green and purple

Oh, Albany

After work, yesterday, I decided to see The Illusionist . It was playing in only one place in the entire East Bay -- the Albany Twin.

Albany is a small town that borders Berkeley, directly to the north. At the turn of the century Albany was just a spot where Berkeley dumped its garbage until two women with shotguns put an end to it. Now, the citizens appear to be bleed over from the Berkeley crowd next door. At least it seemed so on a Saturday afternoon.

The Albany Twin is located on Solano Street, the main drag in Albany. It's one of those market streets with kitschy stores and restaurants, along with the occasional chain. The buildings all look like they've been there since the turn of the century, and some have. The Albany Twin theater itself is 76 or so years old.

I had missed the matinee, and so I had a couple hours to kill. Dinner was in order and immediately the white and blue facade of the Cape Cod restaurant caught my eye. Seafood would be good.

The Cape Cod has been run by the same Thai family for 15 or more years. The upward lilting interrogatives of the owner's daughters, who are the servers, is a dead giveaway. "May I take yoah orduh, suuuuuuh?"

It was 5 p.m. and they had just opened for dinner. They had some dinner specials written on a white board which my server brought round and leaned against another table for my viewing. They also had Early Bird specials on the back of the menu, for diners between 5 and 7 pm. This was a trumpet call for retirees and, sure enough, septuagenarians began to stagger in by the handful soon after me. They were often greeted by name and with a hug. "How are your grandchildren?" the servers would call.

The interior of the Cape Cod was nicely decorated. There were white curtains in the large picture windows, in a style reminiscent of the 20's and 30's. The tables cloths were indeed white cloth and the napkins were also cloth and salmon colored. Every table had two fresh cut red or pink roses from someone's garden, dotted with moisture and placed in nice vases.

The superannuated were not the only customers. On the street outside, hybrid Priuses were coming and going in the dozens. A blue one brought two couples to the Cape Cod. They looked like they had come straight from the university. One of the men, who looked like a cross between Topol, from Fiddler on the Roof, and a garden gnome, with a fringe of ginger hair that went straight round his head, giving him a weird red halo, came in talking about money and everything he said from then on revolved around the cost of things. "I was in Santa Rosa the other day and I stopped in that Chile's. A beer cost $4.95. $4.95! I can get the same thing for .99¢ in the grocery. Waitress, I'll have the premium wine for $3.95. Do you want to share a carafe? How much will you drink if we get the carafe?"

I had the stuffed sole, which came with salad, saffron rice, and mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, and cabbage; weird!), and sourdough bread served with pats of bright yellow butter. The meal was attractively presented but the food was somewhat plain. Nevertheless, I would try the restaurant again.

Still having time to kill, I wandered over to the Burger Depot. It had an ice cream parlor attached which was directly across the street from the movie house. This building was also vintage, the big glass ice cream case, with it's multi-colored bins, archaic. This business was also asian owned. The asian population in the Berkeley area is growing fast. I could make a mint if I opened a bubble tea house on Solano.

I sat down to watch the movie crowd, a chocolate shake in hand. Out of the Albany Twin came two actual beatniks! The man with shaved head, goatee, and sandals. The woman with a long dark pony tail. Both were wearing black turtlenecks and jeans!

A line was forming to get into the theater. At its head, a hippy with vertically striped pants. I had already bought my ticket and intended to stroll across the street when people started entering.

An antediluvian woman, wearing a gorgeous blue shawl, and leaning on a wheeled walker, slowly made her way down Kains St., intending to cross Solano. Her old coot of a companion walked with two crutches, and this made him look remarkably like a Members-Only jacket wearing giraffe.

As they crossed the street, at about a half mile an hour, this being California, traffic stopped for them, otherwise grim death would have made an appearance. If the black, red and white terrazzo at the front of the theater had been wet, again a horrible scene would have ensued. As it was, the frail and venerable hag and her ancient amigo -- a creaky convoy -- survived the gauntlet, bought their movie tickets and headed for the back of the line, which was around the corner. I suspect they both may have frozen to death in the chill mid-August wind coming off the bay, as I didn't see them again.

In the line was a short asian man, wearing a very pretentious hat and sandals. He was standing inappropriately close to two college girls in sweat shirts. The asian man in the pretentious hat may have been a bit MR but he was carrying a thick book. Many of the people in the movie line were carrying books. My people!

The line started to move and I hurried across the street and into the theater. Like many old theaters in progressive or college towns, the Albany Twin has a following. It even has its own MySpace. Educated people just love to preserve everything. "It has such a wonderful history!" they'll exclaim.

I'll admit that I love old movie houses myself. Portland Oregon is a good place to find beautiful old movie palaces. I regularly patronized several. It's a shame the Albany Twin was divided up into two theaters. It's certainly no movie palace but the early movie theaters took a cue from their stage brethren and many of them were opulent. The Albany Theater, though built to serve a more pedestrian crown, and with its dark green wooden floors, still has a certain beauty that exists in all the old theaters. It's such a shame so many of them are now downtown furniture stores and storefront churches.

One thing about old theaters, though. The concept of stadium seating was mostly unknown when they were built. The woman sitting in front of me had the frizziest hair EVAR! And one thing about college towns is that EVERYBODY comes to see a halfway intelligent film. The small theater was packed. And the one other thing about college towns is that people (mostly women I found) have absolutely no trouble asking others, in a demanding yet passive aggressive tone, to shift over into single empty seats to make room for a party of three or four. I'd like to see them try that on Stockton Street in Sacramento. The last interesting thing about the theater was watching a guy, standing in the middle of that moth-eaten place, talking on his cell phone giving directions to his friend on how to navigate through the lobby and into the correct aisle.

The film I had come to see, The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel, was really quite good. Not one of those films that stays with you. Not a masterpiece. But really enjoyable, nevertheless. It's an old story: childhood lovers, separated by fate, reunite but must face the cruelties of society and a powerful and evil betrothed. Regardless, this was a decent vehicle for Edward Norton, with his dark piercing eyes. I'm not sure I was able to accept Paul Giamatti as a police inspector, though. He's much more the distracted crazed type. The independent and comedy film type. I've always liked him as well. I didn't see him in Lady in the Water but his performance here was agreeable.

The real draw of the film, of course, is the magic performed. Edward Norton learned some sleight-of-hand and many of the illusions were created with period mechanisms, I'm told, rather than CGI. In fact, this is entirely a period piece, filmed in sepia and using cute devices, such as doing fade outs like they used in films of the 20's, with a telescoping effect; a narrowing circular viewpoint that sometimes focuses on a distant scene first before disappearing altogether. Film buffs will be able to tell me what that was called.

When I left I was feeling quite whimsical, so I purposely drove on back streets, trying to find my way back home. I wandered through downtown Berkeley and then into downtown Oakland (quite the dichotomy) before finding my road. An excellent evening.
  • Current Mood: mood? there is no mood
Homesick. Again. Your writing is wonderful, so colorful, so describtive. It's hard to remember just how cold August is in Albany when you're steaming alive in the Low Country but you nearly made me shiver.
I miss seeing people walking about carrying a book, you don't see that here, you rarely see it in DC, but you see book toting all over Berkeley/Albany.