Archive for September, 2012


When the man approached to ask for directions to the performers lounge, it was obvious he wasn’t part of the expectant audience who had happily flooded into the cool theater, seeking a free respite from the desert’s afternoon heat.  His snowy hair was a bit too long, but rather than a statement of independence, I suspected a shortage of funds.  The sheen on his tuxedo was no doubt from age and frequent ironing.  There was a losing battle going on between his girth and his cumerbund which strained above the buttons on his jacket.   His demeanor was decidedly less than celebrity as he shuffled towards the stage door.

It was easy to dismiss him — this this seemingly unkempt fossil of an earlier time, who had been rounded up with the  has-beens and wannabes who are always too eager to elbow their way to any microphone at any venue.  Yes, it was too easy, until he took the stage.

He positioned himself comfortably at the grand piano – familiar territory.  When the Master of Ceremonies ticked off his impressive credentials, his posture straightened.  He tugged at his shirt sleeves and ran his fingers through his hair.  It was a graceful gesture of habitual preparation.   As his swollen fingers effortlessly caressed the piano keys, time faded.  He was a lover wooing his audience, then commanding us to respect and admire the flawless ruffles and flourishes of his  Chopin Prelude.  The notes flew from his fingers like a shower of twinkling stars, falling upon our straining ears.  Suddenly we were hungry to devour every morsel of this banquet he had so willingly shared with us.

His contribution to this musical showcase was over too quickly and with modestly he accepted the enthusiastic applause, then quietly stepped from the spotlight and exited the makeshift stage.  I didn’t see him leave, but months later, his memory still haunts me.  I see him clearly in my mind, and I’m ashamed to have dismissed him so quickly.  I sincerely regret not telling him how much I admired his lovely spirit and his ageless talent.

There are no random events in life.  Everything happens for a reason.  Our job is to find the meaning, so perhaps this random encounter was simply to remind me to think about what happens when (if) we are suddenly viewed as past our prime and how to counter that assumption.

The question looms large in my mind as I ponder what the future holds for me and others who face the game changing events of retirement and aging.  How does one stay relevant when our entire culture is focused on youth and the next new thing; when we’ve lost our place and no longer carry that title or credential which automatically opens the door of acceptance.  How does one embrace a new challenge when the overriding questions are:

  • what if I can’t cut it;
  • what if I don’t know how to be current;
  • what if I am unable to find something new that engages me?
  • what if my mental and physical capacities fail me?

Does any of it matter?  I think it does.  It’s part and parcel of what makes us who we are.  Did any of this matter to this lovely man who so graciously offered his talents unconditionally to anyone who was willing to hear?  I don’t know, but I wish I could ask him.

Palm Desert might have its ever so chi chi El Paseo,  and LaQuinta can offer you its quaint Old Towne charm, but there’s nothing quite like Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, no matter the season.  It’s the perfect amalgamation of glitz, glam and in your sassy face that will enliven even the most sedentary spirit.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk.  

Music loud and women warm. I’ve been kicked around since I was born.

And now it’s all right – it’s O.K.  And you may look the other way.

Go ahead.  Take your pick and channel The Lady Chablis  or John Travolta  strollin’ down the avenue with Stayin’ Alive  thumping in your brain.   No question the vibe of this street makes you feel alive! And nobody’s gonna give you a second glance.   Pricey art galleries are in cohabitation with tacky tourist traps, and the most divine al fresco dining in the Valley is picture perfect for watching the world drift by.

Down towards the southwest end of Palm Canyon, set back from the sidewalk, is a lovely little oasis – a restaurant that’s a must try on your next foray into Neverland.  It’s called Sammy G’s Tuscan Grill, an absolute gem hiding right in plain sight.  Don’t know how we missed it, but so glad our foodie friends Ron & Ilene introduced it to us.

There is a serene beauty in the Tuscan Villa inspired decor –  cozy dining alcoves glowing with mood lighting are nestled next to other spaces of sweeping, stately grandeur.  The service is more than attentive  but blissfully unobtrusive – not an easy task as anyone knows who has ever worked in hospitality.

