Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Missi Nutmeg is curled against me under my right arm as I lay on my left side. She purrs and twitches in her sleep, then begins to lightly snore. This amuses me. DH is behind me with his hand on my arm. He falls asleep immediately. He is not always a silent sleeper.
Tonight, it's stereo.
Sleepless? Yes. But all is right with the world.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Solana Beach, CA to Los Angeles, CA
Day trip, alone with notebook computer
Amtrak continues to serve much of the country, despite its economic struggles. For both practical and nostalgic reasons, it's nice to have passenger trains as a travel option.
Oddly enough, despite having a good memory for so many things, I can't remember which was my first real train trip. It might have been an Amtrak trip from Martinez, California up to the Lake Tahoe area with my husband. We also took Amtrak from Martinez to somewhere in the Central Coast, on our tenth anniversary, and toured Hearst Castle for our first time. More recently, I've gone via Amtrak up to the fashion district with girlfriends. On another vacation my husband and I took a sleeper car through the Canadian Rockies, and that was absolutely spectacular. I'm not sure why I don't have photos of that trip, but I can remember being rocked by the train at night in my upper bunk, falling in and out of sleep.
But for every minute I've spent actually on a train, I've spent hours in pursuits having to do with trains. And not all of that was watching movies.
There's a nice train museum in Old Town Sacramento, California. There's also an outdoor railroad museum up in Rio Vista, California. In nearby Balboa Park, there's a surprisingly delightful Model Railroad Museum which my husband and I both enjoy- he, because he still has his original American Flyer train set, and me, because I love dioramas of all kinds.
One brief scene in my almost-finished novel takes place in a perfect replica of the Twentieth Century Limited train car from North by Northwest, built by the story's mysterious E. J. Easton as part of his own elaborate and mysterious agenda.
But I digress.
* * *
The problem with any kind of fantasy is that when we try to make them real, so much is outside of our control. (This is part of why certain people become writers, the subject for another day).
For years, I've dreamed about taking a trip on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. I love everything about that train- the authentic Art Deco, the history, the elegance, the destinations.
But think for a moment how easy it would be for something to go horribly wrong. Not that I'm a negative person, by any means, but you have to be realistic about those really big expectations; all it takes is the Bickersons loudly litigating in the same car, and the dream crumbles, thousands of dollars and years of dreaming up in smoke. Or at least, tarnishes up a bit. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, this means for some of the pursuits that interest me, enjoyment is tied to control.
That's it! I'll hire the Orient Express for a week, personally interview and approve the staff, and fill the entire train with all my favorite people. Perfect!
Where was I? Oh, right- my day trip to Los Angeles.
Given the opportunity, I can romanticize just as much about writing as I do train travel. The vision of the day ahead of me that kept me going as I boarded the Surfliner was a mixture of every book and movie I'd ever enjoyed that had anything to do with trains, and every notion I'd ever had about how inspired and productive I could be if I removed myself from my normal environment... if only for a day.
Did this turn out to be true? Yes, and no.
All aboard... the Fantasy Express.
story to be continued... eventually
Thursday, April 22, 2010
* * *
For years, I've had an online friendship with Susan, an administrative member of a Yahoo fashion doll group I own and moderate. She and I have been wanting to meet for years, but somehow never got around to it, even after she moved from Irvine down to much closer Carlsbad.
Not long ago, we finally got around to setting something up. On the doll group, I'd recently been playing around with Tea and Whimsy as a fun theme for members to use in their doll projects; this gave Susan the idea of our meeting for tea. I must admit, having tea in a tearoom would never have occurred to me. A clever idea.
The whole idea of modern Americans wanting to experience something as foreign (and relatively expensive) as a proper afternoon tea instead of an ordinary restaurant lunch experience just goes to show you the lengths people will go to in their search for... for what, exactly? For now, I'll call it simply theater. Partaking in a formal tea isn't role-playing the way a Murder Mystery Dinner Party is. But it isn't completely dissimilar.
It amazed me, once I started looking online at sites Susan recommended, just how many tearooms there were in California alone. It was fun to read through the list and various descriptions, and think about which one Susan and I should visit.
