Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year

In light of world events, I feel a sense of profound gratitude for the simple joy of living in South Pasadena. My community is graced with fortune's many gifts. Our children are safe, the water is clean, food is abundant and freedom is something most of us don't even think about, much less take time to appreciate. Even the worst times here are marked by sunshine and beautiful flowers, with our souls more often dulled by boredom rather than sharpened by catastrophe. Our daily irritations can't compare to the horrors of war, and no economic crisis can compete with the chaos of violence. We are fortunate inheritors of a peaceful lifestyle most of us didn't even have to fight for. We are blessed with safe harbor and sweet dreams of bright futures.

So here's my most sincere wish for the new year: may it bring comfort and joy to those who suffer. May we see an end to so much senseless war and bloodshed. And as far as resolutions go... don't worry about a few extra pounds or a disorganized office. Instead, may we strive together as a world community to bring peace and prosperity within the reach of all families.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Palm Tree Symphony

I recall a story I heard once on NPR -- perhaps one of my fabulous artist readers will remember it too, and fill in the details. A Los Angeles artist (or maybe a musician, or maybe a photographer) took pictures of the palm trees lining major streets in the city. He would place each image over a scale and then use the melody mapped out by those palms to compose pieces of music, each one named after the street where the images were snapped.

I'd love to hear what this song sounds like. (It would be named "Huntington Drive.")

Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Weather

While much of the world is wrapped in Winter's snowy blanket, South Pasadena sunbathes...

The recent cold snap seems to have moved on.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


For me, the week between Christmas and the New Year is always a bit melancholy and introspective. I can't resist a bit of John Keats for this post holiday nighttime stroll:

Tis the witching hour of night,
Orbed is the moon and bright,
And the stars they glisten, glisten,
Seeming with bright eyes to listen-
For what listen they?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Orange Park

This delightful little Mission District neighborhood park is called Orange Park because you'll find it on Orange Grove Avenue. (But the playground equipment makes sure it lives up to its colorful name.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Settings: Part 5

In a new interpretation of Boxing Day, I bring you my favorite boxy South Pas historical building. Once a bank, it's now home to Kaldi, my favorite coffee haunt in the San Gabriel Valley. (I've heard the old 19th Century bank vault is still back behind the counter.) It's a friendly, unassuming local hang-out by day but by night ... okay, actually it's still a friendly, unassuming local hang-out by night, too.

But tell me (those of you who love to put on your secret filmmaker hats and play these little Hollywood games,) if this were a setting in a movie, what would happen here?

(I still seem to have the classic automobile fairy looking out for me: check out the great old cars parked in the shot!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Noel Noel

I just love the little Christmas tree in the park next to Meridian Iron Works building, just below the Mission Station platform. Sure, there are bigger, flashier trees ... but this one is just right, tucked into a little corner of South Pas. It brings to mind my very favorite Christmas poem, written by (my very favorite poet) ee cummings:

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh..."

Yes, well, Santa has a little help from Fedex.

I shipped the last of my holiday packages tonight -- with a spectacular view from the parking lot. I know the tradition calls for snow and icicles but I sure love Southern California's winter wonderland.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Around the feast we gather in complete jubilation..."

Winter officially begins today in the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, shining directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in what is known as the winter solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still.) On this night, the three stars in Orion's Belt align with Sirius -- the brightest star in the eastern sky -- to let us know where the Sun will rise tomorrow morning. (If anyone says there is no magic in the world, I say they're just not paying attention.)

The Bronze Age archaeological sites Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in Britain were carefully designed to align with the solstice sunrise and sunset points. Throughout human history, this event has marked the point where the sun reverses ebbing and is, in effect, reborn. New life, new beginnings, new hope... these are the hallmarks of midwinter, and people have been celebrating variations on this theme as long as there have been hearth fires to gather around.

From celebrating the reemergence of Amaterasu the sun goddess in 7th Century Japan to the ancient Slavonic 10-day festival of Koleda; from Soyalangwul, the traditional winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and Hopi Indians to Burning the Clocks, the fairly recent tradition in modern Brighton -- this time of year is has been revered in amazingly similar ways by just about everyone who has ever graced this planet. My personal favorite has to be Saturnalia -- the outrageous Roman midwinter celebration that was an ancient combination of Burning Man, Mardi Gras and a Grateful Dead concert. During this week-long festival, men and women exchanged clothes, slaves and masters played role-reversal, and enough social mores were happily abandoned to cause even Caligula to try and limit the celebration to five days.

