Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A warning to wicked women

Live a virtuous life or weasels will rip your flesh!

That's the lesson in an extraordinary painting from an exhibit called "Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World" that just closed at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A double-sided oil painted in the 18th Century in Colonial Mexico, it shows on one side the bland and simpering Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, as a model of goodness for all womanhood to aspire to. On the reverse, it shows the Allegory of the Confession of the Soul - the sinful woman, attended by snaggle-toothed demons and vicious twining creatures who bite and tear at her flesh, being pressed to confess her sins, or spend eternity in torment.

These paintings, probably commissioned by Jesuits to serve as a cautionary lesson to parishoners, were likely painted by a mixed-race Mesoamerican artist, a descendant of indigenous tribes forcibly converted to Christianity by their conquerers; their culture, aesthetics and beliefs shaped and evolved into a uniquely Colonial Mexican artistic style.

"Confiesa!" demands the demon, as his fellow cups his ear the better to hear her entreaty. "Ay!" cries the hapless, doomed sinner.

Although the painting is three centuries old, it is still alive and vivid. Her bulging eyes, her lush flesh, her horror-struck expression all have the crass, immediate quality that reminds me of pulp fiction paperback cover art from the 1940s or 1950s - she could be Velma Valento of "Farewell, My Lovely," twisting from the embrace of Moose Malloy, gun blazing, or the earthy, smoldering femme fatale Cora of James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," suffering the brutal carnality of her murderous lover Frank.

"Flim-flammed! I'll say I was! You and that lawyer!" - James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
Like on the dime-store pulp covers, her semi-nudity is discreetly hidden, yet tantalizingly glimpsed, twined with the writhing snakes and lizards that torment her. Even her earrings and hair ornaments transform into vicious monsters and fanged insects, as she suffers the dark, inevitable fate that awaits all femmes fatales, whether they be hussies or gun-molls.
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: "I haven't led a good life, I've been bad, worse than you could know."

Sam Spade: "You know, that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere."  - "The Maltese Falcon" 1931

"Ay!" she cries, as she falters.

Watch it, ladies. Change your wicked ways!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy hour at the museum!

We enjoyed our visit to LACMA - the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - but - honestly - sometimes museums can be exhausting. We saw three exhibits that were all wonderful but all completely different from each other, and it was overwhelming to have that much swirling around in our heads. What to do?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pig on dog

 Jack gets along pretty well with Henri.  We let them play together. I was careful to make sure Jack didn't overpower Henri.

But I don't think that's a problem.

 Henri can hold his own on the playground.

He wants to play with everyone, even YOU!

Jack, Henri, and Lola in a quieter moment.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pig sitting

I'm pet sitting my neighbor's pig, Henri for a couple days. Henri is a teacup pig. He's a red-head, maybe twenty five pounds, and trots around on delicate cloven hooves.

Henri has breakfast in the morning, then he goes outside, where he likes to root around in the dirt all day.

There are lots of acorns in that soil. Henri roots and makes contented grunts and snorting noises.

At the end of the day, Henri comes inside for his dinner and bedtime.

It's a pig's life, isn't it, Henri?

Pink Saturday - Happy Wanderer

It's Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you.

This pretty, lavender flowering vine is growing on my neighbor Patty's fence. Its botanical name is Hardenbergia violacea, and it's a native of Australia. Here in the US, its commonly called Lilac Vine, or even Mexican Lilac Vine, but in Australia its common name is the much more charming "Happy Wanderer."

It's one of those plants that's sort of a shrub and sort of a vine. It twines itself loosely around supports and - overwhelmingly - other plants, and can cover a pergola or fence handily.

Its hard-to-remember botanical name is the fault of Austrian botanist Baron Carl Alexander Anselm Baron von Hügel, who undertook an expedition to Australia in 1833 - 1834, collecting plants and seeds. He named this pretty vine after his sister, Franziska Countess von Hardenberg.  There's no record whether she grew it herself or not.

Its narrow, evergreen leaves turn down attractively, and its tiny pea-like flowers bloom on long arching racemes in the early spring. The blooms are very delicate - the one you see here is no bigger than my fingernail. Hardenbergia is not for cold climates, sadly, but could be grown as a tender perennial.

Our spell of warm weather has brought flowers out nicely, and Patty's small garden is wreathed with blooming flowers.

"Happy Wanderer" is a perfect plant to grace the small cottage of my friend Patty, who herself has led a full, adventurous and well-traveled life - a Happy Wanderer indeed!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Road kill

Found on my morning walk. A lost bunny.

