A Long Flight to … Where?

This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.

The Coronavirus Quarantine Is Sort of Like Jet Lag

I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.

So what do I do?

  • First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
  • Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
  • When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.

When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.

So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.

A Nook of My Library Circa 2002

I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.

So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)

I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.

There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:

“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”

Trading Bubble Gum Cards

Canter’s Deli on Fairfax

When the restaurants in L.A. started to open, Martine and I decided to go for our first restaurant meal in three months to Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. So on Saturday we actually found space in the deli’s postage-stamp-sized parking lot and wandered in wearing our required face masks. I ordered half of a pastrami sandwich on rye on a cup of bean and barley soup with iced tea. Martine had knockwurst and beans. We shared a plate of kosher dill pickles.

Okay, so it wasn’t a romantic choice; but my patronage of the deli goes back more than half a century. When I went to see movies with my film freak friends, we usually stopped for a late night feed at Canter’s, which at the time professed to be open all night but usually wasn’t. Over a corned beef sandwich or a plate of kasha varnishkes, we argued about which movies were super great and which were shit. These conversations were sometimes heated, as film freaks can be counted on to be opinionated. I referred to these sessions as “trading bubble gum cards,” as they were pretty juvenile.

Two of the friends I went to Canter’s with—who curiously were the most dogmatic in their positions—are no longer with us. Norman Witty died in 2013, and Lee Sanders in 2015. In a way, I miss those days when our opinions meant so much to us. Now, even when discussing even the greatest films, I am more inclined to shrug differences off. (Maybe that’s why I’m still alive.)

Martine and I enjoyed our meal. I know we were putting ourselves at risk, but we were impatient to return to normality even for a short time. As the coronavirus threat dies down, we will return more frequently; but however good Canter’s is, it’s not worth sacrificing our life for their food.

 

The Social Distancing Film Festival

It’s Not the Big Screen, But It’s Still Good

First, my apologies for hijacking a photo from the University of California at Santa Barbara website. Secondly, I didn’t do several years of graduate study in film history and criticism without it having a lasting influence on me.

While Martine has been taking long walks to no particular destination (the destinations are all closed, anyway) and noting the takeover of the streets of L.A. by bums, I have been reading and watching a ton of movies. In twenty-six days this month, I have watched twenty-five movies:

04/03/20 Boorman, John Emerald Forest, The 1985
04/04/20 Menzies, William Cameron * Address Unknown 1944
04/05/20 Resnais, Alain Hiroshima Mon Amour 1959
04/06/20 Kurosawa, Akira * Rashomon 1950
04/07/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey 2012
04/08/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: The Desolation of Smaug 2013
04/10/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: The battle of the Five Armies 2014
04/11/20 Forster, Marc * Quantum of Solace 2008
04/11/20 Lang, Fritz * Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 1954
04/12/20 Wise, Robert * Set-Up, The 1949
04/14/20 Hertz, Nathan Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958
04/15/20 Dean, Alexandra Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story 2017
04/16/20 Totten, Robert Sacketts, The: Episode 1 [Made for TV] 1979
04/17/20 Totten, Robert Sacketts, The: Episode 2 [Made for TV] 1979
04/19/20 Siodmak, Robert * Phantom Lady 1944
04/20/20 Park, Chan-wook I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK 2006
04/21/20 Robson, Mark/Val Lewton * Isle of the Dead 1945
04/21/20 Misumi, Kenji * Sword of Vengeance 1972
04/22/20 Misumi, Kenji Baby Cart at the River Styx 1972
04/23/20 Tarantino, Quentin * Jackie Brown 1997
04/24/20 Parajanov, Sergei * Color of Pomegranates, The [Sayat Nova] 1969
04/24/20 Parajanov, Sergei Hagop Hovnatanian 1967
04/25/20 Rouse, Russell * Wicked Woman 1954
04/26/20 Keaton, Buster * Sherlock Jr 1924
04/27/20 Rapper, Irving * Now Voyager 1942

More than half of them, I really liked. Those are noted with an asterisk just before the title of the film. Predictably, most were either American film noir productions or Japanese jidai-geki (samurai films). A few were outright dogs.

As long as the quarantine/social-distancing rules remain in place, I will probably continue to see at least one film per day. Some of them are on DVD from Netflix; some from Turner Classic Movies (TCM); others from Spectrum Cable’s On Demand service.

 

Plague Diary 5: Social Distancing

The Intersection of the 101 and 110 Freeways in Downtown L.A.

The above picture from the Los Angeles Times says it all: Even at 4 am, it is not otherwise so uncrowded. Of course, I haven’t been using the freeways lately, as there is quite literally nowhere to go. No restaurants, no parks, no museums—and no sun either. Ever since the “Stay in Place” order went out, Southern California has been assailed by an untypical chain of rainy weather for this time of year, what we call the Pineapple Express.