To say I approach these sorts of new venues with an open mind is only partly true. I approach them expecting almost anything, and willing to be a good sport. But I don't approach them with the absence of preconceived notions. Going to an English-style tearoom is all about preconceived notions: the refined air, the tasteful china, the soft music, the lack of teenagers with hats on backwards. It's Masterpiece Theater, not Seinfeld.
Before I do a rundown on our tea room experience, I'd like to say how great it was to meet my friend at last. Doing something just a bit out of the ordinary was the right choice.
The day before we met, I did my preproduction work and drove to Tea upon Chatsworth to make sure it was actually what they said it was. It was easy to find in the upscale Point Loma neighborhood, sitting right on a corner (Chatsworth is its namesake street name, conveniently, but it also gives the place a British air-- notwithstanding any unintended reference to the town of Chatsworth, up in the Valley). The lace curtains (and a sign stating that they gave etiquette classes) let me know I was on the right track.
Reservations were taken seriously at T upon C, I gathered, so we arrived the next day in plenty of time. One odd feature was how dark the place appeared from the outside, which fooled us for a few moments into thinking they hadn't yet opened.
The place consisted of one dining room dotted with tables covered in white vintage linens, and the artwork and decor was what I think of as feminine, without being too cloying or overdone. Besides looking closed from the outside, another curiosity was how little information they gave us once the tea service began, as if they assumed we either already knew or didn't care about the details of how things worked. I had told them earlier we'd be having their so-called Afternoon Tea (as opposed to their High Tea, which added soup and dessert to the tiered assortment of tiny finger sandwiches, scones, and crudites). This, apparently, was all we needed to know.
Before long, the tea and tidbits arrived, presented on a tiered silver stand with the expected degree of flowers and elegance. The young waitress hadn't explained anything about how it worked with regard to the varieties of tea on the fascinating tea-list we'd been given. Would the server be going down the list of various exotic varieties as if it were a tasting? Did we have a choice? If so, how many? Service was pleasant but minimal, and for quite some time we never really had a chance to ask. Tea arrived in a pot, steaming and fragrant, and we drank it.
The little amuse bouche, it should be said, were utterly delicious. More importantly, bite for bite, it was all completely in line with my fantasy construct of what tea-foods should be like: the various spreads and cheeses, the berries in tiny paper cups, the chopped fillings and herbs, the absence of bread-crusts. Twice the amount would have been heaven on earth, but I suppose that would have been crass.
We carried on this way for a while, nibbling and chatting and sipping comfortably. Finally we collared the young woman and inquired about the puzzling tea choice procedure. Her answer was vague and curious, something about how when they were busy they keep things moving by selecting teas for you. And then, just as mysteriously as she'd arrived, she was gone.
So, just who were our fellow tea patrons? The place wasn't terribly large, and appeared to be full. By prior arrangement, since mine was the last reservation available for that time-slot, we were actually sharing a table with two other people, although it was large enough that it didn't feel that way.
If an English tea was something of a roleplay for us two middle class American women, I wondered what it seemed like for these two girls who shared our table. Speaking Japanese, likely on vacation, they couldn't have been more than twenty years old. They had arrived late, and then spent the entire time giggling, posing, and taking pictures of each other. They were cheerful girls, and to their credit, conducted all of this business fairly quietly.
The rest of the room seemed filled primarily with nicely dressed ladies who seemed to bring the right spirit to the endeavor, including the party to my left speaking some Eastern European or Slavic language in low tones. These women appeared the most at home, as if going to a tea service was motivated by nostalgia.
This brings me to the large table at the center of the room, a party of women and young girls. Many tearooms apparently provide a tea service for children, with special treats. It seems like a lovely idea, to get dressed up and have a special, fancy time with mom and the favorite teddy bear...
...except that for these women, going to a tearoom meant talking amongst themselves while allowing the children to run around the table again and again, chatter and chirp and flail around incessantly, and then (I'm still talking about the little girls, here) periodically lose themselves in their respective iPods. I wasn't so much offended as I was fascinated that these women would think enough of the idea of going to a tearoom to make the reservations, dress up the girls in pouffy pastels, and drop serious dollars for each moppet, only to let the experience deteriorate into a combination family picnic and electronic device session.
