2016

The sadness of losing my much-loved Roscoe at the end of the old year carried into the new year. A year later, I still can’t believe that his remarkable presence has been extinguished and that I will never have the joy of sharing my life with him again. I have yet to wash or dispose of his dish. I just can’t. A little spark of hope deep in my heart will never truly be doused, no matter what Logic decrees. I have never been a fan of Logic.

But there was light as well as shadow this year. I attended a beautiful wedding, some of my friends bought homes, and an unexpected visitor brought a lot of happiness with him on his epic road trip. I made a couple of little road trips myself, one south and one north.

Rainfall for the 2015-16 season was 55 inches. Rain started early for the 2016-17 season, beginning in September with a storm that dropped two inches in four days. Maybe this is a good sign for a wet winter. We can use every drop, a fact I must remind myself of when driving through it, especially in the ubiquitous winter darkness. So far for the 2016-17 season, we have received 23.4 inches, a good start.

Somehow, I managed to read more books than I did last year (103 vs. 85), despite working six days a week for most of it. Standouts included Sweetbitter, Dodgers, The Curse of Beauty, Everybody’s Fool, The Wicked Boy, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and The Harder They Come.

Power Outages: I think we had three, which seems to be par for the course, but they seemed to occur more in the summer than the winter. What’s up with that?

Other than that, here’s what happened to our heroine this year:

January: I started the year off on a tidy note. It didn’t take long for the first power outage of the year to rear its ugly head. Same goes for Wednesday’s engine light. Some delightful coincidences. And some (mis)adventures in cooking. Trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get everything done at work.

February: The wonderful woodworking show. A little preview of spring. A delightful day on the South Coast, with ballet and other pleasures. The first theater reading I have ever attended, though hopefully not the last. Our heroine finally leaves the County after a year and a half, heading to beautiful Monterey, where I visited the breathtaking Aquarium. Also beaches and farm stands.

March: A peek at our (eccentric) little corner of the world. And a delightful peek into its past. Not the most enjoyable morning ever. Family dinner to celebrate Dad’s birthday. The boys get the old grandfather clock running. Saturdays past and present.

April: Wednesday’s successful surgery. Road trips for everyone! Beauty inside and out. An early wake up call. Having the internet out for over a week is not the most festive way of celebrating my blogs 15th anniversary. Especially since the technician failed to show up. Our beloved Jessica turns 13! The kidlet is now a teenager. How did that happen?

May: Quilts, books, cats and dogs – just a perfect day in the Village. Rob’s incredible masterpiece. The last family dinner at Suzy Manor before they move to the family estate for the summer. The mystery of the cat in the night. A busy, but delightful, weekend. Out of season power outage. Celebrating Megan’s birthday in style.

June: An uneventful birthday for our heroine. Better than an eventful one! And the baby boy turns six, all by himself. Memorial Day BBQ with a side of bees. The joys of Junapalooza, showcasing the talents of the amazing Erica.

July: The ninth anniversary of Audrey’s reign. Lu and Rik’s beautiful, moving, wonderful wedding. It was such a joy to share that day with them and my family. I will always treasure that memory. A BBQ at the family estate with our extended family. A magical visit to the Botanical Gardens.

August: A bad omen, perhaps? Farewell to Jack, who first appeared in these pages as a dollar bill sized kitten. She was almost 17 and the last of the cats John and I had together. Much like when we lost Schatzi, it felt like Mom was really gone, losing Jack made me feel like our marriage was really over. Told you Logic and I don’t see eye to eye. Celebrating summer’s bounty with jam and a BBQ. Marking the 15th anniversary of losing my father and best friend. I will always love you, Dad. Thank you for always loving me, no matter what. A visit from our dear friend Clayton, garnished with a power outage. The two events were not connected. An obnoxious mountain lion made things a little scary for a while. He has since moved on – permanently, we hope.

September: September kicked off with a surprise visit that turned out to be utterly delightful. We had a great time going to the circus together, and having a BBQ at my brother’s place on his birthday. We sent our visitor on his way after giving his car a quick check up. Here’s to many happy returns! An exhausting visit from the Feds at work was followed by a delightful day at the Fair. As the month drew to an end, so did my jobette, for real-real this time. Lu, Megan, and I enjoyed dinner and a play together.

October: A look around my rather neglected garden, which still looks surprisingly good despite my lack of attention. It was a banner year for real estate for several of my friends. Megan and I enjoyed a cemetery tour in the Village. ‘Tis the season for scariness, but thinking I had lost my beloved Clyde was a little too scary. Fortunately, I was wrong. I love being wrong sometimes. Enjoying the rare gift of a day off. And a road trip north to the Drive Thru Tree and the One Log House. It was short, but sweet.

November: A trip to the magical South Coast for a play and some delicacies. A happy (and terrifying) Halloween. Speaking of terrifying, I hit a dog with the car. For the rest of my life, I will be a dog maimer. At least I wasn’t a dog murderer. My victim is recovering well and due back home from rehab on January 1. Regrets. I’ve had a few. Let the countdown to T-Day begin! Thanksgiving started a little earlier than I would have liked, but it was wonderful.

December: The traditional post-Thanksgiving craft fair. Going from the beach to the redwoods in one day. A candlelight shopping trip. Time to put up the vintage faux tree again! Taking Jessica to the Festival of Lights at the Gardens for the first time, but not the last. Getting ready for the big day. A merry Christmas celebrated on Christmas Eve, followed by a quiet Christmas Day.

A YEAR AGO: Remembering 2015.

Roadside America

Waking up when it’s light outside with cats sleeping peacefully on the bed and not (I’m looking at you, Queen Audrey) demanding to be let out: priceless.

It’s good to be home after my mini road trip north, and it’s a delightful coincidence that I am home on the anniversary of the day I moved to Hooterville, aided and abetted by family, as I am in most things. I’m so glad I moved here seven years ago!

As for the trip home, I concluded my Roadside America adventure with a visit to the One Log House near Piercy. It is, as its name suggests, a huge redwood log which someone had the bright idea of hollowing out to make into a bijou residence back in the 1940s. The tree it came from was over 2,000 years old and the house is 32 feet long. It is adorable inside, comprising a kitchen:

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and a bedroom:

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and a living room:

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Looking back at the front door from the living room:

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It’s pretty cozy, and other than being totally windowless (presumably, the builder was chipped out and couldn’t bear to chip out windows after creating the house), pretty livable. Maybe I’m just used to really small and eccentric houses. Whoever made this was way ahead of the Tiny House movement!