My main forays from my apartment have been unsatisfying trips to food markets to pick over the bare bones of what the hoarders have left in their wake. And just to make things worse, I popped another crown on Saturday and have to make an appointment with my dentist to see whether it could be glued back in. Now I have partly or wholly missing teeth on both sets of my uppers. The wholly missing one will, with luck, be replaced by an implant … sometime in July.

Right now, the rain is falling steadily; and Martine is coming down with a sore throat. For now, I am watching old movies (Robert Aldrich’s 4 for Texas and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, neither of which I particularly liked) and reading books by authors with home I am unfamiliar (currently R. A. Lafferty). Also I am doing all the cooking. I have managed to scrounge up the ingredients to make a potato and cauliflower curry that should last us for a while.

It was nice talking to my brother this morning. I should call up more of my old friends. The problem is that I get too busy with cooking, reading, and TV film viewing to take the time out.

 

The Alabama Hills Trifecta

Seemingly Endless Piles of Rounded Rocks

Just west of the town of Lone Pine are a strange set of foothills comprised of picturesque rounded rocks piled up for hundreds of feet or more, behind which are the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, including Mount Whitney. Among these rounded rocks were shot hundreds of Westerns, not to mention horror films, sci-fi, and you-name-it. Following is a ridiculously partial list:

  • 3 Godfathers (1948), with John Wayne and directed by John Ford
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956), with David Niven
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), with Spencer Tracy
  • Chaplin (1992), with Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Django Unchained (2012), directed by Quentin Tarantino
  • Gladiator (2000), with Russell Crowe
  • Gunga Din (1939), with Cary Grant
  • High Sierra (1941), with Humphrey Bogart
  • Lost Horizon (1937), with Ronald Colman
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), with Henry Fonda
  • Ride Lonesome (1959), with Randolph Scott
  • Riders of the Purple Sage (1925), with Tom Mix
  • Zabriskie Point (1970), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

And the list goes on and on, including whole series of Westerns with the Lone Ranger, Jack Hoxie, Hopalog Cassidy, Randolph Scott, Tim Holt, Ken Maynard and others too numerous to mention. Not for nothing is there a Lone Pine Western Film History in town. In fact, the perfect visit to Lone Pine should include a visit to the museum (allow two to three hours) and a morning visit to the Alabama Hills, where so many films were shot.

The Alabama Hills Cafe on Post Street in Lone Pine

Actually, why not make a Trifecta out of your visit? Eat breakfast or lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery for absolutely delicious food lovingly prepared. On our trip last week, Martine and I ate there for three meals: one breakfast and two lunches. The restaurant is closed for dinner, and you may have to wait for a table. (If necessary, do so: It’ll be worth your while.)

 

It’s a Crime!

LA’s Men in Blue

LA’s Men in Blue

Let’s face it: Los Angeles is known around the world for two things. One is Hollywood, though we’re by no means a major film production center any more. And the other is crime. Not, mind you, because we are a particularly dangerous place; but the books and movies have painted Southern California as a place where bad things can happen.

I guess it all started with Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and Dashiell Hammett, whose novels painted this sunbright place as a pit of darkness. That was quickly echoed in the films, especially with the film noir classics such as The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Blue Gardenia, and The Big Heat.

Even now, excellent crime novels are being written by the likes of James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh, and Michael Connelly. I am currently reading Connelly’s Trunk Music, a police procedural featuring his homicide detective hero Harry (short for Hieronymus) Bosch. A small-time Hollywood producer is found dead in the trunk of his Rolls Royce, and Bosch ranges from the Hollywood Hills to Park Center (“The Glass House,” LAPD headquarters) to the Las Vegas Strip to find the killer while fighting off his own enemies.

 

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: UCLA

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter  “U” is a major surprise to me.

I came out to California at the tail end of December 1966 to attend graduate school at UCLA. My original intention was to become a Professor of Film History and Criticism. Well, I didn’t. Instead I ran into dirty politics as personified by one Professor Howard Suber who waged a kind of dirty war on those of his students who loved film. Out of an inborn cussedness, he made it difficult to sign up for classes; and he appointed himself chairman of my thesis committee over my personal choice of the late Bob Epstein. I knew at once that my chances of a Masters degree based on a study of the Westerns of John Ford was a goner.

It was around this time that Governor Ronald Reagan began making deep cuts in the budget of California’s universities. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I made a sidestep into computer programming at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, which led, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, into my present profession in accounting.

My quandary was that I loved film, but was not willing to immolate myself for he sake of principle. I kept my hand in film, writing articles and chapters of books even after I was out of the program. I even wrote a humorous article for the UCLA Daily Bruin entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Filmfreak: Or, Slow Death 24 Times a Second.”

My apartment is a scant three miles from the UCLA campus, which I still visit from time to time for various cultural events. It’s always interesting to look back at the decisions that led me to where I am today.

Do I have any regrets? Not really.