Friday, December 13, 2019

PERSHING SQUARE ICE RINK

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

The Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square has returned for its 22nd anniversary season.

I know because I attended the grand opening, which took place from 11 to noon on Thursday, Nov. 14.

From top to bottom, the event, atmosphere, and zeitgeist were quintessential LA.

The setting: a balmy 67 degrees. The rink, at 532 S. Olive Street: surrounded by palm trees and skyscrapers. The main sponsor: Bai, an antioxidant infusion drink. Another sponsor: the North American tour of Disney’s “Frozen: The Broadway Musical.”

A chorus from Grand Arts High School, right down the street, gave us “Jingle Bells.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

THE TOOLS FOR GOOD WORKS



The decorations are up, the Advent breviary is in use, I've descended into the psychic darkness that inevitably descends this time of year. While at the same time I'm filled with a sense of ragged, inexplicable joy.

I've also been reviewing, culling, and reformatting my posts, one by one, from the last ten years--so that is a task. I look forward to the updated website/blog being up in early 2020.

Meanwhile, here's the link to a recent podcast I did with Deal Hudson of Ave Maria Radio re my new book RAVISHED: Notes on Womanhood.

I've also been exploring the possibility of becoming a Benedictine oblate at St. Andrew's Abbey in the high desert outside LA.

Among the myriad other gifts (and responsibilities and obligations) such a commitment would engender is the fact that oblates can be buried in the abbey cemetery. This is a prospect that appeals to me deeply.

All around we hear the call to arms, to hatred, to violent action.

This morning I read the following in Esther de Waal's Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict:

"St Benedict will not allow us to evade change, and he has no illusions about what is involved in facing up to growth. Conversatio is simply commitment to facing up to the demands of growth and change. One of the specific ways in which the Rule helps with this comes in Chapter 4, "The Tools for Good Works.' There are seventy-three of them, most of them short, sharp injunctions fired at us one after another, without even an opening paragraph. At the twenty-second St Benedict is saying, 'You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.' "

THE CEMETERY AT ST. ANDREW'S ABBEY,
VALYERMO, CA

Friday, November 22, 2019

A GLASS PANEL HOMAGE TO LOCAL FIREFIGHTERS

THE THREE FRONT PANELS
credit: Robiee Ziegler

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

Artist Anne-Elizabeth Sobieski’s family lost their Pasadena home to fire when she was 17. “I was frozen. I don’t know how much time went by. We just watched as the roof fell in, and one by one, every room burned.”

Ever since, she’s had a special heart for firefighters. So perhaps it was only fitting that she was chosen by the LA County Department of Arts and Culture (formerly the LA County Arts Commission) to design the fused glass panels for the newly built Santa Clarita Fire Station 104.

“The county’s awarding of public art projects is really an outreach to the community, which I think is the most beautiful thing in the world. They provide arts education programs, fund teachers and individual artists, work with the incarcerated, give apprenticeship grants, and much more. They invite people like me who have never done a public project before.”

From the beginning, she had to consider how she needed to design the panels so they’d look well in glass. Judson Studios, based in Highland Park, is the oldest family-run stained-glass studio in America. She hired them to team up on the proposal and to fabricate the panels.

Her initial proposal focused on the landscape, the history of Santa Clarita, and the community for whom fire tends to be traumatizing.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Thursday, November 14, 2019

THE SRIRACHA SAUCE EMPIRE


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

Sriracha sauce is a crown jewel of Southern California foodie culture.

You’ve seen the plastic bottles. They’re filled with bright red sauce, emblazoned with a rooster, stamped with text in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, and topped by a green squirt cap. For many, this blazing hot chili product is a staple condiment.

Enter David Tran, CEO and founder of Huy Fong Foods. In 1979, Tran fled communist Vietnam on a Taiwanese freighter named Huey Fong. “I didn’t have a plan,” he says. He came to the U.S. because we were the only place that would have him. He ended up naming his Sriracha empire after that boat.

