Sunday, 29 June 2008

Back in the warm
Well, we went through some extremes of temperature in our eight-day trip, from from the dry, intense heat of beautiful Phoenix, Arizona, and the Nevada Desert to the misty chill of San Francisco. I was flabbergasted at the difference!My car has a thermometer which shows the temperature outside in C and F. This was how it registered one afternoon in Phoenix:The light and the heat felt so like home — though Phoenix was even hotter ... ... and of being in Egypt, on the edge of the Sahara, where the air is so dry it almost crackles, and you don't sweat. Or at least when you do, it dries instantly.
From Phoenix, we drove north to Las Vegas for a night. We'd been thinking of driving through Death Valley on our way from Las Vegas to Mammoth, but the forecast was for 130 F (55 C), so we re-navigated and drove a longer way round. Some plans are too crazy-mad even for heat-seeking Australians.On just that one day, we drove from the desert north of Las Vegas (above) up, up into the snow in the Sierra Nevada. It was unbelievably hot in the morning, but at sunset we were breathing in the scent of the sequoias and playing in remnant snow on the side of the road at Mammoth Lake, elevation 9200 feet (2800 m).Yosemite is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been. We had to tear ourselves away. Around every corner there seemed to be another startling view, an even more stunning panorama of Alpine meadows, rushing streams, waterfalls, evergreens and snow-capped mountains.The national parks are so impressive. And they are such a part of American life. Accommodation is made for plenty of activities: you can fish, climb, raft, camp, park your RV, go hiking, get off the beaten track, or just meander about. There are plenty of inconspicuous composting toilets, there's an occasional shop selling refreshments and bait and tackle, but never anything tacky: no kids' playgrounds or souvenir stands.
Unfortunately, soon after the above photo, my dear little Fuji camera went to that big digital lab in the sky, and the rest of my Yosemite shots died with it. But I did get a replacement camera on our last day in San Francisco — phew!

Now we're back in San Diego, unpacking and catching up with the mail and the washing. Lily got back from New Mexico yesterday after a week in Albuquerque with an old friend of hers from Perth, Nathan, who was at Christ Church when she was at MLC. She was desperate for her bed after a week on a yoga mat on the living room floor in a house full of blokes. Lily reckoned their big adobe-style house was great, but not one of the boys had soap or shampoo!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

PIF goodies waiting for me!We got home from our mini-road trip on Thursday evening, and a parcel containing this amazing sewing kit, handmade for me by Ulla, in Finland, was waiting for me. Such a treat! A needle case, pin cushion, and holders for pins, thimble and scissors — perfect for a travelling sewing kit. Thanks, Ulla! These are simply gorgeous.
This was all part of the Play it Forward game. Now I have to get cracking and finish the PIF gifts I have promised people ...

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Comments, please
Okay, so I was going off-air for a week or so, but just had to show you this.
In the letters to the editor of today's Los Angeles Times, there's one headed 'Sorry to be so grandiloquent'. Here's the text of the letter:
I loved Rachel Abramowitz's profile of M. Night Shyamalan ["Freed by Failure," June 8]. However, I have a great deal of concern about the future of newspapers and her article made me ask, "How many Los Angeles residents under 40 (a demographic newspapers must keep and expand if they are to remain in business) know the meaning of the following words in this one article: phantasmagoria, bucolic, aesthetic, soupcon, diminution, schadenfreude, contretemps and vicissitudes?"
The L.A. Times needs to speak to all the residents of Los Angeles. I ask that its writers go out in the real world. Ask people if they know what these words mean. They don't.

