Monday, July 14, 2014

Grease is the Word

It’s almost too embarrassing to admit, but I had never seen the movie Grease until last night’s 4th annual sing-along event at the Hollywood Bowl. Judging by the crowd, I was one of the last people in L.A. to see the film. At least a third of the nearly 18,000 attendees dressed as characters from the movie. My favorites were the pink-haired ladies at the end of our row and a trio of fans, who arrived just before the show started, dressed as John Travolta and two beauty salon gals with hair-curlers piled high. They were fun, but made no sense to me until the musical number “Beauty School Dropout,” during which the hair-curler gals—actually a man and a woman—stood-up and danced, much to the delight of everyone in our section.

 Pink-haired ladies a la "Frenchie"

The backside of the faux Travolta and hair-curler gals

I must say I was dubious when Tim picked Grease as one of our Hollywood Bowl concerts this year. But like everyone else there, I ended up having a blast. Retro rockers Sha Na Na, who also appear in the film, got the audience in the mood by playing tunes from the ‘50s, while we waited for the sun to set. Didi Conn (“Frenchie”) was the M.C. As soon as it was dark enough, the movie began to roll and everyone around me started to sing, including my husband, who sang even the “girl” parts! I was surprised to find that I, too, knew a lot of the songs. 

Plus the event was highly interactive, even if you didn’t know the story. We were each given a bag of goodies to wave during certain parts of the film: pom-poms for the football pep rally scene, a yellow hankie during the car race, a comb to slick back our greasy hair, etc. Two guys behind us had memorized the dialogue and so yelled out key lines. It was a hoot.

I certainly don’t need to see Grease again, but last night was lots of fun. Highly recommended for anyone who loves John Travolta, Olivia Newton John or 1950s-style teen musicals.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

From One Extreme to the Other

The San Francisco Bridge from AT&T Park

After driving home from Las Vegas (see below), we spent one day recuperating at home before hopping a plane to San Francisco for a couple of days. We stayed at my new favorite SF hotel, the Serrano—old world charm, located just five blocks from the Powell St. BART and Muni station. We took mass transit everywhere—always a nice change for us car-addicted Angelenos.

The Serrano lobby

Our first stop was AT&T Park to see a Giants game. Growing up in L.A., I never liked the Giants, the Dodgers' national league rivals. Still, even I have to admit that their stadium, built in 2000, is spectacular and may indeed have the most beautiful ballpark setting in the country, as the Giants claim. But it was cold, especially after the oppressive heat of Las Vegas. Quite a difference in temperatures as well as cultures, if one can say that Vegas has any culture.

Bundled up to watch baseball—note my red wool scarf
peeking out from under my sweatshirt!

The view of AT&T centerfield from our seats

The next morning, we decided to see the recently renovated Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill in North Beach. Completed in 1933, the landmark tower houses an array of Depression-era murals commissioned as part of the Public Works of Art Project in the 1930s. To get there, we caught an old Italian trolley car on Market St. and took it to Greenwich St., off of Embarcadero, before then climbing some 400 steps (!) to Coit Tower. The views were worth it, as we panted up more than 400 feet to the summit. But, damn, what a hike for our poor old legs! Next time we'll take a bus.

Our ride to Embarcadero

Beware, all who enter here!

Our destination—so close, yet so far

The first of many flights—that's me 
grimacing in the lower righthand corner

Up and up we go—at least it was mostly shady 

The magnificent view along the way

Coit Tower, at last

A statue of Columbus overlooking the Bay

The back of the tower

The murals depicting life in Depression-era California

Mural detail

My favorite panels: The Library—shelving books

Marxist headlines in the library: "Hoover Aid Fights Airmail 
Fraud," "Destruction of [Diego] Rivera's Fresco at 
Rockfeller Center," "Thousands Slaughtered in Austria"

We did take the free bus, a few hours later, to the Presidio, where we visited the Disney Family Museum, which I saw and loved the last time I was in SF. Coincidentally, the Presidio was also the site of Off the Grid, a weekly family picnic event that features food trucks (one of our favorite things!), 5-9PM every Thursday night. I knew Bacon Bacon from a previous trip to SF and so made a beeline straight for their scrumptious BLT sandwich. We then jumped on the bus and the Muni subway back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep. We were back home the next day—July 4th—well before fireworks and BBQ.

