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Friday, March 30, 2007

Getting outdoors

April. May. June, too. Those, for me, are the gardening months. After July 4th, forget it. By then it's too hot to spend much time outside, too late to plant without massive watering, though of course there are tempting bargains to be had then, so I invariably think "this time it will be different", and, of course, it never is.

The first order of business is to get rid of all the leaves that somehow never got raked last fall. It's kind of a treasure hunt to see what's underneath. Bulbs, of course. Nepeta already greening up. Hellebores in glorious bloom. I think I spotted some foxgloves! I have such trouble getting them to winter over, but this was such a mild winter....

This won't be morphing entirely into a garden blog. But it may become the main topic of conversation for a while.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Culver City

And here we are on daughter Z's home turf, Culver City, described by the NYT as
"Los Angeles's newest stylish neighborhood, a magnet for lovers of the arts, good food and culture. One part Hollywood nostalgia, one part modern design, the city-within-a-city now inspires expressions like “nascent Chelsea” and “L.A.'s new restaurant mecca.”
Her charming restored bungalow looks a lot like the ones in this mural (as seen from our outdoor table at Beacon, part of the landmark Helms Bakery complex, at dinner one night).
The palm trees in front of her house are among the tallest and oldest in LA.

There's a lemon tree in the back yard. Also oranges. And figs, too, in season.

This is the local wine bar - Vinum Populi. Wines are all priced by the ounce and self-serve, using a special plastic card you pop into a slot. The machines are called Enomatic dispensers, and it's the first I'd seen or heard of such a thing. It's like a wine ATM. The concept is bound to take off. Very young crowd here, all milling, sipping, party-style. I forget that I'm decades older than anyone else in the place. Nobody seems to care.

We had dinner afterwards at Tender Greens, around the corner. Casual, delicious. Another great concept I'd like to see more of. Fresh, organic, simple, affordable. Next door is Ford's Filling Station, the "gastropub" where Harrison's son, Benjamin, is chef-owner. Across the street is the Kirk Douglas theater, just a stone's throw from Sony (formerly MGM) Studios, where the Wizard of Oz was filmed.

And here we are in Surfa's. A restaurant-supply store since 1937, it's been enlarged, revamped, and now has a wonderful cafe, where we picked up cannelles and lavender lemon bars. If it's related to food you can find it here. Check out the on-line catalog. Then imagine being able to WALK there, like Z can.

Also part of the Helms complex is this French cafe, an old standby by now. Just enough time for a coffee and croissant before heading for LAX.
Where did the time go?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

LA: Miscellany





Third Street.





Monday, March 26, 2007

Happy new hair

Z is at Yoga; there is time to kill. I'm in Venice, on trendy Abbot Kinney. Take a chance? Yes! I'd go back in a heartbeat. Stop by and ask for Shannon, recently arrived from Reno. She's only there part-time, otherwise occupied with "photo-shoots". Only in LA.

California food dialectic

Here we are at the Wednesday market in Santa Monica. Citrus! Avocados! Artichokes! Dates of all kinds, including the little honey dates I'd been wanting to try. I'm offered a perfect, ripe persimmon (free samples seem to be de rigeur), and Z buys some to stash in the freezer and eat like sorbet. Vendors compete with over-the-top health claims ("my oranges are more organic than yours"). I could get used to this.

But there's another side. After all the super-organic, good-better-best-for-you, all-natural pesticide-free whatever, not to mention the hours spent on yoga, or at the gym, Angelenos are ready to line up for a treat. Or two. Or three. Doughnuts are big (no transfats at Frittelli's). Cupcakes are still hot, though the line you see reflected at Sprinkles was too long to consider joining. And Pinkberry - my first visit to the trendy new frozen yogurt spot. It's in NY now too, and I can understand the appeal. Just two flavors: plain, and green tea, with perfect fresh fruit toppings. You can almost pretend it's good for you.