Let me hasten to add, going to this tea service was still a pleasant and entertaining experience. And it was also food for thought. I found myself mulling over how we go about things, whether we feel part of something-- with all its implied obligations-- or like observers on a kind of Disneyland ride. Not everyone brings to a tearoom the idea of doing their part. In many households around the world, the tea-time ritual is simply a fact of life; here, it's more like an escape, a concept, an affectation, a piece of theater. Some simply show up to the theater, while others step in and consider the venue's expectations. There's nothing necessarily wrong with any of that, but it's worth noting.
Now, I'm about to seem like a whining nitpicker, but bear with me. The staff of the tearoom, while pleasant and polite enough when they actually came by to help, could have benefited from some refresher etiquette lessons, as well. I won't cite all the tiny details, because none of the shortcomings were remarkable or serious.
I only mention it because... well, we are talking about a tearoom, after all. And while this may not be England (or even Boston), and I may not be a Baroness, and this may not be the 19th Century, and none of us believes we actually are tearoom people in real life, well, we are walking in and paying over 25 dollars each for a vaguely-defined yet somehow specific kind of experience. To the extent the endeavor tumbles sideways from that is... of interest.
Eventually, the large party with the distracted young girls all clambered out of their chairs and left, leaving us to ponder the painful sight of much of their exquisite food left uneaten at their table. Wordlessly deciding it probably wouldn't be appropriate to appropriate those exceptional treats for ourselves, Susan and I ate our own last morsels, and finished the final drops of whatever tea they'd brought us.
Everything in our tea service had looked and tasted wonderful. Already I was imagining myself at home, chopping watercress and pimiento. Amidst these plans and fantasies, eventually I managed to get our bill.
Would I go to tea again? Oddly enough, yes. So many tearooms, so little time, right?
P.S. Why does a seven year-old girl need an iPod at High Tea with her mother, anyway?
* * *
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
On impulse, I made an essayist's side-trip to the library, citing briefly the gap between my romanticized concept of libraries stemming from my childhood (and the media, although I haven't explored that yet) and the actual library in my current neighborhood.
Note: The original post's library story has been given an Orwellian trim. /b
* * *
That particular morning, all I knew was I wanted to get away to somewhere. This was just over a week ago.
Creativity self-help coach and author Julia Cameron promotes the idea of the Artist's Date, whereby we agree to treat ourselves to inspirational outings alone, on a regular basis. She calls it "filling the well". And while I wouldn't want to model my life on that of the well-meaning but often erratic Ms. Cameron, her idea is a good one. As it turns out, it's not something I do regularly.
Even up until the last minute that morning, as I was getting dressed, I wasn't sure what to do... only that I needed to do it. Almost without realizing it, I found myself driving to the Amtrak station in nearby Solana Beach, lugging along my notebook computer.
So, apparently, that was it-- I would ride the train up the coast to Los Angeles, relax for a while there in the old Union Station with its surprisingly intact original Art Deco sensibilities... then ride home again, in time for dinner. With all this atmosphere in place, I would... write.
And you can probably imagine the kinds of mental constructs I have around the idea of train travel. Some of them are even based on reality: previous Amtrak trips, and a long-ago overnight journey through the spectacular Canadian Rockies. Not surprisingly, the type of train I fixate on is the so-called luxury train, 20th Century vintage. (Less interesting to me personally is the freight train, or an early cross-country passenger train).
The passenger train as a confined space for drama to unfold is a natural and familiar one: North by Northwest; Murder on the Orient Express. More about this later.
to continue later today, or tomorrow...
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
For people with a cinematic imagination there will always be a gap like this, but it will probably never stop me from making the effort to chase certain dreams. I'm perfectly aware the world is an imperfect place, and that's fine. I do what I can.
* * *
To be continued, including a review of the Chatsworth Tea Room, an account of my train trip to Los Angeles on the Surfliner bringing me to the Union Station lobby (where a television show was being filmed), and some closing comments, tying it all together.
