Tony Bourdain has a serious bone to pick with this town, characterizing it as a hotbed of veganism rife with "crunchers". This colored his 2009 program with a bitterness I as a carnivore found depressing and hinting of Personal Vendetta. Sure enough, the name Alice Waters was mentioned; there's a feud so wrenching for him that he misses the boat on what makes San Francisco a great place to eat. I generally enjoy Bourdain's programs, although the Pre-No Reservations, younger-Tony shows were more interesting for his being less angry, jaded, self-conscious, and more bright-eyed.
A forty-four minute program is long. To find it wholly devoted to an anti-vegan diatribe was, frankly, boring. It led him to scarf down low-quality meat at greasy dives for a third of the program and to pursue a manic meat-mission at unexciting places for much of the rest. When the San Francisco show was over, I wondered why I was so vexed by it and tried to imagine how he could better have used his time here.
Neighborhoods and ethnicities are the essence of this sprawling, diverse city. For a New Yorker, especially, to devote forty-four minutes to culinary San Francisco and not mention Vietnamese cuisine is downright negligence; the foodiest of New Yorkers are often completely unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, so common here, and truly spectacular examples can be had at all price points.
Another interesting difference between New York and San Francisco is in the Italian cuisine department, New York's tradition being rooted in Naples and Sicily, and San Francisco's in more northerly regions such as Tuscany. As North Beach's former Italian predominance disappears, some focus on the Italian history of culinary San Francisco would have been apt if not important, not to mention colorful and fun.
Views – restaurants with views from decks and heights – of the bay, of the ocean, of the city, would have provided visual excitement for the TV audience and acquainted it with a unique neighborhood or two. Countless visitors to our city are drawn by this very feature, and there's just no denying the romance and thrill of al fresco dining here. Many establishments have charming small patios and gardens. Why not show one? As for our local people, the camera was pointed at a variety of homeless street persons and toothless beggars.
One wondered why Bourdain, in his one foray outside the city, drove all the way to Oakland for a $2 taco from a fast-food truck, and ate it sitting on a parking lot ledge. Was this the (Eureka) clue: Program as dig at nearby Berkeley's "Chez Panisse"?
Sante's Rx: One heck of a delightful, self-ridiculing segment deliberately integrating soy foods into his palate, with his characteristic vulgar humor saying something like, "I've come to San Francisco to lose my soy virginity." This town would have obliged him, sending him to the moon with creativity. There are Thai and Chinese chefs who would have incontrovertibly proved that tempeh and tofu are "Not Just For Yogis" but actually components of an exciting meal. But then he would have had to drop his beat attitude and let himself walk around stunned thereafter, muttering, "I stand corrected."
I agree that the Anti-Meat lobbyists can be annoying, and I personally do not fancy meatless meals. But I also recognize that restaurant patrons are often looking for tasty examples of meatless cookery, and Western chefs are not cooperating. Our culinary schools are not demanding that chefs master soy, for instance, in order to graduate. Over a quarter century ago, I was offering tofu and tempeh dishes to the meat-accustomed palate on a meat-dominant menu at a resort attracting its share of vegetarians and vegans, and this my innovation kept guests on the property for dinner. Omnivores on vacation would experiment at such a place, opting for Tempeh Piccata over Roast Chicken on a given night, to discover its possibilities beyond Asian expressions. Many a customer complimented and thanked me for both accommodating their health needs and inspiring their own experimentation. There are chefs far more talented than I who could expand their clientele catering to this market. Not that Anthony Bourdain need ever be one of them, but the guy's act is just crying for a shattering, silencing sexy night with soy, and I hear him.
Today for breakfast I had one fried egg, over. Served it salted, peppered, flat, and halved on a halved toasted bagel.
Whatever it is about eggs that makes their taste so "complete" for me, so satisfying, I haven't figured it out yet. I suspect it nutritionally has to do with the protein in the yolk, and something about the interaction of salt, butter, and egg-white that just sends me over the top taste-wise.
I marvel at the perfectness of the egg. It's a spiritual experience for me, really humbling me as a cook, because for all my learnedness in the culinary arts, there is nothing I can do to rival (though I can sort of imitate) the flawless dovetailing of nutritive need and gustatory delight so elegantly stated by The Egg.
Food for Thought, indeed.
Last night I was supine on a table, undergoing a medical procedure. Happy Thanksgiving? The light fixture above my head was interesting: A giant photo transparency of a view of the heavens "actually taken from the Hubbel telescope", overlying a large light square that was divided into quarters. Supposed to relax the patient. As I am in the midst of serious personal medical challenges, I'm used to viewing thousands of images of my own and reference innards and organs, and I was struck by the similarity of this slide's appearance to those bio-forms.
"You know," I said to the technologist, "The picture on the ceiling looks like pulmonary parenchyma, dense with miliary nodules, and there's some patchy infiltrate in the left lower quadrant." Needless to say, he was stunned.
As I lay on that table, throughout the next hour or so, I pondered the analogue, remembering some beautiful Nature photographs I've seen that really play up the theme -- flowers and foliage, meteorological patterns, rock formations, speaking a language strangely similar to that spoken by our own histology and gross anatomy.
