By Meredith Brody
A couple of weeks ago, two friends who are expatriate New Yorkers who have lived and worked in Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende for the last decade came to town hungry for Chinese food, in short supply in their neighborhoods. (And they should know: Jim Johnston is the author of Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler, and Nick Gilman of Good Food in Mexico City: A Guide to Food Stalls, Fondas, and Fine Dining. Full disclosure: I contributed a blurb to Nick’s book.)
We met for an early dinner at Yuet Lee, unusual for me in that I usually show up at the place well after midnight, since it’s not only one of the few San Francisco restaurants that’s open after midnight, but one of the best. It had been some time since I’d been there, and I was gratified to see that they’d treated themselves to a fresh lick of paint, which hadn’t in any way diminished the slightly shabby, Edward Hopper appeal of the place. I was even happier to learn of an even bigger change, one that obviated the need of any future risky late-night stops at ATMs once we’d decided that Yuet Lee was our destination: the place now accepts Visa and Mastercard.
As we were tucking in to our stellar salt-and-pepper fried squid, whole braised fish, and sauteed baby bok choy, I was startled and delighted to see Philip Glass walk in with a large party. My friends seemed less surprised, until I reminded them that we were in San Francisco, not their old NY neighborhood, where they saw him frequently. "I wonder what he’s doing in town," I thought, and then promptly forgot about it, because I was leaving the next day for two weeks in two other towns.
At the second stop, the annual ten-day orgy that is the Toronto International Film Festival, I found myself watching GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts, by the Australian director Scott Hicks. Partly because of the propulsive, exciting music (I’ve always been a fan), and partly because of the sensitive, enthralling filmmaking (surprising, since I’m not really a fan of such previous Hicks efforts as Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars, or the recent No Reservations), I found the movie to be exhilarating. I was a little sad to be reminded that Glass was a vegetarian (though he makes amazing-looking pizzas from scratch); I wondered what he had ordered at Yuet Lee (certainly not the squid or the fish, though maybe the bok choy). The coverage of the production of Waiting for the Barbarians (based on a a J.M. Coetzee novel), an opera by Glass and librettist Christopher Hampton, for its debut in Germany, was especially exciting.
"I wish I could have been there," I thought.
And then I returned to S.F. to find out I could be present at another Glass/Hampton collaboration, and soon. Their Appomattox, based on the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, bringing the Civil War to an end, debuts at the San Francisco Opera on October 5th (and continues for six additional performances during October). I haven’t had such a fortuitous cultural pairing since TCM scheduled a Budd Boetticher marathon when I’d just finished reading his autobiography, When in Disgrace. There’s even a Glass/Hampton discussion scheduled for Tuesday night, September 25th, at City Lights, as well as a Glass chamber music concert on Friday Setember 28th at Herbst Theatre and a premiere performance of Glass’s Book of Longing (based on Leonard Cohen poetry and art, staged by Susan Marshall) at Stanford. So locally, our Glass is way more than half full.