A Thanksgiving Sketch 2017

Visiting Chicago earlier this month already seems like lightyears away, especially with the advent of the annual year-end Holiday Season. Eleven of the mostly Fong clan gathered around our dining table for a home-made traditional feast with basic turkey and trimmings, Chinese sticky rice “stuffing”, yams, vegetables, apple pie and pumpkin custard.

To throw in a few world influences from traveling this year, I kicked off the event with Peruvian pisco sours and yucca fries followed by Moroccan zaalouk. A bit eclectic, but I couldn’t resist the yummy new recipes I learned by being in these fascinating countries with deep food cultures.

Naturally, it was fun to see everyone. We are all older and wiser, and the lone child under thirty was the highlight of the evening. Our conversations shift from children’s activities to adult careers, friends, and travels. It was a leisurely, enjoyable evening, and indeed, a very satisfying and thankful one.

I noticed this year a focus on food preparation. Ladies in my classes, on the street, and in between were into some serious food therapy. Everyone delved into and savored the minutest details beyond what was described above.  They seemed to taste and smack their lips at each morsel being described.

A professional therapist would probably diagnose that these women (I did not notice if there were men engaged in the same conversations, but there could have been) are finding comfort in what little can be controlled in an uncontrollable world. It gave me a smile to think of these small pleasures, and to appreciate these heartwarming conversations.

The day after Thanksgiving was highly anticipated with the opera world premiere of the “Girls of the Golden West”. Unlike Puccini’s opera by the same name (except singular instead of plural), it is a factual account of the events during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It reveals many of the dirty little secrets of that golden era, now mystified and synthesized into a romantic vision of California’s genesis.

The opera features characters who suffered incredible brutality during that era: fugitive Black slaves, Hispanic workers, Chinese prostitutes being chased out of town, murdered, or lynched. Even the environment was not unscathed: a 24-foot wide redwood was cut to a stump and used as a stage. This formed part of the backdrop for what was a fascinating historical event in American history.

Unfortunately, converting a Ken Burns-style docudrama to opera did not translate. Librettist Peter Sellars and composer John Adams (Nixon in China fame) made a noble effort, but somehow the decent singing, decent music, and decent story–all necessary ingredients for a decent opera–did not come together. Even our upgraded Center Box Seats where you can sip sparkling wine during the performance could not salvage the evening. Hopefully time will mellow this opera like all others.

Above: Pre-Opera chat with Librettist Peter Sellars, and the curtain call with dancers. Note the reproduced tree stump and felled tree in the background.

Below: the final curtain call with both Peter Sellars and John Adams, and young cast

As the Fall Semester winds down, I am still busily preparing for final exams and projects. I continue to practice sketching at Meet-ups. The last one I attended at the Apple Store in Union Square produced an encounter with none other than Emperor Norton. Another character from the Gold Rush days, this impersonated, once-real character gives tours of historic San Francisco. I cartooned him while he anachronistically used his cell phone to schedule tours and take care of business of the day.

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