s oeuvre is ancient and classic European art. Now, it’s ancient and classic European art plus a pair of giant eyeballs and a tiny horse sitting on the floor.
5. Here’s what makes that such a surprise: “In the 100-year history of the Legion of Honor, this is the first exhibition to bring works by a contemporary artist into dialogue with a wide range of the Museum’s permanent holdings.” So says Max Hollein, the new director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The exhibit not only surprised us, it blew us away.

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Robert James Waller has died.

Robert James who?

Think back. Way back. 1992. Best-selling novel that all the critics hated.

One more hint, please.

Meryl Streep starred in the mov—

The Bridges of Madison County! Robert James Waller wrote the book. 

That’s the guy. He just died in Texas at 77.

OK, but why are you telling writers about the passing of a shallow, literary flash-in-the-pan who got lucky?

Because:

  1. I think he’s been badly dealt with by the literati, and
  1. I wrote his obituary in 1998.

Actually, I spoke it, on Vermont Public Radio. And at the time, it was more a commentary on lit-envy than an extremely early obit. At any rate, here’s what I said nearly 20 years ago …

 

Not too long ago I broke a strong literary taboo. On this very station, I defended Barnes & Noble. Delicate sensibilities were shocked — shocked!

Today I’m gonna do something even worse. I’m going to praise the book most reviled by authors, reviewers, satirists and literary lights. It’s the most hated book of the decade, maybe of the last five decades. And, of course, the most widely read.

I refer to … have you already guessed what I refer to? That’s right — The Bridges of Madison County. 

          The Bridges of Madison County. For a full two years after it was published, you couldn’t go to a writer’s conference without hearing it denounced. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing it parodied. You could barely visit a bookstore without some clerk in rimless glasses raising his aquiline nose in disdain. I have never seen a book so universally reviled.

I wouldn’t want this to get around, but I liked it. A lot. There, I’ve said it: I liked The Bridges of Madison County a lot. I wish I’d written it, and not just for the fame and glory. It’s a tender love story, and it deals with the most thrilling aspect of attraction, love at first sizzle. What takes Bridges beyond the frying pan is that the heroine is caught in a big-stakes conflict: Does she leave her family for the man she loves, or does she stick it out? Is she true to her heart or to her husband and kids? Tough question. It makes for a very good book.

And a wildly popular one. This little 171-page novel has been translated into 25 languages and sold over 50 million copies worldwide. It sat on the New York Times Best Seller List for three years. In 1995, it topped Gone with the Wind as the best-selling fiction book of all time. Bridges was made into a Major Motion Picture, spawned a sudden influx of tourists to mountainless, beachless Iowa and propelled author Robert James Waller from an obscure business school professor to the most talked about — as well as most vilified writer in North America.

As 50 million book buyers know, The Bridges of Madison County is about a Midwestern farm wife who has a torrid affair with a stranger, a National Geographic photographer, who’s in the neighborhood to shoot, well, the bridges of Madison County.

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking theme. And the book is admirably short. So why the high level of hatred?

I’m glad you asked. I think there are three reasons. The most obvious is its popularity. Any work so beloved by the (sniff) masses must be junk. Chalk this up to literary snobbishness.

Second is this: It ain’t easy for an author who’s been toiling for years on the Great American Novel to discover that some Midwestern B-school teacher already wrote it. In a couple of weeks. Chalk this up to literary envy.

But the third reason for the level of vituperation aimed at Bridges is less obvious. This is a book that has a woman falling for a man. Admiring his camera skills. Knocked out by his good looks. Noticing that he washes before dinner and lowers the toilet seat. Swept away by his quietly confident masculinity.

And these ideas were written by a man! It’s the clearest case of shallow, vain narcissism the literary critics ever saw. Chalk this up to sexual envy. Bad enough, he wrote a book in weeks that’s beloved by millions. Bad enough it’s made into a movie with Meryl Streep. But to write about a male character who sounds suspiciously like the author— well, that’s the straw that broke the bridge!

RIP, Robert James. Rest in Pride.

 

 

Jules Older Jules@JulesOlder.com

 

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IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO …

When you visit the Legion of Honor’s “Monet: The Early Years” don’t expect to see water lilies, Rouen cathedrals, poplars, or haystacks. They were painted much later. This exhibit focuses on Monet’s earliest paintings, from 1858 to 1872. He was just 17 in 1858, the year he started showing his work to the public.

Monet’s early years were marked with rejection and poverty, but, encouraged by artists such as Boudin and Manet, he continued to make art. Eventually, he would even name the movement his work represents: Impressionism.

