Monday, October 1, 2012

Time Out

Due to unexpected events, I will not be updating Glimpses of South Pasadena for the foreseeable future.  Thank you for over 4 years of daily exploration, discovery, friendship and fun.

I appreciate the support of the over 900,000 people who have taken the time to visit this blog.  The experience changed my life.  I hope to be back again at some point, if not here then in another online incarnation.  Until then, thank you all.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Freeway Noir: 7

It wasn't the darkness that was so terrifying.  It was everything that she could see in the light.

This wraps up Freeway Noir Week, folks.  Thanks for letting me share a series of shots taken from the passenger seat of a car while driving bumper to bumper home on the 110 freeway.  This coming week?  Color!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Freeway Noir: 6

"I don't want to go in there," She said when she saw the tunnel.

She had a habit of biting her lip when she was scared about something.  She was biting it it now.   It made him want to speed the car just to startle her.  He wanted to drive right up to the edge of the truck ahead and stop just short of collision.  A screech of brakes, a scattering of the change in the cup holder and possibly blood jazzing up that pale pink lipstick.

He didn't like it that he wanted to scare her this much.  As they pulled into the tunnel, she laughed a little.

"Oh," she said.  "This isn't so bad."

He kept his eyes on the lane lines, his foot carefully adjusting to the proper speed limit.  He didn't look to see if she was biting her lip.  It was probably to dark to see, anyway.

We're almost home from Freeway Noir Week -- a series of shots taken from the passenger seat while stuck in traffic on the 110 Freeway.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Freeway Noir: 5

The hotel gleamed like platinum in spite all those dirty windows. She'd been fooled by flash before.  It was shiny, sure.  But it wasn't clean.

I'm dipping my toes into the dark side with Freeway Noir Week -- a series of monochrome shots taken out of the car window while stuck in traffic on the 110 freeway.  

And no, I wasn't driving the car --- but I was just driving my family crazy as I tried to channel the spirit of Raymond Chandler.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Freeway Noir: 4

Nothing in this place was truly civilized.  Even the palm trees stood like wild sentries threatening to attack all who approached the concrete jungle.

Freeway Noir Week continues.  Share my shots taken while stuck in traffic on the 110.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Freeway Noir: 3

With all of the infernal sunshine in this town, there are bound to be shadows.  A lot of shadows.

Join me this week for Freeway Noir: a series shot from the 110 Freeway.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Freeway Noir: 2

In a cityscape turned ghostly by dusk, painted faces stared from an almost-empty parking structure.  She was a long way from home...

Join me for Freeway Noir this week:  a series of shots taken while stuck in traffic on the 110.

(Do I have to mention this again?  I shot all pictures from the passenger seat, not the driver's seat.  And boy was it hard to drive from there!  I kid, I kid...)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Freeway Noir: 1

Anyone who lives in Southern California knows that being stuck in traffic for too long can make you feel dark and paranoid.  With that in mind, this week I bring you a series of shots taken while stuck in traffic on the 110, trying to get back to South Pas.  From the 4-level to the tunnels, Los Angeles offers the perfect noir landscape.  Anyway, you guys know that I love a chance to pretend like I'm the lovechild of John Alton and Dorothy B. Hughes...

It's Freeway Noir Week, everyone.  A series of shots from the 110 freeway, en route to South Pas.  

Disclaimer: DUH!  I wasn't shooting while I was driving.  Haven't any of you heard of carpooling?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dance 'Til You're Blurry

I don't know if you guys have been paying attention, but the world has been conspiring to be a ginormous buzzkill lately.  We've got the usual election year mudslinging, more terrifying violence in the Middle East,  dour economic forecasts and enough accompanying bombast to make me wish for a universal mute button.  Not only that, but just when we all have tried so hard to embrace healthy eating, some nosy guys in lab coats just figured out that rice -- pure, simple, Whole Foods staple rice -- contains dangerous levels of arsenic.



I say we all need a little cheering up.  Even though it's Sunday, it's time for another installment of Laurie's Friday Playlist!  Heck, if you play these tunes long enough, it will feel like Friday.  You might even decide to ditch this week's duties all the way to next Friday, in which case I offer the usual disclaimer:

In no event will we be liable for, including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss of reputation, dance injuries, shirked responsibilities or public displays of silliness arising out of or in connection with the use of Laurie's Friday Playlist.  Play these songs at your own risk, and make sure to turn the volume up to 11.

As usual, you can find all of these songs on iTunes, Amazon and most other MP3 sites.  Remember, I tend to jump around the musical spectrum and might follow the Cotton Eyed Joe with Mozart's Requiem.  Why?  Because when life offers you a buffet, it's best to pile your plate high and sample everything.

