Culture is Exhausting

There’s so much going on in the Bay Area that I sometimes
finish a weekend more exhausted than when I started.


On Saturday, I attended the 20th anniversary
benefit luncheon for the Kidney Foundation of Northern California. This is one
of the premier author events in the country as it showcases top authors. They
get to stand in the front of a huge ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco and say
whatever they want to. Last year, Michael Chabon used his 15 minutes to talk
about the promise of Barack Obama, then a long shot for the presidency. A lot
of people were annoyed that Chabon injected politics into the afternoon, but
the writer clearly felt so passionately about Obama that he could not help


There weren’t any fiery politics this time. The authors were
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the NBC doctor and former Marin County
residents, Tobias Wolf, Curtis Sittenfeld, Andre Dubus III, Diane Johnson, and
Jacques Pepin
, The emcees were Michael Krasny and Amy Tan, who reported there
were 1100 attendees. Twenty years ago, only 400 people came to the benefit. The
lunch raised about $500,000.


Then I skipped over to Geary Street to see artist Judith
s show at the new gallery  Room
for Painting, Room for Pictures. Judith has been painting extreme close-ups of
trees, and her work appears both detailed and abstract. They are the kind of
paintings one could stare at for hours. The Chronicle profiled Belzer this
. She is married to Michael Pollan and admits it can be tough to be in
his shadow. I’m really proud of him and I think he does wonderful work. I don’t
really like being ‘Mrs. Michael’ that much. … But I pretty much just do my
work and try to keep my head down and not get too bothered by that.”


On Sunday, I went to the Mill Valley Film Festival to see The
, a new documentary film by Ellen Kuras. The film focuses on the impact
of the secret US air war in Laos. About 23
years ago Kuras started filming a Laotian family in Rochester, New York.
She moved to New York City
and decided she wanted to learn Lao so she could communicate with her subjects.
She started taking lessons from a young Lao man named Thavisouk Phrasavath, and Kuras soon found herself drawn into the
drama of Thavi’s family’s life. Kuras started to film them and along the way
Thavi became assistant director. Together they have made a powerful film that
explores how violence shatters families and cultures and ripples down through
generations. Betrayal will have its theatrical release in New York on Nov. 21. Kuras has also worked
as a cinematographer on numerous films, including the Eternal  Sunshine of
the Spotless Mind, and her images of Laos are stunning. It is definitely
worth seeing.


Then on Sunday night, my family and I caught the closing
performance of Yellow Jackets, the Berkeley Rep play about Berkeley High in the
1990s. The play focuses on the school newspaper and the question of whether one
of its articles was racist in tone. It was written by Itmar Moses, a former
Berkeley High student.   All I can say is the more things change, the
more they stay the same.


These were the things I wanted to do, but did not have the
energy to do:


Attend the Lit Crawl in the Mission on Saturday night and the after
party. (I was a featured author, for God’s sake, and you would think I could
stay up late enough for the party. But no, I was snug in my bed by 11)


Go hear Diane Johnson at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore on
College. I have met Diane before and she is a friend’s relative, so I wanted to
see her in this intimate setting. Besides, I love her books and I have heard
Lulu in Marrakesh
is very good. One of my favorite of Johnson’s books is Persian Nights, about Iran. Many
people dismiss her French trilogy as lightweight, but Johnson has the ability
to combine politics, intrigue and literary fiction as well.


What I hope to do tonight: Go hear author Ted Conover talk
about immersion reporting.
I have read almost every  one of Conover’s books, starting before he was
a superstar. He took an unusual career path by remaining outside the mainstream
of journalism and jumping right into books. My favorite was Coyotes, which
documented the world of illegal aliens. I liked Newjack, a chronicle of his
year as a prison guard at Sing Sing, as well.


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