Tuesday, October 17, 2017

LACO@THE MOVIES: BUSTER KEATON'S "THE GENERAL"

LOBBY OF DOWNTOWN LA'S ACE HOTEL
I MIGHT JUST HANG OUT IN THE BATHROOM ALL NIGHT

This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and LACO is pulling out all the stops.

There’s a Campus to Concert Hall all-access season pass, offering students 30 concerts for just $30. There’s the $1.5 million gift from philanthropists Carol and Warner Henry for the principal oboe chair. There are guest artists and conductors, world premieres and an innovative chamber music and discussion series that spans much of the city.

And on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., there will be a special fundraising event: LACO @ the Movies: Buster Keaton’s “The General.” The venue will be downtown LA's Ace Hotel.

Scott Harrison, LACO’s executive director, said, “ ‘The General’ is such a wonderful event for us because it really brings together a few different strands of what LACO is. Hollywood has been very much a part of LACO’s identity from the start. We were founded by a gentleman named James Arkatov who’s turning 98 this year, I believe. The original musicians performed movie and television soundtracks for the studios. They were phenomenal, as you can imagine, because the chops and the skills required to do that sort of work are exceptionally high. But they were also looking for more of a creative and artistic outlet. They wanted a way to perform the music they loved and connect directly with audiences.



READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

CAN SOMEONE LEND ME A RHUBARB LEAF?


A PETER RABBIT FAMILY REUNION

Referring to herself in the third person, Beatrix described herself in 1925 as living 'amongst the mountains and lakes that she has drawn in her picture books...She leads a very busy contented life, living always in the country and managing a large sheep farm on her own land. Her shepherd Tom Storey described her as 'quite smart for her age...a bonny looking woman,' robust at the start of her seventh decade. Ten years later, with 'apple-red' cheeks and blue eyes undimmed, she appeared 'short, plump, solid,' to artist Delmar Banner, who painted Beatrix's best-known portrait--a tweedy Mrs Tiggy-winkle figure at a sheep judging on the Coniston fells. Other observers noted marked eccentricities in her dress: 'the sacking she put over her shoulders in the rain,' 'the use of a rhubarb leaf on her had against the sun in the hayfield.' Much to her amusement, a tramp on the Windermere ferry mistook Beatrix for a fellow vagrant. She dressed as she thought practical for a life spent in the fields, walking and watching. Banner described 'a kind of tea cosy' on her head and 'lots of wool clothes."

--Matthew Dennison, Over the Hills and Far Away: A Life of Beatrix Potter

BEATRIX POTTER AS A TEENAGER WITH HER PET MOUSE XARIFA,
1885

Monday, October 9, 2017

THE INDUSTRY HILLS CHARITY PRO RODEO

WOMAN GRAZING HER COW, 1858
JEAN-FRANCOIS MILLET

This week's arts and culture piece begins like this:

The Industry Hills Pro Rodeo has helped children in need in East San Gabriel Valley for more than 31 years.
Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the event has taken place annually, in September or October, since 1986. Ticket prices this year were a reasonable $18 for adults, $12 for seniors (ages 60+) and $8 for children (3-11).
Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Pro Rodeo is open to the public. A Community Kids Day takes place the Friday before. Here, local schoolchildren watch the rodeo with their classmates and teachers as part of class curriculum covering the history of the early West.
It was on this day that I was invited to visit by Pro Rodeo chairman extraordinaire Larry Hartmann.
I arrived at the Industry Hills Expo Center Arena at 9 a.m.
In spite of his myriad duties, Larry, along with his wife Corinne, greeted me warmly. He also managed to finagle a seat for me on the horse-drawn stagecoach, generally reserved for dignitaries such as city council people who officially open the rodeo by making a grand entrance and slowly circling the arena. I hung out the window giving the Queen Mum wave to the youngsters who, with heartwarming enthusiasm, wildly clapped and cheered.
READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

TERRY CANNON'S BASEBALL RELIQUARY

EDDIE GAEDEL HOLY CARD.
EDDIE (1925-1961) WAS AN AMERICAN WITH DWARFISM WHO MADE A SINGLE PLATE APPEARANCE IN THE SECOND GAME OF A ST. LOUIS BROWNS DOUBLEHEADER ON AUG. 19, 1951, WAS WALKED AND THEREBY BECAME THE SHORTEST PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF THE MAJOR LEAGUES. HE HAS BEEN DESIGNATED BY THE RELIQUARY AS THE “PATRON OF THOSE WHO PLAY BASEBALL IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY.”

This week's arts and culture column entailed a field trip that turned out to be one of those serendipitous days of goodwill and joy that keep us humans getting out of bed one more day.

The reflection starts like this:

As a New Hampshire native, my knowledge of baseball is strictly confined to the Boston Red Sox, and began and ended around the Carl Yastrzemski era.

But I understand and am fascinated by the near-obsessive love that so many feel for our national sport.

Enter L.A.’s own Baseball Reliquary, “a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history, and to exploring the national pastime’s unparalleled creative possibilities.”