And, in the blink of an eye

I am back in NJ. At least the snow is gone. I'll have some California posts up shortly. You'll have to pretend they appeared in a more timely fashion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Goodbye, snow

Hello, California! With the time difference in my favor, I can leave at 3:30 and be there in time for dinner. Stay tuned for further reports.

Monday, March 19, 2007


This was new to me - maybe to you as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Yesterday: 79 degrees. Tomorrow: 6-12" of snow predicted. Whatever.

Reading the NY Times

Dear Times Reader Beta Testers,
We want to thank you for your input during this free beta
period. You and your fellow beta testers have been a great
help in the development of Times Reader.
This note is to let you know that the beta period will be
ending in two weeks. Times Reader will launch as a
subscription service on March 27. It will cost $14.95 a month
or $165 a year and will include access to TimesSelect and
Premium Crosswords. Times Reader will be free to home
delivery subscribers.

Anybody else been trying the "Times Reader"? There are things I like about it (very much simulates the experience of reading a real paper, keystroke navigation is easy) and things I didn't (shows only the current paper, not the back stories in all categories, the way the "regular" on-line edition works). Also it's not so easy to save all or part of an article except to a new file on your hard drive (cut and paste to another program doesn't work). I already subscribe to the crosswords (about $35 a year I think), and can always read the TimesSelect and all archived articles for free through Proquest (doesn't everyone know about this?).

I don't think I'll ever go back to getting the hard copies (fun as it is to have it as an occasional luxury) - I just can't stand the way they pile up. So, for now, I guess it's back to the regular on-line read. Let's hope it will remain an option.

Update: So, I just signed up for TimesSelect using the edu trick (see comments) and it worked perfectly. Better than Proquest, actually, since it comes complete with graphics. Now I can see Maira Kalman's wonderful pieces (The Principles of Uncertainty). Yay! Life is good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Today in Letters

I just added this to my ever-growing bloglist. You might want to do the same. Each day you get an actual letter written on that day by a literary figure of note. (How long since you wrote a letter to someone?)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Illusionist

Loved it. There were some lingering questions, though, so I decided to re-watch with "director comments", something I've rarely done, but it was most illuminating in this case. And what a surprise to find out that the original Milhauser story was quite different. For one thing: no Sophie! And for another: no Inspector! Filming was done entirely in and around Prague (deemed to look more like c1900 Vienna than Vienna itself) and the castle with the "hallway of horns" was Konipiste, which had belonged to Archduke Franz Ferdinand (his assassination, as you recall, started WWI).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Lives of Others

The Claridge is closing tomorrow for renovations, so I made it a point to see this today. A perfectly told story, a cautionary tale - you can think of it on so many levels, and think of it you will, for a long time after seeing it. The setting is East Berlin, 1984, when the Stasi (secret police) were conducting surveillance of artists and writers - anyone who may have been sympathetic to the west. An incredible film. Don't miss it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Solid Wood 1900 Pocket Watch

The Way we Build Now

This gave me a laugh.

Friday, March 09, 2007


I hadn't heard of James Laughlin, the poet and founder of New Directions, until I read a recent piece about him in the New York Review of Books. None of the libraries in our 76-library consortium have the new book (The Way it Wasn't) yet, but I was able to get a copy of Byways, his memoir in verse, which I'm enjoying very much. You can hear an interview with Laughlin here, where he also reads some of the poems. Highly approachable, not at all formidable, the book consists simply of the late-life ruminations of a man who rubbed shoulders with most of the literary geniuses of the twentieth century.
Another thing: Laughlin was born in Pittsburgh in 1914; my mother was born near there in the previous year. When Laughlin talks about seeing a girl who was Vassar-bound the summer before he himself left for Harvard, I can't help but think it was probably someone Mom would have known there. Or not. Still, I know their worlds must have overlapped to some degree, particularly in the earlier years, and that in reading the details of this life I'm adding to my understanding of my own family. Isn't this a big part of why we read anyway?

