Saw something online that blew my mind about how to deal with riptides, so I wrote this quick thing for Men's Journal. I'd read it and watch the video if you ever plan on going into the ocean.
Saw something online that blew my mind about how to deal with riptides, so I wrote this quick thing for Men's Journal. I'd read it and watch the video if you ever plan on going into the ocean.
"The cliffdwellers cling precariously to the brush-covered slopes of the Hollywood hills, sharing the common perils of fire and flood. In the late fall, when the humidity drops and a warm wind whips through the canyons, the hills may suddenly explode with flame. In the rainy season, when the naked cliffs crack and slide, the mortgaged wickiups come tumbling down. But the true cliffdweller always returns to his wildlife refuge. He trades in his charred Porsche, patches his pool, rebuilds his house-with-a-view and again settles down to enjoy the comforts of his mountain lair." ...
"Laurel is Southern California’s semi-tropical version of Manhattan’s East Village. Mediterranean villas dating back to the first hoarse days of talking pictures are hemmed in by dilapidated shacks owned by absentee landlords. The canyon’s natural fire hazards have been intensified of late by shaggy young nomads who turn on in the blackened ruins of burned-out mansions where Theda Bara may once have dined. The daily life of the community swirls around a small shopping center, “The Square,” which boasts the old-fashioned Canyon Country Store and a pleasant cafe, the Galleria."--1970 article from Holiday magazine on what it's like to live in the Hollywood Hills.
So many silly faux-facts in this LA Weekly listicle about Autumn in LA, so let it be said, this naturalized Angeleno born in New York longs not for "the seasons" or Autumn in New York" but rather for the winds Raymond Chandler mythologized in the following quote the Weekly is so smart to remember: "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen..."
Posted on October 05, 2013 at 11:53 AM | Permalink
Very proud to have my John Lautner houses-in-film essay in the winter 2013 edition of VQR. If you'd like to read the text and see the great photos, most by Elizabeth Daniels, in full size, here's the PDF. You can also read the text more easily here. And be sure to catch other great pieces in the issue -- which, really, is a great print book to buy and hold -- by Mickey Rapkin, David Kipen, and many others. Here's how to subscribe.
Today I have an essay on NPR Music about Tanglewood as My Family's Transcendental Homeland. It's also about Tanglewood as a homeland for story, and why storytelling keeps alive the things that we love. It's positioned on NPR's classical side but while I would never want to encourage anyone not to check out that site, I want to make it clear that I call artfully composed music written for the concert hall "concert music." I hope that this piece will appeal to people who listen to a variety of musical genres -- like me. The mentions of EDM, Tears for Fears, and Jane's Addiction are not just inclusions for color but signifiers that hopefully help render a full picture of our musical world. The piece may also appeal to you if you've ever failed to fit in somewhere and had a crush on radiant European musician who allowed you to kiss her. All good things.-- Adam Baer, @glassshallot
Posted on July 05, 2012 at 09:33 AM | Permalink
This weekend, The Financial Times Magazine runs a hopefully informative and humorous personal essay [PDF] about my mysterious health travails and experience with LA's medical marijuana world at an crucial point in the battle to legalize cannabis in California. It's also online in web-friendly html page-format here, @ FT.com.
Naturally, I thought long and hard about what kinds of supplementary material I could offer on my blog. But we sadly only present words and stuff we can roll and/or bake into Web code Glass Shallot. In that spirit, then let me offer a small chunk of text my editors and I had to cut at the last minute for page-space. It concerns the first dispensary I visited in Hollywood, one of the shops LA will close, where the system -- and the product -- actually worked very well. (Text below)
"More concerned with convenience than finding a boutique shop that sold Valrohna chocolate cupcakes, I first visited Druggie Christmas Tree Girl’s dispensary: a dank space above a seedy Hollywood motel, manned by a hulking Middle Eastern guy with a shaved head, wearing an elegantly dizzying Ed Hardy T-shirt. He screamed my name the way some thug had screamed at Jason Statham in an action movie I once reviewed. Naturally, I trusted him.
“What iz dis?” the guy asked, taking my letter through a little hole in the wall that separated the real store from the waiting room.
“It’s my doctor’s recommendation," I said.
“I never see something like dis, yo.”
“Well,” I said, “It’s real.”
“I see dat, dude. But I still gotta call.”
Yes, this sketchy drug-dealer type was calling a nationally lauded physician because of me.
He left the window, I heard some mumbling. He reappeared minutes later.
“You in,” he said. “He OK it.”
“You spoke with my actual doctor, not some nurse or assistant?” I asked.
“Totally,” he said. “Now whaddayou want?”
I walked into a tiny, smoky space through a cage-protected door, and he showed me some 10 canisters of fragrant weed. I asked for something to alleviate pain – nerve pain, if that meant anything?
“Bubba Skunk,” he said. “That’s you shit.”
“That’s my shit,” I concurred, handing over $50 for a pill bottle filled with buds.
“How much should I use?” I asked.
“Howev much you want, homeslice.”
Then I left, and as I waved my new drugs around the seedy eastern side of Hollywood Boulevard, as a man in a doo-rag drove by me on a miniature bicycle powered by a tiny motor, my wife grabbed the bag and told me to hide it.
“But it’s legal,” I said.
“But this isn’t Brentwood!"
Technorati Tags: 4/20, 420, adam baer, bubba skunk, buds, california, cannabis, dispensary, edibles, farmacy, financial times, ft weekend magazine, hash, indica, james franco, los angeles, marijuana, medical marijuana, pot, prop 215, sativa, strain, tax cannabis, weed, weeds
In May’s Men’s Journal, I have a one-pager about Big Sur in the wake of last year’s wildfires. In the piece, I write about an awesome collection of yurts overlooking the Pacific ocean called Treebones. My wife and I hung out in Big Sur for this piece in November ‘08, on the weekend that Santa Barbara's Montecito area lit up like a roman candle, and on which there were crazy winds that shook us, and a fair amount of our camping friends in Ojai and beyond, all night long. Why Lina and I continually end up in oceanfront mountains during wildfires and windstorms is beyond me. That said, we’d been to Treebones before, and we’ll return. There’s nothing like it, and it’s only perhaps too rustic for the Woody Allen wannabe who can’t hold down his lunch west of the Mississippi. But if you want a little supplement to the MJ piece, I thought that I’d post some of a long and bewitchingly cool interview with Treebones’s unusually decent founder, John Handy, a recently indoctrinated volunteer fireman and green-building pioneer who used to work as a toy executive down in super-serious LA, eventually decided to leave the so-called grid, and now owns a Big White Tanker and lives in Henry Miller’s woods, where it’s nice and natural, and no one wants to stick you with dirty needles for your change from the Korean fried chicken place. Here, if you haven't opened the PDF yet is the Q&A. For more about traveling to Big Sur, here's the MJ piece, which is also available on their Web site. --AB
Posted on April 16, 2009 at 07:59 AM | Permalink
1. Make sure you haven't already obtained and begun to use the American Express JetBlue credit card, so you won't be annoyed at how much more points towards a free flight it's supposed to provide than it really does, should you decide to make it your primary means of overspending.
2. Book flights last minute to get back to your ever-venerable Long Island hometown and the scumbags it produced to help your family mourn a close loved one. You don't need to ask for "so-called bereavement rates" as numerous JetBlue employees will tell you, because JetBlue flights are "already priced so low that" they "undercut the rumored 'death discounts.'"
3. Do not tell the customer service lady in Utah that she's wrong about the pricing she mentions in point #2. She will get nasty. And yell. And tell you that "even Mormons have a limit." And isn't it more important to avoid any form of human conflict than to actually get a company to operate ethically? You do not have the right to ask simple questions of customer service employees when it might result in your last-minute flight back for a funeral not costing, oh, $1,500. Let's be reasonable.
4. Enjoy your DirectTV even if the headphone jacks don't work. It will be a good distraction from the frequent leg cramps you experience because the last-minute, $1,500 seat you purchased doesn't actually sport the "even more legroom" you chose to buy on top of the generously low price. Bask in the classless society of JetBlue. Every once in a while, DirectTV should be silent when babies are crying in three aisles around you. That's what being a part of a faux-Marxist passenger community run by a money-hungry airline is all about. Fraternity.
5. Believe in your pilot, even when the plane nosedives for about 30 straight seconds more than three times in one flight and then nearly flicks itself off the runway upon landing. Clearly the perfect flying conditions as reported by your friend the Caltech aviation buff should be blamed for the landing. JetBlue pilots rock. You know this because you saw them holding a Supertramp CD in the cockpit upon arrival.
6. Remain unconcerned about the fact that the cabin remains 80 degrees in the dead of August. JetBlue is keeping the planes "balmy" for your "tropical comfort," what might be called a "vacation extension," not because it's important to save money at the expense of passengers as oil prices and airfares rise.
7. Don't ask your cousin to check the e-mail itinerary confirmation the last night of the trip. The fact that you purchased last minute flights on the phone for extra money so that everything would be taken care of by an actual human should be enough to persuade you that everything was done correctly. But if you like, do please make two subsequent phone calls to confirm the flights are right. It's much more dramatic and hence exciting this way; after all has been confirmed twice and your family member finally gets around to checking the confirmation e-mail a few days later only to see that you and your wife have been put on different flights--one returning one week later than the other, despite the same flight number and price--you can get really deeply into the role of "irate customer," an archetype you had always wanted to study in film school.
8. Do not ask the next "nice" customer service lady in Utah if you can avoid change fees for the flight to be "corrected" back to the original plans that had been made and then confirmed twice over the phone. Instead just force Betty with a barrage of expletives to apologize on behalf of the airline and then make everything right even though you failed to record the conversations you had with her brethren the way you now record almost every important call you make to your insurance company, because you've been wronged by them so many times, it's almost acceptable to be paranoid about them trying to rape your bank account on a weekly basis. Forcing people to do stuff like this over the phone, when your week hangs in the balance is definitely the way to go. Especially with the oh-so-flexible and friendly Utah-based JetBlue support staff.
