Topic: TN: Darth Vader and the pelvis (New Zealand, pt. 1 [LA], long, img)
Author: Thor Iverson (Boston, MA)
The rescheduled equinox
"What do you mean, the flight's been canceled?"
Now that doesn't seem promising. Tomorrow, we're leaving Boston for Los Angeles, and from there traveling nearly all the way around the world for a three week vacation in New Zealand. I've been planning – well, overplanning – the trip, our first to that side of the world (however one bisects it), for many, many months, and with nearly every detail in place, this is no time for unwelcome surprises. I look up at Theresa, who's starting to twitch. "And you didn't think it might be a good idea to let us know, so we could rebook?" she yells into the phone.
Thankfully, there are other options, and with the loss of only a few hours in California, our trip is back on schedule. One of the benefits of a lousy economy: open seats on transcontinental flights.
And really, anything was better than the dregs of a lousy New England autumn. The last leaves of a chilly, rain-drenched fall are sticking, heavily, to the cloud-dimmed ground, and forecasts are predicting the season's first Nor'easter on the day of our flight. The weather-shorted golf season is long over, mud season is in full swing, and ski season is no more than a prophet's dream. It's time to get away.
She's got a wade about her
Though not without additional difficulty. A creaky taxi filled with the acrid, dried-sweat aroma of stale cigarette smoke picks us up in the morning mist, which is just coalescing into an irritating shower of wet sleet . At the airport, things move smoothly until the security gate.
"Sir, please remove your shoes." The shoes come off.
"Please remove your belt." Huh? Well, sure, OK.
"Roll down your pants."
OK, wait a minute…I've seen this movie. It ends badly for Robbie Benson, doesn't it? In any case, it isn't a request…and whatever the brooding security guard is looking for, he doesn't find it. After a few minutes of re-dressing and re-composing, and a brief stay at the gate, we're on the plane and headed for the West Coast. An otherwise svelte but artificially top-heavy and outrageously fake blonde sits across the aisle from us, wearing mid-pelvis height denim-colored Saran Wrap, a low-cut white lace "top" that bare her bronzed midriff and many square inches of other well-bronzed surfaces, several inches of makeup, and multiple clusters of dangling and sparkling jewelry. Next to her is a dark and oily-haired Sicilian dressed up like a cowboy, complete with shirtless leather vest. Porn star and producer? Hooker and pimp? Who can tell? We are on our way to LA.
"Relax," said the night man
The flight is bumpy but otherwise uneventful, and offers some rather spectacular views of windswept canyons and upthrust buttes before beginning the long descent into Los Angeles. I've been here before, but Theresa hasn't, and the endless urban sprawl manages to shock her a bit.
It's beautiful and warm, and we meet Jenise and Bob Stone at the airport. They've very graciously offered, in lieu of an offline they helped organize but will not be able to attend, to drive us to our hotel. Jenise is as quiet and shy as one might expect from her online demeanor, and it's difficult to get a conversation going. Somehow, we manage, and before long we're at our destination, the Hotel California (1670 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica), an adorable little surfer-chic outpost perched a block above Muscle Beach. In our multi-room apartment masquerading as a hotel room there are vintage posters from classic movies, a surfboard, bright colors everywhere, and a working kitchen with a classic piece of kitsch: a framed "history" of breakfast cereals. We almost wish we could stay longer, just for this room.
And also for the location. A quick change to shorts and an application of sunblock later, we're strolling along the ocean, the waves gently nudging the Santa Monica pier as careening flocks of rollerbladers swarm around us. Accumulated depressions and stresses of impending winterhood take only moments to waft away on the breeze; we've only been here an hour, and we're already fully relaxed. The sun gently sags towards an oceanic rest, turning the blues and tans to a warming riot of color that is only slightly offset by the gradually chilling air. We move inland, spending a few minutes on the 3rd Street Promenade watching breakdancers and Kelly Clarkson impersonators vie for attention amidst the usual deluge of pedestrian mall commercialism, and then it's back to the hotel for another quick change. There's an offline in the offing.
