Oy sauce: In the alternate universe of Michael Chabon's funnysad new novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Harper Collins, $26.95), an ex-chess prodigy is slain in a seedy hotel with Esperanto signage in Sitka, Alaska, which became a Jewish refuge in 1948 after "the outnumbered Jews of the three-month-old republic of Israel were routed, massacred, and driven into the sea." Yiddish-speaking Sitka endures amid "an intoxicating bouquet of fresh hat" as "for half a century, Arab strongmen and Muslim partisans, Persians and Egyptians, socialists and nationalists and monarchists, pan-Arabists and pan-Islamists, traditionalists and the Party of Ali, have all sunk their teeth into Eretz Yisroel and worried it down to bone and gristle. Jerusalem is a city of blood and slogans painted on the wall, severed heads on telephone poles." By the way, the film version of Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay hit a roadblock and halted last fall.
Wing nuts: Captured falcons are smuggled alive out of Mongolia on international flights, stashed into carry-on luggage, for Saudi sheiks to use in hunting "the Lesser McQueen's bustard, whose cooked meat is considered an aphrodisiac." Journalist Michael Kohn covered this and other scandals in that flat land of lamas and Mormons where powdered wolf rectum is a recommended hemorrhoid medicine, as recounted in Dateline Mongolia ($17.95), new from Oakland's RDR Books.
Sag-waving: For "reducing extra chins and eradicating chicken neck," face-yoga beats Botox, claims Berkeley aesthetician Marie-Veronique Nadeau. Her book The Yoga Facelift (Conari, $19.95) includes press-and-stretch exercises such as the "Cheek Bone Creator."
High hopes: Headless-goat polo, expat women pelted with stones, an expat couple's corpses rotting beside a road: Such was Afghanistan in 1972 when Jerry Beisler and his pals moved in, aiming to export rugs 'n' drugs. One friend erected a "hash-oil dream factory" in nearby Islamabad. Another named her baby Guava. Guerrillas, Wavy Gravy, and Google honcho Larry Brilliant during his ten years with a guru, Brilliant helped eradicate smallpox in India all grace The Bandit of Kabul ($29.95), Beisler's memoir, new from Berkeley's Regent Press. (His recent reading helped christen the newly relocated Book Zoo at 6395 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland.)
Kyoto too: Formerly Japan's first and only non-Japanese geisha, Liza Dalby is now a fiftysomething Berkeley mom who packs Brie sushi in her daughter's lunchbox, as revealed in her latest book, East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons (UC Press, $24.95).
Oxygenitals: Inhaling a certain way gives Barbara Carrellas "breathgasms." The lapdancer turned theater artist also self-induces "screamgasms, gigglegasms, angergasms, crygasms, and blissgasms." Directions for hundreds of, um, chakra-rotic ventures (e.g. "the Corkscrew" and "the Vibrating Doorbell") fill Urban Tantra ($17.95), new from Berkeley's Ten Speed Press. Featured in such videos as Zen Pussy and Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm, Carrellas is also the "Dean of Femmenergy" at Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, "the world's foremost cross-dressing academy," in New York. Some urban tantrists are S/M-ists: "Determine what kind of sensations the bottom likes," Carrellas urges. "Thuddy? Tingling? Stinging? Sharp?"
Holla at a playa: In the '70s, Oakland A's owner Charley O. Finley watched a local teenage habitué doing a "wild dance" at the Coliseum and loved it so much that he hired the dude, Stanley Kirk Burrell, to be the team's "general manager" apparently some sort of mascot. Players nicknamed Burrell "Hammer" because he resembled "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron. The dance was breakdancing. Burrell grew up to be MC Hammer. Steven Travers' A's Essential: Everything You Need to Be a Real Fan (Triumph, $19.95) is a stats-, facts-, and trivia-packed triple play.
Austen powers: Offering itself as "Your haven in a world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen," the Republic of Pemberley at Pemberley.com attracts Jane-ists who, adopting the personae of fictional characters, beg other fictional characters for advice on such puzzlers as "Has Prince Eric got a ship?" and "How to get my man?!" This site aided UC Berkeley grad David Shapard as he researched The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (Anchor, $16.95).
Wet way: The world's biggest ferry fleet plied these waters until 1958, as detailed in Paul Trimble and William Knorp's Ferries of San Francisco Bay (Arcadia, $19.99). Operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad, the fleet included 19th-century multilevel vessels such as the rebuilt riverboat Oakland. Its indoor seating deck appears in an archival photo whose caption reminds us to "note the absence of vandalism." The boats had cuspidors, too.
Boogie heights: Built for a Civil War surgeon, the "very balustradey" Victorian at 2799 Pacific Avenue in San Francisco was the scene of international billiards tournaments then sat uninhabited for fifty years. Blessed with fourteen-foot ceilings, 2090 Jackson Street was a Nazi consulate in 1941. Anne Bloomfield and Arthur Bloomfield dish personal and structural dirt on a hundred-plus houses in Gables and Fables: A Portrait of San Francisco's Pacific Heights ($19.95), new from Berkeley's Heyday Books.
What the Fork - March 14, 2:30 PM
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What the Fork - February 28, 1:16 PM