9. Drink lots of vodka on the new flight, and ask for ice. That Oprah show your mom keeps talking about where the airline ice makers were found to contain all kinds of viruses and bacteria, including fecal matter, has to be complete bullshit. The flight assistants are really friendly. Friendly means no bacteria.
10. Remember that while Virgin America sounds like a thinking person's alternative to JetBlue, it would be a pain in the ass to have to fly from LAX versus nearby Burbank, with all its B-level celebrities, Universal Studios-bound families, and pornstars vogueing for paparazzi shots as you weep not that you have lost a family member but that even the most forward-thinking airline in America has gone to complete shit.
Posted on August 31, 2008 at 08:29 AM | Permalink
1. I'm all for visiting the Santa Barbara county wineries, but given the fact that you want to "do it right, all day long, like they do in the movie," don't you think we should plan to do it and leave LA later than 2 pm on an August Saturday so as to avoid traffic and other wine-country tourists and actually get a chance to visit more than one winery before they all close?
2. I'm all for visiting the Santa Barbara county wineries, but given the fact that you want to "do it right, all day long, like they do in the movie," don't you think we should plan to do it and leave LA later than 2 pm on an August Saturday so as to avoid traffic and other wine-country tourists and actually get a chance to visit more than one winery before they all close? And while we're at it, maybe we should plan to take a car that's big enough for the whole lot of us, so my wife (your daughter) doesn't have to twist herself like a contortionist in the middle of the backseat of your beautiful (and believe me, it's a knockout) but just ever-so-slightly too-small Dick Tracy-ish rental car?
3. I'm all for visiting the Santa Barbara county wineries, but given the fact that you want to "do it right, all day long, like they do in the movie," don't you think we should plan to do it and leave LA later than 2 pm on an August Saturday so as to avoid traffic and other wine-country tourists and actually get a chance to visit more than one winery before they all close? And while we're at it, maybe we should plan to take a car that's big enough for the whole lot of us, so my wife (your daughter) doesn't have to twist herself like a contortionist in the middle of the backseat of your beautiful (and believe me, it's a knockout) but just ever-so-slightly too-small Dick Tracy-ish rental car? Call me one of those "insane" California drivers, but maybe we should also go a hair faster than 55--you know, so we can just get to the winery before they stop doing their "Sideways" shtick that we all really think it will be fun to see even if we've seen it before (20 times, with other California visitors who have as original and fun ideas as you)?
4. I'm all for visiting the Santa Barbara county wineries, but given the fact that you want to "do it right, all day long, like they do in the movie," don't you think we should plan to do it and leave LA later than 2 pm on an August Saturday so as to avoid traffic and other wine-country tourists and actually get a chance to visit more than one winery before they all close? And while we're at it, maybe we should plan to take a car that's big enough for the whole lot of us, so my wife (your daughter) doesn't have to twist herself like a contortionist in the middle of the backseat of your beautiful (and believe me, it's a knockout) but just ever-so-slightly too-small Dick Tracy-ish rental car? Call me one of those "insane" California drivers, but maybe we should also go a hair faster than 55--you know, so we can just get to the winery before they stop doing their "Sideways" shtick that we all really think it will be fun to see even if we've seen it before (20 times, with other California visitors who have as original and fun ideas as you)? And maybe once we get there (to the first winery), we should actually, just maybe, taste the actual wine and not complain that you could buy a bottle in a store for the price of the tasting? I'm not saying all the wine is good, but I don't know, I'm just throwing this out...perhaps it's a little too early to start hating the entire enterprise before actually doing one full tasting--that is, if you do plan on enjoying this day--at THE WINERIES--in the lovely Buelton countryside?
5. I'm all for visiting the Santa Barbara county wineries, but given the fact that you want to "do it right, all day long, like they do in the movie," don't you think we should plan to do it and leave LA later than 2 pm on an August Saturday so as to avoid traffic and other wine-country tourists and actually get a chance to visit more than one winery before they all close? And while we're at it, maybe we should plan to take a car that's big enough for the whole lot of us, so my wife (your daughter) doesn't have to twist herself like a contortionist in the middle of the backseat of your beautiful (and believe me, it's a knockout) but just ever-so-slightly too-small Dick Tracy-ish rental car? Call me one of those "insane" California drivers, but maybe we should also go a hair faster than 55--you know, so we can just get to the winery before they stop doing their "Sideways" shtick that we all really think it will be fun to see even if we've seen it before (20 times, with other California visitors who have as original and fun ideas as you)? And maybe once we get there (to the first winery), we should actually, just maybe, taste the actual wine and not complain that you could buy a bottle in a store for the price of the tasting? I'm not saying all the wine is good, but I don't know, I'm just throwing this out... perhaps it's a little too early to start hating the entire enterprise before actually doing one full tasting--that is, if you do plan on enjoying this day--at THE WINERIES--in the lovely Buelton countryside? On that count, and I'm just making a minor suggestion here, but maybe you might want to also mock the descriptive wine writing on the menus beyond earshot of the winery owner who already looks like he wants to hit you in the face with his full bottle of dolcetto? Just a suggestion--you know, so we can enjoy the jokes better without having to fight before we're even drunk enough to get into some serious bottle smashing.
Posted on August 15, 2008 at 07:53 AM | Permalink
In Rome, one tag on a bathroom stall read: "Bush = un pezzo di merda."
In Las Vegas's McCarran airport, one stall wall included the following line: "Jews runs the media." Directly underneath that line was another pearl: "That's because people have bad sense of grammar."
Posted on June 25, 2008 at 08:18 PM | Permalink
Upon my return from Italy, the one thing I am sure of is that I currently dislike watching American dance reality shows (not that I ever did), reading tabs, seeing really bad movies (bad-good movies are still fine), even more than before. The leniency for crap that I acquired in LA after years of curmudgeon life in NY is gone, even after just returning from a foreign country where the music and television, at least the popular forms of it, are funnier (stupider, potentially, more sexist, etc.) than anything in America. Truth is: I cannot stand to see the way certain people live in this country that I can luckily call home in the current tense international climate. But the more I see Americans and our need and love to consume, lack of organic pleasure, the urgency and intensity with which we communicate via e-mail, phone, and even in person...it's overwhelming, and it's sad. I wasn't away very long. 30 days is hardly a long tour away from one's culture, but it was just long enough for me to slip into, as I had said, a more natural mode of existence, and these weren't on days gazing out over the Mediterranean. I experienced as much or more of this new internal pace and attitude at Autostrade-side Autogrills and in smoky Rome buses, bad gelaterias and even dangerous neighborhoods and boring Sardinia cellphone stores, as I did in restful medieval villages in the Abruzzi mountains. For it isn't rest that Italy provides. Italy doesn't provide anything, in fact, and that's why it's great; it doesn't try too hard, doesn't want to. Plus, there's a frenetic pace in the Italian world, too--especially in a city like Rome, which is hardly a groundbreaking observation, as kids reheat more frozen meals than ever while moms and dads still jump over each other and ditch their jobs to watch their children take swimming lessons. But what's different about it all is that to my mind Italians don't want to work more: they don't like it, they don't get a high from it. They don't have openings, in large part, in the little portal in our minds that the allows the urgency, devote-your-life-to-nonsense and anticipatory stress addiction that reaches and controls many American psyches. And if some Italians do not feel this urgency, if they do devote their lives to nonsense, well, they don't really feel as if they're living while mourning the loss of their lives simultaneously in that distinctly American way. A Naples advertising executive who doesn't really believe in the mission of his account, therefore, just waits for work to end to really enjoy his life--what most people in America *say* they do but rarely accomplish. He doesn't force an attempt at or quest for enjoyment into his every moment and then wince when he can't find any "quality time" for it; maybe he'll have some moments of joy throughout the day but they will come whether or not he creates an "action plan" to "achieve" them. For instance, Italy is currently looking into increasing the work week hours; as dangerous as it is to us, the Euro is killing too many people in Italy, too. But there remains a lovingly selfish-cum-socialist-y, "let the government take care of it" type of attitude--we don't like our president, but what the hell?--that even lets the overworked feel free, regardless of what's required of them. And maybe that's what I saw most obviously on my mini-trip. Not any sort of "la dolce vita" fiction. But the fact that most Italians feel free from expectation and big-brother ownership--especially state and corporate ownership, even when it's written into law--except for when it comes to family. Which is more an ownership of love and something all of us should applaud. More in the coming weeks. This is part of the book project...
Posted on June 22, 2008 at 02:30 AM | Permalink
1. People can't really debone fish here. And the cuisine is made of more pig than you would think.
2. The best beaches aren't sandy but rocky (see Cala Mariolu, up top), and they often require a boat trip.
3. Ocean currents go in the opposite direction you think they should. Say, towards wherever you happen to be swimming.
4. There is happiness that the US military has left the Maddelena archipelago but now everyone's complaining that the US has left them with no means for economic stimulation. (I say, just be glad Bush is gone. Berlusconi's still up your behind.)
5. Everything's eco here, but those horses on the side of the road? They may end up in a ragu. For real.
6. A man came up to me on the beach, not selling Fanta or chips or even a panino. He was selling pecorino. Cheese! On the beach! For a snack!
7. The rich people here may pop their collars and sail superyachts but when you question them privately about the success of the Port Cervo marina, they tell you they fear it's becoming too much like New Jersey.
8. The wind blows everywhere you don't want it to, but when the lights come on (what some people call the sun coming out), it can stop dead in its tracks.
9. The "strange" black-clad ladies of the Barbaggia mountains happily sell bus tours to their lifestyle not unlike the Amish. Score one for taking dumb tourists to hand.
10. You actually swim with sardines here, among other interesting fish. Put on a snorkel mask, remove your makeup, and stop just lying on the sand looking at everyone else's D&G swimsuit while you considering buying fake Breitling watches from those Senegalese souvenirsmen.
*This is weird and beautiful place. Beautiful because of its oddities (the wild horses, Catalan-Arabic influences, ancient civilization ruins, the pirate-like flag), not the pretty coastlines. Stay atuned to that fact and you won't fall into the chasm of "whydidn't I follow cheesy American pop stars to Capri, (which, btw, is terribly overpriced and currently in a state of classless ruin by the onslaught of modern tourism)?"
