Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Preface to Praise

I just unearthed a whole bunch of prime material from my archives in the garage. Whatever irony you detect in that statement, I assure you that I mean every word sincerely.

My next entry will be the third installment in my self-indulgent excavations. But it works better with a preface.

Sometime after Kim and I had passed through the tumultuous early years of our relationship and before we began planning our wedding, we experienced the severely limited but nevertheless welcome pleasures of the Vallejo Renaissance. We hung out a bit -- me more than her, since I was home more during the day -- at Booklover's Haven down on Sonoma Boulevard, just south of Georgia Street. We were two blocks -- sometimes two frightening blocks -- away if we took the alley (Hudson Alley, I believe it is called).

The real attraction wasn't Greg and Veronica, the strange married couple that ran the bookstore, but Paul, the Welsh expatriate who had started up a cafe inside and, after a while, his partner Nancy. Paul was incredibly sweet and the sort of music lover who can get you to listen to music you think you won't like and recognize its value. Nancy, from Napa, was a little harder to figure. As Kim eventually learned, she had been grossly overweight as a teen. But by the time we got to know her, she was belly dancing and svelte. It was never entirely clear whether Paul was really straight -- Nancy used to speculate that he wasn't -- but they made a nice couple and we spent both fun and frenetic times up at our place, 617 Napa Street, depending on the substances consumed and in what order.

Kim did a poetry reading in the cafe portion of the store in August of 1993 on a 108 degree day, despite the lack of air conditioning. Our friend Priscilla read too, as well as a Latina poet from Oakland whose name escapes me. And Nancy bellydanced. I think we have it on tape, actually. I remember the day well because we made the occasion into an excuse to have a party for friends from Berkeley and S.F. -- the first since my undergrad graduation party in 1991 -- and because I had been on a Bad Subjects "field trip" to Sun Valley mall earlier that day, in which the participants had roamed aimlessly and then ended up at Red Robin, where the migraine-afflicted Steven and I competed to see who could down the most free-refill cokes. That not-so-fateful expedition did result in the title for issue #8, "Malls and More," as well as a short collaborative piece.

I don't quite remember how everyone got to our house -- I know George Kresak was there -- but I vividly remember going to the BART station to pick up John's Wisconsin childhood friend Jim. Other than the excellent reading, the highlight of the very hot evening was our spontaneous decision during the party to take frozen vegetables out of the freezer and use the packages to cool our heads. I had made very spicy Indian food -- my standard lentil-spinach-serrano pepper-ginger-lemon juice concoction -- and John Brady, unaccustomed to such spice, was suffering. Carlos Camargo, by contrast, was loving it. And John's friend Jim seemed to be doing fine as well.

Anyway, all this is prelude to the prelude. Kim had also taken advantage of some inexpensive modeling sessions at the bookstore to work on her art. Paul started doing art shows. And Kim was asked to do a show the following spring. Even though it was Vallejo, it still felt like a pretty cool thing, given the decent traffic in the cafe and the fact that she got to hang many different pieces. The matting and refurbishing she did for some of her older work really set it off nicely, too.

All shows are supposed to have a catalog of sorts, so the task fell to me. I had sat in on some of the classes in Contemporary Art History that Kim took through UC Extension with Mark Van Proyen of the San Francisco Art Institute and had a sense, particularly from the class field trip, of how the copy should sound. But mostly I just improvised.

Even though there was bullshitting involved, though, I really believed what I wrote and I still do.

It's funny, in retrospect, how thoroughly I undermined my detached, scholarly tone by referring to the artist as "Kim" instead of "Nicolini." Oh, well. I suppose I love her too much to maintain that sort of critical distance.
Tags: autobiography

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