Today, Wiccans and other neo-pagans honor this day as Yule, while last night Iranians celebrated Yalda -- a Zoroastrian festival commemorating the longest night of the year. Tonight, at sundown, the first day of Hanukkah begins with the traditional lighting of the first menorah candle. Next week the seven day celebration of African heritage known as Kwanzaa will commence with the lighting of the kinara. And, of course, there is Christmas -- the Superbowl of all midwinter celebrations, and the biggest birthday party in the known world.

Whether your midwinter feast includes latkes, yalda watermelon or fruitcake -- happy midwinter, everyone. Bless'd be, Shalom Aleichem and God bless us, everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Where the love light gleams..."

A twinkly white Christmas tree in a window at the end of an empty street still wet with rain. And all underneath a star-like street lamp. This time of year is so contradictory: melancholy and wonderful, lonely and familial, inspirational and disappointing...

While I love the yuletide season's vivacious front with all the ho ho ho-ing and spiked nog and shiny new toys ... what speaks to me is the yearning behind it. When I noticed this scene the other night, I thought it symbolized every holiday homecoming that finds you at the same time lost and found, changed and same, happy and sad. And it reminded me of one of my favorite poignant Christmas songs by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon. It has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Dianna Krall, but I always think of the particularly wistful rendition by Johnny Mathis.

I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do.
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you...

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me.
Please have snow, and mistletoe,
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas,
If only in my dreams.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sleigh bells ring?

The season between December and February is my favorite time in Southern California. Mild, blustery days under intense golden light, red bougainvillea mixed with evergreens, silhouetted palms against a blue sky that verges on indigo during cooler months. And when it rains in South Pas in the wintertime, that usually means it snows in the mountains. This is my idea of a white Christmas!

(For a few more recent snowy mountain images from around the San Gabriel Valley, check out my overflow blog Glancing About. )

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Here we are as in olden days..."

I'm really not some kind of grinch who looks at an iconic main street dressed in holiday lights and decides to turn it into a shot out of classic film noir. In fact, when I took this picture I was thinking of all the great black and white Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street and The Bells of St. Mary's and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life. The old fashioned lights on Mission and Fair Oaks this year are so magical and festive. They evoke images of every happy Christmas wish from a million 20th Century American childhoods.

But on second thought, Orson Welles lurking in a Santa costume is an idea that Gregg Toland could have totally wrapped his lens around...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

After Dark

Day is pretty straightforward in its narrative, but Night always feels like a deep breath of possibility. Sure, it's the stuff of nightmares and fog, unknown footsteps and deserted streets. But it also has all that moonlight and cricket song and those wonderfully dim streetlamps that cast such long, pretty shadows. Plus, no ringing phones or appointments -- and the kids are asleep. (Usually.)

Night is melancholy... but also hopeful. And that's one of my favorite combinations.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Caption this photo... (#3)


This one is tough and I'm feeling rather silly. How about:

Archaeologists believe they may have discovered the remains of an ancient temple of the Goddess of San Gabriel Valley Topiary.

Nah, that's not quite right. Anyone else have a better caption?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Huntington Drive at Sunset

After living on the west side of Los Angeles for almost two decades, Huntington Drive is like a dream street to me. Four smooth, curving lanes with a grassy center median gently easing through the San Gabriel Valley areas of El Sereno, South Pasadena, San Marino, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Monrovia and Duarte. I've lived in South Pas for almost a year, I drive Huntington almost every day, and I've never really been caught in traffic. In fact, it's easy to drive Huntington during rush hour (what rush hour!?) all the way to Arcadia with few stops.

I often hear long-time residents complaining about the traffic on Huntington. I just don't get it because I've never seen any real traffic on it. Go to Pico or Olympic on the west side at any time between the hours of 8 AM and 8 PM where gridlock is the norm and the driver behind you will lean on the horn if you don't manage to roll into the intersection .05 second before the light changes. Now that's traffic! But I know... it's all relative.

