Friday, July 31, 2009

the blog of Jan. 15, 2006

the craggy peaks of SLO

The craggy peaks of San Luis Obispo are a series of volcanic plugs, or some such geological marvel. What I didn't know until quite recently is how available some of them are for hiking. A fabulous resource in this regard is www.slotrails.com

Today I took an insanely rigorous hike around Cerro San Luis Obispo. That is the mountain with the big "M" on it. You get great views of the city, the ocean, Laguna Lake, the Madonna Inn, and Bishop Peak.

A week ago I hiked to the top of Bishop Peak. I would say that of the two, this is the better trail, although in many respects they are similar. The north side of each mountain is wooded and rocky, while the south sides not surprisingly consist of dry chaparral. The Bishop Peak trail starts on the north side, wraps around the east side, and then becomes a wonderfully punishing series of switchbacks on the south side that lead to the peak. This is great winter hiking as most of it is on the warm, sunny side with little wind and great views. It's also evidently very popular as the place was crawling with rock climbers, dog walkers, and generally very healthy looking people.

Cerro SLO was more rugged and seemed more geared toward mountain bikers. At the top is some kind of stage, where I think they have some kind of annual Easter event on the Mount Rubidoux model. There were some other weird parallels with Riverside: both mountain parks are adjacent to recreational lakes, both are in college towns. Both cities have an impressive downtown and a slightly removed section of town near the college. But perhaps I'm reading too much into this. Riverside doesn't have a mission.

The air is better up here. My legs are killing me. Time to get some rest.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the blog of Jan. 14, 2006

beST films of 2005

OK, without further ado, here are my top ten:

1. Hotel Rwanda ('04)
2. The Battle of Algiers ('65)
3. The Motorcycle Diaries ('04)
4. Maria Full of Grace ('04)
5. Ray ('04)
6. Born into Brothels ('04)
7. Lucia Lucia ('03)
8. Mondovino ('05)
9. Napolean Dynomite ('04)
10. I Heart Huckabees ('04)

At the other end of the spectrum is a category I call "Bad and Painful on Multiple Levels". Three films earned a spot on this list:

1. Mr. and Mrs. Smith ('05)
2. Alfie ('04)
3. Life Aquatic ('04)

There were a bunch of films in between.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the blog of Jan. 6, 2006

beST music of 2005

The best album I stumbled across in 2005 was John Cale's "Hobo Sapiens". I found it in the discount section at Boo Boo records (San Luis Obispo) and I wondered why I hadn't seen it before. I'm a huge fan of his 1995 release "Walking On Locusts", which is one of those records I can play over and over again and never get tired of. "Walking On Locusts" would have been a fabulous way for Cale to end a long and glorious career, so it was an unexpected pleasure to find that "Hobo" is also a great album, in a very different way. "Locusts" is for the most part smooth and even; "Hobo" is an eclectic set of tracks brimming with noise and complexity. A least half the dozen or so tracks are memorable, the best being "Look Horizon", "Magritte", "Bicycle" and "Over Her Head". Compared to Eno's recent collection of Christmas caroles and Hawaian folk songs, this album packs a wallop. (Interestingly "Bicycle" includes clips of Eno's daughters laughing).

Monday, July 27, 2009

the blog of Jan. 1, 2006 (4)

beST book of 2005

My best book of 2005 was written in 1788. "Paul and Virginia" by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is an old classic out of France that I wish I had known about earlier. Set on the tropical island of Mauritius when it was a French colony, the book abounds with geographic and botanical descriptions, and provides us with a snapshot of the culture and human side of those faraway times. On another level the book is very philosophical. The author was a contemporary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and shared his view that a return nature was the best cure for a deeply corrupted European civilization. The story illustrates these simple principles beautifully through its sympathetic cast of characters. There is deep sadness and tragedy on these pages but also a redeeming message: happiness is close at hand. Don't let society and manmade entanglements separate you from it.

I was worried that a book so old might seem archaic and disconnected from our contemporary predicament. On the contrary, I read it in both French and English and in both languages the words flowed like honey. It is very close in form and spirit to Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea", with the difference of France instead of England and the East Indies instead of the Caribbean. The books share a similar message: choose nature over Europe.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

the blog of Jan. 1, 2006 (3)

that Crate & Barrel feeling

Xmas in NY part 3. Walking around the Americana shopping center in Manhasset I took note of how New York's demographics contrast with California. California has several distinct strata -- Hispanic, Anglo, Asian, and a sprinkling of everything else. New York is characterized by "everything else", but if I had to be more specific I'd say European and Asian, as broad as that sounds. In Manhasset I got the feeling that the entire staff of the UN and their families had spilled out for some holiday shopping. In Tiffany's it was as though some of Latin America's best families had flown in to exchange a few items, while outside Brooks Brothers an Asian man dragged slowly on a cigarette in the freezing cold. I've always liked Manhasset, and this shopping center and I go way back. It wasn't always the emporium of high-end fashion that it is today. It used to be more practical and populist, with a Newberry's and a movie theatre and a bookstore. I liked it then and I like it now, although now there's not so much I would actually buy. I don't need or want that many clothes, and I don't wear jewelry. The whole place stinks of "bourgeois globalism", if I'm allowed to coin such a term.