But the food…ah, the food.   Our selections included a deliciously fresh calamari, a tender trout almondine, hearty eggplant parmesan and a delicate shrimp risotto.  Every choice assured us that this chef believes in marrying quality ingredients to dedicated processes.

Sammy G’s Tuscan Grill ranks up there with the best of the best.  The pastas are homemade.  The greens are local and organic.  The selections have each received a special twist that elevates the ordinary to the exceptional without crawling out on the limb too far.  Portions aren’t overwhelming, which allows room for a delectable desert or an apéritif.  It’s all part of a grand experience, which is exactly what we wanted and we were not disappointed.

Did I mention there is a lively bar scene with entertainment at one end of the villa?  Can’t wait to go back.  Now dammit, where did I store my elevated boots?

Culture is the sum of all the forms of art,  of love, and of thought, which in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved. 
Andre Malurax  1901-1976

There are some wonderful cultural events on the immediate horizon for our community, in addition to the McCallum schedule, which you probably all know about, but which may not fit your budget.   There are dazzling alternatives that don’t require dressing up, or buying advance tickets, yada yada yada.  No problem.  I’m excited to tell you about a few other options.  Get out and enjoy these wonderful offerings!

In the next month The Palme D’Or movie theater at the Westfield Mall is offering:

  • Pat Metheny – The Orchestrion Project Thursday Oct 4, 6:30 pm  or Saturday Oct 6, 4 pm  (we saw it live at Disney Hall – amazing.)
  • Queen Hungarian Rhapsody Live in Budapest – Thursday Sept 20, 7 pm or  Sunday Sept 23, 2 pm.
  • How about some great theater direct from London’s National Theater Live – The Last of the Haussmans Thurs Oct 11, 11 am or Thurs Oct 18, 6:30 pm
  • Or perhaps Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens also from the National – Thurs Nov 1, 11 am or Thurs Nov 8, 6:30 pm.

How about a little Opera?  http://www.fathomevents.com/offers you The New York Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series, starting Oct 13 and going through next May.  the first four are:

  • Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, Oct 13, 9:55 am or Nov 7 6:30 pm
  • Verdi’s Otello Oct 27 9:55 am or Nov 14, 6:30 pm.
  • The Tempest by Ades Met Premiere Nov 10, 9:55 am or Nov 28, 6:30 pm
  • Mozard’s LaClemenza di Tito, Dec 1, 9:55 or Dec 19, 6:30 pm.

There is also a whole series of classic movies offered through http://www.fathomevents.com.  Might be time to revisit these classics (The Birds, To Kill A Mocking Bird, The African Queen) on the big screen with surround sound.  When we recently saw Singing In The Rain, it was more wonderful than ever and I’m happy to report that the theater was packed.

What about a little unconventional ballet?   The Camelot Theaters in Palm Springs brings you Matthew Bourne’s triumphant re–interpretation of Swan Lake the ballet, Oct 9,

2:30 pm or Oct 11, 7:30 pm.   No?  They will also be showing four operas from the San Francisco Opera, also in HD.

  • Madama Butterfly Sun, Oct 7, 9 am or Tues Oct 16, 6:30 pm
  • La Rondine Sun Dec 9 9 am or Tues Dec 11 6:30 pm
  • Sampson & Delilah, Sun Mar 17 9 am or Tues Mar 19, 6:30 pm

How about some live, intimate theater?  Ever been to the CVRep?  This hidden gem in Rancho Mirage has some delightful offerings including Collected Stories by Donald Margulies which will play from Oct 24 – Nov 11.  Tickets are at the website.  Also check out their luminary luncheons.  You just missed George Charkiris – Anyone remember who he is – sigh…

OperaArts brings fantastic talent to the desert – one such upcoming event is Demons, Devils, Divas – a fundraiser at the Michael H. Lord Gallery, Monday, October 29th.  7:00 – 9:00 p.m. , 1090 N. Palm Canyon Dr. in Palm Springs.  For their other 2012-13 events click OperaArts.
More to come as the season gets going – watch for California Ballet Opera, Indio Performing Arts Center, The Coachella Valley Symphony, Saturday night Jazz performances at The Gardens on El Passeo, and  the Friday night jazz headliners at The Grooves in the Grove at the LaQuinta Resort.    Who said there’s nothing to do!

