48-hour whirlwind East Coast weekend: the Boston Book Festival and the Boston Filipino-American Book Club

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 – Robert Frost, American poet, from “The Road Not Taken”

Waiting for my red-eye flight to Boston at Oakland International Airport.

In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.

At some point in October, my husband, David, suggested that I use up points and fly to Boston the weekend of the book club meeting. At first, I dismissed the idea. I’m not spontaneous, I pointed out, echoing a famous line of mine from my college days. But as the days went by, I started to warm up to the idea. However, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my visit. When I finally reached out to Grace and Bren, they were enthusiastic and welcoming of the visit. So I booked my flight and was looking forward to the trip. My job has been very stressful these past few months and I pulled two near-all-nighters the week before my planned visit. In fact, that Thursday evening, I worked until the early morning. I wasn’t sure then if it was a good idea to be going away. But David noted that I needed to get out, that being around book lovers would be a welcome change and just the community that I needed to be in the midst of.
So I took the red-eye from Oakland to JFK in New York and caught the next leg to Boston. (An aside: It turned out that the woman sitting across the aisle from me was headed for the Boston Book Festival. Her publishing company, New York-based Other Press, was hosting a tent, which is where she brought up recognizing me on her flight. She noticed that I was reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.) Grace and a good friend of hers picked me up at the airport, and we had a nice breakfast at the Eastern Standard, an elegant French-period appointed restaurant on Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Kenmore Square, which is on the other side of the highway from Fenway Park. Afterwards, Grace dropped me off at Copley Square, site of the Boston Book Festival, a one-day event of talks and panels, tents filled with myriad publishers, and book signings! I was in heaven and the weather was perfect – fall chill in the air, changing colors of the trees. There were multiple sessions that overlapped, so I had to make some difficult decisions.

Fall at the entrance of the Eastern Standard restaurant.

Of course, I had to get a picture of me near Fenway Park (courtesy of Grace Talusan).

Rapping with Shakespeare.

My introduction to the festival was listening to The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy. During 2016-2017, Shakespeare to Hiphop (literary performers and TEDx Boston alumni Regie Gibson and Marlon Carey) partnered with the Boston Public Library to celebrate the great bard. The result is The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy: “an all-new presentation combining American jazz-funk-country-pop and hip-hop with poetry, song, storytelling, rap, and Shakespeare’s own words.” Their performance was entertaining and crowd-pleasing.

Checking out the different tents and publishers.

Food truck at Copley Square.

I walked around the tents, checking out the various local presses, and then I walked over to the Church of the Covenant to hear the fiction keynote featuring Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson discuss their recently released coming-of-age novels, The Burning Girl, and Another Brooklyn, respectively. Both read excerpts from their novels. According to the book festival program: “The mutability of memory, the swift passage of time, the use of stories to make sense of experience, the treacherous landscape of female adolescence, and the simultaneous vitality and volatility of teenage girls’ friendships – these are common threads that run through these narratives, as both writers draw perceptive, unsentimental portraits of young women growing up and growing apart.”

Church of the Covenant.

What a thrill to hear Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson read from their new works, and in such a beautiful setting as this old church.

I couldn’t stay for any book signings afterwards. I would have had to stand in a long line, considering how packed the church was for their keynote. I dashed back to Trinity Forum to catch the “Voices of American: The Immigrant Experience Through a Writer’s Eyes” session, which featured Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace. I have read Ha Jin’s books, including Waiting, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1999. I picked up Marjan’s novel, Together Tea, which is about the matchmaking exploits of an Iranian woman’s parents. And I look forward to Grace’s memoir to come out next year. Grace read an excerpt about her father’s childhood in the Philippines that was gripping, heartbreaking, and beautifully written. My heart was literally in my throat as she read, which is how I define meaningful storytelling – the kind that stays with you, that you turn over and over in your head at night and for days. The three panelists talked about being immigrant writers, and while Marjan wished to be thought of as a writer and not “labeled” as an Iranian-American writer, I applauded Grace’s response: There are few Asian-American writers; she is more than happy to take on that mantle to draw more attention to the stories of Asian Americans, of Filipino Americans.

A very packed room for Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace Talusan.

Marjan Kamali signing books after the session. I forgot to take Ha Jin’s up-close photo!

Once I briefly met Ha Jin and Marjan, I dashed to the Boston Public Library. I wasn’t able to catch the session “Fiction: Missed Connections,” with Eshkol Novo, Celeste Ng, and Lily Tuck, but I decided that getting their books signed was more important. I ended up reading a good chunk of Celeste’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, on my long plane ride back home the following evening. It’s a beautiful novel, both in character revelation and insight and in her writing. I wasn’t familiar with Lily Tuck, but I picked up her latest novel, the slim Sisters, which I read in one sitting that night. I appreciated the structure of what I consider a novella, and I learned a lot about crafting intense short scenes/chapters. Another writer to read more of her previous works!

The front of the Boston Public Library.

Courtyard in the Boston Public Library – a building we didn’t go into when my family and I vacationed in Boston in 2010.

Lily Tuck signing her slim novel, Sisters, for me.

Celeste Ng signing her new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, for me.

I completely missed “Freeman’s: The Future of New Writing.” John Freeman, literary critic, poet, and former Granta editor, is a childhood classmate of one of my favorite local proprietors, Jen Komaromi of Jenny K. I wished I could have attended, but it was time for me to head on over to Bren’s place in Cambridge. I caught a Lyft and met my gracious hosts, Bren and Bob, in their beautiful turn-of-the-century flat. The trees had already changed colors and it was cold. Perfect fall weather. Bren grew up in the Bay Area and is now a successful painter and muralist. He and Brian share the distinction of being one of the first couples to be married in Massachusetts when same-sex marriage was legal. While they had a dance performance to attend that evening, I was perfectly happy to cozy up on the couch and read Sisters in one sitting. And then cat-nap and catch the World Series.

Thinking of my daughter, Isabella, as I took a picture of the hare statue in Copley Square minus the tortoise.

Old South Church across from the Boston Public Library.

In the morning, after my error of telling Bren and Bob that the weekend before Halloween was Daylight Savings time was discovered, we had enough time to right the ship, get ready, and head on over to hosts Rory and Jane’s home to enjoy a Sunday brunch and discuss my novel. I was in awe of all the great food that was on the table. What a wonderful tradition of a having a potluck brunch with Filipino food such as puto and a rice dish that was supposed to feature Spam (Anna, who brought the dish apologized for not being able to find the tin of Spam in her kitchen). I met some wonderful people and new friends. I felt so welcomed. Rather than drain me, my short whirlwind weekend energized me. I was surrounded by books, book lovers, writers, my Filipino American community, warm hospitality. What more could a writer ask for? Maraming salamat, dear new friends!

Meeting host Rory Dela Paz and Anna (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Enjoying Filipino food and conversation (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

New and long-standing members of the Boston Filipino American Book Club (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Talking about my book (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Members of the Boston Filipino-American Book Club and their tasty spread hosted by Jane and Rory Dela Paz.

Saying goodbye to this artistic couple, photographer Alonso Nichols and memoirist and fiction writer Grace Talusan (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Joanne Bailey: cooking from the heart and home

Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.
 – Isak Dinesen, Danish author, from Babette’s Feast

I first met Joanne Bailey, owner and chef of J Gourmet Catering, when my husband, David, reached out to a good friend for recommendations for a caterer for my 50th birthday celebration at our home five years ago. He and his wife had known Joanne for a decade and highly recommended her services. We wanted simple but memorable and flavorful food, and Joanne did not disappoint. Our same friend had Joanne cater his wife’s 50th birthday celebration recently, so I was able to connect with this wonderful chef, who I then recommended to cater our LUNAFEST East Bay VIP event, which precedes our LUNAFEST film festival on Saturday, March 18th.

