At The Mall

The Westfield Mall in Culver City

As the heat of summer has descended on Los Angeles, I have increasingly been spending more time at the air-conditioned Westfield Mall in Culver City. There are places to sit and read, plenty of perfectly acceptable restaurants, and—very important to me—not a large number of smelly bums. Oh, did I sound not too terribly Progressive with that last line? Perhaps it’s because I¹m not 100% Progressive.(Especially as there is a bum encampment across the street from my apartment.)

If you think I should be ever so much more understanding than I appear to be, I urge you to see a 1932 French film director by Jean Renoir called Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux). A used bookseller played by Charles Granval rescues a tramp (played by the great Michel Simon) from drowning in the Seine. Out of a total lack of gratitude, Boudu opens a rare edition of Honoré de Balzac, spits in it, closes the book, and returns it to the shelf. If someone were to spit in one of my Balzacs, I would gladly perforate his spleen and any adjacent internal organs.

One interesting thing about sitting in a mall is the variety of people who pass by. It is incredible to me how many Americans are grossly overweight. Also, since the mall is located in Culver City, I am amazed by how many drop-dead gorgeous young African-American women there are. Also, at least during the day, people are unusually nice to one another.

Among the restaurants, there are some interesting Asian choices, such as Bibigo (Korean), Dot Saigon (Vietnamese), 101 Noodle Express (pan-Asian), and Panda Express (Gringo Chinese). If I wanted to go more upscale, there is an Oliver Garden and a Wokcano at the ground level.

Next week, the temperature is supposed to be particularly heinous (with temps going up as high as 108° F in the interior, probably higher given the unusual Southern California conservatism in predicting high heat).

 

The Allergy Sufferer

Yup, That’s Me, All Right!

I was first made conscious of it in high school. I sneezed a lot, and my scalp was full of flakes. My doctor concluded that I had allergies. Consequently, I was sent to an allergist around Cleveland’s University Circle. He produced a rectangular network of scratches on my arm, each one representing a known allergen. The upshot: I was allergic to cats (that one I already knew), tomatoes, and oats. I did not believe in those last two.

Nevertheless, I was in the doctor’s office every Saturday morning for the next year or so getting a shot to fight my allergies. The results were imperceptible: Every time we visited my uncle’s house, my eyes watered, I sneezed, and my face was essentially an ugly red splotch. My parents rightly decided that this therapy was taking me nowhere.

Then, when I came to Los Angeles, I discovered I had asthma. I suspect that was the result of sleeping on the floor with all the dust mites and other nasty biota. I had a bed, but I liked the idea of sleeping on a firm surface. I still do, but I sleep in bed on an extra-firm mattress instead.

This spring has been a bad time for my allergies. It started with two months of blepharitis, an annoying allergy to the dandruff in my eyelashes?! Then there was the inevitable nose-blowing and lava-flows of thin mucus. My super-power in this time of year? I become Mucus Man. I slime all evil-doers.

To top it all off, I occasionally get a light spell of asthmatic wheezing. Yuck!

 

Fish in My Life

Icelandic Cod, One of My Favorites

Here I am, talking about food again. Today for lunch, Martine and I went to Captain Kidd’s Seafood Restaurant in Redondo Beach for a delicious fish feast. Martine had sautéed Alaskan cod while I had fish tacos.

When I was young, I wouldn’t eat any seafood. Don’t forget: I was raised near Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, which was badly polluted until recently. When I saw fish in their natural element, they were mostly floating in a state of advanced decay on the surface of the lake. The only other place I saw them was at church fish fries. I occasionally attended, under duress, but did not like the fish: I merely nibbled on the French Fries. (That was before I discovered what malt vinegar does to improve fried fish and potatoes.) We never had fish at home.

It was not until I came to California that I began to eat fish. I ascribe this to (1) being distantly removed from family pressures and (2) the influence of my co-workers when I began working in the computer software industry. And from eating cooked fish, it was only a small stutter-step to eating sushi. My sushi-eating reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was most fashionable in Southern California. Now I find it too expensive, and I find that really good places with trained Japanese sushi chefs are now few and far between.

I even eat shellfish from time to time, but I find I have a curious allergy to shrimp and lobster caught in warm waters. The symptoms are like a sudden onset of strep throat pain lasting for up to two hours. When I go to cold-water places like Canada and Iceland, I have no trouble with either; and I positively love good lobster.

This past week, I’ve had fresh fish three times. Twice it was in the form of spicy fish fillet in black bean sauce at local Chinese restaurants. The Hong Kong Barbecue on Broadway in Chinatown makes a particularly tasty version.

 

A Day at Universal Studios

Mohan Gopalakrishnan and Son Aravind by the Hogwarts Express Locomotive

The last two days I have been busy with an old friend visiting Los Angeles from India. I used to work at Urban Decision Systems with Mohan Gopalakrishnan, a brilliant young programmer who went on to work for a number of computing companies in the United States and India. He was accompanied by his 14-year-old son Aravind.