Oddly, this driving dream is named after heir to the Southern Pacific Railway fortune, Henry Huntington who introduced the Pacific Electric Railway as a vehicle for developing the fertile landscape surrounding Los Angeles. The railway stretched east into the San Gabriel Valley, hugging the hills directly south of the San Gabriel Mountains. When the mighty car began to eclipse the humble train, more areas of track were converted to roads and divided highways. By 1953, most of Pacific Electric track had been replaced with bus routes.

Here's a quick snap on Huntington at sunset yesterday. It's always fun to try and capture the magic hour moment as the sky blasts you with technicolor tricks before suddenly fading into the muted grays of twilight. I think I was a fraction of a second late, here, and I was shooting with low megapixels to squeeze more shots out of a full memory card. But isn't it pretty?

Okay, for all of you who have emailed me concerned that I might be shooting pictures while driving, please understand that I pull over and park at the curb to take all road pictures. The only exception is the tunnel shot where I actually stopped on the late night empty road and shot out the drivers side window with my hazards on. I've shot pics from the passenger side while my hubby drives, but I'm not idiotic enough to try drive-and-shoot tactics. Plus, I'm an overprotective mom whose little one is almost always strapped in the car seat during the day. So... you can all rest easy that the streets of South Pas are safe...

Now, carry on!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Feeling groovy...

South Pasadena is famous for its historic homes, many built before 1930. They stand side by side under heritage trees, lining the uncomplicated and perfectly orderly street grid.

But don't think for a minute that you have the whole picture.

Forget the river rock and pitched roof lines below -- the hills of South Pasadena are filled with classic examples of mid-century modern through postmodern 1970s architecture. Post and beam? Check. Rambling ranch? Check. Chalet-style? Check. Wooden tree-house style homes with huge picture windows and terrifyingly spindly poles holding up wrap around decks? Check! Near the water tower, you'll find eclectic little houses clinging to steep slopes and nestled along hairpin curves. This one certainly grabbed my attention. A pea-green mod with a pink plastic Christmas tree? Yeah, baby!

You can still feel the free-spirited optimism of the era in which these homes were built -- and with spectacular views around every curve, it's hard not to be in a good mood.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mountian View

Climb up out of the heart of South Pas and into the winding hills above. Of course, you'll need to slow down when you drive back down Via Del Rey... how else will you savor the spectacular view? Click to enlarge the photo and look into the middle distance -- above the trees and just below the mountains you'll see neighboring Pasadena's famous Colorado Street Bridge, with the iconic Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building building to the right of it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

South Pas Up Close #2

It's easy to get caught up in the lovely big picture of South Pasadena: hundreds of towering trees making dappled splashes of magical California light all over some of the best examples of early 20th Century architecture. Wow, it's pretty here! But it's fun to get up close and study the elements of all that beauty. Like here with the ubiquitous river rock -- (literally) the foundation for much of the Craftsman movement. It was used everywhere in construction: in porch columns, fireplaces, fences and here in a home's actual foundation. I know there is something to be said for the simplicity of mid-century modern architecture with all those clean lines, sheets of glass and big, harmonious squares. I, however, love the tickling clutter of the early 20th Century, the puzzle of it, the wonderful blend of nature and technology/antiquity and modernity that is represented so well by the use of these gorgeous old stones.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Spirit

Tis the season for festive garlands twinkling over Fair Oaks Avenue ... but last night I was more excited to see The Rialto lit up in all of her neon splendor. A film crew might be responsible for turning on the lights because I could find out nothing about the rather silly title on the marquis.

As Jimmy Stewart said, "Merry Christmas movie house!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The sun has long been set...

Indulge me yet another night prowling monochrome shot. It made me think of this poem by Wordsworth -- well, actually I thought of the first two lines of this poem by Wordsworth. (I love Google.)