So, put on your dancing shoes because today I bring you  Laurie's Shameless Dance Party ... a Playlist for Cutting Rugs and Shaking Booties!  Don't worry, there's not a Macarena or Chicken Dance in the whole mix...

Let's start with an a fantastic classic from the swing era. Anyone who thinks radical music was born with the electric guitar hasn't really checked out the wild carryings-on from the age of jitterbugs.  If the Andrews Sisters were the 1940s versions of Disney pop stars, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey were the ones your mother warned you about. (Even Keith Moon had nothing on swing drummer Gene Kruppa.)  Here's one of my favorite recordings of Sing Sing Sing with Benny Goodman's orchestra, a fantastic Harry James trumpet solo and Kruppa himself in all of his wild glory.

Don't sit down yet, I'm just getting started.  Next, I bring you something that has probably already blown up your Facebook feed.  But in case, like me, you never check Facebook, I bring you the Korean sensation Psy with his infectious dance track Gangnam Style.  It proves to everyone that groove is the universal language and dancing like nobody is looking is probably the key to peace between nations.

Speaking of dancing like nobody's looking, let's slow it down for a few minutes and trance out with Radiohead's front man Thom Yorke as he offers wonderful weirdo choreography to accompany Lotus Flower.

Like this mellow vibe?  Then hang out on the dance floor for some classic psychedelic naval-gazing with the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows.  Who needs electric guitars when we have a sitar and a tamboura?

Feeling warmed up?  Then rave on into the classic nineties dance track by Underworld that always makes me feel like anything is possible.  Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are now considcered the elder statesmen of electronica -- even acting downright responsible by serving as musical directors for the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.  But here, in Rez, they're the hypnotic pied pipers of party fun.

Don't put down those glowsticks!  This past week, Shannon Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars dropped a brilliant remix of the band's song Night of the Hunter.  It turns an epic track worthy of a Kubrick-directed rock opera into an infectious electronic dance piece.

Okay, everybody can come back to earth now, grab a partner and show off your best Texas two-step with this catchy country rock song City Lights by Jeremy Williams.  (Hint: the brilliant Austin singer/songwriter just happens to be my nephew -- and you can get his entire album on iTunes.)

We've all heard the old saying, "I'm dancing as fast as I can!"  Well, those behind South Africa's Shangaan Electro Dance have gone literal.  180 beats per minute?  Why not?!  Or, in the words of Richard Hlungwani during a CNN interview, “The world will go faster. It won’t go at the pace it’s going now, It will go a little bit faster, because Shangaan electro is going to do that.”  Check out the Electro Dance here with Nwa Pfundla. 

I know what you're thinking ... what we need right about now is some good, sixties-inspired Brit-Rock with a beat that makes you want to put on your GoGo boots and do the Pony!  Gotcha covered with Miles Kane's impossibly hip Rearrange.  All I know is that I want this guy to score the next James Bond series.

Which brings us to our final number, by a woman who is no stranger to GoGo boots.  Most of the Best Of lists choose Vogue as Madonna's most fabulous dance song, but I have always been partial to Ray of Light.  It's utterly goofy with melodic optimism, and that's just what I want.  It's unbridled hope and inspiration set to a beat that everyone can dance to.

Keep dancing, everybody.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

a world of lizards

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see..." 

"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?" 

"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people." 

"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy." 

"I did," said Ford. "It is." 

"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?" 

"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want." 

"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?" 

"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course." 

"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?" 

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"


 "I said," said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, "have you got any gin?" 

"I'll look. Tell me about the lizards." 

Ford shrugged again.

 "Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them," he said. "They're completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it." 

"But that's terrible," said Arthur.

 "Listen, bud," said Ford, "if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say 'That's terrible' I wouldn't be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.” 

― Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And Another One...

I'm on a roll, gang. Yet another beautiful car I had not seen before. Wish I'd had my camera with me, but my trusty iPhone captured the moment in a pinch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vroom Vroom

I'm still tickled by all the old cars cruising around South Pas. Every time I think I've seen them all, a new one shows up. I mean an old one.

A new old one.

