We survived the Fourth

Well, we made it through the 4th without a fire. The city attorney sent out a letter sternly warning of consequences for illegal fireworks. Well, the relatives of an old lady on the street brought in a U-Haul truck of fireworks. They started at 8:30 and went to 10:30. On the news, there were so many illegal fireworks displays that the media told people not to bother calling the police; they couldn’t cover any of it. Normally, I just go downstairs to get away from the noise but the hipsters across the alley were throwing a party and they started thumping at 7. Couldn’t go anywhere to get away from the noise. If Gordon’s band speakers were plugged in I’d have had a stereo war with them–haven’t lost yet with the band amps–but they’re stowed away. Sigh. We should probably leave for the 4th but we get so much detritus from the fireworks I seriously worry about a fire. And the M80s drove the cats nuts. They both hid out in their safe spots downstairs and appeared briefly when they needed comfort. This morning Gordon picked up beer cans and 3/4 of a bottle of wine left on our front yard. Annoying. And what’s really weird is I think the fireworks people think they’re doing the neighborhood a favor. One neighbor told me they spent over $5000 on fireworks. Wish they’d ask. I think thy only person who lives on the street and isn’t related to these people who likes the fireworks is Gordon. Oh, and the hipsters. They crawl up the hill and cheer. And sit on my lawn. Get off my lawn! I’m ready to move again. Although that seems a little drastic for one bad night. I should just find a hotel, I guess.

George when he’s not running from fireworks.

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More marketing

I got a nudge from Facebook noting that I hadn’t posted anything on a marketing page and I should get off my dead butt and put something up. I’m paraphrasing but they really did sound like my mother. So here’s a review. Look ma, I’m marketing!

Joyce Engleson was Editor-in-Chief for E.P. Dutton and editor-at-large for Crown Publishing, among many prestigious titles. She was also a best-selling author before her death in 2010. She was a highly accomplished woman. This is what she had to say about First Year. To order, go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JYIV9D6



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Wings, the movie at the Theatre at Ace Hotel

Wonder why it’s spelled Theatre instead of the American way…Anyway, Gordon and I went downtown last night to see a re-mastered version of the silent film, Wings, at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel. I’d never seen Wings before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially when I saw there was no organ in the pit. As a matter of act, there was no pit. Leonard Maltin, the historian and critic, interviewed the son of the director and the VP in charge of Paramount’s archives and all was explained. According to the Paramount VP, Andrea Kalas, the original score was reproduced (which was performed by a full symphony!) when a Paramount sound editor volunteered to do the sound editing. The film maker’s son explained that the original production was budgeted at $1.2 million and eventually cost over $2 million…and this was back in 1927 when $2 million was a lot of money. But Paramount got it all back. The film ran as a first run picture for over 2 years. It got the Best Picture Oscar in 1929 (I think that’s what he said); the first movie to ever win a Best Picture Oscar. Gary Cooper had about 2 minutes of screen time before they killed him off but it made him a huge star. He reminded me of Gordon in his coltish years. The archivist explained that the original film was hand-painted (all those frames!) to make the machine-gun fire and the dying plane exhaust look orange. Gordon commented that if the film ran for two years all over the country, it must have kept artists employed painting in all those reels of frames. No wonder the movie cost so much. But I enjoyed it. Wings ran for 144 minutes with a ten-minute intermission. Even after all these years it’s still an involving, emotional war movie. The son said his father had been a pilot for the USA in WWI so he knew what he was making a movie about. I’m glad I saw it.

Also glad we got back into the Theatre. Maltin commented that he hadn’t been in it for years until the LA Conservancy started the Last Remaining Seats program. It’s a magnificent theater that’s finally making money.

Gordon and I were reminded that we’ve going to these events for 31 years. We actually went to the first attempt to exhibit the old theaters five years before the Conservancy got involved. The story goes that AFI put on the first BEST Remaining Seats series. We went to all the Downtown theaters and actually got to go to Catalina, Santa Barbara, and Riverside to see old films at those historic theaters. Actors in the films shown were usually on hand to discuss their part in those films. We saw the last public appearances of Merle Oberon, Ruby Keeler (who was in a wheelchair; all those years of hoofing take a toll on the body), but my best memory is of Lillian Gish.  It was so hot in the Wiltern, where The Wind had been presented, that I snuck out early to cool off. I was on hand when Ms. Gish was hustled out of the theater and tucked into a Honda. I looked at Gordon and said, “A Honda? My, Hollywood has fallen.” Apparently, the limo driver missed his time and they had to get the old girl out of there before she was mobbed. I wonder if he got fired. Anyway, the theater/movie series was so successful that the guy in charge embezzled all the money and went to Mexico. Not sure if that’s true but I do know the program was dropped. The Conservancy didn’t get involved until later when the theaters were actually in danger of being demolished. Thank God they’ve been saved. Hope next year is as much fun.