J. Gourmet Catering catered my 50th birthday party. The food is ready to be served (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

Family food memories
Joanne’s life has always revolved around food, which brings up wonderful memories of family and her hometown of Richmond, Va. She recalls Sunday dinners at her maternal grandmother’s home with no less than 20 people at the table for traditional Italian meals and bottles of homemade wine. When her father was ill, she and her brother would eat meals at her aunt’s house. They’d pull out the leaves to extend the dining room table and iron the linen tablecloth before setting the table with cloth napkins and silverware. Her grandfather would be picked up to join them and sit at the head of the table. As one of the youngest children of the large extended family, Joanne was often in the kitchen, washing dishes and laughing and chatting with family members. “I grew up in the kitchen,” she noted. “The food was always amazing, and food was always an event in our family.”

The food is all gone – no surprise (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

Her father was a member of the First Families of Virginia, a designation bestowed upon those whose lineage can be traced back to Colonial Virginia. As such, her paternal grandmother was a “very proper” Southerner, and meals were no exception. For example, breakfasts were two-hour events, which included being served bacon and eggs and even ice cream and sherry glasses filled with Manishewitz Blackberry wine. Joanne remembers the sweet potato pie, greens, and leg of lamb that her paternal grandmother would serve during the holidays. She didn’t give out her recipes. “You had to be there if you wanted to learn,” Joanne said. In fact, her grandmother didn’t use cookbooks. “You learned by feel. That’s how you learned how to cook,” she explained.

After her father passed away, her mother took her brother and her and joined her best friend and her two kids on vacation. They rented a house along the Rappahannock River, a river in eastern Virginia that runs along the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River. The two mothers sent the four kids out on a boat with nets, freshly broken chicken necks, and bushel baskets, and tell them to come back when the baskets were full. “In the South, oysters, king crab, and fish were common fare,” she explained. Her mother continued the family tradition of instilling in Joanne the love of cooking and the importance of flavor. “My mother never heated up any food (out of a can or package,” she said.

Fast forward to the early 1980s, when she met and married her husband, who purchased and remodeled homes in San Francisco, then resold them, which now we call “flipping” homes. “Believe it or not, there were a lot of burned-out, abandoned, and reasonably priced homes in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s,” she recalled. During that time, Joanne had been involved in working in restaurants, but when her husband bought a restaurant for her, he encouraged her: “You’re a great cook. You should use your skills.” They hired a chef, whose specialty was fish, and thus began her culinary training. He taught her so much, from roasting a whole pig and making all sauces including demi-glace to mastering knife skills. The experience was exhausting and all-consuming in and of itself, so when her son was born a year into launching the restaurant, she realized that she didn’t want to miss out on raising him. So she and her husband sold the restaurant.

When her husband passed away, Joanne took her two kids and moved to Sonoma County. She started a successful housecleaning business, which enabled her to work but be home in time to be with her kids. She also turned the five acres of her land into a huge garden and for a while raised chickens. “We grew all of our food,” she said. Even when she and her kids went camping, they would make their own food. Her time in Sonoma was healing, with cooking playing an important role. “We took joy in small things,” she explained.

Joanne Bailey by her works of art – at my friend Raissa’s 50th birthday party in January (photo credit: David Rossi).

The kitchen comes calling
In the late 1990s, Joanne decided to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area and opened J Gourmet Catering, though she brought her housecleaning business with her. The husband of one of her clients, who was pregnant and on bed rest with a serious condition, hired her to cook for them, which resulted in her catering business booming simply by word of mouth. She’s been busy ever since, catering weddings, birthday parties, special occasion events, and other celebrations for more than 15 years.

Joanne is passionate about some of the work she takes on, especially with WestEd, a San Francisco-based nonpartisan, nonprofit, mission-focused organization that helps schools, districts, and states improve education through innovative research, evaluation, and consulting. One of WestEd’s missions is training pre-school teachers. Joanne caters breakfast and lunch for the teachers in the training program. “It just amazes me how much these teachers care about these children,” she marveled. “Teachers don’t get paid very much, so I try to do something amazing for them.” One menu she created for them included chicken masala sandwiches, sweet potato and red bell pepper soup with red dahl coconut milk, and tofu, carrot, and ginger cake.

Her latest obsession is flavor layering. “It’s so exciting,” she enthused, as she explained the time-consuming process for making the chicken masala for the sandwiches. The different steps involved different ingredients – first soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk or thick yogurt, then toast the seeds, fennel, ajwain, cumin, and coriander and grind them all, add ginger garlic paste, roll the chicken in paste and then in cornstarch. Yet another sauce will accompany the final dish, she explained, adding more flavor. “The different components involve different layers of flavoring,” she said.

Joanne loves to talk about food – here with Raissa’s husband, Mike (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

I recalled how friends enjoyed the food at my birthday party, as did I and other attendees at my friend’s birthday party. “I feel so grateful that they love it,” Joanne said, of the compliments. “I do it for them. They want a wonderful meal, and I want to give it for them.” Joanne insists on getting the best ingredients that she can, no matter what the budget is. “Whatever I do, it’s going to be the best for whatever the budget,” she said. “Whatever I make for them, it’s going to be amazing.” Joanne enjoys picking out what’s in season and figuring out how to combine those ingredients for a memorable meal.

Joanne has passed on her appreciation of food and cooking to her children. Her daughter lives in England, but when they get together, she enjoys cooking with her son-in-law, who also loves to cook. Her son works with her and is a “really good cook,” according to Joanne. While she likes to move on to the next meal, he can transform leftovers from a meal into new creations.

She’s thankful that she didn’t follow through when she went back to school to earn a degree in accounting. “I love math, but you have to be practical. I didn’t want to make money for other people,” she said, of her change of heart. “Owning a business is hard. You’re always wondering about the next job, the next process. But I love challenges, and I’m really happy.” When you listen to Joanne talk about food, you hear joy in her voice – joy in life, as well. “Life is too short,” she shared. “The most important thing are your kids, your family. The rest is just the rest.” So be happy and try to do what you love best. Joanne certainly is living her motto. And her food is prepared and infused with that same love and joy.

Note: For more information about LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater, click here.

Seattle book tour in review: Part 2

The sky in Seattle is so low, it felt like God had lowered a silk parachute on us.
– Maria Semple, American novelist and screenwriter

As part of Filipino American History Month, I embarked on a book tour in Seattle and Yakima Valley. Here is Part 2 of my chronicles of my time there.

Breakfast crepe and mocha at the Eastern Cafe in the International District.

Breakfast crepe and mocha at the Eastern Cafe in the International District.

While in Seattle, I stayed with my good friends, John and Kris. My husband, David, and John have known each other since pre-school. John was one of our groomsmen, and he is also the godfather of our son, Jacob. Friday morning, October 21st, John dropped me off at the Eastern Cafe in the International District, where I would later meet up with Marissa Aroy and our tour host Maria Batayola. a few doors down from the Eastern Cafe was the Eastern Hotel, which has a small Carlos Bulosan exhibit. It’s no longer a hotel, but apartments. I was able to get in and take pictures when one of the residents was leaving the building.

The Alps Hotel is now an apartment building, but the sign remains as a historical marker for being one of the hotels where immigrants stayed when they first arrived in Seattle.

The Alps Hotel is now an apartment building, but the sign remains as a historical marker for being one of the hotels where immigrants stayed when they first arrived in Seattle.

The historic Eastern Hotel.

The historic Eastern Hotel.

The modest sign at the Eastern Hotel, with my reflection.

The modest sign at the Eastern Hotel, with my reflection.

I was excited to see that the Carlos Bulosan quote on the wall of the Eastern Hotel is the quote that opens my novel.

I was excited to see that the Carlos Bulosan quote on the wall of the Eastern Hotel is the quote that opens my novel.

More historic photos in the Carlos Bulosan Museum Exhibit at the Eastern Hotel.

More historic photos in the Carlos Bulosan Museum Exhibit at the Eastern Hotel.

Eliseo Silva's Carlos Bulosan mural at the Eastern Hotel, 1999.

