Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ah-Yeah! California 2011 (Part One)

I just returned from an eight-day trip to California. Actually, I didn't just return. I returned last Friday, but you know, returning from vacation was so terribly draining that I had to spend two days being a total slug, sleeping and reading. Oh, and discovering a cool comic book store I never knew existed in Lancaster in order to get a free comic book on free comic book day (Richie Rich for those of you who are curious. I must go back to that store, but that's a subject for another blog post). Then I had other stuff to catch up on, and it's taken me four days to finish this blog post.

Anyway, back to California. Many of you know that if you enjoy reading my blog, you have my friend Danny to thank for its existence. He was my biggest influence when it came to taking the plunge into the blogosphere (nearly 5 years ago now. Egad!). Danny lives in Los Angeles (which you know if you read his blog. If you don't, why don't you? It's not to be missed), and it had been way too long since I'd last seen him, so I decided to start my western journey in a city I'd never been to see Danny and his family.

My traveling companion was my mother, who moved to L.A. as a teenager and went to Scripps College in Claremont before her family moved to San Francisco. This was the third mother-daughter trip to California she and I have taken. The older my father gets, the less he likes to travel, and he (like so many east coast snobs who've never been there) thinks he hates California and has no desire to go. The older my mother gets, the less she likes to travel alone, so I make the huge sacrifice of being her traveling companion on excursions to California.

I must say, if you are gong to visit L.A. for the first time, you can't pick better hosts than Danny and his wife Kendall. First of all they live in an extraordinarily cool house in the West Adams neighborhood.
The house is so cool that it was once a setting for a movie and has been featured on HGTV. I can't really do it justice by trying to describe it (not the least reason being that I know absolutely nothing about architecture nor how to describe decorative details and types of wood). Suffice it to say that it's a rambling bungalow built in 1909 with inlaid wood floors, built-in details like bookcases and benches to die for, a tiled-tapestried-muraled finished basement with a grand fireplace, and they have been slowly but surely restoring it to its era. Oh, and did I mention the books? Kendall is an autodidact. Not only that, but she inherited her grandmother's books, and Danny has just a few books of his own. This house definitely rivals my own when it comes to books. I felt right at home.

Danny picked us up at the airport in the Chevy Cruze he'd been loaned specifically for our visit. He has this rather cool gig with GM that involves driving their cars and writing blog posts about them. The Cruze wasn't exactly the car he'd had in mind for our visit (GM having leant him such things as a Corvette in the past), but they had arrived at his house that morning in a Cadillac with standard transmission (if you're thinking, "Cadillac with a stick shift? Umm...didn't Cadillac practically invent automatic transmissions so that wealthy Americans would never have to bother with something so farm-boyish and tractor-like as shifting gears?" you're not alone. Those were my exact thoughts, along with thinking it was somewhat ironic that GM might loan out an automatic Corvette, while offering a standard Cadillac). Anyway, Danny, like many a good late-20th-century Chicagoan who didn't learn to drive until he moved to L.A., doesn't drive stick shift. The Cadillac was taken back, and he was given the Cruze in its place. It proved to be a perfectly fine chariot, but might have been more so for someone who was mechanically inclined enough to figure out how to adjust the passenger seat in order to keep from feeling as though she was going to be propelled through the windshield.

We left the airport and headed to Danny's house. There, I got to meet Kendall for the first time (Danny and I were both telecommuting colleagues who met each other infrequently at company gatherings until we were both laid off from that company. I'd never met his wife) and their two-year-old Charlie.

I was thrilled to meet both, as Danny writes about Kendall on his blog, and some of you may remember how I feel about meeting my male friends' wives. I just knew I'd love her, and I was right (as did my mother. We're convinced we must somehow be related). I'd lived through Danny's blog posts about Charlie's nightmare premature birth and five months in the NICU, and it was such a treat to meet this happy, healthy baby who you can tell is going to grow up to be extremely kind and wise. Charlie has recently learned to say, instead of "yeah" when you ask him if he wants something or wants to do something, "ah-yeah." So, for instance, when we asked him if he wanted to climb aboard his rocking horse, he replied, "Ah-yeah." It's much more expressive, don't you think?