A tiki sunset…
Interpretations of grappa
We're picked up by Sam and his upscale cab. Or rather, "Sam the lunatic limo driver," because as he takes corners on two wheels and goes airborne over bridge seams, he's barely looking at the road, instead preferring to harangue us on matters political. "The damn Santa Monica city council," he complains, "Nazi socialist communist fascists!" I'm struck a bit mute, trying to puzzle out how this could even be possible, when he starts up again. "And get this…the mayor is from Minnesota!"
A dubious strip mall location holds Restaurant 2117 (a/k/a 2117 Sawtelle, and now does anyone actually need the address?), a clever and Euro-Japanese fusion joint that handles our much-reduced group with élan. The food is excellent, well-priced, and does a marvelous job of matching a rather California-heavy range of wines. But the company is excellent, except for that Loring chap.
von Buhl 1997 Riesling Sekt Rheinpfalz (Rheinpfalz, Germany) – (AP# 64 99) Grapefruit flowers and geraniums, short but with good balance. Sekt on the beach.
Jaffurs 2000 Matilija Rosé (Santa Barbara County, California) – Mostly grenache, with a little viognier for the floral notes. Fat and acid-deficient, with white peppered strawberries and a little styrofoam on the finish. Blech.
Loring Wine Company 2001 Pinot Noir Gary's Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands, California) Someone got this one too close to the fire. I suspect it was the vineyard manager; this fruit never had a chance to be fresh. Smoked cherry and walnut, burnt red cherry; everything's slightly stale and charred. A relatively light palate impact for a wine with such heavy flavors. A bit of cantaloupe rounds out the finish. Like poorly-rehearsed Mahler played on a $20 Casio keyboard.
…and a monumental sunset
Martinelli 1999 Pinot Noir Blue Slide Ridge (Sonoma Coast, California) – At 14.7% alcohol, and seeming like it might be twice that, this is pinot noir eau de vie. Solid, short, hot, and vile.
Jermann 1998 "Vintage Tunina" (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) – Sweet lemon and orange peel with vivid minerality. Intriguing, with a future.
Hartley-Ostini "Hitching Post" 1998 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, California) – Strawberry/raspberry cola with a little underripe walnut skin tannin and good acidity. An average quaffing pinot.
Prager 1999 Riesling Dürnstein Ried Kaisersberg Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – Slightly stale yet huge fruit turns dilute and thin very quickly; obviously off in some way.
Boeger 1997 Charbono (El Dorado County, California) – Strawberries and lilies, light and innocuous. Next.
Pegau 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe "Cuvée Réservée" (Rhône Valley, France) – Now we're talking. Richly spiced black fruit and herbs. Delicious, and just barely starting to close.
Sleep to dream
Clos du Paradis "Domaine Viret" 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages St-Maurice "Cosmic" (Rhône Valley, France) – Corked.
Clos du Paradis "Domaine Viret" 1999 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages St-Maurice "Cosmic" (Rhône Valley, France) – Spiced bubblegum and barky, burnt earth. Not corked like the previous bottle, but off somehow.
Loring Wine Company 2001 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe (Santa Rita Hills, California) – High-toned and slightly volatile, tart fruit. Medium-short and way too young for analysis, but I thought Brian didn't like aged pinot…
Hess Collection 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California) – Light rosemary and other herbs with some eucalyptus-infused cassis/blackberry fruit and good acidity. Starting to shed body and maturity; drink up, it's not going to get any better.
Matanzas Creek 1996 Chardonnay (Sonoma County, California) – There's a big grapefruity attack, a touch of earth, and then…nothing. It just ends. Where'd it go?
Milz 1983 Trittenheimber Literchen Riesling Auslese GK (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany) – (AP#17 84) My notes seem to indicate that I liked it, but I didn't manage to actually write down any of the reasons. Oh well.
