October 28, 2010

Here, Then, and Gone.


in Santa Barbara, I visit the Historical MuseumInside, it is cool and dark.  The main gallery features changing exhibitions.  I walk through the museum the courtyard and gardens.  It is quiet on weekdays and I enjoy the place all to myself.  Most of all, I love to visit the Gledhill Library.  The library is a repository of Santa Barbara's most important historical documents, photos, maps, publications, newspapers, articles, and other relics.  The collections tell the story of Santa Barbara County.  

I forged friendships that lasted decades. 

The men of the group were part of the annual rancheros trek.  Men only, which left the the women footloose and fancy free. 

It was a grand opportunity for me to collect some marvelous inside stories about “old” Santa Barbara and the Rancheros Visitadores. 

Co-founder J.J. Mitchell, ending his 25 years as El Presidente, wrote:
 "All the pledges and secret oaths in the universe cannot tie men, our kind of men, together like the mutual appreciation of a beautiful horse, the moon behind a cloud, a song around the campfire or a ride down the Santa Ynez Valley. These are experiences common on our ride, but unknown to most of our daily lives."
"Our organization, to all appearances, is the most informal imaginable. Yet there are men here who see one another once a year, yet feel a bond closer than between those they have known all their lives."


are most of the friends. It is the perfect time of year to remember, and the Santa Barbara Cemetery is the perfect place.  The cemetery began as a simple, sparse plot.  Today it is one of the nation's most beautiful cemeteries.   The land is perched atop a tall hill bounded on the south by the Pacific Ocean.  You can watch pelicans, seagulls and other shore birds, and listen to the bark of sea lions that lie on a barge just off shore, sunbathing.

To the north is a breathtaking vista of the lagoon, bird refuge, and the tall, blue Santa Ynez Mountains.
There are grand old oak trees and you hear a soft steady river of sound traveling up the hillside from the 101 freeway.

The cemetery offers a place for an afternoon of contemplation, philosophical meanderings, and metaphysical meditations.

All around are grand, dramatic vistas, immaculate lawns, and wide trees that spread their shade. It is an elegant, beautiful place to wander.

The excursion is an opportunity to reflect, that like all the others who came before us, we are here for such a short time, and then we are gone.
Or not?

During the season of Halloween, we imagine that the veils between the worlds are thinning.  We hear stories of ghosts and hauntings, of spooky, unexplainable things seen and unseen. 

October 12, 2010

I love Los Angeles, it can be so “unreel”.

Knocking about town only re-enforces my conviction, it is the unabashed center of narcissism, straight up and in your face, not like elsewhere where it is covert and on the rocks. I was therefore not surprised that I ran into at number of camera crews on location, shooting reality shows of people I do not know.  I thought reality shows were for D-rated celebrities in need of a last gasp career boost.

I also detect the same desperation around Talk Shows. By now, has not everyone had a spin behind a talk desk? Eliot Spitzer is up next. Saints preserve us.

Who is listening and watching all this? The Wall Street Journal just reported that Americans are watching more TV (up to 4 hours a day) rather than “trying to get a job, volunteering, exercising, or furthering their education."
That is amazing considering all these TV shows minus content.

No wonder reality shows have taken over. They are cheap to produce and horrifying to watch. Is this a perfect reflection on the State’s state? Face it; I don’t know Snooki from Sookie. Are they not all vampires? Everyone is ready to share his or her scintillating live. What lives? They think so and that is all that counts.

In Los Angeles, the need to feel and look important is necessary. We know Hollywood gave birth to that, it's the water. Now it is also an epidemic. In every public place someone is cell yelling into their iPhones to their assistants to make sure their grande soy lattes are desk ready by 9:16 am. This is a town of assistants. Everyone has one even though everyone is unemployed. In addition, all the assistants seem on the verge of being fired (ah, assistants, another reality show idea). As for actual reality show stars who can keep up. No doubt, somebody has the post game wrap up. In all of these, the cartooned rage, the sex, and the botched plastic surgeries are all over the top.

Are we all caffeinated and hooked on Adderall (an ADD and diet drug)? Dr. Drew Pinsky of Celebrity Rehab could book any pro football player up on current rape charges and cure them all of being sex addicts, wow, just imagine the ratings!!!