Oh, you get what I mean...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Map of a Few Generations

Lucky for me, I live in a place where masterpieces are literally minutes away from home. Here, at the Norton Simon in Pasadena, Sam Francis' Basel Mural I offers a beautiful, expressive focal point.
Some people meditate for clarity, but I prefer to stare at something like this to sort out the big questions of life. And like meditation, staring at artwork often brings surprising revelations.
I've always been partial to Francis, and not just because of his expansive visual style. He belonged to the same era as my father. They were both born in California, both joined the Army Air Corps during World War 2. My father was fortunate enough to serve his time in the Pacific without any physical injuries, but Francis was badly hurt during training maneuvers and spent three years recuperating in bed.
During his recovery, Francis learned to paint. He used his new hobby as an escape as well as an expression. I remember once showing my father a print of a Francis painting. I don't recall if it was the one in today's post, but it was similar in its wild explosions of noisy color. I saw infinite optimism and potential when I looked at it.
"Interesting that he was in the Air Corps," Dad said. "This painting kind of reminds me of what the ground looks like after a bombing mission."
Ever since that conversation I can't look at anything by Sam Francis without thinking of my dad.
In Francis' last years, as he was suffering from cancer and clinging to life, a bad fall took away the use of his right hand. Like so many of his generation, he didn't let the setback stop him from achieving his goals. He simply used his left hand to create a series of brilliant small works.
That also reminded me of Dad. No matter how badly my father's body fell apart during the last years of his life, he was undaunted and without complaint. He might not have painted canvases, but he filled our family's world with great beauty all the same.
When my family and I visited the Norton Simon recently, I stopped for a while to look at this familiar painting. I'm about 15 years older than the last time I saw it. I still find the optimism there that spoke to me in my youth, but I can now better imagine the world it brought back to my father.
"What do you think of this one?" I asked my daughter.
"It looks like a map of a sad place," she said. "But it's hopeful too. I'm not sure why."
And right then, I realized how weirdly connected families are ... how my little girl not only saw what I saw in that painting, but also the impressions of her grandfather who died before she was born.
"Or," she said walking away, "Maybe he just liked paint splatters."
Art. It transforms, connects and heals. (And sometimes even makes us laugh.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

two golden hours

"Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered for they are gone forever."

--Horace Mann

Saturday, September 15, 2012

El Centro After the Rain

A simple street corner, a little rain, a setting sun. Nice how something so ordinary can seem so ... extraordinary.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Walking Toward the Big Sky

Even the alley behind the railroad tracks looks promising with clouds like this.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

a portion of the rainbow...

“The true harvest of my life is intangible - a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.”

--Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Old World Charm

It's hard to imagine poor Walter Raymond back in 1934, fretting away his last days in the caretaker's cottage of his magnificent Raymond Hotel, late on the mortgage and gripped with panic as the Depression brought financial ruin and a wrecking ball destroyed his creation...
While the grand hotel has been gone for decades, the caretaker's cottage still remains. It's home to The Raymond Restaurant -- a perfect South Pas Craftsman setting to enjoy creative cocktails and California cuisine. The bar has been set up in one of the back rooms of the house overlooking this beautiful patio. After a few of those well-mixed cocktails, you might feel just like you are back at the turn of the last century enjoying the Raymond Hotel high life. (Not that I would know or anything...)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Imagining the Rialto...

Wouldn't it be great if this were available right around the corner?

Yesterday I took my family to see a special screening of Secret of the Wings at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Secret of the Wings is the latest in Disney's Fairies franchise, and I can't imagine a more magical setting for a screening than the majestic El Capitan.

Unless, of course, it could be at our very own Rialto Theatre.

Naysayers love to insist that glamorous old movie palaces aren't practical, that people would rather stay at home and watch their Blue Rays than go sit in a theater, especially an old theater.

Well, the sold-out show at El Capitan yesterday is just one example of how wrong those naysayers can be. (I've covered many other success stories of renovated movie palaces in my Rialto series on Patch right here and here.)

When the curtain rose yesterday, illuminated by dozens of glimmering lights every bit as whimsical as fairy dust, Little Bit said, "This place is more special than any other building in the world! Will we ever have a theater like this at home?"

I don't know. I hope so.

Share my dream of a reborn Rialto? Join Friends of the Rialto here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Color Week #7 PURPLE

Who knew a garage door could be so avant garde? I hope a garage band practices in there. Preferably one that samples old Edith Piaf with an accompanying vuvuzela...


Well, it's a perfect way to round out Color Week. Thanks for taking a break with me to look at our technicolor hometown.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Color Week #6 BLUE

It's hard to be blue with skies like this.

Nothing dark this week, folks. Just bright, shiny shades of Color Week.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Color Week #5 GREEN

I'll bet you thought I would post a photograph of one of South Pasadena's famous green parrots? Instead, take a look at another of our feathered neighbors. I've seen this guy and his posse wandering all over town, especially in the Arroyo adjacent neighborhoods and in Monterey Hills.