Here in a landscape where the coyotes howl beneath your windows at night, it's not unusual to find gruesome evidence of their nocturnal feasting.

But this is the first time I've found a toy bunny.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Daily journal

This is the sunset sky last night in Santa Monica.

Our weather is getting strange. At the beginning of the week, it was in the low 40s. I could see my breath when I walked Jack in the morning. I wore double layers to work, and a scarf around my neck, and my fingers were like ice on my keyboard in the office.

Today, right now it's 80 degrees in Santa Monica, and crystal clear. They're saying it might get up to the 90s tomorrow. Crazy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Design for sunshine

The exhibition California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way" at the Lynda and Stuart Resnik Exhibition Pavilion at LACMA is part of Los Angeles' Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions in southern California celebrating the birth of the LA art scene.

This exhibition features mid-century modern design for living - the objects, graphics and structures that were part of everyday life. For people my age, these designs are not just art - they are part of our memory, because we lived them. As I walked through the displays, I was overcome at every turn by how familiar this was, personally, to me.

The show encourages these rushes of memory, as it includes not only fine works of design but also everyday things like kitchen utensils, record album covers, toys and even cars - a classic Avanti is among the many displays.

As soon as you enter the exhibition, you encounter a polished and gleaming Airstream trailer - the "Clipper," designed in 1936, its aerodynamic shape and construction inspired by the airplane industry.

Pink sky for morning

 I know I haven't been posting as frequently as usual, and I'm not sure why. Things just seem very busy. Yesterday it rained and was cold. It was pouring as I drove in, and when I walked to lunch although it was dry, there were dark rain clouds in the sky, threatening.

Both  [The Man I Love] and I have been battling this terrible cold or whatever it is that's going around. I feel like we've both had it twice, and never really got well in between. We're both so congested and hoarse that we keep clearing our throats all the time - he said a visitor to the house would think we were engaged in some kind of passive aggressive non-verbal communication - "Ah hhhhhemm!" "Hmmmph!" "Hmm, hmm Hemmmm!"

This cold also saps our energy, so we don't go adventuring, bur rather spend our time off at home, staying warm and resting - and suffering from cabin fever.

I'm also following with some sense of disbelief and horror, the Republican primary race. Dear God. What have we unleashed in this country?

This morning I was greeted by a pink sky over the mountains to the west - taking color from the rising sun I can't see yet, as its disk is still hidden by the mountains behind me to the east. It will be a good day.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Halal Hot Pot

Islam came to China as early as the 7th Century A.D. Ambassadors from the third Caliph as well as merchants from Arabia and Persia came to the court of the Tang Dynasty emperors and set up trade. In later centuries, waves of Mongol immigrants brought more Muslims to Chinese cities and courts. The Chinese emperors were tolerant of these visitors, who brought science, trade, and architectural innovations, and allowed them to settle. In today's China, the various ethnic groups making up the Islamic community is called the Hui people.

With such large numbers of Chinese immigrating to the US in recent decades, it shouldn't be a surprise that the Hui people are among them. Even so, it's not easy to find Chinese restaurants in America that serve Islamic-influenced food.

Except here, of course, in Southern California.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Toy cars and trains

click all photos to "embiggen"

Chris Burden's "Metropolis II" is on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Metropolis II" is a kinetic sculpture, modeled after a modern city. Rails, ramps, and roadways thread through building-like structures - towers, blocks, models - interweaving through the steel beams that form the bones of the structure. In the center, two massive six-lane "highways" chug fleets of Hot Wheels style toy cars up to a summit from which they wheel away and down through the fantasy city. HO scale electric trains and streetcards also thread their way along the lower part of the structure.

The toy cars have been modified, and the tracks are teflon-coated, so the cars speed at 240 scale-miles per hour, raising a terrific constant din, which, according to Burden, is part of the point he's trying to make, saying "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city."

The ramps that lift the cars are motorized and the trains are electric, but all the rest of the frenetic motion is the result of gravity. An attendant is required to monitor the machines, in case a car goes off the tracks and causes chaos, so the piece is viewed in scheduled 90 minute "performances."

We arrived on a Monday, when sponsor Target makes it possible for LACMA to be open for free. There were families and kids everywhere, and the line for "Metropolis II" was long, but once people got into the room, you could see how compelling it is. Everyone - kids and adults - had an expression on their faces that read "How cool!"

The buildings are made of toy-like pieces like Legos, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks and model parts, furthering the sense of play and fun.

