Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pink Saturday - flowers for the heat

 Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

I admit it, I'm a weather wimp. Although I grew up in the steamy Midwest, I've been spoiled, living more than 18 years in Seattle, where it's temperate and pleasantly moist, and in Los Angeles, where it's temperate and dry - and when it's hot, it's a dry heat.

Here in Northern Illinois, we're re-encountering that feeling when you walk outside an airconditioned space and hit a wall of hot pea-soup heat.

July has brought 100+ degree temperatures and thunderstorms to this part of the country. The moisture in the air, though, keeps the plants hydrated and keeps the landscape green. Heat-loving flowers are thriving - like these bright pink zinnia, growing in flower beds at Geneva's Island Park.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A rainy morning

I went out this morning hoping to beat the heat for my daily walk. It had been raining most of the night, with thunderstorms, but by morning the rain let up enough for me to go out. I crossed the Fox River on State Street, and then took a flight of stairs down to Island Park, on the East side of the river.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Still unsure, at my age

We're staying at a wonderful boutique hotel in the small town of Geneva, Illinois. The furnishings are elegant, and there is a view of the Fox River from our room's balcony.

A good place to walk in the morning

We had a wonderful meal in the hotel restaurant, and came up to our room for a nice soak in the lavish bath. Such enjoyment and luxury!

Thematic Photographic - Big

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "BIG."

The Shard seen from the Thames River
This gleaming glass tower rising up over the Southwark in London is called The Shard London Bridge. When it's finished in 2012, it will be the tallest building in the European Union.

The ancient and the modern - the medieval Southwark Cathedral and its neighbor, the Shard
It's called "The Shard" because its architect, Renzo Piano, likened it to a shard of glass. Rising up in the sky like a splinter, its glass facade and panels will reflect back the sky so that the massive tower changes as the weather changes.

Sometimes you can only get an idea of "Big" by pulling back. Here The Shard is seen from the Tower Bridge, where it rises up over London's egg-shaped City Hall.

Or back even more. From the Limehouse section of East London, The Shard is the most prominent landmark on the skyline.
Distance lends perspective. Seen here from a high building in New Cross in Southeast London, the London skyline shows The Shard and other prominent skyscrapers like The Gherkin. The still unfinished Shard tops them all - and it's still rising.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Off again

We're off again! This time to Chicago!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The view from the Pagoda

If you take a right turn at Sycamore Street, off Franklin Boulevard in the heart of touristy Hollywood, you'll find yourself on a narrow road that winds up into the hills. Pass through the gate and follow the directions of the attendant, and you'll find yourself pulling up at a valet stand in front of an amazing Japanese palace, with one of the best views in town.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Drinking in the Library

Cocktail made with ripe tomatoes and marjoram
Cicero once said "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

I'm sure that Cicero was thinking about books, not cocktails. But even Cicero would have loved the Library Bar at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pink Saturday - Here's Jack!

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

I ran out of time to finish my Pink Saturday post, so all I've got are some pink angel-wing begonias....and Jack. Happy Pink Saturday, everyone!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Staying cool

6:57 pm
 I realize there's a terrible heat wave over most of the country.


But here in coastal Los Angeles County, we're having a cooler than usual time. In a way, it's an extension of our usual June Gloom. Mornings are cool enough to need a sweater to walk the dog. When I drive to work down the canyon, I descend into fog and sometimes even have to use the wipers to clear the mist from my windshield.

Evening brings the coastal fog up through the canyon. Last night I captured its movement with my camera.

It rushes up the canyon till it hits the Ridge, then it piles up and spills uphill into our neighborhood.

You can watch it in real time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A real treat

Last night I had an unexpected treat. My department at work had been offered free tickets to the final dress rehearsal of the new Cirque du Soleil production, "Iris."

I carpooled with a co-worker, and it took us 2 hours to get from Santa Monica to the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland. It was five minutes till curtain by the time we parked. We dashed up the escalators from the huge parking garage, hoping to get to the Will Call for our tickets before the show started - and then we rushed inside through the first set of doors.

How lucky we were! We found seats in the lower orchestra section, only six rows from the front! As we watched, the aerialists soared directly over our heads!

"Iris" is subtitled "A Journey Through the World of Cinema" - and it evokes the history of movies. It dazzles with a fast-paced blend of live action, video projection, and amazing feats of circus skill. What better place to see it than on Hollywood Boulevard?

The show started off strongly, with an aerial duet that took my breath away.

Photos were not allowed, so I only snuck a few before the show started. But here is the Cirque's own highlight video to give you an idea.

