Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Go Getty

In an attempt to avoid further disappointment, on our way back to The Creek from The OC we decided to try something we hadn't tried before.  Opting for the 405 as a slightly less insane LA highway we waved a tearful goodbye to Jim, Gen, and Frankie and joined the traffic jam headed north through Malibu.

It was here, amongst the hills, pines, palms, white beaches, and homes of the Hollywood stars that Mr J. Paul Getty decided to build a villa.  Getty had done well for himself in the oil business (about $2 billion well) so was not short of a penny, and decided that he would 'imaginatively recreate' a sprawling Roman villa.  Why not?

He'd been collecting art and antiquities for most of his life, and was actually quite generous in running his home (one of his homes...) as a museum that the public could drop into and look around.  This villa was specifically designed to house his burgeoning collection, and although completed two years before his death in the 70s he never got to see it completed as he was living in England at the time.  Malibu or England?  Hmmm.

The museum is free, but it's $15 park (remember, this guy was a businessman) and Hannah and I got there the minute it opened.  This meant we could wander around well before the school parties and grockles arrived.  Just us in our Roman/Malibu villa, with only the butterflies and security guards for company.  I was almost tempted to strip off and jump into one of the ornamental pools, but SoCal is not NorCal.

The place is beautiful, and has been complemented by a complete renovation in 2006.  We did the architecture tour, which explained how everything new surrounding the villa is meant to suggest an archaeological dig.  This is because the place is actually a replica of a real villa being excavated from Vesuvian ash in Herculaneum, and it's an 'imaginative' recreation as they haven't finished digging up the original yet.  Why didn't Getty fund that, Hannah wondered, instead of building this?  She's so corporately responsible!

Turns out that Getty wasn't much into archaeology.  Context is everything, as Indiana Jones will tell you, and his urns, statues, sherds, and palimpsests seem to have been acquired on the grey if not completely black market.  Here's an Etruscan statue, the labels to the pristine climate controlled boxes would tell you, it is old and probably came from around the Med.

Still, as we're always telling our Greek cousins when it comes to the Elgin Marbles, you've got to protect these things, and Getty certainly knew how to do that in a fantastic, opulent, and breathtaking setting with the Pacific glittering in the background.  "Rise early, work hard, and strike oil" was JP's recipe for success.  Hannah's done all those, so I'm looking forward to building my villa next door to his sometime soon.

Nice villa, we'll take it!

Wandering in.

Pools, statues, immaculately kept plants.

A fellow visitor.  The place is on the Monarch migration route, and hundreds of them fluttered about, as if the setting wasn't idyllic enough already.

Fancy a dip?

Yes, Hannah could see herself here.

Here's looking at you!

A cheeky Roman child.  The regal face, the haughty manner, the self-assured deportment.  Reminds me of my Godchildren.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Hour of Power

It was time to tick off another item on the things-we've-never-managed-to-do-in-LA list with a visit to the Crystal Cathedral.  The last time we made it here it was deserted thanks to the strange sight of water falling from the Orange County sky.  This time, although the wind huffed and puffed, it did not threaten to blow this house of glass and steel down.

We arrived just as the afternoon service was emptying out and so decided to look round the visitors' centre while we waited for the area to clear.  You don't want to be approached by any scary Christians in a place like this.  The centre turned out to be a large gift shop and a cafe, so after perusing some fabulous Christmas tat we wandered back over to the main building.

We had missed our opportunity!  With a quick walk around the reflective edifice we discovered that none of the doors had any handles on the outside.  Inside an army of cleaners was at work, and no one was going to let us in.  A cathedral that locks people out, with a gift shop that stays open longer than it does?  Hmmm.  Even Gen (mildly atheistic in the way the South Pole is mildly chilly) was shocked.

There was nothing for it but to seek out the best barbecue food the OC has to offer at Johnny Rebs' - fried green tomatoes, pulled pork, and chicken fried steak.  Real soul food.

It looks nice from the outside.  Still waiting to see if the inside is as impressive...

Frankie's spiritual education begins!  And ends.

Jesus, actually walking on the water this time.

It's all about convenience.

James enjoys a small pre-dinner drink.

So does Hannah.