Early Off the Grid crowd

Massive BLT—YUM!!

July 4th: Waiting for the 7AM shuttle to SFO

Sunday, July 06, 2014

ALA in Las Vegas

Old Las Vegas: Beef, Booze and Broads

The big annual American Library Association conference was held in Las Vegas last weekend. Neither of us is all that fond of Vegas, especially in the summer. But we couldn’t resist the lure of seeing 20,000 librarians descend upon Sin City. “Stereotypes will be shattered!” I insisted.

Well, we really didn’t see too many librarians going wild playing blackjack or letting their hair down at casino shows. For one thing, the conference was far too spread-out. Most events took place at the convention center, which was miles from The Strip. Plus it was too damn hot to go anywhere without a car. Librarians are all about walking, if it means saving a few bucks on cab fare. But when evening temperatures hover around 100 degrees, not even the most diehard gamblers feel much like leaving their hotels.

We drove to Vegas (5 hours from L.A.) and so were able to escape the conference a bit to explore the old downtown area, now known as the Fremont Street Experience. Still promising “BEEF•BOOZE•BROADS” and “LOOSE $ SLOTS,” the once glamorous casinos of Fremont Street are now covered by a protective roof that seems to attract more homeless people than tourists. Though apparently spectacular at night, the famous neon signs of yore are truly sad by day. 

Fremont Street Experience in daylight

Howdy, Pardner: Vegas Vic

Easy money!

Fallout shelter sign: reminder of past nuclear 
activity in the nearby Nevada desert

While there, we had a tasty if overly filling breakfast at Du-pars, an L.A. staple that now occupies the old Bay City CafĂ© space in the Golden Gate casino. I could easily picture my parents eating here after a long night of feeding the slot machines at the nearby 4 Queens and Golden Nugget casinos.

Always open, like Vegas

Old-school Vegas diner

Old-school breakfast: lots of carbs and bacon—YUM!

We also visited the Mob Museum, housed in the former post office and courts building located just two blocks from Fremont. Not only does it chronicle the history of the Mafia and other gangster organizations, the Museum also touches on the early days of Las Vegas, when it was nothing more than a desert waystation between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Everything from the Rat Pack to the infamous wall (complete with bulletholes!) from the 1920s St. Valentine’s Day massacre to one of Tony Soprano’s outfits is displayed. Plan on spending at least half a day, if you go. Lots of fun and highly recommended!

Mob Museum

One-armed bandit and assorted early Vegas memorabilia

No trip to Vegas is complete without seeing at least one show, so we did Cirque du Soleil’s Love (again—my third time). We also ate dinner at Pamplemousse, a French bistro rumored to have been inspired by one of our favorite singers, Bobby Darin. The food was delicious, but we recommend not eating all day if you’re going to order the five-course meal.

I was going to attend one last conference session, Monday morning, but when we heard the temperature was expected to reach 110 degrees, we packed our gear and left town by 9AM. Good to be home!

One of the best things about Las Vegas: the monorail—
it ain't cheap, but at least it's air-conditioned—we got a 3-day pass

Saturday, June 21, 2014

L.A. Film Festival 2014

We don’t attend the L.A. Film Festival every year, but did manage to find time to see four movies this year. All of them were excellent—which is not always the case—so it was worth the schlep downtown during the week, when we’d normally be vegging out in front of the TV. Here are my quick reviews:

Tim served in the Navy during the war. My family and I watched daily coverage on the nightly news. I doubt either one of us will ever get over Vietnam. Directed by Rory Kennedy, the film effectively uses archival footage to chronicle the fall of Saigon in April 1975, while also honoring the unsung military as well as non-military heroes who stayed in-country till the bitter end. This is a very moving and edge-of-seat story, even though we already knew the ending. Rory, who was the creative force behind the outstanding documentary Ethel, about her mother Ethel Kennedy, introduced the film and took questions afterward. Watch for Last Days in Vietnam later this year as an American Experience episode on PBS.

