Sunday, 31 July 2016

Montecito or bust


Keeping our theme of visiting bits of the Hollywood legend, we're currently in Montecito. It's just along the coast from Santa Barbara, on the route towards Malibu and Santa Monica.

Before Hollywood, this part of the coast was where the movies were made. Eventually, all the movie production companies relocated to Los Angeles but the famous ones had first made their home in the Santa Barbara/Montecito area and it remained a major magnet for the stars to play and live.

This time we are staying in a place built in 1926 by Charlie Chaplin as an upscale getaway. The Montecito Inn became one of the most desirable destinations along the California coast. Years later, in 1943, Mr. Chaplin returned to Montecito to marry the love of his life, Oona O'Neill.

Nowadays there's still a fair share of stars amongst the residents. The area is ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Well known people like Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Bruce Willis, Owen Wilson, Drew Barrymore and Ellen DeGeneres have homes in the small town.

We've already adopted Jeannine's as a favourite coffee stop and dined at Tre Lune, the suavely Italian restaurant which has seen an epic number of stars dine.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

hearing the mission bell


Once again we've followed the mission bells of El Camino Real along Highway 1 and US101, to the Spanish inspired town of Santa Barbara. It's a great place to kick back and do very little for a few days.

It was a Portuguese explorer named João Cabrillo who, working for the Spanish, discovered the area in 1542 and there's a mural of his landing displayed in the town's court house.

The entire mural was painted by a cinema backdrop painter, who worked for Cecil B de Mille and there are some liberties taken in the depiction. My picture shows a small part of the work, which is painted across all four sides of the approx 60 feet by 40 feet courtroom. Bottom left of the picture s part of one of the doors to the room.

The courthouse is fully functional but, as a public building, it is possible to explore and to see the multiple cultures that have affected this area.

For 13,000 years the native Chumash tribe, then Spain, then Mexico with 40 governments mainly lasting less than a year, and then a mercenary with 100 soldiers claimed Santa Barbara for the United States.

We visited the clock tower, from where we could see the distant Santa Barbara Mission, on the spot where the Spanish had originally raised their cross, eventually creating a string of missions spaced at one day intervals by horseback for some 600 miles, north to south. The missions' secularisation followed later, despite unsuccessful antidisestablishmentarianist attempts (I only put that last sentence in so that I could use THAT word).

Friday, 29 July 2016

balloon debate?


It's fascinating being in the USA for the two political party conferences.

Having seen last week's elephant Republican Convention, this week it's been the turn of the donkey Democrats, with a roller coaster start on Monday as they started a re-uniting of their party after the prior nomination process.

Thursday night saw a slick conclusion with Hillary Clinton's pitch to the predominantly friendly crowd in the mammoth convention centre and then enough balloons and streamers to fill the whole conference center.

The reporting is difficult to judge, because compared with UK television, there seems to be more tokenistic attempts at balance, so sometimes it will be 5 or 6 to one in the subsequent debates of a topic.

Another difference is the appeal to both party faithful and to those watching on television based on patriotism - particularly noticeable in the Democratic conference. The stars and stripes were very evident in the orchestration of the last night's assembly. Many of the rectangular cards carrying messages and slogans earlier in the week had been supplanted by the flag and simpler one word messages on vertical poles. A sea of flags. Aside from a few non-party UK events like The Proms, we just don't get this kind of patriotism appeal.

The Democrat messaging was entirely different from last week's trumped-up use of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. To be honest, I'm not sure that the Republicans would really have stood by last week's story telling, except there was really no choice by this stage.

The Democrats, instead of talking about building walls and throwing people out of a reconstructed insular USA, talked about a unifying force. Instead of last week's theme of "It's all broken and I (Trump) can fix it", this was "We can be stronger together"

I preferred the sentiment of inclusion in the second conference, but to achieve results there were some huge implied spending commitments. There were glossed over statistics about how massive new infrastructure spends and college rebates could be provided by taxing the rich and mega-corporations. Curiously the subsequent media commentary didn't really pick up on these numbers points, preferring the easier discussions around personality and more impressionistic matters. Maybe analysis is for later in the campaigns?

It's fascinating to watch some of this, but I'm not sure how most of America will weather the next three months of TV shows, based upon these two conventions. Or even whether many people watch or take an interest beyond the short sound bites.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

a short detour to Mission Ranch


We couldn't visit Carmel-on-sea without a stop at Mission Ranch, which is the Clint Eastwood place. He was famously mayor of Carmel back in the 1980s.

Here's a picture I spotted at Cypress Inn, of him with Doris Day.