"Iris" is supposed to play a long run at the Kodak. If you visit Los Angeles, check it out. There's nothing more fun than having trapeze flyers bungee cord above your head!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Take Courage

Seen in the Southwark neighborhood of London. I should enlarge this photo and frame it and put it up on my cubicle wall.

(Courage is a brewery, This is an old advertisement for ale!)

Pub in New Cross
Also, too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thanks for Sharing!!

Cast bronze cell phone by Rick Oginz
 It's 8:15 on a Monday morning and I'm in the express line at the supermarket at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard, picking up some quick lunch things for the office.

The man in front of me has a knit cap pulled down over his greying hair. His casual clothes, his full beard and a tan mark him as one of the early morning surfers I see in the water during my morning commute - or at least I assume that. He's got a package of blueberries and a tall plastic water bottle in front of him on the moving belt. He's holding his cell phone up to his ear and talking, loud.

"Well, babe, see the thing is you want to live in West Hollywood, but I don't...No, babe, it's just that you're into one thing and I'm not. You're not into what I'm into, so that's the way it goes.....well, I don't want to live in Florida, either...."

The cashier scans his items, and he swipes his card and inputs his numbers into the pad while he keeps talking. He never looks at her, not once.

"I'm not going to live my life doing something I'm not into....Well, if it's like that, you should just go ahead and file the divorce proceedings. No, I don't want to go into counseling - we did that last year and look what good it did....well, babe, I don't know what to tell you."

He grabs the handles of the plastic bag, and walks out of the store, still talking. "You do what you need to do...."

The cashier glances at his back, shrugs and then says hello to me and scans my groceries.

It's a peculiar thing. Someone just aired his intimate domestic quarrel with a half a dozen fellow human beings, all the while failing to acknowledge the existence of the person right in front of him.

"Thanks for sharing, huh?" I murmur to the cashier, and she smiles. "Thank you," she says. "Have a good day."

"You too," I say.

When I get out in the parking lot, I see him drive off in a Lexus SUV, phone still held to his ear, still talking.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Wapping Project

The London Hydraulic Power Company was set up by an act of Parliament in 1883. A network of cast-iron pipes ran beneath the streets of London, and pressurized water drawn directly from the Thames River was piped to various locations to power machinery such as cranes, lifts, theatre machinery, and the Tower Bridge. The company built five pumping stations around London, and one, the Wapping station, operated until 1977. The building, an historic landmark, has since been converted into an arts space and restaurant.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pink Saturday - watermelon salad

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

What's pink, cool and refreshing for summer, yet sophisticated enough to serve company? Watermelon salad.

This one is watermelon, basil, feta cheese and pistachios, served at Gordon Ramsay's gastropub The Narrow, on the banks of the Thames River in the Limehouse area of London.

We enjoyed it at a windowside table, looking at the river. The clouds threatened, but the storm never came.

This Pink Saturday, we're staying home, due to Carmageddon! Have a great weekend, all!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Super potatoes

We saw these beautiful purple and gold potatoes at the stall of Weiser Family Farms at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. Their pretty coloring is only skin deep - the flesh inside is pale and starchy like a russet potato. The farmstand recommends them as a great baking potato.

What do you call purple and gold potatoes in Los Angeles?

Laker Bakers, of course!

The end of life as we know it.


"Carmageddon" - that's what they're officially calling it.

This weekend, starting around 7 pm on Friday, July 15, the California Department of Transportation is going to close the 405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass, until Monday morning, July 18.

The 405 will be closed between the 10 and the 101 freeways so the DOT can take down a bridge in the process of widening the freeway.

With the 405 closed, the entire west side of LA, including Santa Monica, Brentwood and UCLA will be forced to travel on surface streets - or not at all.

Not at all is more like it. We're staying home. Because - believe it or not - our winding, two-lane mountain road is the next road through the mountains west of the 405. Which means it will be the first thoroughfare chosen by anyone who needs to go from the Valley to the beach.

People are coming up with some ingenious ideas, though. My favorite? JetBlue is selling tickets for flights from Burbank airport to Long Beach airport - for only $4!  The flight takes about 35 minutes - pretty darn good, I'd say!

Here in Topanga, we've laid in supplies and we're having a "stay-cation." We've invited our neighbors for a potluck barbecue on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

American ignorance?

You've probably seen all those studies that claim how ignorant Americans are - sometimes it's a study about the population in general; sometimes it's about students. The survey shows that an alarmingly high percentage of respondents were totally ignorant about basic facts of our country's history or the basic functions of government.

I always wonder who those people were. But yesterday I was talking to someone I've known for at least a year, and she surprised me.

We were catching up after a month of being out of touch. I explained that I'd been traveling, and that we went to London, England. My friend had been at a family gathering in Lake Tahoe. We both told little stories about our stay.