The sun has long been set,
The stars are out by twos and threes,
The little birds are piping yet
Among the bushes and trees;
There's a cuckoo,
and one or two thrushes,
And a far-off wind that rushes,
And a sound of water that gushes,
And the cuckoo's sovereign cry
Fills all the hollow of the sky.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Silver Charm

The Metro Gold Line trains aren't gold. Actually, most of them are white. But ever so often this classic silver one rolls into the station, which makes my little daughter squeal with delight and say, "Look! It's that special train!" We decided that if finding a copper penny is considered a good omen, then spotting a silver train must be really lucky...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Craftsman Detail: #2

I've already raved about why I love Craftsman architecture. It's all about the little extras. Like here, for example, in this small bungalow. It's a modest house, probably built around 1920 as an affordable family home. And yet, the builders had the design chops to incorporate that wonderful sunburst pattern beneath each of the eaves. It's what Petrea over at Pasadena Daily Photo would call superflous detail.

And it makes me happy every time I pass by.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Illuminated Path

I might never have noticed this sidewalk entrance to the apartments at 1616 Fair Oaks during the day ... but look at the enchanting way it glows in the night. (Nice bit of San Gabriel Valley topiary, too!)

1616 has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I'm sure there's a great short story here. Or a love song. Or TV series about time travel. Or a poem about flowers and curving steps and math...

Or maybe it's just a nifty address with a lovely entryway.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dirty Laundry

There is a lost-in-time feeling to most laundromats -- and the one in this shopping center on Fair Oaks is no exception. This could have been any coin-operated laundry I used in the 1980s and 90s before I owned a washer and dryer. Same 1970s colors. (Same jarring fluorescent light which was never much fun on bleary Sunday morning after a fun Saturday night...) I was so overjoyed when I had my first washer and dryer. No more hoarding quarters! No more bizarre bleach marks on dark clothes! No more weird guys watching me sort my underwear! Even now, after all these years with a home laundry room, I still feel lucky not to have to schlep dirty clothes to a Fluff n Fold.

But even that is nothing compared to the way things used to be. Our home, like many in our neighborhood, was built in 1900. Laundry for the original owners was far more involved than anything we've ever known. First of all, forget hubby tossing in a load of whites. Victorian wives were expected to not only launder but often make all clothing worn by the family. Laundry had to be soaked, rinsed, boiled, stirred, bleached or blued, starched, wrung out, hung up and then ironed (with an actual iron that had to be retrieved from the fire.) Water often had to be fetched from wells and carried back home. If the water was too hard, it had to be boiled with wood ashes -- or Borax -- before being used.

And soap? Think of this next time you lug a box of Tide from the store. Most Victorian women had to make their own lye soap and use it to scrub soiled items on a washboard. For tough stains? Kerosene. Bleach? Try salt and lemon juice. And sometimes human urine. (I couldn't make this stuff up.) After scrubbing, laundry was then agitated by hand with a "dolly" -- a cute name for a long stick with some wooden pegs on the end that women used to stir, poke, jiggle and otherwise beat the heck out of whatever they were trying to get clean.

No wonder every cookbook had a recipe for absinthe and laudanum was sold over the counter!

Starch was a necessity of Victorian life in an age where wrinkles and limp collars were a sign of a slovenly character. Starch, of course, was made at home. Victorian housekeeping manuals are filled with various instructions on how to make the "best" starch -- wheat? Potato shavings? Sugar? Rice water? Take your pick -- but you had to pick something because only the most unkempt homemaker would neglect this important aspect of clothing maintenance.

After starching, the homemaker commenced to hanging all clothes to dry on outdoor clotheslines. (Hopefully, the above activities could be completed before mid morning as to maximize the sunlight. Victorians wore a lot of velvets -- and velvets not only took forever to dry, but they also tended to grow mold quite easily if left damp for too long.) After the laundry dried, the lady of the house moved on to the ironing -- with not one but many various implements set upon the stove top or into the coal fire. General irons, fluting irons for pleats, "mushroom" irons for puffy sleeves, "tally" irons for bows and strings and flat irons for sheets and pillowcases. (Yup, a proper Victorian lady had to starch and iron those, too.)

And all of this was accomplished while wearing corsets that limited normal respiration by up to 70%.