We got the tour of the house and also met Henry and Emma, the two wonderful dogs Danny and Kendall have adopted. Soon afterwards, it was time to go off to dinner at El Cholo, the oldest Mexican restaurant in L.A. (I have not had the guts to step on a scale since returning from this trip). We started with what I'm pretty sure was the best guacamole I've ever had, and the meal just continued to get better from there. We returned home, happy but exhausted, and definitely ready for bed. I tried to coerce Emma and Henry into sleeping with me, but they preferred their own huge mattress nicely laid out for them at the end of the hall.

The next day began with a trip to the farmer's market (which my mother remembered from her days living in L.A.). It's an indoor market (something L.A. has in common with Lancaster, which made me realize I really ought to frequent Lancaster's more often) and breakfast at Du-Par's, a lovely retro diner. I had a delicious plate of eggs and sausage, and Danny let us taste his French toast, which he declares the best he's had. I have to agree: thick bread that is cooked to crispy perfection on the outside while being wonderfully soggy on the inside. That trip to the farmer's market was when I began to suspect that, despite its lack of real seasons, I maybe could live in L.A. (I can't seem to visit anyplace on earth without wondering what it might be like to live there, a curse I've had since I was a child). What a magnificent place to shop for produce, meat, and baked goods, and I was envious that Danny does the majority of his shopping there. Charlie accompanied us on this morning excursion, happily strapped to his father's chest and stomach, when he wasn't happily sitting at the restaurant, throwing sugar packets on the floor (never underestimate the joy of engaging in such activities).

The big treat that day was the Turner Classics Film festival in Hollywood. Danny had asked if we might not be interested in seeing The Parent Trap. Would we! First of all (although I may have), I don't remember ever seeing it on the big screen, and what better big screen is there than the Egyptian Theatre? Secondly, Hayley Mills (who doesn't love Hayley Mills?) was going to be there. She was lovely. Leonard Maltin (someone else I was thrilled to see) interviewed her before the film. One of the most interesting things we learned was that she basically, because she was shipped back off to her English girls' boarding school, had no idea what a big star she was. The only inkling was the fan mail she received.

When the movie ended, we decided to go find the house where my mother and her family had lived. We were extremely disappointed to discover that it has been torn down and replaced with a monstrosity that, although it is a house, looks like an office building. I had so been hoping to knock on the door and get a look inside, but there was no point. Meanwhile, my mother had been describing her life as the daughter of the British Consul General to Danny who would later find all kinds of archival material for us online that filled in some gaps in memory. Then it was time to take my mother to visit her friend Kathy.

Kathy's brother lives in their parents' house in the Los Feliz neighborhood, and Kathy was up visiting him in order to see my mother (they went to college together). This was another fabulous house that I am at a loss to describe, but this photo of Danny and me on the front stoop gives you an idea of the neighborhood.
We had a great time touring it and learning its history. Being the movie ignorant person that I am, all the old stars associated with it went over my head, but Danny knew them, and I am not so ignorant as not to be able to imagine the grand parties held in the huge living room and out back where there, of course, is a swimming pool and an area that, at one time, was a badminton court. They also have an orange, a lemon, and a kumquat tree (off of which I had the best kumquat I've ever tasted. Sour enough, but not too sour as those on the east coast often are).

Danny and I left my mother to spend the night with Kathy and went to meet Kendall and Charlie at Kendall's mother's house. Kendall's mother is Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey whose best known novel is A Woman of Independent Means (a novel I have yet to read, but it's now been moved to page 1 of the TBR tome). I was hoping to meet Betsy, but she was off speaking at the L.A. book festival, so that wasn't to be this trip (nor was I to meet Danny's sixteen-year-old daughter Leah who was at her mom's for the weekend). We'd thought we'd go swimming, but it was really too chilly for that by the time we got there, so we just enjoyed talking and playing with Charlie and eating pizza before heading home to fall into bed again.

Our final day in L.A. was another terrific one. Danny, Charlie, and I got up early (I a little too early, as in my half-awake state, I proceeded to drop one of my contact lenses down the drain. I've worn contacts for 25 years and, although I've feared doing that since the day I got them, I never actually had until that morning). We went off for another delicious breakfast of boiled eggs and assorted breads, this time at a wonderful little Belgian import whose name I don't recall. Coffee was served the way I love it in those cups that are more like little bowls, with no handles, so you wrap your hands around them -- a great way to warm up cold hands when you need to do so. We had planned to go hiking (actually, we'd planned to do that on Saturday, too) but never got around to it before it was time to go pick up Kathy and my mother, so Danny could chauffeur us all to the Getty Museum.

