Monday, August 30, 2004

Saturday night I went to see my friend Adam's band (Secret Apollo) play at Joe n' Andy's Hole in the Wall in La Mesa. Great show in an interesting dive bar. Painted murals and photo collages of regulars covered the walls. The stage was slightly larger than a pie tin -- but not by much. Adam's band played first. The lead singer of the second band placed a cloth over the microphone. I asked Adam why the guy did that, thinking it created subtle voice effects or prevented cooties. Adam replied, "For insulation. The grounding isn't very good in this place. Everytime you touch the microphone you get electrocuted."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

For an artist, there's nothing like painting from life. With that being said, I packed up my oil supplies, threw them in the trunk of the car, and drove down to Mission Bay hoping to capture a scene. I got down there and found it incredibly windy. With the easel folded out and large canvas secured, it resembles a windsail. Not good. I opted for another location. Ah, I'll go to one of my favorite places in the city, Balboa Park, I decided. I drifted south on the highway, rounded the corner onto Park, and saw three mounted policemen stationed on the bluff. Upon approaching the entrance, I discovered that there was a huge protest taking place. With my plans being thwarted a second time, one due to nature and the second political, I returned home, my canvas blank.
There are two art forms that the general public frequently resents: abstract painting and poetry. I think it’s because artists and writers receive acclaim and fame for doing something that appears relatively vague and easy to do.

Out of curiosity, I tried my hand at abstract painting, and thus produced, Abstract Number 1.

A close up taken at an angle....

The challenges in creating an abstract painting arise from the number of variables. They include color, style, texture, spontaneity, and arrangement, among others. It was both fun and frustrating playing with all. Unfortunately I can't get a good photo reproduction of the painting and its texture.
I have one general rule when flying that I expect all other passengers to follow. I shouldn’t know that they exist.

Like Spiderman and Haley Joel Osment, I too have a sixth sense. By witnessing a person’s smallest perceptible behavior – a poker player would call it a tell – I can immediately discern whether he or she will be a pain in the ass. In my head, I catalog these tells. Included in this list are people who make substitutions at restaurants and those that require more than three qualifiers to describe their coffee order. After my flight to France, I have added two more: women who take small dogs with them as they would a cell phone, and hippy parents accompanied by their kids.

If you choose to bring your tiny yap-yap dog on the plane, I shouldn’t hear it yap-yapping. I’ll tolerate a couple of minutes for you to get settled, but I would consider two hours of yap-yapping on an international flight to be excessive, and by all means violates my general rule of “not existing.” Out of the four legs of my trip, two of them contained yapping dogs.

I saw her carry the dog down the aisle and instantly knew what to expect the rest of the flight. She would be a pain in the ass. It didn’t necessarily involve the incessant barking of the dog either. During the entire flight she had the flight attendant scurrying around the cabin to bring her various items.

I’ve transported kids on planes. I know how difficult it can be, but parents must show a little decency. The entire plane is not a playground. The hippy parent sitting across the aisle from me, attired in tie-dye, governed her child with a free spirit laissez-faire style. She let him run continuously in the aisles, scream, jump, swing around seats, and disrupt other passengers within a couple aisle radius.

If it wasn’t for turbulence, I would have had a vasectomy on the plane.

I have a couple of solutions for parents traveling with kids you are unable or unwilling to control. The first is to add a little KahlĂșa to their milk. Not only will it make them sleep during their flight, but it will also build their tolerance to alcohol so that they can more easily become raging alcoholics once they reach college (if they aren’t incarcerated before then). The other method of subduing your child on long flights? Tranquilizer gun.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

When it comes to painting and writing, there is one environmental element I cherish most: a great album. But it can't be any great album, it must meet specific criteria. First off, it must set a mood conducive to creative endeavors. Although I love Slayer, double-bass 178 beats per minute riffs are distracting, so mellow works best. It's imperative that the album sets an engaging tone, whether sentimental, longing, melancholic, reflective, hopeful, or somber. Another requirement is that every track must be good. When I'm elbow-deep in turpentine and yellow ochre, paintbrush swinging wildly, I can't afford to venture over to the CD player to forward ahead tracks.

Here are the all-stars in my current rotation:

  • Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
  • David Gray - White Ladder
  • Leona Naess - Comatised
  • Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See
  • Mazzy Star - Among My Swan
  • Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  • Spain - She Haunts My Dreams
  • Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow
  • Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs

In the past few weeks, I've added two new ones that haven't left the CD player:

  • Beck - Sea Change
  • Garden State soundtrack

I was never a fan of Beck's previous work, so it surprised me how much I like Sea Change. It's a wonderfully intimate album. The Garden State soundtrack elicits a strong association as I reflect back on scenes from the movie and their tone.

Any recommendations?

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Spent Saturday in Los Angeles. A city that absolutely fascinates me.

L.A. traffic is a visceral entity. It becomes a part of your life. If someone asks you if you have a family you could realistically say, "Yeah. I have a wife, three kids, and traffic." It's like having a girfriend. You schedule your life around it. It has a personality that you work diligently to try and understand, but despite all your efforts, it still maintains its sometimes random and mysterious nature. A girl can't reveal all her secrets. In my case, the secret would be that I wouldn't get past third gear driving from Anaheim to Hollywood.

