Saturday, November 03, 2007


You ever have those times when you're slaving away, working all hours to get something done? It's been that way for the last few months. And so it comes to pass that I'm sat at the analysis computer on a Saturday evening, and my trendy friend calls. A blessed respite from my dull work. But she calls not for a chat. Speaking excitedly down the crackly line, she exclaims: "There's a free concert at the Wooden Centre and I'm standing in the line for tickets! Come join me now."

Hot damn! The papers get stuffed in the bag, computer shut down and I run out the building towards the University's gym where a looong snaking line has formed. Two and a half hours later, I'm in the indoor basketball court on some bleachers waiting patiently.

Four Icelandic men walk in to tumultuous applause and play an acoustic set of three songs for our enjoyment. Hauntingly beautiful melodies, a pure falsetto and I'm mesmerised.

They play their film Haime for us and I'm sat there captivated by the beauty of Iceland, and terribly homesick for Scotland, which has many similar qualities: wet green grass, soft mists, howling winds, that special northern summer light... All the while, the gorgeous sounds of their music wash over us and I'm transported to last summer, when the band took their music home to the various towns on their island. People are leaving the basketball court, and I can't help but feel a little sorry for them that the soulfulness of the music and imagery has not touched them enough to stay them a while, to sit and enjoy, to let their pressing Saturday night engagements wait. I sit with my bladder full, unwilling to leave for even a minute for fear of missing anything.

When it's over, LA comes crashing back in. But I'm thankful. I do lead a charmed life. I saw Sigur Ros live. For free.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Squad of pandas

Of all the excrement that is holy!

We've just witnessed our first close-up car chase. Close-up as in within feet of us+dog. A wail of sirens and a phalanx of flashing lights half a mile behind us was our first indication that some shit was about to descend. The helicopter overhead confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Perched on the corner of Colorado and 26th, about to cross, our instincts took over and the pack back-pedaled to behind the semi-solid Water Garden sign to hide from the oncoming convoy. Blimey! One speeding black car. Chased by at least 20 (P estimated 30) of Santa Monica's finest pandas.

Close one.

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Halloween in WeHo

The WeHo (West Hollywood for the uninitiated) Carnaval is an annual night of craziness that epitomises the spirit of WeHo. Think Soho of London with even more pizazz. Almost everyone goes to the WeHo Carnaval in a costume. Even us boring scientists. And after a night of gawping at strangers, I'm off to bed.

The bride and groom

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

SoCal's burning

View Larger Map

Map from San Diego County Fires - KPBS Online, who are also providing twitter updates1.

Several news articles I've read recently have referred to the recent SoCal wildfires as a Hurrican Katrina-like event. Very fortunately for the residents of SoCal, lessons were learnt from the failure of State and Federal bodies. Also very fortunately for SoCal, California is a wealthy state, with a GDP greater than the whole UK (>$1.5 trillion as of a couple of years ago).

While all the early reports were rather silly pieces about actors' homes being "at risk" in Malibu, the real horror developed elsewhere in San Diego County and San Bernadino County. As of today, the estimated cost of rebuilding in San Diego County is over $1 billion, with over half a million people evacuated.

While it's a truly awful situation, the events of 2005 in New Orleans puts current events into perspective. Those 500,000 people managed to get evacuated relatively safely (so far, only one death has been reported). I hope they can see this silver lining when they return to their charred homes and businesses. And I keeo my fingers crossed for them.

1 While trying to find out what KPBS was about, I read that they went off the air when they lost power to their transmitter due to the Harris fire. But a kindly public-spirited neighbour, KBZT-FM, came to their rescue and will be broadcasting their news programming on FM 94.9. Don't you love hearing stories like this? Gives you hope that we may yet survive the apocalypse. Or at least have radio while it's happening.
2 Incidentally, while reading KBZT's page on the fires, that warm feeling of hope for survival of our species came in handy when I read about potential disaster scams and price gouging. Damn humans.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lights out

Los Angeles is one city that one rarely associates with any greenitude. Eco warriors are rare here. Humvees and other low-MPG SUVs or trucks rule the roads. Suggest to an Angeleno that he/she *could* take the bus, and get a nasty look in return. There's a certain disdain of choosing not to drive. I sometimes wonder if it's an issue of pride: one who chooses the bus is too poor to own a deluxe car.

So it's a rare and important occasion that exists at all. No, I exaggerate. There are many concerned for the environment in LA; their voices just get lost under the sound of roaring traffic.

I wish it success, but I can't help but wonder if the message has been received by all. In my neighbourhood alone (in eco-conscious Santa Monca), there are apartments, houses and buildings that leave a security light on all night. Some offices also leave all their interior lights on (actually, there are only a few offending businesses that do so, and I suspect it's for the janitors to do their work). So, this evening, I'll be walking my dog between 8 and 9pm to prevent myself from being tempted to go online (it's a heavy energy user after all). And I'll bring my little camera out to photography any naughty offices that have not made the effort on a Saturday night (when few work in this media-heavy neighbourhood).

Apologies for any typos. I've tried to touch-type by the light of my monitor. One hour's not enough. I'll be attempting 7pm to midnight, apart from maybe having the gas oven on for 20-30 min to cook dinner (lack of planning here; could have had a salad if only I hadn't been defrosting some stuff all day). I know it's not nearly enough, but perhaps I could repeat this.

