Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Things to Check Out - September 1 - 7, 2008

Everybody ready to go back to school? There's still time for fun things to check out!

L.A. Greek Fest, 2008, on September 5, 6 and 7. Now you know I like Greek Festivals of all kinds, big and small, but this is L.A. 's big one. It takes place in the Latino-Byzantine Quarter, at Saint Sophia's Cathedral, and includes celebrities, dancing, music, and even a fancy theatrical production. Just check out their glitzy website! You know the food will be fabulous! Opa!

The Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona's Fairplex kicks off this September 5 and runs through the end of the month. You can go ride rides, eat carnival food, and visit animal and livestock exhibits - OR you can go to the Grandstands and listen to hot acts perform! This is the big one, folks! Beat traffic by taking Metrolink.

Go down to San Pedro on September 6 and 7 for the 17th Annual Festival of Phillipine Arts and Culture. Music, Dance, Arts and culture - at Point Fermin Park, overlooking the sea in San Pedro. C'mon how long has it been since you've been to San Pedro? That alone is worth checking it out!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pink Saturday - Vodou Shrine

Beverly at the blog How Sweet the Sound has a great idea! It's Pink Saturday. Post about something pink, on Saturday. Here are the rules if you want to Get Pink!

Three years ago this weekend, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall just east of the City of New Orleans. The city has still not recovered from what happened in the following days.

This is a shrine made by a New Orleans vodou priestess named Scully Elly. Elly and her husband Louie were exiled from New Orleans for a while after Hurricane Katrina. They returned to the city to start anew. Elly makes one of a kind items that, depending on your belief, are either sacred items of vodou practice, or folk art.

This shrine depicts a pink house in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood. The flood waters have knocked the screen door off its hinges, and left a stain high on the house's wall. Painted next to the front door is the symbol left by FEMA searchers. According to the symbol, 3 people died in this home.

Neighborhood cats run wild, abandoned. The Lwa, or vodou "saints", linger in the attic where the residents chopped through the roof to try to save themselves from the rising water. These particular Lwa are the Gede, who are associated with gravediggers, and help shepherd the dead into the next world. Despite the tragedy, these Lwa are mischievous spirits, chasing the cats and goofing around.

The Vodou Lwa who would most appreciate Pink Saturday is Erzuli Freda. She is the Lwa of love, jewelry, dancing, femininity and luxury. Her colors are pink, red and gold. Her favorite sacrifices include jewelry, perfume (Anais-Anais by Cacharel is her special favorite), and sweet cakes, desserts and liqueurs. She is the goddess of unrequited love, and is often pictured weeping. She is also a flirt, who acts more like a mistress than a wife. She likes light cigarettes, like Virginia Slims. She is the Lwa of motherhood, of lovers, of women who like to shop.

But this is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the flood that devastated New Orleans. Hurricane Gustav is building in the Gulf. The city is anticipating another blow. Residents are evacuating. Officials are planning for disaster.

On this anniversary, do we beseech the Gede for the dying? Or do we seek Erzuli Freda, to bask in her delightful luxury?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mr. Lasyone's meat pies

We drove from East Texas to New Orleans taking the slow roads, and we drove through many small and charming towns. It was around lunch time when we got to the little town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, so we stopped in for lunch at Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen and Restaurant.

Lasyone's is rightfully famous for its down-home food, but especially for its meat pies. According to the story in newspaper clippings on the wall, meat-pies were a local specialty, sold from street carts by African American vendors earlier in the century. Vendors would buy their meat filling from butchers, and Mr. Lasyone, who owned a butcher shop, decided one day to try selling meat pies directly from the shop. Then, he decided to start his own restaurant in a storefront in the local Masonic Lodge building. True or not, its a good story, and these are go-o-o-o-od meat pies!

The meat pie platter lunch special gives you one meat pie with grazy, your choice of 2 sides, and a trip to the salad bar.

The salad bar featured the usual green salad plus potato salad, three-bean salad, and some real delicious pickled green tomatoes - I heartily recommend you try some of these if you go!

Here's a meat pie with dirty rice and a side of greens. The dirty rice is very tasty!

And here's a meat pie with "creamed potatoes" - I was hoping for something like scalloped potatoes, but it turned out to be your basic mashed. I added a little bit of hot sauce to season.