Color week continues for a few more days!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Color Week #4 YELLOW

Not that you would ever consider such a thing, but if you were to climb over the fence of the water tower at sunset you might see a view like this one. (I'm speculating, of course.)

It's Color Week this week at Glimpses. No black and white but everything else.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Color Week: #3 ORANGE

No jack o' lantern could possibly be spookier than this sky after an autumn storm in Garfield Park. The ground was squishy with mud and the air felt like it had ice stuck to it, but the sky blazed.

I'm using all the colors in the Crayola box for the next few days. Join me for Color Week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Color Week: #2 PINK

In the pink? I'll say. If you don't think this is the most awesome, over-the-top proof positive that fairies exist and they are living right out in the open where everyone can find them, then you must either be colorblind or have no soul.

This is more than pink. This is pink if it had several more syllables and a publicist.

To heck with Fifty Shades of Grey ... This week my fetish is color. Join me as I paint the town.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Color Week: #1 RED

I've been consumed with black and white photography lately, so it's time to have a colorful interlude. This week I bring you color, color and more color. Join me as I take a trip across South Pasadena's rainbow.

I could have featured a detail of one of South Pasadena's red brick buildings, or maybe a still life with strawberries, tomatoes and apples from the Farmer's Market. Nah, I just couldn't resist this beautiful old red car. Long may she run...

Unrelated, but important: South Pas friend and neighbor Yvette emailed me about the loss of her pet cockatiel Lamby Bird and I want to put the word out in case anyone in town has seen him. See the side bar on the right of this post for more info

Saturday, September 1, 2012

And Many More

This is a special birthday wish for the beautiful, effervescent and brilliantly talented Shanna Galloway:

My dearest Shanna, may your year be filled with inspirational views and dreamlike vistas. To heck with silver linings ... here's to gold ones!

(Now, everyone go over to Shanna's blog VIEW and marvel at the most gorgeous sky photographs of all.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Music to Chill By

Stressed out with the new school year? Work getting you down? Headlines making you want to pull your hair out and hide under the bed? There is nothing worse than being bald, stuck under a bed. Don't do it! I say you need an excuse to cut out early, mute the phone and go for a joyride with some relaxing tunes.
It's time for another installment of Laurie's Friday Playlist!
As usual, you can find all of these songs on iTunes, Amazon and most other MP3 sites. (What I really need is a Glimpses Playlist App! I'll put that on my to-do list...) Also, I tend toward musical multiple personality disorder and have no problem following electronica with Willie Nelson.
Ready? Okay! Today I bring you...
Laurie's Answer to a Chill Pill -- a Playlist for Stressful Times:
Let's start out with a nice mellow groove Love is Here to Stay performed by Harry Sweets Edison and his orchestra. It's my very favorite rendition of the oft-recorded song, and a timeless way to calm down and feel better about the world.
Nice, right? We'll keep the relaxing vibe with a great B-side from U2, circa 1985: Love Comes Tumbling. I actually met U2 in 1989 and tried to impress Bono by discussing the hidden messages in this song. He wasn't impressed. (Hint: there are no hidden messages in this song.) I love the trance progression and dreamlike quality and I just swear there is something subversive in those lyrics somewhere.
Feeling relaxed? Good. Let's move into another ethereal song. This is a cover of Kanye West's Stronger performed live on BBC Live Lounge by 30 Seconds to Mars. I still can't believe anyone turned a hip hop dance song into deep, space-rock anthem. You've just got to love the Led Zeppelin-like angst in Jared Leto's plaintive falsetto at the end.
Did someone mention Led Zeppelin? (Petrea Burchard, I'm looking at you.) Everything on Laurie's Playlist need not be obscure. There is nothing better than Ramble On for a Friday drive.
There now, aren't we feeling like our problems are about a zillion light years away? Stay with me as we revisit a 90s band I wish had not broken up. Here is Blue, by The Verve from my favorite of their albums: A Storm in Heaven.
While lingering in the 90s, I can't resist adding Inertia Creeps by Massive Attack from their pivotal album Mezzanine. I love the Middle Eastern beat and dark undercurrents of this track. (The entire album is a mindblower, including samples from artists like Isaac Hayes and Zeppelin.)
Let's have a little world beat with I Ka Barra by Habib Koité and Bamada. If you like Paul Simon's Graceland/Rhythm of the Saints period, you'll love this. (Incidentally, I discovered this track free in my Windows Vista music folder. Who knew Microsoft could be so hip?)
Moving from Senegal all the way to Latin America, I give you Louie Cruz Beltran performing Esperando. I first heard Beltran when he played last month at the South Pasadena Concert Series in Garfield Park. (I apologize for the short song sample on this link. Just trust me and download the entire song.)
Speaking of South Pasadena, Civilians by Joe Henry was recorded at the Garfield House in 2007. The album features guest musicians Loudon Wainwright III, Greg Leisz, Van Dyke Parks and another name South Pas locals recognize: Bill Frisell.
Let's finish up with our mellow mix with a song that is particularly special for Jon and me. (This one's for you, groom.) Nobody can feel blue or misunderstood or worked up with a song this hopeful. Here's I'll Be Your Mirror by The Velvet Underground featuring Nico.
Happy listening!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

