A good post-renovation question for PeeWee, our bartender here at the Grand Hotel, would be whether or not the Scotch orders have increased since the new lounge was unveiled. The leather sofas are plush and brown in this new room, there is a stately dark wood bar, the windows are heavily draped. Heavy copper artwork hangs on the walls. The light is mellow, even in the shining heat of the California summer. The room is begging for people to sit, either alone or in pairs, sipping Scotch and reading or discussing Kant or Hegel or someone else whose name I can’t so easily remember how to spell. I almost did it myself the other night, but I remembered just in time that I hate Scotch and so I eased back and just got red wine instead of my normal white. And then I remembered that I’m not in college anymore and so I eased back and read the latest David Sedaris collection. But, still, this new room invokes a more pensive mood and I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that, since its transformation, conversations over the night’s cocktails have deepened. Perhaps some of our guests have gotten a little wiser from passing nights at our little bar.
Lucky for us there’s a state ban on indoor smoking. It may look, in our beautiful new lounge, like a cigar would be the perfect accessory, but, fortunately, it’s just not legal. If you get the urge, remember that you’re in California and try eating some carrot sticks instead. We put out piles and piles of them every night.
I sat down recently with Anita, our most senior staff member, and Jonathan, recently promoted bell-manager. I wanted to hear from her about the ways that the world and her life had changed in the time that she had been working at these hotels. Jonathan was clearly bored by the subject. He slumped in his chair and looked sorry about how difficult it would be to just get up and walk away.
“Jonathan,” I said, “she’s been working here for as long as you’ve been alive.”
I got him with that one. He leaned in, eager now to hear about the 22 years that spanned his entire existence.
But Anita tells her story as if it were simple and commonplace. She came here from Mexico 23 years ago, worked briefly at another hotel, then found the Cupertino Inn just as it was opening. Since she started as a housekeeper all those years ago, she has had four children and bought a house. Clear, concise and, out of her mouth, relatively unremarkable. And yet, of 85 employees, she’s the only one who’s been here from the very beginning. She created stability for herself in an unfamiliar country and she’s raising children in comfort and security.
Earlier this week I saw a Chinese circus. The big, celebrated moment of the show came when a beautiful, lithe woman balanced en pointe on her partner’s head. She was exquisite, graceful and completely still, but, beneath, her partner was working like mad. He took one step in one direction, two in the opposite, shifted his head, then a step forward to compensate. All this work to fight for the image of stillness. I think of this when I think of Anita’s 22 years.
Jonathan, I think, went back to feeling unfazed. Fine. Perhaps it’s better if her story is heard as normal. If it could actually become normal, the world would be better off.
Recently I was taken to a beautiful little town called Pescadero. It was a warm and clear day, thanks to the bizarre anti-winter California is experiencing this year. We drove up Highway 1, through the high drama of cliffs and lighthouses, then turned just a tiny bit inland to get to miniature little Pescadero. With lush green mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth, it’s the kind of scenery that’s so movie-perfect I have trouble believing I’m in a real place. Is this why I was taken to Duarte’s, an exceedingly normal, dimly lit diner without even the option of a table with a view? Was my hostess responding to our common, subconscious need for a grounding element? What she said was that the food would be so good I wouldn’t mind. It was good, really good even, but the competition was unfair. Perfect, clear mountain and ocean view on a sunny day versus a very nicely cooked piece of fish will not, for me, ever cause much moral dilemma. Next time I head that way, I’m going to the deli across the street, the one with picnic benches in an open field. Even if I end up sitting there with a bag of chips and an apple, I can’t imagine feeling disappointed. Still, I’m glad to be able to pass on knowledge of this nice-enough little restaurant. Should the need for sensory stabilization arise on your visit to Pescadero, Duarte’s fish is very, very good and there’s a full bar.
I’m about to recommend a restaurant to you and I have no idea whether or not it’s a good restaurant. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s the truth. I had an amazing experience there and we all understand that any recommendation is entirely subjective, so you may be feeling like I’m just letting myself get a little inappropriately self-conscious here. But first let me explain the nature of my bias, because this is not just going to be a case of whether or not your taste buds are wired the same way as mine.
The Armenian Gourmet was my first true Armenian restaurant. It may well be yours also, but, if you will permit me to share a little personal detail, I happen to be half Armenian. (And yes, for those of you out there who are in the know, our dear general manager is fully Armenian. So, if you’ve ever wondered how I possibly could have gotten this job, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge that the world has not so many Armenians left in it and that there is a certain preservation of the species instinct that cannot be denied.) So, here I am in this restaurant and, for the first time outside of my mother’s kitchen, the pilaf has egg noodles in it! The grape leaves were stuffed with meat and served hot, just like at Christmas dinner. But by far my favorite surprise of the day was lachmajun, a thing I had almost ceased believing in. We used to call it Armenian pizza, I guess because it was made on flat bread and smeared with a red mixture that turns out to be lamb, beef, tomatoes, onions and some spices. I was in Proust heaven that day. But, as you can see, I have no way of anticipating your experience of this place. The most I can say is that if you’re interested, it’s authentic.
Ooh, but I just remembered one truly objective fact: The baklava is the best in the entire world!
In our modern world there are a few products so associated with a particular brand that the brand name has become the common name for the thing itself. Kleenex, for instance. Sometimes I buy Puffs, sometimes I buy the Walgreens brand, but whatever the name on the little packet in my purse, I’ll always call it Kleenex. Q-Tips are maybe even a better example. Outside of my own personal usage, I hear some people ask for tissues, some for Kleenex; the two seem interchangeable. On the other hand, and I don’t know what your experience is, I’ve never witnessed a request for a cotton swab. Q-Tip is the only way I have ever heard anyone refer to the little paper sticks with cotton on either end, except to occasionally call them “ear thingies”.
Today another one of these took me by surprise. Maybe this is actually common knowledge, but it’s totally new for me. I wonder if I’m educating you or if you’re rolling your eyes at me, but I’ve just learned that Jacuzzi is the name of the guy who invented the system of pumps that turns a warm bath into therapy. I found this out because I drank a Pinot Grigio called Jacuzzi and thought, in addition to its being very good wine, that it was pretty funny for a winery to name itself after a hot tub. It turns out that the Jacuzzi family came to California from Italy and started making this wine years before their name became a household word. These people are the masters of engineering relaxation! So, here’s my free time plan from now on: A Jacuzzi in the Jacuzzi. I encourage you to join me.