Apple wonderJust get a load of this apply perfection.
Straight out of Snow White, aesthetically modified and engineered by Disney.It's a Red Delicious from Washington State, and, surprisingly, it tasted almost as good as it looked. Crisp, juicy and not too sweet. :: We leave the happy confines of Resort Schloss Zed tomorrow and head for a blisteringly, ridiculously hot Phoenix, Arizona, where we're staying two days. Seeing Tom Waits in concert tomorrow night.
I always imagined Phoenix was some small-ish town in the desert, maybe a couple of hundred thousand people, something like that.
So I was stunned to discover it's a city of 4.5 million. And it's only about five hours away from us. I simply cannot wait to see what it's like ...
Then, on Friday, we're off to Las Vegas, where we're seeing the Cirque de Soleil extravaganza, Ka, which is such a mega-production that, unlike all the other four or five C de S shows on in Vegas at the mo, it will never tour.
From Vegas we drive north-west into cooler weather. We're staying at Mammoth Lake in the Sierra Nevada, which in winter is a very popular ski resort. We'll leave Mammoth and drive through Yosemite as we head for San Francisco, to get Will's college admission process on track and look at potential houses.
I'm not sure if I'll be able to post before we get back to San Diego next Thursday, so I'll take lots of pics and see you later!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Downtown art
While San Diego frequently loses out to Los Angeles when it comes to seriously good commercial galleries, it does have a fantastic Museum of Contemporary Art, with buildings downtown and at La Jolla. The MCASD has a great location at 1001 Kettner Boulevard ...... in a building which is part of the main trolley (tram) station, so browsing is frequently interrupted by the rumbling of the passing trolleys, and the red blur as they woosh past the windows of the space downstairs. It's great! That's the MCASD on the right (above), with the sign of the big yellow cross. You can catcch trolleys from here to Tijuana, and to San Diego's Old Town and various sporting arenas.
Recently, the museum expanded into a new space on the other side Kettner, which continues the station theme: this new part, the Jacobs Building,
is the renovated baggage building of the historic Santa Fe train depot.This is a beautiful old railway station built in the lovely Spanish mission style. Inside the main hall there's a vaulted and beamed ceiling and the walls between the arched windows are covered in beautiful tiles. We had a quick stroll through the gallery at 1001 Kettner, but were more excited to see that the artist exhibiting across the road in the Jacobs Building was Maya Lin, the young American artist and architect who had designed and created the stunning Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington DC. (I fell over when I was taking this pic in April — effective isn't it?) Maya Lin won a big public competition in 1981 to design this memorial, when she was just 21. When the public found out her work wasn't going to be another traditional piece of sculpture — in which DC abounds — there was enormous outcry. But she seemingly won over the entire country when, at just 22 years of age, she spoke before the US Congress about her design, a representational wound in the earth that symbolises the loss of 58,000 young Americans. The names of every one of them are inscribed into the highly polished black granite wall, and it is without question one of the most moving of all the momuments and memorials in DC. Friends and families of the dead soldiers file past looking for their loved ones' names, and some even take rubbings or leave flowers and other little tributes.
Landscape and architecture play a big part in this artist's life and work, and her show in San Diego, Systematic Landscapes, combined the two in highly original ways. One room had a sculptural installation of 50,000 blocks of wood arranged on the floor in a hill, or a wave, that rose 3 m. Spectacular.
Cameras weren't allowed in the museum (so I pinched the pic above from the MCASD website), but if you click here you'll see a brief video of this work being installed.
In another room, black aluminium tubing had been suspended from the ceiling in a grid of the contours of a submarine mountain, the very tip of which was an island in the south Atlantic, 1600 km from Antarctica. It was quite something to walk beneath it and look up into it.
:: We'd have finished the day with a visit to the MCA's third building, in La Jolla, but won't be venturing anywhere near there until the US Open is over. From my bedroom window, I can see the huge blimp hovering over the course on the cliffs at Torrey Pines, from which they film a lot of the aerial stuff.

Friday, 13 June 2008

And at the end, a commencement! It was a glorious, breezy, sunny day, and Will's senior year graduation was fantastic.
It may be the end of high school, but they call it a commencement here — the start of life after and beyond school, perhaps? We're unsure.

The speeches were all short, we had a well-sung national anthem, the flags all billowed, there was lots of rock and roll, there weren't too many mentions of life being a journey, there were quite a few laughs, everybody got the same treatment (the high achievers all wore white tassels on their robes and had asterisks by their names in the program), and everything was relaxed and sociable.
Having a surname beginning with Z, Will was right up the back of the stand ...
... so that allowed me to get some pics of him and his best mate, Paul (whose surname begins with a V), before the ceremony started. It also meant he was the last one to receive his diploma — after the other 414 had filed past the school principals. We were very chuffed to hear a big cheer go up when his name was called, and we'd also had Lily on the phone, up in Olympia, so she could hear.
The school invited its very first principal, Mr Jaffe, to share the event with the current one, Mr Kohn, as it was Mr J who'd started the school, four and a half years ago, when all they had was a cluster of trailers in what is now the student car park.
So it was an emotional day for Mr J and the hundred or so students who had been at the school since it began to celebrate its first senior graduation.