He washed up in the LA area and decided to try his hand at hot sauce.

He was born in 1945, the Year of the Rooster. So he bought a blue Chevy van, stenciled his own rooster logo on the side, and drove his first bottles to Asian restaurants and markets around town.

Over time he grew his company from a 5,000-square-foot facility in Chinatown (1980), to a 68,000-square-foot facility in Rosemead (1987), to its current state-of-the-art 650,000-square-foot compound in Irwindale (2010).

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


COAST TO COAST


I always laugh when people say "I hope you enjoyed your retreat!" or "your vacation!"

I do enjoy it, all of it, but my life and my travel are almost militarily disciplined and at all times retain a pilgrimage aspect. I often fast in my way, I always walk miles. This last trip to NYC was no exception.

And it was a beautiful trip.

Why, however, did I make it? Even I don't fully know.

Maybe my goal was simply to lay eyes on the faces of my friends: Patrick, Tim, Matthew, Anthony. Maybe it was so I could go to Mass and pray at St. Vincent Ferrer, surely one of the loveliest churches in NY, if not all of creation. Maybe it was to pay my biannual visit to the Conservancy Garden in the upper NE corner of Central Park.  Maybe it was to walk the streets of Manhattan (and Queens, and Brooklyn), and to leave a little of my body and blood there, and to pray for the people and places among whom I walked.

Maybe I just had to savor a taste of the East Coat autumn.

All of this was made easier by a $213 round trip ticket and the fact that, because I write for Magnificat, I'm allowed to stay at the Dominicans' Holy Name Building on E. 65th, around the corner from St. Vincent Ferrer, for a generously small stipend (as who but the wealthy could ever afford a Manhattan hotel for a week).

Never will I get over the miracle of travel, especially air travel. How is it possible that a person could awake in a bed on Lexington and 65th and on the same day retire for the night on a bed in Pasadena, California? I'm always super anxious, afraid I won't make it, or something will go wrong, the upside of that being insane gratitude for every "tiny" thing that goes right. Oh, the downtown Q train showed up as promised. Oh Penn Station is still there! Oh United is going to honor the boarding pass it issued me! Et cetera.

I write from the United Lounge next to Gate 74 C at Newark's Liberty Airport. I came early for my 1 pm flight, partly because I couldn't bear the suspense of knowing whether or not I'd make it from downtown Manhattan, and partly because you can get free juice, coffee and food here, plus your own space more or less to work in. (My United Visa provides me with two free passes a year).

Here are the moments I'll take home with me: after a freezing cold, blustery day in Brooklyn, first having a new head shot taken, then wandering around Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden till I was shaking with cold and exhausted, stopping at the falafel truck on 65th and 3rd Avenue before returning to my room with a hot chocolate, a falafel plate with rice and salad, a warm piece of pita, and a rice pudding and DEVOURING the second best meal I had the whole week. Trembling with gratitude.

The best meal was at Morandi in the Village with my friend Tim, whose highly recommended first novel, Cornelius Sky, was published this year. The plan was for me to take him out but of course he insisted on taking me out, which I mention simply because I seem to be surrounded by people who give me 500% more than I ever seem to give them. The meal was stupendous but the meal took second place to the conversation, communion and camaraderie.

Tim is also a NYC Transit bus driver. His route begins at 72nd and Amsterdam at 5:07 on weekdays and takes him and his riders across Central Park and over to York. I met him at the beginning of his shift another day and rode over to Madison and that, too, was a huge treat.

Then there was the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (meh), Dia Beacon, the Noguchi Museum and the Socrates Sculpture Park.

*****

Now I'm safe home, with major jet lag, and headed to Pershing Square in downtown LA this morning for the grand opening of ice-skating season.

Last night I gave a talk at the Valley Hunt Club (!) for the Pasadena chapter of Legatus.

The fun NEVER STOPS.