LIBRARY UPDATE: A tempest-in-a-teapot has been peacefully resolved. I'm happy to report that my local library found the book I'd turned in weeks ago, apologized for the mistake and subsequent nastygram they sent, removed the bill for me to replace the book, and reversed all the erroneous late fees. This was handled quickly and politely. Thank you, Carmel Valley Public Library. I don't think I'll be using the night drop in the future, now that I know these errors can happen, but I'll certainly go back and use the library.
It may not be the quiet, stately brick edifice I remember from my childhood with its vast rooms and mysterious appeal (the Richmond public library, seen above), but it's a nice little place. And it beats buying every single book I'm interested in. I'm glad they didn't mar our new friendship with a lost book snafu.
Sometimes, things go well.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
They describe themselves thus:
Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemmingway's Key West
The blog's authors Shannon Mckenny Schmidt and Joni Rendon have a book by the same name.
This Wordpress site features plenty of photos of famous authors' homes around the world, along with the latest news surrounding these fascinating locations. I found them while doing an Internet search on Rudyard Kipling, whose birthplace* in India is shown above.
* * *
*Some controversy surrounds this location; some contend the building itself cannot be his actual birthplace since a wood structure of that era would unlikely still be standing intact in that climate.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Solana Beach to Los Angeles Union Station via Amtrak's Surfliner; an escape date for one.
My little story will follow soon. But first, let this serve as an introduction.
In 2009, the romance of train travel was leveraged for a high-end commercial for Chanel No. 5 in Train de Nuit, directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. This sensual, exquisite piece of filmmaking took 3 weeks to shoot, both in an elaborate studio set, and on location in Istanbul.
YouTube video link: best viewed in HD; has soundtrack
* * *
My train trip was not like this.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
Over time, I had gradually begun to not see it anymore. It made sense to temporarily remove it from sight so I could appreciate it when I bring it out again at some future time. The entire collection of over 600 vintage bracelets had long been on display in my home office.
I'm looking forward to seeing these old friends again soon.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Not long ago, I wrote lovingly about ideal writing locations, those special, idyllic places imbued with certain aesthetics of personal meaning. It goes without saying that even the most perfect writing environment only works if the writer is left alone.
At this point, I'd be thrilled with a Days Inn, a microwave, a coffeemaker, a mini-fridge, and a couple bags of groceries. In other words, never mind inspiration; I now dream of having fewer distractions and obligations in my daily life for the duration of my novel.
Ten days or so might possibly do the trick if I applied myself at a feverish level, but a more realistic time frame would be two or three weeks. This starts to sound more like a cottage somewhere than a motel room. Maybe some place where I could have my cat with me.
Something along those lines starts to sound like a plan... for about thirty seconds. It makes sense until I remind myself how hard my spouse works, and that he depends on my domestic contributions to our household. Add to that the strain of these uncertain economic times, throw in some guilt for having been less supportive when I was younger, and the result is my irrational but strong conviction that writing is an indulgence. Long, luxurious hours of writing are earned only after my duties have been fulfilled.
And yet, sometimes I can barely stand it anymore and just want some time out.
In the meantime, I work on my book in fits and starts. It's definitely not a matter of my being spoiled and wanting everything perfect before I lift my pen. Nor is it a matter of writer's block. I can, and do, write in short spurts if need be, but my best progress occurs when I have more time with fewer interruptions. The last section of the novel is clear in my mind, but I need to be in a quiet place to let it unfold because it seems likely to be the only way I can quiet the responsible voice that gets in my way.
Writing is not like licking stamps and sealing envelopes.
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
AWESOME. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
* * *
Imagine, if you will, a world without the word awesome infiltrating your besieged mind every twenty seconds.
How long has it been going on, anyway? It's starting to feel like forever.
Just between us, we can probably all admit to having used the a-word once in an unguarded moment. Maybe we were trying to seem youthful or connected to our society, unconsciously mimicking those around us. To adopt the slang of our times is to demonstrate we have the chops to notice cultural trends and nuances. It means we're paying attention. It assures everyone we don't live in a cave.
Language works that way. I understand that. We seek to verbally harmonize.