Brian Schweitzer

What US Governor is an advance-degreed agronomist who lived for 7 years in Saudi Arabia and speaks fluent Arabic? Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana has some interesting ideas about our energy future and about what we should be doing in the Middle East. Listen here or on Google video.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sopranos and Holstens

This is Tony Soprano country. Location sightings are routine; we're used to it. Now it seems they want to film the historic final episode at Holsten's, everybody's favorite old-time ice cream parlor. Permission had been granted, but was then rescinded, bowing to pressure from an Italian-American group that feels the show is derogatory. Now there's a counter-movement afoot. Who will prevail?

The bigger question: will they ever start making my favorite pineapple ice cream again? See how it's crossed out there? It's been like that for twenty years!

Update: CNN reports that the filming will be permitted. Locals are now wondering what will happen in the final scene. Will Tony be done in by a hot fudge sundae?

And the winner is...

yellow! I've seen four of the five "best picture" nominees now (Iwo Jima remains), and what I'm most struck by is how utterly different they are from one another. How would you choose? It's like asking "what's the best color?" Still, my personal choice for best would have been the more original Babel. Like the academy I would have rewarded The Queen by rewarding Mirren. And I suppose their nod to Little Miss Sunshine was the surprise award to Arkin, cheating Murphy out of his expected win. (Haven't seen that one yet either, so can't comment.)
The Departed was really too violent and foul-mouthed for me, and I don't favor the cops and robbers genre to begin with. Still, Leonardo was brilliant, and too bad that he had to go up against Forrest Whitaker, but he will surely get his Oscar next time he's nominated, no matter what the circumstances (that's how it works, isn't it?). This was just Scorsese's year, that's all.
But Little Miss Sunshine! What a delight! I adored it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


It's Tuesday. That means it's a bridge night. That means I'm not going to Columbia Law School for the free lecture by Oliver Sacks on how music affects the brain. Nor will I be going to the New School to hear finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award read from their work. On the other hand, there will be a total of 30 minutes of driving time for listening to my latest car book, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson ( I'm nearly finished with her earlier novel, Housekeeping - also dazzlingly beautiful). I need to find a way to get my bridge fix without its taking up so much time.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Suburban Angst

There's an exceptional photography exhibit at the Montclair Public Library. The photographs, by local artist David Baumbach, depict people in cluttered interiors, overwhelmed by their possessions. Frightening.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Earlier, I announced here that spring had arrived. That may have been premature.

But there are signs that it's not far off.

Best of all, a week from tonight we get to turn the clocks ahead by an hour. It's the first year of the new, improved and extended Daylight Saving Time. Yay!

Catching up II

OK, OK - I know you're getting impatient. This will have to be a random, multi-subject catch-up post.

1. There's a great new sushi place on Broad Street.

2. We're getting a new Starbucks in the old Rite-Aid place, next to Bottle King. I'd prefer a Peet's, or something a little more unusual. But hey- am I not the one who complains endlessly about no cafes? And this will be an easy, easy walk for me.

3. I stayed an extra day in Boston in order to go (with G) to hear a panel discussion with Dave Eggers, Valentino Achak Deng and Samantha Powers (Pulitzer winning author of "A Problem from Hell"). It was in Harvard's beautiful Memorial Church, where I hadn't been in years, and the place was packed. Afterwards - a fine dinner at Harvest on Brattle St.

4. Movies! I've watched so many of them recently. I guess it's the Oscar thing; that time of year and all. Saw Notes on a Scandal with G in Newton. Excellent. Otherwise, all DVD's. Free from the library (or sometimes $1 for the newest). I've missed so many great ones over the years. Now I'm making a deliberate and concentrated effort to fill in some of the most egregious blanks. I'll single out some of the best in future posts.

5. Last weekend it was winter. Then came torrential rains. Now it's spring. Will it last?