The interior of the theater was influenced by churches Mary Pickford saw in Spain.

Is this called an oculus? It’s on the ceiling of the theater.


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Los Angeles Theater

Gordon and I went to the Los Angeles Theater last night to see Easter Parade put on by the LA conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats program. We toured the theater before the show. I keep forgetting just how spectacular theaters were in the ‘good old days’. Even the bathrooms were remarkable. The problem was–men were oohing and aahing over the women’s room while women were peeing. It wasn’t a big deal; the stall doors were floor to ceiling so anyone could have been peeing. In the main meeting room downstairs from the stage were costume exhibits; we saw dresses worn by Garland in Meet me in St Louis, Easter Parade, and that farm thing she did with Gene Kelly. She was tiny! She couldn’t have been more than 5 feet tall and more than 90 pounds. Except for the bust the dresses could have fit a pre-teen girl. I felt like the incredible hulk next to them. We got our pictures taken at the sideshow exhibit then went into the theater. I sighed when I read the program; a barber shop quartet was doing a set before the movie. In the past, most of the acts put on by the conservancy were pretty lame and I was sure this would be a bore, too. Was I ever wrong. These guys didn’t sing ‘Sweet Adeline’; they did a capella versions of Queen songs, even some Vanilla Ice. And they were all great singers. They call themselves Bank of Harmony so if you’re looking for an interesting act for an event you might consider them. They were followed by a fashion show of movie costumes provided by Greg Schreiner, a producer and collector. We saw costumes worn by Susan Hayward, Arme Hammer, and even the harem girl costume worn by Streisand in Funny Lady. That was fun. Then Leonard Maltin, the film historian and critic, talked about the history of the movie. I didn’t know that Gene Kelly was originally supposed to play the Astaire’s part but he broke his foot. Instead of delaying production six months or so Fred Astaire, who’d said he was retired from movies, was asked if he’d come out of retirement. Astaire said he would just so he could work with Judy Garland. And they were a hit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the opening segments of Easter Parade before. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it without commercials. I loved it. Lots of fun.

We didn’t go to Clifton’s for the trivia game after the movie. We didn’t have any fun the last time and they made us play with strangers which was creepy. Next Wednesday is our last movie of the series. We’ll be seeing Wings at the Theater at the Ace Hotel which is now considered hip. Think I’ll sneer at the hipsters. I can suck my teeth and yell at them to “get off my lawn.” It takes so little to amuse me these days.

We’re hams, too.

A little role reversal.

Los Angeles’ answer to Versailles. Sort of reminds me of the Hall of Mirrors.


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Luxembourg and Paris

We said goodbye to the Viking boat and were bussed to Luxembourg. We toured the American WWII cemetery and some locals gave us a history lesson on the battles fought in the area. We saw Patton’s cross and a monument/chapel. It’s a sobering experience. The cemetery is serene and pristine; the area is kept up by an American money. One curious thing: the German cemetery is just down the road a mile although we didn’t stop there, of course. After we’d paid our respects they bussed us to downtown Luxembourg. We got a guided tour of the city which didn’t take long. It’s not that big; it’s mostly foreign embassies but the guide pointed out the Apple headquarters of the area. I was impressed by how clean Luxembourg is. We were left at the city square which was hosting a farmers’ market. It was asparagus season so asparagus was sold at every farmers’ market we’d seen in Europe. I was surprised to see that rhubarb was a big seller, too. I got so hungry for rhubarb pie I made one last week–although I had a hell of a time finding any. Isn’t rhubarb an American plant? It was easier to find it in Europe than Los Angeles. Is a puzzlement.

It was lunch time so Gordon and I managed to buy sandwiches. We were trying to get around on the one year of French I took at SoDak State. I was rusty, of course (that was 45 years ago!), but it came back to me slowly. One difficulty; we’d taken our sandwiches to what we thought was a food court next to the gazebo where a brass band was playing. A young waitress came up to us and started, “Je suis tres desolee mais…” She didn’t look very desolee to me but the gist of her speech was the table we sat at belonged to a specific restaurant and we should eat our sandwiches where we bought ’em. We apologized and moved. We also helped some other Americans from our group who didn’t speak a word of French. I guess fractured French is better than none. We caught the bus for the long drive to Paris.