Today, this school is an absolute corker, with great academic ranking (it's sending nine kids off to Stanford, one to UC Berkeley and one to Harvard that we know of), enviable arts courses, and great teachers.
Back at its start, Mr Jaffe had to persuade the families of its first students to stick with it and help create the sort of school they wanted. Today, almost $150 million has been spent on its campus and there's a lottery for next year's freshman places.
Will's been very lucky.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Booking through Thursday
This week's question is all about clubbing together:
Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?
Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

Book clubs rule the world in Australia.
I've never been a book club member.* It is not the appropriate milieu for someone who believes life is too short to read bad books. Or even books she's not enjoying.

I tried to join one, once. The book we were supposed to read was The Hand that Signed the Paper, by Helen Darville (pictured in fetching peasant blouse, below), who fibbed a bit, concocted an Eastern European/Russian family history for herself, fobbed herself off as Helen Demidenko, and was eventually found out after this book was published.
All the brou-haha was way more exciting than the book, which was so mind-numbingly dull and boring that I couldn't get through more than the first chapter.
And though I was more than willing to hear what the others had to say, and to bring booze or make cake or whatever was de rigueur, everyone else had taken the task so incredibly seriously that they were pissed off with me for not having persevered. The discussion leader had pages of hand-written notes and reams of photocopied press reviews and transcripts of radio interviews and read the lot to us. It was horrible.
I never went back, and I have not attempted to join a club since. Though lots of my friends are in them and have the most wonderful time, and a rock-solid group of great mates who are great readers and wonderful literary conversationalists. Which I have also, but not in any regulated fashion.
And I frequently read books that are so marvellous that I do fleetingly wish I were in a book club to take part in robust discussion about them. Back in Australia, I always had my friends to talk books with and exchange titles, and over here in the US, that's where blogging comes in handy.
When we moved from Australia to San Diego two years ago, I thought I'd let my principles slip, vow to read anything I was told to, photocopy notes, and join a book club to meet people. The local Barnes & Noble had no idea about any local book clubs, so I searched the internet and found a great many 'book clubs' that were thinly-disguised singles clubs, almost all of which seemed to be run by very damaged-sounding sad men with beards.
I remain a solo reader.

* Some friends and I did have a sort of book club going, years ago, and I think we called it the Non-Readers' Book Club, or something like that. We used to meet regularly and have so much fun that no-one ever talked about — or even even seemed aware of — the books we were allotted. We appointed a discussion leader for each gathering, and she used to send out a newsletter with details of the next title to read, and notes about the most recent meeting. So it was that Bryce Courtney came to talk to us, and Louis de Berni
รจres read from his draft of Captain Corelli Book II — all completely fictitious, of course. I might get that one going again when I return to Australia next year ...
Dress rehearsal!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Salad days
Last year it was lettuce, and shortly afterwards, spinach. Now it's tomatoes, or at least three varieties, that can kill us, with outbreaks of tomato-induced salmonella poisoning reported in 17 states.
What is it about this country and salad veg?
Is it a conspiracy perpetrated by fast-food/aerosol cheese/doughnut entrepreneurs to stop anyone eating anything fresh and healthy? Like the petrol companies and the car manufacturers — or so the story goes — bought out all the public transport systems in Los Angeles early last century to keep the city totally reliant on cars?:: This book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell, was a totally absorbing, excellent read. I don't know what it is about this young Scottish writer that so entrances me, but she really does get it. It's cool, considered writing with plenty of depth, great characters — all with some sort of flaw that makes them real, and nothing predictable about any of it.
Iris, a young Scottish woman, discovers she has an elderly great-aunt, Esme, of whom she has never heard. Esme has spent over 60 years in a mental hospital after ... well, read the novel and find out.
Here's an example of MO'F's immaculate style. Esme is standing in the sea, in the shallows, looking back at Iris on the beach:
This girl is remarkable to her. She is a marvel.
From all her family — her and Kitty and Hugo and all the other babies and her parents — from all of them, there is only this girl. She is the only one left. They have all narrowed down to this black-haired girl sitting on the sand, who has no idea that her hands and her eyes and the tilt of her head and the fall of her hair belong to Esme's mother. We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in this world as anagrams of our antecedents.