South Pasadena Family Tree

Ever wonder about the history of the majestic Moreton Bay fig tree outside the South Pasadena Public Library? It certainly seems primordial -- like a remnant of our earth's distant past. Little Bit once said that she thought the tree surely must have been around when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Even though I could imagine generations of pterodactyls making nests in that beautiful tree, I knew it wasn't that ancient. But I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed last year that the tree is barely 100 years old.

For years, nobody knew the story behind the beloved tree. I've heard all kinds of rumors, though. One guy told me it had been a sacred worship spot for the Gabriolino/Tongva tribes. I always liked that idea, and could imagine remnants of pottery resting just underneath those gnarled roots.

But that guy was wrong.

I also heard that it was the tree chosen to gather and declare the incorporation of South Pasadena as an independent city. I liked that story, too. Can't you just see a bunch of Victorians celebrating their new town at the dawn of the 20th Century beneath those branches?

Nope. That story is completely wrong, too.

As it turns out, lifetime South Pasadena resident Bill Kloezeman cleared up the mystery last year. The tree was planted in 1930 by Bill's father Willem Garret Andries Kloezeman (also known as Bill) when South Pasadena's Carnegie Library was being moved from Diamond Street to the center of town. City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted wrote about it on the library website:

"Many years ago while driving around town, the elder Bill Kloezeman used to tell his son about all the work he’d done around town, including his planting of the Moreton Bay Fig. Another well-known project of Kloezeman was the annual placement of a lighted star on the top of the water storage tower atop Bilicke Hill in the Altos de Monterey.

At the time of the planting the Moreton Bay Fig was a young potted tree and about 6 inches in diameter. When he planted it, the senior Kloezeman was working for the City’s Street Department. Bill (Sr.) worked for the City of South Pasadena from 1926 until he retired in 1972, a remarkable stretch of more than 45 years. While working for the Street Department in the 20’s and 30’s, Kloezeman planted many other large trees in town that are still around as well. Later he also worked for the Fire Department in the 40’s and the Water Department in the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s, until he retired as a Water Service Foreman on January 15, 1972. Willem “Bill” Kloezeman passed away on September 7, 1981."

It might not have a history of pterodactyls, tribal rituals or city incorporation, but who cares? At merely 100 years young, that just means our beautiful fig tree will be around even longer for us to make more memories, and maybe even come up with a few more mysterious stories about it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Musings for a New School Year

It's back to school time. Most of South Pasadena's kids are putting their noses to the grindstone in SPUSD's public schools. Others are attending private progressive schools like Waverly, Waldorf and Sequoyah or the highly academic Polytechnic. Some are in charter schools. A few are homeschooling. A few are even unschooling. But each child is preparing for a future we all hope is bright, happy and prosperous.

There's a tendency to ask every young person the same question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Adults start in with this as soon as a kid starts crawling out of the crib and reaching for stuff.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" We ask when a kid reaches for a baseball. "Are you going to be a ball player?"

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" We ask when a kid reaches for a paintbrush. "Are you going to be an artist?"

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" We ask when a kid reaches for his dad's computer. "Are you going to be an engineer like your father?"

It's natural, I suppose. After all, each of us had to pick something to be at some point. But wouldn't it be nice if we didn't try to put our kids into neatly labeled boxes before they've even had a chance to reach for enough stuff to know what they really want?

The current public school educational model is built around one principal: teach to the standardized test. While this paradigm certainly evolved from the good intention of making sure all kids could read and write, it has devolved into a system that tries to cram kids with varying talents and capabilities into one-size-fits-all.

Don't get me wrong ... I know that there are many things that just have to be memorized. From multiplication tables to French verb conjugation, education involves the consumption and retention of a lot of facts. But with a focus on memorizing the "right" answer, we've forgotten about all the wonderful discussion and reasoning it takes to find that answer -- not to mention the beautiful dissent of alternative answers. Teaching to the test requires all kids to be at the same place on the same map at the same time. But if we all march in lockstep, following the same map, is there any room left for trailblazers? How about those who might uncover something remarkable by spending extra time before moving along?