The collection includes such sacred objects as “Dock Ellis Hair Curlers,” “Mother Teresa Autographed Baseballs” and the “Babe Ruth Sacristy Box,” out of which a priest performed the last rites.

Each third Sunday in July, the Reliquary hosts the Shrine of the Eternals, a kind of people’s Hall of Fame, and inducts three new members, chosen not so much for stellar stats as for heart crossed with eccentricity.

But this is no tongue-in-cheek lark...


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

THE BABE RUTH HOT DOG
photo credit: THE BASEBALL RELIQUARY

According to the Baseball Reliquary website, the story behind the ot Dog runs like this:

Babe Ruth’s extraordinary journey from a Catholic reform school in Baltimore to the storied confines of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx made him the idol of a nation. The ballplayer of ballplayers, Babe was also a man who indulged in earthly pleasures, as sportswriter H.G. Salsinger noted, “He could eat more, drink more, smoke more, swear more, and enjoy himself more than any contemporary.” A legendary gourmand, Babe was fond of drinking a quart mixture of bourbon whiskey and ginger ale at breakfast, before attacking a porterhouse steak garnished with half-a-dozen fried eggs and potatoes on the side.

Perhaps no artifact of Ruthiana attests more to his culinary excesses than this desiccated hot dog, partially consumed by the Bambino during an eating binge just prior to his collapse on a train ride in April 1925. Babe reportedly gorged himself on a dozen to eighteen hot dogs before blacking out, and a week later he was at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, undergoing surgery for an intestinal abscess. New York writers termed his illness “The Bellyache Heard Round the World,” but in recent years historians have speculated that Babe actually suffered from gonorrhea and not acute indigestion.


SINGER OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT OVER 125 PROFESSIONAL
BASEBALL GAMES; AUTHOR OF ,AMONG OTHER BOOKS,  ROUNDING THE BASES;  AND WHITTIER COLLEGE PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES JOSEPH L. PRICE.
NOTE THE QUILT, WHICH WAS COMMISSIONED BY THE RELIQUARY
AND FEATURES FEMALE SAINTS (I THINK IMAGINARY) PLAYING VARIOUS BASEBALL POSITIONS.

DODGERS SUPER-FAN EMMA AMAYA.



THE MASTERMIND BEHIND IT ALL:
THE ONE AND ONLY MR. TERRY CANNON.
Terry’s description of the Reliquary:

"It is a traveling museum for which no category yet exists. it was started in 1996 as an attempt to provide an outlet and an organizational structure for my combined interests in baseball history and art. it is the only baseball institution that asks you to surrender the idea that history and fiction can be neatly separated."

No surprise: Terry served for years on the board of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Here's a Q and A with him from a few years back, and a wonderful piece by Carl Kozlowski that appeared in last summer's Pasadena Weekly

Monday, October 2, 2017

SOLD FOR A FARTHING: THE STORY OF A SPARROW


Here is a book, recommended by a reader and avid birder from New Zealand: Sold for a Farthing, by Clare Kipps (1953).

From a review by Alan Cleaver in Vulpes Libris:

[The book] is only 72 pages long. It was written by a non-professional writer. And it tells the story of a sparrow.

Clare Kipps was an Air Raid Warden in London. In July 1940 she returned home to find on her doorstep a day-old sparrow which, miraculously, responded to her nursing. It had, however, a deformed wing which meant it stayed the rest of its life in Clare’s home. The sparrow – Clarence – became tame. So tame, in fact, that Clare was able to take it on her rounds in London’s East End. Children (and adults) sitting huddled together in fear of Hitler’s bombing campaigns immediately burst into smiles when they realised their Air Raid Warden brought with her a pet sparrow – a sparrow happy to perform a programme of ‘tricks’.

The book is out-of-print and hard to find--I secured it from interlibrary loan--and discovered a glorious hidden treasure.

"Feeling that if a new-born infant is left outside one's doorstep something should be done about it, I picked it up, wrapped it in warm flannel and, sitting over the kitchen fire, endeavored for several hours to revive it. After I had succeeded in opening its soft beak--an operation that required a delicate touch and immense patience to avoid injury--I propped it open with a spent match and dripped one drop of warm milk every minute down its little throat."

The bird has a deformed leg and one wing is set at an odd angle. She proceeds to nurse him back to health and the two live in a kind of strange conjugal bliss for 12 years.

The neighborhood children name the sparrow Clarence: Clare calls him only "Boy."

WWII is on and Clare leaves often for her job supporting Britain's war efforts.

"When left alone in the house he seemed quite content. I often watched through the window to satisfy my mind that he was not fretting in my absence, but apparently, as soon as he realised that I had gone, he settled down and amused himself with his food and toys. I had provided him with a great variety of playthings, but the only ones that ever appealed to him were hairpins, patience cards and matches which he would carry about in his cage by the hour."

The house gets bombed at one point--the two soldier on.

The sparrow sits by the hour as Clare practices the piano. He reaches his peak around age 5 or 6 and, astoundingly, begins to sing.

