Tuesday, September 19, 2017


To be Christian does not mean, first of all, "to be someone good," which was the noble but dangerous illusion of the Stoics and the Jansenists. For Thérèse [of Lisieux], because of her inability, it is a question of learning to rely on someone else. Learning to change her point of support, because then one offers to God the one thing he cannot achieve without us, the offering of our freedom. It is not, in the first place, fantasies or even pious ideas that count, but gestures or small everyday actions.

--Fr. Bernard Bro, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message


Saturday, September 16, 2017


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

As a child, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was poor and forced to work for a living as a tailor’s apprentice. He suffered a lifelong unrequited love for opera singer Jenny Lind. His “fairy tales” are full of orphaned and abandoned children, inanimate objects that suffer human emotions, and allegorical figures — the Ugly Duckling, the Little Mermaid — who speak to humanity’s profound existential loneliness.

“The Red Shoes” is one of Andersen’s more extreme stories. Karen, a girl whose mother has recently died, is taken under the care of a rich old woman with bad eyesight. Karen covets a pair of red patent leather shoes, finagles the old lady into buying them and, without her benefactor’s knowledge, wears them to her confirmation, then to her First Communion.

“When Karen knelt at the altar rails the chalice was put to her lips, she thought only of the red shoes. She seemed to see them floating before her eyes. She forgot to join in the hymn of praise and she forgot to say the Lord’s Prayer.”

Well! Nothing good can come of that.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017


"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. Basically, that's why I photograph, in the simplest language."
--Garry Winogrand

Friday, September 8, 2017


This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

Mark your calendars for Sunday, Oct. 8, at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Hollywood. On this night at 7:30 p.m. will be the world premiere of Victor Vanacore’s “La Sorgente,” a collection of 10 neoclassical arias based on the poetry of St. Pope John Paul II.

Vanacore is a Grammy-winning composer/arranger who has been at the forefront of classical and pop music for more than 30 years. He’s worked closely with The Jackson Five and Ray Charles, among many others.

The 10 poems featured in the 90-minute “La Sorgente” come from Pope John Paul’s book of meditations, “Trittico Romano: Meditazioni” (“The Roman Triptych: Meditations”), which are widely regarded as his spiritual last testament.

The premiere will feature a 45-piece orchestra, two soprano and four tenor soloists, among them Lisa Eden and Orson Van Gay. Vanacore will also conduct.

He started music early, back in New Haven, Connecticut.

“My parents had a lot of kids. My dad was a machinist, my mother was a homemaker and my aunt would clean an extra day at the convent on Saturdays just so I could go to Catholic school there. I never had to worry about what I was going to become because from the beginning I had perfect pitch. The nuns exposed me to classical and other kinds of music. I had all the Beethoven sonatas done by the fourth grade.”


Wednesday, September 6, 2017



"The more I looked at people the more I hated them because I knowed there wasn't any place for me with the kind of people I knowed. I used to wonder why they was here anyhow?  A bunch of goddamned sons of bitches looking for somebody to make fun of...some poor fellow who ain't done nothin' but feed chickens."-

--Charles Starkweather, serial murderer, quoted in Killer Couples: Shocking True Accounts of the World's Deadliest Duos

“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth, too, will then be seen by the damned to have been hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”

--C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Saturday, September 2, 2017



This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

“The Messenger” is a 2015 documentary directed and written by Sy Rynard.

According to the press kit’s synopsis, “ ‘The Messenger’ is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird, and what it will mean to all of us on both a global and human level if we lose them.”

This, in other words, is a film for us bird lovers the world over.

Songbirds have been singing for millions of years. No matter the age or civilization, people have always understood birds to be messengers. Their message at the moment is that our planet is ill.

Geese, ducks, herons: none are songbirds. Songbirds are distinguished by their more complicated vocal organ, or syrinx. Songbirds tend to be small and tenacious. Songbirds migrate and 10 billion die each year. No one knows where they go. (But God does: “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” Matthew 10:29)

Songbirds are most vulnerable during migration. While trying to refuel, they have to stop down in people’s backyards and parks. This can be perilous. It’s estimated that cats, for example, kill more than 1.4 billion birds a year. Cats are an invasive species, claim the bird lovers, not native or natural to any environment, and have been responsible for the extinction of 32 species of songbirds.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017


I thought I would give a little recap of my recent trip to New England.

Many people were extraordinarily kind.

As I walked down Main St. in Northampton, MA, for example, a young lad named Jack came abreast and offered me two ears of corn. I accepted them with alacrity and my sister Little Meddy shucked and cooked them later that afternoon. They were delicious.

