Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Playing Hooky for the Day

Having diligently kept my nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel as I relocated to my new home, I decided to play hooky for the day. The winter storms have been non-stop for the past three weeks, so Rene and I were pleasantly surprised when we awoke to a clear and gorgeous day. We headed to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where Rene was keen to see a Mayan archaeological exhibit, followed by a Mayan textile exhibit and marimba concert at the Presidio Officers' Club. However, when we arrived at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, we were crestfallen to discover that the Mayan exhibit had closed on January 2.

With several hours to while away before the textile show and marimba concert, we decided to have an early supper at our favorite sushi bar. Isobune in San Francisco's Japantown is a very special type of sushi bar, where chefs assemble large batches at a prep station in the center of a water-filled moat, and place individual plates of the edible treasures on a procession of little flat-bottomed wooden boats. Diners sit at a low counter on the outer side of the moat and help themselves to the plates of sushi as they float by. When they're finished, the waitress tallies up the bill by counting the empty plates and beverage bottles.

Isobune is my favorite restaurant in all the world, and as always, the sushi was fresh, abundant and delicious. We had the luxury of time to linger over a nice long chat and browse in a Japanese dishware shop next door before heading to the Presidio. Much to our delight, the textile exhibition was dazzling and elegantly displayed. It featured over a hundred garments, each one hand woven and intricately embroidered with flora and geometrics in an eye-popping spectrum of tropical colors.

With great expectations, we took our seats in the auditorium to hear the marimba concert. Promptly at 7:00 p.m., eight musicians dressed in embroidered white linen jackets with red neckties appeared on stage and proceeded to play the absolute worst music I have ever heard. The emcee had promised a selection of salsas and cumbias, but instead of a program of traditional Mayan songs, they had chosen to start with a set of contemporary American standards, one of which I could swear was the theme to the old Alfred Hitchcock Show. The band was off beat, out of tune, and at one point I wasn't even sure all the musicians were playing the same song. What's worse, the music was metered by the stacatto beat of a set of snare drums that made it sound like the 'oom-pah' band at a pathetic polka party. In the middle of the third piece, I leaned over to Rene and asked in a hushed voice, "Do we have to stay for the whole thing?" Much to my relief, he replied, "No. We can leave now if you like." So we did. And something tells me that the rest of the audience wasn't far behind.

On the ride home, we had a good laugh at the musical travesty we'd just witnessed, and to end the evening on a positive note, Rene detoured off Highway 101 down to Fort Baker at the tip of Sausalito, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, with the city lights twinkling across the bay. Fortunately, Rene and I rarely tire of each other's company, and always manage to find something to enjoy about even the worst of days. In this case, it was the excellent company, the gorgeous weather, the delectable sushi, the opulent textiles, and the fantastic view at evening's end.