10 Things I Learned About London Theater In 3 Days

September 11, 2015
  1. Unknown-1In England, Roald Dahl gets a possessory credit above the title (like the one John Carpenter takes) for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.
  2. They charge four pounds for a Playbill in London. But it’s bigger than the free US ones, each particular edition has some editorial material about the specific show you’re seeing, and, anyhow, somebody in front of me was somehow able to run down the cast (“Who’s Who”…) on his smartphone.
  3.  TPTGW106-700x325Slapstick works everywhere. THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, which is basically the disaster act of NOISES OFF quadrupled, or maybe a live version of THE ART OF COARSE ACTING, should come with complimentary Pampers. Sometimes you can’t even breathe.
  4. When the manager of THE COMMITMENTS yells just before the fourth-wall-breaking encore set, “Is there anybody here from Ireland?”, a London audience can give him a huge response.
  5. UnknownThere are theater-busting assholes everywhere. Just to the right of me at THE COMMITMENTS, two biddies talked to each other using normal conversational tones during the entire show, as if they were home watching telly. Fortunately, whenever the soul band played, you couldn’t hear them any more. They did their best to ruin the show but failed.
  6. You can order “interval” (intermission) drinks before the show. When you get to the bar at halftime, they’re already waiting for you. The interval order taker is the most popular guy as the audience is filing in.
  7. Ice cream is a huge interval favorite, but can be queued for and consumed in the auditorium itself. No biggie. A member of staff will be by just before curtain with a big rubbish bag.
  8. They don’t tell you to turn off your phone or don’t take pictures or don’t bring anything into the theater. People just take all the pre-show pictures they like but know enough to turn everything off when they should. I never heard a cell phone ring or even saw anyone surreptitiously consulting one during the actual performance. The transgressive biddies were, sadly, non-electronic.
  9. maxresdefaultThose oompa loompas (five or six different sly costume-&-lighting gags to make an average-sized person appear to be half hisser actual height) are amazing and worth the CHARLIE ticket alone. The bad news: they don’t appear until Act II.
  10. Understudies and overstudies come out on stage for the final performance. The lead COMMITMENTS role — the asshole singer — was being played by the Sunday man, but his rest-of-the-week counterpart, and all other fill-ins, showed up on stage for the finale of the show’s West End run. Is the musical — book, in the musical theater sense, by Roddy Doyle — any good? Look: all they promise is that you’ll get to see the soul revue known as the Commitments throw down live on stage, and once they kicked the show proper away for a joyous out-of-character series of encores, they bloody blew the roof off the bloody dump. So no, and bloody YES.
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10 Things I Learned In Argentina (With A Bonus!)

April 8, 2015

1) You know you want a slab of lean Argentine beef, right? Order the sirloin, called in most restaurants the “Bife De Chorizo.” They also have ribeye, filet, even succulent tenderloin, but this New-York-strip-steakish cut is not only cheaper, it’s also exactly what you want and is their best expression of mid-day, siesta-inducing beef. Tell them to cook it however they would enjoy it best themselves. Get the steak frites.

This is it.

This is it.

2) The famous Malbec grape, star of the Mendoza wine region, is more versatile than you may have imagined, especially in blends with Cabernet and Franc or yummy Tempranillo. The stuff we get in the States is generally the mass-produced dregs, hence the low regard. It’s like being in the Duoro: these really beautiful wines are so good that the locals drink them all up! But this could be changing as French winemakers move into the region and marry two styles, with international sales in mind. There are now pure Malbec bottles that can make your hair stand up, but the blends are still the absolute grooviest.

The tank room at Bodega (winery) Alta Vista near Mendoza.

The tank room at Bodega (winery) Alta Vista near Mendoza.

3) Eva Peron is tucked away in her famous cemetery, La Recoleta in Buenos Aires; it takes some footwork to find the memorial to her mortal remains. Fortunately, Airbnb led us to a great place in the charming Recoleta neighborhood, so we felt like we had plenty of time to wander around.

Evita and family.

Evita and family.

4) If you want to go to Uruguay, it’s a simple ferry ride, which we took, to Colonia del Sacramento. Some people on both sides take this ride for visa reasons: you have to leave the country every few months, etc. We were thrilled to be in another country. It looks like Cuba b/c of all the antique American cars passionately (and otherwise) maintained.

