Thursday, 31 January 2008

More postcards
Palm Springs was such a surprise. David had been there before, but I had no idea what it would be like. I imagined a small town with some wealthy-looking houses and shops, and in some ways that's what it's like.
You drive north-east from San Diego along the freeway that skims the eastern suburbs and satellite towns of Los Angeles, and then you climb up, up, up into the mountains, watching as the temperature outside falls by degrees (I do so love how my car tells me the temperature outside — I only wish there was an altimeter as well).
Up here there are tiny two-bit towns, ranches and several Indian reservations — California is home to about 90 tribes — and a lot of scrub. And on Monday it was only a few degrees above freezing, with occasional blobs of snow on the side of the road.
But then, all of a sudden, you come to the other side of the mountains and there before you, spread out way in the distance below, is this (click on it for the full monty): Palm Springs, visible sprawled across the valley (above), is a city of over 300,000 people with over 100 golf courses! Right out there in the desert, where the summer temperatures soar to well over 45C (113F), which is hot, even by Perth standards.
We stayed in a gem of a hotel ... built in 1947 by one of the city's famous desert architects, William Cody. It had only sixteen rooms and the current owners are doing a great job of conserving it and restoring it, with brand-new bathrooms, comfy beds ... and great retro-style decor. Even though I am not a retro fan, I loved the look and ambience of this place. We spent Tuesday at the Joshua Tree National Park — spectacularly beautiful with the snow-capped mountains in the distance. From this vantage point (above), right in the heart of the park, we could see Palm Springs in the valley, way below (off to the left of this pic), and, interestingly, the low ridge line that you can see in the middle distance is actually the San Andreas fault — spooky!
The park is high desert, and despite the sunshine and blue skies, it was freezing.
It is immaculately and cleverly maintained, with plenty of hiking trails, well-marked parking sites, campsites for tents and RVs, plenty of free composting toilets, and great roads.There's also a fantastic visitors' center which gives clear and fascinating information about the wildlife and geology of the area. The only thing that struck me as odd was that they call this wilderness — two hours out of LA, Palm Springs visible in the valley below, the sky criss-crossed with con-trails and helicopters, and people everywhere! Plus, at the entrance, a big public sign informed visitors of the day's air quality (it was good, yesterday!), which to me was telling evidence of the park's proximity to big cities. It's 2600 square kilometres (1000 square miles) though , so I guess there's room to get out and get lost!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Going bush
You'd think spring had sprung down here in SoCal, looking at this pic of blossom from a couple of days ago. But it's still wet, wild and windy — it's fantastic! I woke up in the night with the wind howling and the bedroom curtains horizontal — and then couldn't get back to sleep for a while worrying about what the hummingbirds do when the weather is ferocious. Cling on, I expect.
Dave, Will and I are off to the Bondi this arvo for Bondi's first big birthday party. Then tomorrow, we're going to Palm Springs for a couple of days.
See you later!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Big night at the Bondi
Just have to brag a little about what a great few days we've had the Bondi. The popular ASR (Action Sports Retail — surf shops, skate shops, etc) convention started on Thursday, and while Thursday night was good for us, by Friday night, Bondi was definitely the place to be. Especially as we had an LA band, HyperCrush, performing.
We had 500 people inside, and a queue of about the same waiting to get in. So popular were we that we were also visited by the police, the fire department, Vice and Health, all of whom left reasonably happy after issuing the odd warning, noticeably about overcrowding. It turns out that people were jumping our front porch balustrade to get in. Astounding.
The convention finishes tomorrow, but we don't think tonight will be quite as frenzied.
After the doldrums of December and early January, it's such a relief to pull a crowd again.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Happy Australia Day!It's still the 25th here, but it's already the Big Day in Australia. And Bondi's been open a whole year — yay! Big party on Sunday ... avagoodweegend!
O beautiful
David reported he could see snow on the mountains as he drove Will to school this morning.
That would be the Cuyamaca Mountains, about half an hour east of San Diego: Don't we live in a fabulous part of the world? This glorious picture (click on it for the full experience) was taken two years ago this month by some clever photographer on the San Diego Union Tribune. I never exepected to be able to see snow down here, and the sight still astounds me.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Between showers
It never rains in Southern California — except this winter we're getting a treat. And it's wonderful — the air is fresh, the gardens are waterlogged, and the sky is full of drama. (Australian viewers, look away now — this kiddies' playground, above, has no shade whatsoever. Not even in summer, when it's full of kids. No wonder so many Californians need plastic surgery in their 30s!)