Eliseo Silva’s Carlos Bulosan mural at the Eastern Hotel, 1999.

Marissa Aroy and I met up at the Luke Wing Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (719 S. King Street, 206.623.5124) in the International District, upon recommendation by and as guests of Maria Batalyola, with Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) and the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) National Office, who were also some of our sponsors for the trip.

The Wing Luke Museum in the International District, Seattle.

The Wing Luke Museum in the International District, Seattle.

Looking in from the outside.

Looking in from the outside.

"A Mend: a Local Collection of Scraps from Local Seamstresses and Tailors" by Aram Han Sifuentes, who explores the politics of what she describes as "immigrant sweated labor" in the U.S. "Constructed from denim remnants gathered in recent years from garment workers in the Chicago area, the piece introduces the challenges many women working in such employment face today: low wages, language barriers which limit employment options, tedious hours, and unregulated working conditions without union or collective bargaining protections."

“A Mend: a Local Collection of Scraps from Local Seamstresses and Tailors” by Aram Han Sifuentes, who explores the politics of what she describes as “immigrant sweated labor” in the U.S. “Constructed from denim remnants gathered in recent years from garment workers in the Chicago area, the piece introduces the challenges many women working in such employment face today: low wages, language barriers which limit employment options, tedious hours, and unregulated working conditions without union or collective bargaining protections.”

A close-up: "Sifuentes, who is of Korean origin and the daughter of a seamstress, gathers stories along with these textile scraps, the remnants of blue jeans, a garment inextricably linked to American identity. Calling her final pieces 'quilts,' Sifuentes challenges expectations further. While quilts are typically made by sewing a layer o batting between a top and bottom layer, here Sifuentes uses gaps - perhaps a metaphor for untold stories - as a middle layer."

A close-up: “Sifuentes, who is of Korean origin and the daughter of a seamstress, gathers stories along with these textile scraps, the remnants of blue jeans, a garment inextricably linked to American identity. Calling her final pieces ‘quilts,’ Sifuentes challenges expectations further. While quilts are typically made by sewing a layer o batting between a top and bottom layer, here Sifuentes uses gaps – perhaps a metaphor for untold stories – as a middle layer.”

I’m grateful that such a museum exists. It’s a beautiful building and space, but more importantly it celebrates so many underrepresented and underappreciated ethnic groups who made lasting and continuing contributions to American history and culture. The Wing is “dedicated to immersing you in uniquely American stories of survival, success, conflict, compassion and hope. Through our guided tours and ongoing exhibitions, you can experience real life stories of the Asian Pacific American community.” An exhibit on Bruce Lee and a sobering and harrowing history of Cambodia’s “killing fields” and emigration from the country are currently being shown.

Letter Cloud by Susie Kozawa (b. 1949) and Erin Shie Palmer (b. 1957), 2008. Reproduced archival letters on paper and audio of letters being read: "here is this place of immigrant stories, the view of the sky recalls the expanse of ocean crossed to reach this new home in America, a crossing that must now be made by words o love and longing sent to those back home."

Letter Cloud by Susie Kozawa (b. 1949) and Erin Shie Palmer (b. 1957), 2008. Reproduced archival letters on paper and audio of letters being read: “here is this place of immigrant stories, the view of the sky recalls the expanse of ocean crossed to reach this new home in America, a crossing that must now be made by words o love and longing sent to those back home.”

Me amid "Letter Cloud": "The cloud cover of paper floats these words across tie and space in the form of letters - tegami - hand-written carriers of hope and dreams, stories of daily life and connection between family and friends. And here, amidst sounds of the open sky and sea, are soft voices speaking words that are carried in the letters home."

Me amid “Letter Cloud”: “The cloud cover of paper floats these words across tie and space in the form of letters – tegami – hand-written carriers of hope and dreams, stories of daily life and connection between family and friends. And here, amidst sounds of the open sky and sea, are soft voices speaking words that are carried in the letters home.”

One of the main exhibits honors Asian Pacific Islanders Americans who emigrated from their home countries in search of a better life.

One of the main exhibits honors Asian Pacific Islanders Americans who emigrated from their home countries in search of a better life.

Poster instructing local Japanese Americans of mandatory internment.

Poster instructing local Japanese Americans of mandatory internment.

A miniature bunkhouse in a local internment camp.

A miniature bunkhouse in a local internment camp.

One room is dedicated to Filipino Americans.

One room is dedicated to Filipino Americans.

A Filipino American collage and timeline.

A Filipino American collage and timeline.

In the afternoon, Maria gave us a mini tour of historic sites in the International District. Maria was instrumental in the creation of the Filipino American Historical kiosk, “Honoring Filipino Americans in Chinatown International District, 1911-2010,” at the corner of S. Weller Street and 6th Avenue South. The kiosk will be formally dedicated in early November.

Filipino American Historical kiosk.

Filipino American Historical kiosk.

The other side of the kiosk - a history lesson.

The other side of the kiosk – a history lesson.

Marissa's a pro with selfies.

Marissa’s a pro with selfies.

Later, we crossed the José Rizal Bridge, which “carries 12th Avenue South over South Dearborn Street and Interstate 90 in Seattle, connecting the International District to Beacon Hill.” One of the first permanent steel bridges in the City, the beautiful verdis green bridge was originally called the 12th Avenue South Bridge or the Dearborn Street Bridge before it was renamed in 1974 in honor of the Filipino patriot and national hero José Rizal. The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, however, under its original name. Dr. José Rizal Park, on the west side of Beacon Hill boasts a view of south downtown, Elliott Bay, Safeco Park – home of the Seattle Mariners MLB team – and the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field. The 9.6-acre parcel of land was purchased by the Parks Department in 1971 and dedicated in 1979.

Bust of Jose Rizal.

Bust of Jose Rizal.

"East is West" by Val Laigo, 1981: "This tryptich is dedicated to all of Filipino persuasion the residents and denizens of Beacon Hill instead anyone who still enjoys and exercises a sense of humor and good will...." - Val Laigo.

“East is West” by Val Laigo, 1981: “This tryptich is dedicated to all of Filipino persuasion the residents and denizens of Beacon Hill instead anyone who still enjoys and exercises a sense of humor and good will….” – Val Laigo.

Maria also gave us a tour of the historic Panama Hotel, located in the International District. Designed by Japanese-American architect Sabro Ozasa and built in 1910, the Panama Hotel, a National Historic Landmark and National Treasure, housed a Japanese bath house, businesses, restaurants, and sleeping quarters for residents and visitors. Jan Johnson, who is the third owner of the hotel, restored the building to its condition before the Japanese in Seattle were evacuated. From what I understand, a number of Japanese American families stored their belongings in the basement of the Panama Hotel, with the hope of returning home, which many did not. Johnson closed off the basement that holds the belongings of the Japanese families to the public, and has installed a glass panel in the floorboards for visitors to view the artifacts from above. It’s quite moving.

The entrance of the historic Panama Hotel.

The entrance of the historic Panama Hotel.

A very cool retro look at the stairs from the entrance of the hotel.

A very cool retro look at the stairs from the entrance of the hotel.

The National Historic Landmark plaque.

The National Historic Landmark plaque.

The lower level of the Panama Hotel's cafe boasts historic black-and-white photos on the brick walls and comfortable tables for coffee and tea.

The lower level of the Panama Hotel’s cafe boasts historic black-and-white photos on the brick walls and comfortable tables for coffee and tea.

The window to the basement: the contents belonging to interned Japanese-American families have never been touched since they were left there during WWII. A chilling and sad sight.

The window to the basement: the contents belonging to interned Japanese-American families have never been touched since they were left there during WWII. A chilling and sad sight.

Black-and-white photos chronicling the times when Japanese American families thrived in Seattle before WWII.

Black-and-white photos chronicling the times when Japanese American families thrived in Seattle before WWII.

A close-up black-and-white photograph depicting life in Seattle in the Japanese-American community.

