Wednesday, September 30, 2009
At the same time we lost Mr. Lumpy and our Malamute, [The Man I Love] and I watched our son go off to college. So our nest really was empty. Although we wanted to spend some time getting used to living without animals or kids around, we kinda missed having other creatures in our home.
So after a year, we've started thinking about dogs again.
Each weekend, as we drive around, we pass pet shops or animal clinics or Farmers' Markets where tents are set up and signs say, "Pet Adoptions Today". And we look yearningly at the animals in the wire kennels, but we don't go in - no - we're afraid we'll be smitten.
Well, today, a co-worker came into my office and asked, "Hey, are you still thinking of getting a dog?"
A few months ago, he lost his own family dog, a bulldog, who had to be put to sleep. We were sharing stories of what it was like to lose a dog. Today, he said that he had recently taken in a dog that belonged to a friend whose home had been foreclosed. It was a golden Labrador, pure-bred, a male one-and-a half years old. He's a nice dog, said my friend, but too big and rambunctious for his children, who are toddlers. Would I be interested?
Here's his picture. His name right now is Yeller. Nice looking fella, isn't he?
What do you think?
I'm not sure of the proper procedure here. Do you do a trial visit? How do you determine if he's the right dog for you? If you express interest, are you stuck with him? What if you don't like the dog, can you give it back?
Adopting him means crate training, and obedience training, and a lot of oversight. Also, we have to have him neutered, because right now he's not.
Still, it would be cool to have a dog in the house. I remember how much we both treasured the companionship of Our Malamute. And it would be good to have a dog, even just to encourage us to go on walks again.
Should we give him a go?
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This shop is on the Boulevard Raspail, in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris - called Saint Germaine de Pres. It is a neighborhood of classic boutiques - expensive but not flashy. The venerable department store Le Bon Marche is here. So are elegant hotels, among them the classic Art Nouveau pile, the Hotel Lutetia. I snapped this photo of a window display in a small boutique as we walked north from the Lutetia toward the left bank of the Seine.
Here are jewels, precious stones, beaded handbags and patterned silk scarves. Perfect for accessorizing that classic Chanel suit, don't you think? Aren't they tantalizing? Which would you choose?
Monday, September 28, 2009
I tend to keep politics off this blog, but it should be noted that conservative political columnist William Safire passed away this weekend.
In addition to being a political writer, Safire also wrote about writing and words. While I didn't share his politics, I enjoyed his Sunday columns "On Language." So imagine my surprise at reading this paragraph in the obituary that appears in the paper that hired him, the New York Times:
"And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!"Okay - it's well known that newspapers often have pre-written obituaries on file for famous people. Do you suppose Safire wrote his own obit, and is having a fine time laughing at his final joke?
The old station wagon had over 100,000 miles on it, and had some scrapes and dings. The upholstery was starting to fray, and there were some odd sounds coming from under the hood. It was back in the shop for yet another $1000+ repair. So... we took the plunge.
We bought a new car. It's a Ford Fusion Hybrid, so we can feel virtuous while self-indulgent - we are helping an American industry and reducing emissions, all the while saving money on gas.
Plus, it's got cool toys.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Well, that's how it was for me when we finally hit this little seafood place in Culver City, Mariscos Chente.
I'd been reading about it for a while on various food sites, and it always got rave reviews, so I'd been meaning to go. But in the back of my mind, I admit, I was kind of going....hey, there's a lot of good food out there, how extraordinary can one place be?
And when we went in, my hopes plunged a little more. Set on a dreary block of Centinela in Culver City, it was a little corner joint next to a carniceria. Tile floors, vinyl booths. Nothing fancy. When we went in on a weekend afternoon, there was only one other table occupied. There were two big flat-screen TVs in opposite corners, each playing a different soccer game.
We ordered beers and then checked the menu. Our beers came with a bowl of hot, freshly fried tortilla chips and a dish of green salsa, which was citrusy bright with fresh tomatillo, and built up to a blazing fire with green chiles.
Hmmm. The prospects brightened a bit. This stuff was pretty good!