Maculan 2001 Dindarello (Veneto, Italy) – Lemon and geraniums, intense and slightly colorized vs. previous vintages, like moscato on steroids.
The brightest star of all
Baumard 1996 Quarts-de-Chaume (Loire Valley, France) – Cream spiked with quartz, lush and beautiful, with a long, long future ahead of it.
Kracher 1998 Traminer Trockenbeerenauslese "Nouvelle Vague #8" (Burgenland, Austria) – Richly spiced cashews, balanced and relatively light for the grape and the sugar content, but long and lip-smacking.
Dan Fredman takes us back to the hotel, at about half Sam-the-lunatic-limo-driver's speed, and it doesn't take long for us to fall unconscious. We have a long day tomorrow. And the day after that, we won't even have.
Say goodbye to Hollywood
The morning is a bit hazy, though (oddly, considering the previous nights' activities), we're not. We call a friend for a rendezvous for which we know she'll be late, than return to the beach for a breezy morning stroll. Things are just getting started out here, with the owners of the wooden shacks and burrito stands just starting to unbolt the panels covering their counters, and the pier itself is decidedly empty of all but a few intrepid fishermen and some floppy-hatted Chinese women selling trinkets. The sun starts to burn off the haze as we return to the hotel and pack; are these bags really going all the way to New Zealand in a few hours?
"I'll be there in a half-hour!" says Jan over the phone. Nearly two hours later, she arrives, looking blonde and tan and, frankly, gorgeous. Her car is another matter; Jan "saves" animals for a living, and many months of stray dogs and cats have preceded our arrival. I extract a plastic bag from my suitcase and sit down, figuring that after 12 hours on a plane, no one will notice if there's an aroma of unshowered dog coming from my shirt.
We're all hungry, and a quick and delicious lunch at the Border Grill (1445 4th Street, Santa Monica), ersatz home of the "Too Hot Tamales," is a perfect adios to our brief LA visit. Various ceviches and mojitos later, Jan takes us on an speedy tour of one tiny corner of the nearby sights, driving past Paramount Studios (and Pinks!) to the touristy epicenter of Hollywood.
Will any of this last three weeks?
If there was a time when this area would have intrigued us, that time has passed. Sure, it's interesting to see the stars, the handprints, the Chinese Theater (today overrun by Harry Potter fans and, bizarrely, Darth Vader and Marilyn Monroe impersonators), and the gold men on gold weaving through the camera-clicking pedestrians. But the interest is really no more than momentary. We have just enough time to meet Jan's significant other, David, before we have to head for the airport, via a route that takes us past mysterious gated communities, Mel's, the Château Marmont, the Whiskey, the Viper Room, the Rainbow Room…the thing about LA, for someone who doesn't visit very often, is that everything and everywhere is infused with decades of media. It's impossible to not feel like one is in the middle of some movie or television show. It lends a strange sort of unreality to an already unreal place, and there's a mild sort of disconcertion that I carry with me during the freeway ride to the airport.
We're spectacularly early, which we felt we needed to be with Jan involved, and so after checking in we stroll down back roads and around industrial plants (no doubt this was not the intended footpath) to Encounter, the lava-lamped multicolored psychedelic mushroom in the middle of LAX. A few window-side stools later, we're sipping drinks and catching up on old times.
Cosentino 1999 "The Zin" (Lodi, California) – Big, pepperberry fruit with a bit of tannin and good acidity. There's a touch of alcoholic heat on the finish, but this is really quite nice in a mindless, by-the-glass sort of way.
All too soon, however, it's time to head back to the gate. Hugs and handshakes are exchanged, and then we find ourselves as alone as anyone can be in LA. Bomb-sniffing dogs circle our little corner of the airport. It's time to leave the City of Angels, and instead go to where they live: the Land of the Long White Cloud.