I continued my pattern of the previous few months of losing things. In my Hardwick, VT, airbnb, a moment of madness upon arriving led me to stick a few items of clothing in the top drawer of the dresser (as opposed to leaving everything in my suitcase: much safer). Of course I left them behind, not realizing my mistake till the next day in western Massachusetts. One of the items was a pair of black pants, my only "good" article of clothing (i.e.not a T-shirt or some variation of jeans) in my entire suitcase. These I had meant to don for two little talks I was giving, one to an afternoon retreat at St. Theresa's in Tiverton, RI, and one after Sunday afternoon Vespers at St. Stanislaus in Fall River, MA.

After I texted that evening, Sara, the airbnb lady, found the pants (along with one of my favorite black shirts, a pair of black leggings, a dark gray T-shirt and two pairs of black underwear), asked if I'd like her to mail them back to LA, and when I said, "Yes, please, I can paypal you the postage!" replied--"No problem. No charge." So if you ever find yourself in Hardwick, do stay at the Jeudevine Mansion Studio Apartment, and tell Sara I said hi.

FYI, If you walk to your right up the hill from the studio, you'll come upon the high school behind which is a whole series of interconnected trails through the woods. I had a couple of lovely hikes up there, one in the rain, all the while on the lookout for deer ticks I saw a couple of brooks, many robins, and an elaborate system of tubing strung across a wide swath of maple trees that what with my deep knowledge of the New England outdoors I took to be for the purpose of collecting sap.

Vermont features "food co-ops," often with a swami-type behind the counter who looks as if he had been smoking pot steadily for the last 40 years and where a sponge such as I could find a 3-pack of in my local 99-cent store runs $6.75. Cherries at one I visited were $5.99 a pound.  There looked to be a wide divide between the people who lived in trailers and the snowbirds who I imagined had bigger spreads and could afford to spend a few hundred bucks on a weekend's worth of groceries, but the scenery, rivers, woods, trees and birds are available to all. I can only imagine the splendid fall foliage. I attended Mass for the Assumption at Hardwick's St. Norbert's, which I was able to walk to, and glad of it, as Vermont towns are spaced quite far apart.


From Hardwick, I also took a little day trip to Glover, VT, which was the main reason, besides my friend Altoon, more below, I'd come to the Northeast Kingdom at all. My destinations were two: The Bread and Puppet Theater, and the Museum of Everyday Life. I visited both on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, very atmospheric. I posted lots of pix of the Bread and Puppet last week and the Museum of E.L. is a labor of love that I strongly urge you to visit if you're ever in the area.

I'm always thinking, God, I wish I could just be alone all the time but I think I may have met my match in Vermont where there are so few people that being truly alone, for any length of time, would actually be scary. In mid-August, winter seemed already to be closing in. The trees had started to turn, the faintest chill varnished the morning and night air, and I could understand how such activities as quilting and baked-bean-cooking came to be.

Throughout the two weeks, I reverted to mild to moderate food hoarding. This is a compulsive form of control I like to exercise when frightened or anxious (which by definition covers all travel). For example, I have an extreme aversion to spending any money at all in an airport or plane. The food is a ripoff! Also the whole air travel experience is so unpleasant and constricting I, along with I feel many other people, descend into a kind of larval, hibernating state, and why spend money on overpriced or really any food when you won't have a god time eating it?

Anyway, so for the coast-to-coast flight I usually bring my own plastic bag of assorted odds and ends from my fridge that I don't want to go bad while I'm gone, which is supplemented with the minuscule bags of pretzels and faux-waffle chemical cookies they give you on United.

Upon arrival, I then gather my supplies and hold them close. I hauled a single quart of half and half from Northampton to Tiverton, RI, e.g., reluctantly leaving the last quarter cup in the fridge of the friend's friends where I was staying the day I left only because I couldn't bring liquids on the plane. I ferried a wedge of St. Andre cheese from the Trader Joes in Newington NH to Portland ME to Hardwick VT to Northampton MA to Tiverton and then back to LA in my carry-on bag. What's left is in my fridge as we speak flattened into a kind of Saran-wrapped disc that I will get to soon.  Perfectly good food! St. Andre, in case you don't know, is basically butter in cheese form. I am not wasting so much as a bite of that, no way.

Anyhoo, so I panicked briefly when I realized I'd left the black pants behind as I had nothing else presentable to wear and another thing I have a kind of phobia about while traveling is doing any kind of "errand" beyond the absolutely essential: for example buying half-and-half and light groceries. Intentional clothes shopping, i.e. for a particular item, is a chore and thus a definite no (though I may come across a scarf or bag or pair of earrings by chance).