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5) US$ are more prized than AR pesos. This is because there is an official exchange rate and a “blue market” exchange rate. “Blue” instead of “black” because airbody knows about it, and individual stores will even offer the “blue” rate to your face if you’ll only pay in US$.

6) Mendoza is primed to explode. It’s like Napa a generation ago. They’re even selling plots wherever you go. The main problem is WATER. Don’t buy a plot unless you know you have this problem nicely solved, but if so, you’re betting on one of the world’s next trendy wine regions, so the dice would seem to be loaded in your favor.

This is the cellar at O. Fournier in the soon-to-be-trendy Uco Valley. You may peg it as a sanctuary. You would be correct.

This is the cellar at O. Fournier in the soon-to-be-trendy Uco Valley. You may peg it as a sanctuary. You would be correct.

7) The Vines Of Mendoza is a great place to settle down and taste. They know what they’re doing there, and although they’re obviously promoting, they listen to you too.

First thing you wanna do in Mendoza is head down to Vines Of. They are great.

First thing you wanna do in Mendoza is head down to Vines Of. They are great.

8) The non-tourist-serving Argentine people know just enough English: maybe a tad less than Europeans, but they make up for it in friendliness. You can communicate in a pinch with flailing hands and pointing fingers. Waiters and such are by and large fine: they have menus in English so all you have to do is point. A typical taxi driver may speak just a few English words, which matches my Spanish precisely. I made a couple of ’em laugh with my pitiful attempts. Write down your destination ahead of time and you’re bueno.

The first few days of fall were just perfect for al fresco steak snarfing.

The first few days of fall were just perfect for al fresco steak snarfing.

9) The stars are all different in the Southern Hemisphere. I should have noted this in Australia twenty years ago. We stayed in a top-floor place in B.A., but I never got a really close look at them. I imagined seeing the Southern Cross — or maybe I actually did! — and took a swig of Malbec. It was as if I had, so I was happy.

10) I turned on my pad and saw a Google Doodle made up of gourds: squash, pumpkin, etc. Curious, I clicked to get the significance, and — in Spanish — found it was the First Day Of Autumn. In other words, Sergei and Larry and Eric, along with the entire Apple staff, knew exactly where I was.

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That is molto creepando, but I still owe a hearty muchas gracias to Ricardo (Mendoza Wine Tours), Andreas (The Vines of Mendoza), Alejandro (at our B.A. apartment), and all the other terrific people who made us feel right at home. Note to self: quit falling in love with these places. The return list is getting too long!

The actual second course (of seven) at our i Latina dinner. Don't miss it.

The actual second course (of seven) at our i Latina dinner. Don’t miss it.

BONUS TIP: Before you go to Buenos Aires, check out http://www.ilatinabuenosaires.com. This was the best place we ate in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Go all out for the wine tasting menu.


Cuba, Si! Castro, Meh.

December 19, 2014

cubaIt’s amazing, the things you can do when you no longer have to be concerned about winning elections in Florida. President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba are historic not because they’re so surprising, but because the only guy who can get the ball rolling is a lame duck who will never have to run again.

In most of the country, all but the most virulent knee-jerk Commie-haters (or black-President haters) understand that our fifty-year trade embargo has done nothing to harm the Castro regime — it’s still there, after all — and everything to isolate innocent working-class people by denying them access to the world’s richest market, and, perhaps significantly, vice versa. The overwhelming view is that the embargo is a failed Cold War relic whose time has long past.

That’s most of the country. It’s different in South Florida.

This region is stocked with refugees old enough to vividly remember the brutality of Fidel Castro’s “revolution,” who consider it treasonous even to recognize the regime which split proud families into resentful diaspora, much less do business with it. They are a shrinking minority, but they are vocal and potent beyond their numbers. Younger Cuban-Americans tend to agree that the embargo has outlived its usefulness, but their parents and especially their grandparents are far more fervent and thus far more likely to vote. It is political dynamite for a Florida politician to suggest any relaxation of our rust-covered Cuba policy, which is why Presidential prospects like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are leading the outcries against the president (along with usual-suspect Obamaphobes like Lindsey Graham, that Ebola-shrieker who still yells “Benghazi!” whenever he can).