The high point for me was Crate & Barrel. First of all, they sell useful things that are also aesthetically pleasing. It's a large store at the western end of the promenade; it's been there forever and therefore takes me back to the earlier decades of my life. As I've said, Manhasset exudes this vaguely intoxicating, uplifting feeling of comfort that is a synthesis of multiculturalism and bourgeois security. On a spiritual level it's very powerful, because it's tantamount to the hopes and dreams that all people have of a better life. Crate & Barrel possesses this spirit in a very pure form. I definitely felt it when I saw a well dressed Indian man looking at napkin rings. The sense was, "you've made it, now you can treat yourself to napkin rings".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the blog of Jan. 1, 2006 (2)

Tom Seaver, winemaker

Xmas in NY part 2. Shortly before having to leave for the airport a piece of the New York Times caught my attention. Apparently Tom Seaver, the one-time star pitcher of the Mets, now owns a vineyard and makes wine in Napa County. I know, it's become a cliche for celebrities to take up winemaking, but after reading the article I really sensed some sincerity in the case of Tom Seaver. I didn't know it but he grew up in Fresno where his Dad grew raisins -- what better prelude to winemaking? Years ago as a kid I met the man when he was shooting some commercial in Old Westbury. I sensed a sincerity in the man that, upon reflection is very un-New York. It's funny the way sports teams will recruit players from far away places and thereby fabricate a civic image so flatteringly unlike the city they represent. I think this careful image-manipulation was part of what made the Mets, the only sports team I ever gave a rat's ass about, appealing to me. I was young and bought the product and the myth. The myth was a better New York than the one that later emerged; the New York of the 1964 World's Fair and the UN; an optimistic, genteel, colorful place with blue skies and green trees. I'm not sure where that New York went, or if it ever actually existed outside a handful of psyches and technicolor postcards.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the blog of Jan. 1, 2006 (1)

The Manchurian Candidate

Last night we caught most of the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" on TV. I must say that it was well-photographed, making good use of such familiar New York locations as Old Westbury Gardens and Penn Station, and well-acted by a great cast: Denzel Washington, Merril Streep, John Voigt, Liev Schreiber. The story itself was disturbing but intelligent and engaging enough to hold my attention. I'm not familiar with the original film but clearly director Jonathon Demme re-adapted the story to the present. Perhaps the strangest thing was the cameo by singer Robyn Hitchcock. Apparently he's acting now although the director gave him a highly peripheral role -- not as a singer, but as a someone connected to shadowy experiments on US soldiers in Iraq by a somewhat deranged CIA-protected South African scientist.

Monday, July 20, 2009

the blog of Dec. 31, 2005

some recommendations...

A follow-up on Pepperwood Grove wine: I tried the Cabernet, and I wasn't impressed. Stick to the Syrah.

Last night I learned that Donald Trump is considering a run for Governor of New York. He would not be good for that state. Stick to Spitzer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

the blog of Dec. 30, 2005

Native American Commander in Chief

There is plenty of talk about the first woman President or the first black President and even the first black woman President. What I would like to see is a Native American President running on an environmental/restorationist platform. That would be restoration of the buffalo and Native social structures.

Friday, July 17, 2009

the blog of Dec. 29, 2005

an example of when democracy doesn't work

Xmas in NY part 1. The day after Xmas it was raining, and so the idea of going to a movie made sense up until the point it was clear that everybody else had the same idea. The gridlock around Roosevelt Raceway Cinemas rivalled any LA freeway at rush hour, and by the time we managed to find a parking spot the show was sold out. We had agreed on "Chronicles of Narnia" because Lisa and Irene wanted to see it and I was being open-minded about it. Unfortunately none of the other movies or start times were good back ups, so we decided to rent a dvd instead.

The Westbury library being closed, we proceeded to the Blockbuster on Glen Cove Road, which was full of bare shelves, especially for the movies we wanted to see. I managed to find four or five interesting possibilities, all of which were shot down by Lisa and Irene. In the good faith spirit of democracy I let them select one called "Mr. & Mrs. Smith". Unfortunately this film proved to be so bad on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start to critique it. We reached a very democratic consensus that the film was a regrettable peice of crap that in no way improved the image of Mr. Brad Pitt or Ms. Angelina Jolie, who were rumoured to be humanitarian heroes.

It was necessary to get revenge on this film by renting "March of the Penguins" the following night. This simple documentary on the life cycle of the emperor penguin was pleasant enough and lasted only 80 minutes. "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was two whole hours -- the length alone should have been a red flag. Increasingly when choosing a film I try to remember to check the length of it. That way I have some sense of the swamp I'm about to plunge into.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

the blog of Dec. 23, 2005


1. The modern world will not fit in a teacup. It is simply larger than a teacup.

2. Last night I had a very carefully worded conversation and exchange of ideas with Bill Clinton. My dreams aren't always so verbal, but this one could probably be transcripted. I remember telling him about how his administration successfully projected an aura of normalcy while simultaneously pushing the envelope in many new areas, and he nodded in agreement. The conversation took place in my old room in suburban New York.