The pie was fantastic - they're half-moon shaped, with crimped edges, and deep-fried. The crust was delicate and tasty, not a bit greasy; the texture was flaky with little bubbles on the surface. The filling was a mixture of ground beef and pork, and mildly seasoned.

The greens were richly flavored and delicious - we really love good greens. Our Son picked a side of macaroni and cheese - it was in the creamy bland style, rather than the cheesey style, but comforting.

We didn't have enough room for dessert, but I hear their Cane River Cream Pie is famous.

The restaurant is featured on Jane and Michael Stern's Road Food, and has been written up in Gourmet Magazine, Southern Living, and other publications. In addition to the meat pies, their down-home menu offerings are solid. We learned about it from Chowhound.

I have to admit that I couldn't prevent musical phrases from Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" going round in my head. So before bursting into song, we decided to wander out and stroll around the pretty, historic downtown of Natchitoches.

Natchitoches, pronounced "Nak-uh-tish" is a beautiful little town, with well-preserved older homes and a downtown with wrought-iron trimmed brick buildings ranged along a river. It was a pleasant place to stop, eat, and explore before getting underway again on our trip to New Orleans.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tampa Devil Crab

I first visited Tampa, Florida the year I met [The Man I Love]. He was raised in this Gulf Coast city, spent time here playing gigs with bands, and he brought me here to visit his family. We spent a lot of time driving around - his family home is actually in a rural suburb, but his memories are all over this spread-out city.

We visited his favorite Cuban restaurants, some that no longer exist, such as the Silver Ring in Ybor City, where we got amazingly good Cuban sandwiches, and a strip-mall Cuban cafeteria-style place near his family home, called the Big Guava, where we got something called Devil Crab.

A Devil Crab is a football shaped item about 4-5 inches long, made of leftover breadcrumbs shaped around a filling of crabmeat in spicy sauce, and fried.

Many cities have Cuban communities, and places to get Cuban food. Here in the L.A. area you can find Cuban sandwiches and fantastic baked goods at Porto's Bakery in Glendale, and a couple other restaurants -including the Versailles - serve Cuban food. But as far as I know, Devil Crabs are unique to Tampa.

Some commenters on the Florida site of Chowhound theorize that, unlike other Cuban communities in the US, that were founded after the Revolution, the Tampa community is older, dating back to the old 19th century cigar factory days, when newly arrived Cuban and Italian immigrants mingled, and influenced one another's culture. The Devil Crab, while similar to Cuban fried croquettes, resembles an Italian treat with its seafood filling and spicy tomato-based sauce.

It doesn't matter. It's just damned good.

In Tampa, you can buy Devil Crabs at Cuban sandwich shops and restaurants. You eat them on the run, in the car, to go. You can buy frozen ones, too, to bake at home, although why anyone would want to, I'll never know. There are good ones - hot, fresh out of the fryer, satisfyingly spicy with some hot sauce - and there are bad ones - warmed under heat lamps, sodden mushy breadcrumbs and a little dab of unappetizing fishy-tasting paste inside.

Well, on our recent trip, we went in search of what we heard was a great Devil Crab at a small family-run Italian grocery down on Armenia Avenue, called Cacciatore & Sons. You place your order at the deli counter, and it's made and fried up right in the back for you. We clutched our waxed-paper packages, stood in line at the grocery cashier waiting for the elderly ladies to ring us up, and went out to the car to eat them right there.

No football-shaped pre-fab Devil Crab here. This one was still hot to the touch from the fryer. A little oil made transparent spots on the paper, but otherwise it was not greasy at all, and perfectly cooked. Dab a little hot sauce on the paper and take a bite....

Look at that. Just a thin shell of breadcrumbs surrounding ample crabmeat - real lump crabmeat! Delicious! We wolfed them down in the car, licked our fingers and....

Went off to Ybor City and the Columbia for a mojito.


Dog Heaven

As many readers know, we recently said goodbye to Mr. Lumpy. I said there's a longer story to this - it includes Mr. Lumpy, Our Malamute, and this time of year.