What does it say about a culture that must expose its tawdry underbelly and on HD? Is this sharing on steroids? Aren't we past Oprah? Even Oprah is past Oprah (by the way, I keep hearing that tons of network producers are running over to Oprah's cable venture looking for any jobs they can find).
 Have we not run out of housewives, cities, pool boys, sleazy plastic surgeons, or thug husbands? At this point viewing one more show featuring over-botoxed and shelf boob enhanced women screaming at their assistants (there's that theme again) while booking deluxe hotel suites is well…

I found out that Los Angeles has the highest density of hair salons.  A visit to a salon is always dinner, a show, and an earful.  You can end up seeing the strangest collection of notoriety.  Like Mickey Rourke and Michael Pollard (yes, that Michael Pollard) and most importantly the Govenator Ahnold himself getting his roots caramelized.  JA.  In fact, this is a weekly ritual.  Everyone adores him ... in the salon.
It is obvious, our Governor will be happy to leave office. He then can spend his Saturdays in peace and quiet happily smoking his Cuban cigars with his favorite colorist in the VIP balcony chair, without the surrounding circle of the ear plugged security brigade. Someone confessed to me, that it won’t be Arnold that will miss the governor action. He will do just fine. It will be his security team, who loved following him all around Beverly Hills every Saturday, getting all that hot attention.

It will not be the same detail work following whichever woman gets that job. Perhaps they can start a Secret Service Reality show. And why not?


October 04, 2010

Oxford in my time.

Lessons about Kant and crumpets, libraries and love notes- and friendships that last a lifetime.

by Angela, Class of 1961

In my day at Oxford, there were five male undergraduates to every female, a ratio that would make any maiden’s heart beat faster. Mine was hyperactive for the full three years I was there. (Oxford’s undergraduate degree course takes three years, unless you are studying Classics. The school’s 13th – century founders no doubt thought three years were enough in that heady atmosphere, and they were right.) When I was there, most of the male undergraduates were two years older than the females, having spent two years in the National Service after leaving school. Thus the men not only predominated, but they were also older, more sophisticated, more-experienced. What was a poor girl to do?

Easy. Sit in the Bodleian Library with one’s books and wait. The invitations were slow to take off at first, as the candidates squared off, whispered to each other, estimated potential. My first, I recall, was slipped under my notebook with such sleight of hand that for a moment I did not realize what had happened. I opened the slip of paper carefully, feeling sure my cheeks were betraying my inner turmoil. “Let’s meet for coffee at four this afternoon at the Cadena,” the note said in an almost illiterate, arrogant scrawl, the affectation of Old Etonians. I looked around for the sender, who was by this time back in his seat and gazing nonchalantly out the window. Fair, nice eyes, good chin, all right for starters. I nodded to him, which I was pleased to note, provoked a gratifying rush of color to his cheek.

Thus one became a fixture at the Cadena, a café above Carfax, the central hub of the city of Oxford. Notes would fly like Wagner’s Woodbird song between the desks of the Bodleian, directing us women to further adventures. Coffee at the Cadena soon progressed to tea and crumpets and, later still, champagne, in the glorious college rooms allocated to the male undergraduates of the university. Of the 22 men’s colleges at Oxford in my time, Christ Church, New College, and Trinity were the Big Three in terms of social and aesthetic desirability. Balliol was the choice of intellectuals, where along with the crumpets would come heavy discussions about Nietsche, Kant, and the “meaning of meaning.” Worcester had the best gardens as well as a strong theatrical bent for those destined for the West End stage. We never entered Queen’s, in spite of its handsome façade fronting High Street. Queen’s men seemed all to be geographers, regarded universally and inexplicably as the lowest form of intellectual life.

No one spent much time in the neo-Gothic or red brick institutions assigned to us gender-latecomers. The women’s colleges, built in the late 19th century when women started being admitted to Oxford, were typical of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, rarely inspiring the spirit to poetic expression as did the 400-year-old masterpieces inhabited by our male colleagues. (Woman were admitted as members in 1974.) Yet even our colleges had some form of rating.

