The Colours of a Californian Spring

The recent rains and floods here in California have produced a spectacular scenery of greenery.  The Los Angeles boulevards are ablaze with orange, purple, blue, lilac and pink.  The dazzling array of rainbow blossom and flowers put the mighty English Oak in the shade.  Yes, we have our pretty cherry blossoms in the Spring and our conkers in the Autumn but here in Los Angeles grows a veritable cornucopia of lushness and floral abundance.

paradiseThe Bird of Paradise is the official flower of Los Angeles. The silky orange sorbet and vibrant blue flower is native to South Africa but the argument for making it the official flower for LA is that as the city is a melting pot of cultures, why not import a flower too.

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The official tree is the subtropical coral tree.  They are fragile and their limbs break easily but their bright orange and strangely-shaped flowers are stunning. The town of Brentwood has a Coral Tree Endowment Fund to protect them. Apparently their seeds are extremely buoyant and have the ability to float for up to one year and are so hard they pass whole through animal and bird digestive tracts.  Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to coral tress because of their loud colours and striking scent.

The tree I particularly like is the Jacaranda Tree.  The blue/lilac colour is incredible. Los Angelenos have a love/hate relationship with them.  Yes, they are mighty pretty, but they are also mighty sticky and mess up your car if you park underneath one.

jacarandaIn 1933, following a Jacaranda festival to find ‘the most beautiful blue in all the world’, the city forester declared the Jacaranda the most exotic tree in Los Angeles.  It has two outstanding features: its unparalleled blue trumpet flowers in clusters and its finely cut fern-like dark green foliage. But the purple splendour doesn’t appeal to everyone here.  Many residents complain about the sticky ooze littering their patios and choking their spa filters!

 

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desert 1

desert 3The desert blooms this year are outstanding – again due to the large amount of desperately needed rainwater California has received this year.  With the desert blooms come the rattlesnakes, but apparently not enough to prevent the eager crowds from flattening California’s vibrant ‘super bloom’. This eruption of flora has drawn a stream of  admiring visitors this year – literally thousands are going off-trail and tramping over the swathes of bright red, orange, yellow and purple looking for that perfect shot for their Instagram accounts.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Los Angeles is not all concrete rivers, automobiles and palm trees. Apart from the floral magnificence, the fragrance of Cali in the Spring is overpowering.  Bad for hay fever sufferers possibly but a treat for the visually impassioned. Totally stunning.

The Colours of a Californian Spring

Ilse Kleinman and the Art of Oppression

Yesterday was a particularly special day – John and I were invited to attend the opening reception at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for ‘The Inner World of Ilse Kleinman: Reflections on Oppression’.

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Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Ilse and her parents fled Berlin in 1933 due to the growing antisemitism in Nazi Germany and settled in South Africa where the rise of apartheid reminded Kleinman of the cruelty and dehumanisation experienced by Jews during the Holocaust.

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Dennis Kleinman

Ilse was the mother of our friend Dennis Kleinman who gave an emotional and proud opening speech on the life of his mother and the practice of her art. This was followed by a short presentation by art psychotherapist Dr. Esther Dreifus-Kattan on the background to some of Ilse’s drawings.

Ilse’s art illustrates many Holocaust and apartheid related motifs.  Her ‘Holocaust’ series offered an immediate sense of immersion in the subject, perhaps due to the small scale nature of her drawings.  As a viewer I felt drawn into the horror expressed on the faces of the subjects; the quick brutal pen strokes defined the base off-hand savagery of the oppressor and the long, tortured faces reminded me of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Here was an artist who felt passionately, who empathised with the sorrows and fears of her Jewish ancestors and who recognised that same fear and terror expressed through the lives of those suffering later under apartheid in South Africa.  Politically speaking, these drawings, paintings and etchings were a warning nod to a dystopic and feral American future under the current rule of divisiveness.

