Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Still Got the Music in Me

Feast of Lights Saddleback College
It's been the most Christmasy Christmas I can recall since my childhood...thanks to holiday music. Frank and I have swung through a December of Sunday music. We started with Saddleback College's astonishing annual Feast of Lights, my first time, though it's been a holiday tradition there for 25 years. The choir's haunting "O Holy Night" brought me to tears.

We followed up a week later with a jazzy afternoon, a "Charlie Brown's Christmas," at the home of Luther and Vicky Gonzales Hughes. Luther, a world-bassist, who happens to own the late Howard Rumsey's instrument, hosts home concerts as part of the California Jazz Arts Society, which Frank and I joined several months ago. With Luther's accomplished friends at keyboards, drums, and vocals, the Sunday afternoons always delight...but this one was special, with
Becky Hughes. Late Bloomer
Becky Hughes and Dale Boatman interpreting the lyrics of old favorites. Becky, whose album is called "Late Bloomer," sprinkles a little sultriness on old standbys.

This past Sunday we went to my third Christmas singalong at the home of Barbara Smith, a musician and music teacher who decorates her home, herself and even her guests for the holidays. Yes, Barbara keeps a box of Christmas caps for everybody. And underneath each chair we each found percussion instruments so we all could become musicians, at least temporarily, in a rousing version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas.

I at last had a chance to hear the mighty William J. Gillespie pipe organ at Segerstrom Concert Hall this week, too, where the annual Christmas Spectacular featured Todd Wilson, from the Cleveland Institute of Music, with members of the Pacific Symphony. This concert included a singalong finale, so we chimed in with "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World."

William J. Gillespie organ
Tonight, before I head for Arizona for Christmas with my 7-year-old granddaughter (and her parents) I'll be going to a final Christmas music singalong at my apartment complex. When I get to Arizona tomorrow afternoon I'm going to ask Kendra to sing a few holiday favorites for me.

But the music isn't going to die when December runs out of days. Frank and I already have tickets for several Pacific Symphony concerts, and will be going January 12 back to Segerstrom for Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Billed as a "romantic tour de force," this piece brings me back to my childhood every time I hear it.

My friends know that my grandfather, Jesse Crawford, had been known worldwide in the '20s and '30s as "The Poet of the Organ," and "Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer." His two children, Jeanne, my birth mother, and Howard, my uncle, inherited the musical ability gene. My late big š¯„ š¯„ š¯„ sister, Patti, did, too. From an early age she excelled at both singing and piano playing. Professional musicians have told me she had perfect pitch. Perfect.
Grandpa Jesse Crawford

Though I sang in glee club, and danced with the Carpenterettes and Manual Arts High School's Pavlovettes, I couldn't master the piano. Somehow the musical ability gene skipped me...nonetheless, I inherited the appreciation gene, as did my son, Steve. I don't know if they play or sing, but I do know Patti's daughters, Spring, Dawni and Star, all also adore music and attend frequent concerts.

But, oh, how I always have longed to have my sister's talent, both vocal and piano. One of the earliest pieces I remember Patti playing...and we couldn't have been more than seven (me) and eight (her), was the Tchaikovsky piece I'll be hearing next month, the First Piano Concerto.

Sister Patti and her music-loving daughters, Spring, Dawni and Star
"Boston Globe critic Matthew Guerrieri commented that Haochen Zhang, Gold Medal winner of the 13th International Van Cliburn Competition, displayed “poetic temperament as much as technical power … [he is] a pianist with ample reserves of power whose imagination seems nonetheless most kindled by subtle delicacy,” artistic gifts that should serve him well when he tackles Tchaikovsky’s popular piano concerto. "

Here's Lang Lang with the wonderful Opus 23:

And here is Zhang:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Turning 80: An Avalon Idyll...

Frank toasts to a new decade...
I've got Henry Miller on my mind this afternoon...not the Paris Bohemian Miller of the "Tropics" days, but the latter one, who wrote this as he was about to turn 80:
“If you can fall in love again and again… if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical… you’ve got it half licked.”
I won't turn 80 until next June, but my gentleman friend, Frank Stern, welcomed the beginning of his ninth decade on December 13. I wanted to ensure that his 80th would be memorable. I think I succeeded.

Another Frank, Old Blue Eyes Sinatra, promised us long ago that fairy tales would come true, if we stayed young at heart. I believed him then and still do...and Miller, too. So earlier this week I spirited my young-at-heart Frank away for a Catalina respite for rest and relaxation. Though it's famously only 26 miles across the sea, Avalon is light years away from the stress of 2016. 