Some right-wing babblers have found themselves twisted into knots, praising the release of detained U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, then denouncing the President in the same sentence. But the general response to President Obama’s action — he was covertly assisted by Canada and the Pope! — has been sensible and supportive. Talk of withholding funds for creating a U.S. embassy in Havana is just that: talk. Here’s one thing nearly everybody can agree on, like the fact that our gun laws are too lax and our military budget is too bloated. But to actually propose a solution? After you, Senator.

So American tourists will be able to legally bring back some of those ass-kicking Cohibas (Cuban cigars are strong, mate — uh, I mean, that’s what I’ve heard), unless those rumors are true and Fidel’s so mean that he plans to flood the U.S. market with cheap counterfeits once we normalize. (Gang, Raul‘s in charge.) This Cuba deal’s such a no-brainer that it might actually get done. And as a new tourist spot for Caribbean-bound Americans, this beautiful island’s image might finally change. Imagine the marketing possibilities: “Cuba. It’s not just for torture anymore.


Tom, Cruise

August 16, 2014

cruise guyOver the years we’ve gone on four or five cruise-ship vacations, beginning with Linda’s attagirl sail as one of the year’s best-performing employees of the Stroh Brewery Company. It was a Caribbean jaunt on which the Stroh contingent – which, as you may have already guessed, brought along some of its own refreshments – seriously lowered the passenger median age. We would never have gone if it hadn’t been a freebie congratulatory occasion. We imagined stereotypical snoozing on chaise lounges, cocooned in blankets, as the ship poked its way through a dense black-and-white Thirties-movie fog.

While there certainly are many retirees who enjoy traveling this way, they have a perfectly good reason. The crucial advantage of being on a cruise ship is that you have to unpack only once: your hotel does the moving around. The trip is all about the destinations, as are most landlubbing vacations, but a driving-free mobile home base makes it all amazingly convenient and de-stressful, even in places where the language and customs may be unfamiliar. If you’re lucky, you share the experience with nice folks you meet on the spot or, as with the 2001 Alaskan cruise on which we hosted our parents, you live inside a Dickens novel for a week.

A Viking longboat on the job.

A Viking longboat on the job.

We have just returned from a different kind of trip. My sister-in-law and her husband are old pros at this (maybe twenty cruises in all) and we’ve been idly trying to put a vacation together since Alaska, only this time just us four. Maybe it was only after dozens of DOWNTON ABBEYs or PBS NEWS HOURs, but we finally succumbed to an outfit called Viking River Cruises and booked a week on the “romantic Danube,” upriver from Budapest to Nuremberg, with stops in Vienna, Melk, Passau, and Regensburg. A great trip, but apart from the destinations, it was the cruise line that made it great. This was the first river cruise (as opposed to oceangoing) for any of us, but trust me on this: not only are river cruises da bomb, but Viking is also now my favorite cruise line ever.

Heading into a lock.

Heading into a lock.

Let’s answer your first question first. Big seagoing vessels these days have honking stabilizers, so you rarely need “sea legs” under normal conditions; storms on the ocean can cause some commotion, but man up, hoss, it’s not like you’re in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. However, a river cruise on a “Viking Longboat”? Nothing at all, mate. We had returned to the ship after an arrival-day visit to Budapest and were standing in a buffet line when somebody noticed we were moving – by looking out the window. There was no other way to tell: no rocking, no engine sound, no vibration, nothing. The sole and single exception may come when the ship is navigating one of the 26 locks that lift or lower it on the week-long leg. The fit is so snug that the ship may actually brush against the side of the lock with a hardly noticeable tremor (once, for us, a mild jolt as if we’d bumped a small log in the river) and a slight horizontal motion. You can hear the engines gun when the ship is headed toward a higher elevation just downstream of the mighty Inn River, which has flooded the town of Passau several times on its way to the Danube, the second worst flood in centuries occurring only last year. Beyond the Inn, the Danube is like glass (it’s not blue, mein Freund, that’s just poetic license) and the ship floats upriver again as if on air.

Our space-age lighting center.

Our space-age lighting center.