 
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The reception included a documentary on Ilse’s life narrated by her son, Dennis and my dearest friend Linda Gallagher, who spoke Ilse’s own words in short monologue form.  Both these lovely people are professional VO artists who bring everything to life with their mellifluous tones and understanding of the nuances of ‘voice’, so I found the short documentary particularly emotive.

I usually like to blog on the absurdities of life in an upbeat  way, but I was so touched by these drawings that I felt compelled to share some of them.  I guess an upbeat take on the art of oppression is the recognition that pain can result in the most beautiful and creative of endeavours. If art mirrors life, then let that art be fixed with integrity, justice and compassion.

‘Ilse Kleinman’s universal message must be heard by as many people as possible.  After the tragedy of Rwanda, it is more important than ever before that individuals rase their voices to stop injustice, to force their governments to act with integrity and in conscience.  I believe that Mrs Kleinman’s work has the capacity to persuade and mobilise a community of people to act with compassion.’

Ann Burroughs, Amnesty International 1994

 

 

 

 

 

Ilse Kleinman and the Art of Oppression

The other famous American con man … Granddaddy!

The world trembles to the tune of Don the Con’s latest outrages. Nobody likes him, everybody hates him, most people want him to go and eat worms. But his escapades got me thinking about con jobs nearer to home.  Most of my regular blog followers know that my partner, John’s granny was Fanny Brice, the 30s/40s/50s  megastar, whose life story was played  out on the silver screen in ‘Funny Girl’ and ‘Funny Lady’.  It’s quite a blast when your grandparents are portrayed by Babs Streisand and Omar Sharif. But the portrayal of Grandaddy, Nicky Arnstein was seriously diluted by Sharif … ‘cos ‘Slick Nick’ Arnstein was a real big time con man who carried out his own daring but ultimately unsuccessful Wall Street caper.

12 - 1940s - 1947 - Nick 02 - Copy.jpgDevilishly handsome and very tall, Nick spent most of his twenties as a trans-Atlantic shark preying on the rich and gullible. Hopping aboard luxurious ocean liners, he swindled his way through the upper and lower decks, hosting card games and gambling tricks. He came from New York upper crust, middle class stock and although articulate, well mannered  and beautifully dressed, was the black sheep of the family. But like many plausible conmen, he was incredibly charming. One of his wealthier victims, when warned of his character  proclaimed, ‘I don’t give a damn.  He’s better company than anyone else aboard ship.’

After a number of clumsy minor swindles and bigger adventures with the gambler and racketeer, ‘The Brain’ Arnold Rothstein (who conspired to fix the 1919 World Series),  Nicky met and fell in love with Fanny Brice.  Married at the time, he was happy to be Fanny’s ‘kept man’.

Fanny and Nick

Arnstein spent most of 1916 in jail in Sing Sing on a swindling conviction.  Fanny visited him weekly and they married on his release.  In the Autumn of 1919, $5,000,000 in bonds (a HUGE amount of  money then) was stolen through a series of hold-ups of Wall Street messengers carrying securities from one brokerage house to the other. Arnstein was said to the one of the ‘masterminds’.  Fanny thought this was hilarious stating, ‘Mastermind! Nick couldn’t mastermind an electric bulb into a socket!’

Arnstein went on the run, not even Fanny knew where he was.  His later surrender was a ‘performance’ worthy of any Hollywood star. He hired a chauffeur driven limo to follow a big parade down Fifth Avenue, smiling and waving at the crowd lining the streets, then drove straight into the police HQ. Nick was finally sentenced on Federal charges and Fanny stood by him, singing her infamous song, ‘My Man’ at all her shows in his honour.

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On his release from Leavenworth jail he rewarded his loyal wife with numerous extra-marital affairs and Fanny eventually divorced him and later married the impresario Billy Rose.

 

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In 1964, a year before his death, a frail but still dandy Nicky Arnstein slipped into the Broadway opening night of ‘Funny Girl’ to see himself as he hoped others would remember him … a charming but essentially benign chancer.