The merriment began the moment we checked in at the Long Beach Catalina Express office, where Frank was handed his special birthday ribbon. I insisted he wear it for the whole trip, and he quickly found out why. Birthday welcomes have become a huge Catalina tradition, since Catalina Express offers free round trip transport for the birthday celebrant.
Birthday breakfast
We ducked into the terminal coffee shop for a bite before setting sail for the island named from Tennyson's poem about King Arthur, "Idylls of the King." Thus our adventure began.

Entrance Hotel MacRae
Desk manager Juan at Atwater
120 Sumner Avenue
I've been to Catalina intermittently since my June 18 1955 honeymoon at the Hotel MacRae. As I do each time I return to the island, I checked out the old hotel's's still there, still owned by the same family that's operated if for decades. But Frank and I didn't stay there. Instead, I'd made reservations at the Hotel Atwater, a 1920s hotel just a block away from the crescent down Sumner Avenue.

There we were made welcome by Juan, who supervises the front desk operations. He gave us detailed descriptions of all the best places to eat and pointed out where Frank could take advantage of the birthday special discounts. We followed up the offer of free ice cream at Lloyd's, famous also for its salt water taffy, and a complementary  continental breakfast at nearby Ben's the following morning.

We decided to lunch at Antonio's, with an outside patio view of the harbor. The restaurant has old fashioned fun house mirrors upstairs, where I shot this photo of my birthday boy...yes, I'm afraid he got a little big-headed over all the birthday greetings he received as we roamed the byways of the island.
Fun with Frank!

We passed up the miniature golf and bowling games in favor of a leisurely stroll to the casino after lunch, followed by a thorough exploration of the new Metropole setting for the museum, with its videos and photos detailing the colorful history of the island.

Pacific snapper for me
Making a birthday wish
We dined that evening at the Avalon Grill, which, I would bet, given the laudatory Trip Advisor postings, ranks as the best dinner house on the waterfront. Aside from what appeared to be a quartet of regulars at the bar, the restaurant had few customers. Though Catalina gets a million visitors annually, most of these are in the summer, when schools are out. The couple adjacent to us struck up a conversation toward the end of our meal...and we learned we were chatting with David Jinkens, Avalon's city manager, and his wife Terri. The food? Ample and exquisitely delicious.  Frank had a steak and I had a whole Pacific snapper, delivered to me, bone and all. David took our photo in front of the restaurant's Christmas tree after we finished Frank's flourless chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream before we left.
Beribboned and birthdayed...
Birthday steak for Frank

On Wednesday we hopped aboard a scenic island tour bus, and to our delight learned we were the only passengers for the noon trip. So we got special attention and all of our questions answered. I learned the definitely non-native eucalyptus trees along the steep winding roads had been placed there because they have far-reaching roots that hold the soil to the sides of the cliffs.

Since I used to be a teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District, I'd known that the lone school on the island belonged to that district. I hadn't known that 40% of the school's grads attended college, a percentage the driver thought was worth bragging about. I agree, given that it appears so many of the students are the children of the bus drivers, tour guides, hotel employees and  other service personnel that cater to the tourism industry year around.

We finished up our afternoon with lunch at Maggie's Blue Rose, where we treated ourselves to margaritas, served in some of the biggest glasses I'd ever been served one in. Frank inquired if I wanted a second round, but I passed, not wanting to fall overboard on our return trip.
Margaritas at Maggie's Blue Rose

I'm still thinking of Henry Miller and how he lauded the gifts of old age:
At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty. I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again. Youth may be glorious, but it is also painful to endure…
I was cursed or blessed with a prolonged adolescence; I arrived at some seeming maturity when I was past thirty. It was only in my forties that I really began to feel young. By then I was ready for it. (Picasso once said: “One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.”) By this time I had lost many illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity.
I met Miller on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration at UCLA in December 1971. At that time he'd autographed a shopworn paperback copy of The Time of the Assassins for me, his poetic riff on the life and poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. That book remains one of my treasures. Though Miller had been born in 1891, a year after my grandmother, he remained ever youthful and ahead of his times. These qualities I see also and greatly admire in Frank. Though I've got six months to go, I'm determined to welcome in my ninth decade with verve, as well.

Avalon's famed casino.

Santa hulas on Avalon's Crescent

Happy birthday again, sweetheart!