I'm headed to New Mexico for a few days, where the state question is "red or green?" (Chile, that is. Green. And with blue corn tortillas.) At least I hope I'm going. Friends there say it's snowing pretty hard, so we'll see. Pix and blog items if all goes well. This photo of the Silver Saddle Motel on Cerillos Road in Santa Fe is from a year ago, when it hardly snowed at all.
Deidrich's Coffee is still here. Henry and Rita and Alma are still running the morning shift with warmth and humor and panache. They see your car pull into the parking lot and, if your habits are, well, habitual, your order is waiting by the time you get to the counter. They have a devoted following. When Henry and Rita start working at the Starbuck's in Cross Creek, a lot of Deidrich's customers will follow them. (Alma's taken a job at a Starbucks closer to her home)
Despite three or four proposed closing dates, Deidrich's keeps getting a reprieve. What's the deal? The rumor floating around town is that the new owner of the shopping center really doesn't want Starbucks as a tenant. Wishes Deidrich's would stay. But since Deidrich's CEO Steve Coffey (seriously - did he ever have a career choice?) wants to get out of the coffee house biz and sell beans on the internet, that's not an option. (Hey Peets - are you listening? Want a nice, thriving Malibu location?) So the closing date keeps floating. Now it's supposedly this Friday. But people are skeptical. They’re placing bets. And making plans to meet for coffee and crosswords and wifi on Saturday morning.
Malibu turns into a mud flat after a rain. Thick and sticky, it clings to the soles of your shoes, forms fat rounded pads that add inches to your height. Here in Paradise Cove, where a major overhaul of the septic system is slowly taking place, work areas became sink holes. The puppy took an incautious step and vanished in mud up to her chin. She's quick and strong and freed herself in an instant. Not so nimble was this pumper truck. It took two backhoes and a few hours to set it free.
Seagulls usually seem so stern - that hard stare, the hooked beak, feathers as precise as a dress uniform. And then there's this gull, balanced on the shade netting of a seafood joint in San Pedro. You can see bones and cartilage through the translucent webs of its feet. Fascinating, and a wee bit goofy..
When the guy from Roadside Lumber dropped this little pile of wood in the driveway, I smiled. So small. So unassuming. How much chaos could it cause? Since the plan was to gut Otis Chandler's mobile home so the floors would, finally, all be the same height (more on that when the jackhammer stops) and put in hardwood and generally bring the place into the 20th century, (yeah, yeah, we're now in the 21st, but this trailer is a 1973 Meteor and I'm a realist) I knew it would be messy. This messy:
The walls are gone, which means the roof has no support, which is why those two-by-fours stand in the middle of the room, hoisted by a hydraulic jack. That's what's holding up the roof. Yep. Even the cats won't go near it. And when the walls came down and the carpet came up, oh Lord did we find scary things. Holes in the sub-floor that looked right onto the dank, dark, ground. A breeze blew through. You could hear wildlife down there, I swear. The ceiling fared no better. Big drippy spots, pale and puckered like the gills of a mushroom. I wanted to cry. The contractor just smiled. "I’ve seen worse," he said.
They're at work again today. I'm outta there.
I haven't blogged in three days. Four? More? I can't exactly tell because I can't quite find my calendar. Or my computer. Or clean socks, that overdue library book and, now that I think about it, one of the cats,) (Just kidding about the cat.) (I think.)
Also missing, and this is the crux of the matter, are the interior walls of my house. All of them. Well, not the bathrooms walls. Yet. And the bedroom stays. But the rest of the place is one big open echoey room. I wish I could show you pix today but, though I finally found my camera, I lost my USB cord. Tomorrow, I promise. (I hope) Everyone should start the day with a laugh and I'm pretty sure the sight of my 1973 mobile home stripped down to its tawdry, tenuous beginnings (it's made of one-by-twos - did you even know such a thing existed???) will provide that.
Every time I shoot a sunsrise here in Malibu, I think of my neighbor a few miles to the south, Robert Weingarten. For an entire year, he fixed his camera on a single spot in the Santa Monica Bay at 6:30 and shot a sunrise. You can see some more of the pix here. They turned out to be so beautiful, a musuem in Rochester, N.Y. made a gallery of the photos outdoors to help ease residents through their dark and chilly winter.