Posted on June 10, 2008 at 10:35 PM | Permalink
Having been here for a week, for the fourth time in my life, it's pretty easy for me to confirm how much Rome and my adopted hometown of Los Angeles are alike. In Rome, everyone immediately looks you up and down, even the cheesy bridge-and-tunnel kids with the badly gelled hair who live miles from Cinecitta; everyone's pazzo, doing something unusually complicated on unusually expensive cellphones, especially when driving; and style trumps all (addendum: most Romans, outside your immediate family and favorite Hugo Boss salesman, will be nice to your face and speak crap behind your back). Tired of these inescapable Hollywoodisms as well as the tourists in every corner of the city (and every Dior, D&G, and Armani store)--even in the small, unusually good dining rooms and bars of the former slaughterhouse district, Testaccio--I recently sought refuge in my father-in-law's alpine region of Abruzzi (home as well to half of Madonna's family). Good thing, too, because aside from the best saffron, game, sheep's milk cheese, and mountainous national parkland in Italy, Abruzzi (though it's been called "The Next Toscana," think more Colorado than Napa) also benefits from a lack of tourism. Which doesn't mean you won't find great restaurants and hotels here; just that they won't be overrun with tacky, in-your-face, fanny-pack-waisted Rick Stevesians and the guidebooks that they love--or worse, B-level American celebrities. After a fast two hour jaunt east from Rome, last week, I arrived in the small, rustic town of Campo di Giove, set deep under the imposing Majella mountains and just minutes from the medeival city of Sulmona, birthplace of Ovid and that Confetti (candied almonds) your significant other will likely adore as much as L. Locals, and there are plenty of young, single ragazzi still hanging in their hometowns--make sure not to say you are single as one friend did; you will get an invitation to a family dinner for the wrong reasons). Inadvertently stylish in 80's threads they don't care about (unlike some of the chic-geeks in Sulmona), these kids may win you over with genuine friendliness as quickly as, say, the freshly made annelini with speck and ricotta (which would no doubt be on tomorrow's Babbo menu if Batali ever scootered himself over), at the no-frills La Scarpetta di Venere. At this thin-aired pine-perfumed spot, on a recent night, the young locals gathered to watch Rome play Inter in soccer while scarfing down pizze (I recommend the local prosciutto as a topping; it's deeper in color and richer in flavor, with more substance, than the overbought Parma stuff you can find in any Dean and Deluca), taking turns saying hello to our Zia (yes, young people, in certain places still have respect for elders). In the morning, you might want to follow my lead and dodge a brown bear, a few wild boars, and a wolf (if I was kidding, this would be mentioned with some degree of whimsy), while riding the funicular up to Gran Sasso d'Italia (the rock of Italy), the highest mountain in the country, for fantastic hiking and even a look at a hotel built by Mussolini in Campo Imperatore. It's true: I have a home here--in the city you see above--and thank god there's no Wi-Fi. I, however, never mind a night at the albergo diffuso Sextantio, a recently finished preservation-minded design hotel built out of the intact medeival Abruzzese town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, right in the national park, where Philippe Starck bathroom fixtures sit in restored cave-like brick rooms for the socially conscious yet aesthetically driven travelers some of us know we have become. I'm OK with this kind of tourism; the place was purchased over ten years ago and painstakingly restored with natural materials allowing locals (those who remained) to enjoy a better quality of life each month. As the manager, Giovanni, tells me, it's not for everyone. You have "niche" clienti, I tell him. Yes, he says, nich-a. Like the philosopher? Not exactly, I say, but hotel managers who think philosophy at the drop of an Abruzzese wool cap definitely are a niche group. Ho capito, he replies: I GET you. Then we eat a few chunks of local pecorino, talking soccer, while an American in a rented Alfa drives by, almost hitting a deer, he is so focused on the combination of his G.P.S. system and the panino he bought at an Auogrill on the autostrade. Oh, Abruzzi, am I hurting you--and hence slowly poisoning my escape--with such a post? I will have to care for you as I introduce you around.--A.B.
Posted on June 08, 2008 at 08:40 AM | Permalink
I am having a lovely time in Rome. But I can't help but feel that the trip is somewhat marred so far by a persistent cold, sore throat, and fever-like sensation that worsens at night. Until yesterday we thought I just picked up something nasty on the plane. But as it continued to worsen over a week's time, I figured it would be wise to get it checked out. First I went to a farmacia, where things are a little different than they are in America. For one thing, as my local farmacia dottore pointed out, in America, you never get to to speak to the pharmacist: That isn't entirely true, but I know what he means having spent lots of time in inpersonal Rite Aids run by uneducated fools. But then the farmacia dottore continued: Here, we are doctors, he said. And there are four of us all the time in this place. Of course, they only have one form of sudafed that doesn't make you drowsy (Vicks -ah"FLu-ah Action-ah"), and they decide what it is you need, but it is nice to speak to someone who knows a little something about medicine. You like-a this system better than America's, he asked, ah? No, I said. They are both good, but I wish I had the choice over my medication. Ah, he said. But we are doctors. Lina then perked up: But you are doctors of phramacy the same way I am a doctor of psychology, just like our pharmacists. Yes! he said. Clearly we weren't communicating very well. At any rate, I then ran into my Zia on the street looking for peaches at the fruit stand. It so happened she had just returned from her doctor. What type of doctor is he if you don't mind me asking, I said in Italian. Allora, she said. Ancora, sentai male? Si, I replied. Allora. She took my hand and we walked one block from the apartment where she rung up her local doctor's office. We entered and the doctor took me right away, checked my throat and gave me a full exam. I see no sign of bacterial infection, she said; drink water and lemon. And don't let water come from your body (sweat!). Then she OK'ed the phamacist's Sudafed and the new throat spray. Then, when it was time to pay, she refused money. Instead she kissed the both of us, tolf my aunt to feel well and tousled my hair. Then she sent us home and told us to bring her lemons from Amalfi. Now, think of even the nicest doctor in the U.S. Would he or she see you for free, and instantly? Would he or she care enough to put you ahead of her other patients? That is what I miss about the American system. I don't care if I have to pay for my Sudafed (my Zia will get reimbursed by her government-fortified insurance company for my over-the-counter cold meds). But it would be nice if I had a doctor who cared even 30% as much as this fine Roman doctor. Oh, and by the way: She went to Harvard but she grew up in Rome. Va bene, indeed.
Posted on May 26, 2008 at 11:29 PM | Permalink
How different are Italy's farmers' markets from California's? Having
morphed into an Angeleno over the last few years, it's a tough question
to answer, especially comparing swank Los Angeles and central Roma. In
Larchmont, land of Yuppified Hollywood, you can find, on a Sunday
morning, some of the freshest farmers' purple cauliflower, blood
oranges (well, no longer this week), meyer lemons, and fava beans. But
today, in Roma's Campo dei Fiori, all was alive and well even if I
could not find blood oranges there either. I admit that I moved to
California from New York after a decade-long love affair with Italy.
For me, it was an escape from Washington Heights to America's Italia. I
found even Hollywood (well, its hills and lemons) Italian. Still, while I didn't
today venture so far into the unvisited Roma as my T+L colleague Gary Shteyngart
did last year in Testaccio (Campo dei Fiori is, after all, one of Roma's most famous
markets, filled with tourists and lame ristorantes selling everything
from panini to "real, Italian" pizza and gelato as well as an amatriciana and carbonara
for the Carmella Sopranos of the world), it was nice to be in the
company of some fresh zucchini flowers, yelping fish salesmen, and
plant seeds that honestly declared their status as "semi-Italian." What
that means, I am not sure. But how many people in Los Angeles are from
Southern California? And just where did they get their blood orange
Posted on May 23, 2008 at 08:58 AM | Permalink
There's probably nothing better for your spirit when you're foxholed up in a medical society--and this *is one contained medical community; everyone here has something to do with Mayo--than to escape it as thoroughly as you can. That proved physically impossible for us over the past few days. But thankfully we arrived with an academy screener of Sean Penn's "Into the Wild." I don't know that the movie was the best I've seen. But I do think Penn outdid himself in terms of visual and visceral scope. The film transports you (and in my case, reminds me why I've avoided a fulltime corporate job since the year following my undergraduate degree). I also don't believe like others that the flick necessarily glorified its protagonist: it showed him in frequent states of potheaded smuchkification for all his innate intelligence, ascetism, and Emory degree. Some people are just goofballs, and the film seemed to be honest about that. That Supertramp died so closely to supplies, a highway, and help seems only to enforce that notion. Maybe Penn could have made that more explicit about those facts. And maybe there could have been less original Vedder in the soundtrack. But locking up in a dark hotel room with a laptop DVD viewing session of this film after spending a day grappling with the unique blend of Mayo invasiveness and impersonality really brought Lina and I back home. L.A. may have the worst air in the country but it provides a lot more access to nature than Hell's Kitchen. After the flick, I put myself to bed re-reading Krakauer's Outside article, and thought yet again: This man is an extremely clear writer, but I don't know what his prose legacy will be. Which is not to say that every writer needs to be a great stylist. I love my plain sentences, my purist storytellers, my adventurers who return with tales that defy linguistic elan. But it seems to me that Krakauer's greatest feats have been finding (or living) content and packaging material with his pen. No pun intended. Still, "Into the Wild," the film, was about the best thing I could have watched last night, and Penn deserves some serious recognition for his work. Perhaps Krakauer or the new gen of Krak-type writers should look into the young pioneers who venture into the depths of the elite medical world as patients; these extended trips and transfixing diagnosis procedures should be viewed as intensely as wilderness. There are certainly more ways out of Denali--if you're smart.