We have, in a way, removed a lot of the stuff that our kids can reach for, so that when we ask what they want to be when they grow up, the answer has to fit within one of the four possible answers on the test form.

I remember when I was in second grade and I told my teacher that I wanted to be an actress, a writer, an astronaut, a ballerina, a veterinarian and the Queen of England when I grew up. I went to elementary school in the 1970s when the popular educational model stressed freethinking and an open classroom. My second grade teacher didn't steer me toward a more realistic, productive way of thinking when I told her my plans. Nope. She just clapped really loud and said, "Right on, Laurie!" Lucky for me, that was also an era when my expansive daydreaming was called "creative" instead of ADHD.

But as I got older I remember being worried that I wouldn't make the "right" choices for my future. The Violent Femmes summed up all four years of my high school angst with one line: "I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record!"

Our kids are getting this kind of stress earlier and earlier. I recently heard a group of parents talking about how they were worried that their kindergartners weren't being challenged enough by the academics at their school.

"My son should be reading at a first grade level," one dad said. "He's capable of it. I expect more."

I couldn't help but remember my own kindergarten, where my biggest challenges were nap time, the sand box and paste.

My drama teacher once asked me something that resonates with me to this day. She had lived through the Holocaust, traveled the world and seemed to have fit four or five lifetimes into one.

"It's not what you want to be that matters," she said. "The bigger question is who do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to be yourself? Or do you want to be a character that someone else told you to be?"

Sometimes who we want to be involves switching the what around a few times to find the best fit. And those standardized tests don't always have the answers we want to choose. Sometimes the answer is "Other." Sometimes it's "None of the Above." Sometimes the answers change as the times change. After all, today's brilliant career choice is tomorrow's outdated job description.

When we get older and look back at our lives, we often realize that the test answers didn't give us our direction and purpose in life, anyway. What really mattered were our own questions we dreamed up while doodling in the margins.

Here's to a new school year.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cool Art

Want a great spot to escape the August heat? Head on over to San Marino to The Huntington Library and Art Collections. Last week I ducked out of the 100 degree blast and into the cool, comforting European Art gallery. (Gainsborough portraits! French marquetry pieces! Really icy air conditioning!!!)

Figurative art lovers, be sure to check out the latest exhibit of 16th and 17th century drawings: Royals, Courtiers, and Confidants: Early English Portrait Drawings on display until October 29th.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chugga Chugga Chugga Chugga

The Gold Line tracks sweeping underneath the Oaklawn bridge traverse the same terrain as a bygone Southern California railway. Posting this picture is a great excuse to link to a wonderful collection of photographs from an era when Los Angeles boasted the largest interurban electric passenger rail service in the entire world. Check out the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society.

Friday, August 24, 2012

to look up at the second-floor balcony

He went back into his own apartment, sauntered in as if he weren't damning luck. If he'd bumped into her on his return from the box, he could have bungled at his doorway for the key, discovered which apartment she entered. He walked inside, slamming the door after him. It had been years since he'd seen a girl who could set him jumping. The redhead was it. He went out to the kitchen and although he didn't want a drink, he poured a double jigger of rye and drank it neat. The slug calmed him but he wandered back into the front room, wanting an excuse to slip out into the patio, to look up at the second-floor balcony.

--Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exploring the Medium

Sometimes you really have to experience the artwork from a different perspective. This kid has the right idea ... literally joining the exhibit of botanical mobiles created by other children at this summer's SPACE Art Camp.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When a Staircase is More Than Just a Staircase...

"Mommy, I promise nobody will mind if I explore up there..."
"Sweetie, we have no business up there. People are working in offices up there and we have to go home."
"Maybe they want me to say hello."
"Saying hello is lovely, but we have to go now."
"Maybe somebody is really, really, REALLY having a bad day and they need a hug."
"That may be true, but we still have to go now."
"Mommy, I don't mean to be rude but I think you're being selfish. Don't you want to go help those people?"
"Help WHAT people???"
"The poor, sad people upstairs."
"Why do you think those people are poor and sad?"
"Okay. Maybe they're not poor and sad. Maybe they just have some really cool stuff up there and we're missing it. Mommy, we're missing it!"
I didn't move.
She didn't move either.
"Okay," she said. "I'll go with you because you said so. But I hope when I grow up I still have a sense of adventure."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Protest Picture