As luck would have it, Little Meddy was able to unearth a pair of black Banana Republic pants that were only a couple of sizes too large and when hitched up with a belt and covered with the weird gray duster-like hooded shroud I wear tied around my waist morning, noon, and night, looked "fine." So that was another little godsend and there were many such. A bathroom, a packet of sugar, a binder clip, a tea bag: such "small" items, when one is traveling, assume gargantuan significance. I did have to baste up the hems of the pants and don't think I wasn't delighted to produce from the caverns of my suitcase a tiny complimentary sewing kit from some long-ago speaking-engagement hotel.

The Maronite Sisters of Dartmouth, Massachusetts (technically Maronite Sisters of Christ the Light) had me over for Vespers and Saturday dinner! They filled me on the fact that the Maronites are an Eastern rite Catholic church, very much under Rome, and on their mission of offering their spiritual motherhood, especially to young folk. Then they thoughtfully stationed their novice Sr. Natalie beside me at Vespers to shepherd me through. They have a lovely I believe 5-acre spread and grow many of their own vegetables. We had among other items grilled chicken, lamb and beef, homemade tabbouleh, hummus, tomatoes, delicious bread, sweets and coffee. The sisters were joyful, vibrant and warm. Thank you Sr. Marla Marie. Sister Therese and Sister Natalie! Let's continue to pray for each other.

High point of trip: the Polish hymns at St. Stanislaus for the Vespers of the annual Mass for Our Lady of Częstochowa. I tried to look for something similar on youtube and found nothing that even remotely approximated the heart-rending, soul-shaking beauty. You could not hear two bars without spontaneously weeping.  They handed out a song sheet in Polish which I deeply wish I'd kept because I'd at least have the names of the songs. It was some of the most gorgeous music I have ever heard, from these "ordinary" parish ladies. So gorgeous that maybe it is not to be repeated, or maybe to be heard only once a year for those willing to travel to or lucky enough to be at St. Stanislaus. Fall River, like so much of New England, and in fact the whole country, has been decimated by opioid use. I felt beyond humbled to give a little talk afterward and would have much preferred to hear the ladies sing some more traditional Polish hymns. Thank you, Fr. Andrew Johnson, the sainted pastor.


I know I'm jumping around a bit, but bear with me.

Oh, my visit with Altoon. Altoon is a visual artist, gardener, photographer, reader, cook, and general quester who maintains her own farmstead, also in northern Vermont. She grows raspberries, hydrangeas, tulips, and all manner of other vegetables, fruits and flowers. She made a stupendous lunch that included a zucchini fritatta, a beet salad, home-made pita, and raspberry pound cake. Then we took a short walk through the adjacent woods and she identified jewel-weed, many kinds of moss, ferns, and mushrooms. We even came upon a stand or two of Indian pipes! That was a thrill.

I had long admired her blog, "Studio and Garden" (which she maintained assiduously for years and has more recently but back on, but you can still spend many happy hours trolling the archives), and had visited her once before. So this is one of those rare (to me anyway) serendipitous friendships that begin online and end by meeting in the flesh and the meetings are all the more precious for being so necessarily rare. We started talking the second I alit from my car and didn't stop for close to three hours.  Thank you, Altoon, and bless you. Our two afternoons are enshrined in memory and I fervently hope to be able to visit again.

Oh, here's another travel adventure: the HORRIBLE state of Massachusetts has instituted a diabolical toll system whereby the turnpikes and highways have NO CASH LANE. Everybody, including visitors and car renters, is forced to purchase the hideously misnomered "EZ Pass." So get this: for a mere $12.99 a day, you can purchase a pass from your rental car dealer--and it must be purchased for every day of the rental! (And according to the rental car lady, can be purchased NOWHERE ELSE, which is actually kind of true unless you know to buy the thing online in advance). So since I had rented a car for two weeks, I would have had to pay $181.86 to travel once or twice on the Mass Pike and to take the Callahan or Ted Williams or whatever it is Tunnel from Providence into Logan. Of course you can just breeze through without a pass but you get something like a $25 fine per incident AND the rental car company (E-Z in my case) also adds on some unspecified administrative fee. Needless to say, I would have none of it.

I learned you can go to Settings on Google Maps and specify "No Tolls," so that was useful. I also learned that it is possible to reach Boston's Logan Airport from the south without using a bridge or tunnel but do not forget to take your opioids first. Actually I probably would have been relatively okay going all the tortuous way north through Boston on 93 to some Everett or Somerville cutoff and then wending my way past chop shops, Mafia-front garages, and pizza joints to the Revere Beach Expressway, EXCEPT for the fact that just before the airport I had to gas up (because God forbid I should leave the tank only three-quarters full and be gouged for rental car fuel prices).