The drive was about five hours (LONG!) but I got see the French countryside. The fields had no fences and I didn’t see any little towns or farmhouses; it must have been mostly corporate farming. Some weird blobs appeared every now and again and we were told they were artistic pieces to break up monotony. Apparently, they had a problem with people falling asleep on the long straight road.

I was glad when we got to Paris. The bus was comfortable–it was a lot more comfortable than that Alitalia (Alitalia! Slowly I turned, step by step) flight–but it was still confining. On the way to our hotel our guide described what we were looking at and told us how to find our way around. We saw the Pont Neuf, we drove down the Champs Elysses…I was in Paris! And I was exhausted from sitting on my dead butt.

We got installed in our room at the Meridian hotel. We’d requested a king size bed and we got two twins pushed together which really isn’t the same thing but what the hell, it was only for two nights. We were on our own for dinner so we walked down the street and found a charming little bistro. I stumbled my way through the menu outside and took a chance that we could order something we liked. The maître d’ was charming, we sang “Bon Jour” at each other and he nattered on in French. I must have said something back which clearly indicated that I was American but he was cool. He asked in French if we wanted the menu “en Francaise ou Anglaise.” (Who was he kidding? My French is awful; but he was erring on the side of the angels). I gratefully smiled and said, “Anglaise.” We weren’t very hungry (too tired) but we split a spicy, very rich, lentil salad and each had a bowl of soup. I got a glass of Poully Fume which was delicious. It was Saturday night and the place filled up quickly but we ate and paid our bill without causing an international incident. On our way back to the hotel we noticed four handsome uniformed young men pacing slowly along–with automatic weapons. There’d been a terrorist attack on a policeman the week before and Macron was being sworn in at the Arch de Triumph three blocks from the Meridian the next day. I said, “Whoa” when I saw the weapons. One of the soldiers smiled slightly but they stayed vigilant and paced on. It was ten o’clock; time to go to bed.

We got up early for our tour next morning. We sang “Bon jour” to the hotel staff when we went to breakfast. The staff all spoke excellent English so I didn’t have to bother anybody with my fractured French. After, we were driven to Notre Dame where they freed us for an hour. I had my toilet money (coffee just goes through me) but the bathroom was locked. Hmmm. Time to see just how good my sphincter was. Notre Dame made me forget my worries. Mass was being said so Gordon wandered around and read the exhibits but I listened to the Mezzo sing. Wonderful. We got a Christmas ornament of the rose window and caught the bus again. We were driven past the Paris Opera House (got a kick out of Napoleon’s private carriage entrance), the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and finally ended up at the Eiffel Tower.  They let us off the bus at the Eiffel but we couldn’t take the time to go to the top or have lunch. There was a ten k being run, Macron was being sworn in….there was a lot going on. I didn’t envy the bus driver trying to get around it all. Basically, it was an overview tour. I’d like to go back to check things out; the tour whetted my appetite. They took us back to the Meridian where I took the opportunity to pee–I’ve never appreciated bathrooms so much in my life. And it’s big business in Europe–all those desperate tourists with their 50 cents of toilet money in their hands. But I digress…

We were driven to Versailles. Wow. We toured Versailles for about two hours. The guide gave us a history lesson on when it was built (it must have been good to be Sun King) and mentioned that, even though the Revolutionaries beheaded the king during The Terror, they didn’t tear down Versailles. Thank God; it’s an impressive place. I probably will never go again but I’m glad I saw it once. When they took us back to the hotel we weren’t hungry; we just went to the food court in the Hyatt across the street–there was a small shopping mall attached to the hotel. The clerk didn’t speak English but I managed “Je voudrais…” and got stuck. So I pointed. It worked. We each got individual quiches. Very good. Then we stopped at a mini-mart for cookies and milk. That clerk didn’t appreciate Americans but she spoke English. I forgave her; Macron had talked about the national inferiority complex France was suffering so I could afford to be the bigger person. And speaking of Macron–I was surprised at how few people showed up at the Arch de Triumph. Maybe it was because it was raining–which I thought was supposed to be romantic; you know, rainy Paris in spring?–or because of the terror threat but I thought the turnout was meagre. It was our last night in Paris so Gordon got a shot of me at the Arch de Triumph. Then we went home and packed. We had a one o’clock flight and had to leave the hotel by 9;15.

I think I’ll write some conclusions about the trip later. I’ve written enough today.

Gordon taking a picture of Notre Dame.

At the Eiffel Tower. It’d been raining earlier and we hadn’t brought an umbrella so I wore my Irish cap. Those Irish know how to keep wind and rain off a body.

Versalles. It’s good to be the king.

Gordon in the Hall of Mirrors. You need to see it to believe it. It was designed to impress. It does.