Our ship, the Viking Kara, was only six weeks old when we boarded her. Though we have never ponied up for the grand luxurious staterooms that you can have if money is no object (think upstairs on the Titanic), we’ve thus found ourselves in cramped quarters with nothing but a porthole to see out of. In fairness, you don’t go on a cruise to stay in your room, which is basically just for sleeping and hygiene. This time, however, while our cabin was still rather cozy, it featured the best accommodations I’ve ever had on a ship. Lighting, plumbing, power, everything was brand new. Your key card inserted in a door-side slot turned on all the lights instantly. Shower doors swung both inward and outward to effectively make the bathroom a little larger; its permanent night-light saved us from unnecessary toe-stubbing. Whenever you slid open the large riverside picture window (we did spring for the “French balcony,” one step up from “Standard” but a long way from “Explorer Suite”), the heating/AC automatically cut off until you shut and locked the door again. You could recharge every electronic thing you had without a converter. The shipboard wi-fi worked nearly as well as my router does here at home, just a little slower because of the massive simultaneous bandwidth drain. A 40-inch hi-def monitor displayed trip news, weather, and even some entertainment (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, we gathered from several dinner companions, was quite popular, but we never watched any tv). Brand new, I tell you! The first day on the river, I went up into the Kara’s “wheelhouse,” where there is no actual wheel, only an electronic array that would make Mr. Sulu nod in admiration.

Die Braut und der Bier! (Did I even get close?)

Die Braut und der Bier! (Did I even get close?)

Oceangoing cruise ships have become so mammoth that their capacity is itself a point of interest: “we wash blah-blah towels every day,” etc. The biggest ones, like the ships that dock every week near our villa in Jamaica, look like skyscrapers with smokestacks. It is kind of perversely amusing that you can take so many people – maybe not entire cities, but certainly enough humans to fill many Stateside county seats – anywhere the winds can blow them. These ships have full casinos, lavish entertainment, even some abbreviated Broadway musicals – Vegas at sea. Our little Kara, long and low, could not compete with a nautical Rat Pack, but there was a sun deck up top (particularly nice for sailing through Wachau Valley, Austria’s gorgeous terraced wine country), an exercise track, miniature golf, shuffleboard, you know. Viking longships can dock alongside each other; passengers just walk straight through to go ashore.

Woh.

Woh.

The Viking River Cruises model is, simply stated, less is more. There were fewer than 200 passengers on our upriver Kara run (a big cruise ship can serve thousands), and the staff were also comparably fewer but thus more personable. The big ships sometimes shunt you onto a permanent dinner table where you can get to know your fellow diners and compare walking-tour notes (we have met some lovely people this way), but here you just sit down wherever you choose and make friends spontaneously. It gets to the point where you barely even need the tour guide’s “lollipop” (the circular sign s/he holds up in the town square to make sure everybody’s in the right place). You just look for familiar faces who you know are on the same tour; that’s “33-B.” Viking is about to launch some oceangoing ships itself, but they’ll be much smaller than the competition’s: the passenger capacity will only be in the 900s, which should preserve the line’s close-in experience.

Linda, her sister Roslyn, and her husband Cal waiting to dig some Mozart, Haydn and Strauss in Vienna.

Linda, her sister Roslyn, and her husband Cal waiting to dig some Mozart, Haydn and Strauss in Vienna.

On a Viking cruise all meals are included in the booking price, as are the accompanying beer or wine. (You run a bar tab when not at table.) Also included are walking tours of every port of call, led by carefully screened local guides (ours were all terrific). There are optional extra excursions available for a price: for example, we attended a concert in Vienna, toured the BMW plant in Regensburg, and saw Nuremberg through a World War II filter, including the infamous Zeppelin Field where Albert Speer staged giant Nazi rallies and the courthouse building where he was a defendant in the world’s first international war crimes trial. But we could have just as easily chosen to hang out in the town square, chomp sausages, and hoist steins of foaming Bavarian beer.

There’s a program director on board who has everything organized and is the go-to person for all kinds of questions; ours was a delightful six-foot Nordic beauty named Chantal who spent six years as a casino dealer until she got tired of making people sad. We saw her change plans on a dime when a couple of the locks had some mechanical trouble, pushing us slightly off schedule. Her problem, not ours. Because of our flights back home, we happened to be the very last previous passengers to walk off the Kara while the staff were trying to prepare it for the new sail, yet they still treated us like honored guests unto the final moment. “Are you relieved?” I asked Chantal. “Not the right word,” she replied. “Weird.”

