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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

It's not cricket

...but I think I like it.

TLOML has told me many times that he thinks I'd like baseball, since I love cricket.  Like a bereaved cat owner who refuses to get a new kitten - because the old, beloved cat simply can't be replaced - I nodded politely and did nothing about it. One day we had a minor spat because I claimed baseball didn't 'have as much to it' as cricket, which he angrily rebuffed, and after that we didn't really talk about it.

Then the LA Dodgers made it into the 2017 World Series, so everyone started talking about it and in classic LA fashion wearing Dodgers t-shirts like they'd been mad keen fans all along.

Then there was a Friday night game, and pizza, and P was in bed, and suddenly a window of time opened up in which I could sit and watch. Sunday's game went into extra innings, giving me a little extra study time.

TLOML explained the game to me, and I tried to learn a confusing new language: batters for batsmen I get, but how is a no ball a 'ball'? Makes no sense.

I soon started to see the parallels between baseball and cricket. The way you see the batters' (batsmen) nerves written in the way they adjust their helmet or fiddle with their gloves. The skill in a delivery that looks like it's not worth playing and then curves in. The athleticism in fielding, and running. The way it's a team game made up of a series of solitary pursuits.

TLOML was right: I do like baseball! I actually think I might come to love it.
If you squint it almost looks like cricket
I will say that I stand by my 'it doesn't have as much to it' statement. The ball doesn't bounce, and it can only be hit across that diamond shape, so already half the variables that make cricket interesting are removed. No aging of the ball, no overnight roller request to strategize. Plus the games are so damn short - only three or four hours!

Silliest of all is that they don't play the entire series. Once a team has an unassailable lead, they stop. At the time of writing the Houston Astros lead 3 games to 2. If they win tonight, they secure the title and the series is over. For the uninitiated (poor you), cricket test match series are always played in their entirety, even if they end in a 7-0 whitewash. Like every Dodger fan, I'm rooting for a seven game series. Not just because I want to see the Dodgers win, but because I'm not ready for it to be over just yet.

As I said, it's not cricket, but I like it. I just wish there was a bit more to it.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Football fever

I’m a huge NFL fan now. I even call football ‘soccer’. The NFL is back in Los Angeles with the return of the St Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers. Confused, Brits? Remember when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes and became the MK Dons? It’s kinda like that. NFL teams are corporate entities, which choose their location based on the economic benefits. For about twenty years it worked out for the Rams to be in St Louis. Then it became more appealing to be back in LA – just at the same time as the Chargers decided to relocate.

Thus, in 2016 LA went from a city with zero teams to one with two. It had struck me as odd that LA, the 2nd biggest city in the US, didn’t have its own football team. But LA is not a good city for football: everyone leaves at half time because of the traffic. The Rams may have been better off in St Louis when (respectfully) they were the biggest show in town, and they could fill a stadium with truly dedicated fans as opposed to a bunch of flakey shysters.

Anyway the LA Rams are here. And until their gleaming new stadium is built and season tickets become exorbitantly expensive, they're playing at the Coliseum, for which we have season tickets. TLOML bought them so he could watch his beloved Redskins play as much as for the Rams, which is a classic LA NFL fan move.
The Coliseum is apparently regarded as a decrepit stadium, long past its shelf life. I shudder to think what the people who say that would make of Lord’s. To me, those Olympic torches and those Greek (Roman? Post Modernist?) columns are quite splendid. And it’s big! It holds 93k, which would make for an amazing spectating experience if only the place wasn’t half empty because all the fans are stuck on the 10.
Note the proportion of Washington Redskins fans (red shirts). Because LA.
Speaking of big, so are some of the fans. You don’t see this much in health conscious Hermosa but these two fans – who sit in front of TLOML’s seats – are a good example. 

They buy an extra seat to accommodate their girth and their snacks. Lucky for whoever sits behind and can use it as a footrest.


Despite my opening claim, I actually still can’t follow the action in an American football game. I’ll probably stick with proper football, where there actually IS always some action, and you can always see where the ball is. But I’ve enjoyed my taste of the NFL, and I won’t begrudge TLOML his chance to see some big games in that lovely old crock of a stadium. Apparently when they move to the new stadium season tickets will be extortionate – so we might be back to watching the Redskins lose on our TV at home.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Why so quiet?

Wow. That was the longest hiatus from blogging and entirely unintentional.  I had no reason to stop. I just thought I'd run out of things to blog about. And I am starting again not due to popular demand, but because it turns out there are still things to blog about. Transatlantic things. Strange things Americans do or say. Perfectly sane and sound things Brits do or say that Americans find strange. And so on.

But first, a quick recap of the last 2 months.

In summary it's been wall-to-wall house guests. Just the way I like it. Pretty much solidly in August and for most of September we hosted dear East Coast friends, my favourite little sister and her family, and my lovely parents. Visitors earlier this year got the short end of the stick as I was working crazy hours. But now life is in a better balance, so I was able to raise my game and join our guests for day trips.

We did some great day trips. The Tar Pits was a particular hit: it's a strange, fascinating place with pools of asphalt bubbling away right there on Wilshire Boulevard. Thousands of animals met their deaths in the tar pits, which are another of those great reminders - like the nodding donkeys on La Cienega, or the oil tower in Beverly Hills High that this is a city built on oil and not just entertainment.

I finally got around to visiting the Wayfarer's Chapel, too. It's a beautiful 'tree chapel' - inspired by Redwoods - for those of the Swedenborgian persuasion, built by the lesser known Lloyd Wright (Frank's son). I'm not sure it's worth going out of your way for, but it's a short drive from us and we - and our visitors - loved it.

The best times, of course, weren't the day trips so much as the doing-nothing moments. Bathtime with Granny, a bedtime story with Grandpa, and some slightly troubling game she played with her cousins where all the Playmobil people died and they had to make gravestones out of lego. Golden times.

And then there were beach days. And days and days. And even the odd hour in the late afternoon. The pleasure of playing in sand and splashing in the waves never gets old. The beach concerts are still a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. There were two AVP volleyball tournaments t his summer - one in Hermosa and one in Manhattan Beach a few weeks apart - which provided some great entertainment. And P has now graduated to a co-pilot bike, which trails behind (and fixed to) mine, so she's mad keen to ride her bike along the Strand waving at beach goers and thinking she's the next Bradley Wiggins.

It's been a lovely summer. And as it's still 25c and sunny I don't feel as if summer's over yet. But the hiatus from writing is definitely over.