Overlooking part of the Versailles grounds. And it’s a small part.

The Arch de Triumph. I’m starting to look a little ragged. Too much fun. Time to go home.


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Heidelberg, Miltenberg, Mainz, Rudesheim, Cochem, BernKastel, Trier

I have to mention that I became the entertainment at dinner with my Alitalia difficulties. People would ask about our flight over and I’d go into my song and dance. Gordon said it was funny the first three times he heard it; after the 15th it got a little old. At dinner someone asked, “How was your trip over?” Gordon said, “Don’t say Alitalia!” Which reminded me of the old vaudeville routine: Niagara Falls. “Whatever you do, don’t say Niag…” “Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” And that became the routine: “Alitalia?! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” And then we’d howl. People I’d never shared a table with must have heard us because a woman on the bus looked at me and started, “Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” It was all over the boat. And that was my contribution to the entertainment. Back to touristing…

Heidelberg was interesting. We were bussed up to the castle ruins overlooking the river and saw the biggest wine vat in the world. Then we toured the Old City. We had lunch at the oldest restaurant in the city but I can’t remember the name of it. There was supposed to be an opportunity to talk to a real live college student but Gordon and I brought up the rear and sat at a table for four–no student but two lovely ladies from Wisconsin and us. I think we dodged a bullet. One of the people we starting dining with because he didn’t talk Lefty politics all the time told us he got stuck with one. She told him that Germany was the greatest: “Everybody shares here. People are taxed 50% and that allows us students to go to school for free.” Our friend asked her what she paid in taxes and of course she said nothing. So he pointed out to her that she wasn’t sharing, she was taking. Apparently, that didn’t go over too well. You can’t get away from it anywhere. Viking cut us loose to explore so Gordon and I found the Student Prison where they sell official Heidelberg sweatshirts. We were the only ones to find the place. I flaunted my Heidelberg sweatshirt but frankly it fits funny. I got an XLarge but it’s still snug and the arms are too long. I’m used to big baggy sweatshirts. I suppose Heidelberg students prefer to show off more body than I do. Well, they’re young.

We cruised down the Main River the next day. The hillsides are covered in grape vines for the local Reislings–which were delicious. A tour guide told me that the hillsides are so steep that it’s not possible to use machines; all the work is by hand. Romanian guest workers are imported to work the vines. It’s a good job for the Romanians and it’s good for the farmers. It’s a good guest worker program. Anyway, that’s why Reislings are more expensive than French or Italian wines–lots of labor costs. I developed a liking for Reislings. They were served at dinner a lot. Very good.

We visited Miltenberg and frankly I don’t remember anything about it; there was a castle, cobblestones, and half-timber buildings. So what else is new.

I enjoyed Mainz, though. We toured the Gutenberg Museum. They showed us how the original press worked and had some of the original bibles. Fascinating. We also toured the Mainz Cathedral with its stained glass windows by Marc Chagall (the original windows were blown out in WWII).

We toured Rudesheim. We skipped the wine tasting and walked around the town on our own. Same old same old. But I enjoyed cruising down the Rhine (when did we get on the Rhine?). Saw lots of  grapevines on the hillsides and castles. Very picturesque. I was supposed to see the Lorelei Rock but I missed it. I was starting to suffer from severe sensory overload. We tied up at Chochem which was a nice little town and the program says we saw Bernkastel but damned if I can remember anything about it. I do remember that a glass blower demonstrated his craft after dinner. That was interesting and I bought another Christmas tree ornament. That was small enough I could fit it in our luggage.

One curious thing: if I kept my mouth shut and a local initiated a conversation with me they’d start out in German. I’d just look at them and explain that I was American and my German stank on ice. They would immediately switch to perfect English. I asked a fellow diner if that’d happened to her and she said, “No, but you look German. I can understand the mistake.” I told her my last name was Schnell and we both laughed and agreed that I probably did look German. Anyway…

The last German spot was Trier, an old Roman outpost in the Moselle valley (were we now on the Moselle? Who knows). We drove past the amphitheater and got dropped off at the old Roman baths. We toured the oldest Christian church north of the Alps. It’s just stunning. Also saw the Constantine Basilica. The Roman engineers were so good a bishop a few centuries down the road tried to tear it down to build something new but they couldn’t raze it. Those were some engineers. They let us loose to tour the town on our own. We stopped for salted ice cream (delicious) at the coffee shop. We were standing aimlessly when a young man offered us his table. “I’ve been here for hours, I should go.” We told him we weren’t trying to guilt trip him but thanked him very much–and we grabbed the table. My feet hurt. The people watching was great. Gordon got some pictures of an amusing fountain that was supposed to show how great and beneficent the bishop was. The sculptor slyly included monkeys committing sins like throwing poop (don’t want to mention the other sins but the sculptor was making fun of the hypocrisy of the bishops and their sexual practices–or lack thereof claims. We met the bus at the Roman Porta Nigra (Black Gate). Lots of history. We went back to the boat for one last night. We had to pack up and get ready to take the bus to Luxembourg the next day. That broke up the drive to Paris.