Update: As expected, during our walk around the neighbourhood, the dog and I found things were the same as usual. All the small businesses had their lights off, and all the large ones had some lights on apart from Sony BMG. Which means Lights Out LA had little to no impact in my part of Santa Monica. I hope it was more successful elsewhere.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Contrapunctal Contraband

Looking forward to an evening of contrapunctal Bach, depressing Strauss and heart-thumping Beethoven, we braved the 10 freeway on a Saturday evening. No doubt the Lakers or Kings would be playing at Staples Center and thus clog up the 10-110 junction1. No thanks to all you basketball or hockey fans, we missed the bulk of the pre-concert talk2. No matter. Still early enough to have a small plastic of Merlot3. And early enough to get in our usual seats and find out if we'll have new neighbours this season. All well and good so far. Usual complaints, but usual happiness at being able to have an evening out that doesn't not require complicated conversation.

Thinking all's going well, I whip out my little very old camera4 to get a pre-concert shot of the rather shiny organ (that we've yet to hear in a dedicated concert). Bearing in mind that I use this little camera in public places, the flash is set permanently off. Nobody likes an unexpected flash going off in the face, so it's always off by default. But it turns out that this is does not please some people. A young usher runs through to say: "We heard that someone was using a camera from here. You must know this is not allowed. If it happens again, we will take you downstairs to investigate." Or something along those lines.

I know I was the last one to use a camera. But before I took mine out, two other cameras had taken photos from my section. And another had flashed off in the expensive seats downstairs. None of these had elicited any comments or hoohah. Just mine. And all for this mediocre shot:


Apologies to my poor neighbours. That nasty comment just before the concert started preyed on my mind for a few minutes of the Bach piece. I barely heard much of it. But I hope it didn't affect your enjoyment too much.

Incidentally, another photo was taken during the intermission from our section. With the flash. Miss Usher ran through again. And, according to P, looked right at me. Not guilty, m'lud. If she's our usher for the 2007-2008 season, we may have to change our seats. I know we must look cheap to you, Miss Usher. Me in my pathetically unpolished black boots and cheap dress. And being in the terrace seats and all. But your assumption that those of us in the $66 seats are just low-life who don't know not to use flash photography during a classical music concert is somewhat misplaced.

No doubt there are official reasons photography is not allowed in the WDCH. For one, disruption of performers' concentration. And maybe other audience members' enjoyment. But to be quite so nasty is not necessary. Having been an usher before, I can almost guess at the reason behind the narky comment: they must be holding a competition behind the scenes of whose section behaves the best during the season. To them, we're just cows that need herding. If the little toe rag had said this about, say, an elderly matron, I'd have narked her right back with something about being polite to her elders. But she addressed her displeasure to me - classless bitch that I am. Throwdown...

1 If you have to ask, you're not an Angeleno (apparently).

2 Only an LA orchestra would have a special name for it: Upbeat Live.

3 $9! For that, could we not at least get a glass? It's not like we're football hooligans or anything.

4 A very early, 6-year old cheap digital. See sidebar photo.

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

From Armenia to the gates of H3ll - taking in Sonoma, the Californian coast, Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre along the way

I have been to more concerts this summer than my weary body could take. Where did I leave you last? In Armenia, it seems. Since then, we've been on holiday up north. And then back to a host of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl: a soused Diana Krall, a spritely Dave Brubeck and quartet (with the lovely Madeleine Peyroux opening the Bowl for them), Essa-Pekka Salonen conducting the LA Phil playing his composition - Foreign Bodies - with the Diavolo dancers writhing through metal pyramids to boot, finishing with eclectic Pink Martini and their guests the March Fourth marching band, Carol Channing and Henri Salvador. Pet Shop Boys let us down by cancelling their American engagement, citing logistical issues. And at the Greek, just to make up for that awful Sonic Youth night of noise, we witnessed one of the many evenings of joy that the newly-reformed Crowded House is sharing with the world. They're just so good at working the audience. Aliens, sexy ladies descending staircases from Heaven/Andromeda, the 2nd generation Finn with his one-man hard-core-rock, the beautiful set of political statements: all part of the Kiwi/Aussie magic that is Crowded House.

Hardly a week without some excitement. All was going well until a string of bad luck struck a fortnight ago. It really started with a power outage on the UCLA campus, caused no doubt by the digging up of the main road in (Westwood Blvd). That killed one not-at-all-cheap experiment of mine, and set me up for a week of playing catch-up. Actually, two weeks cos a few other experiments didn't work the first time. Probably because I was flustered and didn't take my usual care rather than out of sheer bad luck. This all coincided with P's month of crazy experiments too.

Long days, long nights in the lab can really screw you up. For one, it resulted in me losing my wallet after a late-night visit to the local supermarket for some emergency dinner. Bad enough having to cancel credit cards, losing my S'pore IC, and not having access to my money in the bank for two weeks. To make matters worse, what we initially thought were a string of unfortunate flea bites on P's back turned out to be shingles. Yes. Shingles in a young-ish man whose 30-ish-eth birthday was not too long ago. As can be imagined, large lumps of inflammation not unlike giant pus-filled pimples along the nerves of your back are painful with a capital F-word. To his credit, the boy grimaced through the pain to rescue parts of his crazy-but-necessary experiment. (You see, this is where the crazy postdoc differs from normal people. All expts are critical and hence necessitate working through pain that would floor a grown man.) A bit of D chipping in to rescue his grant application and taking on all physical duties in the house kept us afloat. It's nearly all over. The shingles have scabbed over. They still hurt like buggery, but no longer feel like instant death is just round the corner. My expts are working again. And this Saturday, the 2007-2008 LA Phil season starts again. We might yet survive Los Angeles.