A close-up black-and-white photograph depicting life in Seattle in the Japanese-American community.

The inside of the storefront window showcasing artifacts.

The inside of the storefront window showcasing artifacts.

The inside of the storefront window showcasing artifacts.

The other exhibit in the storefront window of the Panama Hotel.

Farewell, Panama Hotel! Next time we will have to stay longer and have a pastry and cup of tea.

Farewell, Panama Hotel! Next time we will have to stay longer and have a pastry and cup of tea.

We made my first trip to the FANHS National Office (810 18th Avenue, #100, 206.322.0204), located within Lake Washington Girls Middle School. Although I saw Dorothy Cordova, Executive Director and Co-founder, with her late husband, of the Filipino American National Historical Society, at the 2016 FANHS Conference in New York City, this meeting represented my first introduction to “Auntie” Dorothy. I presented my novel to Auntie Dorothy as a gift to the FANHS Library.

Auntie Dorothy and me with my novel (photo courtesy of Maria Batayola).

Auntie Dorothy and me with my novel (photo courtesy of Maria Batayola).

Collage with a group picture of Joan May Cordova, Marissa, Auntie Dorothy, Maria, and me.

Collage with a group picture of Joan May Cordova, Marissa, Auntie Dorothy, Maria, and me.

Marissa and I enter the "Catacombs" (photo courtesy of Maria Batayola).

Marissa and I enter the “Catacombs” (photo courtesy of Maria Batayola).

Marissa and I were treated to a visit to the FANHS archives, also known as the “catacombs,” where specially built shelves house hundreds of boxes of files on Filipino Americans. While Marissa looked through her file, I doubted that I had a file on me. To my surprise, I found two files – under Patty Enrado and Patricia Enrado – with correspondences that I had written to FANHS in 2005-2006, among them requesting contact information for a project on the Filipino Manilamen, which I ended up abandoning. I also sent a link to my short story, “We Are Thinking of You,” which had won an award in 2002 from Serpentine e-zine, and a journal that had published one of my other short stories. I didn’t save the online short story as a pdf, which was a shame because at some point this year the site was taken down and the link broken, forever erasing the existence of the story as is (I had various revisions of the story but no final Word version that matched the printed version). I was ecstatic, therefore, to take pictures of the printed story, and now I’ll have to figure out a way to get it up on my author website.

A letter I wrote to FANHS nearly 17 years ago!

A letter I wrote to FANHS nearly 17 years ago!

Boxes and boxes of files in the catacombs.

Boxes and boxes of files in the catacombs.

Political posters of every Filipino American candidate for office in the U.S. on the walls.

Political posters of every Filipino American candidate for office in the U.S. on the walls.

Originally, Maria was going to treat the three of us to dinner at Kusina Filipina (3201 Beacon Avenue S., 206.322.9433), but the place closed just as we walked up. The silver lining, however, was choosing Bar del Corso (3057 Beacon Avenue S., 206.395.2069, www.bardelcorso.com), a pizzeria, restaurant on Beacon Hill, as our backup destination a block away. Maria let us know that the wife who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jeff Corso, who is chef and general manager, is Filipino. Auntie Dorothy pointed out that a framed Filipino family photograph hangs in a hallway in the restaurant. Gina Tolentino Corso, the marketing and creative manager, is a freelance graphic designer, a painter and illustrator, and “lover of good food.” Her artwork – big, bold, and colorful paintings – hangs on the walls of the restaurant. Maria had announced to our waiter Auntie Dorothy’s presence and her title. So it should not have come as a surprise that Gina came to our table and said, “You must be the table of Filipino American women.” She was a delight to meet. When told of my book, she expressed interest in reading it. And although I didn’t ask where she was originally from, she attended UC Davis. Ah, the Aggie connection again in the Pacific Northwest!

Fall in the International District, Seattle.

Fall in the International District, Seattle.

I have to talk about the food because it was phenomenal – simply and deceptively prepared but complex and flavorful in taste. We ordered two salads, one of which had bits of crunchy savory crackers. We also ordered Polpettine (house-made meatballs in tomato sauce), Vongole Alla Marinara (Manila clams, garlic, controne pepper, cherry tomatoes, white wine, extra virgin olive oil, and parsley), Grilled Octopus (with corona beans, lacinato kale, spicy ‘Nduja salame, and extra virgin olive oil), and a pizza – Funghi, with crimini mushrooms, house-made sausage, cherry tomatoes, pecorino, and fontina. Family-style serving enabled us to sample everything. We ate everything and were happily sated. The next time I’m in Seattle, I’m returning to Bar del Corso.

Friday evening, as part of Celebrating 2016 Filipino American History Month, Marissa screened her film and I read a short excerpt at the Centilia Cultural Center at Plaza Roberto Maestas (1660 S. Roberto Maestas Festival Street, Seattle). The center recently opened after restoration of an old school house and the building of affordable housing and community-use buildings. What a beautiful project El Centro de la Raza took on! El Centro de la Raza, “the Center for People of All Races,” is “a voice and a hub for the Latino community” as they “advocate on behalf of” its “people and work to achieve social justice.” The evening’s theme reflected the mission of the nonprofit. Maria and Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, welcomed the audience. Estela related that she had worked in the fields in Texas and was active in the United Farm Workers union but never knew that the Filipino American farm workers initiated the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965 and were instrumental in the formation of the UFW. One of the goals of the evening of reading and screening was to highlight Filipino-American contributions to the farm labor movement, strengthen ties among Filipino and Latino workers, and honor Larry Itliong’s Northwest labor leadership and contribution with the local IBU salmon cannery workers.

A panel discussion followed, which included Auntie Dorothy, Marissa, Ray Pascua, farmworker organizer and President of the Greater Yakima Valley Filipino American Community, and Rick Guirtiza, Vice President of the International Boatman’s Union Local, Maritime Division of ILWU. I met the University of Washington students who are members of the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) and a handful of audience members who were interested in my book. Maraming salamat to Alaskero Foundation, 4Culture, Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, FANHS National and PWEKA, who sponsored the Friday evening reading.

(to be continued….)

 

 

Seattle book tour in review: Part 1

Seattle, the mild green queen: wet and willing, cedar-scented, and crowned with slough grass, her toadstool scepter tilted toward Asia, her face turned ever upward in the rain…
– Tom Robbins, American author, from Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life

Outside my friends’ – John and Kris – home in Kent, Wash.

Outside my friends’ – John and Kris – home in Kent, Wash.

Back in early spring, Alan Lau, Arts Editor for the International Examiner, “Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander newspaper for over 42 years,” contacted Eastwind Books of Berkeley to let my publisher know that my novel had just been reviewed. He asked if I had any book readings in Seattle, as he would publish the review in tandem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any readings scheduled, although I had reached out to local bookstores when my book was published in September 2015.

Alan proved to be a big-hearted champion and a model of persistence – in response, he put me in touch with local Filipino American groups to coordinate and sponsor a few events. Maria Batayola, who is a well-known leader in numerous organizations in the Seattle and greater Seattle area – including Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) – emerged as our main contact person and champion of the arts.

I came to Seattle at just the right time for the fall foilage.

I came to Seattle at just the right time for the fall foilage.

Working with a number of organizations, Maria helped to coordinate what evolved into the themed “tour” of the Delano manongs and the Delano grape strike of 1965, which comprised screening Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy’s 2014 documentary Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement, which was nominated for a Northern California Emmy, and a reading of my novel. Obviously, Marissa’s documentary and my historical novel complement one another. Thus, began our tour.

I came to Seattle at just the right time for the fall foilage.

I came to Seattle at just the right time for the fall foilage.

