“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” — Albert Einstein

Woody Allen’s newest film, which opens August 1 in the East Bay, is one of his gorgeous, fun, historical ones. (Think Midnight in Paris.) Shot on the French Riviera, Magic in the Moonlight is a romantic comedy about a master magician (Colin Firth: delightful) attempting to expose a psychic medium (Emma Stone: luminous). I highly recommend the film, and the fact that the backdrop is full of azure seas, luscious gardens and swanky costumes is just icing on Woody Allen’s sweet cupcake of a film.

The picture is set in the 1920s, when the world was obsessed with magic, and it deals with the importance of magic and wonder in our lives. As it happens, there is a delightful book that deals with many of the same themes—and much of the book is set in Oakland.

Published in ­­­2001, Carter Beats the Devil—the debut novel of Glen David Gould—is also set in the 1920s, and many of its characters are historical figures (President Harding, the Marx Brothers, TV inventor Philo Farnsworth and Oakland’s own business magnate Borax Smith, among others). The title character, magician Charles Carter (Carter the Great), is a highly fictionalized version of the real Charles Joseph Carter, a San Francisco native who achieved his greatest fame abroad.

As with the Colin Firth character in Magic in the Moonlight, the real Carter specialized in illusions such as sawing a woman in half and making an elephant disappear.

The novel ranges from Carter’s introduction to magic to his final performance. In between, there is intrigue, love and the invention of television. An optimistic post-earthquake Oakland feels like a character in the book, with sites that play a key role in the story: Lake Merritt, the Mountain View Cemetery and the long-gone Idora amusement park.

Working as I do at Children’s Fairyland, you might say that I am in the business of creating wonder, mainly for very young children. I love watching the kids as they enjoy the magicians we feature on many weekends. And I’m all for films and books about the subject.

Actor Simon McBurney, who portrays another magician in the Allen film, offered a great quote in the Sony Pictures Classics’ production notes distributed to the media. “When you see something and you don’t know how it happened, in that moment you catch the same sensation you had when you were five years old and you saw flowers coming out in the spring or you saw your favorite uncle making a coin appear from behind your ear. It appeals to the part of us that wants to see the world anew. We can become children again in the face of extraordinary musicianship, a great performance in the theater, in the art gallery or the wonders of nature. Those things can give us a sense of timeless wonder that is truly magical.”

See the movie and read the book. And to set the mood, sample the “Carter Beats the Devil” cocktail, invented by Erik Adkins, the mixologist at Oakland’s Flora restaurant, and watch it disappear.

Carter Beats the Devil

2 oz. tequila, preferably Reposada
1/4 oz. Mezcal
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar, preferably organic
20 drops tincture of chili (use an eye dropper)
Lime twist for garnish

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

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