Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thunderbirds Are Go at the Royal Festival Hall

I loved the Gerry Anderson TV shows when I was a kid (especially Fireball XL-5), so when I saw there was a SuperMarionation concert at the Royal Festival Hall, I didn't hestitate to book a ticket. I knew it would be lively and fun, and it was. Anyone who's familiar with the music knows what I mean -- those puppets could dance. It was the centenary of the birth of Anderson's composer Barry Gray, as good an excuse as any. I was surprised at the length of the concert -- all the major shows and films were highlighted, performed by the very large Philharmonia Orchestra plus vocal group Voces8, who did a particularly fine job with a rather complex Bach-like fugue, and Pascale Rousee-Lacordaire, playing the ondes Martenot (an electronic instrument similar to a Theramin). Hosting was Brian Blessed, energetic and jolly, with special guest Gerry Anderson himself (who got the singularly British 'three cheers -- hip hip hooray' from the audience, the first I'd ever heard outside of a movie). Above, the spaceship from Journey to the Far Side of the Sun arrives. The Royal Festival Hall was opened in 1951 and has a handsome, pleasant and vast auditorium. The fireworks in the background are the from the annual Lord Mayor Show.

Composer Barry Gray (1908-1984)
A short stroll west along the Southbank from the Festival Hall is the London Eye and this stunning view across the Thames.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Lost Archives

Recently my brother Todd found three rolls of undeveloped Brownie film in our mother's desk and sent them off to a specialty developer. I did what I could to fix the flaws, spots and clearing in PhotoShop. The dates range from 1963 through 1966 at our house at 7910 Conifer Drive in Pleasure Ridge Park, Kentucky. Above, Halloween 1964, wearing a Collegeville 'beatnik' costume bought at G.C. Murphy's at Dixie Manor. The trick or treat bag is clearly a reuse from the previous year. It rained. Below, a picture of an RCA black and white console TV just like ours that turned up on ebay. Ours blew its picture tube (in a black puff of smoke) during a football game after only about six years of continual use. My father was so startled, he fell backwards off a stool. I laughed. He didn't.
My brother Todd and I in front of our 1957 Rambler. We were so dressed up it might have been Easter, or perhaps we were on the way to one of my dreaded accordion concerts.
Yes, I played the accordion.
A snow day was almost as joyful as Christmas vacation.
The strange shape in the foreground is our standard poodle, Chloe. The trees in the background are now massive, but the houses look pretty much the same.
Brother Kurt came along in 1965.
Todd and gentle Chloe.
Todd in the foreground, me in the background in apparent euphoria.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Westfield London Mall

The new London is wealthy, very wealthy, and its first big centrally located mall makes the big old malls in Los Angeles look like run down K-Marts. I gaped at the daring organic forms, the soaring spaces, the impossibly large glass curvilinear corridors. I was impressed by the upscale food courts (no Hot Dog on a Stick here, I'll have you know), and highly entertained by the live music (overamplified classical and an excellent R & B choral group) and a brief but lively fashion show. I had only come to check out the architecture and really wasn't in the mood to buy anything. Nevertheless I found myself being drawn into shops. Well, just to have a look, you know the feeling, so long as I was there. I don't know if it's because the place just opened yesterday, but the clerks were actually attentive. You can die waiting for someone to help you on Oxford Street, even in the most expensive shops. So right there is a feather in Westfield London's cap. I found a shirt in Boss I quite liked, but decided 110 pounds was a little out of bounds. Despite the gains the dollar has made lately, $170 was still more than I was willing to pay for a really rather ordinary knit shirt. In the end, the crowds started to get to me, so I headed for the exit before I convinced myself $170 wasn't really so bad after all. Outdoors it was cold, wet and dark, and it suddenly occured to me why malls became so popular in America. Umbrellas were being turned inside out, traffic was snarled for miles and the tube stop was jammed. Oh yes, I'll definitely go back.

Above, one of the many touch screen store finders.
A runaway dog from Whoville in the Next Department Store. Who says shopping is not for real men? That's a living model in the window of a lingerie store.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

No, this was the Maverick

Every time I hear John McCain and now Sarah Palin declare themselves mavericks, I have to laugh, because all I can think of is this, the Ford Maverick, a rather cheap but phenomenonally popular car in its day (1969-1977). They were everywhere when I was in high school and college. Every dorm parking lot had dozens of them. Many hundreds of thousands were produced, but they're extremely rare today. That might tell you something about the workmanship. Or maybe they were so cheap ($1,995 list!) they might have seemed disposable, like the relatively new no deposit, no return soft drink bottles (how was that for a bad idea?). Buy one, run it into the ground, then throw it away and get something new. Of course the Maverick wasn't the only cheap piece of junk being made at the time. The Pinto, which tended to explode when rear ended, was its smaller nephew, Chevy had the Vega, prone to a melting aluminum block (when was the last time you saw one of those on the road?) and Chrysler had the highly lamentable Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. Rex Harrison shilled for the Aspen as Henry Higgins singing "It's unbelievable!" That was certainly true, at least in regards to how quickly they rusted. And what of American Motors, which had been producing reliable, economical compacts long before the Big Three? They offered the startlingly hideous Gremlin and the weird Pacer.
Speaking of old paint, get a load of these what-were-they-smoking color choices: Anti-Establishment Mint, Hula Blue, Original Cinnamon, Freudian Gilt, Thanks Vermillion, Black Jade, Champagne Gold, Gulfstream Aqua, Meadowlark Yellow, Brittany Blue, Lime Gold, Dresden Blue, Raven Black, Wimbledon White, and Candyapple Red. And Ford had trouble coming up with names for the Edsel? What the hell color is Freudian Gilt? And all those hippies in a market for a new car (and not a third hand VW bus) would have surely selected anti-establishment mint. (I think we can assume that would not have been maverick McCain's color choice.)

Santorini, Part 3 The Volcano and Thirasia

The volcano, called the island of Neo Kameni, is in the center of the giant caldera and takes about a half hour by boat. The island is uninhabited and almost completely without vegetation. Here and there I saw a struggling weed.

A view from the top of the volcano, looking south towards the smaller island of Palaia Kameni and the tiny Aspro Nisi. If you look closely you can see the in the center a small gathering of boats. This is where we'd go next -- a hot springs (see below). The volcano is growing a little every year in several thousand years will fill in the caldera, making Santorini a round island once more.

After a few hours in the heat, we went to a hot springs along the shore. About half the passengers elected to jump off and swim to it. I was tempted but passed. Apparently it's not terribly deep, but it's required that you be a strong swimmer, which I'm not. Someone panicked and had to be thrown a life preserver.
We then went on to the little island on the west side of the caldera, Thirasia. One could elect to lunch at the several simple cafes along the shore, swim or sunbathe on the pebbly beach,
walk up the stairs to the town at the top of the cliff or if you'd prefer,
ride a donkey up instead.
A few days later I went back to Athens for one day, the low point of the trip. The hotel Royal Olympic desk clerk seemed to think providing hot water was an optional service to their guests. London was as I had left it, cool, breezy and showery, but after nine broiling days, I had a newfound appreciation for it. As the days get shorter and colder, however, I'll soon change my mind.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Santorini, Greece Part 2 Vlychada cliffs

I wondered, had Gaudi visited Santorini? It looks like he had a hand in designing these remarkable pumice cliffs. The beach itself is coarse, black, volcanic sand.

A natural doorway, right at beach level.