Ours is an age of high resolution, Photoshop and 16 megapixel cameras with automatic settings and high ISO noise reduction. We can preview, delete, edit, sharpen edges and correct noise. We can airbrush every single picture of ourselves we post in social media. We can even shoot a major motion picture on an iPhone, and edit it on an iPad.
Don't get me wrong, I love all this stuff. I'm a big techie geek and a voracious early adopter of most things digital. But, I'm beginning to wonder where the fun is in something that has become so easy. Even the free-spirited, shoot-from-the-hip lomography movement of a few years ago has transformed into a club with rules, and an excuse to overcharge for analog photography equipment. Anyway, with Instagram's ubiquitous hipster retro filters, everybody is a lomographer.
I recently saw a T-shirt that said "Digital Cameras are Democratic."
Far be it from me to be anti-democratic.
I guess I'm just suffering from high def overload. I don't always want my camera to correct my mistakes. I don't want to edit out all the blemishes of life. It's bad enough that magazine covers have begun turning women into digital robot people. My actual world isn't blemish-free and tack sharp. I'm also weary of artificial nostalgia approximated with Polaroid overlays and 10% added grain.
I guess I'm tired of pictures that are too controlled. Sometimes the best memories are the ones where we couldn't control anything and made mistakes.
So here's a big mistake. I don't even know what the subject in this picture was, much less how it ended up in my camera. It showed up in my photo file like a lovely little artistic poltergeist reminding me that an image is never reality, and it certainly isn't hyperreality. Sometimes it's just the representation of a feeling.
My feeling about this? Kinda like I just got away with something. A little rebellious. And what's a democracy without a few rebellions?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ordinary Place

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

--Elliot Erwitt

Friday, August 17, 2012

Arty Wench

Ever wish you could literally immerse yourself in art? Well, that's what I did at last month's South Pasadena Art Crawl. (See how I turned a goofy photo after a few glasses of wine into a truly highbrow endeavor? I'm good that way.)
Carnival Cut-Outs were scattered along the South Pas business district, giving South Pas art lovers a chance to "get into the picture." And, you know, we all kinda wish we could be in pictures. The Cut-Outs were conceived by Marie Miller and created by local artists as part of a collaborative project sponsored by our friends at SPACE and the South Pasadena Arts Council.
For a small city, South Pasadena has a ginormous collective of creative people.
SPACE is not only an incredible gallery, but it offers creative workshops for developing artists of all ages. (Little Bit just finished up a week of Art Camp there.) Find out more about the terrific programs at SPACE here.
South Pasadena Arts Council provides a great networking resource for local artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, set designers, singers, performance artists, photographers, directors and art patrons who want to make sure the arts thrive in South Pasadena. Find out how you can join us at SPARC here.
And you thought this post was going to be about drinking beer. (Well, the Orange Grove Park building was once a beer garden ... but that's another post.)
The things I do in the name of art.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Home Alley

If the South Pasadena Downtown Revitalization Project had not gotten hung up in litigation and a bad economy, our little town might have had a bowling alley to ride out summer's hottest days. Oh well, East Pasadena is an easy drive and that's where you can find 300 Pasadena. It's cool not only in terms of air conditioning but also because of the high-styling decor and dance-y tunes.

The sense of accomplishment I felt after bowling a strike was a good indication I should probably aim higher with my goals. Then again... nah. Set up another frame!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Carrot Noir

Whenever I drive through Monrovia, I can't help but smile as I think about the hard boiled novelist Raymond Chandler living there with his wife in a sweet little bungalow. (Yes, it's true. Chandler lived in Monrovia!) I always wondered what they cooked in that sunny kitchen while Philip Marlowe's dark fate waited on a blank sheet of paper in Chandler's typewriter? (Angel food cake, perhaps?)
Author and smart aleck Mark Crick gives us a better idea in his fantastic book Kafke's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes. All the recipes in Crick's book are delightful, but I am partial to the one included below. Okay, wise guys. Let's eat:
Lamb with Dill Sauce (à la Raymond Chandler) 1kg lean leg of lamb, cut into large chunks 1 onion, sliced 1 carrot, cut into sticks 1 tablespoon crushed dill seeds, or 3-4 sprigs fresh dill 1 bay leaf 12 peppercorns Half a teaspoon salt 850ml chicken stock 50g butter 1 tablespoon plain flour 1 egg yolk 3 tablespoons cream 2 teaspoons lemon juice I sipped on my whiskey sour, ground out my cigarette on the chopping board and watched a bug trying to crawl out of the basin. I needed a table at Maxim’s, a hundred bucks and a gorgeous blonde; what I had was a leg of lamb and no clues. I took hold of the joint. It felt cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake. I took out a knife and cut the lamb into pieces. Feeling the blade in my hand I sliced an onion, and before I knew what I was doing a carrot lay in pieces on the slab. None of them moved. I threw the lot into a pan with a bunch of dill stalks, a bay leaf, a handful of peppercorns and a pinch of salt. They had it coming to them, so I covered them with chicken stock and turned up the heat. I wanted them to boil slowly, just about as slowly as anything can boil. An hour and a half and a half-pint of bourbon later they weren’t so tough and neither was I. I separated the meat from the vegetables and covered it. The knife was still in my hand but I couldn’t hear any sirens. In this town the grease always rises to the top, so I strained the juice and skimmed off the fat. I added more water and put it back on the heat. It was time to deal with the butter and flour, so I mixed them together into a paste and added it to the stock. There wasn’t a whisk, so using my blackjack I beat out any lumps until the paste was smooth. It started to boil, so I let it simmer. I roughed up the egg yolk and cream and mixed in some of the hot sauce before putting the lot back into the pan. I put the squeeze on a lemon and it soon juiced. It was easy. It was much too easy, but I knew if I let the sauce boil the yolk was gonna scramble. By now I was ready to pour the sauce over the meat and serve, but I wasn’t hungry. The blonde hadn’t showed. She was smarter than I thought. I went outside to poison myself, with cigarettes and whisky.
--Mark Crick