And here's a gratuitous doggy pic.

and into the fray we go

Monday, July 30, 2007

Channelling the Spirit of Armenia

Our summer of music kicked off in early July with The Decemberists at the Hollywood Bowl (which was awesome btw, thanks for asking; and so was andrew bird), and continued tonight with our "mystery concert" of the season: KCRW's World Festival - Spirit of Armenia. I have to admit: despite being the instigator, I had doubts on whether we would enjoy the concert. I'm no stranger to Armenian music, having shared a lab for over a year with an Armenian-American who's proud of his heritage. Late-night PCR sessions were often accompanied by some form of music from the region (and the unavoidable System of a Down, schoolmates of said Armenian-American). And unsurprisingly, for his graduation party at his parents' house, we had an entire night of traditional Armenian music and dance. I rather think P enjoyed the dancing: arms in the air, shake your booty somewhat in time with the music, dance in an inclusive circle, and you're dancing like an Armenian.

So we were very pleased to find that we enjoyed the more "traditional" music played at the Bowl tonight. The native instrument of Armenia is a double-reed woodwind: the duduk. And boy can they make it sing. Djivan Gasparyan is truly a duduk maestro. His duet with man-whose-name-I-forgot-cos-I'm-crap was astoundingly melodic. My ears are more used to flutes, clarinets and bassoons producing a cacophony; always used against each other for contrast. Hearing two of the same woodwind in a duet was a revelation.

Another pleasant surprise of the evening was The Element Band. As they were setting up, we were left in no doubt that they were local Angelenos. Every other performer was dressed to the nines. These guys came on in their scruffy LA streetwear, but produced such hauntingly beautiful folk-inspired music. The female lead had the most angelic voice, which sadly had to share the stage with the rough sounds of the male-obviously-the-leader-of-the-band.

A note about the dancers tonight: they looked like Riverdance offshoots in red and gold dresses1, kick-stepping their way across the massive Bowl stage. All 50+ of them (I stopped counting after 50; the beer was getting to me). Aside from the Riverdance aspect, I almost felt that if you changed the duduks for some Asian strings (eg erhu or pipa) and changed the skin colour of the dancers, you could well be watching some Chinese traditional dance troupe or a North Korean dance formation. Not to say it wasn't good. It just had the feel of regimental dancing.

And if the dancing had some Asian qualities about it, the second half of the night resonated even more. Something about pop acts in most of the European continent all being naff. I'm really sorry to say this. It was NAFF. The lineup was taken straight from Eurovision. No, make that the qualifying rounds of Eurovision. Ai yai yai. The stereotypes! Of the five singers, I'd categorise the oldest as a Des O'Connor-a-likey, the 40-something-year-old-man-in-a-business-suit as a standard Eurovision entrant from Southern Europe, the 40-something-year-old-woman-in-a-ballgown as your typical slow-song-diva, a Bjork-a-likey (or Yuki-a-likey) and a extra-cheesy-permed-hair-rocker-wannabe. Or if you want the Asian comparison, imagine a variety show from the 70s with male crooners "romancing" the ladies (think Bryl-cream hair), military-tempo songs being belted out by patriotic types, wistful songs of love from soppy women...

Ach, I shouldn't be so mean. I should have saved all that bitching for the composer-conductor-pianist, who abused his position with over-indulgent Clayderman-like compositions that really numbed the brain. Oh, it was BAD. But then, every now and again, they launched into more "Armenian" beats, got the duduk players out, and the audience got up to dance. Now that was more like it.

Conclusion: Glad we went, but won't be buying the album2.

1 That was just their first inspired colour-combo3. They followed it up with some yellow-and-gold, and finished the evening in yellow-and-red horizontal stripes. The men looked like little lego-men. But maybe it's just me that had yellow lego-men with red trousers.

2 Of the pop acts at least. We really like the Winds of Passion and The Element Band.

3 Speaking of colour combos, the stage lights tonight were particularly garish. Oops, did I say garish? I meant gaudy. No, inspired. At one point, it was a pastely yellow-pink-violet, changing to blue-purple. That was followed by some fast-tempo music and blue chasing purple across the walls of the stage. I think the lighting operators were practising for the Pet Shop Boys concert in September4. Very discoteca!

4 To which I'm going. I can't quite convince P to go yet, and may need to find a fellow PSB fan to go with me... I can't say I'm a great fan of disco, but something about PSB allows me to forgive their disco experimentation and even tolerate it.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

kitchen garden

this year's kitchen garden will comprise of ticking-over camarosa strawberries, parsley, curry, rosemary and thyme. and if the wee birdies who always eat my coriander shoots leave them well alone this time, some cilantro. into the soil has also gone: radish, shiso, capucine and courgette seeds. who knows if they will even sprout. it's averaging mid-20C here. the sowing should really have been done two months ago to make up for the crazy heat that seems to descend in may. while the weather here is excellent for all sorts of crops, is it really sad that all i want is potatoes, peas and strawberries? P's parents are enjoying the fruits of our labour; the asparagus that i impulsively bought one year and dedicated an entire bed to has come into its own. while asparagus here is cheap and plentiful, home-grown is something to be proud of. not to mention that you can harvest them earlier and get less of that awful woodiness. i miss gardening. pots don't quite give me the same hit of getting the fork stuck into some heavy clay, loosening it with the manure cleared out from the shed. is it time to give up science and retire to a smallholding in the boondocks?