Back on the road, I took 101 (relatively) straight to Willits, where traffic slowed down dramatically. I picked up a delicious dinner at El Mexicano, completing the take-out/delivery theme on my roadside America trip. I turned onto 20, and drove through the sun-dappled redwoods to the summit with its spectacular view . As usual when driving this road, I marveled that it was the original covered wagon route to the coast. How did they do it?

Arriving home, I found kitties who missed me as much as I missed them. It’s good to be home.

Postcard

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Hello from the redwoods!

You’re right, there are redwoods in Hooterville, too. But it’s just one of those California things that you can drive for hours and still be in your own county (or just over the county line) and still be in the same area code.

As usual, my travel plans did not exactly go as planned*, so I didn’t end up in either the tropical Trinidad or the California one. I did make it to the drive thru tree:

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but I couldn’t drive thru it. It soon became clear that Wednesday would not fit through it. I guess cars were smaller when the tree was hollowed out in the 1920s. So I drove around, not thru, and was more disappointed than this warranted. I noticed that mine was the smallest car in the lot, so I asked a merry Asian family who were busily taking photos of each other if they had driven through the tree. Yes, they had, they said. They had folded up their side mirrors to make their car flapper era slim.

Filled with hope, I checked Wednesday’s ears and then the manual, only to learn that she was not equipped with this convenience. I got a postcard to commemorate the occasion and hit the road again, feeling sad out of all proportion. I was not too dejected to stop for lunch at the Peg House, since you never don’t stop at the Peg House. They even have an actual phone booth:

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‘Memba them?

They also have a nice, sunny patio where I had a sandwich and freshly squeezed lemonade and considered whether I really wanted to drive all the way to Trinidad, and decided I didn’t. So I looked for somewhere to stop and found a quite nice motel room somewhere north of the drive thru (or drive around) tree:

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I am pleased to say that there is a bathtub for wallowing in and that I am equipped with a bottle of wine and a Chinese restaurant delivery menu.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s road trip home adventures!

*For someone who worked at a visitors’ center for years, you’d think I’d be better at this.

A YEAR AGO:Vertigo reared its ugly head, but I worked through it.

Home Again

My culinary errands were not 100% successful. I found myself unable to face the line at Swan’s. Even at 10:30 am, the line was a block long and my patience wasn’t. I also struck out at Bob’s Doughnuts, where they were sold out of old fashioneds, so I settled for two cinnamon cake doughnuts. Of course Victor’s never lets me down, and I bought a surprise pizza for Megan and Rob to thank them for their cat sitting while I was away.

It was a bright, sunny day as I left the city, the Bridge gleaming International Orange in the sun, the white sails of boats dotting the blue Bay and the pastel houses tumbling down the hills. The hills closer to home were the deep green of winter, but starred with California poppies, daffodils, and calla lilies. The vineyards slept, but around them trees were hazed with green leaves and clouds of pink and white blossoms. Weeping willows dipped their long fronds into rivers that are rivers again instead of trickles.

Through the tall, dark, and handsome redwoods and out to the ocean, which was showing off for me. For the first time in three years, I missed my brother’s Polar Plunge, where he jumps in the freezing water to benefit Special Olympics, usually after singing a song while in costume. This year, it was “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”, and Megan was there to cheer him on and send me this photo of our merman after the jump:

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I am so proud of him!

Arriving home, I was greeted by Luna and Lupe, wagging their tails and jumping for joy as I petted them, and Megan, who happened to arrive home at the same time. Megan was much more helpful at unloading the car than the dogs were. Pets, I have noticed, never feel that they need to lend a paw with the housework.

Megan’s delight at the unexpected pizza delighted me. And it was nice to have unloading help. As we worked, we caught up on what had happened during my short absence.

Clyde came running to me, meowing his distinctive ClydeSound(TM), and I picked him up and cuddled him while he purred and pressed his head against me. Audrey, of course, does not permit such indignities as Being Picked Up, and she kept swatting me every time I passed her. I’m not sure if she was asking for attention or letting me know how annoyed she was at my absence, but hey – it’s Audrey. She also chased Lupe and Luna away with her tail all puffed up and giant.

My house seems amazingly quiet after Monterey and San Francisco, with their traffic and sirens and people yelling and honking. All I can hear are frogs peeping and cats purring. I’m really glad that I listened to Megan’s advice and came home on Saturday, so I have all of Sunday to relax and get ready to jump back on the hamster wheel on Monday.

Farewell Monterey

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The dreaming spires of Monterey

I’m coming to you from San Francisco, where the foghorns are singing their sad song and the wild parrots are crying out harshly as their green and red wings clatter overhead. And there will be Lemongrass (delivered) for dinner!

Before I left the balmy shores of Monterey, I stopped by Del Monte Beach. I was charmed by the dunes dotted with wildflowers:

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and the fact that there was actual sand. I’m used to the rocky shores of Mendocino and San Francisco, so it was delightful to walk along the shore with my feet sinking deep into the soft sand:

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Murres and oystercatchers rode the waves, and they were joined by a fellow surfer:

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As I drove away from the beach, I noticed several people either changing into or out of their wetsuits, so it must be a popular surfing location.

My route to San Francisco took me through farmland, dotted with what my friend Janice calls “contented California cows”, but also thick groves of spiky artichokes. I stopped at a farmstand, where they were working the fields right behind. I loved the cut outs by the highway:

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I came away with some early strawberries and of course artichokes.

Traffic was kinder to me leaving Monterey than it was getting there, and tomorrow I will head home after running some important culinary errands: Swan Oyster Depot, Bob’s Doughnuts, and Victor’s Pizza, not necessarily in that order.

Monterey Day

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Beautiful Monterey Bay

I woke up to the shouts of seagulls and a beautiful, sunny Monterey day. It was hard to believe it was February as Wednesday and I headed to the famous aquarium. I even took off my thin sweater and had the windows down. It would have been a perfect convertible day.

My friend Richard, who has friends everywhere, finagled a free pass for me to the Aquarium, a breath-taking savings of $40. The last time I was there, I went with my father, so it’s clearly been several years, and I think it was around $25, which seemed like a lot at the time. Even if I’d had to pay, it would have been worth it.