Unripe tomatoes.  Fried.  With bacon bits added.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Air bag

Disappointment is a central part of the human condition, a fact I'm reminded of graphically every time I see that giant orange ball floating above Irvine's Great Park. This free tethered balloon ride is the park's big draw, allowing you to marvel at the planned avenues and immaculate houses surrounding its green sward.  On a clear day you can contrast it all to the chaos of downtown LA.

Our pattern has been well established now.  We turn up at "check in" to find that either balloon bookings are full or the prevailing weather conditions have kept it on the ground.  In line with any activities in California that involve leaving your house, you have to sign a waiver giving up all rights to everything, and there was some excitement when, for the first time, we actually made it to this stage.  We were then handed a Cheesecake Factory style beeper and told to wait 20 minutes.

After 45 minutes the formidable trio of Hannah, Gen, and Frankie went to find out what was happening.  The balloon was going up and down with scant few people inside, and the breeze was getting up.  Ten more minutes we were told.  After eleven Hannah was on her way to complain again when the beeper went off!  She returned grinning with five "boarding passes" and we dashed to the waiting area.

It was here that our expectations began to sink like, well, a leaky balloon.  Clouds that had been lurking on the hills began skittering towards us, and a man with a walkie-talkie arrived - never a good sign.  Sure enough, tethers were soon being attached to the ground and the whole thing began to resemble a giant satsuma incarcerated against its will (I'm struggling for similes here).

What could we do? Once again we turned our backs on the recreational dirigible and (after a quick stop by the carousel) headed for home.  Deflated?  Obviously.

Up, up and away.

My balloon!  Actually I was holding some chocolate cookies and refusing to give them to her.

Hannah is feeling pumped.


How quickly puffed up elation becomes the shriveled wrinkles of disenchantment.

Still, got to make the best of it.

Hannah and James don't want to miss out.

A happy ending, with smiles all round (and round).

Breakfast at the cove

A short hop and skip away from the manicured lawns of Irvine is Crystal Cove, a higgledy-piggledy collection of old beach cottages that the local hippies used to inhabit for a peppercorn rent.  Used to, because the council planners moved in and evicted them to make way for some prime coastal real estate development.

The area has kept its ramshackle charm, and more importantly has kept its cafe which Jim and Gen assured us served the best beignets in the area.  And we trust them so much that we agreed to get up at 7am on a Saturday to be in line.

The little pillows of fluffy wonderfulness that were brought to our table were all that we'd been promised and more.  I could have sat there all day munching on them, but we made sure we balanced our diet with a decent breakfast (caramelised apple pancakes for us, macadamia pancakes with a coconut sauce for the Hollands).  Then we worked it off by playing some frisbee on the beach.  Not the real beach right next to us, the one on Wii Sports Resort. Far more sanitary...

We've got a much better beach on our games console at home.

The beignets.  They count as one of your five a day.

Proper fruit in this one!  That's why you have to add the syrup.

Getting feet wet in the Pacific.  Our real exercise was grabbing fearless Frankie and running from the sea whenever a wave crashed in.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Back in black

Like heartburn follows overindulgence, Black Friday came along hot on the heels of Thanksgiving.  Apparently this custom is now spreading to the UK, thanks to Amazon's homogenisation of global culture (and their crazy cheap prices!)

Over here in the US we did it old school, actually going out to a real shop.  Hannah was after a new netbook, having tortured hers through two years of business school, and Best Buy was promising some fantastic deals.  The thought of getting into line at 4am to grab one of the legendary "doorbusters" didn't appeal to anyone, so we joined the other 212 million reported shoppers at a far more civilised 9am.

Civilised was the word to describe the whole experience, actually.  The item we were after was still in stock, and although the store itself resembled a rugby scrum the queue for the checkout was surprisingly small.  We also avoided the most eyebrow raising statistic of the day, which was that of those 212 million the average spend was $365.34.  I hate being sub-average - time to go out and shop more.

Get off my bargains!

New, patented track-child-in-store technology.

Is it a bird?

Driving yesterday through the thick fruit trees that line each side of the I-5, we had a chance encounter with a bird.  A grey streak shot out (without indicating) and there was an unfortunate thud as it hit our car.  I checked in the rear view mirror and watched the cloud of feathers disperse gently.

"At least it died instantly," I commented to Hannah, feeling all the guilt of a murderer (a birderer?)  I comforted myself knowing that a turkey was being pardoned somewhere, and was more pleased when I heard that both Thanksgiving turkeys were locals.