The menu listed over a dozen different preparations of shrimp. Beneath, there were also offerings of mixed seafood, octopus, squid, and fish. The menu was written in Spanish on the right side, with a helpful translation in English on the right.
First I ordered something called camarones aguachiles, shrimp in green chile sauce with lemon. I was thinking cooked plump pink shrimp with lemon, and a little heat on the side. The waitress warned me that some people are surprised by it - she said "It's cooked with lemon." And finally I got it - "Oh, you mean like ceviche, the shrimp are raw and marinated in lemon." She nodded.
"Some people don't like it, but I say it's just like Mexican sushi," she said, laughing.
I thought about it. I rather like ceviche, and love sushi, but my mouth wasn't set for raw shrimp. I checked the menu again and ordered something called camarones borrachos - drunken shrimp. They were described as cooked in a spicy garlic broth with tequila and cilantro.
There was a sign on the wall promoting langostinos, so [The Man I Love] ordered those. His order came first - six huge crustaceans, bathed in a beautiful thick sauce the color of terra-cotta; split down the tail but with their heads on. He was kind enough to pull out a nugget of tender, sweet meat for me. Heaven!
Then an incredible smell wafted round our table as the waitress put a platter before me. There was a mound of white rice garnished with onions and yellow corn, and perhaps a dozen large prawns, swimming in an oily orange-red sauce, their tails nicely shelled but with their heads on and their long red antennae like bright threads on the white of the platter. The smell was buttery, garlicky, and you could definitely smell the tequila. Bits of minced garlic were visible in the sauce, and the prawns were sprinkled with chopped green cilantro - the whole thing looked and smelled wonderful.
The shrimp were the freshest, most perfectly cooked shrimp I've ever had. I savored every bite. I could feel the rich oil of the sauce on my mouth. The simple white rice was the perfect foil, and the slices of cucumber that garnished the plate cooled the heat.
The restaurant's proprietors are from Nayarit, on the west coast of Mexico. Nayarit and its neighbor state to the north, Sinaloa, are famous for fresh seafood, cooked with a touch of influence from Japanese immigrants to that part of Mexico's coast.
In addition to their shrimp dishes, they are fast gaining recognition for their dish pescado zarandeado, or whole grilled snook in a spicy garlic, butter and soy sauce marinade. The seafood is brought in fresh from the Mexican fishing fleets.
The food is fantastic and the people were so incredibly nice. Now we plan to go back and eat our way through the entire menu.
For better pictures, and more complete reviews of Mariscos Chente, visit Exile Kiss, Jonathan Gold, Street Gourmet L.A., Abby at Pleasure Palate, and this Los Angeles Times article.
If you're in L.A., check the place out.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Driving on a California highway, in the town of Buellton, we pulled over at this sign. A small white house in a commercial strip, a sign and an inviting pink chair outside.
Inside, a treasure trove of vintage kitsch. And - for some reason - the color pink dominated.
I spoke to the owner, who partnered in the store with her daughter and another friend. She said that her daughter was a great collector, for whom the hunt was as much - or more - fun than owning things. She'd finally decided to put her findings on sale.
There were amazing things. Trashy stuff.
Exquisite stuff. Cool stuff. All arranged in the most inviting displays, and cramming the tiny structure to the gills with things.
If you ever get a chance to go to Buellton, CA, in the beautiful Santa Barbara wine country, you should check out Pink Trash. It's right on route 246, in the center of town. Enjoy it!
You'll be glad you did!
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Well, our dinner plans had been to rustle up some leftovers or a frozen chicken pot pie, so it was quite a pleasant surprise. But it complicated things a bit, because our clunker car was in the shop; our mechanic had delivered a grim diagnosis, and we had a decision to make. But - oh well. We decided to keep the rental another day and take our friends up on their invitation.
I drove my own beater car across town, met [The Man I Love] in a central location, and then we carpooled to the restaurant.
We had enjoyed dinner with our friends at this place before. The food is exquisite. The service impeccable. The company was wonderful. On this evening, one gentleman at our table was a celebrated international architect, who told us of his current projects in Europe. The last time we'd been there, while talking to our host I glanced over his shoulder a few times at the blonde woman at a table beyond, and after a few minutes realized it was Reese Witherspoon.