"The song itself was in two sections--quite distinct from each other and sometimes sung separately. Indded, people who listened to it from an adjoining room often remarked that more than one bird was singing. The first part, or introduction, was an expression of pleasure, good humour, and simple joie de vivre, but the second--the real song--was an outpouring of rapture. Both parts were usually in the key of F Major, although, unless my ear was at fault, the second part (when sung alone) varied in pitch by as much as a minor third, according to the intensity."

"I would give much to possess a photograph of him at that time with his fan-wing fluttering in sympathy with the throbbing of his little throat, but the opportunity was unfortunately lost forever."

"Yet my sparrow, like all our songsters, loved his quiet hours, and especially his noonday rest. It was no small part of our perfect companionship that we could enjoy long hours of peaceful contemplation together. I am not a lover of noise, nor yet of too much melody. I like a background of silence on which to hang my thoughts. Then if they are unworthy I can replace them by others that are greater than my own. Music can thrill, console, inspire and deepen the very roots of life, but it is in the silence that man's spirit grows."

"Married women, or perhaps it would be safer to say women of marriageable age, visited him continually in the Spring and Summer and declared their love [through the window] openly and without shame."

A little blue-tit is the most "moonstruck" of his many admirers. The sparrow will have none of it. "Manlike, for men hate a scene and have a very wise aversion to hysterical women, he ignored her utterly."

"But he made love to me from March to October, strutting up and down on my hand and arm spreading his wings and tail, looking up at me, with crest erect, bowing continually and going through all the familiar antics of courtship: and if I went near my bed, even to lay something down, when he was in his cage, he would dash round and round, pecking at the door in his anxiety to join me there and start housekeeping without further delay.

I fancy the afternoon siesta under the eiderdown began to acquire a new significance at this time, and changed in his little mind from the nest of his babyhood to the nest that he had made for himself. Not infrequently he would take a matchstick, or preferably a hairpin, into the retreat, approaching cautiously as in in fear of being seen or followed; and though these treasures, probably intended for foundations-stones, were always lost or discarded before he had finally settled in to his nesting-site, he would wriggle his small body into the place of his choice, pecking, pinching and pulling at the bedclothes and fussing with his beak until he had made it more rounded and comfortable. I had to close my eyes as he ran over my face en route with his hairpin, and was usually pecked, if he happened to drop it, as if he thought the fault were mine."

After a while, the sparrow matures. "In fact, he had grown up. He had become a man and, except in rare moment of intimacy, he must show me that he was master and that I must do as I was told. Above all, I must give up moving furniture and other landmarks from their accustomed places. He resented any change in his surroundings, and when the gardener cut down a tree outside his window he became almost demented!"

Anyway, it goes on like that in the most delightful and strange way. The sparrow cycles through life, ages, and on August 23, 1952, dies in Clare's "warm hand." "His remains--and what a tiny morsel of tattered feathers was all that was left of him--repose in a small Hoptonwod tomb sacred to the memory of Clarence, the Famous and Beloved Sparrow." She has "faith enough to believe that I shall see him again."

But before he dies: "There was a remarkable coincidence that I would like to mention in connection with the picture called "The Daily Reading" where he is shown gazing quietly, as if in thought, at the page of a small devotional classic known as "Daily Light." The book, chosen solely on account of its size, had been taken from a pile of others and opened at random on the spur of the moment. After the photograph had been developed I found that the words to which his little beak was pointing were these: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father?"--a statement that embodies, perhaps, the most astounding revelation of the value to the Creator of the individual personality of the creature in the pages of Holy Writ. This, then, was the portrait of a sparrow, ignorant and insignificant, yet unconsciously a greater teacher than Karl Marx. This, it seemed, was to be his little sermon, his farewell message to doubting and perplexed humanity; and as such I pass it on. Fear not, therefore! Ye are of more value than many sparrows."




Next on my reading list: Len Howard's Birds as Individuals

Thursday, September 28, 2017

E. CHARLTON FORTUNE AT THE PASADENA MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA ART

E. CHARLTON FORTUNE
CHRIST MEETS HIS MOTHER
FROM THE SEVEN SORROWS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
FOR THE PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL CHAPEL
, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, 1953.
OIL ON PANEL, 32 X 34 INCHES.
COLLECTION OF PAULA AND TERRY TROTTER


Last week's arts and culture column is about one of California's foremost (and perhaps least known) female painters.

It starts like this:

“E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit” is on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) through Jan. 7, 2018.

The exhibit (comprised of approximately 80 works) was curated by Scott A. Shields, Ph.D., California art scholar and associate director of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum.

Notes Shields, “In the early to mid-20th century, E. Charlton Fortune was one of the most important California artists, male or female. The fact that she was a woman working at a transitional moment and in an atmosphere that still discouraged female professionals makes her achievements all the more extraordinary. No one disputes her standing as one of California’s most prestigious artists.”

Fortune (1885-1969) was born in Sausalito and named Euphemia; her friends would know her as Effie. Like her father, she had a cleft palate: a condition for which reconstructive surgery was not yet available.

