Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lit Crawl in the Mission

You've heard of a pub crawl, a coffee crawl, maybe even a taco crawl, but have you ever heard of a lit crawl? Lit crawl is the epic culminating event of the two-week long literary festival, Litquake. With 80 events throughout The Mission and more 450 readers packed into 3 strict 1-hour shifts, the Lit crawl ended up feeling more like an all-out race than a crawl! Looking over the itinerary, there was definitely something for everyone.

6:00-7:00pm - Phase 1
We  began the evening at 18 reasons, a place close to my heart. 18 reasons is the educational nonprofit of the magical Bi-Rite Market and extends the market's mission of 'creating community through food' beautifully. 18 reasons also happens to be one of the first places I volunteered at upon moving to the Bay Area. The Lit crawl event at 18 Reasons was 'How Cookbooks Inspire Change' with 5 authors and food personalities speaking about a cookbook that changed them. A mushroom forager, a father-turned-cookbook memoirist and the proverbial 'Mayor of 18th street' were among the varied speakers that ranged from the sacred to the profane to the downright moving.
Soft spoken and serious Connie Green is a 'head huntress', or forager and author of 'The Wild Table' and also exactly the perfect image of a Bay Area bohemian. She read in earnest from the introduction of a former forager who emphasized the importance and sacredness of simplicity at the table. 

Daniel Duane shifted the mood of the cookbook conversation drastically. The father-turned-cook read (appropriately) from his upcoming cookbook memoir. Fast-talking, funny and brightly irreverent, Duane read of the time when his first child was born he realized he was the lowest priority in the household and so discovered the kitchen and cookbooks and cooking. By the end of the passage, he managed to liken the beloved Alice Water's 'Chez Panisse Vegetables' to 'Mein Kaumpf' in a way that was in no way offensive, only hilarious and inciting. It should be noted, Daniel Duane was one Alice Waters' preschool students when she was still a Montessori Schoolteacher and is now good friends with Waters.

Restaurant critic Marcia Gagliardi spoke in reverence of wholesome Heidi Swanson's 'Super Natural Cooking' and beautiful blog, 101 cookbooks. "If not for Heidi, I'd be swimming in a sea of duck fat and butter!" Gagliardi lovingly proclaimed. 

Co-author of the much anticipated cookbook, Bi-Rite's 'Eat Good Food', Dabney Gough spoke sweetly and honestly of her transformation into the food industry, ushered in by reading the now infamous Anthony Bourdain's first oyster experience in 'No Reservations'. She revealed too that at the time of first reading this she was a vegetarian who had never tried an oyster and the mixed emotions she felt about eating one. Both Bourdain and Gough's oyster stories struck a cord with me, and I imagine most of the audience.

And last but most assuredly not least, the Mayor of 18th Street himself, Sam Mogannam spoke first of starting the Bi-Rite we all know and love today and then of cooking cassoulet. Reading from the introduction of cassoulet in Paula Wolfert's 'Cooking of Southwest France', Mogannam captured the crowd with a beautiful and humble tale of the complexities of a country, a dish and of life itself.

7:15-8:15 - Phase 2
For Phase 2, we made our way to the intriguing sounding 'Mystery & Mayhem from the SF Examiner' at the SF Police Station on Valencia. Upon arriving though, we were turned away since the event was already at capacity. (The SFPD might have been the only venue of the evening to strictly adhere to room capacities)
By the time we arrived to our 2nd choice, 'Curd it through the grapevine; dairy related food writings' at Mission Cheese, the crowd was spilling into the sidewalk. We managed to just barely hear Megan Gordon's lovely memoir about cooking custard from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, a lovely segue from the previous event. When it was impossible to hear the next speaker, DH had the foresight to go to Phase 3 early to get a good seat for the sure to be crowded McSweeney's & The Believer event...

8:30-9:30 - Phase 3
...It didn't hurt that the next event was at one of DH's favorite bars in The Mission, Latin American Club. We wanted their signature margaritas but alas, they are like many Mission establishments, cash only and we only had enough for 2 draft beers! Luckily though, we were able to score 2 primo seats near the front of the stage. 
The scoreboard onstage and retro scantron forms handed out before the start of the show were promising signs this would be more fun than most lit crawl events.
That The Believer columnist Daniel Handler was the hilariously capable emcee of the evening only added to the fun factor. 
Husband & Wife powerhouse and Mission Chinese proprietors, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz sat onstage preparing fried chicken-butter lettuce wraps while Modern American poets Tess Taylor and Matthew Zapruder read aloud their poetry. Taylor and Zapruder were then called back to the stage to rep 'Poets' while 2 unsuspecting audience members came to the stage to rep 'Normal People' in a head-to-head triva challenge. The 2 rounds of 'American Poetry' and 'Making a Living' were delightfully absurd and in the end, the 'poets' slaughtered the 'normal people'. 
The scantron test was equally silly, wherein audience members had to answer whether the series of facts shouted out were true about Daniel Handler, Spanish poet Vincente Aleixandre, both Handler and Aleixandre or neither. 
I failed, obviously. Luckily though, I am smart enough to keep a super smart vegetarian boyfriend around who aced the scantron and in so doing, won me the delicious reward of a Mission Chinese lettuce wrap. Yum!
The streets of the Mission were packed full with vibrant, diverse crowds long after the lit crawl events were over. That is not to say the Mission isn't always packed on a Saturday night, it is. But the lit crawl amplified the energy that is so special and unique to the Mission. The entire evening was at once enchanted, educational, funny and informative...and best of all FREE!

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