And on that day, the restaurant's staff gave our table more attentive service than hers. Our hosts were more valued customers than a Hollywood movie star.
When the meal was over, I drove my old car home, dents and all. It was 11:00 pm. We were out of milk, coffee, and we hadn't picked up the mail. And how much would that transmission repair cost?
A few years ago, we were standing with another group of business associates after an event, on the sidewalk in front of an L.A. restaurant, waiting at the valet stand. A couple of young guys walked by with flyers, and pressed one into the hand of our dinner companion, a mild-looking elderly gentleman. "Come hear our band!" they said, "We're playing a gig this weekend!" They were full of enthusiasm and optimism. "Our manager says a guy from a major record label is gonna be there!"
We wished them luck, as they moved down the street. Our friend smiled. He knew a little bit about the music business. Before he retired, he was CEO of one of the largest record companies in the world.
And this is the kind of cognitive dissonance that every day seems to bring. Last week at work I was asked to analyze the comparative cost of toilet tissue my company purchases from various vendors. Later that same day, I stood in a Beverly Hills restaurant, chatting with a venerable sex symbol movie star (yes, he still has the sizzle.) At work I eat microwaved ramen noodles or hot dogs at my desk. Then later I'm sipping rare imported sake with an afficionado.
In these settings I'm rarely the center of attention. Often, I hardly speak; usually I just listen while the people talk at me, over me, around me. I don't take offense - I listen. It's fascinating. I could be a character in a spy novel. Mild-mannered middle-aged lady with jujitsu powers, a hidden past, and un-exploited connections. (except for dinner - ha ha ha )
Sometimes it's brought home to me that I'm not the only one experiencing this dissonance. One evening I nibbled hors d'ouevres at Spago, and chatted with film and theatre artists. They were from the former Yugoslavia, and just a few years ago had gone through a war I could hardly imagine.
We all live with trouble and with blessings. Tribulations and unique experiences. Bureaucratic tedium and brushes with creative genius. It also comes with opportunity - and the thing that brings you out into the big world. There are so many days when I think how lucky I am, or when I wonder whether, as a kid growing up in an Ohio suburb, or in the days when I scuffled for work in New York City, I would ever have imagined myself in these scenarios.
It's a reminder how mobile American society is. It's also a reminder that the only way to expand your own horizon is to reach outward - or, at least, to walk through the doors that open to you. And - as my new Yugoslavian friends remind me - there may come a day when your comfortable world splits apart, and your life changes in the other direction. When the glitter turns to grit.
But mostly, it's a reminder not to forget what you left behind. Is there a doorway you're not exploring? Are you playing it too safe? Is there something that intrigues you, that you're afraid to explore? What could you experience if, instead of driving by that sight that piques your interest, you took a turn around the block, found a parking place, and went in to check it out?
Then expand it outward. It's not just about places - it's about people. If you can move beyond your origin, so can anyone else. So look around yourself. If you don't think you can explore for your own, how about helping someone else do it instead? Is there a person you're taking for granted? Someone who needs more motivation? Is there a kid who's got an idea that first looks foolish, but might end up taking hold?
I'm not talking about philanthropy right now, but in fact, the reason we know our friends, who treated us to sushi, is because of their philanthropic efforts. They did not come from rich or privileged origins. They worked hard, and now, they are giving back. Perhaps it's because even after they were successful, they were able to remember what it was like to struggle. They are an inspiration for us to follow - but even if you don't end up as successful as they are - take their example.
What do you think?
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
An urban scene and an urban sky. This is Paris - the corner of Boulevard de Montparnasse and Boulevard de Raspail on le Quatorze de Juillet.
Summer's over and things are gearing up - maybe too much. This week was [The Man I Love]'s birthday, and because both our schedules were so busy, we didn't get a chance to do anything special. Bummer, huh?
So Friday, he called me at work - he had a plan.
We hopped in the car around 5 pm and drove along the Pacific Coast, and through the maritime fog that comes ashore each evening. Our destination - Northern Santa Barbara County. We were going to spend the weekend touring the wine country.
Isn't he smart?