She experienced many other traumas. Her father died when she was not yet 10. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed the Fortune family home, almost all of her paintings and the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, where she had studied.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Monday, September 25, 2017

ABBOT MATTHEW





A couple of years ago, I was graced to meet Abbot Matthew Stark of coastal Rhode Island's Portsmouth Abbey.

Last spring, the good abbot sent me the best "spiritual reflection" I've read in possibly years. It's an essay called "My Schnorrer is Calling Again." "Schnorrer" is a Yiddish term meaning "a beggar or scrounger; a layabout." And the piece is about that special person in your life who is absolutely, beyond-redemption, flat-out impossible. Who blows apart your very best efforts to be good, kind, helpful, patient, effective. Who is manipulative, double-crossing, passive-aggressive, unfair and inconsistent. .

And who, damn our hearts, we love. And who, in some bizarre way, loves us.

Rev. Steve Schlossberg, rector of St John's Episcopal Church in Troy, New York, is the author. His "schnorrer" is Ruby, who exemplifies Christ's "The poor you will always have with you" and is constantly hitting up the Reverend for, among other things, money. He sums up like this:

"This is who Ruby is to me. She is insufferable and she is proud, she is stubborn as a mule, subtle as a serpent, and she is absolutely impervious to suggestion. When I am being honest with myself, I can see that Ruby's approach to me mirrors my approach to God. When I am being honest with Ruby, I try to get her to see that only does my money do her no good, it perpetuates what does her ill. How many more times must I explain this to her, to no effect? How many more times will I wilt and give her money, to no effect? I do not know. I do not see any way out of this. I am afraid that what Jesus said is true: I am afraid that Ruby will be with me always. And though I am reasonably sure that I will never do her any good, I am persuaded that in some mysterious way she is doing me some good.

A lowly handmaid of the Lord, Ruby is my schnorrer. I remain the Lord's."

The piece so hit home, plus I have another dear friend in the area, that I made a special point of inviting myself to the Abbey on my visit back East in August.

We greeted one another joyfully. Then I coaxed, "Did you have a good summer?"

"No!" the Abbot chuckled.

I cracked up and commiserated, "Are they ever good?"

Then I told him my favorite Thomas Merton quote: "The man of solitude is happy, but he never has a good time."

"Oh that's rich," he said. "I have to write that one down."

We had a lovely lunch with the monks. Then the Abbot , who's been at Portsmouth over 60 years and has had some health problems as of late, showed me the garden and the library. We sat down for a minute in his office.

"So what is it, the getting old? It's a thing, right?"

"Oh yes. It's uncharted territory."

"So what?...How?"

He looked at me.

"Prayer."

I looked at him.

"Yeah.  I thought so."

"Hang on a minute," he said, laboriously made his way to the door, disappeared for a few minutes, and returned with a photocopied sheet. On it was written:

THE LIVING SPIRIT

Prayer, in the sense of union with God, is the most crucifying thing there is. One must do it for God's sake; but one will not get any satisfaction out of it, in the sense of feeling "I am good at prayer," I have an infallible method." That would be disastrous, for what we want to learn is precisely our own weakness, powerlessness, unworthiness. Nor ought one to to expect a "sense of the supernatural"...And one should wish for no prayer, except precisely the prayer that God gives us--probably very distracted and unsatisfactory in every way!

On the other hand, the only way to pray is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has no time for this, then one must pray regularly. But the less one prays, the worse it goes. And if circumstances do not permit even regularity, then one must put up with the fact that when one does try to pray, one can't pray--and our prayer will probably consist of telling this to God...The rule is simply: pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can't. 

--Abbot John Chapman (1865-1933)



THESE ARE DOGWOOD SHOTS I TOOK
ON THE GROUNDS OF THE ABBEY IN JUNE, 2016.
LEGEND HAS IT THAT THE CROSS WAS MADE OF DOGWOOD LUMBER
(THE TREE WOULD HAVE HAD TO HAVE BEEN MUCH HARDIER BACK THEN).
ONE VERSION OF THE LEGEND CONTINUES: "THE BLOSSOMS ARE IN THE FORM OF A CROSS--TWO SHORT AND TWO LONG...AND IN THE CENTER OF THE OUTER EDGE OF EACH PETAL THERE WILL BE NAIL PRINTS, BROWN WITH RUST AND STAINED WITH RED, AND  IN THE CENTER OF THE FLOWER WILL BE A CROWN OF THORNS."

P.S. Yesterday's mail brought these pix from my visit--I'm not sure who took them but thank you!



WAIT JUST A MINUTE! ARE YOU TELLING ME WE'RE SUPPOSED
TO TRY TO BE KIND  TO PEOPLE?! 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SMALL EVERYDAY ACTIONS



To be Christian does not mean, first of all, "to be someone good," which was the noble but dangerous illusion of the Stoics and the Jansenists. For Thérèse [of Lisieux], because of her inability, it is a question of learning to rely on someone else. Learning to change her point of support, because then one offers to God the one thing he cannot achieve without us, the offering of our freedom. It is not, in the first place, fantasies or even pious ideas that count, but gestures or small everyday actions.