Posted on December 13, 2007 at 07:00 AM | Permalink
Aviation Enters the Satellite Age (Eventually), Travel + Leisure, December 2007
++Crazy fact learned during the cruise tech research: The average cruiser watches 6 hours of TV each day!! My question? Why take the cruise in the first place? I've been on two cruises in my life. Both were rather unusual--not your Carnival-type of trip. I certainly didn't want to watch TV--we only watched one in-room movie on a stormy day. But, look: There are many good reasons not to cruise, including many of the people you might meet (!), the "entertainment," the environment, etc. But if you should happen to find yourself on a big white matronly ship in the middle of the ocean, turn off the television and realize the great philosophical inspiration you've purchased. You *are* in the middle of the ocean. Think about that and your place in the world. Think about the actual expanse of the globe and your position on it. It's one of the rare chances you may get to actually disconnect with the nonsense you deal with on land and experience a peaceful thought or two. That is, provided you don't take advantage of all the new cellphone and wifi access...
Posted on December 02, 2007 at 06:45 AM | Permalink
Last night, as one of my friends partied at the Playboy mansion, and another got married in upstate New York, I found myself trapped in New York for personal reasons, where, among some very nice time spent with my cousin, who I salute on his birthday, I witnessed the greatest rat fight ever seen. You forget, after you've left New York, how large rats can get. The ones we saw looked like small dogs. And they weren't making gourmet food. Perhaps you'll wan more thoughts on the matter from Sean Wilsey, who lovingly discusses one of my favorite Joseph Mitchell works "Rats on the Waterfront" in an LRB piece from a couple years ago. And here, below, is a brief quote from Mitchell's masterpiece:
"The brown rat is an omnivorous scavenger, and it doesn't seem to care at all whether its food is fresh or spoiled. It will eat soap, oil paints, shoe leather, the bone of a bone-handled knife, the glue in a book binding, and the rubber in the insulation of telephone and electric wires. It can go for days without food, and it can obtain sufficient water by licking condensed moisture off metallic surfaces. All rats are vandals, but the brown rat is the most ruthless . . . Instead of completely eating a few potatoes, it takes a bite or two out of dozens. It will methodically ruin all the apples and pears in a grocery in a night. To get a small quantity of nesting material it will cut great quantities of garments, rugs, upholstery, and books to tatters. In warehouses, it sometimes goes berserk . . . One night, in the poultry part of the old Gansevoort Market, alongside the Hudson, a burrow of them bit the throats of over three hundred broilers and ate less than a dozen. "
Note the lack of a picture above this post. I do not want the likeness of these beasts on my blog.
Posted on July 22, 2007 at 06:29 AM | Permalink
In tomorrow's New York Times, I have a short piece about my neighborhood, Los Feliz. It's really more of a piece about the rebirth of Hillhurst Ave., and it's only a start in that regard. In the last 10 years, I've seen Hillhurst change from what seemed like a random and gritty vein of the Valley into a real expression of commerce-meets-creativity since the south-of-the-Boulevard hipsters have turned 30 (or 40, or 50) and become successful alongside their hillside brethren. Obviously Los Feliz isn't surfacing, but Hillhurst, itself, has been resurfacing for a few years, and still awaits more development. Some not so pleasant: on the upside, the owners of Dominick's and the 101 cafe will soon open Little Dom's in the spot previously occupied by the now-closed Belle Epoque; on the other hand, a view-obstructing, traffic-exploding Whole Foods and four levels of condos above it may soon cast a dark shadow over the beloved structure (the current Derby club) that once housed the original--and LA's last--Brown Derby restaurant.
I had originally written in an early draft that Hillhurst's relatively new chic shops and restaurants don't just represent the tastes and styles of the East Side's increasingly sophisticated inhabitants (not that I consider myself one of them) but that these establishments now directly serve the interests of this quantifiable group. There's a significant difference between projecting an image of what a neighborhood seems like*, and coming right out and giving a tight band of residents what they crave. The latter is now Hillhurst's job, and aside from deepening Los Feliz, at large, the street's also now opening up the hood to more inter-city, and hell, international travelers interested in more than a representation of "hipsterdom" and a spoon of Pinkberry.
[*Vermont Avenue, for the most part, save for House of Pies, Palermo, bad jewelry store, and Skylight bookstore, etc... Our movie theater is no longer a true arthouse, and Fred 62 recently hosted the oh-so-fab Britney Spears.]
Simultaneously, young adults, even those without studio development deals, are buying in the storied hills that boast structures by Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright across from the new Observatory that won't guarantee show admission even if you buy yourself a shuttle ride up the hill. Leases, all around, are rising. Inhabitants without rent control are now paying close to $3,000 a month for new apartments. In the flats, a two-bedroom cottage just south of the Derby recently sold for a million dollars. It's getting crazy, to be sure, but these facts shock, with unrealistic intensity, many of my fellow native New York friends and family who don't see the tremendous value in spots like ours, and hence need a real-estate vision-readjustment. What these new-style Alvie Singer-types don't realize is that Los Feliz is more free-spirited and artistic and socially cohesive as any current cross-section of any of today's downtown New York spots. In fact, it's better because of the other tight communities and fantastic nature that surround us--and that includes the Scientologists and aging-Brit, one-hit-wonders grazing on their microgreens. Such virtues, even the comical ones, are now true currency, especially in a sprawling, car-crazy town of people craving more frequent and deeper connections to each other.
With that out of the way, here's a brief addendum to the story: thoughts on other Hillhurst haunts and how they flesh out the street. Have a look, and stay tuned for updates and expansions throughout the week.
+On either side of Vinoteca Farfalla, the new wine bar, you can find some pretty solid culinary choices. Just avoid the newly opened En Sushi (it's overpriced, and always less than fresh). On the north side of the Vinoteca is the owners' initial hit, Farfalla: a bankable trattoria where you can snag a bucatini all'amatriciana that almost comes close to that of NY's Babbo--not very close at all, but Babbo is pretty extraordinary, so that's still high praise. On the other side of the wine bar is Tropicialia, the wine bar owners' new Brazillian joint. What it lacks in decor--it's nearly cafeteria-style on the inside--it makes up for in affordable, braised meat that falls off the bone, and dependable steak salads. Just run from the cheese bread--it's fairly nauseating--and don't expect the polenta to taste like grandma's. It's nowhere close to as creamy and magical.
+Further down Hillhurst is Alcove's older, less bright, wannabe sibling, Home. Except it's far less chic and often easier to find yourself a seat there. Call it a standby: they serve everything your working parents might have cooked for you as a kid--if your working parents made you spinach salads with goat cheese along with sides of waffle fries--but the service is truly lacking, and they really don't do anything innovative. It's simply a relaxed, outdoor patio cafe on which to enjoy strong sandwiches, salads, and burgers with friends. And they deliver. Even to Yummy Yoga across the street.
+ Mustard Seed Cafe. Another organic lunch spot, this is the crunchiest of the bunch. Lots of veggie options, extremely slow waiters, and lingerers. It lacks the power scene of Alcove but might appeal to the more Whole Foodsy, Weeds-watching type who can't stand eating next to TV stars. You know you love sprouts.
+Places to avoid: Mexico City (mediocre food; you can do much better in Silverlake); Tangier (overpriced continental gourmet in a bad Moroccan design, though I like the quiet outdoor bar for drinks when it's not overtaken by wannabe gangsters; look for a new, overly ambitious owner to make it even more upscale soon); and the new Vegan place across from Home (not very tasty, but that's coming from a carnivore).
+You should, however, hit Cafe Los Feliz, run by a local family, for your coffee instead of the Coffee Bean. And do try a croissant--I argue that they compete with good French patisseries.
+You won't feel good about yourself for it, but drinking at dive bars like the Rustic and Drawing Room has its merits--for one, you may end up at 4 a.m. cursing all farm animals and studio executives inside Keifer Sutherland's nearby loft.
+And the Village Gourmet store next to Alcove sells some excellent Parma proscuitto even if they charge way too much for food that shouldn't even be considered gourmet (say, Cento tomato sauce, which is a budget item in New York supermarkets) and really have no ethical problem with raping you on boutique wines.
+Yes, Yuca's taco stand is nationally famous. But let's be honest: it's just a taco stand. Good street food, but god knows where it comes from. [UPDATE: One of my favorite local writers/music lawyers/cultural scions writes in to say that: "Yuca's is NOT just a taco stand. It's all about
what you order that makes the difference: (a) the Cochinita Pibil -- a yucatecan pork specialty which is pretty
much unavailable at any other taco stands/trucks I've been to in L.A....Sweet, BBQ goodness.
(b) the burgers - actually a pretty good, low-priced burger. Probably because they are made on the same grill as the carne asada, so they pick up a little of that marinade. Also, as opposed to most of the taco trucks in the city, Yuca's street tacos are a bit LARGER. Street tacos tend to be about 3" long from a taco truck/stand. Yuca's are standard taco size." She is right, of course. But I still stand by my street food comment. Must promote the health these days.]
+Buy jewelry at Liza Shtromberg's shop, and I hope I'm spelling that right. She's just up the block from Cafe Los Feliz--one block up from our increasingly popular Nature Mart. Liza makes her own pieces, and those shall-we-say smart celebrities wear it. But it's also affordable and just beautiful. The love of my life has always been pleased.
+One cool fact about the Hollywood Gelato company than I couldn't get into the piece (aside from the fact that they are the hood's only place to get a true Illy brew): It was apparently once a front for the Armenian mafia, who rented it from Annette's family (the current owners). Also, Annette's grandma still lives in the back of the building. And her late husband was a waiter at the original Brown Derby, back when Los Feliz was a sort of Little Italy. Annette, who played on Hillhurst as a child, also is reportedly trying to bring in only the best all-natural and sustainable gelato. Reason enough to get your ice cream here, no? Let's support the locals and show Whole Foods what we're made of (when we don't need giant bags of organic onions). Of course, there's also Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake--but Giada de Laurentiis just did a feature on it on the Food Network, so now it's really busy. Plus, it's not in Los Feliz-walking distance, and I think that certain of Annette's flavors really win--certainly the Chipotle Chocolate Chip and the superbly creamy and caramelly Cajeta.
+As a local grad student has recently mentioned: Yes, the wobbly chairs need some retooling at the Alcove. And no, it's not the quietest place to get work done. And yes, you will not find Internet there. However: It's around the block from my house--an excellent place to conduct work meetings--and I'm a big fan of laptops with cellular Internet cards that get you Web access everywhere. Plus, there's something about working in a nicely populated, somewhat foreign/uncomfortable environment--it juices me to get stuff done quickly, and that's swhat I'm looking for when I leave the house with computer in tow. That, and a grilled veggie salad with salmon. (I'm trying to avoid the See's candy chocolate cake.)