The Aquarium is located on Cannery Row, made famous by the great John Steinbeck. Little remains of Steinbeck’s gritty, hard-working area where women worked 14 hour days canning sardines caught in the bay, though the Aquarium houses some of the boilers which ran night and day to aid in the canning efforts:

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And sardines swirl in silvery shoals in the kelp forest:

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Fearsome lion fish, who are poisonous yet striking:

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lurk among coral and brilliantly colored sea stars. Also poisonous – and striking – are the jellyfish:

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They pulse gently as they waft through the water, looking so delicate and otherworldly that it’s hard to believe they are real. If I had to choose my favorite thing among all the marvels, the jellyfish would probably be it, though they get pretty stiff competition from the sea otters:

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They are so utterly adorable, swimming around with their webbed paws spread wide, coming right up to the glass as if to say hello, and generally being little goofballs romping around underwater. They are like big underwater Clydes, and I love them.

It was as delightful to visit there now as it was so many years ago, and I walked into the sunny day feeling like a kid again, with a sense of wonder and joy. Now, that’s priceless.

Road Trip

You guys! I actually left the County after a year and a half. Alert the media!

I’m coming to you from Monterey, where it’s warm enough to have the door of my motel room open at 7:30 pm as I await the delivery of Chinese food.

While I love food delivery as much as – well, probably more than – the next girl, and suffer from slothitude in about the same way, in my defense, I left the house at 10:00 am and got here at 4:30.

Granted, it’s 260 miles, including a long stretch of winding, narrow country roads, and I stopped for lunch in San Francisco, but still. Traffic was pretty bad in some parts, especially for a for a girl whose idea of “traffic” is waiting for two trucks to turn onto the highway or being stuck behind tourists driving 15 miles below the speed limit. I amused myself by watching people desperately switching between the two available lanes on this highway, as if this would make any difference whatsoever. Glacially paced traffic is glacially paced traffic, my friend, especially when it stretches as far as the eye can see. It was that mystery traffic, too, where there’s no accident and no particular reason for the slowness, or for it picking up the pace again.

It was a little daunting to see the arrival time on the GPS keeping getting later and later, and I mentally revised my plan of doing some shopping on arrival to having an adult beverage and calling for delivery food after unpacking.

At least I know everything is fine back home. Rob came by before I left this morning, so I could give him last minute instructions and he could tell me about his latest woodworking endeavor which he will be working on in my absence, ingeniously combining cat sitting and home improvement.

The shelves he recently built for me were such a success:

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that he is going to build more for me. Maybe with a cabinet underneath with sliding doors. We’ll see! I am looking forward to it.

It was also good that he came by when he did, because Clyde had thrown up on the quilt, so I had to wash it. I did not want to leave it wet, or leave it in the propane dryer with its scary open flame, so it was good knowing Rob was there to keep an eye on it. Also to pet the kitties. Clyde has never been without both Roscoe and me at the same time, and Audrey is not exactly cuddly, so I know he will need pets and fussing from Rob. Even Audrey likes it when Rob pets her, so I imagine they will all keep each other company.

Dinner’s ready, and tomorrow is another day. I am planning to visit the famous Aquarium. I believe I can walk my traffic free way there. Stay tuned…

A YEAR AGO: I seem to be living my very own Groundhog Day. A year ago Rob was working on my house, and I was battling Audrey’s fleas a year ago, just like I am now. Hmmm…

Summer Vacation

A look at a summer trip to Paris.

Paris, France
Friday, August 23, 1991

Sitting in the open window of my room at the Hôtel des Batignolles, in a part of Paris which is new to me. The room is quite nice for 290 francs a night: a double bed, clean bathroom with pretty grey tiles, and a window looking over a courtyard where children play and neighbors chat. It is not at all touristy.

The hotel is close to Montmartre, and has a post office, corner store, and many cafés all nearby. At the end of the street is a lovely, quiet square. The hotel was recommended by Margaret’s hairdresser, Philip*, and I have been very well taken care of so far.

After checking in, I walked to the rue de Rome, full of music stores, to the Gare St-Lazare. I bought a return ticket to Vernon, to go to Giverny tomorrow. Then I walked down to the Champs Elysées and had an omelette and a glass of wine while watching the people go by. It is magical to be in Paris again.

Saturday, August 24, 1991

Slept well on my down pillows. Walked to the train station through the quiet streets (it was early, Saturday, and August, the traditional month for holidays). There are no direct trains to Vernon on Saturdays or Sundays, so I took an almost empty train to Mantes-La-Jolie and then changed to a train to Vernon. You can take a bus from Vernon station to Monet’s house, but of course I took a taxi**. The taxi driver was very kind and arranged to pick me up a few hours later to take me back to the station. He pointed out a few things en route – a 400 year old mill, barges on the Seine – and said that Monsieur Monet had been beloved in the village. His coffin was driven to his grave on a humble wooden cart, “like one of us”, the driver told me.

I was surprised by how uncrowded the museum was. Entrance to the house and gardens was 30 francs (about $5). I was enchanted by the beauty of the gardens. They are separated by pink gravel paths and often have vine-covered archways, but the general effect is wild and uncultivated. A slim black cat lounged Cleopatra-like on a stone bench, disdaining the passers-by. The garden was a riot of color, filled with roses, geraniums, hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, and countless others. The waterlily pond looks exactly as it was painted, and it was amazing to stand on that bridge and look at those flowers:

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After touring the gardens, I had to find a quiet spot to soak it all in and think.

The house was truly charming. All the Monet paintings in the house are reproductions, and most of the pretty pink stucco house with green shutters is decorated with Japanese prints and drawings. I was especially taken with the cozy yellow dining room and the blue tiled kitchen. The house is very unpretentious and livable. By the time I left, the place was packed and there was a long line to get in. I had timed my pilgrimage well.

When I arrived back in Paris, I visited the Square des Batignolles:

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It is delightful, with waterfalls, duck ponds, and a carousel. I am enjoying my temporary neighborhood. I felt quite at home reading the newspaper on a green park bench in the early summer evening. Once again, I marvel at the many people who say Parisians are rude or unkind. Everyone has been quite the opposite to me, from the elderly lady who was amused that we were reading the same newspaper to the man who invited me to admire his little dog. No-one has refused to help me when I asked for directions or information (such as where to buy stamps on a Saturday) and some people (such as the man on the train from Mantes to St-Lazare) are even too friendly. I think it’s all in your own attitude.