--Fr. Bernard Bro, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message


STILL GETTING USED TO NEW CAMERA.
I KIND OF LIKE THE "MISTAKES," LIKE THIS ONE. 





Saturday, September 16, 2017

THE RED SHOES



Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

As a child, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was poor and forced to work for a living as a tailor’s apprentice. He suffered a lifelong unrequited love for opera singer Jenny Lind. His “fairy tales” are full of orphaned and abandoned children, inanimate objects that suffer human emotions, and allegorical figures — the Ugly Duckling, the Little Mermaid — who speak to humanity’s profound existential loneliness.

“The Red Shoes” is one of Andersen’s more extreme stories. Karen, a girl whose mother has recently died, is taken under the care of a rich old woman with bad eyesight. Karen covets a pair of red patent leather shoes, finagles the old lady into buying them and, without her benefactor’s knowledge, wears them to her confirmation, then to her First Communion.

“When Karen knelt at the altar rails the chalice was put to her lips, she thought only of the red shoes. She seemed to see them floating before her eyes. She forgot to join in the hymn of praise and she forgot to say the Lord’s Prayer.”

Well! Nothing good can come of that.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

CELEBRATED ENGLISH CHOREOGRAPHER
MATTHEW BOURNE'S BALLET OPENS THIS WEEK AT THE AHMONSON
IN DOWNTOWN LA.
I WILL BE THERE WITH MY PALS JULIA AND AARON! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

EXPOSED


"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. Basically, that's why I photograph, in the simplest language."
--Garry Winogrand








Friday, September 8, 2017

"LA SORGENTE": TEN NEOCLASSICAL ARIAS BASED ON THE POETRY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II




This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

Mark your calendars for Sunday, Oct. 8, at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Hollywood. On this night at 7:30 p.m. will be the world premiere of Victor Vanacore’s “La Sorgente,” a collection of 10 neoclassical arias based on the poetry of St. Pope John Paul II.

Vanacore is a Grammy-winning composer/arranger who has been at the forefront of classical and pop music for more than 30 years. He’s worked closely with The Jackson Five and Ray Charles, among many others.

The 10 poems featured in the 90-minute “La Sorgente” come from Pope John Paul’s book of meditations, “Trittico Romano: Meditazioni” (“The Roman Triptych: Meditations”), which are widely regarded as his spiritual last testament.

The premiere will feature a 45-piece orchestra, two soprano and four tenor soloists, among them Lisa Eden and Orson Van Gay. Vanacore will also conduct.

He started music early, back in New Haven, Connecticut.

“My parents had a lot of kids. My dad was a machinist, my mother was a homemaker and my aunt would clean an extra day at the convent on Saturdays just so I could go to Catholic school there. I never had to worry about what I was going to become because from the beginning I had perfect pitch. The nuns exposed me to classical and other kinds of music. I had all the Beethoven sonatas done by the fourth grade.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

INDIAN SUMMER READING

FRANCISCO DE ZURBURÁN
THE VIRGIN MARY AS A CHILD, c. 1658-60


"The more I looked at people the more I hated them because I knowed there wasn't any place for me with the kind of people I knowed. I used to wonder why they was here anyhow?  A bunch of goddamned sons of bitches looking for somebody to make fun of...some poor fellow who ain't done nothin' but feed chickens."-

--Charles Starkweather, serial murderer, quoted in Killer Couples: Shocking True Accounts of the World's Deadliest Duos


“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth, too, will then be seen by the damned to have been hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”

--C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce



Saturday, September 2, 2017

THE MESSENGER: A SONGBIRD DOCUMENTARY

OUTSIDE MY KITCHEN WINDOW,
HOUSE FINCHES AND HUMMINGBIRDS PERCH ON THE
CAMELLIA BRANCHES

This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

“The Messenger” is a 2015 documentary directed and written by Sy Rynard.

According to the press kit’s synopsis, “ ‘The Messenger’ is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird, and what it will mean to all of us on both a global and human level if we lose them.”

This, in other words, is a film for us bird lovers the world over.

Songbirds have been singing for millions of years. No matter the age or civilization, people have always understood birds to be messengers. Their message at the moment is that our planet is ill.

Geese, ducks, herons: none are songbirds. Songbirds are distinguished by their more complicated vocal organ, or syrinx. Songbirds tend to be small and tenacious. Songbirds migrate and 10 billion die each year. No one knows where they go. (But God does: “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” Matthew 10:29)

Songbirds are most vulnerable during migration. While trying to refuel, they have to stop down in people’s backyards and parks. This can be perilous. It’s estimated that cats, for example, kill more than 1.4 billion birds a year. Cats are an invasive species, claim the bird lovers, not native or natural to any environment, and have been responsible for the extinction of 32 species of songbirds.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WHAT I DID ON SUMMER VACATION



I thought I would give a little recap of my recent trip to New England.

Many people were extraordinarily kind.