Now, I'm a slow reader. But I read this in two days. Could not stop, even to sleep. Beautiful. Do let me know what you think if you read it or already have.

:: I didn't manage to post yesterday because of some mysterious mishap with our wireless modem thing. Clearly now fixed.

I lost only 200 g (0.4 lb) from the previous Monday, so that's nothing to brag about. However, I am now down to the weight I had been for over a decade. So getting a few more kilos off will be a real thrill. There are only four weeks until Lily and I go to England, so I'll probably not make the 10-kilo loss I was hoping for, but I'll be well on my way, and dead chuffed.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Dear Dace,Have you booked your ticket yet?

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Saturday reads
So I struggled a bit — I'm sorry, Shelley! — with Geraldine Brooks'
People of the Book.
It's an altogether worthy story, and lots of people clearly hang on GB's every word. But I found it an irritating read. It all seemed just a bit smart-arsed and show-offy to me. And Annie Proulx, among others, had done this sort of thing — the history of an object and the stories of the all the people through whose hands it has passed — in Accordion Crimes.
I started GB's Year of Wonders several years ago and simply couldn't be bothered to finish it. It gave me a similar sort of feeling. I prefer evidence of an authors' intellectual prowess to glow through the writing, rather than have the writer try to beat me about the head with it. Subtlety.
Seeing GB
is Australian, I was so keen to give this one a go. But while I enjoyed some of the early passages describing the book itself and the labours and processes involved in conserving such a rare piece of work, my interest was not long sustained. I could not feel myself becoming absorbed, or caught up in the stories, or characters, including Hanna, the surprisingly esteemed, trusted and experienced conservator with a network of colleagues in leading universities the world over, travelling from one freelance task to the next as she takes on delicate assignments involving some of the world's rarest and priceless treasures: and she's 30!
And I do get extremely cross when writers use silly italicised nouns in obscure languages when
English words would do: 'Stela beckoned her into the apartment and went to the mangala, where the embers were still hot. She flung the coffee grounds into the dzeva and let it boil up once, twice.' ... 'Stela turned and handed Lola a delicate porcelain fildzan, also with a crescent and star glazed into the bottom of the cup.' Why do this? (To show off!)

:: On to more frivolous matters and some much lighter reading, in keeping with the holiday atmosphere here at Schloss Zed now school is O-V-E-R, and even Lily has finished her second year at Evergreen! Lily will be home here next weekend, and the week after that the four of us are off over the mountains like the Von Trapp Family Singers, but instead of fleeing Nazis we're off to see Tom Waits in Phoenix Arizona. Yay! So — more holiday-type reading.
Those wonderful people at Authors on the Web have sent me yet another book. Mercy Street, by Mariah Stewart (Ballantine Books) is about disappearing teenagers, a shooting, and the detective with a past who ends up on the case after the local small-town cops have assumed the obvious. I love a good crime story, so I'll be packing this one (if I don't read it next).

:: I'm a big fan of Maggie O'Farrell, whose first novel, After You'd Gone, remains one of my all-time favourite reads of the past few years. If you haven't read it, please give it a go. I heard about this one, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, from Suse at Pea Soup (I think), and I started it last night. I chose these last two last night at the local B&N, and picked them on a whim really — they both looked light and fun.
:: How to
Be Cool is an American novel about a once-large young woman who loses weight and reinvents herself as a style maven — terrified all the while that someone will discover she used to be chubby. Hmmm.
:: Notting Hell
is by an English writer, journalist Rachel Johnson (who lives in Notting Hill and Somerset, natch), and is set in the designer kitchens and bedrooms of the well-heeled of West London. I think it was this bit of the back-cover blurb was that sold me: "Meet Mimi. Mimi may "have it all" — the house, the children, the part-time vanity job, the skinny jeans, the feng shui guru — but life chez Fleming is not as cushy as she'd like ... ' Sounds so like Cottesloe, dahlings!
Oh well, I did say light was the theme of these book choices, and I do need a
breather from Stela's pouring coffee into the fildzan from the dzeva on the mangala ...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Big mentionWill has been given a half-page photo in his year book! And with a wonderful caption, too — he's so excited, and pleased as punch. He's amused that they reversed the photo, making him left-handed, but that doesn't diminish his delight at all.
The year book is an amazing production — over 400 pages, hard cover, big quarto format with thousands of photographs and illustrations. Will says the year book committee — all students — has been working on it all year. I believe it. It's an amazing achievement. And though Will's been to Canyon Crest Academy only two years, he's really loved every minute of it.
What is so big for this school is that it's new, and puts a great deal of emphasis on technology and the arts, with not just the visual arts but performance, dance and music as well. They've made a big point of opting out of the big 'football and cheerleader' system that a lot of the big wealthy schools get involved in.
Will's senior class was its first intake of freshmen in 2005. So they'll be CCA's first graduates. The year book alludes to this with its theme of 'We're all here now!'