Somerville was considered bluestocking ( I was surely the exception that proved the rule), Lady Margaret Hall contained the debutant types, and St. Anne’s, St. Hugh’s, and St. Hilda’s never attained rating status at all in those ruthlessly discriminating days.

The high point of each of my three years was the Commemoration Ball, or Commem-the June party that ended the summer term. Commems were held in different colleges each year, and the colleges chosen went all out to make their party the biggest, grandest, most memorable anyone had ever attended. Tents, champagne, food, music, punting on the river, dancing ‘til dawn-this was the pinnacle of the Oxford experience. Never mind that your partner’s only dance step was a rhythmic stomping on your satin pumps, or that your student of choice preferred to throw up in flower beds instead of bringing you breakfast at sunrise. Walking through the floodlit quadrangles of Christ Church, St. John’s, Lincoln, or Magdalen, with stars above, music in the sky, scented flowers in the air, you knew you were in a private magical world that would never be yours again.

Matthew Arnold called Oxford “that sweet city with her dreaming spires.” Sweet indeed. As for an education, well, I may not have benefited much from the books I studied, but the friendships I made have lasted to this day. Thanks to Oxford, I learned how to stay afloat in a punt, how to toast a mean crumpet, and how to tell a Balliol man to get lost. What better training for life could there be?

October 01, 2010

Take One

In 1957 Louis Malle was 24 years old, independent, incredibly handsome, and prodigiously talented. He had already co-directed and shot Jacques Cousteau's Oscar-winning documentary, “The Silent World.” Now he was ready to make his first feature.

He chose an overlooked noir novel about a man who kills his lover's husband, only to be trapped in the elevator while fleeing. His car is stolen, complications mount. In the meantime, we wait to see if he will get free before the police arrive.

Malle co-authored a clever, stylish script. He gave the film an ironic title: “Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud”, or “Frantic”, or “Elevator to the Gallows”. As the lover, he hired Jeanne Moreau, a successful but not incendiary stage actress. In addition, as his cinematographer, he chose the young innovator, Henri Decae.

Then this first-time director got Miles Davis to improvise and record the soundtrack.

Davis had revolutionized jazz once already. Now he was turning away from hard-charging bursts of sound to a cooler style that would change American jazz once again.

What did he see in Louis Malle?


“I was in Paris to play as a guest soloist for a few weeks,” Davis later explained. “I met Louis through Juliette Greco. He told me he had always loved my music. I agreed to write the musical score for his film because it was a great learning experience. I had never written a music score for a film before.” 

Davis did not really “write” this one, either. Oh, he said he “looked at the rushes of the film and got musical ideas to write down.” However, his real genius was in hiring the great American jazz drummer Kenny Clarke and three French musicians and putting them in an environment that mirrored the mood of the movie. As Davis recalled: “Since it was about a murder and was supposed to be a suspense movie, I used this old, gloomy, dark building where I had the musicians play. I thought it would give the music atmosphere, and it did.”

The track was recorded in a single, champagne-fueled session as Moreau and Malle sat and looked on. At one point, a bit of Davis's lip blew into his mouthpiece; he pressed on. There were repeated takes of certain ideas; a number of tracks on the soundtrack are variations of earlier cuts. No matter. This is one of the greatest jazz soundtracks in film, some say the greatest. The trumpet could not be more evocative. Mostly slow and breathy, thoughtful and tender, lonely and okay about it. In a word, cool.

There is much to like about the film. It used Paris like nothing before. Malle presaged the New Wave. The final shot, made with a cameraman in a wheelchair. It allowed filmmakers to shoot at night without massive equipment. The film made Jeanne Moreau a star, and it launched Louis Malle's brilliant career.

The irony of the Malle-Davis collaboration is that Malle never explored noir again. Indeed, he made it a point to direct only one movie per genre. But, the ideas of composition that Davis was working out in this movie soundtrack would come to full bloom a few years later in his classic "Kind of Blue" with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, and Bill Evans.

The soundtrack, mesmerizing and evocative then, is just as enticing today. It is a deep experience for the jazz fan. If you are shallow like me, and like your music without lyrics at dinner, get the CD, and be as cool as Miles.

The End(tail).