It's still this morning here in Malibu, utterly and blessedly still. The wind howled again all night, screamed around the corners of the trailer, rattled the roof, rattled the dogs, rattled me at 3 a.m. with the sound of a tree limb crashing. It comes from a great distance, forces you to feel how big the world is. Exhausting, really. But now, right now, for a little while anyway, quiet.
I hate to be all "bah, humbug!" about it but no, it didn't really snow in Malibu yesterday. Not in the city limits, anyway. That crazy storm (thunder! lightning! wild, wild winds!) did drop several icy inches on the mountains above us, though, enough to call out the snow plows and close Kanan Road for much of the afternoon. (This photo is from NBC4.com)
I was out shooting the storm clouds in the photo below when a woman, more than a little freaked out, stopped me. She'd been driving down Kanan in what seemed like a blizzard when the car in front of her spun around, nearly hit her, then dropped 10 feet into a ditch.
"Is there any other way to the 101 in Agoura Hills?" she asked.
"Well, you can go up Malibu Canyon..."
"...or Topanga Canyon..."
"I can't - I won't - not another canyon!" she said, a little wild-eyed.
At the barn last summer, I came face to face with a cat carrying something alive in its mouth. Damn it, I thought, and looked closer to see what kind of bird was meeting its doom. Not a bird at all, but a squirrel. A squirrel? Looking so small in a cat's mouth? Then I saw the spotted fur, the pointed, curling ears, the short, cropped tail. A bobcat. It looked right at me, flat gold eyes, complete concentration. I felt that zing you get when you meet a truly wild animal. And then it was gone, just like that, down into the canyon with the squirrel still struggling in its mouth.
A few weeks ago my friend, Ken, shot these photos of the bobcat and her kittens near the edge of his property in the mountains here in Malibu. They were relaxed, he said, playful, like they owned the place, which of course, they do.
I've been hearing about The Old Place ever since I was a little kid. Located on Mulholland Highway in a part of the mountains known as Cornell, it's as much myth as destination. My dad used to tell stories about going diving off the Malibu coast, then selling the lobsters he caught to customers there. Maybe true, maybe not, but that's the kind of place The Old Place is, a roadhouse so authentic, you want weave yourself right into its history.
On the outside, only the neon signs let you know it's not abandoned. Inside, it's dark enough that your eyes take a minute to adjust. Wood floors, timbered walls, a long wooden bar, booths that look a lot like horse stalls. On the walls hang framed newspaper stories written about the place over the years. Behind the bar, a businesslike woman named Barbara feeds friends and strangers alike.
Last night, in an arctic twilight that had the sparse crowd comparing burst water pipes disasters, we ate dinner at The Old Place. Beef stew. The only thing on the menu on Sundays. Two bowls of it, thick and ropy, accompanied by a pile of sliced bread. Country singer Billy Gale, not a bad guitarist with a pleasant enough voice, stood way, way too close as he sang a sad love song.
Further down the bar, regulars talked over the latest transformation of Malibu.
"Whole lotta change going on down there," a man said, making it sound like The Old Place was a hundred miles from anywhere. In the half-light of the creaking building, where a stiff wind moaned at the windows and a pot-bellied stove gave off good heat, where ghosts plucked at the shadows, it felt even farther.
Cold and windy here in Malibu - and all over Los Angeles, for that matter. Way more winter than we're used to. The downside: keeping track of hats and gloves and mufflers. The upside? The view from the bluff in Paradise Cove this afternoon, all the way to downtown.
At the heart of the Christmas season, as each new dusk comes sooner than the last, as the solstice colors of red and green and gold lend comfort, I buy a bag of ugly, knobby scaly bulbs. Narcissus. Nothing about them looks promising. Are they even alive? Planting them at all is equal parts faith and gardening.
Put them in a bowl, add water up to their shoulders and wait. And wait. And wait a little longer. Soon a slender stalk pokes through, a soft, ripe green. Then there's the swelling of a bud. And one day they're open, all of them, a froth of white, just right for the new year.
You know the way the day feels on the brink of a storm, some kind of current in the air? That's how it was here in Malibu this morning. Thick grey light, a jagged little breeze, the salty smell of sea and kelp. No surf, no waves, just the ceaseless motion of the water's edge, amoeba-like, lapping and grabbing and smoothing the sand.
