Wednesday, November 10, 2010

La fiesta Diana & tales of Halloween

Fiestas and Halloween are the topic of today's post. Let me start off by name-dropping big time: I went to Steve Jobs's house for Halloween. Yes I did. Not that I was invited. I just went there. And got candy and a stuffed werewolf. But more on that later. First, let's continue where I left off when Diana came to town.

I wasn't the only one thrilled to pieces that Diana Kennedy was in the Bay Area. Dinners and lunches and readings were held from the Wine Country down to Santa Cruz and every place in between. One of the most charming parties of all was hosted by Steve Sando of the justly famous Rancho Gordo in Napa. Rancho Gordo is beloved by foodies because of its extraordinary selection of heirloom beans, spices, and other native ingredients, and the fact that the walls are covered with campy Mexican images only adds to its considerable charm.

Tiny dancer
Steve pulled out all the stops on October 30, calling in a small army of children from Ballet Folklorico to perform traditional Mexican dances and inviting greater Napa to the party, which included wine tasting from Ceja Vineyards, flavorful sausage from The Fatted Calf, and some tasty Oaxacan-style mezcal supplied by Encantado. Even Steve's mom showed up! 

Finally, after all the eating and drinking and dancing had begun to wind down, Napa mayor Jill Techel capped off the festivities by proclaiming it to be "Diana Kennedy Day."

I've never seen Rancho Gordo so packed as it was that day, and what was even more astonishing was the vast number of native Oaxacans who were there to celebrate DK's remarkable new book. Every last copy of the scores of Oaxaca al Gusto available for purchase was sold, and it seemed like each person there wanted DK to sign this and all her other books. Standing behind a table decorated with vases of sunflowers, Mrs. Kennedy finally developed a severe case of writer's cramp... not that this slowed her down in the least. She continued to sign and dedicate each book with a flourish, never pausing to add a bold Buen Provencho! over her name.
Amelia Ceja, DK & Steve Sando

DK aside, the highlight of the afternoon, though, was without a doubt the charming children who performed three dances for their enthusiastic audience. Dressed to the nines in traditional Mexican costumes, the kids performed like seasoned pros.

It was hard to leave such a gracious host, but we were lucky enough to have DK staying with us that night before her flight home to Mexico, and we needed to get her fed, as she had been too busy talking with her fans and signing books to eat any of the great food that had long ago disappeared. As we drove south, we decided to go to one of our favorite Chinese restaurants on the peninsula, Little Sichuan, which - like pretty much every good Chinese eatery out there - makes up for its lousy decor with great food. We were just as famished as DK when we finally got to San Mateo, so we fell on our food with delight before heading home.

Now, I have to tell you that DK is one impressive bundle of energy. She was up at seven the next morning, ready to go on a hike before her flight. So up the hill we went before piling into the car and bundling her into a plane for a three hour flight back to Mexico City. I do wish she lived closer, but I know her heart belongs to her home in Michoacan.

The following day, my husband and I went in search of children dressed up in creative costumes, as it was Halloween. In years past we had parked ourselves in coffee shops so we could watch people hauling their kids around to the various stores. It soon got to feel too weird and alien, though, this new way of celebrating Halloween. I mean, we used to dress up in flammable things from Woolworth's, traipse around the neighborhood with flashlights, and fill up pillowcases with vast quantities of loot, which I would always sort out, immediately trading away anything that wasn't chocolate or Pixy Stix for better quality booty. I remember horrible tales of razors in apples, but we ate whatever the neighbors threw into our bags and consigned warnings about the apples to the same heap as the one about the one-armed guy with a hook that terrorized Lover's Lane. 

So anyway, we wanted to see some screaming children in clever getups for a change, so we cruised the streets until we arrived in Palo Alto's Professorville area. And boy did we come up with not only the best costumes, but also the best haunted house we'd seen in ages, as well as the most astounding pumpkin sculptures I've ever laid eyes on. 

As we drove around, we saw a bunch of costumed children and parents starting to line up in front of a house. Workers could be seen in the courtyard beyond the brick wall, hanging lights, hanging jack-o-lanterns, and, in the case of one unfortunate guy, one man. It was still light out, the guys were still running around frantically behind the wall, and we were anxious to get our Halloween fix, so we wandered down the street a bit. In one cul-de-sac was an astounding display of pumpkins, stuffed ravens and rats, and two of the best carved faces ever. 

Who did them, who went to this incredible expense, and all my other questions went unanswered. They were just there for everyone's enjoyment.

Then it was time to hit the haunted house. We straggled in at the end of the line just before everyone else within walking distance got the same idea. And that's when we started hearing "Apple" and "Steve Jobs" floating in and out of the conversations. Yeah, right, we thought. As if he lived in this neighborhood and as if he'd be so nice as to host a haunted house for the kids. So we asked. "Oh yes," we were assured, "he did this last year, too!"  

And it was decidedly cool. First thing on the right was what looked like a scene from an old print of "Children of the Damned" playing on a loop. That set the mood right away. A guy in the stocks squirmed in the eaves. Monsters and vampires and werewolves decorated every part of the small but probably quite lovely courtyard, and young men and women grinned at the kids and handed out the goodies. 

I became particularly excited when a bag was thrust into my hand, too, even though my costume was considerably less than lacking.

I've been a PC customer since forever. Now I want to buy an Apple. Yes, Bill Gates is saving Africa from AIDS. But Steve Jobs gave me candy!!

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