The room where the sculpture is displayed is ringed on three sides by viewing balconies, so in addition to getting a close-up view from the ground, you can see the big picture.

I found the motorized ramps fascinating to watch, and I loved the pattern-like look of the little shiny colored rectangles jig-jig-jigging upward, like cars on a six-lane roller coaster.

As I'm seeing more and more in museums, everyone has a camera or a camera phone, and everyone is taking pictures - like I myself am. At first, this put me off a bit, but as you can see I came around. While I know my photos aren't high quality reproductions of the artwork, it's like having a visual journal to help remember the experience.

What a wonderful way to introduce kids to art - a free trip to the museum, a look at the coolest toy car set ever, and it's OK to take pictures. How many miniature versions of "Metropolis II" are being built in living rooms and kids' bedrooms right now?

Chris Burden's other well-loved piece at LACMA is the installation "Urban Light", a collection of salvaged street lamps arranged in a cluster at the museum's entrance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I guess as long as everyone else is doing it......

We're sitting this one out, today, too. Please contact your elected representatives about PIPA and SOPA.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gliding in a gondola

Click all photos to "embiggen"
"...the shadows of the sea, those azure, fathomless depths of crystal mystery, on which the swiftness of the poised gondola floats double, its black beak lifted like the crest of a dark ocean bird, its scarlet draperies flashed back from the kindling surface, and its bent oar breaking the radiant water into a dust of gold..." 

- John Ruskin, "Modern Painters," 1888

So romantic to think of gliding along the narrow canals in a gondola beneath a sunset sky, slipping beneath arched bridges where, in the shadows, we exchange a kiss.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Visual arts

Click to "embiggen"
 Seeing and being seen at an Art show.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Goodness, it's Thursday!

Snowflakes, or Leucojum aestivum
 Whoo, I haven't posted in a while. It's true that I came down with a nasty cold and was down for the count for a while....but even so, I spent a lot of my down time on my computer. So....what else kept me from posting?

In January, believe it or not, fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt"
Oh, I got a new I-phone and spent a lot of time figuring our how to make it work.

Or I've been following the New Hampshire primaries and am too flabbergasted by the clown-car circus show to focus on anything else?

Or work has been insane - when I go there between bouts of fever and sinus infections?

A scented geranium
But wait. Here's something nice.

All the photos are what's blooming in my front yard right now.

Early spring crocus
Here's what's baking in my oven.

Whole wheat and oat bread, left; bread with shallots and thyme, right.
There's a three-day weekend ahead, and we're looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Graduation day

OK, so I traded up. Now what do I do with it?

What's Icloud? How do I transfer my contacts from my old phone to my new? Why can't I sync to my laptop? Is this more trouble than it's worth?

Don't you wish there were technology tutors? You'd think in LA there'd be some entrepreneur who could teach dinosaurs like me how to work these things.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Good for what ails you

There's a nasty bug going around - congestion and coughs and sinus headaches. Since the New Year, [The Man I Love] has been brought down low with it.

It's an old wives' tale that chicken noodle soup helps cure the common cold. I'm not sure whether it cures it or not, but a really good bowl of soup can sure make someone who's suffering a cold feel a lot better.

Yesterday, I took him out to South El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley for a bowl of Phở, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter beach

It's January in Santa Monica. Let yourself relax.

Back from the brink

Street art, downtown LA
My morning in-box greeted me with the news that I will hear from someone's lawyer today! I am faint and trembling!

But twenty minutes later, I got a voice message saying the check is on its way by courier.

Now - where's that three-ring binder?

Earned my keep today

So today, I went into work and was presented with a three-ring binder filled with samples of governing documents from peer organizations, that I was directed to study and extract sample language to help my organization update our own governing documents.

Only three pages into it, I discovered that the printed-on-both-sides pages were disarranged in order, missing critical pages, and some documents were printed in 8 point fonts, xeroxed and virtually unreadable.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Short term goals

Mrs. G and Jen on the Edge have the right idea for New Years Resolutions. Instead of setting unrealistic expectations for excellence in 2012, I'm setting some modest, achievable monthly goals.

My goal for January is - to get my whole phone thing together, for once. This means organize the contacts in my phone, figure out how to retrieve my voice mail (yes, I am that lame!) and get a Bluetooth device for the car.

Then maybe someday I can get an I-pad like Jack!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The easiest bread in the world

There's nothing finer to eat than fresh, artisan-made bread. The best artisanal bread has a great texture with a web of holes, a good yeast flavor, and a delicate yet crisp crust that almost "shatters" when you bite it.

