Thursday, 16 December 2010

The weeks up to Thanksgiving 2010

Looking along a palm-lined street up to the mountains from Santa Monica

On Monday of the week before Thanksgiving, Barry was invited to give papers at USC and Scripps College in Pomona (both located in suburbs of Los Angeles).  I decided to join him in LA for the long weekend. We had initially planned to spend  our first night with Larry and Barbara, cousins who used to live in San Francisco but have been in LA for several years (and whom I last saw at Jackie and Bob's place in Santa Clara last December, though they visited Barry in Berkeley while I was on the East Coast this year). However, Barbara had the flu and it was deemed inadvisable to see them while we were there, let alone stay with them. Instead, we spent the 3 nights in Santa Monica, at Nora Hamilton's place.  She is a long- time colleague and friend of Barry's, and we enjoyed her hospitality greatly, though she seemed very disabled by a fall she had had a couple of weeks before.  The scans and so on had showed nothing broken, but it was clear she was in a great deal of pain and could barely walk.  Her two-storey  apartment would have been very difficult to deal with but for the fact that she had had a stair elevator thingy installed several years earlier when she was recovering from  hip replacement surgery, so could use that and the walker and other aids left over from that time to help her get about.  (Subsequent tests revealed she had in fact fractured her pelvis, so it is no wonder she was so uncomfortable!)

We had one meal out together, with me driving us in her car to the great seafood restaurant she had chosen, and  I also drove us to USC  on Monday for the first of Barry's talks. We had delicious breakfasts at home - in fact I took to buying berries again when I returned to Berkeley, as Nora's had been so luscious, but I found the local ones disappointing again. For other evening meals we got in take-away - Indian food our first night, which Barry picked up as he needed something from the drugstore a block away, very close to the restaurant, and another night we had Thai food delivered.  Nora lives just a few blocks from the beach.  The weather was balmy and I  managed to convince Barry to join me on my daily walk down to the beach, but I didn't have a short-sleeved top to wear, so got a bit overheated most days.  One day after we hit Ocean Avenue, an elevated drive above cliffs or palisades overlooking the broad sandy beach below, Barry parked himself on a bench in the shade and I walked on down to the Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica, at least in the 15 blocks between where we were staying and the beach, contrary to the image of Los Angeles as a place with no-one on the streets, was full of joggers, people walking dogs, parents with kids in strollers, lots of bikes.  This is just on the regular streets, apart from the pedestrian malls and the funky shopping strips.  There is lots of ice cream to be had, cafes and little shops - and there were buses also. The palm trees and many eucalypts gave it a very St Kilda vibe, and I always love to be out amongst it where there is sunshine and blue skies.  I have posted photos on Flickr: look up the photostream for bjoymarsh, for Santa Monica etc. or use this link:

We managed to locate cousins who we had lost touch with, Julie and Eric - it is more than 10 years since I have seen Eric and their daughter Camille, though I have seen Julie on visits to Melbourne, most recently at her nephew's barmitzvah or her cousin's wedding. They have recently moved to a new house spectacularly located in a deep ravine with a very steep staircase down, fortuitously fitted with an elevator chair (2 in one weekend!) which  Julie, who was recovering from foot surgery, used.  We had lunch together and a great catch up on all the news on both sides, and got the chance to meet Camille, who is now in college - last time we saw her I think she was about 8 years old. Eric picked us up and dropped us off again later, and though we had been invited to a party in the evening, we were not so enthusiastic about going and neither was Nora, so we stayed in that night.

On Monday, I wandered around the USC campus while Barry was giving his talk (I've heard it several times already), and took the photos you can see on Flickr.  Is the yo-yo making a comeback? There was a guy doing a yo-yo demonstration on stage in the centre of campus, and a not very good but extremely loud band, and some students getting around on unicycles as well as masses of bikes and skateboards. Basically the university seems to occupy what originally was a few city blocks, which have now become self-contained.  There were interesting plaques all over the place, originating from a university history project,  telling about the growth and transformation of the university as an aerospace  research institution under one of its Presidents, and relating how the student body and later the campus grew hugely after WW II, when the returning GIs were able to go to college thanks to the GI Bill.  But  the film school really told me I was in Southern California!