This tree at the park was full of little birds, all looking south. What did they know about?
We were out in the park between showers, walking the dogs. 'Let's do three times round,' I said.
'Well, we ought to do four, really,' David replied.
'Okay,' (trying to keep a straight face) 'Let's jog the last one!'
'Great! Shall I run home and get your weights?'
Booking through Thursday
What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”
:: Since 1966-67, when we read Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford in English class at school, I've always thought that no-one but my fellow students had ever heard of it. Shows how much I know: the TV series is now screening on English telly. I so loved this book, even after wading through it in school, and I've always owned a copy.

:: I'm always surprised when I get a strange querying look in response to mention of the short stories of Saki, the pen name of H.H. Munro. A boyfriend introduced me to Saki in the 1970s, and he's been in my collection ever since. These are brilliant, witty and often acerbic pieces, many of them satirising Edwardian life. They're full of eccentricities, bizarre happenings and weird characters — I just love them. Munro died aged 45 in 1916.

:: I'm going to take this opportunity to mention
Rhubarb, by Craig Silvey — an absolute jewel of a book that hardy anyone outside of Western Australia will have ever heard of. It's a big-hearted story — a love story, in fact — about a traumatised blind girl, her seeing-eye dog, and an agoraphobic cello player.
Had this book been written anywhere else but in Perth, or set so firmly in Fremantle, Perth's port city on the Indian Ocean, it would have been a worldwide hit. I'm cheered to see lists it — can I persuade some of you to try it?

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I'm no great shakes at business or economics, so I am curious about this. I read online in the Post Newspaper, which I used to work for, that the new Lexus LS 460 car costs about $160,000 (Australian) in Australia.
Yet the same car costs only about $61,000 (US) here.
The Aussie dollar is worth almost as much as an American one, so let's convert the Australian cost to about $140,000 (US).
Given that this is just a glorified Toyota, why is there this huge difference in cost? I know the US market is many, many times bigger, but still. And Toyotas are built in Australia. But even if this car had to come from Japan, that's nearer to Australia than it is to the US. I just cannot fathom why Australians have to pay well over double what the American buyers will have to pay. (And it's a bit of a boring old car anyway, even if, as Will says, it's pretty speccy and luxurious!)
Workaday Wednesday
Which follows on, drearily, from Tidy-up Tuesday.
Such a drag. The downstairs was yesterday's target, and today I'm carrying on upstairs. God I hate housework. Especially the bathrooms. The baths have showers over them and sliding glass screens, which means that to clean the tubs you have to get in them.
Perhaps there's some very important drawing I could do instead ...
There are, let's face it, so very many other wonderful things I could be doing!
By lunchtime the whole house should be clean, and that'll do me for another (couple of) week(s) or so.

:: We're off adventuring next week. We're going to Palm Springs with Will next Monday, just for a look. Will — who has the Monday and Tuesday off school — is keen to check out the Joshua Tree National Park, and so are we.
Will has to be back on the Tuesday night for a Mars Volta concert at SOMA, a sports arena here in SD — the one where all the concert footage for the movie, Almost Famous, was filmed.
Then, on the Friday, Dave and I head for San Francisco, the Northern California coast and Oregon, for about a week all up. I can't wait!

:: We're so shocked by the news about our Heath Ledger. I'd only ever seen him in one film, Brokeback Mountain, but he was a Perth boy and, of course, we loved him. So very sad.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Recovery mode
It was a fabulous weekend. (And if you click here, you can read about it in the Sydney Morning Herald.)
We stayed again at the Roosevelt Hotel, which is a bit of a Hollywood landmark (Clark Gable met Carole Lombard there and so started their affair ...) with fabulous Spanish-revival architecture and the comfiest beds I've ever experienced in a hotel.

