Plays and pleasures, May 2003
1: back to Los Angeles for theater, food, friends, and gardens     

I THINK WE NEED a trip like this three times a year at least. And it didn’t hurt to begin it on May Day with a first-rate baseball game in Pac Bell Park, with John and Susan, getting there in time for the top of the second inning. The Giants had scored in the first, and from then on it was a fascinating scoreless game until the ninth.

There was a little of everything. Bonds, who'd been hit by pitches twice on Tuesday, was hit again his second time up, again on the shin — I think he doesn't go out of his way to avoid this; he wears a shin-guard. He immediately charged the pitcher, and the catcher was right with him, restraining him; and immediately both dugouts emptied out onto the field, and it looked like there'd be a donneybrook. The umps got things calmed down, though Dusty Baker looked pretty disgusted with the whole thing.

Then there was a series of interesting innings, with baserunners getting picked off, fine outfield catches saving the pitchers, and pretty good pitching overall. At one point a Giant baserunner interfered with a play at second and was called out therefore, but after the Giants manager (Felipe Alou) objected the umps reversed themselves, unaccountably.

In the top of the tenth the Cubs got two men on base and then hit two home runs (Sosa one of them), and the Giants fans around us suddenly became less contemptuous of the Cubs, and many of them actually started leaving the park. A Cubs fan ahead of us called out "Drive safely, loyal fans!"

Terry St. John painting

Terry St. John: Woman Reflecting, 60x48
After the game we went to a gallery reception for Terry St. John, an old acquaintance. In fact I went to Garfield Jr. High with him, though we weren't close friends at the time. He's painted for years, and I've always liked his work. We have a small landscape of his; it forms a sliding door at the entrance to our loft.

He's the perfect example of a man who's paid attention to all the new things storming around him — he was a curator at the Oakland Museum for years, and taught for years at Notre Dame, I think, in Belmont. And in all those years he's gone on painting his own way, often outdoors, observing nature, the cows, the mountains, the skies; and in the studio the nude and architecture.

And for forty years he's painted his way, focussing in tighter and tighter on his own way of doing it, and the paintings while consistent have got better and better, truer to the experience and richer in describing and considering it.

Alas we can't afford them any more. Should have bought some along the way. These new ones run up to $30,000. It's good to see him succeeding, but I wish… oh well: we have a very nice one.

THEN A FABULOUS DINNER in the café at Chez Panisse, starting with a bottle of Prosecco. Then I had crostini with garlicky long-sweated chard on them, and then a moist pink pork loin with tender subtle sauerkraut that couldn't have been better, and with them a splurge bottle of white Condrieu from Chante Perdrix.

We spent the night at John and Susan's, and he made popovers for breakfast, and we drove on down to Ojai, the last hour and a half in a traffic jam in a driving rainstorm; and a very interesting evening with Jim and Lisa Churchill. Lisa works with computers, chiefly in music and video; she writes tech manuals, and actually does things too — just now she's working on a documentary about Bill Fujimoto, conducting the interviews and "filming" with a small digital camcorder and editing the results which, though barely into the project, are impressive.

There was another guest, Camille, like Jim a farmer, but instead of avocados and tangerines she raises pluots. She is an interesting woman, quiet and a little reserved, but fun and intelligent, with an interesting background; some Italian in the family, and she's spent time in Sicily and the lakes region. She looks rather exotic, which I attributed to Sicily until she asked me, after I'd mentioned it, where in Oklahoma my grandparents lived. She'd spent summers near Ponca City at her grandparents' farm, and when I asked if her grandmother was part Cherokee she admitted that she was, adding that not long ago one didn't talk about such.

Dinner was lots of avocado, as usual, and salad, and some very nice tamales, and lots more talk. Jim writes, too; you can read his stuff in Edible Ojai,a very interesting quarterly published there.

NEXT MORNING WE DROVE on down to Glendale. I'd asked Priceline to find me a sixty-dollar motel, and it turned out to be wonderful — one of those whitecollar working places, a complete kitchen in the room, a good (though not DSL) dataport, in a nice part of town, easy to drive to where we go. It was quiet, and a short walk from a (gasp) Starbuck's, where we bought a half-pound of coffee for our room, and from a supermarket which, since this is an Armenian enclave, featured green almonds in the produce section, and commercialy but tasty gata, a round egg bread with almond paste in its center.

