Nov 16, 2008

Dean's Delicious Fish Tale

As our host on Friday, Dean was inspired by Jack London to create a meal that casually mixed seafood and ethnicity. We learned that Dean’s excellent grilled halibut and spinach lasagna reflected his own mixed Croatian and Italian roots. While London might have sneered (given his animus towards immigrants), we were delighted that the legacy of Tadich’s fine cuisine—and even finer wait staff—lives on in Dean’s household.

We should also acknowledge Roy, in absentia. With ingredients from Tom, and with a nod to London’s enterprising Greek and Italian fishermen, he supplied us with unmarked bottles of ouzo and grappa. But Roy did more than lubricate our discussions. He also generously offered to take us on his boat through the Carquinez Straits to Benicia and down to the old oyster beds in Oakland. Larry and I can’t make it next weekend, so instead we’ll wave our yellow handkerchiefs as you come around Point Pedro.

Finally, thanks to the men in our group who, along with their wives, appeared last night to support Chris’ fine work at the helm of the Diabetic Youth Foundation. What a beautiful evening at the Claremont Resort in Oakland. And how striking to see our men sporting ties and starched collars!

The Book
Jack London delivered exactly what our 14 in attendance were expecting: a series of short, readable tales of San Francisco Bay, circa 1900. His stories got us talking about the local geography, and our neighborhood’s proximity to many of London’s own adventures. From the Marin Islands to McNear’s Landing to the San Rafael Slough (which we now know extended as far as Davidson Middle School), London's tales of the bay are littered with local landmarks. And so we happily digressed into topics as varied as the nearby egret colony, the disappearance of native shell mounds, the massive Gold Rush-era sediment flows into the bay, and more. We thank Armando, our naturalist, for his wealth of detail and Stan for his perpetual willingness to share on a more, ahem, personal level. (His real estate holdings aside, did he really stalk those egrets in his birthday suit?)

Tales of the Fish Patrol was just one collection of many short stories Jack London turned out during his abbreviated career. Tom surprised us by explaining that London never actually worked the fish patrol, but instead took his details from others. Regardless, the writing was engaging and fast-paced and would have produced universal acclaim had not one of us spoiled the party by revealing that London’s short stories predominantly targeted the adolescent reader (Tales of the Fish Patrol, for example, was serialized in 1905 in Youth Companion) and that London was typically paid by the word for his stories (at his peak, he commanded up to 20 cents).

Our attempt to rate Tales of the Fish Patrol (it eventually received a 6.7) was complicated by the insubordination of a few. Once Dan proclaimed that London deserved a 10, Stan engaged in a petty act of vote cancellation with his 1. Thereafter, Glenn, claiming inspiration from This is Spinal Tap’ s Nigel Hufnel, raised the ante with an 11, which was later canceled by yours truly. Shame on us all for these antics! But congratulations on one collective accomplishment: this is the first book that everyone finished before the meeting.

Next Up
Armando offered us a fine set of choices for our next gathering: Robert Laxalt’s Sweet Promised Land (a paean to our fathers), V.S. Naipaul’s A Way in the World (his fictionalized autobiographical essays), and two titles by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping and Of Love and Other Demons. (Note to MBC philistines: 2 of the 3 writers selected by Armando won the Nobel Prize for Literature; the third received two Pulitzer nominations. It can be done.)
We opted for News of a Kidnapping, Marquez’ non-fiction account of the Medellin Cartel’s murder and kidnapping spree in Colombia. If, after dinner, Armando dusts our desserts with a fine white powder, we trust he'll be using confectioner's sugar.