New favorite Seattle bookstore
Third Place Books, Seward Park (5041 Wilson Avenue South, Seattle) opened up the first event of our tour on Thursday evening, October 20th. Before the reading, Maria hosted dinner for us at Raconteur. The building formerly housed a local co-op grocery store. Third Place Books, which has three locations (6504 20th Avenue NE, 101 S. Main Street, and 17171 Bothell Way NE) opened a fourth location in Seward Park and partnered with Raconteur, which comprises a restaurant and espresso bar on the main floor and a full bar downstairs. The property also boasts outdoor seating. It was a lively scene at both the bookstore and restaurant for a Thursday evening, with families with young children and friends meeting after work for dinner and book lovers.

Third Place Books on the left....

Third Place Books on the left….

Dinner at Raconteur in Seward Park.

Dinner at Raconteur in Seward Park.

October events under glass at the entrance of Third Place Books.

October events under glass at the entrance of Third Place Books.

A little bit more about Third Place Books. It is the “deliberate and intentional creation of a community around books and the ideas inside of them.” The bookstore got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenberg, who suggested that “each of us needs three places: first is the home, second is the workplace or school; and beyond lies the place where people from all walks of life interact, experiencing and celebrating their commonality as well as their diversity. It is a third place. In his celebrated book, The Great Good Place, Oldenberg discusses how the cafes, pubs, town squares, and other gathering places make a community stronger and bring people together.” I want to give a shout out to the folks at Third Place Books: Wendy Ceballos, Director of Events and Marketing, Kalani Kapahua, Events Coordinator, and our evening host Michelle provided us with a lovely experience, from their interest in my book with the initial inquiry to the enthusiasm and warmth given to us that Thursday evening.

The espresso bar with dining to the right of the bar.

The espresso bar with dining to the right of the bar.

The bookstore to the left. Love the hardwood floors and expansiveness of the place.

The bookstore to the left. Love the hardwood floors and expansiveness of the place.

Marissa and I were honored to be joined by local poet and playwright Robert (Bob) Francis Flor, who recently published chapbook of poems, Alaskero Memories, chronicling his coming of age during the 1960s summers he worked in the Alaska canneries. Devin Israel Cabanilla, who had conducted a session on geneology at the FANHS National Conference in New York City this past June and is an active member of the FANHS Greater Seattle chapter, served as our master of ceremonies.

Reading at the stage of Third Place Books (photo courtesy of Peter Vershoor).

Reading at the stage of Third Place Books (photo courtesy of Peter Vershoor).

Q&A with Marissa, Bob, and Devin (photo courtesy of Ador Pereda Yano).

Q&A with Marissa, Bob, and Devin (photo courtesy of Ador Pereda Yano).

I read a scene in which my main character, Fausto Empleo, meets other pinoy immigrants on the ship that was bound for Seattle. I let the small but appreciative crowd know that my father had landed in Seattle in 1926 and spent some time working in a lumber mill in Cosmopolis, Wash., located about 110 miles southwest of Seattle. Marissa shared the beginning of her documentary after my reading, and Bob followed her screening with reading a handful of his poems. Afterwards, Devin kicked off the Q&A session with his own questions and then opened it up to the audience. When someone asked what our current projects are, I was excited to hear that Marissa is working on a documentary on the Philippine-American War, which is also the subject of my novel-in-progress. I’m looking forward to sharing sources with Marissa.

Photo op with Devin, Marissa, and Bob (photo courtesy of Donna MIscolta).

Photo op with Devin, Marissa, and Bob (photo courtesy of Donna MIscolta).

Mini reunion with my high school best friend, Kathy (photo courtesy of Peter Vershoor).

Mini reunion with my high school best friend, Kathy (photo courtesy of Peter Vershoor).

One of my best friends from high school and one of my careful readers of A Village in the Fields (from draft to near-finished product – covering some 16 years off and on), Kathy Brackett, and her husband, Peter Verschoor, made it to my reading, so we had a mini – albeit short – reunion. And my hosts and dear friends, John Buettner – groomsman at David’s and my wedding 18 years ago and godfather to our son, Jacob, and Kris Kingsley, supported me, as well, by their attendance. I enjoyed meeting people at the book signing. I met writer Donna Miscolta, who heritage is Filipino and Latino. She is the author of a new collection of short stories, Hola and Goodbye, which will be released November 1st. Her name and her face were familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her until I discovered that she is an alum of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. A father wearing a UC Davis shirt let me know that his daughter had attended Davis on a rowing scholarship. In UW Husky territory, I was excited to see an Aggie shirt.

Signing books and meeting local people who kindly attended the reading (photo courtesy of Donna Miscolta).

Signing books and meeting local people who kindly attended the reading (photo courtesy of Donna Miscolta).

Signing books with Bob, and meeting Devin’s daughter, Vita (photo courtesy of Devin Israel Cabanilla).

Signing books with Bob, and meeting Devin’s daughter, Vita (photo courtesy of Devin Israel Cabanilla).

Most touching was meeting Devin’s eight-year-old daughter, Vita, who asked me to autograph her book – her first signed book and her first encounter with an author! She asked me what my book was about, and I stumbled a bit because I was trying to shape it in a way that she would appreciate and understand. I believe I said that it was about a farm worker who came from the Philippines to America with high hopes; while he had a difficult life that he was at first unprepared for, he lived a good life in the end. I wish I had added that he found family and community, which gave him hope when there was no hope, and how we should all be there for our family and community. Next time! Vita informed me that she and her dad were going to read my book and learn new words. I thought about the scenes that weren’t appropriate! Luckily, the following day, I bumped into Devin and he assured me he would censor inappropriate-for-children scenes! I hadn’t given a bookstore reading in about a year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Happily, I was pleasantly surprised, seeing old friends and meeting new ones in what turned out to be a great, invigorating evening.

 

(To be continued….)

Appropriately, grapes in the fall.

Appropriately, grapes in the fall.

More vibrant fall colors.

More vibrant fall colors.

Love, Portland and Stonington, Maine

In the life of each of us there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness.
– Sarah Orne Jewett, an American novelist and short story writer, best known for her local color works set in or near South Berwick, Maine, from The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories

Outside of Scales Restaurant, 68 Commercial Street, Portland.

Outside of Scales Restaurant, 68 Commercial Street, Portland.

Happily and luckily, I’ve been coming to Maine for a week in the summer for the last 10 years. The company that I work for – HIMSS Media – was originally MedTech Publishing, which was co-founded by my good friend, Jack Beaudoin in 2003. He and his business partner, Neil Rouda, lived and still live in Maine, which is why the Summer Summits were based there. Every first week of August, the remote workers – I was a freelance writer until I became an FTE in 2010 – would descend upon the company headquarters in New Gloucester and have editorial and sales and marketing meetings. While the out-of-towners stayed at the beautiful Merrill Farmhouse on Pineland Farms, I stayed with Jack’s family. We had wonderful employee-bonding activities such as geocaching (the non-technology kind) and cheese and wine tasting on the Pineland grounds and having a lobster bake on Peak’s Island, a ferry ride away from Portland.

After a cross-country red-eye flight, nothing better than to have Sunday brunch with old coworker Eric Wickland at Sonny's Restaurant, 83 Exchange Street, Portland. Eggs, potatoes, and grilled cornbread.

After a cross-country red-eye flight, nothing better than to have Sunday brunch with old coworker Eric Wickland at Sonny’s Restaurant (83 Exchange Street, Portland). Eggs, potatoes, and grilled cornbread.

The whole company took the ferry to Peak's Island to enjoy the sunset, play deck games, and drink and eat.

The whole company took the ferry to Peak’s Island to enjoy the sunset, play deck games, and drink and eat.

In time, the company was renamed MedTech Media and then sold to minority owner HIMSS and later became HIMSS Media. Jack moved on, and the Summer Summits ceased in 2013. Thankfully, I still return to Maine, but as part of the Summer Sales Meetings, which are now held in July. Every time I return, I am reminded of my initial wonderment when my plane first descended into Portland and I saw these quaint cottages and summer mansions perched on the banks of the many islands off of Casco Bay. And how I fell in love with the land and the lifestyle. It gets me every time.

My sixth-floor room with a view at the Hyatt Place, overlooking Casco Bay.