Needless to say, while I enjoy my home's architecture, and its vintage light fixtures, doorknobs, wood floors, picture rails, wooden built-ins and wavy-glass sash windows... I have no desire to journey back to the year it was built. And if my washer or dryer ends up on the fritz, this retro laundromat will certainly do in a pinch!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Library Noir

Think my night prowling shots of the library are spooky? I guess I'm just tapping into the zeitgeist. Last month our sweet little hometown library hosted an Author Night with Steve Hodel, the national best selling author of Black Dahlia Avenger. In 1947, The Black Dahlia murder terrified Los Angeles with its grisly details. The tale of victim Elizabeth Short could have been lifted straight from the pages of Raymond Chandler. Short was a sultry drifter known for the sour company she kept and the sweet flowers she wore in her jet black hair. Her body turned up in pieces in a Los Angeles park, and for decades, the unsolved case has been the subject of investigation, public fascination, fiction and film adaptation.

So what does a brutal murder have to do with our fair city? Steve Hodel -- a police investigator with 24 years experience -- believes he has finally uncovered the elusive killer: a South Pasadena High School graduate, and (get this) his very own father! You can read all about the library's event here, and watch a local news story about it here.

Moving from real life crime to mystery fiction, The South Pasadena Library's next Author's Night is on January 22, at 7:00PM and features the Edgar Award-winning author of the fantastic Mas Arai mystery series, Naomi Hirahara -- who just happens to be another South Pasadena High School graduate. Prior to Ms. Hirahara's program, renowned jazz master (and South Pasadena resident) Elliott Caine will perform a freewheeling set of “Blue Note” style jazz. No tickets or reservations are necessary, and the entire community is invited to attend.

Thanks to our fabulously cool City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted for keeping me updated on all the famous -- and infamous -- goings on at our wonderful library ... and for not thinking I'm terribly weird for creeping around the place in the dark.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Driven to distraction...

Okay, so this has officially become a series. I keep stumbling upon all of these pristine vintage cars -- each parked in a setting that perfectly compliments the automobile color. Look at this one! Pearly white car with a silver grille across from a silvery gray house with a pearly white roof. It's perfect.


It's a little too perfect...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

JM Antiques and Toys

Every time I drive down Fremont and pass this cool little storefront, I try to catch a glimpse of what's inside. I like to imagine that it contains all the toys from my childhood: Kiddles, a Spirograph, a Mrs. Beasley Doll (without the glasses missing,) a pristine version of the Mystery Date Game, a real EZ Bake Oven (made back when they really could burn little fingers and create gooey little cakes,) Tinkertoys, Shrinkydinks -- and all the other old school/ lead paint/choking hazards of my youth. I'm looking forward to exploring this store. Who knows what I might have forgotten? Or, more likely, who knows what I might discover?

Now, if you could reclaim any wonderful old toy, what would it be?

Monday, December 1, 2008


It's the first of the month, and that means it's Theme Day for participating bloggers in the City Daily Photo community. This month's theme is Circles/Spheres. I chose this beautiful quilt hanging on the wall of Wild Thyme, one of my favorite South Pas restaurants. The cafe is owned by the same family who runs Shakers -- another great local eatery. Although name Wild Thyme alludes to the menu's well-seasoned fare prepared in a traditional French style (get the crepes!) -- I'm reminded of that wonderful rambling speech by Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows;
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in...

Okay, so you won't find nodding violets or sweet musk-roses here, but you might just dance with delight after a yummy meal in this bistro's cozy, comfortable setting. Which brings me full circle -- and how apropos, given the current theme. I don't know the history of this lovely quilt, but it always captures my attention. Although it's a traditional textile, it's also quirky and magical and eclectic. (Kinda like South Pasadena.)

Be sure to circle around the other City Daily Photobloggers, and have a look at the many creative and diverse images from all over the world.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Settings: Part 4

Vintage metal trailer... old world fountain... square cement tiles on a wood chip lawn... wrought iron gate...tree swing...

Okay, everyone. It's been a while since we've played this game but I can't resist with props like these.

Go ahead and channel your inner Fellini and tell me: if this were a scene for a movie, what would happen here?

