North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival

The North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival occurred on Sunday, October 2nd 2005, and I was there. It was fantastic: one of the best street fairs I've ever been to!

It wasn't simply the fact that it was amazingly convenient to me. After all, it was located along Shattuck in the gourmet ghetto about three blocks from my house.

It wasn't simply the number of booths selling cookery, artwork, food products, clothing, and more. While the number itself was impressive -the booths lined two sides of the street for six blocks-, many booths also had cool content. Some booths that struck me were:
* A booth selling soap (that was actually supposed to be used) carved to look like sushi. And "hand soap," actually carved to look like a hand.
* One booth containing laser-etched 3-d glass cubes containing images of many different objects, including spheres, crystal growths, geodesics, and more mundane things like animals.
* One booth selling funky art that resembled the graffiti and murals one finds on building walls. (Sadly, I now forget the medium the art was done in.)
* One booth with stunning photographs of Vietnam. I think the photographer might've been involved in the war there (judging by his age), but I never heard explicit confirmation of this fact. In any case, he went back and took some large and beautiful pictures.
* A surprisingly popular booth selling fake wood flooring. Ah, Berkeleyans (don't want to use real non-sustainable wood).
* The Berkeley Path Wanderers, a group of people dedicated to mapping all the hidden walkways in Berkeley (and there are many) and maintaining them, was seeking new members and selling walking maps.
* The Academy for Psychic Studies. While many booths selling artwork I see at many fairs, this one I only spotted at this festival in Berkeley.
* An advocate for a small pedestrian mall in the gourmet ghetto. I'm all for it, given that right now the space is mostly unused asphalt.

It wasn't the food vendors, for there weren't very many and they weren't special. (I ate a chicken thai satay stick with rice, some roasted corn, and a few grilled oysters, all from different booths.) Rather, it was the drink vendors. Every local bar/pub/microbrewery (Triple Rock, Bison, Jupiter) had an area. And there was a wine tasting garden. And the local wine shop recently opened its store on Vine Street (hehe) and was open for browsing. The shop is in a funky refurbished building and almost doesn't look like a retail store. But inside one finds a moderate (not overwhelming) number of wines (five dozen or so), each with an individual frequently entertaining card describing it, its history, and what foods it would go well with. I bought two inexpensive Italian whites (that I haven't yet drank) that sounded similar to other wines I know I like. The store has a fun attitude, with quotes on the wall like, "Conserve Water. Drink Wine."

They did have a minor petting zoo for kids. It looked a little better than San Bruno Avenue festival but was still fairly sad, with six ponies in a parking lot and a few bales of hay.

Of course, the traditional modest (Thursday) gourmet ghetto farmers market people were there for this weekend festival too.

Blacks Oaks, one of our local independent bookstores (and one of my favorites), had readings and signings, nearly one an hour. Mind you, these were small time authors and were very sparsely attended, but it's the style that matters.

Now if this was all that was worth mentioning, it might merely be a slightly above average town festival.

But there was more. For one, there was a cooking stage with demonstrations throughout the day, with chefs from local good restaurants. I stood and watched two. One I watched was by the chef at Liaison (the neighborhood french restaurant); he cooked a roasted butternut squash soup. I got the recipe and actually made it several months later and it was fantastic! (Warm, tasty, and filling; a nice fall/winter soup.) Something I'd be happy to have been served at a restaurant.

And that's not all. The music at the Spice of Life festival was unparalleled compared to other festivals. They had three official stages of music. And more than that, they had two more unofficial stages: one at the Cheeseboard with its usual jazz duo, and one at a yoga booth with a performer with a sitar. I mostly hung around the jazz stage, and the performers there were generally great. The best was actually the Berkeley Jazz school. (I've heard them multiple times and they're always good.) Then came along a brazilian jazz quintet, and then a vocal group (that I didn't get as into). Much of the day when I wasn't wandering around the festival I could be found by this stage, listening and sitting in the sun and reading a book ("The Innovator's Dilemma") for a class. What a nice time, and I must've gotten through a good hundred pages.

[Most of this was written much after the festival.]

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