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Monday, May 14, 2007

We were deaf before the show even started

Well, not strictly true. We aren't deaf in the sense that we cannot hear. But we have (hopefully temporarily) lost some hearing in the middle register, which we discovered last night at the WDCH during Shostakovich's Cello Concerto. There were moments when Peter Stumpf's bow was moving, but we just could not distinguish the cello from the other instruments in the orchestra, however pared down it was. It felt somewhat ironic that a concert we attended the previous Sunday at the same theatre was what caused this slight impairment. It made me a little mad at myself for forgetting the earplugs. An anonymous commenter on the talk rot blog had a go at me for complaining about my experience, and said I should have picked up the free ear plugs they were handing out. But deaf as I was, I don't think I was blind too. And checking with my mates who attended the same concert, none of us saw any ear plug booth, nor were we offered any plugs. Perhaps anon was one of the lucky ones spared from a week of having to lip read and strain.

Moving on.

The LA Phil was, as usual, excellent. Their rendition of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes somehow brought it to life for me. Peter Grimes, the opera, never fails to send me to sleep. I think it, like all of Britten's music, is lost on me. Having never experienced that level of pain, conflict or suffering in my life, I lack the empathetic potential to understand his motifs. That said, Saturday night's Four Sea Interludes somehow struck a chord with us. Maybe we were just a little more familiar with the music now, and the dischords, while still harsh and unsettling, weren't too surprising. The unease generated by the third interlude, Moonlight, after the death of his second apprentice is a feeling I've had mild exposure to. It's a feeling of being trapped. Unable to shake off a feeling of blame even if you were not truly at fault. Pressure from all sides leads to a state not unlike being in a very narrow corridor, where you cannot turn, but must keep walking forward towards certain doom. (Alright, I exaggerate. It may feel like that sometimes, but that's just heightened emotions due to cabin fever.) Perhaps even with the sheltered life I lead, Britten's work will continue to become more understandable as life throws more kinks my way.

As I mentioned at the start, I was a little upset during the cello concerto written by Shostakovich. Close to tears even. I love the concerto. In fact, I have a great fondness for the sound of the cello. It is, for me anyway, the string that resonates the best with my physiology. The warmth of its notes, the pleasantness of its hum, the way it can be played to express great joy and yet can be bowed to convey great pathos; all these aspects of the cello are best appreciated in a cello concerto. So to have lost the ability to hear the cello was... upsetting. I hope it really is temporary. Unfortunately, hair cells do not regenerate in mammals, so if there was damage, it would be permanent. (Unless I haven't been keeping up with the literature and somebody has managed to use Math1 or anything in that ever-useful Sox pathway to induce regeneration...)

Fortunately, one doesn't require great hearing to enjoy Elgar's Enigma Variations. I like maybe half of them. Some are too pompous but the rest have moments of delicacy and intimacy that are surprising from Elgar. (Well executed by the LA Phil too; it could have gone OTT, but they kept it (can't think of a word here other than crisp)... neat.) Of course, the full-on conclusion to the variations was the usual Elgar of Rule Brittania and Pomp and Circumstance. I've never particularly sought out these pieces1. As a kind-of immigrant to Britain, I've never felt very comfortable with the nationalism associated with Elgar's music. I never want to join in. But perhaps that has something to do with the daily singing of my national anthem during my schooldays. It's off-putting now. That said, I do join in to Flower of Scotland at Murrayfield. Usually because the Irish and Welsh sing theirs so magnificently, I feel I should help the Scots along and produce a bigger sound.

Well, that concludes our season of the LA Phil at the WDCH. I have enjoyed every concert of the Saturday Symphony series, and am very glad that my inability to find P a decent birthday present is what led to the purchase of the subscription. I wish in the time we'd found somewhere to eat either before or after the performance. The cafe in the lobby, while pleasant as cafes go, always seemed a little pricey for what they served. Patina was always too busy. The Brasserie across the road wasn't always an option2. The late-night ramen places in Little Tokyo aren't much of an option if you don't know your way around. BCD Tofu is fine for 2-3 times, but the rush to get P home after soon dubu is not always fun. We don't know K-Town well enough to stop anywhere else. Next time, more research on the eating and drinking options will be needed to make it a real date night.

Elsewhere this weekend, the Modest Mouse concert3 was moved from the Greek Theatre to the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal Studio's lot. Part of the original reason for getting the tickets was to see the Greek Theatre. The last time we had tickets for the Greek, it was for Keane. And it was cancelled because Tom Chaplin had to go into rehab. This time round, the Greek was very nearly consumed with flames in a fire at Griffith Park. According to the guy from KROQ, the fire came within 200m of the theatre. Ooh. Close call. The other reason was that I quite liked the last album I bought: Good News for People Who Love Bad News, purchased because I liked the sound of the title. I'm not so sure I like the new album: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Maybe because I hadn't heard anything from it until tonight. It takes me time to warm to music sometimes. But I have a feeling that I think I like Modest Mouse because whenever I hear one of their songs on an iPod shuffle, I "rock out" a little. Hmm. For me, perhaps they will always be an iPod shuffle band. A full 45 min set didn't go down so well. (And I even remembered the ear plugs this time; thank goodness.) I really liked Float On (from the older album), even though I thought the lead singer was a little more growly than necessary. I guess that's his thing at live shows. It's a very butch performance. And a little hicky. Is that fair to say? I don't know if it's LA-specific, but at almost every pop/rock concert I've been to here, there have been several hick moments. But I tend to confuse "hick-ness" with drunkenness or with being stoned.