When Mr. Lumpy joined our household, there was another dog in residence, Our Malamute. He and Lumpy respected each other, but Our Malamute was the boss. By the time Lumpy came along, Our Malamute was 14 years old, and suffering from an endocrine disorder, which affected his liver. He also lost his hearing. He became so weak he could no longer take the walks that he loved.

We travel in August, and last year, months before our trip, we reserved space at the doggie summer camp AKA Pet Resort for both Mr. Lumpy and Our Malamute. But by August, Our Malamute was too ill to be boarded, and a vet examination concurred. The kennel wouldn't take him.

We were faced with an agonizing decision. Should we euthenize him? It seemed so crass, like some awful vacation to-do list....."Stop the papers, hold the mail, leave the key with the neighbor, kill the dog...." And he kept coming up and putting his paw on my knee, and looking at me. How could I do it?

We felt lucky to learn of a local person who worked for a vet, who would be willing to house-sit both Our Malamute and Lumpy. She was far better than I was about caring for him and cleaning him when he soiled himself. It seemed perfect.

And it was for a few days - we checked in by phone. All seemed well. But then Los Angeles suffered a terrible heat wave. And Our Malamute was so weak he could not survive it. Our house-sitter tried to save him but it was no use. She felt so awful. And then she had to dispose of his remains.

This August - our travel time again. We took Mr. Lumpy to the vet for a checkup for his kennel stay. The tests came back and we learned how badly Mr. Lumpy's body was failing him. His kidneys were failing. He had nerve degeneration in his back legs.

I remember feeling so bad that Our Malamute suffered the heat wave needlessly. That he died without us near him to care for him - even though our house-sitter was wonderful, she was a stranger. I remember feeling so horrible for her, too, that she had to sit vigil over him, and had to clean up the mess.

When we learned about Mr. Lumpy's condition, I just felt it wouldn't be fair to take a chance, and it wouldn't be fair to make someone else deal with the consequences of our decision.

Mr. Lumpy was our adopted dog. We talked to his real family, who said it was OK to let him go. The vet made a house call. Mr. Lumpy went peacefully, lying on his dog bed, with all of us patting him and telling him how good he was.

I posted a while back about our hike to the Topanga Outlook. Back when Our Malamute was young and vigorous, he hiked this trail with us. Here's a photo of him in Winter of 2006.

Our Malamute loved to hike the Santa Monica mountain trails with us. True to his breed, he was a walking machine. When we walked to the Outlook, we'd slip his leash and he'd run ahead. By the time we clambered up the stone steps, he'd already be there waiting for us.

I like to look at these photos of him, on top of the Topanga Outlook, and remember how happy he was there.
When Mr. Lumpy came to live with us, he was already too old to hike the trail. But maybe he can make his way out there now.

"No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing"

- Pablo Neruda

If there's a Dog Heaven, they're there together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helpful Instructions - Lesson Two

In 1902, my great-grandfather George gave my great-grandmother Fanny a little red-leather bound book for her 48th birthday.

This little book, by Mrs. Emma F. Angell Drake, M.D., titled "What A Woman of Forty-Five Ought to Know" was intended to fill my great-grandmother in on the upcoming changes she would soon experience in her life as a woman. Mrs. Drake called this change "the climacteric" - we call it menopause.

Mrs. Drake concurred with the conventional wisdom of the time that a woman's primary purpose in life was to bring children into the world. She believed that women's lives had three stages - carefree girlhood, followed by fruitful years of motherhood, followed by her later years. Mrs. Drake, like most people at the time, believed that at the end of her childbearing years, a woman had no further use for sexuality.

But unlike her contemporaries, Mrs. Drake believed that a woman's post-sexual years were rich with possibility and potential. Her mission was to inspire older women to be active and productive members of society.

Mrs. Drake had a refreshing view of the physical aspects of menopause - for her time. She believed that menopause was a natural process, rather than one of ill health, and that a woman should experience no physical discomfort - that is, as long as she had lived her life properly and fulfilled her womanly duty.

In 1902, my great-grandmother Fanny was the best possible example of the kind of woman Mrs. Drake was talking about.

She had, after all, had started her family at the age of 22. By 1902, she had successfully produced six children. She was married to an accomplished man. She was healthy. She had made her contribution, and was now poised to gracefully enter into the next phase of her life.