My sixth-floor room with a view at the Hyatt Place, overlooking Casco Bay.

Sunday evening dinner with the sales team: What's for dinner at Scales Restaurant? Lobster, of course.

Sunday evening dinner with the sales team: What’s for dinner at Scales Restaurant? Lobster, of course.

I’m told that Portland boasts more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. I will take it. There are wonderful restaurants around every corner. And there are great little shops all clustered together, which makes for a great Sunday afternoon of wandering around and checking out local and state artisan goods. Love, Portland.

Looks like I found someone at HIMSS Media, my coworker Claretha, who also loves statement earrings, at Tica's on Commercial Street.

Looks like I found someone at HIMSS Media, my coworker Claretha, who also loves statement earrings, at Tica’s on Commercial Street.

Penthouse deck views from The Press Hotel at 119 Exchange Street. Formerly headquarters of The Press Herald newspaper, it's now a boutique hotel with a very distinct journalism aesthetic. No, the seagull did not photo bomb me; he just wouldn't get out of the way.

Penthouse deck views from The Press Hotel (119 Exchange Street). Formerly headquarters of The Press Herald newspaper, it’s now a boutique hotel with a very distinct journalist aesthetic. No, the seagull did not photo bomb me; he just wouldn’t get out of the way.

Last meal in Portland at Solo Italiano, 100 Commercial Street - very good pasta.

Last meal in Portland at Solo Italiano (100 Commercial Street) – very good pasta.

After a very packed Summer Sales Meeting week, I met up with Jack and family dog, Holly, and we set out for a three-hour drive northeast to their second home in Stonington, a quaint and beautiful town on a bridged island in Penobscot Bay. The road to Stonington, once we got off the highway, is not really winding as it is up and down, which didn’t sit well with my stomach. Let’s just say that Jack drove much more slowly and cautiously than he’d normally drive, and taking Dramamine on the return trip to Portland eliminated my motion sickness.

Jack and Fay's lovely home in Stonington, complete with a white-picket fence.

Jack and Fay’s lovely home in Stonington, complete with a white-picket fence.

The attic, which has been converted to Jack's writing room, which was a perfect place for me to "work" on a Friday.

The attic, which has been converted to Jack’s writing room and was a perfect place for me to “work” on a Friday.

Jack tells the story of how he and Fay would rent a house in Stonington for vacation early in their marriage. They fell in love with the town and a few years ago bought the home of the former town librarian, who is still alive at the young age of 104 years. They have been slowly and lovingly remodeling the house, which is a stone’s throw from the popular Friday farmer’s market, the downtown area, and the coast. Fay did a beautiful job with the landscaping – everything looks lush and healthy. She has a great eye and is an avid gardener.

Five minutes away to the Friday Farmer's Market, where local crafts and artisan goods, wildflower bouquets, and artisan foods are on display.

Five minutes away to the Friday Farmer’s Market, where local crafts and artisan goods, wildflower bouquets, and artisan foods are on display.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Stonington is that it is a destination for true rest and relaxation. Like my hometown and our visits with my cousin Janet and her husband, Tim, when I am there, I forget about yesterday and tomorrow. I am in the moment, and I take deep breaths and immerse myself in enjoy mode. So it was with Stonington. What I very much appreciated was staying up late Friday evening and Saturday afternoon talking about novels and writing with Jack. Talking shop, as he called it. I don’t have a writing group back home. Most people I trust are the ones with whom I spent two years in Syracuse, who know me and my writing, and who have my best interest at heart. But they are all dispersed. When I was at Syracuse, I was, really, just learning how to write, so I looked up to my more worldly, wiser classmates. But there were only a few writers whose class discussions about craft I listened to with rapt attention and took plenty of notes. Jack was one of them. I valued his commentary on my short stories because he cared and wanted you to do right by your stories and characters. And that’s because Jack is a wonderful writer whose prose is beautiful and precise and whose human insights are startling and real. He believes in the beauty, power, and integrity of story, of fiction. One who has such a writer for a mentor and a friend is twice blessed.

At any rate, here, to have that time talking about, say, structural issues with our current work and discussing how our favorite authors have handled plot or character was magical and so very instructional. I appreciated the immediacy of talking one on one versus communicating via email. So thank you for that, Jack. It made me want to read more and get back to my novel-in-progress.

The inviting view from the kitchen door.

The inviting view from the kitchen door.

I love wraparound porches for their welcoming you to sit and enjoy the view and talk about writing and novels.

I love wraparound porches for their natural ability to welcome you to sit and enjoy the garden and view beyond, and talk about writing and novels.

Just a little bit about the town of Stonington. The lobster and fishing industry support the economy of Stonington and the nearby town of Deer Isle. Many of the fishermen revert to being carpenters or contractors in the off-season. I’m told that these two towns lead Maine in pound and dollar value of lobster landings. The two towns’ waters support some 300 lobster boats during the season. The island is also known for its granite quarries, which go back to the late 1800s and are still being mined today. The granite from John F. Kennedy’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was supplied by Stonington’s quarry.

Along the bay is a statue honoring the men who work in the granite quarries.

Along the bay is a statue honoring the men who work in the granite quarries.

In many a front yard of a home in Stonington, you will find stacks of lobster traps and buoys, which mark the lobster fisherman's territory in the bay. Colorful that.

In many of the front yards of homes in Stonington, you will find stacks of lobster traps and colorful buoys, which mark the lobster fisherman’s territory in the bay.

More lobster? Yes, please!

More lobster for dinner on a Friday evening? Yes, please!

One never gets tired of lobster while in Maine.

One never gets tired of lobster while in Maine.

One of the things I loved about our walk to the downtown was the historic homes that bore the names of their original owners. Some were weathered, giving way to their age. Others were happily restored to a gleaming white, which blazed in the July sun, and stood out against the blue sky, blue bay, and green hills. There were B&Bs, a wine shop, art houses and galleries, little shops, and the historic Stonington Opera House. But there were no touristy shops – the shop that did sell t-shirts and the like was low-key and, I dare say, dignified.

On the walk from Jack and Fay's house to the waterfront, there is a wonderful art installation of a weathered window and two Adirondack chairs positioned in front of the window. Brilliant.

On the walk from Jack and Fay’s house to the waterfront, there is a wonderful art installation of a free-standing weathered window and two Adirondack chairs positioned in front of the window. Brilliant.

The other side of the window and two chairs, with a beautiful spacious white house in the background.

The other side of the window and two chairs, with a beautiful spacious white house in the background.

A view of the bay, which, when coming around the bend, takes your breath away.

A view of the bay, which, when coming around the bend, takes your breath away.

I think this is a B&B set back from the road. Beautiful, isn't it? Imagine the bay views from the bedrooms and front porch!

I think this is a B&B set back from the road. Beautiful, isn’t it? Imagine the bay views from the front bedrooms and porch!

Colorful flowers everywhere.

Colorful flowers everywhere.

A home with an art studio.

A home with an art studio.

A “Mini Village” is nestled beneath a pine tree downtown. The sign on the tree tells of its origins: “Stonington’s Mini Village set up in this little park area was the creation of Everett Knowlton (b. April 7, 1901, d. March 17, 1978) who began building the houses in 1947 as a hobby. He continued to build them at a rate of one a year and slowly grew his ‘perfect peaceful village’ portrayed in these old pictures and portrayed in its original entirety at the Knowlton homestead. After Everett’s death, the new owner of his home donated to the town the Mini Village where each year residents take home the little houses for the winter and bring them back in spring for people to enjoy.”

Part of the "Mini Village."

Part of the “Mini Village.”

On Saturday, we timed the low tide so we could walk to one of the islands. It was a beautiful day, if a tad bit warm. We traversed a woody and ferny path of tangled roots and spongy soil, breathing in every now and then the smell of aromatic pine, before reaching the sand bar that led us to the island. The cloud formations were spectacular, especially against the blue skies and waters. This was quintessential Maine. The water was cold, the island rocky, the pines plentiful. Breathtaking. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

A woody walk to the island.