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Everyone knows that Christmas lights start popping up this time of year, but the real light show is the one caused by the sun as it makes its winter progression south toward the Tropic of Capricorn. The change in declination -- Mother Earth's little shift in front of the big lamp -- turns the world into a giant shadow puppet show this time of year. Starting in August, when shadows start getting longer, and winding up in the long, long shade of the Winter Solstice, the sun offers spectacular mood lighting. Here, a couple of young women waited for the train at Mission Station. They paced back and forth. It was too lovely not to grab my camera.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Epic tree...

Joyce Kilmer wrote that he'd never seen a poem lovely as a tree. Well, if this one outside the library is a poem, it's one right out of Beowulf or possibly something by Homer. Look at that ferocious tangle of roots!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sunny Forecast

Thunderstorms threw big, wet tantrums yesterday before retreating into a swirling, temperamental sky. I grabbed this shot out of my window as I drove down Huntington, coming back from the grocery store with my four bags of Thanksgiving bounty. Rain is such a blessing after so many dry months. During times of drought, it seems that Southern California -- this fragile desert paradise --might just evaporate into a mirage. But today, with its thirst quenched -- and every rose bush gleaming with raindrops -- it is rejuvenated. Thanks, rain!

There is so much to be grateful for today ... Thanksgiving groceries, the rain, the photogenic sky, the sweet joy of family, the ability to wax rhapsodic, or to complain, the tenacity of progress, the fact that humor almost always trumps melancholia, the sheer enormity of human potential and capacity for charity, the unwavering truth that light follows darkness and the knowledge that no matter how scary or uncertain life is -- it's also silly and stubborn and rooted in grace.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. The glass is most definitely half full. And after the rain, maybe even a little more than half.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stormy Weather

The approaching storm yesterday afternoon created a wonderfully moody backdrop along Fair Oaks Avenue. I couldn't resist creating a little suspense with this high contrast black and white cloud noir...

(Actually, after the intense fires recently, rain is considered a potentially dramatic event. )

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Night Vision

I've always been fascinated by the way things look at night. If you gaze up at the sky (on a clear and moonless night away from the glare of city lights) you can see the hazy swath of our own Milky Way galaxy -- a blurry swoosh of the millions of stars that snuggle around a central black hole. We can be thankful for our rod cells—one of two types of photoreceptor cells in the retina -- that allow us to see by the fuzzy starlight of a dim night. The rod cells are blind to color and only work in very low light. The other type of photoreceptor cell -- the cone -- kicks into action when bright light is available, and is responsible for high acuity vision as well as color. My poor little rods and cones must wonder who is leading their dance as I prowl around in the wee small hours: wandering under bright street lights and then turning down a shadowy sidewalk...step, step, step, step, rod/cone/rod/cone... no wonder I get eye strain in the dark.

Which is why I love night photography. Unencumbered by something as limiting as biology, the camera sees nightscapes in a wholly different way. I think the camera captures night the way it looks in dreams. I don't recall this corner of Mission and Fair Oaks being quite this magical when I actually shot this picture. Or, maybe it was ... and I just needed the camera to reveal it to me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another brick in the wall

I couldn't resist a monochrome shot of a side of the old Baranger Studios building. You know the old saying about being up against a brick wall? It isn't so bad when the wall looks like this.

I still haven't managed to really capture the soul of this place in any of my pictures of it. But I keep trying...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Best of Times/Worst of Times

The macro view of the world focuses on crisis while the micro level brings happy views of comfort, fun and friends, of birthday parties and polka dot dresses, of backyard cookouts and big smiles -- the things that have always sustained people through stormy weather.

Lately, our shock-value media takes a grim and alarmist view of the world -- nattering daily about the burgeoning economic disaster like a sadistic doctor yelling, "this is going to REALLY HURT! And I mean REALLY REALLY BAD!!!" as he preps a patient for unavoidable surgery. How I wish for more wise and even-keeled journalists like Alistair Cooke, an Englishman who spent a lifetime reporting on the American experience. He was once described as a modern day Alexis de Tocqueville -- an outsider whose unique perspective offered insight into our nation's psyche.

"In the best of times," Cooke said decades ago, (when another era's people faced another disaster,) "our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly, that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the 1st place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby."

Or to toss stuffed animals in the air with a multicolored parachute. Life is good. (And when you get right down to it, happiness really isn't that expensive.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fast food, financial crises and philosophy...