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young

has lost the past and is dead to the future.       Sophocles

All of us can use such a lovely blessing

 

There are many reason why I spend my time writing this blog.  Chief among them would be that writing is the common thread of my career.   I need to write.  No, I have to write.  It’s the only thing that I never, ever tire of doing.  I can sit at my computer for eight-hour stretches, barely refilling my coffee cup.  Writing exercises my brain, keeps me engaged with current affairs and I admit it’s a great way to not finish the 100,000 word novel I started several years ago.  Classic avoidance.  My bad. 

And then there are the wonderful friends we’ve made since moving to the Coachella Valley.  They have graciously appointed me the unofficial social director.  I suppose because I’m always so enthusiastic about the incredible culture that we find here and I’m so eager to share these things with others –  our favorite (or not so favorite) restaurants; spectacular plays that we discovered; the world of books we were reading and other events such as ballets, operas, music – all the things that bring beauty into our lives.   It’s fun, it’s light and airy.  But…Occasionally, sigh,  I just can’t help myself – I was born a serious child; I lose control and drift into other things that are on my mind.   Like the phrase “hope springs eternal.” 

We were spoonfed more than a few helpings of hope in the past couple of years.  Hope is one of those words, like faith, that means whatever it is that you want it to mean.  Being the eternal optimist, I’m always hoping for the best, but I’m also cynical enough to know that hope, in an of itself, can disappoint if the reasons for hope are not well grounded.  We can hope we win the lottery, but we still need to buy a ticket, maybe dozens of tickets, to hedge the bet. 

According to my research, hope springs eternal is part of a larger phrase, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always To be Blest.”   The author was Alexander Pope, the 18th century English poet and satirist.   Over the years it’s been attributed to many others including  Earnest Lawrence Thayer in the baseball classic, Casey at The Bat.   “A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,  With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.”

I’m endlessly curious about why people think a certain way.  How did they come to that conclusion?  What formed their opinion?   Did they read certain books that maybe I should read too?  On Facebook I’ve noticed that some of the people whom you think are your friends are only interested in your thoughts if they already agree with you.  They don’t mind telling you to pipe down.  Ouch!  I have a hard time with that thinking.  But it does beg the question, why have we become so harsh with each other?   A thoughtful discussion about whatever it is that has everyone all fired up would be more productive than a diatribe where I”m called a racist because I think differently.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m anything but a racist. 

The current political environment is an opportunity for us all to explore and appreciate our different opinions and find the best solutions together, or at the very least, respectfully agree to disagree.  It’s not about spewing hateful, personal remarks.  Really now, isn’t that just a little cheap and lazy?   Isn’t  friendship about respecting your friends enough to hear their opinion and how they got to that place?  I have many friends who don’t think as I do, but  I still like them. 

I’m a political junky but I don’t ever remember hearing such personal attacks in the course of social conversation.  With the current climate of discourse I wondered if this is how the build-up to the Civil War felt.   Then, the larger debate was as much about states rights and economic factors as it was about slavery, which was a by-product of the southern plantation system – a  deplorable, despicable stain on our country’s history but one  that, as Americans, we own.   

I was raised in West Virginia, which actually became a state  when Virginia seceded from the Union and West Virginia succeeded from the succession.  Did you follow that?   My fraternal grandfather (that’s right, my father’s father)  fought with the North as a Union cavalry officer;  another ancestor, a Confederate Captain, was captured by the North and died in a Union prison.  My family tree is filled with brothers who fought against brothers, fathers who fought against sons, and cousins who fought against cousins.   These irreconcilable differences were horrible for every family, but in the end, our country healed and was stronger than before.