However, this morning we discovered that the demise of our feathered friend might not have been as clinical as we first thought.

Some viewers may find the following images disturbing.  Sorry, I should have put that warning higher up.

If we'd have checked yesterday, we wouldn't have needed that turkey.

Give thanks

It's Thanksgiving, and this year we're spending it in Orange County with Jim, Gen and Frankie.  Keeping with history, we arrived with corn (in the form of fritters) and drink (in the form of Champagne).

We left WC for OC at 6.30am, hoping to avoid any traffic.  We did well for the most part, but after a fantastic drive through the pistachio trees and rolling hills of the central valley we discovered that LA is LA, even on Thanksgiving.  Still, it was probably the easiest ride we could expect through this city so in love with its cars.  Where was everybody going?  Maybe to get into line early for Black Friday.

Dinner was fabulous, as you'd expect, and we were joined by neighbours Spencer, Margaret, and two-yr-old Dom.  After the corn fritters, antipasti, turkey, green beans, mash, s'mores cupcakes, and the rest, we were well satisfied.   Dom's presence, and Frankie's ambivalence, led to some excellent lessons about sharing.  There's another thing of which the pilgrims would approve.

Gen 'Betty Crocker' Holland.

Child model Frankie in action.

Before checking out the Black Friday bargains.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Gay dads

It's at this time of year that families around here send holiday greetings cards.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas sort of roll into one, and you receive a pleasing number of personalised cards with photos of parents and their children doing cute things on the front.  It's much better than the traditional British Christmas letter, mostly because you don't have to read anything.

So, in that spirit, here's a holiday card from me and my husband Elliot, and our three adopted children.  Don't we all look adorable?

Happy Thanksgiving!

It begins...

Some people might have thought that the Giants winning the World Series was the sporting event of the year, but they're probably unaware that England is down in Australia for the winter competing for the greatest sporting prize on earth.

The Ashes were first competed for in 1882, and underline everything great about England and our younger, convict-inhabited colony.  The only problem is that Australia seems to win more regularly than we do.  Never mind, this year is our year (it can't get worse than last time) and preparation by the England camp has been flawless.

Of course, this translated into a slightly nervy start when our captain was out third ball.  Third ball!  Still, with five days left to go in this match, and another four matches after that, there's plenty of time... (yes, American readers: cricket).

Live cricket, from my chair, courtesy of a dodgy website from Pakistan (including adverts).

Monday, 22 November 2010

Big Brother Season 2

In May, after the final trauma of MBA exams, a group of us headed up the coast to Sea Ranch for a weekend of relaxation.  Six months on, Fini (the architect of the last trip) decided it was time for the housemates to have a reunion.  If you can have a reunion with people you see every week.

Adult numbers were down from the last trip, but we welcomed the new additions of Arbel and Noa!  The weather was somewhat dramatic, mixing the stormy Pacific with hot sunshine.  Hannah managed to blag an extra day off work and so we had a fabulous extended time of hot-tubbing, too much food and drink, coastal walks, reading, chatting...it was almost like being a student again.

Anyway, lots of photos, many featuring cute babies:

A sunset walk along the coast with Pete and Fini on Thursday evening.

Local wildlife #1

Local wildlife #2

Local wildlife #3

And if one green bottle should accidentally be drunk...

Ladies at work.

Central heating.

Yay, the babies arrived on day 2!  Here's Arbel.

And Noa (Moran also featured).

It soon became obvious what the main entertainment of the weekend would be.

But it did allow for some cute shots.

Men's work at the barbecue with Sagy and Elad.

Hannah teaches Noa multitasking.

While I show Arbel how to play Rock Band.

And, you know, so as not to show favouritism.

After a hard morning spent getting out of bed, Elad enjoys a nap.

Saturday, and we actually left the house for a walk to the beach.  Sleeper waves?

Almost deserted.

Hannah, in typical British summer attire.

Even the starfish were huddling together for warmth.

The feet that wore a thousand shoes.

Noa is unimpressed with my computer skills.

Some real sunshine on Sunday.

Hannah and Shauli (Mr Israel 2008) brave the hot tub.

Lunch on the patio.

The weekend finished with Moran's traditional food auction.  The stakes were too high.

Fini is happy with her haul.

A final coastal walk, with Sagy and mini-Sagy. 


Somewhere over the rainbow.  Next time...