Oh! What a marvelous place the Getty is! Kathy and I took the garden tour -- the garden was designed to be a painting in and of itself, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. I particularly loved the azalea maze, which blossoms in winter. Even without blossoms, it was a wonderful labyrinth of green. I'd love to see it in winter, though.
Then we went inside to look at some of the paintings (yes, I did what I always do -- boring me -- and located the Impressionists) before meeting back up with my mother for a fascinating demonstration on Parisian fashion of the eighteenth century. The fashion designer had a live model who was stunning and looked as though she'd just stepped out of an engraving. Guess what I liked the most. The shoes! (I know, I was quite the boring old me that day.) I would love to have a pair. They looked like mini-upholstered half boots with buckles made out of a beautiful floral pink and green satin cloth.

All-too-soon, it was time for Danny (who, poor boy, was up against deadlines for some freelance writing and editing projects and was still kind enough to put his life on hold to play tour guide and chauffeur) to pick us up. He took Kathy back to her brother's and then drove us to the airport to pick up the Toyota Camry that would be our wheels for the next six days. We sadly left the Hailey-Miller clan, each of our bags now carrying an autographed copy of Kendall's book, and we also had picked up a brand new exclamation for everything "Ah-yeah!" We took to the freeway and headed north to Santa Barbara.


Bob said...

Hi Em, Nice that you finally surfaced and are having a "California Dreamin" experience. Lovely pix, too. Look forward to Part II!

Carrie#K said...

Part of California. But sounds fabulous! Did you get any shots of Kathy's bookshelves? (Because that's the important part of the trip, lol).

The Getty Museum grounds look fabulous. The whole thing sounds fabulous! Such a saint, squiring your mother like that.

litlove said...

Sounds like you were having a wonderful time, Emily! Back in 2005 I went to California about this time of year, to Pomona College, and it was just glorious.

Emily Barton said...

Carrie, unfortunately, I didn't get any shots of bookshelves. In fact, being someone who is not extremely skilled when it comes to photography, I really didn't get all that many photos at all. But, yes, it was all fabulous.

Litlove, absolutely wonderful! More to come if I stop having so many technical difficulties with Blogger (which ate this post of mine for a couple of days, but then decided to throw it back up again. Sigh!).

Danny said...

So fun to relive your trip through this post--I only hope it is the first of many visits. Charlie misses you and Emma and Henry are kicking themselves that they squandered a rare opportunity to sleep in the guest room "You HAD your chance!" I sneer as they continue to roam the house looking for you and another contact hors-d'oeuvre.

Stefanie said...

What a wonderful trip! Isn't the Getty great? I love that place, but it wasn't enough to keep me in LA!

ZoesMom said...

TCM film festival with Haley Mills -- now that is a once in a lifetime kind of thing. So jealous. Parent Trap was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I guess there must be some upsides to living in LA. Danny's house is gorgeous. So far the trip sounds amazing. Can't wait to read part 2!

Danny said...

By the way, the day I had to give the car back to GM, Leah finally found the lever that completely adjusted the seat. Gulp--sorry you had to feel like a human taco for several days!

P.S. I couldn't help thinking of your mom on Maureen O'Sullivan's 100th birthday this week (aka Mrs. John Farrow).

Bob said...

Hi Em, Nice that you finally surfaced and are having a "California Dreamin" experience. Lovely pix, too. Look forward to Part II!

Emily Barton said...

Danny, the first of many visits, definitely. Where was Leah when we needed her? Oh well, it wasn't really too uncomfortable in the passenger's seat, especially since I was far more focused on gawking at all the sights. Give Emma, Henry, and Charlie kisses for me.

Stef, yes, it's fabulous! I need to go back and spend much more time there.

ZM, maybe when we finally make it out there together, you can see Danny's house yourself.

Bob, finally surfaced indeed. The compliment on my pictures is certainly something coming from you.