Mrs. Drake writes:

"Nothing is more important to a woman of this age, than to disabuse her mind of the thought that her usefulness is passed, and that henceforth, she may perhaps do some little thing in the line of comfort...but may not attempt any great or important work. Her life is but at its meridian, and some of the best, if not the very best work is waiting to be done... Possess yourselves of this thought, dear sisters, and take up your work with renewed vigor and painstaking...Are there things that you have longed to do in the days when your hands and heart were full? Then believe that God gives you opportunity now to do them, and go about them with a determination."

I can just imagine Fanny reading this, satisfied that she had been fruitful and brought forth the next generation, wondering what to do next.

What, I wonder, is more lasting or more important - the works that we do or the children we bring into the world?

How did it turn out for Fanny? Well, that's interesting.

Four of her six children had no children of their own. She only had two grandchildren, and only one of them - my Dad - went on to have children of his own. Her only son died in 1921 without passing on the family name.

Yet her childless daughters accomplished many things. Her second daughter served her church and brought benefits to the poor of her city. Her third daughter taught music. Her fourth daughter served as a nurse to soldiers of the First World War. More about them later.

This is a daguerreotype of Fanny as a child in South Carolina, sometime in the 1860s. She's probably 8 or 10 years old. Do you see in her face the woman she became in the portrait above?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Three things to check out - August 25 - 31

It's the last weekend of summer! Enjoy it by checking out these cool ideas:

1) There are a lot of festivals out there, and many have long histories. But how many can you attend that have 237 years of tradition? Check out the 237th Annual San Gabriel Mission Festival.

2) It's the 29th Annual Long Beach Blues Festival this Labor Day weekend. Let your hair down!

3) The City of Santa Monica's Jazz on the Lawn Concert Series - August 31st is the last concert in this series. Hang out at City Hall and listen to the Latin Rythms of Opa Opa

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art amid destruction

Our friend picked us up at our hotel in the French Quarter, and drove downriver, across Esplanade. We were in the part of town called Faubourg Marigny, one of the first "suburbs" of this old city. Jazz and music clubs were ranked along Frenchman Street, but our friend passed that and continued on into the Bywater.
Here we first began seeing the distinctive spray-painted markings of the rescuers on the side of each house or building. On this blue house, the markings show that rescuers found cats living in this house, but a second, later party of rescuers found two of the cats dead.

Our friend made a phone call and while he drove he explained he was taking us to an art installation in the nearby St. Roch neighborhood. The Kirsha Kaechele Projects is a series of old 1880s abandoned cottages where artists are invited to create installations that work within the spaces as they find them. The result is adventurous, touching, challenging and poignant.

As we drove over, the threatening clouds that had been building in the sky let go, and we walked with the gallery's docent from ruined house to ruined house beneath large pattering drops of rain. The water made some of the installations resonate with meaning even more, as water dripped on shattered walls coated with moss, and pooled in the low spots in fecund back yards.

Our friend explained that one installation was created using the leftover remains of the Pink Houses installation held earlier this year in the Lower Ninth Ward to publicize Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" project. A pink vinyl tarp engulfed the back of the house. The viewer trod a narrow path between hundreds of mannequin heads that - today, in the rain - sank into a marshy, mossy swamp - reminder of souls lost in the flood. The pathway, of found materials, was spongy, waterlogged lumber that flexed uneasily beneath our steps.

Stepping through the hallway, you enter the back yard shrouded in the pink material, and the daylight filters through dead tree branches. The docent said that for the exhibit's opening, they held a tea party in this space, complete with cucumber sandwiches.

You might find it frivolous. You might find it sad. It was strange to look at the destruction in these Art Project houses and wonder what was real, what had been brought in. Was it necessary to bring in that ruined and waterlogged couch, or was it original to the space? Was the hole in the wall created, or was it always there?

One house featured a parlor with no floor - beneath the baseboards, there was just dirt and piers. Did an artist deliberately remove the floorboards and joists? Or was it like that when they found it? And - without joists, what was holding up these walls, anyway?

In one space, the artist had covered the entire surface of one room - walls, floor, ceiling, windows - with gold leaf. Outside the room was written "You Never Know when You're Living in the Golden Age."