+I wouldn't get in a dither about seeing famous people here (although plenty gallop about). It's just that there's no point in mentioning some of the more interesting ones (let's let them live in peace), except of course for the L.Ron-loving Beck and his Ribissian possee.
+I'm sorry I haven't provided any addresses, phone numbers, or Web links, but I have to encourage a little research on your part because of the next +
+Please support but don't bombard the hood, says the occasionally reluctant travel writer. I live here, and hope to be able to continue to eat my Alcove lunches--and walk Hillhurst--in some sort of peace!
P.S. Yes, people already writing in, I'm aware of the fact that we didn't mention many new spots on Vermont and Sunset, and throughout other corners of the area. And I know, too, that we didn't cover Silverlake at all. But it had to stay short and focus on Hillhurst. Thems the rules.
Posted on April 07, 2007 at 12:05 AM | Permalink
A little birdie tells me that an awesome new anthology of writing edited by Shallot supporter and writer extraordinare Bonnie Tsui will make its way into stores this April. The book is called "A Leaky Tent is a Piece of Paradise," and it will feature an essay by yours truly on tennis courts, their identities as built landscapes, and how they can serve as stages for people to play out social dramas. Want more info?
Here's the catchy description:
Warning: This is not your parents' nature writing! A distinctly contemporary take on the genre, "A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise" features original essays by twenty gifted writers, all 30 and under, whose strong and diverse voices redefine nature writing for the 21st century. Editor Bonnie Tsui's cast of accomplished contributors wrestle with integrating nature into daily life while putting down roots—often in urban environments. Included here are The New Yorker's Andrea Walker on learning to hunt with her father; noted fishing author and painter James Prosek on the mythology and mystery of eels; writer Hugh Ryan on being taught how to pitch a tent by a six-foot-tall drag queen at a Radical Faeries camp in Tennessee. Other stories are unusual in subject, like Christine DeLucia's meditation on life cycles in Massachusetts's Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Adam Baer's argument that the outdoor tennis court -- carefully constructed as it is in a natural surround -- is the built environment in which is he is allowed to be primeval and, at last, to grow into a man. Theirs and the other writings in this collection illuminate questions about self and place, belonging and rootlessness, and the meeting of created and natural landscapes. Brimming with insight and humor, "A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise" rewards us with new perspectives on personal identity in relation to nature, and on the impact of landscape and place on our lives.
Want more? How about an excerpt from my piece? Oh, fine, you convinced me.
A tennis court isn’t nature dressed up but nature objectified, manipulated, pounded even by bulldozers and will. .... A tennis court, explicitly manufactured—grass courts don’t look like grass, chain-link fences offer views of what's outside—feels open and closed. You can often see a tennis court's limits and setting at once. It’s an honest construct...A tennis court placed in the outdoors is as much a way to think about your place in the world as it is a space to think about your place in the service box. ...In the end, a tennis court is a metaphor for humankind’s progress and the limits of that progress: it’s a product of the industrial, and yet it’s most useful to people interested in accessing their primal selves... For all of their civility, tennis courts are revelatory, confessional spaces that, in their uncommonly organized nature, expose contradictory elements, forcing powers to struggle with one another or vibrate in rhythm, or both. Tennis courts are like music staffs. Systematic but open to invention, they’re breeding grounds for anomie and communion altars at once—natural imaging centers where you can’t help but submit to a CAT-scan of your spirit.
I've obviously left out all the juicy stuff: the blood and guts, the fights, the sex scenes. Pre-order the whole book for this story and a whole lot more from Bonnie's impressive karass!
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 07:00 AM | Permalink
I have not written about the James Kim travel tragedy yet, but I was proud to be a part of his writers' community and had happily met him at conferences full of life-sucking journos who never acknowledged just how fun even a boring day of work could be. Needless to say, when James was reported missing, I was shocked and became passionate about trying to help. When he was found the way he was found, on the day he was found, I was aghast. His father has now written a very important op-ed in the Washington Post. I think that instead of focusing on the press-conference-heavy day-before of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the tech community, for one, should read this piece, and take steps to help James's father in his mission. He's right: It's abominable that James is gone, and he could have been saved were it not for people who don't do their jobs right and use the significant advances already available. Forget about new plasmas and MP3 players for a day, and read this: The Lessons in My Son's Death. [via Beef] P.S. It wasn't widely discussed but Elliot Von Buskirk's remembrance of his friend really opened up this discourse about how America can mess something like this sort of a rescue up. He wrote: "James' body was found Wednesday by one of four helicopters paid for by the family. Although some rescuers had reported seeing a flash of light near him from their helicopter, by the time they arrived at the location, it was too late. I could go on and on about the tragedy of someone so well-loved being found dead after being missing for eleven days, with a full-fledged search not starting until about a week after the Kim family went missing, as well as the fact that the family had to fund the helicopters themselves, but that's not the point right now." Elliot was right. At the time. However, now that a month has passed, we must mobilize to make sure this sort of thing never happens to a domestic traveler again. In the meantime, give to the Kim family.
Posted on January 07, 2007 at 11:17 AM | Permalink
I was skulking around Silverlake today playing with cameras when it dawned on me that the entire Rejuvenile generation that's consistently reminded it's, er, rejuvenile via product placement in shows like Weeds--has anyone else caught how many times the book has been read by various Agrestic characters?; the creator, Jenji Kohan, is married to the book's author, Christopher Noxon--has moved here into Neutra or Neutra-esque homes. "Silverlake bohemian-modern" is the style (bohemians with serious money get a view of the polluted reservoir), and it's a hard shell to avoid slipping into when you've got scenic views from across your driveway like this one. My tip? Just don't go too Noxonian and download every childlike ringtone (Ozomatli's "Little Boxes" cover does not apply). Neutra liked Schoenberg.
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 05:04 PM | Permalink
the desert and its conflation of nature and Albert Frey-inspired
boutique hotels wouldn't be restorative? Yes, I opted to visit the Palm Springs area when faced with the cool weather that awaited me in the north. But no, I did not find the area devoid of value. Like LA, the desert seems rife with mystery. For instance, who broke into my car as I relaxed in a stone jacuzzi the first night of my stay? Was it the son of a country club member or the homeless young woman I met standing in front of a "date shake" purveyor on Palm Canyon Drive? (I choose the former but don't wan't to discriminate.) Why is every desert hotel employee I meet a terrifyingly articulate drifter who wants to sell me real estate in a different part of Canada and/or Mexico? And what, despite the fact that Sinatra enjoyed the culinary progression, is the allure of Oysters Rockefeller before a hearty entree of Pork Tenderloin in a sweet brandy cream sauce? All interesting questions, but let's look at some instances of desert modernism instead.
Posted on October 29, 2005 at 10:56 AM | Permalink
Who knew that all this gefilte-fishing would teach me something about Jewish genealogy? The winning Tammy writes to say that since her grandmother's recipe reminds me of my grandmother's, it's likely we hail from the same side of Eastern Europe -- that there's a "gefilte fish line" delineating two schools of fish-making (sweet v. savory) and wouldn't you know, two schools of Yiddish, among other things.
Posted on October 05, 2005 at 04:44 AM | Permalink
From Maria Sharapova's revelatory blog, which should, I hasten to say, have been updated post-U.S. Open:
I also listen to my iPod all the time. I love music. The new Coldplay is sooo good. I can’t stop listening to that. Also, I’ve been into a lot of Dance and Club music. It keeps me moving. Sometimes I have to dance on the plane cause I can’t control myself.
What am I reading? Fashion magazines. Lots of them. All that I can get my hands on. After reading a good novel, it’s great to flip through magazines. As everyone knows I love fashion. I can’t get enough of it. It makes me want to go shopping. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Um, yes. But not as fun as reading her take on Tolstoy would be. That, not the new chicklit tome of the month, is what teenage Russian tennis stars built in Florida's Blonde Tennis Star Factory consider good novels, right? Let the gossip start here then. I'm breaking the NDA I signed with Sharapova Enterprises to leak to the world the luminary's newest media move: intellectual. Look for a 3,000 word Sharapova essay on Isaac Babel in an October issue of the The New York Review of Books. And remember, you didn't learn that here. Not unless you want a visit from Yuri and Slava.
Posted on September 13, 2005 at 08:37 AM | Permalink
I'm not a fan of obits for people -- or worlds -- that haven't died. When it's time to rebuild, reorganize, and resurrect, a celebration goes a long way. But this month's most inadvertent New Orleans spirit machine may also be one of the year's best documentaries -- and that has nothing to do with its curious timing. In "Make It Funky," which recently opened in L.A. and will appear on VH1 soon, director Michael Murphy, who also lost his New Orleans home, celebrates, with profound humanism, the multigenre gumbo of music that made New Orleans cuture what it is. And that the film's just coming out now could be fate. See it.
Posted on September 10, 2005 at 08:04 AM | Permalink
So a new addition to the blogosphere has popped up, and I've got to add my props. It's my cousin. His name is Michael Beeferman, and he's done things as diverse as work at BMG in production; pioneer an eBay selling business (and hence win acclaim for his work in the New York Times before there were infomercials selling software that teaches the practice); and after runing into SNL's wildly bizarre Rachel Dratch on the street actually had the presentness of mind to say to her, "Dratch?" (to which apparently she smiled and nodded in the affirmative). Anyway, his blog (about music, tech, and humor) is www.beeferman.com, and today he links to a fascinating story about the RIAA suing a dead woman for Internet file-swapping. Go, Beef!
