Thursday, August 29, 2019

Star wars: Galaxy's Edge

Soon after announcing that Disneyland's new Star Wars land, Galaxy's Edge, would open this summer, Disney blocked current and retired employees from entering the parks for free. The main concern: overcrowding. But potential visitors, also fearing massive crowds, stayed away in droves. And so we were soon welcomed back with open arms. After all, employee money is better than no money at all!

We, of course, had been anticipating Galaxy's Edge since Disney's initial announcement in 2015. Though I worried that a Star Wars addition might take Disneyland far, far away from Walt's original vision, we nonetheless were anxious to see the new land and so went as soon as our passes were unblocked.

The setting of Galaxy's Edge is Black Spire Outpost on Batuu, a remote planet that has never appeared in a Star Wars movie. The evil Empire, which suspects the rebel alliance has taken hold of the outpost, is an ominous presence. Storm troopers are known to stop visitors and ask what they're doing there.

We entered Galaxy's Edge from the Fantasyland side and, after a short transition space, were immediately thrust into the world of Star Wars. The outpost is so unlike any other part of Disneyland that it's truly like being on another planet. In fact, it is impossible to see the rest of the park from Batuu. Nor is Batuu visible from the rest of the park. 

Our first view of Batuu (east entrance from Fantasyland)

 West entrance from Frontierland

The ambiance is similar to a Middle Eastern marketplace: extremely visual and noisy. Though you can't see them, you can hear spaceships and land speeders taking off and landing throughout. Parked in the middle of everything is the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo's former ship and now home to Smuggler's Run, the outpost's only ride. (A second ride will open in January.) The Falcon is the most easily identifiable attraction in Batuu and is obviously a huge draw for fans. It looks so real, I could barely take my eyes off it!

In front of the Falcon

The Falcon: such attention to detail!

 Parked Falcon 

Surrounding the Falcon are mostly eateries and shops that, in some cases, seem more like Star Wars museums than stores. You can build your own version of R2D2 at Mubo's Droid Depot and your own lightsaber at Savi's secret workshop—but be discreet when asking where it is. You don't want to draw storm trooper attention.

Mounted animal heads at Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities

Tim being silly at the build-a-droid depot

You, too, can become a storm trooper
for $6600!

One of the most popular spots is Oga's Cantina, where you can buy light refreshments and alcoholic beverages. Modeled after the cantina in the first Star Wars movie, the space is dark, loud and mysterious. The DJ is Rex, the robot from Disneyland's Star Tours ride, spinning tunes and spouting advice to the mostly distracted crowd. The snacks and drinks aren't cheap, but at least it's cool inside. Be sure to make a reservation as soon as you arrive in Batuu!

The bar at Oga's—DJ Rex, voiced by a very funny Paul Reubens,
in the background

Drinking an exotic lemonade

You can watch Disneyland's fireworks at night from Batuu, but don't expect to see any other hints of the park or Disney characters. The point here is to be totally immersed in another world. So far so good. 

Black spire that gives the outpost its name

Batuu architecture

Gritty ambiance

Modest crowds on a sunny Tuesday

Docking bay

Heroic statue

Batuu at night

Fireworks over Black Spire 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

NYC 2019


Though we love Los Angeles, we happily acknowledge that NYC is the center of the known universe and so try to visit whenever we can. Two years ago we took a tour of Manhattan with the South Coast Rep theatrical group and had such a great time that we decided to do it again. We saw three plays—Tootsie, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Kiss Me Kate revival—danced the night away to the big band sounds of Vince Giordano’s Nighhawks at the Iguana Club, and strolled through Central Park as well as the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Other highlights of our week-long trip follow below.

Tootsie—so much fun!

Nighthawks—small dance floor, but we made do!

Central Park's Turtle Pond

The Cloisters

 The Cloisters

Celebrating the art and architecture of medieval Europe, the Cloisters is located on Hudson River Valley parkland north of New York City. Originally assembled by an American sculptor, George Grey Barnard, the collection was eventually purchased by John D. Rockefeller and is now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The building, which looks very much like a medieval monastery, was actually constructed in the 1930s using the walls, columns, altars, etc., of real European churches. As a result, the Cloisters provides a peaceful and rather historically-convincing sanctuary away from city life, well worth the long subway or bus ride outside NYC.

The cloisters, themselves, are four-sided architectural features that include a covered walkway surrounding an open courtyard or garden. Despite an unusually cold winter, the gardens were filled with flowers and other flourishing plants. A beautiful day to refresh one’s soul.

The central Cuxa Cloister

Column detail

Smaller over-grown garden cloister

Langdon Chapel, constructed with 12th-century
limestone blocks and sculptures from a church in France

Lots of statues of the Virgin and baby Jesus

Eery half-statue of a religious leader

Baby Jesus with apple

World-famous 15th-century unicorn tapestry 
donated by John D. Rockefeller

Medieval crypts

View of the Hudson River

Leaving the Cloisters

Play It Loud!


From the Cloisters, our tour guide took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in mid-town Manhattan. By chance, the Met was featuring "Play It Loud," an exhibit of some 130 roll 'n roll instruments, including guitars, drums, and pianos from performers like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Prince, Elvis, and Brice Springsteen. We spent so much time ogling the instruments that we pretty much missed the rest of the museum!

Saxophone of Louis Jordan, early
R&B performer

Elvis's guitar

Buddy Holly's guitar

Ringo's "kit" and one of George Harrison's many guitars

John Lennon's Rickenbacker guitar

Originally painted in "fireglo sunburst,"
George Harrison changed the color of his
Rickenbacker to match John's

Eric Clapton's famous Stratocaster "Blackie"

Neil Young's Gibson Flying V guitar

Stevie Ray Vaughn

Bruce Springsteen

Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)


And Prince again

Rick Nielsen's (Cheap Trick) custom five-neck guitar

Paul McCartney's Union Jack bass (r)

The Who's drums

Organ played by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs on "Wooly Bully"

Ray Manzerek's (The Doors) electric organ

John Sebastian's (Lovin' Spoonful) autoharp

Lady Gaga's piano