Chantal.

Chantal.

The ocean cruises definitely have their own charms, and different people expect different things from them. While my in-laws were indeed impressed with the Viking experience, they said they did miss “sea days” when you’re just en route and you can relax on that trusty chaise. Also, cheesy seaborne entertainment can be fun to watch. But if you’re mainly there for the travel, this gang operates from the Rhine to the Nile, from the Mekong to the Yangtze, and I even heard a rumor that they’re working on their first American cruise, on the Mississippi. I’ve already seen plenty enough of that river in my life, but on a Viking longboat? Wow, I just might check it out anyway.

Y'know, it IS kinda romantic on the Danube.

Y’know, it IS kinda romantic on the Danube.


I Hate L.A.!

June 14, 2013

LAfreeway

Hate New York City, it’s cold and it’s damp…

Who didn’t enjoy the “cold open” to the 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony? It happened a few weeks ago, but HBO preemed it to the nation late last month. In the midst of La-La Land, where the remaining top-down portion of the music business truly resides (sorry, Clive), Randy Newman tickled the ivories and teased about my town. By the time “Rand” acquired tempo, there were Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty standing up there with him, ready to help blast out the lyrics to a ditty so rockin and ultra-ironic that it almost got voted the official song of Los Angeles, however it is you do that. However…

[LITTLE SANTA MONICA?!]

Muchacho, I hate L.A.!

Now, I have some perfectly rational friends, lovely people all, who live and even thrive in La-La. Henry Kline. Bill Fitzhugh. Ben Schafer. Laura Kightlinger. Bob Crais. Paul Lance. Dan Moran and Amy Stout. Harlan Ellison. (Not two hours after I typed that last name, the phone rang and it was Harlan calling out of the blue, no particular reason, just to chat, hadn’t spoken to him in a couple years. Cue the TWILIGHT ZONE guitarist – but, Mr. Serling, sir, isn’t the time difference three hours?) Probably Tia Maggini too, only I’m not sure if she’s still out there. Blah blah blah, yes, it’s exciting and all. But if I knew I had to remain in the SoCal megalopolis for all time, I’d probably…was gonna say go postal, but I don’t think I could even fetch up that much bile: I’d just sob myself to sleep every night and hope I wouldn’t wake up. (Harlan has called NYC an “abbatoir,” so I don’t think I’m being all that unkind here. Let’s face it, he’s a master: c.f., “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.”)

I like lots of stuff in L.A., tons of it. The Sunset Strip. The Hollywood Bowl. The Capitol Records building. Griffith Park. The HOLLYWOODLAND sign. The Groundlings. Grauman’s Mann’s TCL Chinese Theatre. In-N-Out Burgers. The Tar Pits. Spago. Ellison Wonderland, the interior of which is probably the single most long-fusingly dazzling sight I’ve yet beheld out there. (In fairness, I never made it to the Ackermansion, though Bob Crais offered to take me; somehow the timing didn’t work out.) Chico, I even like riding over the trees on the monorail to Disneyland and registering the famous castle from tv, up close and personal, imagining Tink setting off her sexy fireworks. Makes me sniffle just remembering one glorious temperate summer night, and Disney *World* just isn’t the same, never was, never will be. That pale imitation is more like…ummmm…riding in a tram to make you think you’re seeing the real thing, like on a studio tour.

What I don’t like, the dealbreaker of all dealbreakers, is the irritation – bordering on humiliation – of living in a place where anything you really want to do is so tantalizingly close but out of reach, unless you can game the freeways. That stupid SNL sketch “The Californians,” the one where the airheads all explain their driving routes, is closer to the truth than you realize, non-Angelenos! One of my L.A. pals once told me about driving to a Hollywood Bowl concert to which s/he HELD A FRICKIN TICKET, but couldn’t get there due to a traffic jam. CRYIN while sittin one mile from the Bowl on the Hollywood Freeway doing 00.00mph. After leavin an hour early!