A woody walk to the island.

Rock, water, pine, sky and clouds.

Rock, water, pine, sky and clouds.

Walking across the sand bar to the island.

Walking across the sand bar to the island.

Those clouds! They are mesmerizing.

Those clouds! They are mesmerizing.

Heaven.

Heaven.

Can't get enough of these views.

Can’t get enough of these views.

On the way back, a peek at the shoreline.

On the way back, a peek at the shoreline.

On my last night, Jack, Fay, and their daughter Genny treated me to dinner at Aragosta (27 Main Street, Stonginton), the farm-to-table restaurant overlooking Stonington Harbor whose chef, Devin Finigan, is Vermont born and raised. Aragosta is cozy inside – wide-plank wooden floors, sofa seating along the walls, white-washed wooden walls – with a stunning view and a walk-down expansive outdoor deck. Stonington lobster ravioli was calling my name. As I took in the views, savored every bite, and enjoyed relaxing dinner conversation, I kept thinking how David would have loved this restaurant, to say nothing of the views. Aragosta, by the way, is the Italian word for lobster. Of course.

Twilight on the bay, on the walk to Aragosta.

Twilight on the bay, on the walk to Aragosta.

Oysters and salad.

Oysters and salad.

My very delicious lobster ravioli.

My very delicious lobster ravioli.

Fay and me after dinner - happy and sated.

Fay and me after dinner – happy and sated.

Jack and his talented daughter Genny, actress, playwright, singer, musician, songwriter. We know where she got her artistic talent! Dad is a wonderful writer whose prose is beautiful and precise and human insights are startling and real.

Jack and his talented daughter Genny, actress, playwright, singer, musician, songwriter. We know where she got her artistic talent! Is that Jack’s author pose? Methinks it is!

Okay, twist my arm. I'll order dessert - a strawberry tart with strawberry ice cream.

Okay, twist my arm. I’ll order dessert – a strawberry tart with strawberry ice cream.

I will admit that photos are a poor substitute for being there. Photos can’t let you hear the lively rain at night or the early morning shower that gently wakes you up. They can’t let you breathe in the lavender in the garden and the pine all over the island. What they can do is make you say: This is where I want to go next. And come back to again and again. Thank you, Jack and Fay, for the beauty, the shop talk, the meals, the rest and relaxation I craved and received with open arms.

Last night on the waterfront in Stonington.

Last night on the waterfront in Stonington.

Ghostly ships on a gray foggy Sunday morning.

Ghostly ships moored in the bay on a gray foggy Sunday morning.

A little fog and rain, grassy hills, and a view of the bay.

A slightly different view: a little fog and rain, grassy hills, and the bay dotted with ships.

Crossing the bridge on our way out of Stonington.

Crossing the bridge on our way out of Stonington.

Early morning Sunday: a quiet pond after the rain. Goodbye, Stonington.

Early morning Sunday: a quiet pond after the rain. Goodbye, Stonington.

New York, New York: Guggenheim Museum, Grand Central Terminal, & walking Broadway

And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there…. Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.
 – Ezra Pound, expatriate American poet and critic

On our fourth day in New York, we changed our itinerary when we found out that our friends Jack and Fay Beaudoin, who live in Maine, were in town for the premier of their daughter’s play. More on that later. So we opted to see the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue), on the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. The Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is home to a growing collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary  as it rises to the top of its ceiling skylight – is meant to convey “the temple of the spirit.” When you walk into the atrium, you are immediately taken by the lightness, the sun through the skylight, and the spiraling whiteness that seems to lift you up as you begin your journey.

When you first walk in and look up....

When you first walk in and look up…. (photo by David).

More curves (photo by David).

More curves (photo by David).

Like strands of a modern necklace.

Like strands of a modern necklace.

The skylight ceiling (photo by David).

The skylight ceiling (photo by David).

Close-up of the skylight ceiling (photo by David).

Close-up of the skylight ceiling (photo by David).

Looking straight up at the triangular-shaped stairs.

Looking straight up at the triangular-shaped stairs.

Ascending the triangular-shaped stairs (photo by David).

Ascending the triangular-shaped stairs (photo by David).

All the way up, looking down (photo by David).

All the way up, looking down (photo by David).

Coming down, another view of the entrance with pool (photo by David).

Coming down, another view of the entrance with pool (photo by David).

The museum’s namesake belonged to a wealthy mining family and collected traditional works from the old masters going back to the 1890s. When he met artist Hilla von Rebay in 1926, she introduced him to European avant-garde art, he changed his aesthetic. When his collection outgrew his Plaza Hotel apartment, he established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937 to “foster the appreciation for modern art.” We took the audio tour, and I have to admit that many of the interpretations struck me as pretentious. I’m not what you would consider a true art aficionado; I like what I see, which is the way our artist friend Gary Stutler told us many years ago we ought to view art. At any rate, I recognized many famous artists, including Constantin Brancusi, Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian. At least I could appreciate them, thanks to my college art history class. At any rate, here are photos of interesting paintings and exhibits.

Red Cross Train Passing a Village (oil on canvas), 1915, by Gino Severini (photo by David).

Red Cross Train Passing a Village (oil on canvas), 1915, by Gino Severini (photo by David).

Painting with White Border (oil on canvas), 1913, Vasily Kandinsky.

Painting with White Border (oil on canvas), 1913, by Vasily Kandinsky.

Woman Ironing (oil on canvas), 1904, by Pablo Picasso.

Woman Ironing (oil on canvas), 1904, by Pablo Picasso.

Composition 8 (oil on canvas), 1914, by Piet Mondrian.

Composition 8 (oil on canvas), 1914, by Piet Mondrian.

Peasant with Hoe (oil on canvas), 1882, by Georges Seurat.

Peasant with Hoe (oil on canvas), 1882, by Georges Seurat. A favorite for obvious reasons.

Dancers with Green and Yellow (pastel and charcoal on several pieces of tracing paper, mounted to paperboard), 1903, by Edgar Degas.

Dancers with Green and Yellow (pastel and charcoal on several pieces of tracing paper, mounted to paperboard), 1903, by Edgar Degas.

And now for the more recent art installation pieces. Two exhibits struck me deep. Untitled (Ghardaïa) by Kader Attia, who was born in France but works in Algiers, Berlin, and Paris, was installed in 2009. According to the information on the piece, “Attia sculpted a model of the Algerian city of the title in couscous, a regional culinary staple. The fragile and ephemeral structure is accompanied by two prints portraying foundational Western modern architects Le Corbusier and Fernand Pouillon, and by a copy of a UNESCO certificate that officially designates the city of Ghardaïa a World Heritage Site. Attia’s work calls attention to the fact that both designers borrowed from and reworked the Mozabite architecture native to the city of Ghardaïa, and to the ancient Mzab region, without acknowledging their inspiration, itself derived from France’s 19th century colonization of Algeria and subsequent exploitation of its resources.” Wow, what a powerful statement that resonates in today’s dangerous and sad world.

Untitled (Ghardaia) (Couscous, two inkjet prints, and five photocopy prints), 2009, by Kader Attia.

Untitled (Ghardaia) (Couscous, two inkjet prints, and five photocopy prints), 2009, by Kader Attia.

Close-up of the buildings made of couscous.

Close-up of the buildings made of couscous.

The other exhibit that really caught my attention was Flying Carpets by Tunisian artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke. The following is background information on her inspiration for this stainless steel and rubber artwork: “Illegal street vendors – primarily of African, Arab, and South Asian origin – often congregate at Il Ponte del Sepolcro in Venice to sell counterfeit goods to tourists. To avoid unwanted encounters with authorities, they are often required to scoop up their wares in the rugs that they use for display and flee across the bridge. This journey to temporary safety is not only physical but also metaphorical insofar as it encapsulates both the whimsical orientalist fantasy of the flying carpet and the harsh realities experienced by undocumented immigrants who cross the Mediterranean in search of better lives. The proportions of Kaabi-Linke’s sculptural meditation on this scenario – a complex assembly of suspended grids – come directly from those of the vendors’ rugs.” After having read the backstory, I saw her installation – at a glance, just steel and rubber – transform before me and take on a deeper meaning that is, again, so relevant and heartbreaking in today’s world.