I've been cooking and baking since I was younger than ten, making Christmas cookies with Mom. And I've made lots of homemade bread that was pretty good.

But most of the time, my bread was not as good as I expected it to be. It was not like the stuff of legend. It was not like the loaves at Blue Ribbon Bakery in New York, or Poulaine in Paris. Or even La Brea Bakery of LA. And especially, I couldn't get that delicate crisp crust.

When my son was visiting, he made bread for us and it was amazing. He sent me the recipe, which was originally that of Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, and published in the New York Times by food writer Mark Bittman.

At first I thought - this is completely wrong. There's not enough yeast, too much water, and it's baked inside a pot with a lid on it! And it takes a whole day to make!

My American son, who now lives in a foreign land - does not use our conventional American volume-based measuring system . Instead he uses a weight-based system, in grams. (Fortunately, he bought a scale for us while he was visiting.) For those who, like me, prefer

But here is his bread recipe. It's so easy you should give it a try.

400 grams bread flour - or 2 1/2 cups
350 grams cold water - or 1 1/2 cups
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heavy oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven, enameled cast iron, ceramic, or Corning Ware, with a cover.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the water. Mix the dough thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl. It will be gooey.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 12 - 18 hours.

Turn it out on a welll-floured surface - I used my cutting board with a Silpat mat on top, well-sprinkled with flour. It will be a gloppy blob. The recipe advises you use a rubber spatula to scrape all the dough out of the bowl, but I found that it all hung together in a soft elastic mass.

The recipe says to sprinkle the dough with flour and fold it over on itself a few times. It was so formless that, for me, this just meant pushing it around some. It will stick to your fingers.  Form it into a rough blob, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Here I departed slightly from the recipe. The recipe says lay a well-floured piece of parchment paper on half of a cotton (non-terrycloth) dishtowel,  transfer the blob of dough to the paper, and - after sprinkling with flour - fold the other half of the towel over it, tucking in the sides to make a package.

Since I was using my Silpat sheet, I kept the blob on the mat and covered it with the towel.

Let the dough rise for 2 1/2 hours.

Two hours into the rising time, turn on the oven to 450 degrees, and place your baking dish inside. The recipe recommends a large, heavy casserole or Dutch oven with a lid. I have a cast-iron enamel Dutch oven I use.

After the remaining 1/2 hour of rising time, take the hot dish out of the oven. Transfer the dough into the pot - it will be gooey - shaped roughly into a ball. If the dough falls apart, just scrape the bits up and put them all on top of the ball. My dough stayed together as a soft, elastic blob.

Put the lid on the dish and bake for 30 minutes. Then take the lid off and continue to bake for another 15 -20 minutes, until the crust is a golden brown.

When I took it out of the oven, I initially had a hard time getting the loaf out of the pot, but after it cooled a bit it came right out without sticking. You might want to sprinkle the bottom of your pot with corn meal - I'll try that next time.

The trick to this bread is the long, slow rising time, plus baking the moist dough inside the closed pot. The moist closed environment gives the crust that crackling, delicate quality, while the long fermentation time gives the crumb its large open structure.

If you search around the internet a bit, you'll find people who vary the basic recipe, sometimes by combining different types of flour, or by adding flavorings like chopped olives or raisins. I'm going to keep playing with it and see what I can come up with, but for now this is one of the easiest - and most rewarding - bread recipes I've ever made.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In bloom today

Today, New Years Day, these bunch flowered jonquils are in bloom in my front yard. Jonquils are Narcissus, like daffoldils, but they are small-flowered, fragrant, and there are several flowers on each stem. They grow well in southern climates, where winters are mild.

A good start to a New Year.

Happy New Year!

Who knows what 2012 will bring? But if you're going to ring the year in, you might as well do it with a tasty cocktail.

This is sake infused with candied ginger, vanilla bean, bay leaf, Thai basil and Japanese chiles.

It goes down pretty good with a crudo of ahi tuna.

It's this guy's idea - Paolo works at Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica. The mixture infused for a couple of days before we were privileged to taste it.

They were working it up to sell as New Years Eve cocktails later in the evening. We were given a sample as we sat at the bar in the afternoon.

Damned fine stuff. It didn't have a name, when we tasted it. I suggested they call it a Camera Obscura, after the Santa Monica landmark just across Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park.

Blue Plate Oysterette is one of our favorite places. Fresh seafood, good drinks, friendly staff. We love going there.

How would you like a sake cocktail, with these subtle flavors?

What are you toasting the New Year in with?