Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Leaving the bubble

We spent Thanksgiving in Georgia, with a wing of TLOML's family. It was a long overdue trip and we had a really good time reconnecting, eating well and yes, feeling thankful.

I was prepared for some culture shocks. I had let P know that it would be a bit colder than LA. I also knew we'd be in the land of subdivisions. For my Brits, a subdivision is a housing development. They're strung out along highways between areas of undeveloped land (actual nature - trees and hills and so on) and are the polar opposite to the urban density we and P are used to. I knew we were leaving the liberal left leaning 'resist' mindset of California for #MAGA land. But a little difference of opinion never hurt anyone, so that didn't worry me any. I also knew - and welcomed - the fact that we'd be trading kale salads and Jamba Juice for Dairy Queen and Waffle Houses. That's good stuff.

But I really never thought I'd see a see saw. Nor one of those dangerous roundabouts the sight of which still makes me wince - the kind you can fly off, or be dragged around half-on-half-off, or be screaming 'stop I want to get off!" while some bigger kid sees how fast they can spin it.

I thought they were banned across America, the land of the brave, free and litigious. You certainly never see such perilous equipment in California. Here, the seesaws and roundabouts have curved seats - kind of like arm chairs -  which hug children of all abilities safely, as their friends indulge in some co-operative play and propel them smoothly and conscientiously.
P would have been on this thing all day if we'd let her

Scream if you want to get off/ go faster!

But no, it's only us softy coastal elites who've banned those deathtraps. This excellent playground in Cumming, GA had both a proper seesaw and a proper roundabout - and was all the better for it. Georgia - making playgrounds great again. Is #MPGA a thing?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Isadora Watts, 'author'

When I started this blog, one of my aims was to improve my writing through frequent practice. Another was to establish a small readership, which might help me find a publisher for my proper writing. I used to want to be an actual writer, you see. I have had a couple of agents over the years, for a couple of different projects, but they were unable to find a publisher. Still I did have some good feedback from people who know about these things. I suppose I'm saying I think my writing is decent. And for a while it seemed I might make something of it.

Then parenthood happened. And life filled up. I still want to write, but I'm quite happy pootling along with my blog. And yet, those manuscripts I worked so hard on all those years ago are still sitting there - shimmering with promise, fully completed, proofed and ready for consumption.

Well, what a time it is for a half-hearted, used-to-have-dreams, writer to be alive. In the space of a couple of evenings in front of Anne with an E (good, but eminently multi-taskable), I dusted off those manuscripts and put them online. And now I have an Amazon/ Kindle author page all of my own - Isadora Watts, 'author' - like a real actual writer!

Anyway, if you like my blog, you might like my novels. Erosion follows events in the lives of a liberal London family during the summer of 2003, against a backdrop of war in Iraq and an outraged public. The family were solid once, but their moral code has worn down over time. Now they struggle to resist the temptations and distractions life puts in their way. At the heart of the family, and the story, is Julia, who rather likes temptation, and barely puts up a fight at all.  The Book of Ruth is a retelling of a Bible story about the lengths a desperate woman will go to secure safe haven in a new country.

Please check them out. If you do like them, please leave a positive review. You never know where this little self-publishing lark could take me. I guess I do still have some dreams after all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Beating the traffic but losing the game

'Join us at the opera', we said, quite smugly, to a friend visiting from out of town. 'We've got great seats and we know the perfect place for a late dinner after the performance'.

We've enjoyed probably seven or eight productions at the LA Opera in the past couple of years, and we think we've got it down to a fine art. After a couple of stressful trips, battling rush hour and rushing through labyrinthine parking structures to make our seats in time, we have figured out the best exit off the 110, the best way to cut through Downtown LA during rush hour and the optimum parking spot. Not just the best lot, but the best corner of that lot so that we minimize walking (and rushing). Now we know, too, which seats are nearest the best exits for the loo. So we think we've pretty much nailed the whole opera experience.

After the show we always go to Kendall's. It's right underneath the opera house, and popular with the LA Opera company. We like the pile of instruments that stack up by the door, and the musicians in varying degrees of black tie. But we have at times had to take a table in the section far away from the bar, which doesn't have the same vibe. So now we leave the opera rather promptly, in order to secure the best seats at the bar.

Yes, I'm afraid we've become those annoying people who leave before the applause ends. We do stay for the first round of bows, of course. But we are out of our seats and down the stairs while the performers are still on the stage. I used to think it was bad form, but it's worth it for those great bar seats. For example, last week we sat next to Morris Robinson, having just seen him belting it out as Zaccaria in Nabucco.

That was the same night that we got our comeuppance. It turns out it is not always smart to leave before the final curtain. Sometimes we are too clever for our own good. And that annoying LA desire to beat the traffic should sometimes be resisted.

It transpires that at the end of the performance, the entire house join in to sing the fabulous, rousing 'Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves'. It is my absolutely favorite piece from any opera (I know, not that surprising, it's a crowd pleaser). I love to sing, especially with other people - blame it on my choir girl days. An entire opera house full of people singing my favorite piece - the thought of it almost brings to me tears. And while all that was going on, we and our poor trusting house guest were congratulating ourselves for having placed our cocktail and supper order in good time. Ugh! We've become the worst kind of Los Angeleno.