Flying Carpets (stainless steel and rubber), 2011, by Nadia Kaabi-Linke (photo by David).

Flying Carpets (stainless steel and rubber), 2011, by Nadia Kaabi-Linke. You can see the multiple shapes of rugs created by the hanging installation and reflected on the walls and polished wooden floor. The overlapping “rugs” gives it a claustrophobic feel (photo by David).

Another view of Flying Carpets (photo by David).

Another view of Flying Carpets (photo by David).

Different shapes and spaces occupied by Flying Carpets (photo by David).

Different shapes and spaces occupied by Flying Carpets (photo by David).

Close-up of Flying Carpets (photo by David).

Close-up of Flying Carpets (photo by David).

We decided against eating museum food and instead hopped on the subway to get to the Grand Central Terminal (the out-of-towners say Grand Central Station) (89 East 42nd Street) and take pictures of the famous station. The terminal was built in 1903 in the Beaux Arts architectural style and is made primarily of granite. According to a 2013 article in World Nuclear Association, because the building is made with so much granite it actually emits relatively high levels of radiation. Good thing we are only passing through! In 2013, 21.9 million visitors passed through the terminal, making it one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions. Grand Central Terminal covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms – more than any other railway station in the world. The other interesting fact about the terminal is that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority does not own it – private firm Midtown TDR Ventures.

Next stop....

Next stop…. (photo by David).

Grand Central Terminal was built in 1903 (photo by David).

Grand Central Terminal was built in 1903 (photo by David).

I believe the flag was raised in the terminal after 9/11 (photo by David).

The American flag was raised in the terminal a few days after 9/11 (photo by David).

The other side of the main concourse.

The other side of the main concourse.

Letter box detail (photo by David).

Letter box detail (photo by David).

Checking out the departures board (photo by David).

Checking out the departures board (photo by David).

Photo op at Grand Central Terminal.

The grandness of Grand Central Terminal.

Heading out, one can get lost in the many tunnels of the terminal (photo by David).

Heading out, one can get lost in the many tunnels of the terminal (photo by David).

We were also advised by a number of friends to eat at the famous Oyster Bar. Instead of sitting down at the bar, which resembled a 1950s luncheon counter, we opted to eat in the restaurant. The food was good, reminding us of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, which has a 1950s ambiance to its decor. Let’s just say that this was the most expensive meal we had in New York! But our seafood was fresh!

Just follow the signs.

Just follow the signs.

The very retro interior of the Oyster Bar. I kept waiting for the Godfather to walk in....

The very retro interior of the Oyster Bar. I kept waiting for the Godfather to walk in….

Pony up!

Pony up!

My big scallops.

My big scallops.

Jacob and Isabella each ordered their own plate of soft-shell crabs.

Jacob and Isabella each ordered their own plate of soft-shell crabs.

David orders some kind of fish.

David orders some kind of fish.

Still getting along on our vacation on day four.

Still getting along on our vacation on day four.

We coulda eaten at the counter!

We could have eaten at the counter!

After our late lunch, we decided to take a leisurely walk to where we were going to meet Jack and Fay. First, we headed to the New York Public Library (5th Avenue at 42nd Street), which is a grand building. Founded in 1895, the NYPL is the largest public library system in the country, comprising 88 neighborhood branches and four scholarly research centers. With 51 million holdings, including books, e-books, DVDs, and important research collections, NYPL serves more than 17 million patrons yearly, and millions via online access. Behind the library is Bryant Park, home to Project Runway’s runway finale. From there, we hiked to Times Square for a brief sprint, just so the kids could see where everyone gathers on New Year’s Eve. Time Square, which is located in Midtown Manhattan, begins at Broadway and Seventh Avenue and spans out from 42nd Street to 47th Street. We couldn’t get away fast enough. It was a hot day and there were too many people and cars in the area.

Walking up the steps of the majestic New York Public Library (photo by David).

Walking up the steps of the majestic New York Public Library, which was designed in the Beaux-Arts style (photo by David).

Either Patience or Fortitude, one half of the pair of famous marble lions, which was a part of the Beaux-Arts-style building when it was dedicated on May 23, 1911 (photo by David).

Sunning itself on a hot Saturday afternoon is either Patience or Fortitude, one half of the pair of famous marble lions, which were a part of the Library when it was dedicated on May 23, 1911 (photo by David).

Detail of the NYPL building (photo by David).

Detail of the NYPL building (photo by David).

Looking up once you reach the top of the stairs of the NYPL.

Looking up once you reach the top of the stairs of the NYPL.

Stairs leading to the upper floors of NYPL (photo by David).

Stairs leading to the upper floors of NYPL (photo by David).

An enterprising writer sets up shop in front of the NYPL. What a great idea!

An enterprising writer sets up shop in front of the NYPL. Meet the author, indeed! What a great idea!

David and the kids hemmed in by Times Square, people, and a sea of taxis behind them.

David and the kids hemmed in by Times Square, people, and a sea of taxis behind them.

We kept walking downtown on Broadway, taking note of how the neighborhood was changing from the glitz of Times Square to some gritty areas. At any rate, one of the points of destination was the Flatiron Building (174 5th Avenue), which David and I had seen in 2008 but did not have a picture of since we didn’t bring a camera on that trip. At the time it opened in 1902, the 22-floor, steel-framed triangular-shaped building was considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper. We took a little respite at Madison Square Park (at the intersection of 5th Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street), a.k.a. a nap, before continuing on our walk.

The majestic Flatiron Building (photo by David).

The majestic Flatiron Building (photo by David).

We met up with Jack and Fay, daughters Camille and Genny, and Genny’s friend, for drinks at Narcissa Restaurant (25 Cooper Square). We had a great time, marveling at the fact that we could end up in New York City at the same time and being able to get together.

The Beaudoin and the Enrado-Rossi clans.

The Beaudoin and the Enrado-Rossi clans.

Afterwards, since we were already downtown or in  Lower Manhattan, we walked all the way back to Little Italy. I can assure you that we easily logged ten thousand or more steps that day. Our friend Sandy recommended The Egg Shop (151 Elizabeth Street, 646.666.0810) since it was in our neighborhood. Her mother, who had recently visited New York, had gone to and liked The Egg Shop. So we had a late dinner at this cute little café that serves – you guessed it – all kinds of dishes, especially creatively concocted sandwiches, made with organic and locally sourced eggs. It was a quiet way to end another packed day of walking and touring.

David’s El Guapo, slow-cooked pork shoulder, honeyed spaghetti squash, tomatillos and pumpkin seeds in achiote cola mole with egg white queso fresco, served with blue corn tortillas.

David’s El Guapo, slow-cooked pork shoulder, honeyed spaghetti squash, tomatillos and pumpkin seeds in achiote cola mole with egg white queso fresco, served with blue corn tortillas.

My tasty Bec Burger and fries comprised a beef burger, sunny-up egg, white cheddar, black forest bacon, tomato jam, fresh pickled jalapeno on a panini roll.

Jacob’s hearty BEC Burger and fries comprised a beef burger, sunny-up egg, white cheddar, black forest bacon, tomato jam, fresh pickled jalapeno on a panini roll.

My B.E.C., which is basically the same as Jacob's dish but instead of a beef burger, mine was just a broke yoke. And it was still very filling!

My Egg Shop B.E.C., which is basically the same as Jacob’s dish but instead of a beef burger, mine was just a broke yoke. And it was still very filling!

A nice homey feel to the Egg Shop.

A nice homey feel to the Egg Shop.