*Philip was fantastic. He used to come to Margaret’s house and do her hair every week. He was very flamboyant and very funny, and I always loved talking to him.

**Some things never change.

A YEAR AGO: A loving farewell to a very special man.

A Trip Into the Past: Russia, Part II

St. Petersburg, Russia
September 15, 1992

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Sheets of tickets

Braved the number 1 tram to the Hermitage. As usual, it was insanely crowded and reeking of sweat and vodka. Long line to buy our tickets – sheets of paper equalling 200 rubles ($4). The Hermitage is a breathtakingly beautiful place, with its elaborate inlaid wood floors, high, vaulted gilded ceilings with paintings, both troupe l’oeil and otherwise.

The grand marble staircase:

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led to the Impressionists. There were Monets I had never seen before, including two incredible paintings of the garden at Giverny. I was transported back there as I gazed at them. There was a Renoir painting of his beautiful, radiant mistress dressed for the opera, which I had only seen in pictures before.

There were beautiful Degas drawings of nudes, and a stunning Van Gogh painting of a garden, as well as some fine Rembrandts. We were surfeited by early afternoon and took a taxi back to the hotel. The taxi driver told Dad and Margaret that England must crush their own Communist party. He said that things were very hard now for Russians, with runaway inflation, no jobs, and no money. It’s a beautiful place, but buildings are falling into disrepair, the shops are empty, lines are long, and the people look so hopeless. The taxi driver hoped that things would be better for his children.

In the evening, we went to the “Nobleman’s Palace”, formerly the residence of the Grand Duke Vladimir Romanov and built in the mid 1800s. Luckily the house was spared after the Revolution, becoming the scientists’ club, so it is exactly the way the Grand Duke left it.

We were welcomed with champagne by a guide called Natalia, whose voice was like music. Her history of the house was translated by Evgenia, the Intourist guide. We were shown over most of the house – the kitchen and bedrooms were under repair – including the formal ballroom, a confection of white and gilt, and the dining room with its Murano glass chandelier.

The concert was held in a room with copper chandeliers and walls of gypsum painted to look like oak. The first part of the program was a group singing and dancing to Russian folk songs. They used handmade instruments, including pipes shaped like birds. They had great energy and joy.

At the intermission, we had champagne, peaches and truffles in a room paneled with elaborately carved wood. After this, we returned for the last part of the concert, which was wonderful – a famous Russian opera singer and her piano accompanist, whose hands moved like birds. The singer’s voice was glorious and she did an encore – I could have listened to her for hours. It was a magical evening I will never forget.

St. Petersburg
September 16, 1992

After breakfast, we were loaded into red Intourist buses in the pouring rain and drove to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. It is a beautiful, elaborate building painted turquoise, white, and gold. It belonged to Catherine the Great, and in her time, the parts painted gold were gilded with real gold leaf. The French Ambassador is reputed to have said that the palace was a treasure and needed a protective box. Catherine replied that she was the treasure and the palace was her protective box.

The palace was completely gutted during WWII, but has been perfectly restored to its original splendor. There were photos of the rooms circa 1944, and it’s hard to believe that these are the same rooms. I was surprised that the palace was so lovingly restored during the communist era since they were such symbols of decadence and were half-destroyed anyway. Fortunately, the Russian people are so proud of their heritage and craftsmanship that the palace was saved. We walked the marble and elaborately inlaid wooden floors in protective felt slippers over our shoes.

We had lunch at the airport of all places, in a grand room with painted ceilings, classical columns, and elaborate moldings. After lunch, we visited palace of Catherine’s son, Paul. Apparently, she was not very fond of him and bought him this land three miles from Pushkin so he wouldn’t live with her. Paul’s palace is located in a town called Pavlosk. The palace is yellow and white, shaped like a semi-circle with a central dome, and is full of treasures, including Gobelin tapestries and Sèvres china which were gifts from Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. There was almost too much richness and beauty to absorb.

A YEAR AGO (2014): My boss meets the President! Also: the horrors of health insurance, an earthquake, and an unexpected visit from Audrey.

A Trip Into the Past: Russia, Part I

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Nothing to declare but my genius

Jump into the Wayback Machine with me! We’re going to post-glasnost Russia!

St. Petersburg, Russia
September 13, 1992

Now in my bleak Russian hotel room, sitting on my narrow bed [the coarse, less than white sheets would not be changed during my stay, and bore the bloodstains of many slain mosquitoes]. Time has changed a full 11 hours for me – I’m almost half-way around the world.

Flight was bumpy and very full. Couldn’t see anything but clouds. Actually walked down steps to a little bus to reach the terminal. Waited almost an hour for our luggage. Dad and Margaret had brought suitcases full of food, toilet paper, and duty free alcohol [later I would appreciate the wisdom of this]. We filled out declarations forms in French, asking whether we were importing firearms or objet’s d’art, and how much money we had and in what currency.

The terminal was very small, but had high vaulted ceilings decorated with stirring paintings of World War II. After the bags finally arrived, they were x-rayed, found satisfactory, then we went through yet another passport control and onto yet another bus, which took us to the hotel.

The Hotel Moscow looks like the projects and has a distinctively ’70s decor. Found a cockroach in Dad and Margaret’s bathroom, but he met a watery doom. They also have tiny twin beds, but their room overlooks the Neva. View from my room is completely uninspiring: backs of buildings and a construction site.

September 14, 5:10 pm

Well, it was a walk on the wild side today. Breakfast was mystery meat, mystery porridge, some weird soggy cheesecake type thing with no crust, hard bread, and weak coffee. Our ultra coiffed Intourist guide, Margarita, was giving some spiel during breakfast, and Dad suggested we leave during it to get some rubles. 400 rubles equal one pound, so we made the 400 ruble dash, as money often runs out before noon.

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Nevsky Prospekt

We escaped into the sunshine and walked up Nevsky Prospekt [it’s the main street], but it’s three miles long and our hotel is situated at the boring end, so we got on a tram. The shops are really strange – no displays, or mystery displays. Many are down stairs and through dark doorways, filled with lots of people and few goods. In the markets, people were selling odd assortments: shoes, candy, a toothbrush, what appeared to be home-made vodka, maybe a melon or two.