When Donald Trump fell on hard times in the mid nineties, he did it in a big way. Owing 900 million personally and 3.5 billion in business debt, the tycoon is famously said to have economized so brilliantly during his comeback that he "had McDonalds on speed dial." In the current maelstrom of crashing financial markets, it's not surprising that pundits are discussing examples of improbable financial comebacks, and retelling stories like Trump's to comfort and inspire a jittery business class. Although I understand the point, I've always questioned the validity of the Trump/McDonalds story -- why would anyone call a McDonalds, anyway? It's not like they deliver...

But sometimes I guess you have to see through the actual subject down to the beauty of the message. Photographs are like that too, right? Sure, on the surface this is just an ordinary picture of the McDonald's drive through on Fair Oaks... but aren't those primary colors beautiful in the morning light?

Art, success, reality ... I think the definitions are open to interpretation. It's all in how you look at things.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hot Rod

I couldn't resist grabbing a shot of this souped-up old Chevy truck in the OSH parking lot. (I was reminded of Alan Arkin in the 70s film The In-Laws as he exclaimed, "There are flames on my car! There are flames on my car!")

I love Southern California!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wine Styles

Talk about a cool town... South Pasadena has more than one great wine shop on Mission Street!

Wine Styles is dedicated to offering unique labels and hard to find wines at low prices. (Most bottle here are under $25.) Although Wine Styles feels like a one-of-a-kind boutique, it's actually part of a chain. The first Wine Styles opened in Coral Springs, Florida back in 2002, founded on the idea that wine shouldn't be the sole domain of snooty Frazier types -- that it should be brought down to earth and made more affordable and more fun. The company evolved into a network of 150 individually owned stores in 24 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico. I put this in the category of Whole Foods or Trader Joes -- all started out as neighborhood shops whose products and services were so good they ended up going nationwide.

In addition to the impressive number of unusual blends and classic varietals, Wine Styles also specializes in wine-related goodies and gadgets as well as fully customizable gift baskets. Shopping is easy for those of us who don't pour over copies of Wine Spectator -- here, taste "styles" are clearly marked -- are you feeling fruity or mellow? Bold or silky? Wine tasting and wine classes are also available.

(Here's a date night made easy: after you select your bottle, pick up a great movie at Videotheque -- it's right next door!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Train of thought...

Ray Bradbury once said that "half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness." (And half the fun of Mission Station is getting lost in its aesthetic.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ad-libbed Lines

In an age of countless forms of visual enhancements that frost the real with a sugar-candy illusion (High def CGI, Photoshop, "reality" TV, Botox, plastic surgery, infotainment, the nightly news...) I'm drawn to the concept of lomography. Its genesis is somewhere in the many snapshots taken with the lowly 35mm LOMO LC-A Compact Automat Camera, produced by former Russian state-run optics manufacturer LOMO PLC of Saint Petersburg. Lomography's motto of "Don't think, just shoot" is the flipside of everything you ever learned in photography class. No need for image stabilization and polarizing filters -- just wave your camera and start clicking. It's the same kind of happy, spontaneous, unencumbered philosophy that inspired the French New Wave film movement, challenged artists to think outside of the purely representational and fueled free-thinking novelists to sidestep the rules established by the canon.

I know, I know... a lot of this is just a viral advertising scheme to get everyone who bought an expensive Canon digital SLR to throw down more bucks for a weird, low-tech camera. But let's take away the marketing tricks and just look at the idea...

Don't think, just shoot. Don't think, just shoot again. Forget setting up a frame or manipulating the light. Don't think, just shoot. Somewhere in this lighthearted approach you might discover wonderful little details of everyday life (sometimes literally) right under your feet.

Like here, for instance. Why had I never noticed the abstract beauty of the train tracks crossing Mission at Meridian in the late afternoon?

(Hat tip to my fellow Los Angeles photoblogger Kevin at The Jimsonweed Gazette for the inspiration to think -- and shoot -- outside the box.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old Flame

I snapped this photo in September at the South Pasadena Cruz'n for Roses Classic Car Show. Back in the mid 19th Century, steam-powered fire engines like this were lauded as high tech marvels of the day.