And it's true. Look around and appreciate what's there, because, as these projects show, life is transitory.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pink Saturday - Lucky Cat

Beverly at the blog How Sweet the Sound has a great idea! It's Pink Saturday. Post about something pink, on Saturday. Here are the rules if you want to Get Pink!

This is my pink Maneki Neko, or Lucky Cat. Also called a "Beckoning Cat" or "Welcoming Cat," it is a Japanese statuette meant to bring luck. You see them a lot in Japanese restaurants and stores. The symbol dates from the Edo period, and became really popular during the Meiji period, in the late 19th century.

There are many legends surrounding the Lucky Cat. One has it that a nobleman out walking noticed a cat beckoning to him, and, responding, he slipped a trap that had been awaiting him. Another has a courtesan's beloved cat pawing her kimono, until she realizes it is warning her about a snake. There is another belief that a cat washing its face means a visitor will arrive. The Lucky Cat is associated with good fortune coming in the door - whether it is many customers to one's business, or many good things in one's personal life.

Maneki Neko come in many colors, and are depicted holding different symbols. They may also hold up either left or right paw, or both, depending on whether one wishes good fortune in one's personal life or in business.

I got my Maneki Neko in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. It is not the traditional form of the statue, but a funny fat little minx of a cat. And she's pink, which is not a traditional color, although it's very popular nowadays, and is associated with romance. She holds a coin, which brings money and wealth.

At home, my Maneki Neko sits on my bathroom cabinet, where I hope she'll bring me luck in the form of good hair days and smear-free eye-makeup.

While visiting Little Tokyo, we also visited the Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop, where they were offering beautifully colored mochi sweets. Aren't they pretty? And pink?

We stepped into little variety stores full of toys and manga figures. There were also packages of origami paper for sale, and little coin purses made from kimono fabric - they looked like Lucky Cats, too.

I bought one big enough to hold a lipstick. And it's pink!

We discovered a secret little courtyard bar, where we sat for a moment. I ordered a pink cocktail.

And how was your Pink Saturday?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In the French Quarter

We were staying in the French quarter, over near Esplanade where it's more residential and quiet. Instead of bars and strip joints, there are laundromats and little corner stores. But we enjoyed strolling into the more tourist-oriented parts of the neighborhood.

Our first morning we stopped by Cafe du Monde for some beignets and cafe au lait, but on subsequent mornings, we stayed at our hotel, where buttermilk biscuits and coffee were served in the tropical courtyard.

We only ventured towards Bourbon Street one night, because we wanted to eat at the venerable Creole restaurant, Galatoire's.
It was pretty obvious when we neared the partying end of Bourbon Street! This photo was early in the evening, when there were still not too many people in the street.

Here is a Lucky Dog cart doing business at the corner of Toulouse and Bourbon Streets. The vendor didn't resemble Ignatius Reilly, but he was certainly surrounded by revellers. The young man in the blue shirt is holding his "hurricane" go-cup from Pat O'Brien's bar. We saw a lot of those on Bourbon Street.

Galatoire's was all it was supposed to be. A noisy, old-fashioned dining room populated with a mixture of old-timers and tourists. I am flattered to think that we fit in properly, since we were asked if we preferred a particular waiter. This must have been due to the seersucker jacket Our Son was wearing - he'd bought it on sale for $19.99 back in Texas. We sat near a group of obvious regulars, exchanging pleasantries with their waiter. The food was exactly as expected - classic Creole, perfectly served, nothing to write home about.

The French Quarter was virtually untouched by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Which means this place's decrepitude is well-earned.

Later we had friends take us round the parts of town that suffered. I'll show you those next.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Three Things to check out - August 18 - 24

Here are three inspirational things to check out this week:

1) Continuing at the Autry National Center until September 7, check out the exhibit "All the Saint of the City of the Angels," artist J. Michael Walker's exploration of Los Angeles. Walker uses Los Angeles streets named after saints to look back at L.A.'s history and its multicultural heritage. He connects the stories of the saints themselves to the original naming of the streets, and his paintings depict the saints as seen through our eyes today.

2) Culver City holds its annual Fiesta La Ballona August 22, 23 and 24. This festival started in 1951, and celebrates the Mexican first families of Southern California. There are carnival rides, food booths, a petting zoo, and stage performances. This year features "Fiesta-Palooza" showcasing teen bands from the neighborhood.