Our hotel looked quite spooky seen reflected in the glass of the building next door (above). There's a massive advertisement for some English fashion label painted on the entire side wall of the hotel. This was the view from our room, and to the left of this we could just see Graumann's Chinese Theatre and the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are held.
We drove up from San Diego and arrived in LA in time to see Jon Tarry's exhibition in a great little gallery on Wilshire Boulevard. Jon is a Perth artist, and lectures in the fine art faculty at the University of Western Australia.
He was showing a series of very neat little works based on aerial views of airport buildings and runways from all over the world, presented in clever combinations. So, for example, the dear little Shark Bay airport (lower right of this picture)...
... shares space with the far more complex and much bigger airport of Beijing, or Shanghai (I'm sorry, but I forget which one is in this picture).
There was also one of Perth airport ...
... and we had great fun trying to guess which airport was which, especially the smaller ones that were so obviously in outback Australia, like Uluru and Paraburdoo.
It all looked very impressive in this chi-chi gallery space in the heart of Los Angeles' Miracle Mile district.Jon, who was staying with friends in LA, was to be our guest at the dinner that night, and we met him for lunch before racing back to the hotel for a few quick zeds (zzzz ...) and then vast and elaborate preparations.
So it was that at just after 5 pm we left the hotel and walked in all our finery ...

... down Hollywood Boulevard in the twilight (praying I wouldn't trip over my long skirt as I ran across the road). It was a magic moment — Mr and Mrs Gumby from Perth off to a big galah in the middle of Hollywood. We pinched ourselves all night.A panhandler yelled out to Dave: "Hey! Looking good, big guy!" which made his night.
We had cocktails as guests of the WA Government before the main event, and then we were ushered up to the grand ballroom, though we lesser mortals were cordoned off from the red carpet and the battery of cameras ...It was as though Australian TV Week had come to life before our very eyes. Unfortunately, neither Dave nor I knew who most of the gorgeous young things were, but we had other more knowledgeable types in our party who could put names to the faces.
I loved it all. Every minute of it — I sat at our table and beamed all night. Dinner was cooked by Neil Perry and Wolfgang Puck. Calista Flockhart brushed past me on her way to the loo. I saw Andrew G. Our Livvy sang, though she couldn't entice John Travolta to join her on stage (she did really well for someone who had a bit of a reedy voice even in her heyday). Harrison Ford looked old and thin and grumpy — not sexy at all. There were video messages from Sting and Bono and Barry Humphries to congratulate Our Kylie on her award, and she got up and gave a cute little talk and then did an 'Aussie Aussie Aussie' call to which we felt compelled to respond.
Film-maker Phillip Noyce talked a little tearily, and beautifully, about how proud his dad, who died recently, would have been to see him get his award, and how happy his dad had been to see Mr Rudd win the recent election.
The event opened with Richard Walley playing didge — he is an Aboriginal Australian and one of the finest players of the didgeridoo in the world, if not the finest. It was spine-tingling. One felt very proud.
Next morning it was home to the burbs, two happy but unwalked dogs, and evidence of many McDonald's meals and teenagers. Sigh!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Red-carpet ready
I have bought the perfect outfit. I'd have loved colour, but I don't wear a lot of black by day, so what the hey.
I chose an elegant evening skirt in overlapping layers of satin. I'm trying hard to describe it without mentioning scales but, ultimately, that's what comes to mind. But not frills or flounces, heaven forbid. It's narrow, flares gently out from beneath the knee and, viewed from the side, fits neatly under the backside and then sweeps out in a sort of subtly Edwardian profile. Very me.
With it I've chosen a neat velvet camisole with quite a low neck, which is worn under a fitted devore velvet evening jacket in much the same style as Helen's (see post a couple below this) but with velvet revere lapels and cuffs. One velvet button under the bust.

No alterations needed at all.