And speaking of drugs, I have a confession to make of my own gaucheness (I really am all the time, but like to pretend I'm not.) There came a point tonight when I thought I could smell something agricultural. Like the smell of P's father's farm shed just after the silage has been packed for winter storage. A slightly sweet, fermented, grassy, nitrogen-heavy smell. Either someone farted, or was using fertiliser in the amphitheatre. On telling P, he laughed. Clearly, I have never smoked hash, or I would have recognised it. Need to get out more? Probably. Pot must be almost customary here. At one point, we could smell cigarette smoke. One of our neighbours went to complain to the security staff who told her they don't normally stop anyone from having a smoke at the back. It wasn't until they learned it was a regular fag that they took action. So, if you want to smoke in California, make sure the contents of your roll-up aren't tobacco.

With that public service announcement, I leave you to go to my bed.4

If you squint a little

1 Speaking of which, I finally learned of the riddle behind the Enigma Variations. It made me snigger with every variation. But I won't spoil it for anyone here. Seek it out if you must. It definitely wasn't obvious until I read the spoiler. After that, it was all that I could hear.

2 The Brasserie is the only place I've seen any Scottish beer in LA: Belhaven's Best. But EVERY SINGLE TIME we've asked for it, the darn barrel is empty. What's with that? If a beer is that popular, maybe it's time to have a second pump? Or a system for swapping over? Don't offer me a Murphy's instead. While it's a nice enough beer, when I have my heart set on a Belhaven, I want a Belhaven. Expat Scots have a much harder time in LA than English and Irish; there are no Scottish theme pubs here. And nobody, but nobody, sells Scottish beer. Apart from the Brasserie. Who won't serve it to us...

3 Hence the title of the post...

4 WTH? It's a quarter to 4 in the morning and a chopper is hovering over our heids. Damn this city. You can't get any peace even in the wee hours.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Going lalaloopy

Some idiot decided she wasn't going to pay Ticketmaster $5-8 per ticket for the immense privilege of using their website to purchase tickets for the Hollywood Bowl this summer. But not being an organised sort of person, she neglected to note that tickets went on sale on the 6th of May (this Sunday past). So in a move of immense stupidity, she decided to take the morning off get herself to Hollywood on the hottest day this year (so far). With temperatures averaging at 34degC in LA today, she made the phenomenally stupid further decision to alight two stops early because of past experience with road-crossing difficulties. Walking uphill in the late morning sun on a hot day is bearable if one walks under shade. But not only is there no avenue of tree-lined shade on Vine, the damn cars in a traffic jam coming off the 101 generate even more heat. I swear an egg left on the pavement would have cooked from the hot exhaust expended by the stuck lines of bigass cars (not that you'd want to eat the smog-laden egg). At least the staff at the Bowl had thoughtfully provided kegs of drinking water for the patient concert-goers lined up under shade-providing umbrellas. Still, the idiot who decided she really needed to save all that money was drenched in sweat by the time she got her paws on 7 pairs of music-under-the-stars tickets for the summer. And this was even before she started her return journey under the midday sun. The only other thing of note to happen to said idiot was her pedantic spotting of a mistake in the Hollywood Bowl's hoardings at their front entrance. It proudly proclaimed "SALONEN CONDUTS LA PHIL". It amused her somewhat that not only did the sign-men miss the second C, but that a photographer and his assistant who were setting up on a ladder to take photos of the sign missed it too. Pedantic idiot thought it would be kinder to let them know right away instead of keeping an eye out for the sign and blogging about it later. Ah well, her loss, their gain.

Incidentally, the other venue for summer fun under the stars may well be under threat. Our familiarity with the layout of Griffith Park is somewhat sketchy, but if there are fears the fire could spread to the Observatory, then the Greek is next. Not to mention the entire hillside of extremely posh and expensive houses.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Forgive me if I don't reply when you call

For I am now deaf.

The WDCH is normally a venue of a whole spectrum of music, but it is quite possible that last night bore witness to its loudest concert to date. The evening started off with loudness from Oakley Hall, a decent band I'm sure, but whose music I was in no mood for. Apart from the general loudness, I don't remember anything about them. The second touring partner, Gillian Welch, didn't suffer from this problem and wowed us with her lyrical brilliance and David Rawling's extraordinary talent on the guitar. So far, she has a 4-disc catalogue, which she has convinced us of our need for. I don't know whether to classify her as folk or country in my music library, but perhaps the terms are synonymous in my lack of understanding of American music

Welch's (Creative) Juice

I'm really glad she and David Rawlings have been touring with Bright Eyes, because without them, my night would have been just unbearable. I am not dissing the music of Bright Eyes. I really enjoy Conor Oberst's albums1, hence the tickets to see his group play. But I really cannot stand music played at such ridiculous volumes. I have no doubt that if the entire audience was tested before and after the performance, a significant loss of hearing would be found in each and every one of us. Why do bands feel this crazy need to "blind" our ears? Deafen as a term does not suffice; if you possess both sight and hearing, imagine your retina being bleached by staring at the midday sun for 2 hours. That's how I felt. In fact, it made me extremely grumpy because I felt as though I had lost one of my senses. Even placing my hands over my ears to dampen the sound did nothing to improve my mood. An enterprising sort of person should be taking advantage of this and selling ear plugs at concerts for those of us who keep forgetting to bring some. (Hmm... Alternative career for me...)