Posted on February 14, 2005 at 08:16 AM | Permalink
The area of L.A. I live in is called Los Feliz. I've mentioned it here a few times and often have to remind my friends how to say it -- mostly New Yorkers who actually try to pronounce the word properly with respect for the Spanish language (in fact it's pronounced: "Los FEELiss" around town; just think how funny "Pasadena" would sound pronounced properly). Anyway, here, for anyone with interest in what the landscape looks like, is a photo of the area taken in 1922 -- before Squaresville, Fred 62, Skylight, and other love'em one day/hate'em the next hipster staples turned it into a lovably angst-ridden Willaimsburg West. [via The Skunks of Los Feliz]
Posted on December 23, 2004 at 01:27 PM | Permalink
Hats off to New York's North Indian classical musician extraordinaire Andrew Mendelsohn. Not only did the witty sitar prodigy bag New York's grippy hold on our lives and trek off to India to win the country's most prestigious music competition; he made a compelling documentary about the experience and has found a way to mobilize serious support for it. Get on the bandwagon by visiting A Cricket in the Court of Akbar's Web site, viewing the trailer, and then dropping a few bills in the deserving man's change purse. If we don't support strong and gutsy music and film efforts like these, we don't deserve to have our projects realized.
[My knowledge of this effort is due only to proudly belonging to the social network of sketch comedian/monologue maven Negin Farsad. She will crack your shit up.]
Posted on December 21, 2004 at 08:13 AM | Permalink
Westhampton Ace, NY Sun
By ADAM BAER
“You know why you can’t backpedal for an overhead? You’ll break your neck. Run back fast, but sidestep it and first touch the net with your racket. Got it? Good. Now, run! Fast. Do it. Yeah. Go!”
It’s 1:10 p.m. on Tuesday June 8 and 94 degrees in Westhampton Beach, where I’ve just been yelled at by a springy 26-year-old tennis pro from Guatemala called Ulysses. I'm sweating profusely as my feet slide on the clay of the Eastside Tennis Club, a no-nonsense destination for racket-heads just north of Montauk Highway. At the same age as Ulysses I'm in the particularly depressing position of having lost my game along with a respectable level of physical fitness after too many post-high-school years sitting at desks, eating incorrectly, and exercising my mind for a living.
A tennis player since age four, when my father taught me the now-mocked forehand that got me the reputation of “slugger” on the junior circuit, tennis has been the most important athletic activity in my life. The only problem is that I’ve stopped playing it — stopped playing most of anything, actually, choosing to exercise, as solitary adults do, on stairmasters and weight benches for the past few years. But then that’s what I’m here to change. I’ve booked a few days at Peter Kaplan’s Tennis Academy in sunny Westhampton. My goal? Use the next 72 hours to become a force to be reckoned with again.
Anyone who’s ever read Tennis magazine knows that lovers of the sport are particularly large targets for hungry travel-industry marketers. Tennis travel has become big business, and every month, new ads appear in the game’s top publications for resort-clinics in the mountains or the sun, from Killington, V.T. to Hilton Head, N.C. But New York is particularly devoid of these vacation options — some exist in the Adirondacks — and Peter Kaplan’s clinic is the only incarnation of this brand of getaway in the Hamptons, benefiting at the same time from all the virtues the famed beachfront destination has to offer.
Mr. Kaplan, a middle-aged real-estate lawyer with decades of tennis-teaching experience, offers a welcome, humble option in comparison to the skein of high-priced luxury tennis camps festooned throughout the country. He houses his guests both in the Grassmere Inn, an acclaimed 36-room Victorian bed and breakfast juxtaposed between Main Street and the beach, and in The New Barn, a nearby converted barn-cum-house-share that offers a more Spartan time: group tables and couches amid big-screen t.v.’s, a pool, and five do-it-yourself kitchen facilities; free beach passes are available and guests also have use of the gym at the Eastside Academy to which free transportation is provided.
Rooms are quaint (and, yes air-conditioned), and bathrooms can be shared or not depending on how much you want to spend; breakfast consists of yogurt, muffins and bagels, and cushy country couches and chairs line a quaint living room that houses a bumper-pool table. During your stay, Mr. Kaplan will also likely invite you to a backyard cocktail hour and barbecue that he holds with his wife and school-age daughters for the young, foreign tennis pros he employs; you’re also encouraged throughout your residency to make use of the property: to play basketball, enjoy complimentary cable TV or broadband internet access, drink iced tea, or simply lounge around.
High luxury it isn’t, but most people are here to enjoy the natural options of Westhampton Beach if not to play tennis all day, and Peter’s fun-uncle personality is enough to make you feel at home. White-glove service and prosciutto-and-veggie frittatas, if that’s what you’re looking for from a B & B, exist at the chic cafes on Main.
“You have to change your grip faster! Go, switch it. Backhand!” This is what Alexandra, a more-senior Eastside pro and law-school graduate from Spain (also my age, incidentally) repeats as I scamper from one corner of Court 1 to the next. I'm trying to get used to the new backhand I learned yesterday, and I'm having a hard time. Like Ulysses, Alexandra was once a professional tour player (ranked three hundred in the world, which, if you can believe it, is an amazing accomplishment); now she’s studying for her M.B.A. I learn this on a two-minute break from my right-to-left drills, my face red from the sun, my ankles throbbing. She is interested in the fact that I am a writer, but as soon as the two minutes are up, she’s back to business. “Come on. You’re here to work,” she says with a devilish smile. I cringe but acquiesce.
I have been here two full days now and enjoyed four personal clinics with Mr. Kaplan’s pros, a group of sociable young people who are as intelligent and interested in your personal quirks (both tennis-related and non-) as they are adept at returning causally and precisely your best attempt at a winning forehand. I have attended other tennis camps for adults, but have not received this brand of personal attention at any of them. Most offer high teacher/student ratios unless you want to drop a mint, and Peter Kaplan gives his students 3:1 ratios or better for an affordable price. (You can also schedule your lessons and drills around beach- or Hamptons-exploring time, and stretch them out over a week, an option that's unheard of at other camps.)
I should also mention, of course, that even though I’m splitting Alexandra's services with my friend Dan, I still feel like I’m getting a private lesson; she’s paying very close attention to both the kinks in my swing and my two left feet while encouraging me to get better with smart incisive comments and strategically placed balls. The quick way she’s rotating us — getting us to sidestep around each other, while the other hits — makes the lesson an aerobic workout as well. And since I have a problem with hitting too close to the ball on my backhand side, for instance, she, every now and again, feeds the ball close to my body so I have to slide to the right to achieve the proper distance a solid shot requires.
While this is happening, she’s analyzing Dan’s game equally well, trying to get him to swing through the ball cleaner. Both of these practices pay off later when during afternoon match play he hits consistently smart shots to my backhand, and I manage to stay alive in points that would have killed me before. By the end of the day I don’t even care that he’s won; I’m playing at another level, twice as fit as when I arrived, and armed with lots of insight about how to improve on my own.
In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve met one humble middle aged couple trying to get a little better at a game they play socially; a Queens father who brought his beginning teenage son to learn something more mentally demanding than footballl; a smart professional couple from Manhattan here to hone their finely tuned club games; and the tenth-ranked child player in the country, here to train for a week by the ocean. I’ve also had a few great dinners at local seafood joints on Dune Road as well as enjoyed an evening concert at a local piano festival. On this evidence the tennis vacation is no longer just appealing to the tunnel-visioned weekend warrior. And if Peter Kaplan and Westhampton have their way, it just might soon appeal to you.
Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun
April 30, 2004 Friday
SECTION: TRAVEL; Pg. 23
LENGTH: 874 words
HEADLINE: Queen of the Sea
BYLINE: By ADAM BAER
The Queen Mary 2, the new $1 billion-plus belle of Cunard's fleet of magnificent ships, is unquestionably the grandest ocean liner ever, and while I was eating, sleeping, gambling, drinking, running, and decompressing on its two night inaugural cruise out of New York, I became Cary Grant: The world was mine.
Or at least that's what Cunard must have hoped a melange of shareholders, travel agents, and journalists would report back to their camps after the company invited them onto the hot-ticket ship last weekend. Certainly there's nothing like standing on the highest deck of the white matronly monster, three football fields long, and cruising into the wind just a scant 10 feet below the imposing Verazzano Bridge. And certainly the ship, which may soon sell out its 2004 season, sets a new standard of luxury for giant ocean liners. At the same time, however, the QM2 is still just a real-life cruise ship with real-life limitations: typically thin walls, lots of passengers (more than 2,600, actually), and tacky, flat entertainment.
But just because a cruise doesn't transcend its genre, doesn't mean it can't be the richest of its ilk - even if this one would, in some ways, disappoint those used to smaller, more personal high-luxury cruises. In the way that Las Vegas casinos strive to surpass a guest's expectations for the sheer breadth of things that can be done, bought, and swallowed in one place, the QM2 has something for everyone, and that does make it unique in its class.
A lot of care clearly went into the building and design of the classic ship - from its shimmering two-tiered Britannia restaurant and retro Queens Room ballroom to its bronzed wall murals depicting ancient lands, photos of the stars who sailed the original Queen Mary and 1980s-kitsch G32 nightclub. But it's the
little things that make the cruise unusually comfortable. On the bookshelf of my large junior balcony suite - blessed with a wonderfully firm bed, lots of closet space, and a roomy bathroom - was John Updike's anthology of the "Best American Short Stories of the Century" resting comfortably next to a Microsoft Xbox. The interactive television offered numerous smartly programmed channels and subchannels of music which instead of superficial mixes presented specific recordings of interesting artists (Yehudi Menuhin, Caetano Veloso, Mahler, Miles Davis, the Beatles).
And there's an extraordinary range of things to do. Guerilla shoppers can stroll the third-deck mall to purchase Chanel makeup, Escada clothes, Hermes scarfs, 13-carat diamond necklaces, and fifths of QM2-branded liquor. Exercisers can take advantage of rows and rows of hardcore cardiovascular and weightlifting machines. (Most cruises just fatten you up, then offer you some light stretching with a "fitness director" and a lackluster exercise room.)
Guests looking to broaden (ok, lightly stretch) their horizons can see a Museum of Natural History film in the boat's dome screened planetarium (fun but disorienting as the boat rocked); take Oxford University classes at sea (none available on my mini-trip); log on at 20 Internet-ready computer workstations and sprawling wireless hotspots, and explore a brilliantly stocked library (with bona fide librarians!) where Proust and Chaucer are housed with Michael Chabon and the most recent issue of Tattler.