I’ve told John that I hope the ‘con’ gene doesn’t run in the family, (although the massive conk does!) Think I’m safe so far – although I wouldn’t be adverse to some of the Sharif glamour rubbing off …

Omar Sharif plays ‘Slick Nick’

The other famous American con man … Granddaddy!

A little bit of Africa in Los Angeles

John and I have just come back from Ojai, California with some African art to add to our collection. One incredible mask from the Ivory Coast and one from Burkina Faso. They can look scarily voodoo-ish and witch doctor-like standing in the corner of the room, but they are also alive with a devilish sense of spirit and mystery.

This Nafana Bedu Mask comes from the Ivory Coast and is worn by the Nafana people when celebrating after the Yam Festival. This particular mask is used in purification ceremonies to invigorate the community and to renew its sense of well-being. The horned masks are masculine and the feminine ones have a round disc above the face.

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In England, where I live for half the year, invigoration of community ceremonies just involves a few beers down the local pub. None of this running around with masks on our heads … we just wave a few hankies and jig about with bells on our legs with the rest of the Morris Men.

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This Mossi Mask below is from Burkina Faso.  Usually commissioned by the village, this mask was carved to represent a bush spirit and is danced in village festivals honouring harvests, births, weddings and funerals. It now lives in our bathroom … and watches.

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Made from wood and home-made paint, the squatting woman with the pointy breasts is a fertility symbol.  In the UK, we don’t seem to ‘do’ many fertility symbols showing breasts. We don’t even like to see new mums breast feeding in public for Heaven’s sake – but we do have this – our loud and proud fertility symbol, the Cerne Abbas Giant. Here he is cut into the chalk hills of Dorset. All he needs now is a nice matching mask, and possibly a new handbag.

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A little bit of Africa in Los Angeles

Buying Art with Pierre Picot

John and I are blessed to be able to buy and collect beautiful and interesting art. We have a number of signature pieces by some well-known artists but this week we decided to buy a piece by our friend the French-born artist Pierre Picot. Pierre was once a student of John’s father, the artist William Brice, when he taught at UCLA.

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Pierre has just held an exhibition at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, Santa Monica and kindly came to our house to lay out some of his vibrant and lively pastel drawings for us to choose from. Pierre lives with his wife, the designer and perfumer Wendy Holden, in a chateau in Brittany France, where the forests and the architecture of nature delights him. This is evident in his drawings – full of the vigour of dreamlike swirls juxtaposed with the formality of the diametric.

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Well, the problem, as you can see, was which to buy. We had a choice of fifty in total.  Luckily,  John and I agree on most things taste-wise and in the end we decided upon this – It reminds me of a TV set for that 1970s sci-fi series, Lost in Space. I’m sure I can hear  Dr Zachary Smith whispering in my ear, ‘Never fear, Smith is here.’

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It will be a special addition to a house already filed with art.  Now all we need to do is find a spare piece of wall to hang it. The designer and all round polymath, William Morris, once said, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

A mindful adage, but difficult to adhere to if you like collecting …

Buying Art with Pierre Picot

Boarding School, Daft Lessons and Big Bottoms.

boarding school bookThis book called Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone-Graham popped up on my Amazon recommendations feed yesterday.   It includes some tales from former school friends and was Country Life Magazine’s Book of the Week and recommended by India Knight as ‘the most brilliant, hilarious book’.

‘Ysenda’s book is a quietly hilarious tale of life in British girls’ boarding schools when an education for girls was seen as a handicap which could render them too unattractive for marriage. There were notable exceptions such as Cheltenham Ladies College, but while most of the boys at Harrow and Eton were being taught Latin verse and doing  quadratic equations, girls were being taught how to lay the table for lunch.’

westonbirt2This got me thinking about my own (often absurd) education at a British girl’s boarding school. I went to Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire  from 1970-75.  Yes, we too were taught how to lay a table for dinner, plus the usual lessons in  deportment, the art of conversation and good manners. But the funniest  lessons were called, ‘How to Drink Champagne Without Burping’ (swallow your burp backwards very quietly) and ‘How To Get Out of a Sports Car Without Showing Your Knickers’, (keep your knees together, swing both feet outwards, follow with body) and ‘How To Marry A Peer of the Realm,’ (must have missed that lesson ‘cos I married a barrow boy).