Resurrection of the ELO

I like the showmanship of Bright Eyes. It's nice to see large egos bring on stage an impressive entourage of a bass player, a second guitarist, a keyboard played, TWO drummers/percussionists, several string players (I think 4) and 2 flautists23. To top it all, a video artist (dang I can't remember his name) in the projector booth using one of them fancy modern OHPs to provide a video backdrop. Live. Real-time. (Thank goodness that was pointed out to us or I'd have thought the videos were a little shoddily made deliberately. With magic markers.) They were all decked out in white. If they were in the UK, I'd think they were showing solidarity with the junior doctors vs that stupid placement system in the NHS. And the only reason I got my camera out (illegally, according to the usher) was because I swear Conor Oberst is channelling the still-alive spirit of the ELO. Viewed in the context of orchestral swells and all-white attire, even some of the music sounded like the bright pop of the ELO. Only, because I saw the ELO on TOTP on the telly, they didn't DEAFEN ME!

1It's of no interest to anyone but myself and P, but our first introduction to Conor Oberst was on a BBCThree special, where he was hailed as the saviour of alt rock and proclaimed a genius. What struck me the most was his greasy hair and floppy fringe, through which he played his whole set without looking at anyone. This all just made me think he was some sort of idiot autistic savant, and we had to close our eyes to enjoy the music because we're old farts and cannot stand the sight of greasy hair. Told you it was of no interest to anyone. You shouldn't read my footnotes.

2I don't see the point of having the mini orchestra when all you're going to do is drown it out. It may be ostentatious, but it certainly didn't impress me. What a waste of their talent and time.

3Having checked my programme, I see I counted it all wrong: it was one flautist and one saxophonist. There were two violinists and two cellists. And not bass player: just the multi-talented, multi-instrumented Mike Mogis (guitar, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, glockenspiel, hammered dulcimer). See, I knew those saved programmes would come in useful one day! But I still can't find the name of the video artist with the magic markers... Sounded like Joey Lin/Lynn/I can't spell anyone's name to save my life.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

wincing the night away

from the pain of high-heeled boots

the shins @ the orpheum

I've been swaying to the lyrical sounds of The Shins at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown LA.

You know, somebody missed a trick with Downtown LA. It's full of old NY-style high-rises (at least it looks NY-like to somebody who watched Law and Order; for all I know, it's filmed in LA). The pavements are wide. The districts are all within walking distance of each other. So why doesn't anybody hang out there at night? Oh yes. It's because you can't get a coffee for love or money, and the only bar is next to the theatre and does not look particularly enticing. I hear from non-scientists about the fancy and affordable Downtown lofts. But without the amenities and social scene to support it, all you'll be left with is something like Koreatown, where there are people aplenty, but all driving from restaurant to home because it's not safe to walk outside. Missed opportunity, you greedy developers. (Then again, it could be happening. I wouldn't know. It's not safe to walk around Downtown at night...)

Anyhoo. Those were just some thoughts I was ruminating on while idling like a cow in a field on the street outside the theatre waiting for my tickets to turn up. An hour late. Ach. What's an hour to hear one of my current favourite bands? Disappoint me, they did not. Apart from my usual complaints about acoustics (too loud, overly strong base), bottled piss (beer), and the fact that our entire party was split all over the auditorium, I really enjoyed it. (Unlike the last "youngish" concert we went to: the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig, where the supporting act, Architecture in Helsinki, was great but the main act was too stoned to impress.)

Tonight, The Shins put on a darn fine show. Not much chit-chatting or horsing around. They just winced my pain away.

And here I present my awful shots of the Orpheum, taken with my hand-me-down Nokia 3230:

deco(?) chandeliers mine's not a high horse auditorium ceiling

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Wagnerian Love Story

Downtown Sunset

Let me state first that I'm not one of opera's biggest fans. I don't dislike it, I'm just too impatient to sit through the innumerate variations of "Oh I am lost". When one compares the "high-art" of opera with the more populist musicals, one sometimes has to wonder how opera has survived in our modern pop culture.

But sometimes, when the mood is just right, the setting suitable, it hits you. Opera, whether you understand the wailed out German or French, is very emotive. There is no mistaking a devoted servant lamenting his master's imminent death, as we witnessed Kurwenal efforts to keep Tristan's hopes up that his love, Isolde, would arrive to spend one last hour with him. Ah. And here we run into another problem with opera. The complexity of the plot is not aided by the German words nor a lack of Wagnerian education in schools. I have no doubt that in the very best schools, girls and boys are drilled in the arts and educated on the finer complexities of the misunderstandings and plot twists of Tristan and Isolde, just as Shakespeare's works were drilled into my skull. Unfortunately, by mistake of birth, I did not attend such a school. Instead, I struggled with my vague memory of the last time I saw it on telly, supplanted by a quick read on wikipedia earlier in the day, and a scan of the synopsis helpfully provided by the LA Phil. A cheat-sheet, if you like, for the unwashed and uneducated (same thing). Suffice to say, the plot has everything from near-death experiences, unrequited love (which happens to be requited but unknown or undisclosed), fights to the death or near-death, arranged marriage, unarranged marriage, love potions, poison (same thing), midnight trysts and more. You know, the usual... Throw in Simon Cowell and you get a sanitised version of American Idol.

For all its plot complexities, melodrama, bad acting and over-exaggerated emotion, good opera can grip you if you're in the mood for it. If you're feeling a wee bit menopausal, for example, or just a little down, the death and destruction of Act III* of Tristan and Isolde will co-oscillate and transform your low mood into the very trough of despair. And yet, the evidence of Tristan's love for Isolde, and hers for him, transcends this pit of despondency. And while the lovers will never spend their final hour together, in death, their love will be consummated.