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Wine label

I did meet a little kitten outside a cheese shop and played with him until Dad came and got me. I miss Buddy so much, and it was a pleasure to meet and pet a Russian cat.

We finally figured out that the word that looks like “PECTOPAH” means “restaurant”. We opened one such door into a wide foyer and were beckoned past painted walls and up a flight of red carpeted stairs into what looked like an enormous nightclub. For $5, we were each given tomatoes with dressing, an egg shaped like a flower, borscht and beef stroganoff. I’m sorry to say that I’m not adjusting very well to the food here. I guess I’m just not a third world kind of girl.

On our way back down Nevsky Prospekt, we passed a long and animated line, which we learned was for cigarettes, a hot commodity. Everyone smokes everywhere here and they all seem to smoke the same brand, which smells worse than Gaulloises and Gitanes.

We finally reached the Hermitage, which is beautiful, painted green and white and presiding over a great square. The other side of the square is dominated by the admiralty building, a sweeping yellow Palladian-style building. We knew the Hermitage was closed that day, but enjoyed walking by it to the river. From the river, we could see the Peter and Paul fortress, its golden dome and spire glowing in the afternoon sun.

A YEAR AGO (2014): Feeling powerless.

Road Trip!

Megan and I went on a little adventure to the south coast on Sunday. We could not have had a nicer day for it. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue, and it must have been at least 70 degrees. No jacket required.

It was an all girl road trip, with Star and Stella in the back seat and Megan and me in the front. Megan drove, so I could enjoy the scenery, which was spectacular. The ocean was showing off, as were the whales and dolphins frolicking in it. Calla lilies unfurled their white flags by the side of the road, and drifts of yellow daffodils nodded in fields. The road meanders through hills, some steep and some rolling, dotted with cows and sheep on one side, and a precipitous cliff overlooking the ocean on the other, fringed with dark trees twisted by years of wind.

Our first stop – first things first, you know! – was the fabulous Thai restaurant in the tiny town of Anchor Bay:

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We ordered take-out for dinner, and while it was being prepared, wandered with the dogs through a small, secluded ocean view cemetery:

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The ground was starred with wild irises:

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and gravestones ranging from the ancient:

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to the modern:

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I loved how this couple had their wedding date and rings engraved between their names, and that his side reads “Gone fishing” while hers reads “Gone dancing”. Somehow I feel that their love lives on.

We stowed the dogs and the Thai food in the car and set off for the quirky little city of Point Arena. We went to the pier and found a rough wooden table on the deck of the chowder house. As we waited for lunch to arrive, we admired the view:

pacove

and the intrepid surfers. As Megan said, they must be experts to risk the rocks as well as the waves. While surfer watching, we moved away from the table, and a giant seagull made his move on our unprotected lunches. He only managed to knock over my nearly empty lemonade glass, which must have been a huge disappointment to him.

After lunch, we took the dogs to the Stornetta Public Lands, which recently became the newest part of the California Coastal National Monument, thanks in part to efforts at the jobette, along with many others. You may recall that my boss actually met the President when the lands were signed into protected status, something that still totally thrills me.

The dogs, however, were more thrilled by the sights, sounds, and smells of this new playground, especially cow fan Star. It soon became apparent that the lands are still in use by the Stornetta family for grazing their justly famous dairy cows*, so we divided our time between admiring the scenery:

stornetta

and keeping an eye out for cow calling cards, as well as keeping Star from rolling in them. I also began to worry about getting a sunburn. In January.

Somehow, the day was almost over, and as we headed back to the car, I stopped to watch the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs in the last, golden light of day, thinking of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place with such a wonderful family, including Star and Stella.

*The brand name is Clover Stornetta, and I have to admit that their billboards always make me laugh.

A YEAR AGO: Driving, and lots of it – also to the beautiful south coast.

Unexpected

Even way out in Hooterville, you just never know what will happen…

On Monday, I left home early to get yet another check-up for Wednesday. Her sullen teen years, like most kids’, have not been that great for the grown ups in the picture, no matter how faux. It seems that I will have to take her to a Ford dealership in the county seat, but I’m taking the Scarlett on that for now.

After that dispiriting news, I went to the jobette only to be greeted by all my co-workers. Don’t get me wrong: they’re always glad to see me, but they rarely are hanging around en masse by my desk, which is, as we know, where all the magic happens. They also had news: a car accident (later reports said a truck) had taken out some fiber optic cable just south of the Village, and surprisingly, this had removed all internet access to the Big Town.

We had no email or internet or phone and couldn’t sell anything either, since the cash register and credit card sales machine use the same system. So I made a sign, posted it on the door, put out the garbage and recycling for pick up this morning, locked the doors, and went back home. A snow day!

On arriving home, my snow day lost all its fun as work reared its ever ugly head. One of the good (or bad) things about having terrible satellite internet is that it’s not interrupted by the hiatus of the otherwise speedy and unlimited internet that others enjoy. It was its slow and expensive self, allowing me to work at my other job whether I liked it or not.

My boss/partner also – stop me if you’ve heard this before – has to attend his aunt’s funeral in Virginia (that makes five in the last three months), so is heading to the airport as I write. He had to reschedule our meeting, planned for Thursday, to today. So instead of working at the jobette and then driving to the San Francisco today, I drove to Oakland instead.

I don’t think I’ve set foot in Oakland since I left almost five years ago. I met Adrian across from City Hall, built exactly 100 years ago:

Here’s the Tribune tower, built in 1906, the year of the Great Quake:

Sadly, it is no longer a newspaper, but the tower still looks beautiful and is a landmark, especially when lit up at night.

I have to say that what little I saw of downtown Oaktown looked pretty good. Ditto the traffic wending my way back across the new and improved Bay Bridge toward Civilization. Though it had been a long day. Tonight: Thai delivery and the Giants game. Tomorrow: Meetings starting at 8:00 am.

2013

I’m ending the year the same way I started it – in my beloved San Francisco. This was a banner year for trips to the City: 9, an all-time high since moving to Hooterville four years ago. There was a lot more travel this year, some less fun (Atlanta) than others (LA).

