Author Archives: John Harris

Diary of a haunted summer at the Berkeley City Club

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When writer and artist L. John Harris had to vacate his Berkeley home for a month, he checked into the Berkeley City Club, a private social club and hotel where he is a member.

The Durant Avenue landmark, designed by the great Berkeley architect Julia Morgan, dates from 1930.

While ensconced in the hotel this summer, from June 18 to July 16, Harris kept a journal and posted the entries on Facebook with photos. After several days at the Berkeley City Club, the Medieval architectural motifs of Morgan’s “Little Castle” started to work their dark magic on Harris and the posts became more like haunted-castle musings than travel diary entries.

Below, 12 entries from his journal.

#1 Living at a hotel

I have always dreamt of living at a hotel. A tidy little room on a high floor with daily maid service. Free morning coffee with gratis New York Times. An exercise room and swimming pool. Afternoon tea service in an elegant lobby. And a good bar and restaurant where you are greeted by your last name.

Did I get this romantic idea from books and movies growing up in the 1950s?

Well, here I am at the Berkeley City Club for a whole month, a decision based on being temporarily dislocated from my home. Of course, my fantasy was always some grand hotel in Europe or New York with lots of glamorous guests coming and going, but Julia Morgan’s monumental Berkeley City Club comes pretty damn close, save the glamorous clientele.

I would describe my experience so far — several days in — as a cross between feeling homeless and deposited into a senior citizen home, albeit with great architectural bones. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s garlicky food revolution: Stories within stories

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If it’s true that “Garlic is as good as ten mothers,” the title of Les Blank’s 1980 film, my question is: why anyone would want ten mothers? For most people I know, and speaking for myself, one good mother was plenty. Evidently this is not the case with garlic, about which, for its fanatical fans, there is no such thing as too much.

So when Blank’s cinematic homage to never-enough-garlic was screened on a recent Sunday at the Pacific Film Archive as part of a Les Blank retrospective, aging but loyal garlic-heads, including yours truly, showed up to marinate, yet again, in the stinking rose’s aromatic magic.

When my Book of Garlic was published in 1974 under the nom de plume Lloyd J. Harris, it luckily caught Les Blank’s eye (and nostrils). The book, which had been inspired by my brief stint as a waiter at Chez Panisse during its first hectic days in 1971, proclaimed a garlic revolution in America and popularized the ancient Roman word for garlic, “stinking rose.”   … Continue reading »

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When chocolate met cheese in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

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At the Cheese Board on Saturday night, the bar for both chocolate and cheese was raised to new heights. Pairings of high-end dark chocolate with carefully selected foreign and domestic cheeses had local taste buds all atwitter.

The unusual tasting was the brainchild of Leonard Pitt, founder and president of the exclusive Berkeley Chocolate Club (BCC), and Laura McNall, a veteran Cheese Boarder and recent inductee into the BCC. Pitt is well known in the Bay Area for his work as a mime (trained in Paris in the 1960s by the teacher of Marcel Marceau), and his books, including Walks Through Lost Paris (Shoemaker & Hoard), about Parisian architectural history. His latest venture into chocolate is just another of his many autodidact passions.

For April’s BCC meeting, McNall wowed members with a carefully designed cheese and chocolate tasting. The idea was then hatched for a public tasting of her revelatory combinations in conjunction with the Gourmet Ghetto’s annual Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival. … Continue reading »

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