3) Check out the Sunset Junction Street Fair on August 23 and 24. A hip street festival in Los Feliz/Silverlake this festival is put on by the neighborhood association, but it features some pretty hot music and some cool programs.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pink Saturday - Super Chicken

Beverly at the blog How Sweet the Sound has a great idea! It's Pink Saturday. Post about something pink, on Saturday. Here are the rules if you want to Get Pink!

This graffiti mural is on a retaining wall along Glendale Boulevard in Echo Park. I love how the muralist has created, with paint, the shininess of the spaceship's cockpit glass bubble, and the sleekness of the ship's pink body. The ship has the glamor of a souped-up pink hot rod. The chicken, immaculately white with a jaunty red comb, gazes ahead heroically, blasting off on his journey, rising up over the 101 freeway, bursting through the clouds into the stratosphere.

Journey on, brave chicken! Perhaps you'll land on a pink planet!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oldest Town in Texas

My mother lives in the Oldest Town in Texas. This is a store in the central town square.

This is a birdhouse in a park named after one of the earliest settlers.

Closed movie theatre downtown.

A Victorian home.

A thunderstorm rolling in.

Helpful Instructions

I come from a Southern family. As relatives passed away over several decades, my parents' home became the repository of family belongings. When one aged aunt died in the 1960's, dishes from her dining room sideboard were shipped to our house. When another aunt died in the '80s, we received some end tables whose drawers were stuffed with things. When a second cousin died, scrapbooks and boxes of photographic slides arrived.

No one has had time to go through all of this stuff, so when my brothers and I visit Mom, we can open a drawer at random and paw through bits and pieces of family history. It has all become intermingled, so that one encounters an autograph book from 1889 that belonged to my Great Uncle George, photos of my great grandfather's funeral in 1915, followed by snapshots of my mother and her best friend together in 1940, and my own brothers' high school report cards from 1973.

One evening, fueled with a glass of Hiram Walker on the rocks, I found a small red-bound volume titled "What A Woman of Forty Five Ought To Know," authored in 1902 by Mrs. Emma F. Angell Drake, M.D. Although we only have this single volume, the back of the book indicates it's one of a series of turn-of-the-century sex-education manuals for both men and women, called the "Self and Sex" series.

In the flyleaf, written in pencil is the inscription : "To my beloved wife on her forty eighth birth day, with love and congratulations [illegible] - Husband."

I think this was a gift for my Great-grandmother from her husband. Is that sweet, or what?

Being that I'm a bit over 45, I figured I better catch up with Mrs. Drake to see if I've missed any crucial information. So I read the book. And I've decided to bring her helpful instructions to other needy women in the blogosphere.

So...pull up a chair. Pour yourself some Hirams. Let's peruse the lessons in Chapter I, "Knowledge of the Climacteric Necessary."

Mrs. Drake announces that we approach the age "that is large with importance for all our after years," and laments that many women are ignorant of the physical and mental changes yet to come to us, leaving us ill prepared. Hence her efforts here. She helpfully explains that the "climacteric" is another term for the "change of life" or "menopause."

She assures us, "The years which you are approaching have in them nothing to be feared. The Creator fitted you for child-bearing, and when this period has run its allotted course, He reconstructs your physical nature for another line of work."

What an enlightened view. I'm digging the thought of "another line of work." Although, truth be told, at the time My Son was born, I lived a kind of free-lance existence. I viewed motherhood as yet another one of the various things I did, including working in the theatre whenever I could, serving on my union's Executive Board, and gardening. Motherhood seemed...well...not exactly a committed profession so much as something I turned down other work for. I know others of you viewed it differently, but in any case, we are all poised on the brink where the Creator is going to give us some transitional career counseling.

Anyone's drink need freshening up?

Mrs. Drake goes on to emphasize the importance of our Life Career Change: "woman may emerge from the change stronger and wiser, and readier for earnest service, of the kind the world stands most in need...." Now you're talking. Ambassador? CEO? Hillary Clinton?