I told about the weather. During our London stay, the weather had been very unusual - lots of rain, one really hot day, some surprisingly cold days, and one day of really fierce thunderstorms. After a bit of back and forth, my friend asked, "So, in London, it's their winter now, right?"

My friend wasn't sure which hemisphere Britain was in.

My friend is in her mid thirties; she's smart, talented and has a good job. She hasn't been to college, but she certainly graduated from high school without trouble. Yet her grasp on basic geography - where is Britain located? - came as a shock to me.

What do you think? Is this common? Have you encountered similar examples of ignorance? And - playing the devil's advocate for a moment - does it really matter, if she has a good life in society?

*Update - misspelling fixed. Thanks Gary!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer pleasures

These pretty flowers are Helenium, and since they were photographed in England, they are probably the well-known garden hybrid called "Moerheim Beauty."

This genus is native to Texas, Northern Mexico, and the Southwest of the U.S. They are members of the Aster family. Somewhat drought tolerant, they like full sun and look great with other hot, dry summer flowers like dahlias, yarrows, black-eyed Susans, and crocosmias.

I love their cheerful bright color and the prominent round central cone - it feels like a chenille-covered button under your finger.

What says "summer" to you, in your personal landscape?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Warm beer

The grey-haired man in black accepted the glass of beer from the bartender, but then he tasted it and placed it back on the table.

"This beer is too warm," he said.

It was a Sunday, just after noon, and the Dog and Duck pub in Soho had just opened. The landlady was cleaning up the place after a raucous Saturday night. "It's not supposed to be cold," she said, taking him for a tourist unaccustomed to British pubs.

"I know that," said the man, irritated. "But this one is too warm."

"It's the same as all the others. We keep them at 14 C." She was having none of it.

"it's too warm," he said again. He set the glass on the table, turned and walked out of the pub, down the narrow street and away.

The landlady smirked and muttered at his back.

The other customers shrugged, watched the black-clad figure diminish down the street, and sipped at their own glasses of ale or cider. "Pushy bastard," said someone.

After a moment of silence - "D'you know who that was?" asked the man sweeping up in the corner. Everyone looked at him. "That was Terry Jones."

We all looked down the street again, but the former Monty Python comic was no longer in sight. But the glass of beer remained.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pink Saturday - Columbia Road

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

Columbia Road is a narrow crescent of roadway, lined with small shops that are just a little too funky to be rightly called "boutiques."  These small cake shops, vintage shops, housewares and hardware stores are fun to browse in, but early on Sunday mornings, they aren't the main attraction that brings throngs to this East London neighborhood.

The Columbia Road Flower Market fills the street, with racks and stands full of cut flowers and potted plants. Everything from exotic orchids to mundane annuals is here for sale, and loudly hawked by Cockney-voiced vendors competing with one another for your business.

"Doy-ann-thuss! Two fer a fiver!" shouts one man, cradling an entire flat of garden pinks in his beefy embrace. "You've got lob-eee-lee-ah loike that, dah-lin', shood be four pots a fiver!"

At the stall next door, another vendor shouts, "Any two for three pounds!"

Further down the row, another vendor holds up a standard-pruned fuchsia in full bloom. "They's stolen that's woy they's so cheap! A fiver!"

I marveled at these blue Eryngium alpinum - I've never been able to grow this plant, and here were bunches of them.

Further down, a display of dahlias.

Or hydrangeas catch the eye.

As you squeeze through the crush, you might decide to take a break, buy a coffee or a pastry, and explore the little shops.

This one entices you with a phrase of poetry chalked on the door.

Inside, you find rustic pots, packets of seed, garden furniture, hats and tools.

You can even buy compost by the scoop here.

Other shops sell clothes, jewelry, or artwork.

We relaxed a bit before wading back through the tightly packed scrum. Such a sea of color and scent! It was irresistible! Though I knew it would be foolish to buy potted plants, unable to take them back to the US, there's no reason not to have cut flowers. I bought two bunches of peonies to bring back to our flat.

They lasted for days, filling our rooms with scent.

If you visit London, don't miss the Columbia Road Flower Market.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Xanadu by the sea

The Royal Pavilion seen from the park and gardens
In 1783, George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales and son of King George III first visited the seaside town of Brighton, on the English Channel. He had just turned 21, obtained an annual income that allowed him to live a luxurious and licentious lifestyle, and at Brighton he found he could indulge himself away from the disapproving eyes of his dour and somewhat crazy father.