I think this is the Miltenberg castle but really, who can remember…

I think this is the Moselle valley. But don’t quote me.

Interior of the Mainz cathedral.

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Bamberg, Wurzburg, Bernkastel, Wintrich

After my long sleep I was rarin’ to go when they bussed us to Bamberg. We got a walking tour through the medieval city center which is a UNISCO World Heritage Site. We couldn’t get into the 11th century cathedral because it was Sunday and everybody was at mass. But the tour guide got interrupted by the bells which were really impressive. We saw the Bishop’s residence and heard that the city is famous for smoke-flavored beer. I didn’t have any because it was only 10:30 in the morning and some other tourists who’d sampled it told me it was awful. We got educated about the historic bridge and the fishing village then they cut us lose to wander around the city square. We were munchy so we stopped at a bakery/coffee shop to order a pastry and coffee. I guess Gordon was tired of practicing his German so he let me take the lead. “Guten morgen, eine schnittlefritzen (or whatever the hell it was; I was pronouncing it phonetically) bitte.” The counter man answered me in perfect English and I said, “Thank God you speak English. This could have gotten really complicated.” We all had a good laugh and Gordon and I ate our pastry while we people watched. We even peaked into another historic church; very quietly, of course, mass was being said. Then we ran back to bus so we could rejoin the boat before it left for Wurzburg.

We had another unfortunate run-in at lunch. A crazy lady from Georgia started bellowing that the military was evil; she’d heard that there was a crime wave in Colorado Springs and it was all due to soldiers. I asked where she’d heard that and she said she read it on the internet. I raised a skeptical eyebrow and she left in a huff. That was another person I would avoid sitting with. But the day wasn’t done. After a pleasant afternoon of sitting on the top deck of the boat admiring the view we were joined at dinner by some other Californians–San Jose, to be specific. And they started in with a political diatribe–how taxes should be raised on the rich (they were retired teachers), that charter schools should be abolished, that charter schools were a conspiracy of the Right, and on and on and on. When did it become acceptable to dominate a conversation with perfect strangers about your political views? Had they no manners at all? But I’d had 11 hours of sleep the night before. I countered every one of their arguments with a better argument and a smile. Gordon even joined in and he usually ignores people like that. Then again, they were hard to ignore. Dinner ended on a cool note and we vowed never to let those people sit with us again.

We toured Wurzburg the next day. The Bishop’s residence was truly magnificent. The first floor was devoted to servants’ quarters and the entry way. Carriages pulled directly through the huge doors and deposited their riders right in front of the magnificent staircase leading to the banquet hall and other official rooms on the second floor. The story goes that Napolean wanted to impress everybody with the biggest carriage around. It was so big it couldn’t fit through the door and Napolean had to walk. There’s a lesson here. Anyway, the residence was impressive. It must have been good to be bishop.

We had another quiet afternoon of cruising to the next port before we faced the challenge of dinner. We decided to go late so we could avoid all the crazy Lefties who wanted to talk politics. We found two empty spaces and everybody said where they were from. When I announced that we were from California I could see the eyes of everybody else there narrow warity. Another diner asked if we knew one of the Lefties from last night. I said that they’d bored us with their politics and you could hear the collective sigh around the table. Apparently, every one at the table had been subjected to these awful people. Which led to a discussion of the grievances we’d all suffered at the hands of Lefties. So it ended up being a political discussion anyway. But once we’d unburdened ourselves talk turned to other things. I was able to enjoy my excellent dinner. By the way, the food on this cruise was much better than the last cruise we took. Less German food. I was told the chef was from the Phillipines. Maybe that explains it.

The boat stopped at Bernkastel and Gordon and I walked around by ourselves. It was a small town with a winery but I’d gotten to the point where if you’ve seen one historic German town, you’ve seen ’em all. The next stop was Wintrich where we took a tour of a renovated castle. It was impressive but I really liked the view. Oh, I forgot to mention that the boat travelled from the Danube, to the Rhine, to the Moselle. I could never remember what river we were on. Things started blurring together.

That’s enough for one day. On to Heidleburg tomorrow.

We couldn’t get into this cathedral because it was Sunday. The guide told us the area around this church was used in the movie, Three Musketeers.

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