Saturday we saw two plays, Il re cervo (translated oddly as King Stag) in the afternoon, Tibi's Law in the evening. And in between we went to AOC, Susanne Goin's new place. We sat at the "charcuterie bar," two places at each end, maybe eight along the long side, looking at the charcuterie serving-out kitchen with its refrigerated display case full of hams, sausages, and cheeses.
Read commentary on King Stag and Measure for Measure
While eating we struck up a conversation with a young couple sitting next us, maybe about thirty, who had been conversing in Portuguese. He had been talking to the charcutier, sometimes in French but mostly in English, asking about the various items on the menu, especially the foie gras, which he'd ordered to begin with. He'd asked about the charcuterie plate, and at that moment the one that I'd ordered arrived, and I showed it to him.

There was a nest of salad at the center, and with it pieces of a couple of saucissons, and chicken-and-pork-liver mousse, and at the side a generous hunk of rillon, pork-belly neither smoked nor salted but turned into a sort of confit. And after that I had a dish of very long-sweated cavalonero which reminded me of the chard I'd had Thursday night (though in truth it wasn't quite as deep).Lindsey had two courses, too, and we had dessert, though I wanted cheese.

It was a delicious dinner, with a glass of cold gold interesting Lazio that had come in a carafe and another of fine red St. Joseph. The wine list is very interesting: two full pages of wines by the glass, one (and only one) of just about every varietal or region you could want; and those by the glass can also be ordered by the half-bottle carafe. And there's a list of bottles, too, but I can't imagine why you'd want to stray from the glasses, especially since you can have them as either six-ounce pours or flights of three two-ounce tastes.

8022 W. 3rd Street
(323) 653-6359
dinner as described, $103 incl. tax and tip
A big dining room seating maybe eighty diners; the long wine bar at one side; the charcuterie bar tucked into an opposite corner; a second dining room and, apparently, an upstairs dining area. Very casual; a sort of Hollywood version of Zuni. Conversation works at the charcuterie bar, but I doubt it's easy hearing elsewhere. Kitchen open 5:30-11 p.m.; I'm not sure of the weekly schedule.
Excellent restaurant.

SUNDAY WE GOT UP late, and spent an hour or two lazing in the room, and then brunch with Sarah and Todd, who we try always to see when we're down here. She worked at Chez Panisse, leaving the pastry kitchen about 1982; now she works for Bon Appetit down here, running the test kitchen, and she's very nice, very smart, very pretty, very entertaining.

And Todd is a very funny guy, loud and funny, and devoted to his Macintosh, and we all get along famously. So we went to Campanile, where I had poached eggs and prosciutto and a tequila Sunrise, which is what one does down here in LaLa Land. Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel, who run Campanile, were out of town, as Suzanne Goin of A.O.C. (and Lucques, which we also like very much) had been: the James Beard awards were going on in New York.

After brunch we drove downtown to see the new cathedral, which is pretty interesting — a blocky beige boring box outside, but nuanced and serene inside, only very subtly referring to traditional Gothic cathedrals, lit through windows of not stained glass but thin-sliced alabaster, and the nave lined with huge tapestries depicting the major saints and laity of history, so Ignatius and Stephen are in a procession with Mexicans and Chinese and so on, which I think is good because it represents saints as folks next door, people one can actually aspire to.

Particularly since the portraits are photoreal and marvelously transferred to tapestry to retain that quality. We know that because Tony Abatemarco posed for the Ignatius Loyola, and Dan is one of the Josephs. We couldn't visit them, as we like to do when down here, because Dan's back east at a show of his own paintings, and Tony's up to here with work, he's an actor and playwright and when there's work you do it because there might not be any next week.

Downstairs in the Cathedral is a vast mausoleum, with hundreds of crypts, all but a very few still awaiting their guests. These are all in white marble so the effect of light contradicts the very real sensation of being below ground, a quality reinforced by the quiet and the faint scent of damp. I'm no Catholic (or even Christian, for that matter), but there's something somehow reassuring about this version of death after death, of returning to the earth: for the moment we were not in Los Angeles, or any contemporary American city, but in a timeless human attitude in the presence of death.

We stepped out into the disappointingly bleak Garden of Rembrance, assaulted by the noise of the freeway just beyond its wall, and continued past a set of windows overlooking the freeway and etched with the names of donors. There is a large plaza in front of the cathedral, and in it fountains and pools and staircases, and a café and gift shop — the former closed at five o'clock on a Sunday, but the latter going full tilt with its books and CDs and knicknacks.

But the entire apparatus — cathedral, gardens, mausoleum, and plaza — is isolated from the city behind its walls and its capacious parking structure. It's up on what's left of the Hill, too, not down next to Olvera Street and that wonderful old Art Deco train station, as it would be in a European city. But this is not Europe, and the 21st century is not the 17th. And it was time to go home for a snack and out to see Measure for Measure, about which, again, I write separately.

On to part two: The road back, through Descanso Gardens, the Santa Ynez Valley, and Figueroa Mountain

rev. May 2003      Other travel writing