Category Archives: Ephemera

live through this (Halloween 2012)

After the storm of the century, are you really in the mood for a postapocalyptic zombie movie on Halloween?

I know I’m not. Gates are locked, porch lights are dimmed, and on the Netflix queue tonight we’ll be watching (and it streams):

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
(photo from 3guys1movie)

Just my speed. And from what I’ve seen of the first ten minutes or so, it holds up surprisingly well. I can’t believe Marty’s never seen it before.
With Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney as the Wolfman, what’s not to like? Just keep in mind that Abbott & Costello started out as radio comedians, so the movie is all about showcasing their banter and doesn’t strain itself when it comes to the plot. I always preferred these two to, say, the Three Stooges. Of course, the Marx Brothers trump all movie comedians.

And bicycling around Long Beach today, I actually found some Halloween decor to admire:



Kinda reminds me of the couple from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, another possible movie candidate for tonight.

Lastly, and scariest of all, from the Paris Review, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” in Pictures, by Daniel Horowitz:

TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”


Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work!”


Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.”


Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!–this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!”

Yikes! I’ll just be nipping out to make sure those gates are locked again…
Happy Halloween

flowers for tori

A single nerine stem of congratulations for being the first woman artist whose new album simultaneously listed in the Top 10 of Billboard’s alternative, classical, and rock categories. A listen to the new Night of Hunters can be found at that link.


Because I find Tori Amos one of those nourishing artists, along with Bjork, PJ Harvey, who on first listen you wonder, Where does this come from, these sounds and words? Always the start of a great relationship between artist and audience. In Tori’s case, for me many of the words never do become very clear, but just enough syllables (and especially long e’s) gleam through to create incantatory songscapes.

Liquid Diamonds is one of my favorites from 1998’s From The Choirgirl Hotel. (I drove my then 15-year-old son and a girlfriend and dropped them off to see Tori at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, part of her tour for this record in 1998. It was his first “date.”)

winter whites

I know it’s only mid-October, but I’m already dreaming of winter whites.
Evie sports her winter coat year-round and so is always exquisitely attired.


And frosty astelia gets the juices flowing for more winter whites. But the winter whites I’m referring to are not fetched from a wobbly wardrobe kept in the attic, which would be violative of the ancient “no whites after Labor Day” rule I’ve read about, nor does it refer to any specific weather condition. It’s more a state of mind here in Southern California. What the concept of winter whites really means is there will be more roasted vegetables for dinner. More books will be read. Skin will feel chilled again and have to be covered in something warm and plush. Long walks can be had without breaking a sweat. Soup! To-do lists freshened up and reprioritized. Tulip bulbs potted up in December. Really hot baths again. The muffled sounds of foggy mornings. (Soup!) Imaginary gardens built and torn apart. Seeds to be sown. Becoming reacquainted with the delicious sights and sounds of rain.

And almost as significant, Downton Abbey returning in January.


In every home winter whites arrive in the most amazing packages.

The View From The Kitchen Window

The New York Times has an ongoing series entitled “Windows on the World, a series in which writers from around the world describe the view from their windows.”

They haven’t asked anonymous gardeners to contribute, just famous writers, but I’m playing along anyway.

This photo approximates what I see when I stumble into the kitchen before coffee is made and the cats are fed. A rainy blur of tree trunks, coprosma, solanum, and sotol was my first glimpse of the world most of this past December.


The framing device of a window is a wondrous thing. The tumultuous world is fixed in manageable planes and angles, with enough variety of incident to keep it interesting. (As when a never-before-seen bird darts into the familiar frame.) Here is where the subjective cozily encounters the objective. Windows, the “eyes” of a home, sculpt, shape, and order the impersonal world outside. But the view onto a garden is different from a view onto open land or the open sea. A garden is its own metaphorical window on the world. Because I suppose, in a sense, gardens too are a selective frame superimposed on the natural world. (Which is possibly why, as an obsessed gardener, I’ve never desired an ocean view.)

For our house is our corner of the world…It is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Although I don’t specifically plant the garden for views from inside the house, the windows over the kitchen sink look out on a good bit of the back garden. No curtains on the windows either; the back garden is completely private. The view through the kitchen window lures me out of bed every morning. (Never the front windows facing the street.) It’s always interesting to see what shapes and colors wash up against the glass depending on the season. The tops of the palms and cypresses rising up from the street behind the garden are old friends. Disappearing old friends. Three palms were visible when we moved in, now just one remains.

Paintings can fix an emotional response in time; the views out windows, like the vanishing palms, like the garden itself, grow old and change with us. Is there a painter who’s painted more views out windows than Matisse? And is it the gardener in me that wholly responds to, and is slightly envious of, such timeless framing devices?