:: I had a great day out shopping, with Amanda, one of our managers at the Bondi, who is coming to the galah with us. She's perfectly gorgeous and snapped up an exquisite Calvin Klein gown in a ridiculous size (2), and I have spent the morning shortening it for her by a whopping 13 cm — including train and lining.
This is Amanda's apartment block downtown in the early morning sunshine — i just love that part of the city.
This is the view across the road from her building ...
:: In Macy's, I was looking at one of the make-up stands, wondering why the manufacturer made only two colors of nail polish — brown and pink — when I realised these were, in fact, cosmetics for dogs. Honest ...
... I suppose the picture should have alerted me, but I just wasn't expecting this in among all the scents and cosmetics!
Then, at the end of the handbag section, there's this neat little contraption ...
... an iPod vending machine! God, I love this crazy place!

:: Dave and I have been working our way through the entire series of The West Wing, on DVD from Netflix, interspersed with lots of MSNBC coverage of the (real) presidential election — it's riveting now we are into the primaries and caucuses! I feel I am at last getting some inkling of the way it all happens — and it's fascinating watching the candidates' debates.
All of which has been useful in these long, slow weeks of the screenwriters' strike (over royalties from online distribution). The strike has meant there have been no new episodes of a lot of popular and high-rating series, like Grey's Anatomy (which I love but Dave can't stand), and even the late-night talk shows. So TV has been more or less at a standstill, apart from re-runs of old episodes of House, which my TV is programmed automatically to record whenever it shows, and on whatever channel. Suits me down to the ground!
The strike has also had an effect on this year's season of American Idol, which started this week. So huge is this show that, with prime-time advertising time at a premium because of the writers' strike, a thirty-second ad slot on the show costs $1 million. Imagine!
Booking through Thursday
This week's question:
How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?
Reviews do have some effect on my reading choices, but I don't rely on them alone.
Nor do I read them religiously — there wouldn't be enough time to read the books if I did. My main sources are the LA Times and the NY Times online (amazing, just amazing), and the NY Review of Books which is delivered and sits in a pile by my bed for slow dipping and holiday reading.
I'll occasionally look at some of the readers' comments on — that can be a lot of fun, once you wade through all the reviews that are nine-tenths synopses and one-tenth 'it was a very good book ...'.
A review is no guarantee of a book's chemistry with me, but it's a good starting point.
I buy a lot of books according to my own criteria, and some according to recommendations that may or may not include reviews.
Once I've read a review of a book I'm interested in — good or bad — I'll probably try to gauge any buzz about it among my friends whose tastes I trust. Nowadays, that includes the book blogs I read. Then I'll mull over it in the bookshop, if it's there.
Usually, I'll trust my own instincts about authors I respect. For example, On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan's latest, is getting mixed reviews that tend towards the negative, but I'll probably buy it anyway. I like him.
I'm not the sort of reader who buys the latest releases. I often come to books several years after most people have read them. Occasionally, if I remember there being a fuss about any particular title I've read, I'll search out the old reviews to see if my opinions and the reviewers' correspond.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Women's business
Hey — if you've got some time to read something really beautiful, get on over to my friend Laura's incredible blog.
We've known each other since we were at playgroup together in the 1980s, with four kids between us. It hasn't been a straight or easy path for Laura to midwifery, but I reckon the world's a better place with women like her doing what she does every day. She had a vocation, and she's answered.
Queenly styles
Shopping today, at Fashion Valley, where San Diego has conveniently lumped together all the best dress stores, boutiques and upper-echelon department stores, in a huge two-storey shopping centre with food and coffee upstairs.
This morning, Susan, my dear friend in Melbourne, sent me this pic of Helen Mirren, so now I know exactly what I'll be looking for. Susan: bless you!
I'd been thinking more along the lines of of Judy Dench, when she won the Oscar in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love, but I'd have much more fun in Helen's ensemble! Especially as I've heard Harrison Ford is going to be there on Saturday ...