And unlike many other ships, the QM2 is very youth-friendly - thanks a comprehensive gym, a hip video arcade, and childen's play-zone camp, as well as basketball and paddle tennis courts among its five pools (one with a retractable roof).
For those eager to drop more money than the all-inclusive price of their cruise (from $619 for a tiny room on a three-night New York cruise to more than $90,000 for a grand duplex on a 24-day transatlantic trip), options abound. At celebrity chef Todd English's eponymous restaurant pre-fixe lunches ($20) and dinners ($30) include superb braised short ribs, tuna tartare, and Thai-coffee tiramisu.
I found it worth the extra money to eat at Todd English - the meals in the main dining rooms, which are included in the cruise price, were quite average. (Cruisers who purchase more expensive suites get to eat at two slightly higher-quality restaurants than those in the less expensive suites, however.) The cruise price also covers meals you to take at a British style pub; a tea room with snacks; an outdoor grill; a "meat carvery;" an Italian restaurant and a pan-Asian restaurant. Guests can also pay $30 extra to dine in the "chefs galley," where they receive a cooking lesson from the boat's chefs. Lastly, If you're not content with the exercise options at the ship's gym, you can really take care of yourself at the gargantuan Canyon Ranch Spa Club, which offers fitness assessments ($129), medical back care consultations ($79), and body composition analyses ($39), as well as sea-water massages ($109), Middle Eastern Rasul mud "ceremonies" ($129 for a couple), and Mango Sugar Glo scrubs ($109).
In the end the QM2 gives you the choice to make your cruise what you'd like it to be. Is the ship worth traveling on simply because of its size and opulence? That could be a stretch. But if you're already in the market for a lavish cruise around the globe, you will get something for your money on this ship, even if you emerge feeling slightly less fabulous than Cary Grant.
Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun
January 9, 2004 Friday
SECTION: TRAVEL; Pg. 21
LENGTH: 1264 words
HEADLINE: Atlantic City's Surprisingly Grand Hotel
BYLINE: By ADAM BAER
Remember the place that time forgot?" That's what my cousin Mike asked me as the Atlantic City Expressway dumped us into a gritty grid of streets with Monopoly names: Vermont Avenue, Baltic, St. Charles.
Mike is a South Jersey native, a 33-year-old consultant with a healthy interest in blackjack. We both came of age in the 1990s during the resurgence of youth casino culture, and we were driving into Atlantic City in an attempt to recapture that eroded thrill.
Our destination? The new Borgata hotel, casino, and spa: a golden Vegas style tower near the city's marina and off the seedy Boardwalk rumored to be attracting urban Gen-Xers.
The $1 billion Borgata, a joint venture between Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage that opened in July, is Atlantic City's first new casino-hotel in 13 years. With lavish interiors by Dougall Design (whose credits include Las Vegas's MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, and Mandalay Bay hotel-casinos), the building boasts 2,002 guest rooms and suites, 125,000 square feet of gaming, 145 gaming tables, 3,650 slot machines, 11 "destination restaurants," 11 retail boutiques, a 50,000-square-foot spa, 70,000 square feet of event space, and parking for 7,100 cars.
But for all that gluttony, its television ads haven't flaunted the tuxedoed empty-nesters you see in Foxwoods spots; they have instead cast youngish hipsters traveling in packs on Vespa scooters, underscored by Coldplay-style guitars. Recent headliners at the Borgata have included evergreen mod-rocker David Bowie, comedian Chris Rock, and pop star Mya.
Atlantic City could use a new bright spot. For the past few decades, the once-booming resort town has served primarily as a two- or three-night stop for gambling addicts, suburbanites, bachelor parties, and retirees who arrive on buses to feed slot machines.
I know this firsthand. I've visited the city many times, and it consistently offers encounters with New Jersey realism - wise guys in tracksuits amid whitebelted day-trippers storming brunch buffets. Its hotels have strained to appear multifaceted for some time - Caesar's, while tacky, has offered a nice gym and tennis courts for years. But for all this effort, the hotels haven't attracted the kind of guests needed for the city's revival as a vacation destination.
Hence the question: Could Borgata be onto something? Our investigation began on a weekday afternoon. We arrived from Manhattan in two hours and skipped a line of cars waiting for valet parking, entering the hotel from a self-serve lot that would make a suburban shopping mall jealous. And that's when we saw it in the entrance: a Starbucks. The place is a veritable mall with a pentagonal ceiling cupola hanging above flowers perfumed with mocha Frappucinos.
To register we stood in a crowd clogging a starkly postmodern lobby sporting ochre marble and an illuminated wall of water. We then made our way to the guests' lounge, a secure cafe-like space, where key-holders buy drinks and gifts before catching the elevator.
Our room was enormous, with a convex glass wall looking out upon the entire expanse of the city and a decor that could be called "Contemporary Tuscan Urban." The appointments appeared expensive: The firm beds offered thick, white down comforters, and at nearly the size of the bedroom, the gigantic bathroom featured both a marble shower room with seating area and water pressure that mimicked persistent tropical rain.
We were here on the hotel's press invitation, I should add, which explained the room's "MTV Cribs" opulence. Our bellman told us that comedian David Spade had stayed in the same type of room. Later I saw on the local news that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have stayed at the hotel too.
That night, we had dinner reservations at Luke Palladino's Italian restaurant Specchio, one of the casino's upscale eateries - among them the French-Asian Suilan run by acclaimed chef Susanna Foo. So after a visit to a Zen-like indoor pool, complete with two Jacuzzis under a vaulted ceiling, we changed our clothes. The restaurant requires men to wear dress slacks, and most of the guests do more than follow the rules.
Bolstered by a shared 14,000-bottle wine cellar overseen by David Gordan of TriBeCa Grill, Borgata's restaurants offer superior drinks; accordingly, Specchio's fabrics are a rich merlot hue. I enjoyed a limoncello cocktail before a Ligurian seafood salad ($35) and lamb chops scottaditto with pecorino gnocchi( $35); Mike matched a glass of Montepulciano with some mushroom and tallegio crespelle ($14) and a hearty zuppa di pesce with spaghetti ($42). The meal cost well over $150 with drinks, but we rationalized this excess by comforting ourselves with the observation that there seemed to be more young women at the Borgata than we'd ever seen in Atlantic City proper.
Borgata seems to be a haven for model-types. Indeed, a number of the seductively clad hotel waitresses were featured in a glossy lingerie calendar titled "Babes of Borgata" which was sold in the lounge for $15. But young female guests still abounded: Throughout the night they scoped out potential conquests as heartily as their male counterparts - both in the hotel's hip night club, MIXX, and on the casino floor, where, for all of the hotel's luxury, it's possible to find affordable blackjack tables.
Another of the Borgata's distinguishing features is its "Spa Toccare." Spa treatments include a "hydramemory facial" ("hydration and nourishment" offered over a 24-hour period, $95); numerous fizzy and spiced soaks ($70-$105); a "Classic Man Body" treatment (50 minutes of exfoliation with Dead Sea salt, sugar cane, and magnesium oxide crystals, $90), and a powerful deep-tissue massage (50 minutes, $95) that renders other casino-spa rubs amateurish. For $10, you can also just use the spa's steam and sauna facilities after working out in the hotel's "Pump Room," a full-service health club that rivals Crunch.
Mike and I found, however, that the cheekiest and yet most welcome in-house shop was Shaving Grace, Borgata's men's salon run by the Sgarrsas, a team of barber brothers from Philadelphia. Of course Borgata offers a Pierre & Carlo women's salon too. But Shaving Grace is something an Atlantic City casino has never seen: a testosterone-infused monument to straight-razor shaves ($20), hot towels, the spot-on haircut ($25), and Dean Martin. The wood-paneled lounge also offers a pool table and your choice of beer and fine cigars (yes, you can and should arrive early for your appointment).
I might add that unlike my other trips to Atlantic City, I had no interest in leaving my hotel for the three days that I stayed at the Borgata. To be sure, part of the Atlantic City experience is picking a classic resort like the Taj Mahal, and then walking up and down the boardwalk amid armless sideshow men, fudge stores, and rickshaws, to visit others. But staying in the Marina section of Atlantic City makes those activities inconvenient. And staying at the Borgata makes them unnecessary: While there, you begin to feel that you've actually made an uplifting choice.
Indeed the concept behind Borgata seems to be that there's much more to Atlantic City than gambling, and that an Atlantic City hotel can be a sophisticated, upscale retreat. Of course the Borgata doesn't exactly make the city a place you'd want to stay for a week. But for a fun, relaxing, and social two- or three-night stay worth an inflated casino price, the Borgata is a clear, shimmering cubic zirconium in the rough.
LOAD-DATE: January 9, 2004
Copyright 2003 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun
November 7, 2003 Friday
SECTION: WINTER TRAVEL; Pg. 14
LENGTH: 1016 words
HEADLINE: Cruising to Paradise
BYLINE: By ADAM BAER
A cruise seemed like an apt
- if risky - mode of
transportation for visiting Bermuda. After all,
for centuries the island's tricky coasts
shipwrecked unfortunate seafarers,
including the group of British castaways who claimed Bermuda for England in 1609, inspiring Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
There were no indigenous people living on the island when the British began colonizing it in the early 17th century, and since then, Bermuda has evolved into a vacation destination characterized by pink sand, pastel homes, golf courses, coral reefs, tennis courts, and swank hotels. In other words, it's a great place just to rest and play, with few intrusions from the real world as you know it. Not surprisingly, many stressed-out politician-moguls maintain homes on the island, including Ross Perot, Silvio Berlusconi, and, of course, Mayor Bloomberg.
In that spirit, I decided to make my Bermuda trip one of fun and repose. And my cruise to the island - aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator-certainly helped on the latter count. The Navigator cruise, which I took on a press invitation, is practically an ode to personal luxury. All of the boat's rooms are large suites, and most of them have butlers. Many rooms also have private balconies, which is a true pleasure: Nothing is cooler than sitting on your balcony in the middle of the ocean at night, staring into the black abyss, knowing that no one will bother you, but that if you like you can order filet mignon and a Perrier at the drop of a hat.