One time I flew into town, rented my car, fought freeways to my hotel at Century City. (20th Century-Fox was HarperCollins’s sister company.) I wanted to visit my beloved author Bill Fitzhugh at his home in Woodland Hills. He said, come on over, we’ll whomp you up some vittles! I said, OK, what should I do? And he gave me the same kind of directions those silly Californians do on SNL, only he was serious! SO serious that I arrived within :10 of his predicted ETA, which included two bottlenecks on the way, which he’d already frickin PLANNED FOR! Now, I did get to see my old Jackson, MS droogie Victor Hawkins in person, and that huge surprise was worth the whole drive out to BF’s crib and back, but still. If I want to navigate an entire metroplex just to see a movie, I can stay in Phoenix with my father-in-law. (Same deal to get to Harlan’s: he carefully told me exactly what I would encounter all along the way, I did, and by the time I got to the legendary DIG. OR SPLIT. warning, I was so thankful to be alive that I almost crawled out of my car.)

My first view of the Holy Land was in 1974 or so. Patty Faralla, a music-biz publicist, offered me an interview (guess which of the following actually made print) if I’d just come out there and do the circuit, I could write whatever I heard. I wound up very busy. I interviewed Neil Bogart, who was marketing the second Kiss album and a Johnny Carson audio retrospective; Larry Harris, his Number Two, who was hipping me about why “Casablanca” Records also did “metal” and such; and Bill, Mark and Brett Hudson, the Hudson Brothers, Bill of which is Kate’s father. The Hudsons interview went great (clearly why I’d been brought out there in the first place; Casablanca obviously paid for it all), and I loved it: these boys presented themselves comedically as sharp as the Marxes, but they were all Harpo/Chicos; i.e., pretty good 70s-era musicians. But the magazine which I wrote it for rejected it: they said it sounded too much like I’d simply transcribed my audio tape. [Not frickin so, boys, but] OK, said I, and about two months later Rolling Stone published a Hudsons piece almost identically styled, but by then my former bosses’ mag had already been deep-sixed. I wasn’t mad at all, except for no more checks. However, rejected: a pretty funny piece, carefully crafted by me, on the Hudson Brothers. Yet, absurdly as events later proved, published by me a couple weeks later in Rolling Stone: Neil Bogart on Johnny Carson, which album turned out to be the most ignominious flop in Neil’s truncated career. So I was able to use a Los Angeles dateline for the first and only time in my life, but thus did the City of Angels vanish into ephemera in my own noggin.

Chip on my shoulder? Nope, I maintain it had nothing to do with who was publishing my stuff. I learned how to play backgammon on that trip, I’ll give L.A. that. But what I’ll never forget was that Patty planned to make dinner for five or six of us. OK. So I rode shotgun in her car as she stopped five, six, seven times to get all the foodstuffs she wanted. There was a bread store. An herb store. A meat store. A produce store. I couldn’t believe it. It took her seven or eight stops, burned up an eighth-tank of gas, to get what I could score in an Athens, GA supermarket in fifteen minutes. I said to myself then and there, I’m sorry but I absolutely said it to myself, bad as it may have been at that moment, still I said to myself back in 1974, I love Patty and Neil and the Hudsons and Larry’s, er, um, hospitality and all, but mate, I hate L.A.!

Once my friend Doug Ross and I were in Las Vegas, at the Venetian Hotel. We had tickets to the Penn & Teller show at the Rio. We walked out front and could see the Rio jutting out of the darkness, tantalizingly near. Doug had the good sense to ask the doorman, who was hailing taxis, if we could walk there, with a whole hour to spare. The guy looked at us like we were the Jed Clampett family. “Get in a taxi!” We soon realized that traversing that simple, maybe mile, required lots of massive-highway turns – it was actually quite a substantial trip – and if we’d been dim enough to attempt walking, we’d NEVER have made it. So, yes, Vegas does indeed suck, but friends, Los Angeles is this, quadruplicated.

People say, you grew up in the Deep South, so why are you so sweaty at summertime, heh heh, you should be used to it. Angelenos have evolved chitinous coverages called cars in order to get used to their spread-frickin-out city. I don’t want that. Every time I go to L.A. to visit a good friend, part of Iron Man’s uniform has to snap into place, unbidden and unwanted. I actually crave my own town’s shit & squalor as a detox agent. But frickin La-La? Fuggeddabboudit!

9/2/13: An opposing view, in an entertaining piece from Buzzfeed.

9/3/13: And then, of course, there’s this.