Though most of the paintings in the exhibit are not well known, it’s exciting to see where this beloved artist began. Even at 17, his genius was obviously taking root and would grow into a body of works treasured the world over.

The exhibition runs to May 29, 2017. In two years, the Legion of Honor will host an exhibition focusing on Monet’s paintings from age 72 on. It will be called, appropriately, “Monet: The Later Years.”

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Outside Japan, it’s rare to find a restaurant like Ijji. Think minimalist. Serenity. Ritual. Understatement. Precision.

On a busy block on a busy San Francisco street, Ijji is almost invisible. Even if you’re looking for it, you could still miss it. No sign, no grand entrance, only a discrete iii on the Japanese curtains that face the street.

Once inside, it’s tiny. Just 15 seats, seven of them at the counter. If you can, sit at the counter. You’ll not only watch your chef — one of three — prepare each item of your 19-course meal, you’ll talk to him about the meal, about the special ginger, the house-prepared soy sauce, which items to eat with chopsticks and which to use your fingers.

Seafood is the big item here, much of it flown in from Japan. Oyster, mackerel, eel, octopus, tuna, sea urchin, snow crab and more. Each just a bite or two; each a different taste and texture from the ones before and after.

You’ll notice the minimalism in the design, the décor, in your chef’s economy of motion and words. From the Japanese greeting to the sidewalk farewell and thank you, you’ll experience the ritual. In the whispered words between chefs and the silky silent service from the waiters, you’ll understand the understatement. And from watching your chef make exacting cuts with his impossibly sharp knife in a ribbon of tuna, the precision will quietly announce itself.

Dinner at Ijji is much more than just a meal; it’s a rich experience. The cost is $135 for 19 courses. Reservations are expected. There are two seatings a night: 6:00 and 8:30. Get there early for each; parking is iffy and traffic, dense.

Ijji Sushi  www.ijjisf.com; 252 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117; (415) 658-7388;

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

 

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On the way to the Frank Stella retrospective at the de Young Museum, we wondered why this exhibition is so important. Is Stella that influential in the art world beyond abstract expressionism?
 
The short answer is yes.
Over the past six decades, the very-much-alive Stella has done more to innovate, disrupt and re-invent art than just about anyone on the planet. What’s more, he’s done all that to his own work, as well.
The current exhibit, which runs through February 26, shows it all: Stella as minimalist, maximalist, abstract expressionist, painter, sculptor, printmaker, photographer and 3D printer. He’s the breaker of molds, the creator of artistic lawlessness, the shape-shifting artist who’s still open, after six decades, to the tenor and technical advances of his times.
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Tamarind Hall Thai Street Food & Bar

New in 2016, Tamarind Hall is just the kind of restaurant that sets San Francisco apart and above.

Here, in no particular order, are the key ingredients:

  • Simply delicious food
  • A welcoming atmosphere
  • A neighborhood favorite
  • Reasonable prices
  • Asian ethnic.

Tamarind Hall is the loving obsession of Bangkok-born Salisa Skinner, who studied law on the Peninsula, practiced IT law in Silicon Valley, and gave all that up to become the unschooled chef and no-experience owner of a northern Thai restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. And, through a work ethic bordering on all-consuming, led it into instant success.

Tamarind Hall is a loudish, family-friendly, date-impressing room with a sports bar catering to cheering fans at one end and romantic tables for two (and four, and six) at the other. Patrons tend toward young, good-looking and multi-ethnic. Presentation tends toward beautiful, and service — by rather adorable Thai waitresses — is swift and cheerful.

Oh, and drinks are among the best I’ve had in San Francisco; the Thai Collins ($11) is the best I’ve had in San Francisco.

Some outstanding dishes: Curry + Roti Dip ($8), a four-dip sampler of Tamarind Hall curries. Sai Ua + Namprik Noom ($13), spicy chicken sausage, sticky rice and pepper relish. Yam Makua Yao ($12), grilled eggplant, duck eggs and house-cured bacon. Pumpkin Curry ($14), with coconut milk and Thai spices. The ice cream desserts make a cool close to a hot — but not burning hot — meal.

The restaurant is across the street from Caffe Trieste, half a block from the Shrine of St. Francis Assisi, and down the hill from Coit Tower.

Tamarind Hall is an instant Older Fave; try it — we think you’ll love it.

Tamarind Hall Thai Street Food & Bar: 1268 Grant Street, corner of Vallejo. Parking’s a challenge. Open daily for lunch and dinner: Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight; Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight, and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. www.tamarindhall.com. For more information or reservations, also available through OpenTable.com and YelpReservations.com, call (628) 444-3158 or (415) 866-6337

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