We got a room in a Best Western motel in Lompoc. We arrived around 8 pm, and got a good night's sleep before a day of exploring.
A recent movie was shot in this part of California, and it brought much fame and attention to Santa Barbara County wines and wineries. Some locals have mixed feelings about it - pleased it brought more attention and tourists to the area, but unhappy with inaccuracies and stereotypes.
Even so, it's a beautiful part of the country. Saturday morning we set out from our motel in Lompoc going east on Highway 246, driving through the vineyards and the rolling hills, to the towns of Buellton, Solvang and Los Olivos.
Lompoc began as an agricultural center of the flower industry, growing both cut flowers and nursery flowers. As we drove, we encountered this field of yellow marigolds. The color is so brilliant against the misty blue of the hills. The red in the foreground are rows of russet chrysanthemums.
We took a sidetrip to look at some fields, and said hello to these guys, who walked right up to the gate at the sound of our car.
The road dipped downhill to a valley beneath this mountain, and then brought us to Buellton. A notable steakhouse is located here, that was featured in That Movie. We continued on, and ended up in the town of Solvang.
This weekend was Solvang's big Danish Days festival, with a parade this afternoon. We decided to avoid the crowds, cutting north on toward the small town of Los Olivos. We drove through winding hills, planted with rows and rows of vines. Alongside one vineyard, the borders of the road were planted with roses, perennials, and annuals.
This was Rusack, a small winery. We pulled into the gates - this would be our first tasting.
If you haven't done this, here's how it works. You step up to a counter in the tasting room, where one or two or more attendants greet you. Tastings cost between $5 and $15, but you can split a tasting between two people, which is what we did.
For each tasting, you receive a small amount of some 5 to 6 wines, ranged from the lighter and least expensive to the heavy hitters. Some wineries only offer one assortment - others have a variety of tasting menus, based on price or type of wine. If there's something you're interested in that's not on the menu, you can ask if they'll substitute something else.
There's a printed list telling you what you're tasting, usually with a short description and a price. In Santa Barbara wine country, there's much discussion of where the grapes are from - this area has several micro-climates, with variations in inland heat and ocean-cooled winds, or the composition of the soil. Many wineries grow only some of their grapes on the property where the tasting is held - they have other acreage planted in other areas. Some buy grapes from other growers - in this part of the County, these are usually specialty growers.
Here at Rusack, the vines we drove past were Syrah and Sangiovese, dark purple clusters of grapes thick beneath the wide leaves, all swathed in a protective netting. They also grow semillion on this property. Their east facing hill is warmer, and doesn't get the cooling of ocean air at night. Their pinot noir and chardonnay wines are made from grapes grown in the Sta. Rita Hills to the west.
We really enjoyed the syrah bottled by Rusack, and the attendant suggested another local winery specializing in that wine that we might enjoy. We ended up buying about four bottles, and were delighted to find that for the price of the tasting, you got to keep the souvenir glass - a nicely shaped glass printed with the winery name.
We continued on, and came to the small historic town of Los Olivos. The main street is lined with small stores, cafes and boutiques, good for strolling. Tasting rooms alternated with art galleries for a pleasant afternoon walk. We stopped for lunch, and had a sampling of the other famous crop grown here.
After lunch, we stopped in at Richard Longoria winery's tasting room, housed in an historic building. This space was just the tasting room - the winery itself is located elsewhere. We were given our souvenir glass and invited into the garden to the side - a shady space with clusters of seating, and a table where ice buckets and wine bottles awaited, presided over by a young woman with a full arm tattoo of butterflies and flowers. We tasted the lighter white wines out here, enjoying the sun and flowers. A jug of cool water, flavored with cucumbers and limes, was available to refresh and clear the palate. The final wines on the tasting list - substantial reds and interesting blends - were offered inside.
Many small wineries don't offer their wines to retail stores. Instead they rely on local restaurants and walk-up sales. They also sell through "wine clubs" - people sign up to receive a shipment of wine at certain intervals through the year, at a discount price. You get the wine-maker's choice, not yours, but if you're adventurous, it's a fun way to try new wines. We joined Longoria's club at the least expensive level, because we enjoyed their wine so much.