Kristmas Kamping

December 31, 2010

We spent Christmas at a KOA campground owned by my sister (in-law, but heck, she’s still my sis) Roz

My sister Roz is the best hostess ever.

and her husband Cal

Cal is cutting homemade pizza into slices. Does it *get* any better?

in the Colorado Desert near Niland, California. They call it “camping with a K,” and we had a nice cabin with indoor plumbing: my kind of kamping! We’d driven Linda’s dad all the way from Phoenix (4:15 without stopping, but we do stop…), and we’d enjoyed both the staff Christmas Eve party, and Christmas Day dinner, a spectacular service of ham, yam, taters, the best dinner rolls you’ve ever had, etc. If this is camping, I’m all for it! (Of course, the campground exists so that big recreational vehicles can stop, park, juice up, and – in this case at least – have a superb restaurant meal. Some people even live there.)

The Glamis North KOA is situated very close to, but not too close to, the famous Glamis sand dunes, where far too many drunk people roar over unscouted territory, pretending they’re BULLITT stunt drivers, in All-Terrain Vehicles. The Glamis North folks like their ATVs too, but they prefer to head out into the desert to explore. We did it ourselves last year. It’s tremendous fun.

My bride waiting to blast off, last year. Take it from me: it’s FUN!

Linda’s dad can’t ATV these days, so we asked our hosts to send us on a driving trip. Easy, they said: go to Slab City and Salvation Mountain! They asked us, “Have you seen INTO THE WILD?” And of course we had, but we’d never pegged the real locations. Slab City is the “last free place on Earth,” the concrete foundation of an abandoned WWII Marine barracks. There is no electricity, no water, no nothing. And no charge for any of this nothingness. So, well-off “snowbirds” park their RVs alongside impoverished squatters.

You get to Salvation Mountain just before Slab City. It was painted by a guy who loves his Jesus. His name is Leonard Knight, and that previous sentence doesn’t even begin to describe the ardor with which he has dressed this place. I went down and talked to him.

Leonard Knight, who painted the mountain and everything else within reach.

Let’s try some pix:

Deep inside the works.

See if you can’t divine your own personal New Year’s message from these shots.

Everything he can see, he paints.

It’s up to you.

Man: that’s dedication.

However you receive these heartfelt sentiments, please accept my very best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2011.


Everything’s Coming Up Rosé

June 10, 2010

Summer’s here — at least in New York it is! — and for me the season is the color of rosé wine. I’m not talking about the horrid Mateus that we all used to drink back in the days of candlewax dripping down fiasco-shaped bottles of cheap Chanti. I mean lighter, drier bottles that suggest a break from the heavy red wines of the rest of the year, but are every bit as refreshing as a Chard or Sauv Blanc – in fact, even more so, because the taste is unexpected. It’s like drinking flower petals, and you don’t have to pay a fortune to do it. The New York Times’s wine columnist, Eric Asimov, even extolled rosé’s virtues recently.

The girls are checking out what everybody else is having. Doug’s digging the wine list. I’m about to order rose.

Most people my age turn their noses up at rosé, probably because of that too-sweet Mateus experience (it was so popular in North America that in its heyday, Mateus accounted for more than a third of Portugal’s wine export business). So it was that, during a vacation on the French Riviera (hey, we had a free place to stay!) with our dear friends Doug and Kathie Ross – winelovers supreme – at a sun-drenched but wonderfully temperate lunch outside by the seashore, I surprised them by suggesting we order rosé. It turned out to be perfect, and that lunch remains one of my most treasured memories: I can’t crack open a bottle of rosé now without thinking of Doug and Kathie, who were skeptical at first. “Bottled poetry” is like that: you make lifelong connections, just like you do with a favorite song.

A typical spread on the terrace. Everything you see, including wine, was bought on the fly.

There was a terrace outside our apartment in Monte Carlo. During the days we’d explore (one day we rented a car and Doug negotiated the stick shift around hairpin turns that would have challenged James Bond; of course, we weren’t going 100km/h), but we tried to make it back for mid-afternoon. We sat out on that terrace for hours, watching the sun set, talking about cabbages and kings, and enjoying cold cuts, fruit and cheese, and lots of wine, imbibed over so many hours that I never became intoxicated with anything but the magnificent setting. The others felt the same way. Over food, friends and the grape, we were only pretending to be Europeans. But it was so much fun.


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