Jaipur Literary Festival, Day One

It all started with tremendous excitement, a packed room, festive music and energetic speakers welcoming everyone, from Mayor Jones of Boulder to the Queen of Bhutan.

The Queen spoke for an hour, interviewed by an old friend, and read from her book about home, which is called The Dragon Kingdom.  She is a great, lively, charming storyteller, and in the short span of time she told of having an experience in which she felt herself to have been reincarnated, how her grandson is indeed a reincarnate of a 13th century monk (and who is now, at age three, a monk), of a war that her husband and son fought at their borders (and won), of her daughters attending high school in the U.S., and how the king lives in a log cabin.  All quite magical.

The panel I was on was moderated brilliantly, and everyone had a chance to speak with clarity.  I learned a lot, the audience was very enthusiastic, we all spoke of the immigrant experience.

I missed the timing of the remarkable farmers’ market, just down the street, and that made me sad.  But later I walked in downtown Boulder, a long and lovely walking street, past many shops and bars and cafes and restaurants, all seemed new.

“Black Lives Matter” was a talk I attended that afternoon, and two of the panelists were familiar.  One was on my panel previously, and one had been in the van from the airport.

That evening it was a little gathering in the Japanese garden, and then some went to hear music from Rajasthan.


Jaipur Literary Festival: First 18 Hours

Steve picked us up at the airport, a lanky, calm, kind person, originally from Missouri, who said that he moved to Boulder in 1985 and stayed.  In our van was a scholar of gender in Indian myths, who’d flown in from Mumbai; a Vanity Fair writer, best known for her remarkable memoir about her brother; and, a writer, now based in Louisville, Kentucky, by way of both coasts, who writes about race, identity, and environment.

Along the way, we saw dry prairie grass and, of course, the big sky.

A huge shopping mall is across the street from the hotel, divided from it by a six lane road, and here I found many stores and restaurants, some local and some international.

That night, we gathered at a reconstructed tea house, meant to look like one from Central Asia, and beneath its marvelous, colorful wooden roof, snacks were provided and people drank beer and wine.  Then Anne Waldman, a great Beat poet, performed and read poems.  Still dramatic, still driven.  Afterwards, an Indian-American woman sang Appalachian folk songs.  The Queen of Bhutan was introduced.

A buffet of delicious vegetarian food was next, and people gathered at a number of tables and talked about their work and asked questions about other people’s work.

It was difficult sleeping that night because, perhaps, the high altitude.

Then this morning, I ran along Boulder Creek, two miles, and as I went by, homeless kids were waking, filthy and adorable.

Jaipur Literary Festival

Honored to be invited, eager to participate, intrigued by Colorado, where I’ve never been, and hungry for the chicken parm sub from Meridien Food Market that I’ll have as an airplane eki-ben.

“THOSE IMMIGRANTS!” is the book I wrote that garnered the invitation.

Tonight it’ll be a reception, and tomorrow a couple of panels.  One panel I’m on is with Suketu Mehta, author of the stunning, “Maximum City,” and my goal will be to be as quiet as possible since I am in awe of this person’s work.  Then, too, the very estimable Maina Singh will be interviewing me about my book, and here I hope to respond adequately to her insightful questions.

Outside of the festival, there is hope to find maybe a few good places for a couple of meals.  I’ll be solo, the lonely guy at the bar, nursing a gin, eating a sandwich, reading the TLS.

“Those Immigrants!”

The NPR affiliate in Philadelphia, WHYY, ran a wonderful piece on, “Those Immigrants!” last night on, “Newsworks”–http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/nwtonight/item/97223-exploring-the-indian-immigrant-experience

The host was kind of a brilliant guy, really good at conversation and asked sharp and insightful questions, and Ajay Raju, who joined me for the interview, is by far one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met due to his intellect, creativity, and resilience.  I was lucky to have him agree to be in my book.

Meanwhile, in the confines of home, projects on race in New Jersey and the psychology of Japanese gastronomy–its history and ideology–take pride of place.

Oh, did I mention that Tropical Foods in Roxbury is really spectacular?  It is: Light years better than Whole Foods due its selection of well-priced fruits and vegetables, the very pleasant vibe of staff and customers, and the beautiful music playing as one shops: African rhythms or R&B.

Change of Seasons

It’s tax day here, for those with quarterlies, and Bayer bought Monsanto, the review of the iPhone 7 in today’s NY Times makes me want to get one, the polls are tied nationally, summer fruit is mushy and the Fall apples not quite ripe.

Between reading about early childhood attachments in Japan and the influence of that on adult relationships, preparing to speak at next week’s literary festival in Colorado, and this weekend’s festival in Boston, I’m roasting a chicken, frying tofu, and trying to decide where to eat on Sunday, November 27th, no kidding.

I find myself wondering about cookbooks, their purpose, reason for being, and I guess some people find them avenues into culture, some chefs see them as marketing tools, and some writers benefit from free trips and products they utilize for the recipes.

The chicken is a Green Circle from D’Artagnan and I’ll roast it for a bunch of hours at a very low heat.  Stuffed with 1/2 a lemon.  Salt and pepper.  Vegetables.

Say good Night Market. Good Night Market.