RICHARD SERRA, DIA: BEACON

CENTRAL PARK AROUND E. 66TH, DUSK

Saturday, November 9, 2019

DECISIONS, DECISIONS



IN THE COURTYARD AND INSIDE THE NOGUCHI MUSEUM

I've been in NYC the past week and my time has been rich, fruitful, and jam-packed.

It's also been a bit overshadowed by the visit I paid to the probate attorney the day before I left, which was also jam-packed but not in a fun way. (Not that NY has exactly been "fun" either--is anything, ever?--but that's a different discussion). 

Like perhaps most of us,  "admin" is not my favorite activity. But I've been trying hard to remember to be insanely grateful that I have anything, of any kind, TO administer.

To that end, I looked up the etymology  and found: "late 14c., aministren, later administren, "to manage as a steward, control or regulate on behalf of others," from Old French aministrer "help, aid, be of service to" (12c., Modern French administrer)."

Note: on behalf of others. So let me try to administer with patience and love.

Anyway, one of documents the attorney gave me was a sheet with six different situations, each more outlandish, hypothesizing gruesome medical situations, that just COULD come to pass.

Then you're supposed to choose which of about fifteen different medial treatments you'd want, or not want: thorny decisions that I am hardly in a position to make even now, in full possession of my faculties.

For example:

"If I am in a coma or persistent vegetative state and have no known hope of recovering awareness or higher mental functions: I want OR I do not want: Minor surgery: for example, removing part of an infected toe."

I mean just try to wrap your mind around that. First, I thought, well for heaven's sake, no, at that point it's a little late to be worry about an infected toe. But then again, you don't just want to be lying there like a big hunk of gangrene. What if it were an infected leg? Or torso? Does a person feel pain in a vegetative state? On some level does he or she still want to "look nice?"

Situation B: "If I am in a coma and have a small but uncertain chance of regaining awareness and higher mental functioning: I want OR I do not want Chemotherapy: Drugs to fight cancer."

Well let's see. If I were in a coma, I probably wouldn't care all that much that I also had cancer. But what if I miraculously "came to," only to realize that if I had made the "right" decision, I wouldn't now have Stage 4 melanoma or whatever!?

Sitaution E: "I have an incurable chronic illness that causes physical suffering or minor mental disability and will ultimately cause death, and then I develop a life-threatening but reversible illness: I want OR I do not want Pain Medications: even if they dull consciousness and indirectly shorten my life."

I mean at that point I would want a quart of gin and/or a gun. Although in general I am for going through life (and death, for that matter) with as little pain medication as you can possibly muster. I like being awake, even though that means you're awake to suffering.

Because suffering invites us to ask the right questions, to figure out what is truly important in this crazy world, and to live accordingly.

And did you get
what you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth.

--Raymond Carver

Me, too.


SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK
QUEENS

MIKE BIRBIGLIA'S "THE NEW ONE"

COME ON, MIKE, I BET YOU CAN AFFORD BETTER TOYS THAN THESE! 

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

Mike Birbiglia is an American stand-up comic, writer, and producer with a raft of comedy albums and TV specials under his belt. “Sleepwalk With Me” (2012), his award-winning directorial film debut, started with a one-man off-Broadway show that he wrote, directed, and starred in.

In 2011, he launched and then toured worldwide with his second one-man show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.” Other credits include the 2016 comedy-drama film “Don’t Think Twice,” a recurring role in the Netflix web TV series “Orange Is the New Black,” and regular contributions to NPR’s “This American Life.”

Birbiglia grew up Catholic in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the youngest of four. He is married to poet Jennifer Hope Stein. The couple have a young daughter named Oona.