She reminds us how important our role as childbearers are, that "all your girlhood is shaped by the Creator, to fit you for motherhood. You come from childhood into womanhood with the desire for home and children in your heart, and all the way along until this is realized you are being fitted for it." I can guess that Mrs. Drake would probably not approve of my view of motherhood as a kind of high-demand volunteer committment.

Mrs. Drake closes Chapter I with the admonishment that it is the duty of every woman to "keep hold of herself, mentally, physically and spiritually," so that we can get through menopause successfully.

The world needs us, she claims; to do our "share of work in the world's physical and spiritual redemption."

Does a car come with this job? Because I am so hoping for a pink VW beetle convertible.

In future, this blog shall regularly meet for lessons from Mrs. Drake's good book.

Red sauce joint

In L.A., it's hard to escape the knowledge that you're in...well, Los Angeles. Although there are some parts of L.A. with unique character, they all share a similar terrain or streetscape.

But there's one little hidden pocket of west L.A. along the coast that makes me feel like I'm no longer in Los Angeles, or even California, but instead I feel like I'm in a little beach town on the Eastern seaboard.

To get to the little community of Playa del Rey you have to drive all the way out to the end of Culver Blvd. through the Ballona wetlands. Westward from the 405, you travel through the huge new housing development, and then cross Lincoln Blvd. into a sea of grass, at the mouth of the Los Angeles River.

There's a little commercial strip with shops, liquor stores, and a few restaurants, and beyond that the narrow seaside streets and alleys are lined with apartment houses and bungalows. The sidewalks are drifted with sand that blows from the nearby beach.

One little restaurant, wedged into a tiny triangular block, is Cantalini's Salerno Beach Italian restaurant. Cantalini's is a white, green and red painted building, with a bar and a narrow dining room.

When I was a teenager, living in a seaside town in New Jersey, my family used to eat in little red-sauce joints like this. The road ran along the barrier island between Long Branch and Sandy Hook, and the bars and restaurants faced a great stone breakwater, the waves crashing behind it. Or they were perched pier-side in Atlantic Highlands, by the docks where the fish market sold cull lobsters for cheap. They were dark, with red-checkered table cloths, and candles of glimmering red glass.

At Cantalini's, the interior is lined with romantic little candle-lit booths, and the walls are painted with murals of Italian scenes. A trio of musicians play traditional songs. The waiters bring a carafe of house red wine.

Everybody's friendly here. The hostess and the bartender trade smart remarks. The waitstaff sings "Happy Birthday" to guests. Regular patrons leaving after a meal stop by the window to the kitchen and holler goodbye to the cooks. Families with kids come in and take their regular booth.

The eggplant parmigiana is legendary. The scampi is to die for.

When you're done eating have a cannoli for desert and then stroll out to the beach. And imagine you're on the Jersey Shore...Cue Frankie Valli....

Monday, August 11, 2008

Three Things to check out - August 11 - 17

Here are three things to check out this week

1) Did you know that 2008 is the centennial of the fabulous Gamble House in Pasadena? If you haven't toured this Arts & Crafts masterpiece, this is a great time to do it. Tours operate every Thursday through Sunday from noon to 3:00 p.m. Tickets available at the on-site bookstore. And while you're in Pasadena, drop by the Pasadena Museum of History for their exhibit "Living Beautifully: Greene and Greene in Pasadena" - on architects Charles and Henry Greene, how they shaped Pasadena and were in turn inspired by the beautiful climate and lifestyle. The exhibit opens August 16th.

2) On Saturday or Sunday, head down to Little Tokyo to celebrate Nissei Week. There are a variety of events at the Japanese National Museum and the Japanese American Cultural Center, including a Show-Off Import Car show, Sumo demonstrations, a Gyoza-eating contest, and a parade. While you're there, see Living Flowers, Ikebana and Contemporary Art at the Japanese National Museum.

3) Go see some Shakespeare in the park. The Independent Shakespeare Company presents "Twelfth Night" and "Henry V" and a new production of Christopher Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus" throughout the summer. The show is free, and is presented in the fantastical setting of Barnsdall Park, site of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House. What a great way to introduce your kids to live theatre - on the cheap.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Little Tokyo

Los Angeles' Little Tokyo District is located downtown, just south of the Civic Center and north of the bustling Toy District, east of the trainyards and the Los Angeles River. A two to three block stretch of 19th century buildings on 1st Street looks almost as it did in the 1920s, when Japanese shops thrived here. During that period, Japanese farmers were significant players in the West Coast produce markets, which lined Central Avenue to the south of here. At one time, over 30,000 people of Japanese descent lived in Little Tokyo.