No offense to this old beauty but I'm glad we've made progress in fighting fires.

Today, area firefighters continue their grueling and heroic work as much of Southern California burns. The fires extend over 34 square miles since breaking out on Thursday -- from Los Angeles County to the east in Riverside and Orange counties, and northwest in Santa Barbara County. Over 1000 homes have been destroyed, and more residents are being asked to evacuate despite calming winds.

The Pasadena Marathon was canceled due to poor air quality -- but "poor" doesn't begin to describe it. The nearby San Gabriel Mountain range that usually provides Pasadena and South Pas with such a beautiful backdrop was rendered invisible by a veil of thick smoke and ash. This is the first time in the 20 years I've lived in Los Angeles that the air was actually too bad to stay outside.

The Los Angeles Red Cross is already assisting victims, and Goodwill Southern California is coordinating donations of food, clothing, and other necessities. Meanwhile, we all watch, and worry, and wait, and hope for no wind and lots of rain.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rest Stop

I've featured Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain several times before. It's easy to stop in and linger at this marvelous place -- it's a South Pas icon. Here's a full shot, looking across Mission at those cheerful awnings and grand old neon sign. These unusually hot November days are perfect for an ice cream soda or lemon phosphate.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day-Ray Products, Inc.

"Since 1941," the website for Day-Ray Products, Inc. proclaims, "Day-Ray has partnered with airlines and manufacturers..." The overview continues, "Today we provide leading-edge technology and designs to meet the high demands of the modern aerospace industry."

All those advanced 21st Century solutions coming from a great old building that looks like the setting for an atomic age Twilight Zone episode or a film noir confrontation between Fred MacMurray and Barbra Stanwyck? I love it! The old Day-Ray sign is my favorite in South Pas ... well, maybe second favorite right after the wonderful neon sign for Gus's BBQ. (Incidentally, Gus's is right up the street from Day-Ray.) Even the name Day-Ray is right out of a Philip K. Dick version of the future.

Retro meets high tech... things like this make my inner nerd very happy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Family Catholic Church

The front of Holy Family Catholic Church is like most cathedral-style places of worship. It's lovely, ornate, traditional and not unusual in any way. But just take a look at what is on the other side of it! When I drove around back and saw this mural beaming into the dark night, I didn't think of the obvious bible quotations. The most famous, of course, is Matthew 19:14, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me." And the most dreaded, oft-repeated quote I recall from my own Lutheran elementary school days was Proverbs 6:20, "Keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother." (I heard that one in the principal's office more than once.)

What lingered in my mind as I drove away was something Gandhi said: "If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children."

I must say, this is the most beautiful back parking lot I've ever seen. If you turn down the street between the high school and the church, you can't miss it. It's a stunning evening view ... this mural on one side of the road, and this glowing column on the other.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The Argentine ultraist writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, "I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does."

It must be true... because I can't remember the cross street here on Oak where I snapped this picture. (Idle details...)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Shakers is a not so much a restaurant as it is a combination time warp/American archetype. Imagine a hybrid of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the diner where Honey Bunny and Pumpkin went crazy in Pulp Fiction. Throw in little details of every happy evening out to dinner with your parents in the 1970s -- complete with a little white porcelain container of crackers and breadsticks -- and you might get an inkling of what it's like at this legendary South Pasadena diner.

Several great local restaurants are owned and operated by the same family -- the quaint French bakery-inspired Wild Thyme (just down the street from Shakers,) Pasadena's sophisticated Central Park Cafe, Beckham --the cozy English pub and grill (also in Pasadena) and fifties-themed Diner on Main in Alhambra. Each is a local favorite, but none quite compete with the flat-out comfort and coolness of Shakers. Not poseur cool -- you know, like the kind of hipster nouveau diners that have a juke box turned into an aquarium, pop art retro advertising lithographs and a drink menu that includes a "Bogart Martini." I'm talking authentic cool. At Shakers, you half expect Dean Moriarty to walk in and sit down at the counter.

The food is yummy and affordable, the coffee is strong and the kid's menu comes with crayons and a coloring page. Come hungry, savor a meal of good, old fashioned favorites and be sure to take home a loaf of the famous zucchini bread.