On my way out of the hospital, I noticed the artwork in the halls and found it very aptly chosen. The themes were similar: Leaves floating on a rippling pond, or swirling in a whirlpool or windstorm; a single flower, a tendril dangling, encircling...
One can "be sick" and see that, exclusively.
Or one can thus gain entrée into yet another wondrous sphere, where even diseased cells can claim their share of beauty.
Until I fell ill in February, it had been decades since I'd been in "patient" mode. Now, I have something of a complicated health picture and am dealing with the medical profession on my own behalf constantly.
What's changed over the years? Why do I, who used to work in Medicine in New York, find it such alien(ating) terrain?
There are those who say my native New York doctors and facilities are notoriously more professional and proficient than those here in California. Others say the whole profession has morphed into one in which patients must, much more than ever, concertedly advocate on their own behalves, doctors being less likely to automatically consider themselves accountable to actual patients, due to all the billing/regulatory intermediaries. Radiologists are more likely to rush-read images, and doctors to settle for mere reports without viewing actual films, etc.
I have been struggling with this, having lost the more aggressive insistence that came with the New York territory. I have always counseled the ill, including friends, to clearly assert themselves with medical professionals, and now I find myself in the position to discover how difficult that is to do when ailing. It is far easier said than done, so I'm humbled about it and smell a wildly fertile field in Patient Advocacy/Relations, for those of you seeking new careers.
I spent almost thirty adult years outside Medicine's crosshairs. Needing to avail myself of its services these days, I must mobilize great stores of energy, relearn old skills, learn new systems, and engage new techniques for navigating this terrain, said not-quite-Pollyanna.
Thanking God for the ol' B spirit, plasticity, resilience, equanimity, and cheer.
Yesterday I visited the hospital where I had undergone my ordeal last winter. The following is the text of an email I just sent someone who'd flown 3000 miles to my bedside, telling him about my reunion with the angels who rescued me.
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Don't know if this would interest you at all, but:
Yesterday, I was at [name of hospital]. And I decided to do something while there that I'd thought many times of doing: I went back to all the wards/units where I had been a patient last winter, to see them from the eyes of health, the rooms I'd lain in, and to perhaps thank some of the really outstanding people who had taken care of me. I had the distinct sense that they very, very rarely see the positive results of their dedication - their former patients IRL, walking around in street clothes, with wind in their sails.
First stop: The ICU. I thought of you as I entered its door, imagined you coming in and passing these places, as I had never seen the door myself; I had never seen that front desk. And there was my little alcove/room, just to the left. The whole ICU looked much, much smaller and more crowded than it had felt/appeared to me from my horizontal position on that bed. I instantly remembered nurses I saw there yesterday ---- remembered their names, which blew their minds. There were even hugs and tears - they couldn't believe I looked so good, and they were genuinely grateful I'd come back: It did a LOT for their morale. I specifically asked for Katy, who had been in touch with you by phone. I wanted to thank her for her hand-holding care of me when I was first admitted there, put on the oscillating ventilation. (I don't think you saw that set-up; for hours I was strapped into a jerking/bouncing/vibrating chest-wrapped thing to jostle my ribcage while the oxygen was blasting in through the mask - Katy explained it was to loosen the "cement"-like "fluid" that had filled my lungs.) It was really hellish, but Katy sat there with me, while I begged her to stop it, and she'd say, "Okay, fine. You want us to intubate you? Because if I turn this off, we have no choice."
You know what came back to me?
And this is really why I'm writing this to you.
She was the one who came in and said, "______ is coming from New York. I've spoken to him. His plane arrives at 2 in the afternoon."
So help me, I looked at that clock every several minutes and calculated where in the American skies you were. It was critical to me, somehow, to hang on to that while the waves of wind smacked me in the throat and the vest jostled me hard. I remembered that yesterday. I remembered a lot of things, and, you know? It was psychologically a very healthy thing to have gone back there. I had read on the Internet that that's the case for many, many who spend extended time in Intensive Care through an Emergency admission.
Anyway, I left a note for Katy yesterday (because she's a Night Nurse and wasn't there), on a special "Recognition" card, which they post in their little staff rest area, and everybody looks. Apparently this is a Major Highlight of their work. These ICU angels of mercy are in the business of saving lives, and while they get monetary rewards, their souls really do crave just this sort of recognition. Many of their patients don't recover. The few who come back and show their/our faces, healthy, REALLY encourage them.
After I left there, I did the same at the TICU and the regular ward. I was remembered, and I remembered the names, too! I recognized-in-writing two more absent nurses in the TICU, and followed up with a couple of nurses on the regular ward. One was a male French nurse with whom I had communicated in French when I was first admitted to the regular Medical ward for observation. "You were just coughing and coughing and coughing," he said yesterday. He didn't know - so I told him - that I later went Critical and was transferred to the ICU and was in the hospital another 12 days after he last saw me.
It was a very rich experience for me and gave me a certain amount of closure. I have very, very warm feelings for those people and was told that the nurses I recognized in writing would be thereby recognized by their departments and supervisors. The least I could do.
And, of course, I have warm feelings and deep gratitude for you. You really gave me something priceless by flying out here when you did. The plane was cramped, the ICU was cramped, it wasn't fun, and you must have been scared until I stabilized.
What more can I say?
Love and hugs.