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Things Left Behind

It's strange the things that mean something to you when your parents die.
Years ago, when my father passed away after a lingering decline, I thought I would want something to remind me of his many years as a swimmer and diver. One of his medals, maybe, or an old sweater with championship patches. The Diver, The Swimmer, The Coach -- these were my father's archetypes, the defining edges of his public portrait, the words most used to describe him in the many articles written about him during his life and in the eulogies and obituaries after he was gone.
But what ended up touching me the most as I went through his things was not an obvious symbol. Instead, I was moved by the articles he had written in his high school newspaper. Sure, he was Olympic-bound and fueled by his dreams of broken records and winning teams, but he was also a thoughtful, funny kid trying to make sense of a changing world which, in the late 1930s, was as murky as a pool that had not been cleaned all winter.
I guess I had never realized that my father was also a bit of a philosopher, a homespun good-guy poet with words to spare. By the time I came along three decades had passed. And by the time I was aware of him, he was just Dad. Much older, much more quiet and too busy working (he was The Coach, after all) to write more than mortgage checks and possibly the words to the Sunday crossword puzzle.
So, I kept those articles as a reminder of the father I didn't know: the person he left behind to become the one he needed to be to raise his family. Those articles connected me to that spark we share as human beings. The one that warms and inspires us when we are young. The one we often pass along like a relay torch to our children.
Something similar happened when my mother died a few months ago. I thought it would be her paintings that would mean the most to me. After all, she was an artist for most of my life. I remember her easel set up in the kitchen. It was something she could do while she cooked dinner, she told me. It didn't take away from her time being a wife and mom.
There was canvas after canvas of beautiful, impressionist images. Beaches, wildflowers and iconic Paris street scenes painted in a Texas kitchen by a woman who never traveled further east than Louisiana.
I love the artwork, but what really touched me as I sorted through her things was her old Yashica TLR camera. I remember when she started learning photography. I was in junior high and barely paid attention to what she cooked for dinner anymore. Her easel had been put away and, instead, she said she was going to learn to take pictures like a pro.
A pro, she said, was someone who had to spend more time than what could be done while she was in the kitchen.
She spent long hours in photography classes and even longer hours wandering around town looking for subjects -- and possibly herself. Her photos were similar to her paintings: full of romance, with soft edges. She captured a world in that camera that she wished she could live for herself -- an idealized, lovely world that didn't hurt, didn't age, and didn't let her down.
My mother tried on a few more creative hats after that -- writer, jazz singer -- but always with the same part time hobby spirit she gave to her paintings. Never again did I hear her talk about becoming a pro at anything. Never again did she really take time away from cooking dinner.
My sister shipped me that old camera the other day. As I held it, I not only remembered my own early photography training -- ironically, it was the exact same model I learned to shoot with in high school -- but I remembered my mother from long ago when she dared to expand her horizons through a viewfinder. She wasn't much older than I am now, and I think she hoped she could freeze time in that wonderful, black box. Or maybe make a new time for herself.
I can relate.
I think we don't really see our parents -- the whole of them -- until they are gone. Little by little, we piece together the parts that never made sense when we were children. The things we never noticed, or perhaps didn't care about, are often the ones that make the most sense when we are left behind, sorting through the remains.
I'm looking forward to shooting a roll of 120 film on Mom's old camera. Maybe I'll see the world like she did all those years ago. Maybe I'll find what she was looking for or, more likely, a piece of myself that I didn't even realize was missing. One thing is for sure: I'll probably be late for dinner.