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The next phase Well, we're not yet sure what Hillary will be doing. Today, she's supposedly going to be conceding the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, and letting us know if she's really interested in running for vice-president. (I rather fancy John Edwards as VP, but we'll see.)
Obama was kind and gracious towards her in his speech last night, and we're expecting much the same from Hillary.

It's been interesting, even from our outsiders' position, watching the contest between the two Democrats, either of whom, I think, would make a good fist of the job. From six months ago, when we watched the Iowa caucus on telly and marvelled (and scratched our heads) at the complexity of the electoral system here, we've been glued to the TV almost daily as state after state held primaries and caucuses and the whole fascinating race gathered momentum.

There was a great sense of excitement on the TV last night — at least on the station we were watching — as commentators raved about the historic significance of Obama's victory, not just in the light of his being a young black guy from the south side of Chicago, but also because of the reflected glory this would cast over the whole of the US, clearly now to be seen as a country — the only country — in which absolutely anyone can achieve his or her goals and aspirations.
And it is hard to believe that it's been only 40-odd years since the Civil Rights Movement focused world attention on the country's institutionalised racism.

How must Hillary be feeling? Though she ended up being behind in delegates, she still got more of the popular vote. She had such a great chance; she's very smart and a good fighter, with all the right experience. And you got Bill as a bonus! Free! Had she won the nomination, this, too, would have been full of historic significance: the first woman headed for the White House.
But I reckon she blew it on a few occasions. She could never recover from the fact that, before the war started, she voted with the government to invade Iraq. That was a fatal flaw, a particularly irksome memory when listening to her explaining that one of her first jobs in the White House would be to get the troops out of Iraq, starting just 60 days after she took office.
And while Obama won people over with his rhetoric, his cool appeal to the working man and woman, and his moving speeches, Hillary was prone to shrillness, and gradually lost any feminist edge she might once have had by reinventing herself as a sort of female version of the Washington bully she claimed she wanted out of the capital. Testicular fortitude? Not a term a feminist, even a politically ambitious one, should aspire to.

I also must say that it's been a real shock seeing how involved in all of this the Church has been. Pastors, priests, prayerbooks — they all get a guernsey. In Australia, any radical cleric with half a brain and an opinion on anything more profound than 'What hymn for next Sunday?' would be shot down in flames for daring to stick his head over the church parapet and speak out on any political subject. Newspaper headlines, leaders and letter pages would scream: 'Keep religion out of politics'. But not here.

So after months of great debates, articulate campaigning and rousing speeches, we're facing the next few months with a very different sort of contest: between John McCain and Barack Obama for the Big One. Is John McCain — really? — the very best the Republicans could muster? I mean, any of you outside the US who are interested in this, go to YouTube and listen to McCain talk. You will blush for him. His speech last night, the first, really, of this new stage of the contest, was just dreadful. Silly, shallow, embarrassing.

That's enough from me. Sorry for butting in.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Goodbye to all that!It's Will's very last week at school. This is his last Monday. (Please note the sentimental attachment to Christ Church Grammar School's uniform in the pic above, as Will makes a mid-arvo snack!) Next week is all about graduation, with a school trip to Disneyland, parties, and all that American high school ceremony and pomp and brou-haha turned on and pumped up to the max. Caps and gowns and all that. Gym decorated for grad nite (that's how they spell it - grrr). I'm not at all sad that his school days are nearly over, and I don't think he is either! He's planning to move up to San Francisco (above and below) — and why wouldn't you want to live there if you were his age and wanted to go to art school? Good on him — we're with him all the way. (Muffled sob ...)
:: Monday weigh-in

Another 900 g (1.98 — let's call it 2 lbs) gone! That makes a total loss of 2.9 kg (6.4 lb), which is getting towards half a stone. Already, I have a whole heap of clothes that fit me again! Woo-hoo!