I first learned of Japan in the sixth grade, in a small Illinois town. Mr. Woods was passionate about Japan. It was exotic enough to have a male elementary school teacher in those days, and the tastes of Japanese culture he brought to our lessons further shook our bland world view. For art class we learned about ikebana. For geography we studied Asia and the Pacific, and learned how Japanese houses were built, and how people dressed. He brought samples of rice-paper candy and passed it out in class.

Mr. Woods would have loved these colorful mochi sweets. They can be found at the Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop, doing business in the same storefront since 1903, making it the longest still-operating food establishment in L.A.

The Japanese American National Museum, on 1st Street at Central, has an exhibit showing the history of the Japanese immigrant community in the US, and it's worth a visit. If you have opinions about immigration policy, it will provide a sobering view of how one immigrant community was treated, and make you listen to current rhetoric with an historical perspective.

The Little Tokyo community was dissolved when Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War, but when the war ended, people returned. A wave of overseas investment by Japanese corporations in the 1970s brought redevelopment to the area, as new hotels and shopping plazas replaced older buildings.

This replica of a yagura, or fire tower, dominates the streetscape at the Japanese Village Plaza.

Arts and cultural centers grew as well, including the celebrated East West Players theatre group, the museum, and the nearby Japanese American Cultural Community Center. Monuments celebrate the contribution of Japanese American citizens like astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, and the Nissei men who served in the US military during the Second World War. The sidewalk on the north side of 1st street is inset with historical information and quotations. The area is home to several Buddhist temples.

This August, explore Little Tokyo during Nisei Week, which celebrates the Japanese immigrant experience in Los Angeles.

You can find lots of gift stores and restaurants in the Japanese Village complex built between 1st and 2nd Streets.

Given his age and the times, Mr. Woods' experience of Japan was likely gained during the post-war Occupation. Japanese technology had not yet challenged American industry, and the idea that Japan's affluence would shape American culture would have been laughable. While some of the shops in Japanese Village reflect today's global Asian influence, with manga and anime toys and robots offered in stores flanked by Korean-style frozen yogurt stores and Boba-shops, there are older shops that feel rooted in the days when "Japanese import" meant something cheap and made of bamboo.

The Plaza Gift Center is just such a shop - yes, it sells electronics and battery-operated toys and robots - but instead of being a slick modern shop with displays, it's a crowded dark jumble of items, like a Japanese Five & Dime. You can find packages of paper parasols for cocktails; tea sets, packages of origami paper; paper lanterns, fancy chopsticks and embroidered coin purses. You can find rice steamers, kitchen utensils, dolls and packages of fake food intended for restaurant displays. It's a rich jumble of stuff, with a smell of packaged incense, wood, paper, plastic foam and packaged tea.

Take a break at a courtyard restaurant for a noodle bowl, or a bento box, or an Asian-fusion style seared tuna salad. Or stop by the Mitsuru Cafe for a sweet red bean pastry. Try a cream puff at a modern Japanese French bakery, or have omakase at an old-school sushi bar, where California rolls are not to be seen. Go try yakitori or shabu-shabu. Or graze on hot or cold snacks in a new Izakaya pub, while sipping a glass of cold sake.

There are other shopping complexes in Little Tokyo, including one huge echoing multi-story mall that seems strangely empty at times - except it's home to fantastic Izakaya pub we enjoyed on another occasion. There's a large complex with an Office Depot and a Subway - one wonders who'd choose to dine at Subway with all these other choices, but...each to his own.

Here's another established store on 1st Street. I bet this neon fan sign looks fantastic at night! A slick new glass-and-chrome hotels rises just beside it, underscoring the diverse aspects of this neighborhood.

I didn't learn much math in sixth grade, but I still value Mr. Woods' teaching. It was the first time I can remember being exposed to how people in other cultures lived. Thanks, Mr. Woods, for giving me such a wonderful gift.