The boat offers myriad lounges (be sure to book a trip that offers comedians and classical pianists, not cabaret lizards and harpists), an intimate casino, and two restaurants with fairly good food and free-flowing wine (also included - the only drinks you have to buy separately on the cruise are those in the lounges). Thankfully, unlike cruises that force you to sit at an assigned table with strangers, the Navigator allows you to sit at a different table every night by yourself. And all gratuities are included, as well as complimentary dry-cleaning services upon arrival and a few choice bottles of premium liquor.
But the chief virtue of the Navigator is its understanding of peace and quiet. A former Russian spy ship that can handle fewer than 500 passengers - compared to the thousands on other ships - it takes the noise and bustle of the ordinary cruise experience out of the equation. On my cruise I felt completely disconnected from the world for the week: Internet access is available for guests at a reasonable price, but I didn't opt for it.
David Foster Wallace attacked the luxury cruise experience in a riotously funny 1995 essay titled "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" dissecting its womb-like, infantilizing atmosphere. His point is well-taken, but I have to say: A week where the only pressing decisions are whether to use the Jacuzzi or the steam room after a sea-air infused jog around a cedar-scented deck is something that every overworked professional could use.
Soon, however, it was time for activity, and our two Bermuda stops at Hamilton, the colony's main city, and St. George, a quainter port, delivered. We docked at Hamilton on the third day of the cruise after departing from New York City. I was eager to explore Bermuda's coral reefs and to try underwater diving, so I booked passage on Greg Hartley's Undersea Adventure. This is a highly personalized coral-reef helmet-dive led by the company's owner, a witty, bearded chap with a passion for sharing his intimate knowledge of marine biology, particularly of the parrotfish, angelfish, and snappers that swim in the different sections of the Bermuda waters.
Mr. Hartley's dive is an ideal underwater experience for diving newbies; you wear a large, lead helmet that's connected to an oxygen tank on the boat, and you can breathe normally wearing glasses or contact lenses while you explore brain coral and play with moray eels in 12 feet of crystal water. Mr. Hartley's assistant, a social, lanky guy from Hamilton, is also present to manage the technological specifics and quash your fears. Being underwater and able to breathe normally is about the most foreign yet thrilling sensation I've experienced. 1222 340 1334 3511135 353 1173 364(Greg Hartley's Undersea Adventure, 441-234-2861,www.hartleybermuda.com. The dive is $58 for adults and $44 for children. The boat leaves from the flagpole in Hamilton Harbor.)
Another Bermuda activity of note is a two-hour tour on the Wildcat, a 50-foot yellow catamaran that races around the island at 60 miles per hour. Participants are treated to a humorous but informative monologue given by the Wildcat's emcee, Rick, which is punctuated by rock 'n' roll tunes.
It's a fast, windy time, and the commentary includes more social-interest information and gossip than facts about Bermuda's history and culture. It was on this tour, for instance, that I got to see up close the oceanfront backyards of Messrs. Perot, Berlusconi, and Bloomberg: All three own sprawling compounds near Bermuda's famed Castle Harbor. I learned that fact just as Mr. Perot himself sped past us in his 42-foot speedboat wearing oversized goggles. He apparently has the fastest boat on the island - he lapped us during the highspeed tour. (Wildcat Tour, 441-293-RIDE. $50 for adults, $25 children under 12. Board the boat at the flagpole in Hamilton Harbor.)
Then, of course, there are the beaches along Bermuda's south shore. I recommend Elbow and Horseshoe beaches: Your cab driver will know where to take you, or you can rent a scooter and find the beaches on one of the island's brightly colored tourist maps that display the shore. Horseshoe Beach proved to be the quietest, enjoyed mostly by locals, and peppered with tall rocks climbing out of the cool, calm water. Adventurers swim about and find ancient caves inhabited by tropical fish, longtails, and bright-yellow birds. But you may prefer to just lie still for hours. After all, a cruise vacation - especially one to Bermuda - shouldn't be packed with too much activity.
LOAD-DATE: November 7, 2003
Copyright 2003 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun
June 6, 2003 Friday
SECTION: TRAVEL; Pg. 18
LENGTH: 1143 words
HEADLINE: Mystic Pleasures
BYLINE: By ADAM BAER
Growing up on Long Island, it was hard not to know Mystic, Conn. It was the humdrum burg with old musty ships, the "kiddie" beach without waves, the fried-seafood pit-stop my family hit en route to Cape Cod.
But in past years, I'd come to hear more about Mystic as an interesting escape for adults too. So when my Connecticut-bred friend Lina, a scientist, told me that the town's aquarium was leading the pack in both archaeological finds and technology, I agreed to join her for a visit, though not without her money-back guarantee.
Driving up from the city, we arrived in two hours. It was an overcast day, but we decided to check out the town's famous Seaport, where a simulated 19th-century village with old schoolhouses and general stores attempts to take visitors back to the days when Mystic was a whaling hotspot. Truthfully, I can't, as an adult, claim to have found the historical re-enactments too exciting. But I did enjoy learning about one topic I used to hate: the history of ships. The world's oldest wooden whaleship, for instance, the Charles W. Morgan, now calls Mystic home. Built in 1841, the ship once trolled every ocean of the globe except the Arctic, flirted with pirate ships in the Java Straits, and bore the brunt of an attack by South Sea Islanders who were no match for its gruff crew.
(General admission to the Seaport is $17 for adults, $9 for children 3-12, free for children under 3.)
Soon, we were lunching at an establishment that eclipsed my childhood memories of watery chowder: Boom Restaurant (194 Water Street, Stonington, 860-535-2588), located at nearby Dodson Boatyard, was recommended by a Seaport employee and offered a strong, progressive take on harbor cuisine. I enjoyed a meaty scallop taco with avocado and red-onion tartar sauce; Lina had a refreshing mesclun-and-bosc-pear salad with toasted walnuts, Danish bleu cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. And the view of contemporary boats in the background gave the tabletop's nautical charts renewed life.
We decided to avoid Mystic's touristy B&Bs and stay in the fairly new riverside Marriott in nearby Groton (625 Rt. 117, Groton, 860-446-2600),about a 10-minute drive west from Mystic. The Marriott features in-room whirlpools, a full health club, and an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Through August 31, the hotel offers a special of $239 a night for a family of four, which includes admission to Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium.
Culinary surprises awaited us there, too. The Marriott's restaurant, Octagon, featured glassy geometric walls that gave the room a chic, urban feel (absent was fishermen paraphernalia). Top-shelf Angus beef ruled the menu, and buttery risotto with walnuts gave fried oysters wrapped in beef carpaccio a rich bed to rest on. Charred filet mignon, paired with caramelized onions and warm sautéed spinach with red-pepper flakes, achieved buoyant levels of rich flavor. 335 1685 482 1697And while prices skewed fairly high - entrees ranged from $20 to $30 - the place could hold its own against plenty of strong New York restaurants.
After dinner, I won $75 at the nearby Mohegan Sun Casino (the Marriott offers free shuttles for interested parties).And by then it was safe to say that my old preconceptions of Mystic were gone.
The next day, we set our sights on the Mystic Aquarium (55 Coogan Blvd., 860-572-5955, www.mysticaquarium.org). The aquarium has recently been dubbed the "Institute for Exploration" following a $52 million expansion. It has also received international attention as a leader in the field of marine archaeology since the 1999 arrival of Dr. Robert Ballard, the deep-sea archeologist who discovered the Titanic and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (Aquarium admission is $16 for adults, $11 for children 3-12.)
The Institute for Exploration has all the features of a traditional aquarium - sea lion shows and sting-ray tanks abound - and visitors can schedule private in-water swims with the institute's social beluga whales and penguins, or observe a working clinic where rescued whales and seals are treated to return to the wild.
But the institute truly stands out for its interest in presenting ongoing research. In late July, for example, Dr. Ballard will present an online video feed from his excavation in the Black Sea, where Venetian ships (and perhaps their crews) are preserved due to the water's lack of oxygen. A mummified dolphin has already been found.
Lina and I had come to the aquarium specifically to see Dr. Ballard's new "Immersion Institute," and it didn't disappoint. The institute has implanted a remotely operated robot equipped with a camera in the underwater marine sanctuary of Monterey Bay, Calif. The video filmed by the robot is digitally streamed to the aquarium, and scientists can control the robot's movements from the institute's round, intimate theater. An aquarium attendant let me "drive" the robot - something regular visitors can't do, unfortunately - and by carefully nudging a joystick, I found a wild sea lion.
The video is shown on a huge, concave screen in the 40-seat theater, giving viewers a look at a lively underwater garden usually seen only by divers. Seeing the marine sanctuary through the robot's "eyes," it feels as if you're actually inside it.
To enhance the experience, visitors can use individual computer terminals in the theater to play a CGI-scripted video game that simulates the experience of driving the robot. Players amble about, finding sea life and foliage and learning from pop-up texts along the way.
Our tour guide told us that the institute will soon also feature video from the Florida Keys, where the tropical colors are uniquely vivid, and from Thunder Bay, the home of historic shipwrecks.
We also got to play a zippy, dramatic, 3-D group game (about 30 people can play at once), where users begin as small forms of marine life and eat one another in order to rise up the food chain to the predatory level of "great white shark" (you see your individual plight on your terminal, and the entire virtual sea is shown on the theater's main screen; it's like an interactive IMAX film with better graphics). Of course I didn't rise past the level of dolphin (Lina beat the entire room), but both the children and adults in our group found the game exciting.
Before we left, our guide, a self-described New Yorker who's "no longer hardened," removed a quarter from her purse and clinked it against the glass of a seal tank, at which point a happy male swam our way and cooed through the glass - he had been rescued from the Navy, where he had been trained to react to sound.
And that's when I knew that even though I wasn't a kid anymore, there were still reasons to visit Mystic (and to visit with kids too). The seal wiggled and danced in our direction, and the squeals of excited schoolchildren at a nearby exhibit just sounded tuneful.
han Cary Grant.
Posted on November 01, 2004 at 04:31 PM | Permalink