In Studio City, I picked up my friend Shannon, and we headed to Pasadena. We ate lunch at a Spanish restaurant called Bar Celona (say it outloud) located along the downtown Colorado Boulevard strip, and I ate one of my fave foods, seafood paella. Following lunch we visited the Norton Simon Museum. The museum has an astounding collection, both exhaustive and diverse, spanning from the 14th to 20th centuries. Everything from Rembrandt to Van Gogh. One of the interesting aspects of the museum is that it has pieces from early moments in an artist's career, that reflect a different aspect of the artist. I have a love/hate relationship with Renoir. While I love his use of color and subject matter, I question his drawing skills and find fault with the way all of his female faces look identical and even unrealistic with their puffy and balloon shape. But then I see an early painting like The Pont des Arts, Paris, and it makes me rethink my stance. They had an extensive collection of works by Degas, Van Gogh, and Picasso. The placards describing each artwork were enlightening and informative. Especially intriguing was the one sitting beside Modigliani's painting, Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Jeanne Hebuterne. It described how the day after Modigliani's death, his wife was so despondant that she commited suicide. She was nine months pregnant.

In the evening, Shannon and I went to the ArcLight movie theater in Hollywood and bought tickets to see Garden State. The ArcLight theater is an enormous complex offering fancy service. Tickets cost $14, and the seating was reserved. Like attending a concert, you selected your actual seats (there isn't general admission). Before the movie starts, an usher announces the movie, running time, and the fact that there aren't any annoying commercials, just three movie previews. Also, if we encountered any problems with sound or picture, to alert them immediately.

Watching a movie in Hollywood is a unique experience. An alluring aspect of movies is its suspended reality. However, seeing a movie in Hollywood causes fiction and reality to coalesce. The audience contains many people familiar with the industry -- the most (ab)used word in all of L.A. -- and know about Oz hidden behind the curtain. They're familiar with the science behind the trick. The audience laughs in odd and delayed segments, like a high school band where a few people are ahead of the beat and a few people behind. They may have friends who worked on it, or the always popular friend of a friend. Also, the stars of the movie, projected thirty feet high, can potentially live a few blocks from where I sit in the darkened theater. At the end of the movie, the audience applauded. I haven't heard applause after a movie since my fifth grade teacher repremanded us for applauding, adding that it was a useless practice since none of the people responsible for the movie could hear us. In Hollywood, this isn't necessarily the case.

One of the previews was for Ben Affleck's upcoming movie, Surviving Christmas. If Ben's goal was to get people to stop talking about Gigli, it looks like he's succeeded. After the first thirty seconds, I scrounged for a sharp object and prayed it wasn't dull. A painful viewing experience.

I really enjoyed Garden State. I loved its pacing, tone, and intimacy, and found its quirkiness -- disliked by other critics -- to be a welcome asset. I'd rather have a personal yet flawed movie than a perfect and disingenuous one.

When we bought the movie tickets, we had an hour to kill before the movie started, so we walked next door to Amoeba Records. I've been to the original in Berkeley, and the L.A. one has its own unique charm. Based on a friend's recommendation, I bought the Garden State soundtrack, movie unseen, and was really glad I did. I left L.A. after the movie -- around 11pm. I asked Shannon if I should expect problems with traffic on the way back. She said there shouldn't be any. I left Studio City, put the soundtrack in my CD player, and discovered that my girlfriend named Traffic still held another tiny secret. Brake lights from Hollywood to downtown. After that, she blew me a kiss and I floated effortlessly down to San Diego.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I've done some figure painting the past week. It's been a while since I've picked up watercolors. It was fun sloshing them around. This is Michelle Leaning.

The painting below, Elizabeth, was done with oils, which are always a bit of an adventure.

I returned from my business trip to France last weekend. I had a great time. My hotel was located on the beach in St. Laurent du Var (a few miles west of Nice airport). A couple dozen restaurants and cafes lined the sea path below. I spent the evenings eating long dinners in the cafes, armed with my notebook and pen.

As I referenced in a previous post, I love the cafe culture in France. In America, eating at a restaurant is based largely on sustenance. We're hungry, and we need food so that we don't pass out. From the restaurant owner's perpspecitve, they want turnover. But in France, dining is a social endeavor, and an evening long event. A couple will go there together, talk the whole night, continuously engaged in the conversation. They look at each other, and don't stare off to continuously monitor every passing person that walks by. You start off with a drink and appetizers, move onto the entree, and follow that with coffee and dessert. All the while, taking your time. Never feeling hurried. Everything done casually. Enjoying each other's conversation. To an outsider, it may seem haphazard and wasteful, especially if you're used to everything being done in American staccato fashion. But I love the pace, and the respect people give each other at the table. It's genuine.