3. On Sunday we saw the Monterey Symphony perform in the barrel room of Blackstone Winery. The accoustics were remarkable. As I expected, there were space-heaters strategically placed throughout, and we sat right next to one. I realized that I enjoy classical music more if I don't recognize it, when it is frighteningly vast, and there is no end in sight. I like the idea of being swallowed whole by a huge piece of classical music, sort of like Jonah and the whale.

4. There is a Coldplay song out that lifts a riff from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love". When I first heard it in a bookstore I stood frozen for twenty minutes until I figured out where I'd heard it before.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the blog of Dec. 18, 2005

peanuts & pinot noir

On Saturday we met Ted & Tatiana in San Luis Obispo, a good midpoint between them & us. They took the bus and met us outside the Big Sky Cafe. The restaurant was serving a very healthy vegetarian borscht that didn't seem the right color and tasted more like minestrone, in a good way. After lunch we walked the streets of this very pedestrian-friendly city. At least one older building had been removed and the entire block from Phoenix Books/Boo Boo Records was in the process of being rebuilt. We had coffee in the little cafe between the book and record stores where we discussed peak oil and agreed that learning a difficult foriegn language must burn calories.

At the chamber of commerce I finally learned that it's possible to hike the craggy peaks surrounding the town. For years on end I wallowed in ignorance and even imagined such hikes weren't possible, so this information constituted a minor revolution. I look forward to hiking every accessible crag.

Ted & Ta were looking for the right kind of black tea to take back, and my instincts led us to a gourmet foods store I'd passed before but never been in. Sure enough the shelves were alive with the "assam" style of tea that was apparently the object of their quest. Across the street was something calling itself a "fireplace store" that was actually a kitchen accessories store. We then offered to drop them off at the bus station, which was in a part of town I'd never seen. I wrongly imagined it would be one of the cleanest Greyhound stations in the nation. A trip to the bathroom proved otherwise. Their bus was soon to leave so we left them with their bus that was soon to plunge into the dark night, and the empty, melancholy bus station with its vending machines full of peanuts.

On our way back I wanted to stop for a bag of mixed nuts but Lisa felt it would be better to have a proper meal in Paso Robles. The meal I had at a place called Odyssey was perfect -- brie and artichoke hearts with salad, washed down with a glass of pinot noir.

Monday, July 13, 2009

the blog of Dec. 17, 2005

Pepperwood Grove

Yesterday evening I went to Safeway determined to find a decent new wine. Something called "Pepperwood Grove" with a snazzy lime-green label was on sale and appeared to be the best value. I bought the Syrah and was not disappointed. It reminded me of some of the better Blackstone wines. If you find Pepperwood Grove on sale, give it a shot.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

the blog of Dec. 16, 2005

Citrus-flavored Listerine

I must admit that the new citrus-flavored Listerine caught my eye, and in the land of theory it works. But I'm sad to report that in practice it doesn't live up to expectations. It tastes like one of the artificially-flavored medicines I was given in the 1970's, possibly for a cold. It's in no way as pleasant as say baby aspirin or chewable vitamin C.

Lisa disagrees. She likes it. "It's got an interesting flavor" she says.

In any case we're stuck with two bottles of the stuff, since we got the two-for-one special at Target. That alone should have been a red flag that all was not well in citrus-Listerine land. I'm looking forward to going back to "classic" Listerine. This is their "New Coke" moment.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the blog of Dec. 12, 2005

Where's the "Reverence for Life" when you need it?

The scheduled execution of Tookie Williams casts a pall over this entire evening, regardless of what one does. Yesterday I finally got around to watching the "Downfall" dvd from Netflix, and that well-made but exceedingly heavy film is still haunting me. After seeing Hitler under a microscope, I can't help but feeling that Schwarzenegger, the other oddball-Austrian-turned-statesman-of-a-much-larger-land, has some nerve to use his power to send a man to his death. It would be much better if he used this opportunity to affirm a culture of life.

The USA treasures capitol punishment as though it were an endangered species. Modern Europe on the other hand forbids it. I lean heavily toward the European position, but I do wonder exactly how they deal with their homicidal maniacs (they do have some). If they have figured out the answer -- life in prison? cutting-edge rehab? -- then the USA should eagerly embrace it. But what specifically the Europeans do with their criminals, apart from running a more civil society that reduces the level of crime in the first place, seems to be missing from the conversation.

The paradox of the European position came home to me while watching "Downfall". While it's great that they've done away with capital punishment, it wasn't that long ago that they had something worse, namely casual and random murder and suicide on a scale that I don't think America has ever seen, even in the Wild West or during the Civil War. Could it be that Europe's centuries of bloodbath have reached a saturation point that enables them to evolve to the next level?