Monday, July 30, 2007

the only swimmable beaches in the state

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of swimming in the Pacific ocean -- El Capitan State Beach to be precise. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that the only swimmable beaches in California are on the south-facing stretch between Malibu and Gaviota. To the north, it gets too cold, rocky, and shark-filled; to the south it is simply too polluted. On the east coast I grew up with the notion that "going to the beach" meant swimming in it. Here on the west coast there are people who seem to love going to the beach without swimming and without realizing they are being swindled and snookered out of one of life's great experiences. On the other hand, the surfers get it; they will not be snookered and go to great lengths to bond with whatever conditions the coast serves up. But for the simple act of heaving one's body in the surf and frolicking with the kelp, the Santa Barbara area has the best beaches in the state.

Hitch's nose

One of the more interesting tidbits I recently picked up on the Internet is that some of the scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's "Topaz" that were set in Cuba were actually shot in the hills outside Salinas -- that San Juan Grade/Old Stage Road area that feels amazingly timeless and detached from the modern world. It seems that Hitch had an amazing nose for interesting locales... or did someone find them for him? In this case, Cuba was presumably unavailable. But I detect a common thread in Hitchcock's U.S. locations: the extremely wooden, hard-bitten Protestant agricultural communities of yesteryear, an America almost unrecognizable in today's flashy sea of coast to coast sprawl.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

on this day

On September 18, 1962, Rwanda, Burundi, Jamaica and Trinidad were admitted to the United Nations.

Also on that day, the Bavarian Catholic mystic Therese Neumann died. That was the woman known to develop bleeding stigmata, eat and drink nothing, and speak Aramaic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

the origin of the gypsy moth problem

Maybe you know this, but in the 1860's Leopold Trouvelot, a French naturalist living in Medford, MA (home of Tufts), inadvertently caused one of the worst pest infestations in US history. Essentially Trouvelot was trying to breed a better silk moth by cross-breeding it with a gypsy moth. Somehow the gypsy moths got loose on his property. Realizing the potential harm at hand, he contacted the authorities, who did nothing. Years later, Trouvelot was to become one of the leading painters of astronomical phenomena (before photography was able to capture such things). Sadly, his ultimate fame lies in his moth experiment gone awry.

the Merrill Lynch-Safeway connection

In 1926 Charles E. Merrill presided over the creation of the Safeway supermarket chain. As the parent company, Merrill Lynch ran Safeway for a while in the 1930's.

For those of you in Southern CA, Safeway=Vons.