On Tuesday night we went into San Francisco to see  Janacek's The Makropulos Case at the Opera House. 
We went in quite early so we could go to the talk before the performance, as the opera was completely unknown to us before.  I think a version of the talk we heard is on the audio tab on the SF opera  link below. We stopped for Greek food at a cafe very near the Civic Centre BART station, where we have eaten before, but this evening the place was incongruously full of very glamorously dressed opera goers. It is really quite a greasy spoon, but we have figured out if we order one Shish Kebab platter and one Greek salad and share, we both have a delicious meal for under $20.  The bourghul and rice accompaniments are particularly delicious, the salad is fresh, the lamb is tender and the yoghurt dressing which accompanies it is basically tzatziki, not a term we hear used much here.  I guess we have never been there at this hour before.

It was a really outstanding production, completely gripping through the first two acts, a little less so in the third act.  This had a lot to do with the diva, Karita Mattila, who turned on an absolutely stunning piece of acting and singing as the opera singer who has been taking an eternal youth potion for 300 years. The first link is the SF Opera's official site, but the audio is not of Mattila.

The next link is a review of the performance, with which I pretty much agree.

On Friday evening we were invited to eat at Joan Sprinson's - she is the woman who offered me a lift to the Tertulia the week we arrived in Berkeley this year.  Chatting with her then, having noticed The Mexico Reader on her coffee table, I mentioned that Barry had co-edited the Cuba Reader in the same series. One thing led to another;  I mentioned what Barry was teaching at CAL this year, and as she was particularly interested in Cuba, she contacted him and arranged to audit his course on Cuban History. She also took us shopping at the Monterrey Market before we had a car, but I have barely seen her since as I have missed so many tertulias this year as the night hasn't been fixed and we have had clashes. She cooked a delicious dish based on spaghetti squash: the one time I tried to cook one at home years ago, I must have undercooked it - now I have an idea what the texture should be like, I will try again. It also featured some really good mushrooms.  We had a very interesting evening chatting and getting to know each other a little.

The rain had set in that day and for several days: it got much worse the next evening.  Sonya and I were going to an all Handel concert that Nina, a friend from our YMCA exercise class, was singing in, and Philip and Barry, who were less keen than we were, had decided to go to the movies together. When Philip and Sonya arrived, Philip said "whose idea was this anyway" - why didn't we just stay in and have some drinks in the warm, maybe play Scrabble or watch a DVD.  I was tempted, given how it was bucketing down, but Barry really wanted to see the movie they had planned (Conviction - I still haven't seen it, but they thought it was well worth seeing and would recommend it) so we headed off in our respective cars to our respective destinations.  There were multiple churches on the blocks near campus where we were seeking the church where Chora Nova was performing, and after driving round several blocks in the pouring rain, Sonya and I eventually parked in a spot we found in the church car park - only to discover it was the wrong church. But we left the car there anyway, and it was still there when we returned at the end, when the rain had abated a little. Appropriately for the weather, the concert was titled "Let the Winds Blow!", and the first piece was titled Der Sturm, so of course the MC could not resist quipping about the weather, as we sat there with umbrellas and raincoats dripping onto the pews and carpets!  The concert was excellent, the accompanying musicians and the soloists in the Mass in Bb were very good, and the choir is an entirely different proposition to my Nigunim Chorus, where we all have fun and there are very few trained voices, though we all probably love to sing as much as each other.  You can find some Chora Nova clips on youtube if you are interested, though not from the concert we attended. We came back  here to a cuppa (or G&Ts in some cases)  and some cookies before Philip and Sonya went home.

We were invited to join Myrna and Garrett for their family Thanksgiving dinner this year, which we really enjoyed.  Here is the cake I made and few photos from the day.
Raspberry Marzipan Tart in front of the window

One of the two tables set for Thanksgiving Lunch

Garrett with friend and colleague Peter

Myrna(red top), Garrett and some of her family on their front steps

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