Wine tastings typically go from 11 am to 4 pm, so we plotted a route that took us to two other wineries on the way back to our hotel. We had dinner reservations later, and wanted time to freshen up.
On the road back to Lompoc, we stopped in at Babcock Winery. It was located on a south-facing slope, between Buellton and Lompoc. The tasting room was in a large modern barn atop the hill. Huge stainless steel crushing and pressing machines stood on the pavement outside the big double doors of the winery.
Here, they get a little more of the cool ocean fogs and breezes, and can grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Here, too, they grow one of my favorite grapes, Pinot Gris - a white wine grape more commonly grown in Oregon. We bought a bottle of Estate Grown Pinot Gris called "Naughty Little Hillsides" - apparently, these hillsides are tough to cultivate!
We continued on into Lompoc, looking for the last winery we'd visit that day, Fiddlehead Cellars.
It took awhile to locate the tasting room, which was in a prefab building in an industrial park behind a Home Depot. Yet don't be fooled - Fiddlehead is the real deal. The guidebooks specifically noted Fiddlehead's wonderful sauvignon blanc wines, from grapes grown in the eastern Santa Ynez valley. Despite the workaday location, the wines were wonderful and the pourers knew their stuff.
The next morning, we set out to visit a couple more wineries before returning to Los Angeles.
Back to Los Olivos, we first visited Rideau Vineyards. Their tasting room is in an old restored 19th century adobe house nestled among beautiful gardens, and is elegantly furnished in decor that evokes the owner's New Orleans heritage. Our pourer was a gracious Irishman who allowed us to substitute varieties we were interested in, and when we signed up for the Wine Club, we were given two Reidel crystal glasses.
Just down the road from Rideau is Beckmen Vineyards. Off the main road, you drive down a narrow winding road and come out in a parking lot before a red barn. The huge stainless steel tools of the modern wine trade are here, perhaps ready for the fall harvest.
Beckmen had been recommended to us by another winery selling syrah wine - evidence of the collegiality among vintners in the region.
This was an airy, modern tasting room, with pleasant hosts and a pretty cat, who seemed to enjoy the admiration of visitors. Although we were thrilled by their syrah wines, one of the standouts - and a bargain - was Beckmen Vineyard's offering of a grenache rose wine. It was so delicious, and so affordable, that we bought several bottles.
Here, home in Topanga, you can see it. Anything this pretty has to taste delicious, doesn't it? And in the spirit of collegiality - we drank it from the pretty glasses we got from Rideau Vineyards.
If you get a chance to visit Santa Barbara County's wine country, I know you'll have a lovely time. If you can't visit, you might enjoy it vicariously by watching That Movie - the locals have mixed feelings about it, but it has certainly put this area on the national map.
The restaurants we enjoyed on our trip were The Jetty in Lompoc, Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe in Los Olivos, The Hitching Post II in Buellton, and Root 246 in Solvang.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I used to think it would be fulfilling to make a living with my writing. And for many writers, it probably is. On the other hand, there are people out there who have to spend their working hours thinking up copy like this.
Oh - the pre-measured pouches of coffee that went in the coffee-maker? The packages they came in proudly proclaimed they were "Handcrafted in the Old World Tradition."
Is there an Old World Tradition I'm not aware of, for enclosing two tablespoons of coffee in paper? And do you really think someone did it by hand?
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Well! Friday afternoon at about 4:00 [The Man I Love] whisked me away for an out of town adventure, so my Pink Saturday for this weekend is compromised!
But I leave you with this - a pink hibiscus blooming in a planter box outside of the New Horizons Surf Shop on Main Street in Santa Monica.
This surf shop is the site of the old Zephyr Surf Shop - home of Jeff Ho and the Z-boys, kids who surfed in the waves during the '70s at the base of Bay Street in the morning, and then perfected their moves on the asphalt pavement during the doldrums of the afternoon, when the waves were serene.
The crazy moves these kids created then were the basis for the skateboard moves kids groove today - or annoy you with, depending on your tolerance. For better or worse, the City of Santa Monica pays hommage to the birth of this trend by honoring the New Horizons Surf Shop with landmark status.