This was a year full of endings and beginnings. I finally got divorced after almost a decade of being separated. While it was good to get the formalities out of the way after a long separation, it was still sad to put “The End” on our story. I am grateful that John and I are still friends and have many happy memories of our many years together. I did not manage to stay out of court, though on an unrelated matter. Summertime subpoenas have to stop! New year’s resolution: a subpoena- and court-free year.

The loss of our beloved Schatzi cast a shadow over the latter part of the year, a loss that resonates through every day, though I am thankful she was in our lives as long as she was. She was an unforgettable gift.

A new dog found her way into our lives (temporarily) at the Christmas season, when we were least looking for one, in the form of Stella the foster dog. There is no better way to honor our Schatzi than by rescuing another dog.

I said goodbye to my battered old car Miss Scarlett and said hello to a newer, fancier one, which took some getting used to.

I started my moments. This was inspired by a friend who writes down something funny or beautiful or delightful that happens to her each day on a slip of paper and then puts it in a jar. At the end of the year she reads all the slips of paper and remembers all the great things that happened.

This was fun to do for a year and a good exercise in much needed-discipline. It really made me appreciate the small moments every day: cuddling with the cats; the sun setting over the Pacific; a spider web jeweled with dew.

Favorite books of the year: Ann Leary’s The Good House, a great portrait of small town life; and the utterly poetic Ordinary Grace. I also read two outstanding books about Detroit, a place near and dear to my heart – Detroit: An American Autopsy and Detroit City Is the Place to Be. The charasmatic Charlie LeDuff, the author of “Autopsy”, also showed the equally charasmatic Anthony Bourdain around Detroit on an episode of “Parts Unknown”, which is well worth watching.

I only read 83 books this year, a significant drop from last year’s 103, a continuing decline which I attribute to the more work, less fun aspect of the new (though not improved) economy.

Rainfall for the season: 5.14 inches. Last year at this time: 24.20. The drought is getting alarming. January and February of 2013 were the driest in recorded history in California. People in the Village are having water delivered!

No power outages so far this season. None! There were 6 at this time last year.

Here’s what happened to our heroine this year:

January:

Started the year off right by heading to San Francisco. Got a new look for my old car and a new iPhone (which has yet to ruin and/or take over my life, possibly due to the lack of cell service here). Wednesday was also Weirdsday. However, Friday was Funday. Yet another trip to San Francisco, this time for (mostly) professional reasons. Royal Treasures of the Louvre at the Legion of Honor. An epic day to get my photo taken for my work website. Spoiler alert: I hated the finished product, although my hair looked awesome.

February:

The cats react to a visiting chicken. An update on Archi, The World’s Cutest Puppy. Beautiful woodworking. Scout’s vet adventure. My intrepid brother takes a Polar Plunge.

March:

Schatzi gets a check-up. Little did we know it would be her last one and that we only had five months left with our beloved girl. Divorce and taxes. Why not? Dad’s birthday. First day of spring. Working on the endless divorce paperwork. A lovely trip to the South Coast.

April:

A late season storm. Haiku. Jessica turns ten! In San Francisco. Breakfast at Swan Oyster Depot. There isn’t a better start to the day. My welcome home included a screen door on the sleeping loft balcony, which has made life about 1,000% better. Thank you, Rob! Jessica’s birthday BBQ. More divorce paperwork, with moral support from my sister. An evening at the theatah.

My blog also turned twelve on April 20, though I failed to note the fact. Sorry, little blog!

May:

Amazing woodworking show. A walk with Star and drinks with Monica in Little River. Birth of an orchard. An early birthday celebration for Megan. A delightful dinner with delightful friends. The end (almost) of the decayed old hot tub. Needless to say, the motor is still there. Megan’s actual birthday, complete with a hand-made picnic table and a daring cliff rescue, both courtesy of our intrepid brother.

June:

Birthday baseball in beautiful San Francisco. Impressionists on the Water at the Legion of Honor. Back home for my birthday BBQ. Monica’s birthday party.

July:

A cavalcade of health problems: Megan’s flu; Jessica’s broken leg; Clyde’s mystery illness. Everyone on the mend. Thinking about summers past. The truth about Schatzi. Wedding plans and peaches.

August:

A lovely stroll with Star and my sister. A frantic Friday. Clyde meets the mysterious Slobber Monster. Megan takes care of the patient. The devastating loss of our much loved Schatzi. A day at the beach with Star. The twelfth anniversary of our adored father’s sudden death. I will never stop missing him until I catch up with him. How to make a really expensive peach pie. A beautiful, joyous wedding. A surprise in the mail – and at the door.

September:

Celebrating our incredible brother’s birthday. A long drive to Reno. Enjoying the spa. Back home in the fresh air! Megan’s last gift to her beloved girl. The County fair. The wonder of a south coast safari. A look around a delightfully eccentric local town.

October:

Last minute car repair before heading to San Francisco. My divorce becomes final as I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. A soirée in the Village. Audrey does not enjoy her visit to the vet. A local landmark reopens. An epic journey to Los Angeles. The delights of Santa Monica. The glamor of Hollywood. A fascinating tour of downtown LA. A virtual walk with Megan and Star at Big River.

November:

A happy Halloween. A quick trip to Atlanta. The delights of Hockney and Bulgari at the De Young – not to mention the view from the top. A late season barbecue with family and friends. The beginning of the end of Miss Scarlett. Thanksgiving preparations.

December:

Thanksgiving recap. A conference starring my boss. So proud! A long and busy day. The end of the road for Miss Scarlett. ~sob~ Of frozen pipes and Christmas trees. Puppies! And meeting Stella. A surprise dinner and a play for our nephew, Jarrett. A brand new (well, to me) car! Working hard – or hardly working? A merry Christmas.

Thanks for coming along with me on another year of adventures, great and small. I wish you all a joyful and healthy new year!

Busyness

It’s 6:15 am, and it’s 44 degrees F/6 degrees C inside my house. Winter’s here!

Here’s yesterday’s schedule:

5:30 am
Get up and make coffee. Glad that I brought coffee and small French press with me to avoid the equally horrifying possibilities of in room coffee or having to go and get coffee in the dark before having coffee.

6:00 am
Conference call dealing with minor work emergency. Hope it’s minor, anyway, since the SEC is involved and also the word “violation”, which is even more horrifying than in room coffee.

7:00 am
Put hair and face together. Prepare to impersonate responsible adult.