I'd like to say I've learned my lesson. But I suspect we'll still try to head out before the final curtain. After all, most performances don't involve such a bonus. Which of course makes it all the more once-in-a-lifetime, and all the more galling. As Thoreau has it 'to regret deeply is to live afresh'. So we'll probably enjoy that perfect spot at the bar even more, at least.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Faux vintage

About a month ago TLOML, P and I headed up to the Central Coast for the weekend. We had 'won' a wine tasting and lunch at Tablas Creek, in Paso Robles at a charity auction (I'm not sure buying a fancy lunch is truly a prize, hence the quote marks). We decided to make a weekend out of it, as I am British and feel that driving for more than three hours is unacceptable for one night away.

I've wanted to visit Ojai since I first saw an article about it in Sunset magazine. There's nothing like Sunset magazine for making you want to visit some artisan enclave. So I bamboozled TLOML into thinking it's on the way to Paso Robles (as he discovered, it's really not).

Ojai is just as beautiful as I had expected. And that pink mountain sunset is just gorgeous. It's a town full of hippies, I think, based on the artisanal honey tasting rooms, the fact that chain stores are banned, and the protesters with 'ban the bomb' placards. I'm not kidding - and they were being honked supportively by most of the Subarus that drove by.
Friday night in Ojai
Formerly known as Nordhoff, Ojai rebranded itself during WWI, as anti-German feeling grew. Around the same time, following a fire, the town was rebuilt along Spanish Colonial Revival lines. Colonial Revival architecture itself was a bit of a pastiche: a 20th century attempt to recreate a style of building in use in the Spanish Missions of over 100 years earlier.

All the buildings in downtown Ojai have to fit that mould, and chain stores (except banks and petrol stations) are prohibited. Banning the big chains and maintaining a strictly uniform building code makes for a very charming main street. Between dinner, ice cream and morning coffee we patronized three different, interesting, locally owned businesses.

But stretching that Colonial Revival style still further to accommodate, for example, 21st century gas stations and supermarkets, starts to feel more than a little bit phoney. I wrote about this last year when we visited Santa Barbara, another triumph of 'historical' preservation over diversity and innovation.
Ye olde Chevron garage
 Although when it looks this pretty, who really cares?

Speaking of phoney, on our way back from Paso Robles we stopped at Solvang. It's another town I'd been curious about, having heard it described as a Danish town. How Danish can it be, nestled in the Santa Ynez valley, I wondered?

Quite Danish, it turns out. It is apparently a great place to buy clogs - and the pastries there were the best I've ever had in the US.

But it's a peculiar slice of Danish culture. Solvang was built in 1911 by a group of Danish settlers. Eager to maintain their traditions they built in the sixteenth century style - which is rather an odd thing to do in the twentieth century. Half-timbered buildings abound, as if steel, plate glass and concrete had never been invented.

As a Brit I find it all rather unsettling. spending time in these fake old places. In London you can stick any tatty old shop on the front of what might once have been a rather attractive Georgian (Victorian? Whatever... rest assured it's older than Solvang) terrace.
We had a lovely weekend in those charming spots, but it was something of a relief to return to scruffy, determinedly non-uniform Hermosa.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Converts are the best evangelists

It's true of ex-smokers and I believe it's also true of Halloween dodgers. Readers of this blog since the early days will know that I have shifted my position from scoffing at the US mania for Halloween, to grudgingly embracing it, and more recently, really getting into it.

I don't even bat an eyelid at the fact my gym was closed from noon 'for the Halloween holiday'. Nor do I grumble at the cost of P's Dorothy costume. It's not the dress, it's the ruby slippers, Toto-in-a-basket and the full wig - it all adds up. If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly, I suppose. So I kitted myself out as Glenda the Good Witch, and TLOML got a scarecrow costume, and for the first time ever we did a full family costume.

I kept saying 'we don't normally do this, you know' and 'I've never done this before!' but I think I maybe protested too much. I obviously loved it and I am totally down for whatever creative vision P dreams up next year. It turns out it's fun to dress up for Halloween! Those silly Yanks must have been on to something this whole time.

In another first, we went to a grown up Halloween party. A first for me, at least. TLOML, like anyone else who spent their drinking years in the US, has many years of experience of such events - and an Elvis costume that's a proven crowd-pleaser. I cut my dressing up teeth at artsy, ironic fancy dress parties in North West London, and I used that experience to good effect when planning my costume. No sexy cat woman or naughty cop outfit for me: I went as a murderous bitch with frizzy hair.
Again, I thought we pretty much nailed it - although fewer than 1 in 6 people got the Fatal Attraction reference without prompting.

In case you're wondering, yes, I did get my fluffy white bunny from P's toy collection. No, I didn't ask her. And when she asked me why I had red stuff on my dress I told her I was going to trick people into thinking I'd dropped jam on my front, which would be a hilarious gag. She looked rightly sceptical. Next year I might just dress as cat woman, it makes more sense to more people.

That's right, I'm already thinking about next year - looking forward to it, even. From doubter to fan in just a few years. What with my new love of baseball, and now this Halloween fever this country is really changing me. I hardly dare tell my old British friends what I now think of washing machines in kitchens and teeth that aren't perfectly straight.