Today the larger political debate is framed by two starkly differing philosophies of how our country should be governed; which direction we will choose in the 2012 election,  and what our future should look like.   Will we be more like European socialism or will we return to free market thinking?   The passions fueling the debate are every bit as intense as those of the Civil War.   People say we are a nation bitterly divided into red states and blue states.  Will we ever be the same, regardless of the outcome?  I doubt it, but one thing I do know.  It’s making all of us think about what we stand for and what we believe in.

The debate reminds me of old saying:  Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.”   It’s an American translation of a Lancashire proverb: “there’s nobbut three generations atween a clog and clog.”  Apparently there are other cultures with similar tendencies:   In Italian it is “dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle” (“from stalls to stars to stalls”).  The Spanish say, “quien no lo tiene, lo hance; y quien lo tiene, lo deshance” (“who doesn’t have it, does it, and who has it, misuses it”).    America is our family business.   If families are a microcosm of our society, and if that society allows its founding principles to be discarded because  “the spoiled and lazy third generation has no incentive/desire to run the family business,”  will that society end up in the proverbial shirt sleeves.  I hope not. 

Today’s debate is extremely complicated and undoubtedly the most important of our lifetime, but I’m fearful that we are watching the end of a glorious experiment.  We are no longer willing to listen, be informed and find common ground for compromise.   Honest debate is  drowned out by sound bites and misinformation fueled by a media that knows controversy equals ratings dollars. 

I am hopeful that the worst characteristics in our human nature will not triumph, but if we don’t dial down the rhetoric, become better informed and find solutions that will work for all of us, it surely will. 

 

 

Sixto Rodriguez

I’m not always up for experimental adventures in film.  If I’m giving up 2+ hours, I want some guaranteed ROI.  But occasionally a review resonates.   Who knows why?  Blame it on my mysterious but rarely wrong intuition.  If there’s hangtime I go with the universe.  So it was with that thought that we headed off to The Camelot Theater  in Palm Springs, home of The Desert Film Society and artsy fartsy film screenings.  The paper had a short blurb describing the screening of a documentary about an obscure musician who had been touted as the next Bob Dylan but who flamed out early and disappeared.  I don’t even like Dylan – never, ever did.  But I thought the historical period would be useful to my labor of love, a novel about the Rock and Roll era. 

To say that truth is stranger than fiction belongs in the department of redundant  redundancy.  This is some strange story.  Searching for Sugarman is a Swedish documentary; the winner of the Sundance Special Jury Prize as well as its Audience Award.  The film chronicles the short-lived almost-career of a seventies Detroit troubadour named Sixto Rodriguez who apparently disappeared after releasing two albums to critical acclaim.  So much for the vision of pundits.   The records were produced by Palm Springs resident, Steve Rowland, so there was the local tie-in and he graciously shared some of this thoughts at the after-screening Q&A.  The film is just now opening in selected cities. 

Rodriguez was far better than Dylan ever thought about being.  Pure of voice, poetic of heart,  a Mexican/American Indian with a spirit so stealth it knocks you completely off balance; he was discovered in a Detroit dive bar, recorded two albums that bombed and then drifted away.  The music industry being the cruelest of mistresses, and the most insidious of bookkeepers, it was rumored that he committed an on-stage suicide after the audience rejection.   Urban legend complete.  Case closed. 

Not so fast.  That’s just the beginning of a layered mystery that begged to be told but until now, never was.  During the Apartheid era in South Africa, bootlegged copies of Rodriguez’s records with their anti-establishment message tapped into the psyche of the underground and became their anthem of unrest.  Rodriguez was their folk hero.  It’s estimated that  at least 500,000 copies of his albums were eventually sold there.  Enter the Internet and the curiosity of two South Africans who began a journey to seek out and uncover the story of what happened to Sixto Rogriguez.  Oh, and where the money went.   There’s always that, isn’t there? 

No spoiler alert here.  Go meet Sugarman  for yourself.

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