7:30 am
Get taxi and go to hotel for Day Two of conference, where I have been charged with tracking down a couple of strangers and charming them.

While looking for a cab, my brother calls and we have a discussion about the Car Situation. Still have to finish dealing with that.

10:00 am
Leave conference for another meeting, right near my old office. As I walk along the familiar streets, I pass Lotta’s Fountain, where survivors (as of this date, there are only two left) of the ’06 quake assemble at 5:12 a.m. every April 18:

I still feel like San Francisco broke up with me, but the pain has faded to a bittersweet ache with time. A little less stab in the heart, a little more punch in the gut. I guess I’m really lucky that I lived there so long that its streets are still so familiar to me.

12:00 pm
Get a cab back to the modest motel, finish packing, load up car. Whirlwind trip to Victor’s for pizza; careful topping up of The Monster’s gas tank; Trader Joe for necessities like coffee.

1:11 pm

On the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

3:00 pm

Stop in Cloverdale to finally eat something and get out of The Monster.

3:45 pm

Stop at Yorkville Cellars to bring them promised jobette materials. Resist this delightful suggestion:

and admire the sweeping vista over the sleeping vineyard:

Notice a last bunch of grapes which missed the harvest:

4:00 pm

One last stop at Gowan’s, for fresh walnuts and apple cider.

5:00 pm

Arrive home. Unpack with Leafs game on and kitties getting underfoot. Will they ever understand that this makes the feeding process slower instead of faster? The magic 8 ball says NO.

It’s way past drink o’clock.

As for today, I just have to get up in the dark, wait until it’s light enough to let the cats out, get ready to work, drive The Monster back to the car rental desk, walk to work, and then, you know, work all day. Is it really only Wednesday?

Suzylocks and the Three Cars

I’m coming to you from the modest motel in San Francisco, where the foghorns are blowing up a storm, so I’m guessing it’s dark grey outside. You may wonder how I got here with Miss Scarlett in the shop and the loaner Honda clearly not up to the road trip.

The day after Thanksgiving, Megan, Jarrett and I went to the craft fair in the Village, our holiday tradition. Then we went to the Big Town, where we confidently drove up to the strip mall where the DMV is and the one car rental place used to be. Used to be.

I checked my confirmation email on my iPhone and learned that the car rental place had moved. We went to the new location, which is a fancy way of saying “desk with a girl inside a car dealership”. It turned out that she only had one car available, even though it was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon and they close at 5:00. Apparently people who promised to return their cars had not kept their word.

Since the car rental place is closed on Saturday and Sunday, I had no choice but to take the enormous and hugely hideous Jeep Compass. Megan and Jarrett callously left me there to deal with it with the insouciance of people who have driven an ambulance (Megan) and currently drive a gunboat sized 1977 Chevy (Jarrett). I asked if I should bring it back full, and she said, “No, it’s at a quarter. So bring it back at a quarter.” Not only did this necessitate an immediate trip to the gas station, where it took me forever to figure out how to get the key out of the ignition as the day darkened, but I’ll have to try and finesse my gas purchasing to make sure I don’t give the rental people an early Christmas gift.

Did I mention that the monster gets about 18 miles to the gallon?

Although huge, it’s claustrophobic inside, with surprisingly little trunk room. Also the windows are tinted, making vision difficult at dusk, and the rear window is partly blocked by the absurdly high seat backs, even at their lowest setting, and is difficult to see out of at all due to the odd angle.

I felt like the universe was saying, “You don’t like the tiny, noisy, rattly old car with no radio or stereo? How about a huge, quiet, new car with a CD player?” I had an almost physical longing for Miss Scarlett as I drove along the Ridge, in peril of the three foot deep car eating ditches. This one’s too hard. This one’s too soft. This one’s just right.

Whew

A lot has happened since I last checked in with you from the 27th floor of my Atlanta hotel.

I woke up before the alarm (and wake up call) at 6:15 am. Despite utter lack of use, my ability to cope with time zone changes and lack of sleep while traveling has not atrophied. The secret is to forget about what time it is at home and just be on local time.

I had cleverly pre-ordered breakfast the night before, and it, especially the coffee, arrived none too soon. I watched the sun come up over the city as I ate:

I wish I’d had more time to explore Atlanta. Everyone was so nice to me there. Even the airport processing was as polite as possible.

The longer flight home – it’s always longer flying west – was worse than the overnight one, since sleep was not an option. There was wifi on the plane, but no outlets to plug in your laptop, and no room to use it in if you did. I am pretty sure that planes are more crowded than they used to be, jamming more seats and people in than ever before. I don’t think I could handle the 12 hour non stop flights I used to do once or twice a year to visit Dad in London under current conditions.

I was glad to be back in San Francisco, though pretty tired. I don’t recommend traveling almost 6,000 miles in two/three days (depending on how you calculate the overnight flight). I was also glad that I opted to stay overnight before facing the drive home. Enough already!

I am back home and I don’t know who is happier about that, Me or the cats. Or maybe Megan, who has had to cat sit the unruly bunch (Audrey, I’m looking at you) far too often lately.

Bags are unpacked, laundry is hanging out in the sunshine, and all is right with the world.

Home of the Braves


Atlanta at night

It was a long, long walk through the Atlanta airport. This turned out to be a universal source of amusement for everyone in the know, which turned out to be everyone but Me. Apparently I should have taken one of the train things labeled Gates A, B, C, etc. instead of persistently plodding toward the signs that said Ground Transportation, with alluring pictograms of taxis.

About a day later, I arrived at the taxi stand and was swept on my way to the hotel. The traffic was as bad as I remembered from my epic drive to Florida a few years ago, though still a total delight compared to LA.

At the hotel, I was thrilled to see a beacon of hope. A Starbucks! Right in the lobby! I ordered a small coffee, and perhaps due to the alarming demeanor of a girl who had had no sleep while wedged into a tiny airplane seat all night, he asked me no questions in return, but simply put a warm cup of hope in my hand, becoming my new best friend.

I took the great glass elevator to my room on the 27th floor, which featured floor to ceiling windows, as you see above. I repaired face and hair, put on dress up shoes, and prepared to impersonate a responsible adult.