I’ve loved Kurt Russell since he appeared in the Disney film The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes in 1969, but I never knew his father was famous, too. Not only did Bing Russell play the deputy on the long-running TV show Bonanza, he also owned an independent baseball team, which ended up making sports history in the mid-1970s. Directed by his grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, this wonderful documentary captures the incredible story of Bing Russell’s unconventional Portland Mavericks. Seems like the entire Russell clan was in the audience, including Kurt’s mother, but unfortunately no Kurt. The movie was bought by Netflix and will be shown in July. Highly entertaining!

Unless you are completely plugged into the movie scene, which we are not, sometimes it’s risky buying tickets for films listed only by title, actors, director, and a brief description in the festival program. We’ve been burned before. But this movie was great. Made very much in the quirky flavor of A Simple Plan and everything by the Coen Brothers, Cut Bank is a terrific example of a small town caper gone horribly wrong. It is, of course, also very violent and darkly funny and has an incredible cast that includes John Malkovich, as the sheriff who suddenly has to investigate his town’s first murder, and an hilarious Bruce Dern as the victim. A Q&A with the filmmaker and cast members Teresa Palmer and Oliver Platt followed the screening.

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, the story is set in 1962 Greece, where a rich American couple (Viggo Mortensen and a luminous Kirsten Dunst) meet a young ex-pat con man, named Rydel Keener (Oscar Isaac). As in The Talented Mr. Ripley, also based on an Highsmith novel, it quickly becomes apparent that things are not as they seem, making for a good old-fashioned yet exciting thriller. Plus the scenery is gorgeous. Due to be released in theaters later this year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Our new boys—three weeks ago

After our cat Cecil suddenly died last year, I announced that I wanted no more pets once Cecil’s brother Beanie dies. Cecil’s death had been so unexpected and devastating, I just couldn’t stand the thought of going through it all over again in 15 years when we’d be well into our 70s.

But then Beanie got seriously ill—from a broken heart and loneliness—and I began imagining my life without cats—not a happy thought. Coincidentally, my long-time friend Karen H. emailed, saying that a stray cat had dropped a litter of kittens in her garage. I could feel myself starting to melt. She then sent photos and, sure enough, there were two orange tabbies, looking very much like a young Beanie and Cecil. They joined our family three weeks ago. Yesterday, they turned three months old.


The first order of business was, of course, figuring out their names. Because of their prominent ears, I immediately thought of "Spock" and "Quark"—two favorite Star Trek characters known for their unusual lobes—but instead wanted names that reflected the fact that they’re brothers. So we settled on Jack and Bobby, though we doubt either of them will ever have any political aspirations. 

Bobby—or is it Quark?

Next up: preparing the house for invasion!

 Can you find the cat (Jack) in this picture?

Beanie and Cecil were six months old and already neutered when we brought them home 14 years ago. They tromped around and wrestled. We laughed and were entertained, but never really had to change our lifestyle to accommodate them. Ten-week-old kittens take craziness to a whole new level, however. Nothing escapes their eye and everything—no matter how priceless or fragile—is fair game. All perishables are now either packed away or moved to a shelf at least four feet off the ground.

The first hour of every day consists of emptying litter and replenishing food and water bowls. The boys then help me make the bed and do whatever other chores need to be done that morning. They especially love the broom, which provides endless fascination. I work at home, so they often join me in my office until I ban them for being too distracting. Beanie and I both like when they conk-out for a few hours after having spent all their energy playing. 

Beanie, by the way, didn’t know what to make of them, at first, and would run away whenever they approached. But now they have all seemed to reach some sort of feline detente, thanks mostly to Bobby’s good-natured diplomacy, and all three sleep with us at night. Tim and I are definitely outnumbered!

Detente: watching TV with Mommy (Jack, Bobby and Beanie)

Bobby on Beanie's tail

Mom's office chair