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A certain charm
This is such an unusual book: a pictorial monologue about a year in author/illustrator Maira Kalman's life, in which she tackles issues like life, death, family, history, travel, food and all the big philosophical questions of existence.
It has more than 300 pages, almost all of them with quirky Magritte-style illustrations that are often as humorous and charming as the text.
Maira Kalman's Jewish family fled Russia after the revolution and went to Palestine before settling in America. As I imagine many of those do whose families have endured lives fractured by the events of history, and so closely touched by atrocities like the Holocaust, Kalman seems never to take life for granted — she often expresses her concern about the point of it all, and the mess so many people make of it.
But for all that, this book is imbued with Kalman's overriding and utter joy in being alive. For example, while she's in Israel she writes of her despair about the embattled state of the Middle East, but once back home in New York she finds immediate reassurance and an antidote to her distress simply by observing the life on the streets — the colours, the people, the eccentricities, the humanity of it all.
On other pages she'll share her delight in wonderful hats, bravely-dressed women, old people, the collections of weird objects she keeps at home, and many of the amazing sights she observes and records on her travels at home and abroad.
I'd love to meet her: from my reading I imagine a strong New York humour and an infectious fascination for the cities she loves.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Granny Goes to Hollywood, part 2
Well, despite the lovely comments and emails supporting me in my bid to be the best-dressed home-made munchkin at
Oz in LA next Saturday * — thank you! — I'm going to have to go shopping.
The shimmery, floaty, kimono-inspired creation has not turned out at all well. No fault of the pattern, which was easy-peasy and a joy to put together.
But working in devore velvet, no matter how gorgeous it may be, is an unbelievable pain. It shifts when you're sewing right sides — nap sides — together, and it shreds if you so much as look at it.
So I'd struggle to keep the edges together accurately to sew a seam , and then, while ironing it open, the seam would start to come undone.

I did not swear, though.
Well, yes I did.
The result, daahlings, was a disappointment in brown. And, it has to be said, frumpy to boot.
To make matters worse, I've found out that this do is actually A Big Deal. And on the formal side of formal.
I went to dinner at the Bondi on Friday with Leah and Damien, some of our other Australian friends who live here and have been to three of these Hollywood galahs**.
Leah, who is funny and gorgeous and writes music for movies (and is a voting member of The Academy — as in The Academy) leaned over during dinner and said, 'Have you got your frock for nest weekend yet?' And when I told her I'd been trying to make something to wear, she looked at me a bit weird. Then she explained that at this do, there was a real red carpet. And limousines. And paparazzi.
'So,' I said, 'my notion of dressing in something comfy and dark and sitting inconspicuously up the back — unrealistic?'
'Well,' she replied, grinning at my obvious Perth naivete, 'we may well be sitting up the back, but, Les, you need a frock!' So Fashion Valley here I come. I'll keep you posted.
* Incidentally, if you click on the link at the beginning of this, you'll see how excited Our Kylie is about Saturday night.
** I know gala is spelled gala, not galah. But my mates and I always called these posh, overdressed stuffy affairs galah affairs, in honour of our most common Australian parrot, the (pink and grey) galah (pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, gu'lah). A galah is also Australian slang for an idiot.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Twenty-odd views of my WillLike Mt Fuji, inspiration — obliquely — for this post title, Will has grown so tall in the past year that he rises above us all. Even his 1.8m (6' 2") dad.
It's his eighteenth birthday today.
Happy birthday, Will!
It's an important day for an Australian: eighteen is the age of majority. At eighteen, you can sign contracts, vote, and generally assume the legal mantle of adulthood. It's also the age at which you can drink. And if we were in Australia today, Will would be taken for his first (legal) beer by his dad and elder brother and sister — and possibly his non-drinking mum, too.

Will's my last-born. My youngest. And, like Lily and Simon,
he's my favourite!

He's cool ...... and can be pretty weird sometimes ...

... and funny and smart.He's super-loaded with talent when it comes to art, with a great eye for design. And though he's often an unwilling subject for pictures ...
... it's quite another matter when he's taking them.

He's got just a couple of months left with all that tooth-straightening, jaw-correcting, bite-changing hardware in his mouth — though he hasn't once complained about it. Not once. Even when he had to have all four wisdom teeth out in one go.
He loves all animalsespecially Yoshi, his dog.And, since he's been a teenager for a few years now, he's got napping down to a fine art.
He loves living in California ... and seeing various bits of this amazing country,
but he'll always love Perth best.