It was a short walk to the building where the meeting was to take place:

The lobby was quite lovely:

The meetings took up most of the day and went very well. Yes, I still have to write up my report on it along with the rest of the third quarter reporting, but I’m not going to think about that now. One of the ladies I met with walked me to the nearest branch of my bank, where a kindly gentleman issued a temporary card for me and printed out a list of recent transactions.

About 75% of them were not mine. When I got back to the hotel, I called my friends at the Fraud Department to go through them, and what they showed on their system and my print out – just minutes old! – did not match. Needless to say, they showed about half of what was on the print out. I will have to go into a branch and deal with it there. Again, not thinking about that now.

I went back down to the lobby, where I printed out my boarding pass for this morning and discovered that the store with the souvenirs also had wine! They even opened the bottle for me and put the cork back in for the perilous journey in the great glass elevator:

The wonder store in the lobby also had clary sage bath salts, so after checking in with my boss and my sister, I took a long bath with a glass of wine and my MacBook perched on the toilet playing an episode of “Gilmore Girls”. After that, it was time for room service and an early bed.

Now it’s time to head back to the airport. It’s been a good trip.

At the Gate

Note: I am now in Atlanta. Wrote the following at SFO last night.

I’m coming to you from the gate at SFO, waiting for my midnight plane to Georgia. Although there is an outlet at my seat, I can’t make the wifi work. You can’t have everything.

It was a long, dark drive here. I had forgotten how streetlight deficient the first part of the highway was, though it had an over abundance of blinding headlights: in your face, in your mirror, everywhere! But nowhere useful.

Before I had even left the county, I got a call from my bank’s fraud department alerting me to the fact that someone in Australia tried to charge $1,337 to my card (they were, thankfully, denied). After that, there was a series of $10 charges at Petco and $4.33 at an Apple store (what can you get at an Apple store for $4?) which did go through.

I pulled off the road to talk to the bank. They have put a hold on my account, so nothing can go out, and will reimburse me for any fraudulent charges. Once I get to Atlanta, I can stop in at an office and get a temporary card to use.

I was kind of shaken up, even though it turned about as well as it could have. I feel violated and wonder how on earth someone on the other side of the world got my debit card info.

Just what I needed before a trip across the entire country. I will arrive in Atlanta around 7:30 am and will hopefully have time to check into my hotel and fix my face and hair before facing the day’s meetings after little or no sleep.

Home Again

I gave myself about the same amount of time to drive to LAX, return the rental car, take the shuttle to the airport and go through the dehumanizing process that is required of those who have the temerity to fly as I did to drive all the way to Santa Rosa from Hooterville.

I also avoided the freeways en route to LAX, a wise choice since every time I passed one, it looked like a parking lot as far as the eye could see. Arriving at the rental car place, I unloaded the car and waited for a minion to make sure I hadn’t wrecked it. Fortunately, the wait was much shorter than the wait to pick up the car. Then it was on the shuttle, to be next to last decanted.

By the time I had undressed and dressed and gotten to the gate, there was about 20 minutes to wait. I had given myself three hours, and if there had been a delay at the car rental place or Security, even that might not have been enough time.

Fortunately, all the hassle was on the LA end. At the Santa Rosa airport, there is one luggage belt, about 10 feet long, and it only took a few minutes for my luggage to appear. Then it was a short walk to reclaim Miss Scarlett and be on our way.

Needless to say, the traffic seemed like a total breeze. Driving through the Valley, it was wonderful to breathe clean air and admire the rolling hills ablaze with yellow, red and orange vines, our version of fall colors.

I got home in time to see Megan before she headed off to work. She told me that the kitties had taken their birds to her house, and also hung out on her car while I was away. They certainly missed me – the next day, they hardly played outside, despite the sunny weather, and they have slept with me every night since I got back. I feel kind of guilty about the upcoming Atlanta trip.

Magical History Tour

It seems only appropriate that I am back home in Hooterville on the fourth anniversary of my move here. Although I enjoyed the trip to LA, it made me appreciate my quiet country home more than ever. I think it’s safe to say that the bumpkinization process is complete.

On my last day in LA, I took a walking tour of downtown. The tour guide is a Southern California native who is passionate about Los Angeles and its history. We met at Angels Flight, the shortest railway in the world:

It was built at the turn of the 20th century to connect the mansions that were then on Bunker Hill to the shopping district below. After the 1929 market crash, the mansions were abandoned and became brothels. Eventually they were replaced by the skyscrapers you see now.

It costs fifty cents to ride Angels Flight when its operational. Unfortunately it is closed following a derailment last month, but hopefully it will open again soon.

Across the street is Grand Central Market:

This was built in 1917 and would have served the mansions’ servants. Now it’s a bustling, vibrant collection of restaurants and food stalls and well worth a visit.

Just a couple of blocks away is the iconic Bradbury Building, perhaps best known from the movies “DOA” and “Bladerunner”. Here is the exterior:

And the interior, flooded with light from a huge skylight:

Photos do not do it justice. Even the elevators are masterpieces of metalwork:

Across the street is the Million Dollar Theater, built by Sid Grauman before the Chinese Theater. Just down the street are the El Dorado Apartments, where Charlie Chaplin lived when his films premiered at the Million Dollar Theater.

When City Hall was built, there was a height restriction of 150 feet for buildings downtown. The builders of the landmark building were allowed a one day exception to the rule, long enough to get the blueprints approved. The idea was that this would be the grand symbol of the city:

Across the street from City Hall is the Cal Trans building:

This is the only building in California that extends out over the sidewalk. If Cal Trans can’t do it, who can?

I loved this art deco building:

Note the lack of palm trees in the downtown area. This is because most filming – and LA is the most filmed city in the world – takes place here. It would spoil the illusion that it was New York or Chicago with palm trees in the shot! Filming was taking place at several locations as we walked by, and I noticed that near the buses and equipment there were yellow signs saying odd things like “Biscuit”. This is code for the movie name, so that people don’t mob the set looking for, say, George Clooney or Matt Damon.

It was fascinating to see how downtown LA is changing and growing. Once elegant hotels became skid row accommodations, and now are being converted to condos and lofts. Vacant storefronts were taken over by artists looking for affordable gallery space, and now the Art Walk attracts up to 50,000 people each month. The artists’ presence has made the area more desirable, so boutiques and higher end restaurants and bars are slowly moving in. You can see the gentrification process happening right before your eyes, a rarity in such a well-known and populous city.