Interior With a Goldfish Bowl 1914


The Window 1916

Happy New Year

The buses run free of charge tonight, there’s street music and food downtown, so we’re going to bundle up, step out, and see what the city has to offer this New Year’s Eve.

Reflecting on my first year in “narcissistic journalism” leaves me uncharacteristically mute.
All I can say is, these are truly interesting times. In spades.


And looking at beautiful things like grevillea helps. A lot.


Grevillea ‘Superb’ and I wish you all a warm, safe, superb New Year’s Eve. I’d wish us all happiness in 2011, but I tend to agree with Fran Lebowitz, that happiness is a sensation, not a condition that can be attained and then sustained indefinitely. That sounds plain exhausting.

Oh, for gosh sakes, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(P.S. MB Maher is looking for winter-luscious gardens in Orange and San Diego Counties to photograph, so drop AGO an email or comment if you have any suggestions.)

Memories of Rain

I didn’t get around to re-watching Blade Runner for the zillionth time the other night, that gorgeous cinematic meditation on memory.
(“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”)


But these record-breaking rainstorms are doing a fine job of churning up childhood memories of past winter storms.


Fountain from the Children’s Garden at the Huntington Botanical Garden

Memories of the seasonal winter rains of the Los Angeles of my childhood always depict them as biblical in scope. If memory is to be trusted, winter meant a perpetual rainy day schedule at school, which included both the agony of being deprived of playground time (no dodgeball!) and also the sweet relief of an early pickup by mom, maybe as much as a half hour. In other words, an eternity. One year after torrential winter rains, we were treated to the rare and wondrous spectacle of toads spawning in the shrubbery then hopping to freedom down suburban driveways. In spring, forts were built in the lush, tall grass of the empty field located at the end of the street, a negative space that absorbed any activity a childish imagination could conceive, in addition to efficiently absorbing runoff from winter storms. Commerce abhors such vacuums, and that open field, the protean kingdom of every kid in every house in that GI-Bill-mortgaged neighborhood, long ago disappeared under condominium developments.


Aloe distans weathering the storm

Or such was my imperfect remembrance of rainy winters past. Keith Richards may remember everything, but I emphatically do not, and I know enough to be wary of my tendency to embellish. The soft clay of a child’s imagination makes for strong, indelible impressions that searingly imprint emotional truths which can sometimes lack strict historical accuracy. As I suspected, the statistics tell a slightly different story. There were a couple years of relatively heavy rain, 25 inches or more, when I was between the ages of 8 and 12, no doubt when I formed my vivid and lasting impression of Los Angeles’ Mighty Winter Rain, but the statistics also show there were plenty of low rainfall years interspersed too.

Rainfall in Los Angeles County, in inches per annum, shows the wide variability that factors into the county average of approximately 15 inches a year. To shorten it up, I’ve started at 1960, but the link goes back to 1878. Bear in mind, Los Angeles rainfall typically comes in short, dramatic, gully-washing bursts, not light drizzle over extended periods of time.


Another Seattle Export?

The usual state of affairs, I’m told, is Southern Californian hordes invading the Pacific Northwest, or at least such was the case before the great real estate unraveling after 2008. This past week proves that Los Angeles can stay home and still embrace the misty charms of the PNW. Having become accustomed to the ubiquity of their home-grown coffee chain, we’re now getting a taste of Seattle-style weather.

Rain, rain, and more rain. Record rain. Rain interrupted by drizzle and topped with a soupçon of fog. Epic 10-year-tropical-storm rain. A-quarter-of-our-annual-rainfall rain. Rain that brings down the canyon mud that closes Pacific Coast Highway at Malibu. Rain that overflows storm drains and brings the accumulated city filth to the Pacific Ocean (and mystery rashes to surfers who venture out in winter storms). Rains that transform freeways into asphalt Slip ‘n Slides. Last night I had the relatively rare experience of watching a movie (I Am Love) in which the delicious sounds of rain were drumming on screen while those same delicious sounds echoed against our window panes.

All of which means there’ll be more wet plant photos this week taken during lulls between the storms.

Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta.’ This agave relative can handle the increased moisture.


Senecio anteuphorbium turgid with rain.


Winter-red stems of Senecio medley-woodii.


Mystery cotyledon from flea market that resembles “Cotyledon orbiculata cylindrical lime green leaf” (found at Lifestyle Seeds website)


Big storm predicted for tonight. Perfect night for baking cookies and re-viewing Blade Runner, which does great movie rain.