His “everyman” humor tends toward body image issues, fear of growing up, and the perennial divide between men and women.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Monday, November 4, 2019

A FIELD TRIP TO HEARST CASTLE




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

Every good Californian knows of Hearst Castle, the ginormous house on an enchanted Central Coast hill built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

The estate at its height consisted of 250,000 acres, bought at 70 cents per. The property featured its own airfield, a mile-long pergola planted with fruits, vines, and espaliered trees, and a private zoo that was at the time the largest in the world.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled north, boarded the bus at the Visitor’s Center, and gawked for the 5-mile-long trip up the driveway. I was there for the special Art of San Simeon Tour, which costs a hundred bucks, has an eight-person max, and lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes.

We started at the 104-foot-long Neptune Pool, the third incarnation of this luxe water-frolicking venue (Hearst, who as a child asked his mother to buy him the Louvre, changed his mind often). We learned of the Vermont marble, the Roman Empire-era columns, the statues that are a mixture of the ancient and the modern.

Next stop was the eight-bedroom Spanish-Moorish “Casa del Sol”...

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




Thursday, October 31, 2019

PROJECTS AND PLOWSHARES



I haven't much checked in as of late. This is in large part because I have many PROJECTS.

One: I am making a will! That's right: getting "my affairs" in order, a task upon which I've been procrastinating for probably five years. So the ball is rolling. That feels good. It's a lot of work.

Like just imagine someone having to come into your home or apartment once you croak and start having to try to figure things out. How do you get into her laptop? Where's her checking account? What about cell phone, wifi, electricity, title to car, pandora, Medicare? WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL HER TCOTCHKES? I mean that's just one small facet. And I don't even own a piece of real estate!

Two: I'm updating my website/blog. Oh my God. Don't get me started. Wordpress. Even though I've hired someone, this has required hours and untold hours and the thing is not even remotely near to up and running. However, as my friend Geoff said, "We'll do this in stages." Geoff is a person of few words, which is perfect for someone like me, who will prattle endlessly and mindlessly on unless checked. Anyway, so there's that.

Three: The Garden. October and November are planting time in Southern California. I've been to the annual Theodore Payne sale, the annual fall Hahamongna Nursery sale, Lincoln Avenue Nursery for soil, and today I'm headed to Nuccio's, camellia capital of practically the world.

Four, I jaunted up to Hearst Castle last week or maybe it was the week before. And next week, I'm flying to NYC! There, I hope to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Noguchi Museum, and the Hewitt Cooper Design Museum, plus see a bunch of friends, plus go to Mass every chance I get at the gorgeous St. Vincent Ferrer, around the corner from which I'll be staying.

In the midst of all this, I have been following avidly and sorrowfully along, and praying in deep solidarity with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a collective voice crying in the wilderness against the hideous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction possessed and poised to be used by our government. They have coined the term "omnicide"--the killing of every person on earth, which these weapons have the power to do.

The seven were convicted on October 24 on all four counts with which they were charged, which were basically trespassing on and destroying government property. They broke into (which should itself should give us pause; these were unarmed people in their 50s and 60s with no inside info or contacts) and nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, GA. Not one of the jury pool had a bias against nuclear weapons and the deliberations took a mere two hours.

Sentencing will be in 30-90 days. Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, having refused bail, remains in jail where he has been for the last year and a half. 

You can read more about the insanity of nuclear weapons, the defendants and the case HERE. 


O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
--Matthew 23:37


Saturday, October 26, 2019

"MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND"


OSCAR-NOMINATED RE-RECORDING MIXER 
ANNA BEHLMER AT HER CONSOLE

CECE HALL CUTTING "TOP GUN"
Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Midge Costin’s documentary, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” is a fascinating and instructive peek into a world hitherto unknown to most of us.

The film traces the history of sound in film, examines the ways directors and sound designers work together, and features the latest discoveries and advances in sound technology, all while managing to remain warm, lively, and human.

Director-producer Costin is a graduate of USC Film School, a veteran, award-winning feature film sound editor in Hollywood, and the holder of the Kay Rose Endowed Chair in the Art of Sound Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts given by George Lucas in 2005. Producers-writers Bobette Buster and Karen Johnson round out the team.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

THE GREAT WALTER MURCH