Sunday, May 31, 2009
A single rose. A single single rose.
We're all used to the finely-shaped hybrid tea roses with their pointed buds wrapped in tender petals. And we swoon over the lush, multi-petal old roses, with their flat faces, their hundreds of petals crammed together so tightly.
But the first roses, the species roses, are simple flowers - a golden boss of stamens surrounded by five wide delicate petals. Colors are usually white, pale yellow, pale pink, or a deep but clear crimson.
Rosarians call this form of flower "single." There are also flowers that are called "double", or "semi-double" depending on how many petals there are.
This blossom above is a picture of a bloom from a huge thorny shrub growing on a fence by a nearby driveway, here in Topanga, California. Because of the color, habit, and characteristics of the rose, and because the property used to belong to an Englishwoman who was a professional gardener, I believe it is the single rose "Mermaid."
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley is an eighteen mile stretch of commerce. There are strip malls, Gallerias, tall glass towers, gas stations, nurseries, and supermarkets. There are so many businesses that sell the same kind of things, people will do anything to stand out and get noticed. The Valley is full of weird buildings - shaped like Donuts, sporting giant statues, shaped like chateaux or Chinese temples or giant honeycombs.
This building, at 19611 Ventura Boulevard, is designed to look like the front grille of a 1971 Cadillac Fleetwood. Its origins are unknown, lost in the mists of history - at least, the forty or so years that means ancient history in Los Angeles. I would love to know what inspired it. Was there originally a car dealership here? Did the architect drive a Caddy? Or was it simply an homage to the mystique of the Cadillac image, prestige, and power?
According to its sign, it's called Fleetwood Square, and other than its crazy look, it's just like any other strip mall in the Valley. There's a couple clothing shops, a medical office, and a salon and nail shop. There's a nail shop in every strip mall in the Valley. We stopped by and I took a few photos. Then we got back in the car and continued on our way.
And then it happened. As we passed the parking lot just beyond Fleetwood Square, a gleaming hot-pink Fleetwood Convertible pulled into the boulevard behind us.
It was a mile long, it was wide, and it glided down the road, the hot California sun shimmering on its sleek flank. I don't know my Cadillacs, but I think it was a 1975 Fleetwood Eldorado, one of the most massive vehicles ever made, at 225 inches long with a 126 inch wheelbase, 5,000 pounds of hot pink Seventies glamor.
We took this shot of its massive grille behind us as the car with its powerful engine gained ground on us.
It pulled alongside so we could see the driver. A mysterious blonde spared not a glance for us as she steered the giant car past the rows of palm trees, hands firm on the wheel, hair blowing in the sun from beneath her white baseball cap.
Then it shot past us, crested the hill, and was gone.
Was its appearance a coincidence? A magical vision? A visitation? You tell me. In the Valley, I'll believe anything.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Our house was built in 1962, in a post-and-beam modern style. Our living room and kitchen are above the garden, facing southwest toward the ocean and the mountains. It is solid windows - from floor to ceiling. Beyond the glass is a narrow deck. When you stand on the deck, it's as if you are on the prow of a ship, sailing into the mists.
Here tonight, with only lamplight, the blue of the waning evening outside the windows. It feels so cozy to be inside.
I love this house.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Early mass-produced music recordings were made of shellac, which was brittle and heavy. They were played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute. Each 10" disc could only hold 3 or 4 minutes of music. Although inventors fiddled around with the technology, by 1925, the 78 rpm disc became the standard in the United States. Professional musicians and composers soon adapted, limiting their songs to fit a single disc so that they would sell easily.
A new innovation in 1948 was the twelve-inch LP, or "long playing" disc, made of more durable vinyl, revolving at a speed of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.
This worked well for symphonies and the soundtracks of Broadway musicals. But for popular music, people were used to hearing and dancing to songs that were 3 to 4 minutes long. What had started out as a technological limitation had turned into custom. Even now, most popular music cuts are 3 to 4 minutes long - people just felt that was the right length. After all, it had been that way for thirty years.
In 1949, RCA Victor Corporation developed a smaller vinyl record that could hold just one song. It was seven inches in diameter, and revolved at a speed of 45 rpm. You could just buy the song you liked, instead of a whole album of songs. You could buy a "single."
Another technological innovation allowed you to play your songs in any order you liked. A detachable spindle allowed you to stack several records. A spring mechanism held the stack above the turntable, dropping each record down to be played after the first was done. Because the spindle was wide, to accommodate the mechanism, 45s were bored with a wide central hole.
In England, 45s were pressed with a smaller hole to accommodate the traditional spindle, but you could punch out the central insert to play them with the stacking spindle.
45 rpm discs were also inexpensive, compared to albums, so they were affordable. And because people could buy only the songs they liked, and play them in any order, it was kind of like the first customizable play-list.
Selling music by the song also made it possible for record companies to track the most popular songs, and the best sellers came to be called Hit Singles.
I have to thank someone for this idea, and another someone for the subject of the picture. The author of this book, which talks about American popular music, its culture and the business of music, happens to be [The Man I Love]. And my son provided the records for me to photograph.
In the back, a man was shucking oysters as two men waited by a stand-up table that held a dish of lemon slices and a couple squirt bottles of sauce.
A snack to go. "Can I get one?" I asked the saleswoman. "One oyster shucked to eat here." I had two one dollar bills.
I love watching someone who knows how to do it right. The oyster was cut clean from the shell without a single bit of grit or dirt on the quivering morsel.
A squeeze of lemon. A dab of horseradish. Down the hatch!
