Sitting on the hardwood floor of a total stranger's house and watching a performance in full swing just three feet away is not totally new to me. I've spent many nights sitting cross-legged on dingy-carpeted floors of dilapidated houses that had earned nicknames like The Sandwich House or The Suicide House.
The living rooms of those dirtbag mansions were stages for punk bands, or a girl with a ukulele singing earnestly about how neat friendship is, or small art shows, or amateur poetry in which "incendiary" is rhymed with "hairy." Those days of free-spirited house shows went from awesome to tiresome for me the moment a stoned idiot stole my pizza. Do not mess with my pizza, ever. But there was, and still is, something radical and exciting about this medium for exposing people to art.
There was no danger of any pizza thievery in the living room where I found myself parked on the floor at Vanguard Culture's Foodie Soirée. The quarterly event is all about "delicious cuisine and creative conversations," according to the email invite. Fifty people involved in the arts in San Diego come together at a private residence to eat, drink, mingle and chat about artsy stuff. There are performances and a featured artist showcasing his or her work. The party sounded like the kind of rager Frasier and Niles Crane would get sherry-wasted at while fighting over the final spot on the Seattle League of Opera Patrons and dropping tons of genius SLOP puns.
Even though the invite read, "This is not a potluck. It's an exploration of the senses, and we mean that in the most unpretentious way possible," it was hard not to drop some side eye. With verbiage like that and a name like Foodie Soirée, I mean, could you blame me for thinking it would be stiffer than an old rich lady's morning martini?
I had no idea what kind of house show this would be. John, my boyfriend, asked what felt like 568 questions about it: "But what it is? What should I wear? Will you know anyone? What do we need to cook? Sorry—what do I need to cook?" I couldn't provide solid answers, other than "Um, maybe pasta?"
The dark, hardwood floors we sat on at the Foodie Soirée were laid in a beautiful Point Loma home that looked straight out of the pages of Architectural Digest . Instead of busted tees and sneakers, guests were dressed in that sort of kooky-art-teacher-who-comes-from-money look. No one was barfing in the sink or pilfering rolls of toilet paper—a change from the house shows of my salad days.
John and I wandered around, posting up in the back porch, dressed according to the code that called for "casual, artsy, fabulous." That means all black with a funky print coat, at least in my book. I knew no one. He knew no one. We were in the high-school cafeteria trying to find a table that would have us. He continued asking questions. I continued to have few answers. We drank, as anyone who feels moderately awkward does. But what it is? Then it all made sense.
We were called into the house to watch a performance. Once again, I found myself sitting on the floor of a living room about to watch something that could be special or total horse shit. And then out came a young woman from the California Ballet Company, moving gracefully before a large, abstract photograph by the night's featured artist, Maite Agahnia.
The performance was hypnotic and beautiful, enhanced by the warm lighting and intimate setting. She was followed by another young woman, gliding lithely to a somber piece of original music. It was as though Edgar Degas' ballerinas twirled off of a canvas and landed right in front of us in all their moody, impressionist glory. All in the room wore expressions of awe. The performances were breathtaking, but, more so than that, they reminded me why I love the arts.
While San Diego's art scene tends to be pretty low-key, urban art scenes in general tend to get written off as pretentious and exclusive. Let's be real: They totally can be, but so can anything involving creative endeavors or individuals. Creative people can be mega-assholes, and I include myself in that group. A while back, John had an art piece from Pier 1 Imports at his apartment. I unleashed a disgustingly snobby tirade on the offensive nature of the piece. Its crime was being boring, lame and from Pier 1 Imports.
The thing wasn't even on his wall. He didn't even care for it. It just existed, and for that he got an earful. On the flip side, I go into long-winded complain-a-thons about pompous artists and their sense of entitlement, especially when they talk down to others who don't have the benefit of rich parents funding a cozy lifestyle. No one can win. I'm a collection of contradictions fighting it out for top billing, depending on the argument.
Despite my jumbled opinions on the arts scene, what I saw at the Foodie Soirée was an exciting example of the best the arts can be. The fact that a living room can easily transform into a punk club, a smoky bohemian coffeehouse, a gallery or a theater for intimate dance performances is incredible. It's what keeps me exploring new and interesting things in the city's arts-and-culture scene, in between TV sessions on my couch, of course.
What I saw at the Foodie Soirée seems like a good model for what other arts-minded people can do with limited resources. All it takes is a living room.