Barely twelve hours after the fire began in Bluff Park here in Malibu, the post-fire ecosystem is in full swing. News choppers are thumping their way over the Pacific, camera trucks are parked all over town, traffic on PCH is at a crawl and Suzanne Somers, whose home was a total loss, is today's topic of conversation. (And check out fellow LA Observed contributor Jacob Soboroff's video report.)
"Are those the missing dogs?" a newscaster asked hopefully as I inched my car down Malibu Road, Jake and Maisie hanging out the back window. Several pets in the damaged homes remain unaccounted for.
These two? No.
"Is that fire damage on your car?" another asked as my aging Toyota wagon (32 miles per gallon AND it passes smog check) idled in traffic.
"Can you tell me how you feel?" a chirpy newscaster asked a woman standing in her bathrobe and slippers, staring down the road toward the remains of her home.
My pix follow.
(Lots more pix on the flickr page. Just click on photo to get there.)
The calls started coming just after 5 pm: fire in Malibu Canyon. Bad news about a bad location. Winds slam through there like a derailed freight train, hot and treacherous. Minutes later came the sirens, then the thup-thup-thup of news choppers.
On the bluff here in Paradise Cove we could see everything - flames racing, leaping and spreading, fire copters swooping, dumping water, then vanishing from view in a steamy cloud, traffic at a standstill on PCH, the pulsing red lights of scores of rescue vehicles. A setting sun winked red in a Santa Monica office building while, further across the bay, stacked flights at LAX circled like fireflies.
Strange, strange light these days, yellow and flat, filtered through a scrim of dust. The santanas have been blowing for three days and everyone's on edge. Lips cracked, eyes red, skin sucked dry of moisture. Neighbors have gone from speaking to nodding to simply blinking hello.
It's downright cold today here in Malibu, big wind bouncing cars on PCH, slam-dancing my mobile home around on its rusty pilings. The weather could be the reason my favorite coffee house, Diedrich's, was jam-packed this morning. Locals and commuters huddled together in warmth and a wealth of cast-off newspapers (the NY Times, the LA Times, the LA Daily News, the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Malibu Times, The Surfside News, USA Today, the NY Observer and a copy of Soap Opera Digest) but that couldn't account for the festive feel on the place.
"Two more weeks - Diedrich's is open for two more weeks!" a man told his group and they cheered. Literally.
Some spanner in the works has slowed the dreaded transition from Diedrichs to Starbucks and the whole place was celebrating. We regulars get two more weeks of great coffee and great pastries and of seeing Henry and Rita and Alma, the morning crew. They know all of the regulars by name. Have your orders ready before you even get to the counter. Save your favorite pastry for you if it looks like it's going to run out before you get there.
Henry and Rita have applied to the new owners and hope to keep working here in Malibu. They're practicing their Starbucks lingo already.
"A medium latte, please, Henry."
"You mean Grande, right?"
"If you say so."
In two more weeks (plus time for Starbucks to dismantle Deidrich's lovely decor and rubber stamp the place into brand name submission), we'll all be saying so.
When your very first New Year's greeting of 2007 comes from a clearly joyous Lyle Lovett, you can't help but think good things are in store. Lyle and his Large Band (13 musicians and four vocalists) played two shows at Disney Hall on New Year's Eve. Someone in our group was among the hundreds of patrons who ignored the request not to shoot cellphone pix. Lyle and the guys rocked the house, a great show with some gospel, some blues, some bluegrass and a few of Lovett's lovely, quirky, wordsmith ballads. A terrific show, amazing music played with heart and soul, accompanied by some pretty good jokes. Midnight with Lyle - sweet stuff.
It's curmudgeonly to complain, I know. But Disney Hall's acoustics are so sensitive and fine that amplified sound seems to go haywire. It felt as though the music shattered, ricocheted off the curves and crevices and came down too loud, too bright. When things were quieter, Lyle's voice with just a cello and a guitar or two, you got a hint of all the texture and depth getting overshadowed. Still, I'd go again in a heartbeat.
Oh - and here's the start of the first sunrise of 2007. I wrestled that Canon SLR to a draw, managed to charge a battery and set the thing on automatic and voila.