As I walked down Main St. in Northampton, MA, for example, a young lad named Jack came abreast and offered me two ears of corn. I accepted them with alacrity and my sister Little Meddy shucked and cooked them later that afternoon. They were delicious.

I continued my pattern of the previous few months of losing things. In my Hardwick, VT, airbnb, a moment of madness upon arriving led me to stick a few items of clothing in the top drawer of the dresser (as opposed to leaving everything in my suitcase: much safer). Of course I left them behind, not realizing my mistake till the next day in western Massachusetts. One of the items was a pair of black pants, my only "good" article of clothing (i.e.not a T-shirt or some variation of jeans) in my entire suitcase. These I had meant to don for two little talks I was giving, one to an afternoon retreat at St. Theresa's in Tiverton, RI, and one after Sunday afternoon Vespers at St. Stanislaus in Fall River, MA.

After I texted that evening, Sara, the airbnb lady, found the pants (along with one of my favorite black shirts, a pair of black leggings, a dark gray T-shirt and two pairs of black underwear), asked if I'd like her to mail them back to LA, and when I said, "Yes, please, I can paypal you the postage!" replied--"No problem. No charge." So if you ever find yourself in Hardwick, do stay at the Jeudevine Mansion Studio Apartment, and tell Sara I said hi.

FYI, If you walk to your right up the hill from the studio, you'll come upon the high school behind which is a whole series of interconnected trails through the woods. I had a couple of lovely hikes up there, one in the rain, all the while on the lookout for deer ticks I saw a couple of brooks, many robins, and an elaborate system of tubing strung across a wide swath of maple trees that what with my deep knowledge of the New England outdoors I took to be for the purpose of collecting sap.

Vermont features "food co-ops," often with a swami-type behind the counter who looks as if he had been smoking pot steadily for the last 40 years and where a sponge such as I could find a 3-pack of in my local 99-cent store runs $6.75. Cherries at one I visited were $5.99 a pound.  There looked to be a wide divide between the people who lived in trailers and the snowbirds who I imagined had bigger spreads and could afford to spend a few hundred bucks on a weekend's worth of groceries, but the scenery, rivers, woods, trees and birds are available to all. I can only imagine the splendid fall foliage. I attended Mass for the Assumption at Hardwick's St. Norbert's, which I was able to walk to, and glad of it, as Vermont towns are spaced quite far apart.


THE MONTAGUE (MA) BOOKMILL
"BOOKS YOU DON'T NEED IN A PLACE
YOU CAN'T FIND"

From Hardwick, I also took a little day trip to Glover, VT, which was the main reason, besides my friend Altoon, more below, I'd come to the Northeast Kingdom at all. My destinations were two: The Bread and Puppet Theater, and the Museum of Everyday Life. I visited both on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, very atmospheric. I posted lots of pix of the Bread and Puppet last week and the Museum of E.L. is a labor of love that I strongly urge you to visit if you're ever in the area.

I'm always thinking, God, I wish I could just be alone all the time but I think I may have met my match in Vermont where there are so few people that being truly alone, for any length of time, would actually be scary. In mid-August, winter seemed already to be closing in. The trees had started to turn, the faintest chill varnished the morning and night air, and I could understand how such activities as quilting and baked-bean-cooking came to be.

Throughout the two weeks, I reverted to mild to moderate food hoarding. This is a compulsive form of control I like to exercise when frightened or anxious (which by definition covers all travel). For example, I have an extreme aversion to spending any money at all in an airport or plane. The food is a ripoff! Also the whole air travel experience is so unpleasant and constricting I, along with I feel many other people, descend into a kind of larval, hibernating state, and why spend money on overpriced or really any food when you won't have a god time eating it?

Anyway, so for the coast-to-coast flight I usually bring my own plastic bag of assorted odds and ends from my fridge that I don't want to go bad while I'm gone, which is supplemented with the minuscule bags of pretzels and faux-waffle chemical cookies they give you on United.

Upon arrival, I then gather my supplies and hold them close. I hauled a single quart of half and half from Northampton to Tiverton, RI, e.g., reluctantly leaving the last quarter cup in the fridge of the friend's friends where I was staying the day I left only because I couldn't bring liquids on the plane. I ferried a wedge of St. Andre cheese from the Trader Joes in Newington NH to Portland ME to Hardwick VT to Northampton MA to Tiverton and then back to LA in my carry-on bag. What's left is in my fridge as we speak flattened into a kind of Saran-wrapped disc that I will get to soon.  Perfectly good food! St. Andre, in case you don't know, is basically butter in cheese form. I am not wasting so much as a bite of that, no way.

Anyhoo, so I panicked briefly when I realized I'd left the black pants behind as I had nothing else presentable to wear and another thing I have a kind of phobia about while traveling is doing any kind of "errand" beyond the absolutely essential: for example buying half-and-half and light groceries. Intentional clothes shopping, i.e. for a particular item, is a chore and thus a definite no (though I may come across a scarf or bag or pair of earrings by chance).

