Monday, September 19, 2005

Wow! What a venue! Susie lives in this gated community on the edge of Sacramento. It is like parkland with houses - great spreading trees crowding together over manicured lawns and shaded streets. The community has a communal clubhouse, with swimming pool and tennis courts. It is available, free, to residents. This is where we had the launch party.

Susie's nieces and nephews manned the gates and the streets to make sure everyone found their way. Kathy, Susie's sister, dressed the clubhouse, made spectacular flower arrangements, and laid out a magnificent buffet. Nearly seventy people showed up, and I spent an hour and a half meeting and talking to all kinds of folk - a girl who lived for four years at The Friendship Hotel in Beijing, where my character Margaret Campbell first stays when she arrives in the city; the Pattys and the Paynes - old friends of my French neighbours, the Jensens; Kosta Arger and his wife Julie, who are wine producers from Reno; old friends Cheri and Craig, Hibbard and Sharon, Bobbe and Michael, and many, many others.

John and Bettie Jensen's daughter, Susan, showed up with her husband Henry. They had driven all the way from Oakland, near San Francisco, only to arrive after the nieces and nephews had abandoned their posts to join the party, and were unable to get through the gate. After waving like lunatics at various residents on the other side of the gate, one of them finally took pity and let them in, offering vague directions towards the clubhouse.

The good news is that they finally made it, and it was a joy to see them again.

I did my usual stand-up comic act, and told all my China stories, and read a bit from the book. They were a lovely, receptive audience. It makes it so much easier when people are sympathetic from the outset.

Alzada from the Avid Reader mystery bookstore in Davis did more than a thousand dollar's worth of business. Upwards of forty books were sold and signed. And afterwards we drove, exhausted, through the dark streets of this State Capital with Susie and her friend Steve to the Esquire Grille restaurant downtown, where we met up with Kosta and Julie and (Dr) Hibbard (Williams) and Sharon.

Kosta was disappointed that the restaurant didn't stock any wine from his Arger-Martucci vineyards, so he went out to the car and brought in a couple of bottles of his cabernet and syrah - 2003 vintages not due to be released until next year. So we had a privileged pre-tasting, and I have to say, this was very good wine - velvety, vanilla oak.

We ate fried calamari, and spicy blackened red snapper and sipped on Kosta's nectar and wound down in delightful company after a long, weary day. At the end of the meal Kosta and Julie were heading back down to Reno - a two-hour drive. And when the check arrived, the other three couples insisted that they were paying for La Patronne et moi - a pre-arranged deal that they refused to let us in on. And so we felt warm and happy to be among such good and generous people.

As we left the restaurant, a stiffening breeze tugged at my kilt, and a little knot of women standing outside the door couldn't take their eyes off my legs. Maybe they were hoping to catch a glimpse what I was wearing underneath the skirt.

But after such fine wine and excellent company, who the hell cared!

The Clubhouse

The Pool

Alzada from the Avid Reader

With the Kahns

Hibbard and Kosta

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