The idea of the "literary salon" has always appealed to me. After talking about books for 6 years in college as an English major, I was eager to continue the conversation. And so for many years I have been in book groups, gone to literary events, readings, book festivals, such as the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, The Beverly Hills Literary Escape (which is this weekend) and taken more classes. I have read about the Bloomsbury Group and their Thursday evenings of conversation and recitals, with luminaries such as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant in attendance. Gertrude Stein had her famous salons in Paris, attended by Picasso and Hemingway. I've always been inspired by the idea of a group of writers, thinkers and artists who met on a regular basis and the artistic creations that came out of this community of kindred spirits.
Dana Goodyear at Taylor De Cordoba
Fortunately the "salon" is still a vibrant idea and Los Angeles is a vibrant community for writers. On Wednesday night, Taylor De Cordoba gallery in Culver City launched its new reading series: "Eating Our Words," a bi-monthly event that features acclaimed literary and culinary artists sharing words and good food. This inaugural event featured The New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear who read from her selected poetry and non-fiction. She writes the "California Postcards," "Letters from L.A.," and "Annals of Gastronomy" columns for the New Yorker. Her book of poetry "Honey and Junk" was published in 2005. The culinary part of the evening was provided by Patricia Tsai of ChocoVivo. She is an artisanal chocolate maker and provided sample of her creations throughout the evening.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Heather Taylor
The gallery was packed, and the excitement about this new series was obvious as the audience milled around looking at art, sampling chocolate, and chatting. Gallery owner Heather Taylor (my daughter) and Los Angeles-based poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi are the co-organizers of this series and they did the introductions. Dana Goodyear sat down and began her reading. She read from two of her profiles for the New Yorker, interspersed by a few of her poems, which she likened to palate cleansers.
I was particularly struck by her journalistic and narrative skills as she read from her profile of the Briazilian author Paulo Coehlo. He wrote "The Alchemist." She told us that for this piece, she had spent a weekend with the writer on a private plane traveling around Europe. The selections she read illustrated her essay's theme, which was that Coehlo's readers respond to him as if he is a mystic or a magician and that he cultivates this image. She told stories about his many adventures, such as one night in Pamplona, Spain when he presided over a magical ceremony performed by a "witch," a performance accompanied by profound statements by Coehlo for his adoring fans. Her observations and conclusions were fascinating, colorful, and quite funny, and captured the exotic appeal of this man. I learned so much.
As I sat there listening, I wondered what it is about a reading like this that moves me so. I realize now that it's not just the fact that I heard a very talented writer, but that I watched 30-40 people in the audience absolutely spell-bound and thrilled to be there. I think there is a purity to an experience like this that is hopeful and inspiring. In a city like Los Angeles that many people find scattered and fragmented, it is wonderful to know that there are gathering spots like this where we can come together to exchange ideas and be enlightened. The challenge is to find them and to go. These are the experiences that feed the soul.