Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Books and Music of 2011 so far

1.  Karl Hiaasen: Star Island -
Brutally funny, ironic, predictable if you are acquainted w/ his writings, and well worth the time. But I suggest you wait until it comes out in paperback.  Lindsay Lohan meets Lady Gaga's body double in the swamp!  Check it out!!  You won't stop laughing, smirking, or imagining who his model for Cherry is (oops I done did it again).

2.  Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad -

Intelligently written; great first chapter introducing a cleptomaniac heroine; some great character study. Parts of the story, however, become lax, lazy, boring and easily anticipated.  Maybe a little too much of the author's own life?  I don't know. But its  a good vacation read, though not a feel good story by any means.

3.  Leon Russell: "Retrospective"-
It's easy to forget the music of the 70's, and also easy to remember it once you start listening to this cd.
Insipred by the purchase of his new collaboration with Elton John, The Union, 
I've started to listen to Leon Russell again.  Both disks are superb. From the first track on The Union, "If it wasn't for bad" to the end, no weak spots, save perhaps "When love is dying" which is just a little too repetitive, slow and depressing.

4.  Professor Longhair: "No buts no maybes" -
Great liner notes accompany these 28 tracks from the most expressive of New Orleans and early rock and roll's greatest piano players.  The combination of barrelhouse piano, rhumba beats, simple and repetitive licks, and unintelligible lyrics (at moments) wonderfully crooned makes for a life long party.

Ubuntu: Food for Fun!

Sunday, February 19, after a wonderful day at Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga

including a beautiful couple of rainbows as seen from their pool near sunset, we went to Ubuntu in Napa for dinner.

Simplicity rules.  The three of us: Annetta, Lisa (my stepdaughter) and myself, chose the $35 3 course prix fixe dinner 

First: a shot glass of mushroom broth with 1 slice of an exotic mushroom, then a deconstructed salad of
beets, radishes and avocado:

with avocado bacon (that tasted like bacon, but wasn't).  Crispy bits of sorrel and kale too added to this dish. I enjoyed a glass of Three Clicks Savignon Blanc with the amuse and the first course.

The second course was David Little's potatoes (beautiful little ones):

baked in kraut ash with kraut mousse and broth revived my sense of taste entirely.  These potatoes and the saurkraut were live with spirit.  A glass of cabernet sauvignon, lion’s run, “mount george,” napa valley, 2006 accompanied the entree.

The desserts were playful and beautiful as well: Annetta and Lisa had this chocolate construction,

and I had the White Chocolate with Lemon cream and pistachio ice cream,

The service was friendly, informed and great.  The ambiance is a little noisy and somewhat busy - its not a huge room, maybe seats 65? - and the music wasn't my favorite, but little did that matter.  What counted was the tastes, the smells, the touch of real food served with passion and a real sense of fun!

We look forward to returning soon.  Ubuntu rocks!  They serve locally sourced food, slowly cooked, but not slowly served.  And they suffer little of the pretension of other 1 star restaurants in the Napa Valley.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Calida Junctura: impassioned conjunction

Yesterday while shopping for books and a cd in Berkeley, 2 students besides me found the two most precious and absurdly opposite books of the same title in the shelves.

They were:  Miles Davis," Miles to Go "

and Miley Cyrus, "Miles to go"


This instance of calida junctura is not an example of twins separated at birth!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meeting Johnny Moss 1989 - 1991

I often wonder if the current World Series of Poker Champion knows who Johnny Moss was or his import on the modern game of poker. To refresh your history, please read Al Alverez' The Biggest Game in Town
for an idea of Vegas before the mega-casinos. Alvarez' book, serialized in part in 2 issues of the New Yorker (!) in 1982, inspired me to play local poker tournaments in Northern California and then venture to the WSOP in 1989 for a first time.

I was a lowball player, as that was the only poker (along with 5 card draw) allowed in California in the 1980's. At that time the WSOP had about 20 events, and regularly would draw in the California lowball players by scheduling a $1500 Ace-to-Five (with joker) tournament on Kentucky Derby day. Attendance was pretty good at that time - almost 200 for the 89 event, almost as many as entered the main event that year.

I came to Vegas the day before the event to get a feeling of Binion's and the action around the tournament area and was totally overwhelmed. Just the sound of all those chips clacking throughout the 50 or so tables on the casino floor was deafening. Twenty or more tables were taken by the day's tournament; the rest dedicated to ring games & a smaller area with maybe 6 tables devoted to one table satellites for the next day's event.

I just watched. It was a lot to take in, and I didn't want to miss a thing. I signed up & paid for the next day's tournament & circulated among the tables. I recognized a few players I knew from California and kept pretty much a low key image.

I was up early the next morning - didn't sleep much or very well - and headed for the coffee shop downstairs to get reoriented. When I got into the elevator was when I first saw the lizard eyes of Johnny Moss. We were the only ones in the elevator. It wasn't his face, posture or age that told me something about all the poker hands he'd seen, but his eyes.

 His look went through me: heavy-lidded, revealing nothing. He was in his 80's at that time and had won the lowball event the year before. I kindly nodded to him and went on my way when we reached the casino floor. But I could never forget his look - like a snake about to coil. Unrepentant. Poised.

I didn't do anything great that year: finished about 100th of 200, but wasn't discouraged. I was in Vegas the next year at the WSOP & met Mr. Moss. He was playing a limit Omaha hi-lo tournament and signing copies of his book, "Champion of Champions" which his wife was selling. I respectfully waited for a break and had him autograph the book. "Play draw, Greg, that's the game for you", and promptly signed my copy of his book.

Over the next few years I returned to Binions and the WSOP, and Mr. Moss was still a fixture. Maybe he was a dottering old man to some; someone's grandfather in polyester out for a good time; or maybe, seemingly just one of the old pensioners playing out his Social Security money before month's end. But every poker player at any event at Binion's at one time or other ran into Mr. Moss and his stare. He may have been old, but he still had a spark of life in him

In 1991 I played with him for about an hour during the Hall of Fame lowball event and had the chance to play a hand against him. I opened with a great draw: Ace, two, three, five,X and opened the pot for a raise. He was in the big blind and everyone passed. He reraised me to $300 (we were probably playing 100-200 at the time). I shuddered and called. No cards said Mr. Moss; "I'll take 1 please". He checked, and I looked at the Jack I drew. "Jack", I said with an audible sigh. He opened up his hand and it was a worse Jack - like Jack, 10, 9, 8 5. I won the pot. I beat Johnny Moss in a pot!! I promptly stood up and bowed towards him. "Thank you Mr. Moss."