I’d hoped that I’d have Saturday to explore various areas and go taking photographs, but the weather decided to mock me—the morning fog didn’t burn off, ever. This made for some really entertaining drives as I took a meandering path from 680 to Berkeley by way of Alhambra Valley Road. I ended up in Pinole, a little town that doesn’t feel like it’s anywhere near the giant metro area it’s properly part of, eating at a burger joint called the Red Onion for lunch.
The hotel I was staying at was the Doubletree at the Berkeley Marina, which also manages to get a bit of an isolated feel to it. It was a little odd being at the second Doubletree in as many weeks, but this one was laid out more like a Disney World resort—several buildings in a sprawling complex rather than a tower. I checked in around 3:00, got my chocolate chip cookies (just something that hotel chain does for guests) and loafed a little. Bafflingly, while the wireless in the lobby was free of charge, the in-room DSL was $10 a night. I decided to forgo the in-room connection.
I did a little quasi-research on restaurants in the East Bay area before heading out there, of course. I ended up for dinner at a place considered one of the best Chinese restaurants there—with the generic name of China Village. The food, though, definitely wasn’t generic. It’s a real Sichuan restaurant; by “real” I mean that it’s not just General Tso’s chicken and Szechuan Beef, but a whole collection of dishes that one suspects either don’t show up over here or just don’t show up on the “American” Chinese menus. I’m told that China Village has the “American” menu too, but the Sichuan menu does actually have English translations for all the dishes, including things with dubious-sounding names like “Spicy Boiled Beef” and “Dry Cooked Tripe.” I ordered “Hot and Spicy Pork Shoulder,” which turned out to be roughly what I expected: the Chinese equivalent of carnitas. However, it was in a thick sauce that reminded me of another Mexican dish, molé: spicy and sweet and very complex. Unexpectedly, for dessert the waiter gave me a small cup of a mildly sweet rice soup—with mysterious sticky white tapioca-ish balls I decided not to inquire about—at no charge. Perhaps he was impressed that I ordered the pork shoulder (“look, a white guy who didn’t order General Tso’s!”).
Incidentally, I’ve read that despite the bland-sounding name, the Spicy Boiled Beef is one of the hottest Sichuan dishes you can get.
After waking up this morning to a much better day—as usual the weather mocks me, knowing I will be inside the whole time!—I went down to the lobby and the meeting room for the class.
I’ll see if I can write more about this sometime without getting into detail that only photo-geeks would like—actually, it’d be difficult to get into that detail to some degree, at least right now. The class was very, how should one put it, information-dense. It was in several sections, starting out with a section theoretically on camera basics that got into some interesting tips for camera stability, focusing, and exposure, moving through composition (which began with a quote from Erma Bombeck: “No one wants to see your slides. Get that through your head.”), touching on digital darkroom work, and moving on through flash photography and portraits.
Was it worth it? Well, again, we’ll see if any of it sticks. It’s probably as useful as a class which isn’t hands-on with cameras could be. A hands-on class, of course, is a workshop, not a seminar, and it’s hard to find one for under $500. That doesn’t mean I’d never consider taking such a workshop—but I’d have to decide I was pretty serious about this whole business before doing that.