Once an especially compelling word or phrase spreads-- and in this day and age, saturation happens quickly-- it becomes pervasive. For some reason, awesome seems especially stubborn.
Whatever elegance and strength the word awesome might originally have had is now diluted beyond salvation.
For the record, I realize that in everyday comunication we probably shouldn't strive to write and speak with the pathological uniqueness of a Victorian essayist from another planet. We can't completely avoid verbal trends; in fact, we'd probably find it close to impossible.
But enough is enough. Online and in person, we can choose to paddle our oars upstream against this unfortunate oversaturation. We can use discretion. We can lead by example when a word reaches out-of-control status.
Why keep blurting out the same overworked adjective when legions of equally enthusiastic and positive alternate words and phrases sit in some dark corner of our vocabulary, rusting from disuse?
Imagine a world where awesome has fallen away from the daily vernacular.
Wow. That would be so totally cool.
* * *
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Working with these fascinating and creative people in the middle of nowhere for two months was an incredible experience. I'll begin sharing some of these memories here, soon.
Costume styling by Bud Clark. Set design by Roy Cox. Key makeup by Brenda Giguere.
Gunfighter (AKA Ballad of a Gunfighter), written and directed by Christopher Coppola (1999)
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Happy birthday, FFC. Thank you for helping me build magic paper castles.
* * *
My lifelong dabblings in art would finally bring me something life-shifting, seemingly by accident. It's a tale circuitous in that way so often characterizing careers in the arts, a series of causal links that in many ways are irrelevant here; the upshot is I found myself doing makeup and costumes for a low-budget, ultimately troubled film project...
...Because of this turn of events, my thirty-something self would [one day] stand in mute awe in Francis Coppola's library at his thousands of books, where I learn he employs a librarian to carefully cull hand-cut magazine and newspaper articles that pertain to his far-ranging interests. It's the late 1980s, and he is funding a movie project for a group of us newbies, while directing his own film, Tucker.
Later that same week, as I continue a succession of 14-hour days' work on the 21-day shoot, I am astonished to find myself conversing with the famous director through the open window of his stopped van on his rural Napa Valley property while I pause in organizing some equipment. No one else is around. On his lap I can see a bound and printed screenplay, and he remarks it was just given to him by Mario Puzo. Francis is wondering aloud, for my sole benefit on that gravel road in Rutherford, if he should immerse himself in that dark and complex world for yet another year of his life to make another Godfather film...
* * *
Coming soon: the idea of audacity.
* * *
At one point I am looking at some objects I know to be mine. It is as if these items have been in storage and I am now considering whether I should take any of them out to use or display. I spot a smallish cello-like instrument, conventional in its design except for the highly unusual characteristic of being made entirely out of black wood, with all black hardware. As I look at this instrument, several things occur to me almost at once. One, that ebony is what my old clarinet is made out of; two, that the wood reminds me of the painted black pieces of my bedroom set, and; three, that I can decide whether it can be used as a real instrument, or will simply be placed out as a decorative object. Throughout this dream, I clearly hear cello music, the non-melody portion of Ave Maria with its baroque runs and progressions.
Eventually in the dream, I find myself picking up a bow and begin beautifully playing this famous J. S. Bach piece myself, until I notice that the bow isn't made of the usual material, but of fraying clothesline cord.
* * *
Monday, April 5, 2010
Casino Royale /Ian Fleming
Treasure Island /Robert Lewis Stevenson
JUST FINISHED on KINDLE:
Vanish /Tom Pawlik
Already Dead /Charlie Huston
Conscious Dreaming /Robert Moss
Secrets of Film Writing /Tom Lazarus
Save the Cat! [The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need] /Blake Snyder
NEVER FAR AWAY:
The Annotated Alice /Martin Gardner
Word Menu /Random House reference
RECENTLY COMPLETED BOOKS ON TAPE:
Twelve Sharp /Janet Evanovich [filed also under Guilty Pleasures]
Time and Again /Jack Finney
LATER THIS YEAR:
Kim /Rudyard Kipling
From Bauhaus to Our House /Tom Wolfe [missed it when it came out]
Ramona /Helen Hunt Jackson
Stroke of Insight /Jill Bolte Taylor
All About H. Hatterr /G.V. Desani
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Without meaning any disrespect, I want to say I have fond memories of Easter Sundays through the years, memories centering around the secular aspects of the holiday. It was never as big as Christmas morning was for my sister and me, but it was nice.