I worked late Monday through Thursday, so my evenings consisted mainly of descending down to the beach and lounging in restaurants. We had a half-day at work on Friday, so with the afternoon free, I took the train from the hotel to Nice proper (about seven miles east). I walked down to the beach and sat there for a while writing. It was abominably hot, between the temperature and the humidty -- a level I can't ever remember ever experiencing before -- and had I been dressed for it, I would have jumped into the Mediterranean Sea and stayed there for hours. And for those of you wondering, yes, I did sunbathe topless. Longing for shade, I crept back onto city streets and wandered through old haunts. I sat down under the awning at my favorite Nice cafe called Mori's Bar. On average, it may have the ugliest clientelle in all of Nice, but it has an undescribed charm that I gravitate to. Perhaps it's because I feel good looking when I'm there.

I returned to the beach and ascended up a staircase that wound up the side of Castle Hill, upon whose plateau offered one of the most beautiful views of any city I've ever seen.

Nearing dinner time I strolled the streets of Old Town and heard two acoustic guitarists playing familiar songs on an outdoor patio. I took a seat and enjoyed drinking beer on a beautiful evening while the guitarists played an ecclectic mix of English covers including Beatles' songs, Nora Jones' Don't Know Why, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Billie Jean, Stand By Me, and Wonderful Tonight.

I left Old Town to catch the train back to St. Laurent du Var, but I literally missed it by seconds. It departed as I approached within yards of it. With the next train not leaving for two hours, I found a nearby Chinese restaurant to grab dinner in while waiting. The food was horrible, but the ambience charming. I drank my favorite French beer, Kronenbourg 1664, and upon completing my dinner I caught the train and returned to the hotel.

On Saturday morning I caught the train to Villefranche-sur-Mer. Well, technically I caught three trains to Villefranche. I had assummed that my train from St. Laurent du Var would stop at my desired destination, but it happened to skip that one, so I had to take another that returned me to Nice's main station and the third train took me to Villefranche. The town is stunning and one that I had become enamored with when I visited France two years ago. The village is comprised of tightly woven buildings that cling to the mountainside. I passed through narrow alleys, paths, and staircases, to arrive at the Citadel, an amazing stone fort built in 1557. Two sections contained the ouvre of two local and deceased artists. The artwork was exceptional, but as there was no ventilation or air conditioning, the heat in the corridors was beyond intense and I couldn't linger for long. I saw one work on paper and thought that it was a watercolor since the paper was buckled. I looked closer and saw that it was pastel, but the weather conditions within the room caused the paper to bend as it would if water were placed on it. The sculpture and drawings in the Musee Volti were fantastic. Just wondering through the building made you feel like you were living in Medieval times.

After spending much time walking around the city I took the train back to Nice and went to its Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The building itself is a piece of artwork. It is composed of four five-story columns with connected glass corridors. The museum has a great collection of artwork, and I was impressed -- and surprised -- by its focus on modern American art. One of my favorite pieces was Damien Hirst's, Five Black Dots. It was painted directly onto the enormous wall, and resembled a Twister game with large equidistant dots of different colors. Upon first look, it appeared that there were more than five black dots. But closer inspection revealed that some of the dots that appeared black were actually dark brown, green, and blue. Perhaps a comment on race and the hazards of judging on first appearence? I found it engaging in its simplicity. The very top of the museum had an open air atrium with beautiful views of the city and an interesting way to interlock the functional columns. They were spanned by an arching path that resembled a bridge that one would find in a Japanese garden.

I retraced some of my earlier steps through Old Town, accompanied with a cup of gelatto. In the evening I took the train back to the hotel, and left Nice early Sunday morning. The flight had a barking dog and kids that continuously ran through the plane and swung off seats, so it wasn't a calming flight, but not too bad. I wrote, read, watched TV, slept, and did a drawing.

Friday, August 06, 2004


Writing from Nice, France. I'm done with the business part of the trip so the next day and a half are mine to spend in the French Riviera. It's been quite warm since my arrival, the humidity especially noticible, but there have been beautiful thunderstorms over the past few days that have made for beautiful scenes and eliminated both the humidity and marine layer. The work site is in an incredible location, placed on the hillside in Villeneuve Loubet, overlooking the entire Nice coastline. My hotel located in St Laurent du Var is amazing too, situated along the beach, amid dozens of cafes and restaurants. I've been eating well and enjoying my coffee as I look across the still blue water, watching planes land at the Nice airport. I absolutely love French cafe culture (equivalent to my appreciation of British beer pub culture), and I've loved partaking in it every evening with sketchbook in hand. I got off work early today and jumped onto the train and took it to Nice proper (the hotel is about 8 miles west of Nice). I went down to the beach and hung out with the multitudes of sunbathing people. I've gotten a lot of creative writing done this trip and continued with the trend down on the stone covered shores. The other time I've been to Nice was in October three years ago, and it's amazing how much difference those two months make in atmosphere. It was much more subdued and quieter during October than August.

Tomorrow I plan to begin the day in Villefranche sur Mer, one of the places I longed, but didn't visit, during my last visit to France, and afterwards I'll explore more of Nice with a quick trip to its Museum of Modern Art. I return to the States on Sunday. I'll elaborate more then.

Au revoir.