What was my point again? I get side-tracked by the tawdriness of Tristan and Isolde's love affair. Oh yes. The point of this post was to put up my wonky blurry shots of the Walt Disney Concert Hall's garden. There's a complex mini story behind our eventual discovery of the garden. How best to tell it? I'll settle for chronologically for now: Find out friend's birthday is on day of opera. Offer our season tickets to cheer him up (he thinks he's old; needs cheering up a lot). Realise I really want to listen to T+I too. Buy cheap seats so P and I can go get totally depressed as well. Chastised by P for not telling friend; might be awkward if he brings a date. Tell friend. Told by friend his date does not wish to be seen in public with him. Promise and cross heart not to spy. Get to concert hall and realise it will be hard to avoid friend because new seats are close to usual seats. Decide not to loiter in case of awkwardness. Spy garden door. Exit through garden door. Take lots of blurry shots of garden until kick-off. Studiously avoid looking in direction of seats. Until the lights go out and I cannot resist. Damn. Forgot binoculars. Console myself with photographs of WDCH garden and decide to give up being devious:

WDCH WDCH Garden WDCH Garden

*This must be a universal truth: in Act III, everybody dies. Always.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Osanpo in our neighbourhood-Take II

turquoise/orange derelict car park
Attitude yellow/blue/white

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Osanpo in our neighbourhood

The major advantage of having a dog is the need to constantly entertain it. Unfortunately for our dog, we're at work for 10+ hours a day. This makes weekends very precious, and we are often loathe to commit to other daytime activities with friends because the dog does need to get out and play with us.

Our favourite activity is just simply walking. Fast, slow, in urban areas, woods, hills, mountains. We just like getting out and having a stroll. But Kirin is still skitty around other animals. We even have a Defcon-style rating for her level of unease and proximity to all-out nuclear war. This pretty much rules out "hiking" on local trails in the Santa Monica mountains where the entire population of LA descends to at the weekends. There are only so many trails where dogs are allowed, and as such, they tend to be quite packed with four-legged furballs, from which our pooch feels a strong need to protect us. And while we enjoyed Griffith Park last weekend, the drive home in ridiculously slow hot weekend midday traffic could not be justified on a weekly basis.

As such, we are continuing the program of long walks around our neighbourhood, hoping it will provide some gradual socialisation and that it will enable her to feel more comfortable being in public with us. It's like having a teenager who is embarrassed to be seen in public with you, fused with an overly protective mother who will punch out everybody on the off-chance that they could be muggers and kidnappers.

Fortunately, we live in the not-so-affluent part of Santa Monica, surrounded by light industry and quiet residential streets. This gives us a huge area in which to roam on quiet weekends, and time to appreciate some of the nicer things around us:

Red on slate Rusty barkTeal frame

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

The hill are ablaze

With the sound of... Crackling flames?

Our simple aim for today was to get some Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth tix for the Greek Theatre, situated in the Hollywood Hills within Griffith Park. Aha, we thought. We could expose the dog (oh dear, this and the other blogs are turning into doggy-bloggies...) to more sights and sounds as part of her socialisation routine. Get her used to being distracted by pseudo-wildlife, but in a controlled manner in the process of a short hike up Mt Hollywood sort of thing. (Yes, it's really called Mt. Hollywood.)

Trying to avoid the heat of being under the midday sun, we thought we'd set out early-ish. At least early for us on a Saturday. Which would have gone fine if we'd been to bed a few hours earlier than 4am. (I blame Pedro Almodovar; his latest film Volver had us glued to our seats from midnight till 2am because the DVD just came out and it's hard to go to sleep after such an emotionally-engaging movie.) But clever little D made some PB+J sandwiches so we could breakfast at the park, irrespective of finding an open cafe.

So, all's well. We're loaded up in the car, hurtling along the 405, 101 (which can turn into the 134 if you use the right spell and the planets are in alignment),: road names that are incomprehensible to non-angelinos (even if you don't drive in LA, everyone complains so bitterly about freeways like the 405, 101, 110 and the 10 so much that you know all about them even if you never see them). We arrive through the north entrance of Griffith Park as part of our allegedly clever ploy to avoid the congested streets south of the park. All's going well. We turn down Mt. Hollywood Drive because our map shows it'll lead us straight to the roads for Griffith Observatory and the Greek Theatre. We stupidly ignore signs that say "no-thru traffic" because I don't like the way they spell "through" here, and we are clueless foreigners who don't watch the local news (no TV) and don't venture out of Westside very much.

So, we climb uphill/mountain, and we see the (in)famous Hollywood sign (which we found out after getting home was nearly the inflam-ous Hollywood sign) and a heck of a lot of people on foot and on bicycles. We see dogs, but our dog is strapped in and sitting calmly, so we're fine. We see a young coyote, but our dog is strapped in, hyperventilating, but strapped in, so we're fine. Then we get to the bottom of the hill/mountain, where a very nice, solid candy cane barrier awaits us. Aha. Revelation. No-thru road signs mean what they say. Which we suspected, but were too belary-eyed to pay much heed to.