He bought a modest farmhouse a short walk from the pebbled beach, and as the years passed he improved upon the property. In 1815 he engaged the architect and designer John Nash, who turned the modest Sussex farmhouse into an extravagant, almost hallucinogenic, sprawling fantasy palace known today as the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

In the midst of the town of modest attached houses and pubs, pale stucco turrets, minarets and bulging onion domes rise over a green lawn and winding, flower-filled gardens. The exterior style is an amalgam of Saraceno-Indo-Islamic Arabian Nights on acid. The interior is one of the finest and most overblown example of Nineteenth Century Chinoiserie ever created.

You enter the Pavilion through long and low galleries with hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, and though the appointments and trim are more extravagant than almost anything you'll ever seen, the delicacy and proportion sooth your senses and gently usher you into the fantasy land Nash has created.

And then you enter the Banqueting Hall. It's a huge domed room encrusted with decor - the walls are painted with Chinese scenes, the windows crested with pelmets fashioned to resemble writhing dragons; great banana leaves of bronze and gilt top the dome and from them a huge silver-gilt dragon bearing a crystal chandelier is suspended.

Click to "embiggen"
For me, it immediately evoked the exotic and Orientalesque interiors of magnificent 20th Century movie palaces like Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre or the St. Louis and Detroit twin Fox Theatres - but it was even more than these. For one thing, the Royal Pavilion is one hundred years older than any of these. And further, it was built not as a commercial palace, but for the pleasure of one man and his friends.

Tourists are not allowed to take photos of the interior, so you'll have to be content with this contemporary print of the Banqueting Hall.

Nash's designs were state of the art. The building was built with the latest technological advances - a frame of iron clad in stucco was innovative and allowed for the fanciful domes and shapes of the building. Even the kitchens were designed with the latest - a specially engineered contraption used the power of the wind to turn dozens of trussed birds roasting on spits. Nash allowed the kitchen slaveys a bit of fancy, too - the cast-iron columns in the room are topped with palm leaves, as though trees are holding up the high ceilings.

Kitchen at the Brighton Pavilion (sorry, no larger resolution)
The Prince of Wales - known as "Prinny" - needed such a huge kitchen to support the amount of entertaining he did. The Banquet Hall  is set for thirty places, and a sample menu on display shows one hundred different dishes that might be served at a single meal. Prinny managed to spend his way through the equivalent of millions of pounds, incurring huge debts that outraged his father.In 1810, George III's ill health and mental instability caused Parliament to pass a bill allowing the Prince of Wales to serve as Prince Regent in his stead.

The Prince Regent, painted by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1816
Handsome, fashionable, and dashing as a young man, by the time his father died and Prinny ascended the throne as king in 1820, he was obese and suffered so badly from gout and dropsy that a special private suite was made up for him on the ground floor of the house so he wouldn't have to climb stairs. The tour takes you through these rooms, which seem a little sad. He died in 1830, at the age of 58 - a prime example of how bad habits take a toll even on the most fortunate of us.

The upper floors include the suite Queen Victoria used the few times she came to Brighton. You can even see her maid's bedroom and the royal commode. There are also suites that housed George IV's brothers, the Dukes of York and Clarence, decorated in a searingly vivid chrome yellow, with dragon-patterned panels.

Victoria disliked Prinny's elaborate fantasy, finding it vulgar and not a good place to raise children. In 1850 she sold the building to the City of Brighton at a cut-rate price - after stripping it of most of its furnishings and fixtures.

The town used it as assembly rooms - no doubt the tourism trade provided a good market for meetings, ballrooms and the like. King George IV's fantasy became the first modern example of a municipally owned event facility.

As we toured the upper rooms we also learned of an odd, paradoxical yet fascinating episode in the history of the Pavilion. Between 1914 and 1916, at the height of the First World War, the City of Brighton provided housing for military hospitals in municipal buildings like schools and exhibit halls, and also the Royal Pavilion. The Royal Pavilion became a ward serving wounded troops from the Indian Corps - soldiers from Britain's colonies in India. Over 4000 men were treated there during this time.

Another view from the garden
One has to wonder what these men now transplanted to Britain's chilly seashore must have thought when awakening in the extravagant, ridiculously faux-Hindoo domed palace. Was it an oddly comforting taste of the architecture of home for them? Or a bizarre cartoonish travesty? 

Painting by C C H Burleigh showing the Music Room used as a ward

You can see a Flickr set of images of the Brighton Indian Military Hospital at this website HERE. A nice article about those days is HERE.

After the Second World War, the City began an effort to restore the Pavilion. Queen Elizabeth II returned on loan much of the furnishings that Victoria had removed. Today, the house is beautifully preserved and conservators are trying to recreate its original furnishings and decor.

If you're interested in interior design; a fan of chinoiserie, or interested in seeing what might have been the first true fantasy-land environment, you'll love a visit to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.