I therefore found myself in the center of a nightmarishly convoluted, under-construction downtown in which I actually began to think it was impossible either to get to what seemed to be the sole gas station or even to get out of, period. If Siri said one more time, "Turn right on Pearl, Turn left on Congress," I swear I would have screamed. Plus I had to use the restroom something terrible and was also deeply excited to have completed my trip without major mishap and to be going home at last. I can't believe I wasn't stopped for drunk driving so jerkily and uncertainly did I REPEATEDLY circumnavigate this little downtown! With my St. Andre cheese and trail mix neatly tucked away for the flight home.

Anyway, I finally made it to the airport, dropped off the car, and seldom have I been so glad to be in an airport, plus by the way Logan is excellent! They have outlets beneath every chair to charge your phone and big banks of semi-deserted desk-like areas where if need be you could actually spread out your laptop and get some work done. Personally I was content to sit and catch up on my New Yorkers. I slept through some of the flight home, splurged on an uber (as opposed to the Flyaway bus, then uber), and arrived home to my cozy Pasadena apartment around 11. A quick check of the plants on the balcony--everything looked okay! (Thank you, Nora, for watering). What fun to unpack, open the mail (thank you Lindsie, for collecting), refrigerate my hunk of gypsy cheese!

It was around midnight when I thought to check my phone: a tottering on its last legs but still trusty 5s.  Except the phone was nowhere to be found. Yep. I'd left the damn thing in the uber. I'd been saying a rosary the whole way home and I must have forgotten it was in my lap and in my excitement at having made it home safely, dropped it to the floor. Or the street. Or the driveway. Or the balcony. Or...after retracing my steps several times, I went to my laptop and discovered 1) I  couldn't sign on to uber to get the name and number of the driver because uber sends an authentication code to your phone and 2) the find your iphone app only works if the wifi is on which I happened to know it wasn't. I won't describe the couple of hours of ensuing panic (of course my phone isn't locked; I'm too impatient to punch in a code or swipe my finger every time), but suffice it to say that uber driver Suzanne, another sainted individual, hand-delivered the phone to my door the next day. That is, after my sainted friend Julia Gibson ran interference.

All I can say is It takes a village to travel.

And that is not even counting the lunch at Ten Ten Pié in Portland, now one of my all-time favorite restaurants with my dear friend Ellen M., my visit with old grade school chum Bonnie Blythe and her husband Daniel, also in downtown Portland at the annual St. Peter's Fest, my three days in Tiverton with treasured friend and benefactor Dr. Tim Flanigan and his family and friends, my visit with Abbot Matthew Stark and the wonderful monks at Portsmouth Abbey, and my visit with my beloved brother Tim and cousin Dickie in Rye Beach, NH, Not to mention getting to hang out with Joe Dionne, one of my dearest, most cherished friends from grade and high school.

So full was my heart that on my last night I lay in bed and simply pulsated with love for my family, friends, and New England. My body and soul were way too small to contain such multitudes.

Other news from LA: the coral trees are beginning to bloom. The pomegranates are ripening. The camellias that will flower in January are starting to bud. I've been accepted for reading privileges as an "independent scholar" (of what? you might ask) at the Huntington Library and Gardens.

And the U.S. Open is on.


Monday, August 28, 2017


This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale is a boutique museum with one large gallery, the guy who sold me a ticket reported.

I remembered its previous incarnation on downtown Olympic Boulevard from years ago, but things have changed since then.

The museum offers classes such as “Bend, Blow and Glow,” a free film and lecture series at the adjacent Glendale Public Library called “Jewel City Noir” and cruises. You can take the Mother’s Day Cruise, the Neon Noir Cruise, the Holiday Lights Cruise or the Award-Winning Classic Neon Cruise across Los Angeles with J. Eric Lynxwiler, author of “Signs of Life: Los Angeles is the City of Neon.”

A recent Los Angeles Public Library exhibit by the same name noted of neon’s early days: “Mile after mile, the streets of Los Angeles stretched across valleys and into the hillsides and mountains carrying neon messages for drug stores, coffee shops, doctor’s offices, car repair and juke joints into infinity. There was nothing neon couldn’t announce in bright, eye-catching colors and Los Angeles businesses that wanted to be modern and up to date, had one if not five neon signs promoting their wares.”


Friday, August 25, 2017



"The most wonderful thing about life seems to be that we hardly tap our potential for self-destruction. We may desire it, it may be what we dream of, be we are dissuaded by a beam of light, a change in the wind."

--John Cheever, 1958 [quoted in Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment]

Wednesday, August 23, 2017





From a poem by Robert Frost called: 



Her Word

One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;

Or care so much when they come back
With whatever is is they sing;
The trust being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing

As we are too sad for the other here--
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.


Always--I tell you this they learned--
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.