Today, I drove them to Universal Studios in the San Fernando Valley. We did all the usual tourist things: In addition to the Studio Tour, we saw the Special Effects Show and took a wild Jurassic Park Boat Ride. I was surprised that, at this date in June, there were so many thousands of tourists in attendance. Still, it was worth it. We had a lot of fun and managed to catch up on old times.

Mohan repeated his invitation to visit him in Chennai, where he lives, but I have already written a post about my hesitation to visit India. Who knows? Perhaps I might might take him up on his invite at some point, but I would first have to overcome my fears.

 

Two Old Friends

French Film Critic André Bazin

On Sunday, I was driving to San Pedro to see a friend; and I stopped at Michael R. Weinstein’s Collectible Books at Alpine Village. Sitting in the film section was a two-volume set of film criticism by André Bazin, the founder of Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951. I had owned hardbound copies of the set when I was a graduate student in the film department at UCLA. In fact, the two volumes of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? (What Is Cinema?) had been translated into English by my favorite professor in the department, Hugh Gray.

Without any particular knowledge of the United States, Bazin was a marvelously intuitive critic who understood American film genres such as the Western almost as well as he did the French theatrical antecedents of his own country’s cinema. Re-reading his essays “The Western: Or the American Film Par Excellence” and “The Evolution of the Western,” I was taken back to my days as a film freak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was a devotee of Cahiers du Cinéma and of the politique des auteurs it espoused. And from there came my knowledge of and love for the American film, by way of France.

My classes with Hugh Gray were among the best I took at UCLA. The film department at UCLA had on its faculty both angels and demons, and Hugh was numbered among the angels.

Hugh Gray as a Technical Specialist for Ancient Greek and Roman Film Subjects

Hugh had been an ordained Dominican priest earlier in life, but then left the order and got married. In Hollywood, he was the go-to man for films set in ancient Greece or Rome because of his wide knowledge of the subject. That wide knowledge, combined with his friendliness to his students, made him a superb professor.

I plan to re-read the Bazin essays in the months to come, thinking of the good times I had studying film at UCLA.

Fading Away

Little Girls in Greek Dance Costumes (2011)

In the time that Martine and I have been going to Greek church festivals in Los Angeles, we’ve noticed several trends:

  • The food is getting less authentic. Today, Martine ordered a spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie) that did not contain any cheese.
  • It seems that fewer of the parishioners speak Greek. Is it that the older generation is passing on?
  • The priests are less involved personally with the festivals, particularly in offering church tours to visitors.

This is less true of Saint Sophia Cathedral in downtown L.A. which draws crowds from a much larger area, and which is across the street from Papa Cristo’s, the most authentic Greek restaurant in town.

The same is true of the Hungarian festivals. At first, I felt abashed by my poor command of the Magyar language. Now my Hungarian seems to have gotten better, or again, are the old immigrants dying off and making my poor language skills look better by comparison?

I suppose this is a natural process. Many of the places we visit may not even be around in a few years. For instance, there do not seem to be any Hungarian restaurants left in our nation’s second largest city. Back when I first moved to L.A., there were a number of choices, especially the much lamented Hortobagy.

If you want a more authentic ethnic experience in Los Angeles, you have to look to Latin America and Asia. There is a bustling Thai and Korean scene; and numerous options involving Mexican, Central and South American culture. There are numerous places offering Oaxacan food. Culver City has an Indian restaurant offering the cuisine of Southern India’s State of Kerala.

As to the girls in the above photograph, I could have sworn that they were in a group of teenage girls who passed us on the way to our parked car. They were busy calling each other “chicken butt.”

 

The Seven Cities of Cibola

Some Kids Preferred Superheroes … But Not Me

When I look back at what I loved most as a kid, I would have to say that superheroes never made the list. Yes, yes, I know that a complete run of Marvel Comics from the 1950s would have made me wealthy. But not nearly as wealthy as my real hero—Scrooge McDuck. The reclusive millionaire of Duckburg was my Numero Uno comic book hero. Teamed up with his nephew Donald, and Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, they had great comic book adventures.

You could talk about great comic book artists, but I would have to name Carl Barks (1901-2000), inventor of Uncle Scrooge. I still remember with great fondness two of his feature comic stories, “The Seven Cities of Cibola“ and “The Land Beneath the Ground.”

From “The Land Beneath the Ground”

The first is about finding El Dorado, the legendary city of gold which drew the Spanish conquistadores into the American Southwest, only to return with nothing but cactus spines. In Barks’s comic, the gang finds the city—but alas it’s all booby-trapped and they end up doing no better than Coronado.

The other one presents an alternative theory of earthquakes. Deep in the earth, there are two species known as “terries” and “fermies,” whose activities underground lead to earth tremors. When Uncle Scrooge finds that his money could disappear into a hole in the ground, he gets serious about investigating this phenomenon.