I am beginning to think of this as a restaurant column. Out of fear of not having enough things to write about this week, I have overscheduled myself with events, almost all of them involving eating. My normal life is not dull, exactly, but lots of it is spent writing, which doesn’t really make for eventful copy—and therefore I dreaded having to fall back upon my inner life, which is sort of dull, or at least settled, and gossip, which is probably actionable. Today, lunch at Le Central again, this time with Millicent Dillon, the novelist. I adored her new novel, A Version of Love. She wasn’t sure the world in general felt that way. It is an historical novel, in a sense—about a woman in the 1950s who goes off for a forbidden weekend with her shrink. It is told in a hypnotizing, riveting sort of French way, and I found it wonderful. We talked about the pleasures of writing novels and how it is different when you are, as we are, a Certain Age. We agreed, or hoped, that we become more skillful but at the same time know ourselves to be more intellectual, less driven by the emotions (usually of anger and revenge) that motivate novelists when they are, say, in their 20s.
We had a chance to behave magnanimously about our table. The San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown, often eats here, and today he turned up with five or six people, and there was no place to put them unless we moved a few tables away from where we were sitting. We noticed the stricken faces of Louis, and Paul the maitre d’, as they were weighing asking us, so we volunteered; they rewarded us with raspberries and cream.
The place was really jammed, as it always is at lunch. A noted local TV critic came up to tell me how she hated Kate Hudson’s performance in Le Divorce. Other people found her adorable. I have noticed that almost every member of the cast has partisans and enemies. I think of novelists as bland, bourgeois beings, seldom attracting either enmity or adulation, but actors are clearly lightning rods. Arnold Schwarzenegger is finding that out as he pursues the governorship.
After lunch, home to work, water the flowers, and so on, and off to dinner early, as soon as the bridge traffic might have died down. We were going to dinner at Chez Panisse with our friends Andy and Mary Lou. I hadn’t been to Chez Panisse, the most famous Bay Area restaurant, yet this summer. It is in Berkeley, across the Bay Bridge, which brings me to the subject so dear to me: how the automobile is ruining (has ruined?) America. The bridges that connect San Francisco to the East Bay cities of Berkeley and Oakland—and to some extent the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Marin County—are now impassable.
At any hour, you find yourself sitting in a stop-and-go jam. As a result, people think twice before accepting dinner invitations on the wrong side of the Bay, or going to that certain shop or restaurant over there. It might as well be Afghanistan or Bali. There have been stabs at public transportation—there’s a subway, BART, which sort of works, but BART requires a major effort to get to the stations, which are not conveniently placed as they would be in London or Paris; the planners apparently imagined you would drive your car to the station. Unclear on the concept, as the late local columnist Herb Caen would have said. He gave out UOTC awards. The subway should be better; there should be trains. I pray that our leaders will understand some day that it’s so Third-World of the United States to be so thick about public transportation—it’s more like Bangkok, say.
Chez Panisse is the well-known restaurant started by Alice Waters, our most celebrated local chef. I didn’t see Alice last night, but I did see Steve, the host, who was wearing a beautiful shirt and gave me a kiss. I had been kissed at Le Central, too, making me feel like an incredible bon vivant person-about-town, known to headwaiters. At Chez Panisse we always eat upstairs at the cafe, a simpler and cheaper menu, with delicious food. (I had a pizza of bacon and greens; J. a salad of frisee, peppers, and squid.)
Back home, we have good news of Carolyn, that it was some medicine making her sick, and the remedy is to stop taking it! If only all scary medical events could be fixed so easily.