As luck would have it, Little Meddy was able to unearth a pair of black Banana Republic pants that were only a couple of sizes too large and when hitched up with a belt and covered with the weird gray duster-like hooded shroud I wear tied around my waist morning, noon, and night, looked "fine." So that was another little godsend and there were many such. A bathroom, a packet of sugar, a binder clip, a tea bag: such "small" items, when one is traveling, assume gargantuan significance. I did have to baste up the hems of the pants and don't think I wasn't delighted to produce from the caverns of my suitcase a tiny complimentary sewing kit from some long-ago speaking-engagement hotel.

The Maronite Sisters of Dartmouth, Massachusetts (technically Maronite Sisters of Christ the Light) had me over for Vespers and Saturday dinner! They filled me on the fact that the Maronites are an Eastern rite Catholic church, very much under Rome, and on their mission of offering their spiritual motherhood, especially to young folk. Then they thoughtfully stationed their novice Sr. Natalie beside me at Vespers to shepherd me through. They have a lovely I believe 5-acre spread and grow many of their own vegetables. We had among other items grilled chicken, lamb and beef, homemade tabbouleh, hummus, tomatoes, delicious bread, sweets and coffee. The sisters were joyful, vibrant and warm. Thank you Sr. Marla Marie. Sister Therese and Sister Natalie! Let's continue to pray for each other.

High point of trip: the Polish hymns at St. Stanislaus for the Vespers of the annual Mass for Our Lady of Częstochowa. I tried to look for something similar on youtube and found nothing that even remotely approximated the heart-rending, soul-shaking beauty. You could not hear two bars without spontaneously weeping.  They handed out a song sheet in Polish which I deeply wish I'd kept because I'd at least have the names of the songs. It was some of the most gorgeous music I have ever heard, from these "ordinary" parish ladies. So gorgeous that maybe it is not to be repeated, or maybe to be heard only once a year for those willing to travel to or lucky enough to be at St. Stanislaus. Fall River, like so much of New England, and in fact the whole country, has been decimated by opioid use. I felt beyond humbled to give a little talk afterward and would have much preferred to hear the ladies sing some more traditional Polish hymns. Thank you, Fr. Andrew Johnson, the sainted pastor.

NEAR THE GREENHOUSES
SMITH COLLEGE CAMPUS, NORTHAMPTON, MA

I know I'm jumping around a bit, but bear with me.

Oh, my visit with Altoon. Altoon is a visual artist, gardener, photographer, reader, cook, and general quester who maintains her own farmstead, also in northern Vermont. She grows raspberries, hydrangeas, tulips, and all manner of other vegetables, fruits and flowers. She made a stupendous lunch that included a zucchini fritatta, a beet salad, home-made pita, and raspberry pound cake. Then we took a short walk through the adjacent woods and she identified jewel-weed, many kinds of moss, ferns, and mushrooms. We even came upon a stand or two of Indian pipes! That was a thrill.

I had long admired her blog, "Studio and Garden" (which she maintained assiduously for years and has more recently but back on, but you can still spend many happy hours trolling the archives), and had visited her once before. So this is one of those rare (to me anyway) serendipitous friendships that begin online and end by meeting in the flesh and the meetings are all the more precious for being so necessarily rare. We started talking the second I alit from my car and didn't stop for close to three hours.  Thank you, Altoon, and bless you. Our two afternoons are enshrined in memory and I fervently hope to be able to visit again.

Oh, here's another travel adventure: the HORRIBLE state of Massachusetts has instituted a diabolical toll system whereby the turnpikes and highways have NO CASH LANE. Everybody, including visitors and car renters, is forced to purchase the hideously misnomered "EZ Pass." So get this: for a mere $12.99 a day, you can purchase a pass from your rental car dealer--and it must be purchased for every day of the rental! (And according to the rental car lady, can be purchased NOWHERE ELSE, which is actually kind of true unless you know to buy the thing online in advance). So since I had rented a car for two weeks, I would have had to pay $181.86 to travel once or twice on the Mass Pike and to take the Callahan or Ted Williams or whatever it is Tunnel from Providence into Logan. Of course you can just breeze through without a pass but you get something like a $25 fine per incident AND the rental car company (E-Z in my case) also adds on some unspecified administrative fee. Needless to say, I would have none of it.

I learned you can go to Settings on Google Maps and specify "No Tolls," so that was useful. I also learned that it is possible to reach Boston's Logan Airport from the south without using a bridge or tunnel but do not forget to take your opioids first. Actually I probably would have been relatively okay going all the tortuous way north through Boston on 93 to some Everett or Somerville cutoff and then wending my way past chop shops, Mafia-front garages, and pizza joints to the Revere Beach Expressway, EXCEPT for the fact that just before the airport I had to gas up (because God forbid I should leave the tank only three-quarters full and be gouged for rental car fuel prices).

I therefore found myself in the center of a nightmarishly convoluted, under-construction downtown in which I actually began to think it was impossible either to get to what seemed to be the sole gas station or even to get out of, period. If Siri said one more time, "Turn right on Pearl, Turn left on Congress," I swear I would have screamed. Plus I had to use the restroom something terrible and was also deeply excited to have completed my trip without major mishap and to be going home at last. I can't believe I wasn't stopped for drunk driving so jerkily and uncertainly did I REPEATEDLY circumnavigate this little downtown! With my St. Andre cheese and trail mix neatly tucked away for the flight home.