PK chill in dappled shade

Not much lost, except patience all round. Bugger this all for a game of soldiers. Or, at least, a picnic in one of the rest-stops. Where we learn our dog can be a stubborn wee cow about sniffing out every last mole under the grass. Yes dear, we see the molehills and know they excite your "prey-drive" (someone's been reading too many dog behaviour websites), but let's move on cos we're starving and coffee-deprived at that. But it turns out that however disastrous our start to the day in the park was, however annoyed we were about the lack of time for hiking, the right thing to do was just to expose her to all these new sights and smells by just sitting calmly for some time. She was fairly calmly with with off-leash dogs trotting obediently by, but that was more good behaviour by the other dogs than her. And she watched, with great interest, horses also trotting by and was as calm as we can expect from her even when one particularly recalcitrant horse was re-saddled about 50m in front of her. We even watched a gopher/gerbil/small-hamster-like-creature* stick its head out of its burrow multiple times to harvest some grass in its hamster-like cheeks (so, not moles then... more like gophers out of Caddyshack).

rodent1 rodent2 rodent3

All very uninteresting to regular folk, but a major achievement in our growing relationship with our four-year old mutt who behaves like a one-year old puppy sometimes. We took her out. We brough her back. Safely. Step one in getting her to trust us for the eventuality of many hikes, be they in the US of A, or back home where horses, cows and sheep abound.

We even managed to get those tickets for Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth. Hurrah! Two things checked off the list today then. I'm guessing the through-road was barred because of the possible heavy-traffic headed for the newly-reopened Observatory, for which we learned one needs to reserve a parking space online in advance. (No doubt we'd have found that out before if we hadn't been so captivated by Volver). No matter. You want the Box Office? Do a U-turn; you can park in front of the Box Office. Cool beans.

Now, the journey home? That's a whole 'nother saga. But I'm still too traumatised to talk about that...

*I don't think it was a gopher; too small. Maybe someone's escaped hamster?

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Take a Load Off Your Feet, Mama Says I Heard it (through the Grapevine) that Sometimes it Snows in April

Deviating from our usual venue of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, our eyebrows were raised by an entertaining evening of "contemporary" ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (just across the street from the WDCH). The Joffrey Ballet is in town, and they're charming the audience of LA with their spiced up routines, pirouetting to the Beach Boys, Motown and Prince.

I'm always amazed by the sheer athleticism artfully disguised as elegance that all good ballet companies display. As a friend commented, "it's amazing how they can be so slow and graceful one minute, and manic the next". All that careful control of their bodies to give an impression of effortlessness must be damn tiring. Which is why I like watching them rather than trying to emulate them.

Something that occurred to me watching the Joffrey Ballet prance diagonally back and forth the stage to Prince's Sometimes it snows in April was how I'd forgotten what a good songwriter and singer he was/is. To a non-fan like myself, it's been hard to see past the silly name changes and hair-turbans for the last few years. But he's a good musician, isn't he? We might even make the effort to see him in Las Vegas if we ever go that way again.

This is yet another photo-less post because in typical disorganised D fashion, I left the camera at home and failed to capture the rather nice view from the LA Music Center. It looks rather grown-up and not very LA-like at night. Methinks we'll be getting more dance and theatre tickets soon for an excuse to go back. Also,I sometimes forget about this LA blog, and post to my other space for talking rot. Fixed belatedly...


Monday, March 12, 2007



As of January, we no longer live in LA. We're now residents of Santa Monica. Unfortunately, this difference is purely semantic. SM, while considered a city in its own right, is still part of the sprawling conglomerate of cities and towns that make up LA County. It's also been one of those situations where we've moved only to stay still. As you can see in the photo above, hiding just behind P's legs is the one thing that is going to make the next few months in LA bearable.

We've always considered ourselves "dog people". Well, not specifically dogs only, because we love cats just as well (Muran! We miss you!). OK, maybe more like "pet people". And it's really rankled that because of my job, I can't keep certain pets. And because of the time we both spend at work, we couldn't have dogs for years. The lack of job security for postdocs also meant we never knew where we were going to be on a year-by-year basis. Well, no more excuses! We can always MAKE time for a dog. And we have. A few things have fallen by the wayside since acquiring Kirin. We gave away our TV, we spend an average of one hour less at work per day (thank goodness), and we don't hang out with my workmates as much. Instead, we have something worthwhile to come home to. And for now, home is where the dog is.


Addendum: Kirin was adopted from Much Love, a dog rescue organisation based in Santa Monica. They're really nice folk, and are careful about pairing the right dog to the right human. Every Sunday, you can find them in a parking lot on Main Street, just half a block away from Ocean Park Blvd between 1000 and 1500h. And they always have the cutest dogs available.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Dockweiler Beach*

Ginormous Dragonfly

South of Marina del Rey and west of LAX, Dockweiler Beach is often skipped over by beachlovers headed south to the more pleasant sands of Manhattan Beach or Huntington Beach. But Dockweiler Beach holds a secret weapon: concrete fire pits in which you can build legal bonfires until 10pm.

Unfortunately, that makes Dockweiler VERY popular on Saturday nights, which was when we decided to try to have a nearly-end-of-summer BBQ the weekend past. So a note of warning to anyone planning the same: 4pm is not early enough. Maybe try 1pm and let me know how you get on...

The lack of a BBQ pit didn't stop us from feasting on tofu, tapenade, chicken katsu, corn and edamame salad, cookies, cake and doughnuts. And while the huge party next door (with their own ginormous BBQ they must have brought from home) played American football, we played footie (soccer to the locals) and volleyball as the sun set.

Volleyball I

* I often forget to split the non-food, LA-related posts off from my usual crap at akatsuki talks rot. So this wee Dockweiler thingy ended up there by default. Fixed now.

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