Years later, it's hard to remember what our minister said to us from the pulpit. But I clearly remember certain Easter outfits my mother prepared for us for those young years we went to church. One year in particular, Mama spray painted some rattan basket purses white, and adorned the hinged lids with artificial daisies. We wore headbands made of these same flowers, and our dresses were full and pouffy with slips of nylon netting. Our black patent-leather shoes had straps that you could slip back across the heels if you wanted to wear them as strapless flats. I remember staring down at my shoes and feeling good about them. And I remember Dr. Christiansen, the Presbyterian minister, joking to the overflow crowd of non-regular worshippers that the church would have plenty of room the following Sunday.
Most Easters arrived chilly, with gray skies and rain, at least the ones I remember the most. I'm not sure if this is supposed to mean anything... I mean, the Easter bunny isn't like the Groundhog, is he? The baskets arrive, rain or shine.
My sister and I would each get a basket filled with a generous assortment of brightly-colored sugar candy eggs-- hollow and white inside, with a scent and taste I can still remember-- as well as chocolate bunnies, and the occasional window-boxed Sees cream-filled large chocolate egg with lovely icing decorations.
We never believed in a bunny, not in the way we, for a time, believed in Santa Claus, not even when we were very young. My mother didn't bother with that, perhaps knowing full well her gifted daughters probably would have had a hard time believing in a giant rabbit with the wherewithal to deliver candy.
Like those of children everywhere in America, our Easter baskets were inexpensive woven wicker, with tall handles, colored with dyes that probably would have run if we got them wet. They were filled with brilliant cellophane grass, and contained identical loot, purchased and placed with care... no pre-packaged Easter baskets made in China.
Often, we all piled into the car and drove to Richmond for Easter dinner at either of our Grandparents' homes. As we grew older, I remember a series of Easter dinners at my Aunt and Uncle's home, with cousins running around everywhere. By then I was in high school and making many of my own clothes. The last Easter of that sort that I can remember, I'd made earrings to match my flower print Easter dress. Like the flower purse and headbands my mother made years before, I used artificial flowers for the earrings.
Quietly, without our noticing, these holidays change. Easters in my life are no longer a specific venue, probably because we are no longer children, nor do we have children of our own. When we first got married, I'd make an homage-to-childhood Easter basket for my husband. Now, after thirty years, My husband and I decide each Easter if we will make our own meal, or go out for a buffet. For a while, we had an Easter game where we left pink marshmallow bunnies in hiding places for each other throughout the house. Sometimes, I will buy us one of the Sees Easter eggs when they go on sale after the day has passed.
Now, I'm wondering when I experienced my final Easter-basket Easter. How old were we? And when was our last Easter dinner with the cousins? In either case, did we know at the time it would be our last?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Recent photo of Missi Nutmeg Cox Giguere enjoying some fresh air on our safe balcony. She was well cared for in my absence this week, but has been companionably close by ever since I returned home.
It's hard to imagine a better pet than a cat. I've never found them to be nearly as aloof as advertised, and when they are raised with affection, become extremely social and devoted in return.
Years ago someone told me that squeezing your eyes shut to a cat is a way of saying you care, and they eventually begin squeezing their eyes shut in response. I've always appreciated being able to show my fondness for my cat this way.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Visiting my father after working on a corporate media project. It's been good to work again, but it's been a cold, wet week here in Northern California, a bit uncomfortable since I didn't bring enough warm clothing. I stayed with GV for the first few nights, a slumber party with her and three cats.
The rain is nice, anyway, despite the cold. I'm relaxing before taking on the long drive home tomorrow, reading, listening to classical music, fooling around with my notebook computer. [Note to self: find way to upload photos to this computer when I'm away from home]. I'm posting a Second Life 'self' portrait from a few years ago that represents what I'm doing today.b