This hibiscus is such a cheerful pink, and against the blue painted wall of the surf shop, it reminds us of the beach and Pacific Ocean tropical leisure. Enjoy the weekend, everyone! We're going to be up in Santa Barbara County's wine country!
Friday, September 18, 2009
To follow the story in order, click through each chapter:
Part One - Introduction
Part Two - The City Club
Part Three - Decline
Part Four - Taxi-dancehall
Part Five - Murder
Part Six - The Roseland Roof
Part Seven - The Dancers
Part Eight - The Building
This tile mural in the building lobby is as bright as it was when installed in 1924. Ready for the next 85 years.
I called the phone number on the banners, and made an appointment to view the building. On a bright September morning, I walked beneath the carved stone letters into the lobby.
The souvenir bulletin commemorating the building's opening in 1924 describes the entrance:
"The first impression of the visitor is gained from its entrance which is dignified and of classic simplicity architecturally. On the right wall in the entrance way is a brightly colored "out-door" California landscape done in tile, which is most effective from a decorative standpoint."
And there it was, as fresh and bright and pure as it had been in 1924. I had to marvel. Had it been here all along? Had gamblers, drinkers, dancers and customers walked past it each night, taking in the gentle light of the sky, the dancing flowers, the graceful figurine in the foreground? Or had it been hidden, covered with panels, drapes or signs? Why wasn't it lost, defaced, stolen, or ruined?
It gleams, in perfect condition. Overhead, a wrought iron chandelier lent a stately flavor to the lobby. The floor was paved in checkerboard marble, light and dark grey. The walls were concrete, finished to look like stone, just as the bulletin described.
Up a modern elevator to the second floor building office. I met the owner, an older man named Shawn. I told him I was researching the building history and wanted to take some photos if it was okay. To my surprise, he invited me to walk around on my own, anywhere I liked. "Go everywhere," he said. " The first floor, the garage. Go to the fourth floor, you'll love it."
So I did. The first place I went was the second floor next to his office. A spacious room, gracious, with the large windows opening onto Spring Street. Along one wall were a jumble of boxes of papers and some large framed photos and prints, propped against the wall.
There were three large framed portraits of women, faded and water stained. One full-length in a slinky gown, photographed against a full curtain, one elegant in strapless black, one flirty in off-theshoulder gingham, they smiled out in sepia. Were these the portraits of taxi-dancers? What else remained?
There was a bin of blueprints, some new, some old. There were some empty picture frames, too.
On the third floor, the front suite was occupied by a tenant, colorful clothes and fashionable, arty furniture arranged on their showroom floor.
When the elevator opened onto fourth floor, I stepped out into a space that was both magnificent and - for me - profoundly disappointing.
The main space was ringed by the balconies of the fifth floor, accessed by a staircase. Near the front of the building, the rooms beneath the balconies were small, divided into offices, as were the spaces along the north side. You can see a floor plan at The Primrose Design building's website.
The wrought iron railings of the stairs were clearly old, but it had been extended higher by the remodelers, in compliance with current code. The railings and the cornices were the only decorative touches visible.
The souvenir bulletin issued in 1924 for the City Club's opening noted the use of new technology of chemically tinting concrete for its decor. "The rough concrete finish is retained as the base of antique decorations in green gold effect on the walls and ceiling." These designs could be part of that original decor.
They only appear on small portions of the walls and ceiling - were the decorations sandblasted off elsewhere? Why did these survive - were they hidden behind panels or drop ceilings?
This painted ceiling medallion is in another space on the fifth floor, where the City Club maintained ladies' reception rooms and game rooms.
Also accessed from the fifth floor are the small exterior balconies, like this one, just above the neon sign.
The last place I looked was the first floor retail space. In 1924 it had been the home of a savings and loan type of institution. Today its high ceilings, its beams and columns, still show the brackets decorated with classic motifs.
The building is clean, new, and awaits new tenants. The ground floor is perfect for a slick new restaurant catering to the fashion district businesses expected to thrive in the upper floors. The infrastructure has been completely updated, ready for the next chapter in its history.
I wonder what will happen to the neon sign?