ACADEMIC-LIFE_main_school_1863-Westonbirt-088Most of the girls had double or triple-barrelled surnames. I learned how to pronounce counter intuitive names like Cholmondeley and Froude with panache. I also learned how not to walk on the newly mowed grass, how to plan a dinner party for twenty-five, how to instruct the staff, how to sew a collar and cuffs, and how to grease a lacrosse stick. Normal, regular survival stuff!

 

Churcwestonbirt4h twice a day, three times on Sunday.  Outer knickers (grey wool with a pocket for your spare hankie), tweed divided skirts that gave you an inner thigh rush, long maroon cloaks with monk hoods. Deodorant, make-up, jewellery and tampons all forbidden. No heating, carpets or curtains in the dorms, hair wash once a fortnight. Plastic washing up bowls for washing in. And the food came with attractive names like Baby’s Bum, Dead Man’s Leg and Bogey Mash.

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But it wasn’t all Lowell School.  We had jolly japes a la Malory Towers, apple pie beds, midnight feasts and imaginary boyfriends.  Mine was called Craig Stone because I thought that was a really cool, manly name.  I got quite fond of him… I still am.

Looking back on it all with a mixture of horror and humour, I can see how it shaped the woman I am today and why I tend to giggle at the absurdities of life.  I mean how can you possibly take life seriously when you were once asked by matron to bang your bottom hard against the dorm wall one hundred times a night to stop it getting too big?  Somebody should have told her that big bums would be all the rage in 2017!

Boarding School, Daft Lessons and Big Bottoms.

Striking out in Solidarity … Attempt #1

IWS_MARCH_8-10-page-001Today is International Women’s Day and also the day of the International Women’s Strike.  Women all over the world are taking part by upping sticks, putting down their tools. leaving their houses and places of work and rallying or marching in solidarity. The call is  to unify and resist in order to end violence against women and children, end poverty, deportation and discrimination, exploitation, criminalisation and war. Women are striking for reproductive justice for all, labour rights and a living wage for all including mothers and carers. We are pretty much still fighting for the same old shit we were fighting for back in the 70s.

The cry went out for women … and men …to wear red today in solidarity.  John and I decided that today was the day for us to stop being keyboard warriors in the fight for women’s equality and to join today’s rally at the Federation Building in LA. Neither of us had much in red to wear but I managed to find an old T shirt from my slim days which was two sizes too small and John found a kind of washed out, faded old baggy number – that I thought quite suited his personality.

redWe went into Brentwood feeling pink and perky, had lunch at Sortino’s, our favourite Italian restaurant, wondered why nobody else was wearing red, got back in the car and excitedly drove to the Federal Building. This was our first rally! We were fired up with a sense of unity, ready to wave our placards and shout out our outrage in solidarity.

The roads were packed as they usually are at 3.30pm in LA, but the Federal Building soon loomed into view. We sent a quick prayer out to the parking angel and peeled our eyes for the usual rare parking spot.

There were acres of empty parking spaces… acres … and not a single solitary person at the Federal Building  No rally, no march, nothing, nada.

We’d got all dressed up for the party but the party had moved. We were at the wrong Federal Building. We were supposed to be Downtown and not off Wilshire Boulevard. We looked at each other, we looked at the big queue of traffic ahead, we shook our heads, said ‘Nah’, turned the car round and headed back home.

It was the most exciting rally we’d never been to!

 

 

Striking out in Solidarity … Attempt #1