Night Market isn’t the best restaurant in Harvard Square, it’s the only restaurant worth going to for dinner if you’re over the age of 21.  The food is a refined, focused, playful mix or array of pan-Asian small dishes that are vegetable driven and rely upon grilling and steaming.

You won’t find a lot of fried food nor pork here.  No ears, tails, or feet.  And it’s not faux.  Not naming names, but certain restaurants call themselves Italian and are about as Italian as Chico Marx.  Same goes for Japanese and French.  Whatever sells.  Truth in menus, you’d call these places: Bob’s or Sally’s or Biff’s.  The food isn’t regional, it’s not drawn from knowledge or experience with cuisines.  It’s from a chef’s collection of fantasies that occasionally taste good and occasionally don’t.

Night Market, on the other hand, sells a plate of pea shoot greens with garlic and a pinch of oil that is so fragrant, crisp, and flavorful that the taste wakes up buds and has you ready for the bowl of delicious noodles in a vinegary sauce.  Or steamed chicken.

The vibe at Night Market is confident and laid-back, sort of Alphabet City via Hajuku via Hong Kong.  Smart and well-informed.  Dinner will set you back between $50-60 a couple.

Shop ’til You Drop

We’re only weeks away, it seems, from EATALY opening in Boston, which will be Boston’s first great opportunity to get food that tastes good at a range of price points.  We’re not talking prissy elements driven by the pitch–second-rate and high priced stuff that has a lot to do with packaging–but instead real Italian products with depth of flavor.

OK, it’s not a corner store, but as everyone knows, Batali, who is behind EATALY, gets the best ingredients from the best purveyors because they know he can sell at a price where everyone wins: producer, retailer, consumer.  And Bastianich, Batali’s business partner, is a take-no-prisoners kind of guy, meaning don’t try to sell him product that isn’t any good.

The store will have vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry, fish, and maybe best of all: Fresh pasta.  For $6, you can get a half dozen stuffed ravioli, you add a little homemade ragu, dinner.

It’s the kind of place where you learn as you shop, you get ideas for cooking, and as this knowledge grows, you stop going to places that really have no business being in business.  If you’re good at selling, sell shoes.  Don’t sell food.  EATALY is a cut above, no kidding.

“School’s Out for Summer”

“Class is in session,” is how, “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education,” Anne Deveare Smith’s latest work, at the A.R.T., in Harvard Square begins, and what follows, in Act I, is a great array of convincing ventriloquisms in which Ms. Smith takes on the voices of people she has interviewed about education, race, and incarceration.

Each person speaks through Ms. Smith and what she says are reportedly the verbatim transcripts of interviews she conducted with them.  The result is a fascinating and insightful series of statements that are provocative, contradictory, and often inaccurate in terms of facts, but still revelatory.

The chief problem is that this isn’t theatre.  Not in the sense of art as being something other than just reality.  And that’s made clear from the words spoken at the outset: “Class is in session.”  Brecht was didactic, too, but it was more than a series of lessons–it was art, and as he has one his characters say, “Art isn’t nice.”  The Smith production, ironically, is nice: It wants to make us better students or people.

Act II was the audience breaking up into small discussion groups about the play, and Act III was termed, “A Coda.”

I cut class after Act I.


Last Weekend of Summer, 2016

Hmmm…what’s on the agenda?

Anne Deveare Smith’s new monologue tops it off.  Act I: ADS talks about race.  Intermission.  Act II: Audience breaks up into small discussion groups.  At III: ADS returns.  Oh, and Act I.1: I leave.  Prior to the performance, it’s drinks at Park, a terrific bar, and dinner at Night Market, the one restaurant in Harvard Square worth the time and money–pan-Asian izakaya.

Then it’s work at the hospital tomorrow, followed by preparation for a few talks I have to give in Colorado about my book later this month.  Dinner at a new restaurant, The Fat Hen, an unimaginatively named new restaurant in Somerville, that has a good looking, small menu of well-defined pastas and starters.

Meanwhile, WHYY taped an interview I did yesterday for, “Those Immigrants!,” and more to follow…

Goodbye, Summer!

It’s all over, but the actual date, the 21st.  Tell that to the squirrels that are frantically or methodically gathering pizza crusts, rooting through open garbage cans, and looking for acorns.  They get it.  And you’d better get it, too: Only 115 shopping days until Christmas.

I’ve been gathering, too: Several books each week on Japanese culture, history, psychology, and politics, all to prepare for the “Big November Project” in Tokyo.

Evenings are a mix of healthy dinners from scratch, which seem to provide relief from the stress of day to day life: Linguine with a tomato and onion and butter sauce.  Minced veal stew with shallots and carrots.  Roasted eggplant and baby Yukon potatoes with tomatoes and mozzarella.  Lentils and chicken sausage with light, black vinegar.

Why, just yesterday, pulling in from Fall River after three hours on the road, I was beside myself with exhaustion from the drive as well as absorption of very tragic stories told to me earlier that day.  I thought: Take out pizza.  But then I realized I still had the stunning bread from Sullivan Street Bakery I’d brought back on Sunday from NYC: That and a good, bone dry Austrian white, and the lentil and sausage stew.  Oh, yes.