Here in Southern California, Orange Monkeyflower, or Mimulus aurantiacus grows wild in our Santa Monica Mountains. They're shrubby, with woody stems, and grow in full sun. The flowers are a beautiful shade of pale orange, and display a flash of creamy white inside the throat - the color of a creamsicle ice cream bar.
There are other wild species of mimulus that grow here, too, like these yellow ones, Mimulus brevipes. It looks like its cousin, Mimulus guttatus, only the Stream monkeyflower grows in wet habitats - like you might expect - while the shy brevipes likes dry rocky places, and grows beneath larger plants.
There are many species of mimulus, and these versatile plants enjoy a wide range of habitats - making their hybrids and selected varieties great garden plants. You can get annual Monkeyflower seeds or bedding plants in all kind of bright colors, with colorfully spotted and speckled flowers.
The drought-tolerant species are great for those who want a pretty yet less thirsty garden. Horticulturalists have selected and bred special plants of Mimulus aurantiacus with flowers in a range of colors, for gardeners to choose.
Here is one in a pretty plummy color at a garden I toured earlier this spring.
But I always like best the monkeyflowers I see as I drive up the winding S-curves of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. They cling like the monkeys they're named after to the tan rocks of the cliff that rise vertically above the pavement.
I've taken hundreds and hundreds of photos of monkeyflowers, and I think I can never quite capture their perfect creamsicle color. But I can't stop trying.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
My friend Karen sent me this photo of a California Tree Frog, pseudacris cadaverina. They are native to Topanga. She took this photo in her garden. He's sitting in a dried leaf from our native Coast Live Oaks. You can click on the photo and enlarge it to see his detail.
To give you an idea how tiny he is, here's an oak leaf next to an acorn.
Here's a picture of one I took last year, at the Topanga 10K breakfast, found by a young girl.
These tiny frogs are only one inch long - but boy can they sing! They live in the little streams and cool springs and rocky hollows that still retain a bit of moisture or standing water. And at night they sing! When they sing they blow up their bulbous throats like bubbles.
At night we hear these tiny singers ringing through the canyon.
If you want to hear what they sound like, go Here and click on the audio clips.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The festival takes place up at the Community House, ranged over the ballfields and play areas, and features music, vendors and food. People from all over Southern California come to wear their tie-dye and get their groove on.
On the final day - on Memorial Day itself - is the Parade. This is something even those of us who avoid the fair enjoy.
Anyone who wants to can participate. All you need is a set of wheels and a lot of imagination. Some peace signs, paper flowers, and maybe a dog wearing a ballet skirt.
Everyone comes down to the boulevard to watch. Some people bring their cars or trucks, if the distance from home is far. There's nothing like the roof of a pick-up truck as a perch to watch the Parade! People bring thermoses of coffee, bagels or donuts, and some even sip mimosas!
This year it started with a marching band - with stilt-walkers. They were flanked by a peace-sign-wearing bicyclist with a little dog in her basket.
There were horseback riders.
You can walk or roll.
It's fun for all ages.
If you're used to well-organized and regimented Parades, this one's a little different. Some participants go far ahead and then circle back. Some floats cut in front of one another. Others stop in front of large crowds and perform a routine.
This morning, the fire department, sirens blaring, drove past the marching band and everything stopped for a while. We don't know why, but it didn't matter.
The line often blurs between participants and audience. Here, a spectator is having a chat with someone on a float, during a brief lull.
Some people come out of the crowd to join a float in progress. Kids bring their skateboards and ride along the route.
The floats can be elaborate, like this mirror-covered SUV.
I liked this - Peace Love and Real Estate - a rustic Topanga cottage with a knocked-down price.
Here's a float pulling a float - a miniature float for Barbies!
This float has every essential element - an American flag, a surfboard, pretty girls, paper flowers, a rock band wearing Hawaiian shirts, and a fat old guy in a bathrobe, drinking margaritas.
Back a few years ago, when our son was younger, the Topanga Day Parade was celebrated with squirt guns and water balloons. Both spectators and participants stocked loads of water balloons and wielded squirt guns and supersoakers, and everyone ended up getting soaked. Supersoaker technology assured an escalated arms race each year.
This antique fire engine was the Mother of All Water Weapons; one year it let loose and hosed the spectators down.
Sometimes there was collateral damage. I remember one year a shining BMW traveling through slowed down to marvel at the crowds of winged fairies on rollerblades and bandana-wearing dogs. Someone from the crowd lofted a waterballoon that soared in a perfect arc right through the open sunroof - a perfect hit.
For years the California Highway Patrol has reluctantly tolerated the parade, and each water-soaked year they've threatened to shut it down for ever. Then, one year, a line was crossed - some unknown culprit loaded bleach in their Super-soaker water. After that a strict weapons ban was declared. No more water allowed at the Parade!
After all - it's supposed to be about Peace! Now they throw candy at the spectators. It's a lot better than getting soaked, although sometimes you can get beaned by a flying tootsie roll.
Fortunately, the peace has held, and the CHP allows the parade, shutting down traffic on the boulevard for two hours. Folks need a day to get crazy, and hula-dance barefoot in the middle of a state highway. I'm wondering where her shoes are.
Other people are more staid and safe, but still have fun.
It helps to be nice to the authorities. Here someone offers the Fire Department some fresh strawberries.
This year the Parade ended with a bit of unintended theatre. Yes - this is a "float" - a truck full of trash to promote recycling. No fairy-wings and paper flowers for him! Only as he slowly kept pace with the rest of the parade, his engine stalled. He cranked the starter. No luck. Out of gas?
No matter. Helpful folks from the crowd joined in to push him down the road. I wonder if he finished the route!
That's Topanga Days!