Anyway, I finally made it to the airport, dropped off the car, and seldom have I been so glad to be in an airport, plus by the way Logan is excellent! They have outlets beneath every chair to charge your phone and big banks of semi-deserted desk-like areas where if need be you could actually spread out your laptop and get some work done. Personally I was content to sit and catch up on my New Yorkers. I slept through some of the flight home, splurged on an uber (as opposed to the Flyaway bus, then uber), and arrived home to my cozy Pasadena apartment around 11. A quick check of the plants on the balcony--everything looked okay! (Thank you, Nora, for watering). What fun to unpack, open the mail (thank you Lindsie, for collecting), refrigerate my hunk of gypsy cheese!

It was around midnight when I thought to check my phone: a tottering on its last legs but still trusty 5s.  Except the phone was nowhere to be found. Yep. I'd left the damn thing in the uber. I'd been saying a rosary the whole way home and I must have forgotten it was in my lap and in my excitement at having made it home safely, dropped it to the floor. Or the street. Or the driveway. Or the balcony. Or...after retracing my steps several times, I went to my laptop and discovered 1) I  couldn't sign on to uber to get the name and number of the driver because uber sends an authentication code to your phone and 2) the find your iphone app only works if the wifi is on which I happened to know it wasn't. I won't describe the couple of hours of ensuing panic (of course my phone isn't locked; I'm too impatient to punch in a code or swipe my finger every time), but suffice it to say that uber driver Suzanne, another sainted individual, hand-delivered the phone to my door the next day. That is, after my sainted friend Julia Gibson ran interference.

All I can say is It takes a village to travel.

And that is not even counting the lunch at Ten Ten Pié in Portland, now one of my all-time favorite restaurants with my dear friend Ellen M., my visit with old grade school chum Bonnie Blythe and her husband Daniel, also in downtown Portland at the annual St. Peter's Fest, my three days in Tiverton with treasured friend and benefactor Dr. Tim Flanigan and his family and friends, my visit with Abbot Matthew Stark and the wonderful monks at Portsmouth Abbey, and my visit with my beloved brother Tim and cousin Dickie in Rye Beach, NH, Not to mention getting to hang out with Joe Dionne, one of my dearest, most cherished friends from grade and high school.

So full was my heart that on my last night I lay in bed and simply pulsated with love for my family, friends, and New England. My body and soul were way too small to contain such multitudes.

Other news from LA: the coral trees are beginning to bloom. The pomegranates are ripening. The camellias that will flower in January are starting to bud. I've been accepted for reading privileges as an "independent scholar" (of what? you might ask) at the Huntington Library and Gardens.

And the U.S. Open is on.


FAREWELL, EAST COAST, TILL NEXT TIME! 


Monday, August 28, 2017

THE MUSEUM OF NEON ART



This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale is a boutique museum with one large gallery, the guy who sold me a ticket reported.

I remembered its previous incarnation on downtown Olympic Boulevard from years ago, but things have changed since then.

The museum offers classes such as “Bend, Blow and Glow,” a free film and lecture series at the adjacent Glendale Public Library called “Jewel City Noir” and cruises. You can take the Mother’s Day Cruise, the Neon Noir Cruise, the Holiday Lights Cruise or the Award-Winning Classic Neon Cruise across Los Angeles with J. Eric Lynxwiler, author of “Signs of Life: Los Angeles is the City of Neon.”

A recent Los Angeles Public Library exhibit by the same name noted of neon’s early days: “Mile after mile, the streets of Los Angeles stretched across valleys and into the hillsides and mountains carrying neon messages for drug stores, coffee shops, doctor’s offices, car repair and juke joints into infinity. There was nothing neon couldn’t announce in bright, eye-catching colors and Los Angeles businesses that wanted to be modern and up to date, had one if not five neon signs promoting their wares.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Friday, August 25, 2017

THE ONGOING MOMENT




JULY AND AUGUST ARE CREPE MYRTLE TIME
IN LA!


"The most wonderful thing about life seems to be that we hardly tap our potential for self-destruction. We may desire it, it may be what we dream of, be we are dissuaded by a beam of light, a change in the wind."

--John Cheever, 1958 [quoted in Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment]



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ON COMING HOME TO CALIFORNIA FROM BEING HOME IN NEW ENGLAND











BREAD AND PUPPET THEATER AND MUSEUM
GLOVER, VT

MUSEUM OF EVERYDAY LIFE
GLOVER, VT


CAMPUS OF SMITH COLLEGE,
NORTHAMPTON, MA


From a poem by Robert Frost called: 

THE HILL WIFE

LONELINESS

Her Word

One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;

Or care so much when they come back
With whatever is is they sing;
The trust being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing

As we are too sad for the other here--
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.


HOUSE FEAR

Always--I tell you this they learned--
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.