Oh yes, and the view and food at the ranch is enough to make anyone's day.

que sera sera


Another day and another venue.

This time we are at Doris Day's place, in Carmel. It's a delightful location called the Cypress Inn and full of bustle and charm.

There's plenty of Doris Day items sprinkled around inside. Posters, pictures, awards. It's not overpowering, but it is interesting.

There's also many dogs, because the Inn is described as the most dog-friendly place in the most dog-friendly town in the USA. That's also directly Doris Day's influence.

Doris Day's long career has its share of twists and turns; injured dancer, then singer, then actress in many well-known films. Later she also starred in TV shows, although this was mixed up with her return from bankruptcy as a result of malpractice by others.

Then, after her long show business career, back in the 1970s she formed a dog welfare charity, which became a whole other and still ongoing chapter in her life. Whip crack away.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

smoked


We always say that America does big weather. This time no exception. As we walked outside this morning, it was impossible not to notice the burnt timber smell. There was a fog too, which we noticed was a strong brown colour. It was the smoke from the fire to the south. In my snapshot above, it's hard to see the sea and the horizon.

We'd driven north along Highway 1, through areas with fire warnings and fire trucks parked alongside the road, as well as huge flatbed trailers, which we later learned had carried heavy equipment to the area.

We saw one of the big planes, flying low, used to bomb the fire with retardant. The pictures are from the television coverage.


They are keeping the main route open, although understandably recommending people stay away from the area.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Hearst Castle, San Simeon


It's been on the list for a while, and this time we managed to get along to William Randolph Hearst's Casa Grande just off Highway 1. Usually referred to as Hearst Castle, it is definitely one of the places you need to see to get an idea of the scale.

Last time we visited, we don't get further than the car park because of the time, but this time we were able to make our way up along the winding road to the main house and grounds.

The series of mansions took 27 years to build and during their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s the Hollywood and political elite often visited.

Among Hearst's guests were Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill.

Hearst had a long dining table and guests would start near the centre, but over successive days would gradually move further away from the middle. Most knew when it was time to leave.

There was a games room too and the many house guests were encouraged to 'do things' rather than to relax. This could include anything from billiards to horse-riding, as well as frequent themed parties.

Nowadays, the whole site is operated as a museum, back in the day, one can only imagine the type of parties that took place!

And here's some behind the scenes footage from Lady Gaga, using the Neptune Pool at Hearst, for a video shoot.

marine life


As well as the spotted ground squirrels, we did also see a few dolphins. Bottle-nosed, I'm told. And some elephant seals (over two metres long), simply chillin' on the beach.

This one is on its back flipping sand.

The others are wriggling back just enough to stay out of the water.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

spotted


Looking out of the place towards the ocean. There's a few furry wombats running around in the long grasses. They are definitely not Pokémon. Need to work out what they are. They are spotted, run along the ground and are squirrel-like.

Ahah, spotted ground squirrels.

silverado


This is the regulation post about transportation.

For US road trips we usually get 4 wheel drive SUVs. That's because we are never sure when we will end up on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the desert or in a native American reservation.

This time we noticed the L.A. difference, with many more sedans in L.A. than in many areas we travel. I wonder if this is a changing trend?

I'm more used to seeing either SUVs or trucks with that box construction. The L shaped front, followed by a toppled I shape and two underside dots for the wheels.

Yep, the F150/Silverado/RAM 2500 represent classic versions.


As we've moved further from LA, with its smattering of european and fancy schmancy yellow sports cars, we're more into Silverado and RAM 2500/3500 territory. Some of them even have something in the back section. It wouldn't work in England, where whatever was in the back would get rather soggy.

Our own vehicle has all mod cons, beyond the 4 wheel drive, monstrous engine and that thing that automatically opens and closes the tailgate by remote control. Weirdly, the extensive LCD screens on the dashboard look as if they were designed by children with crayons. As an example, there's a huge climate control section with big touch screen buttons, which half-heartedly attempts to reproduce the functions that you get anyway with a few actual buttons placed below.

Similarly, you can either have a rev counter or something that tells you how much fuel distance is left. Some of it makes no sense and ergonomically is a bit of a nightmare, with familiar functions moving about the display for no apparent reason.

So lets get back to the moment. Right now we are staying on the Pacific coast, looking out towards the ocean sunset due in about 15 minutes. As well as someone's photographic drone hovering above us, we've a Ford F250 parked in front of us, to complete the picture.

Lovely. No, really. It is. You can't beat a Pacific Ocean sunset.

If I hadn't just visited Moonshine Bay for Margarita, Merlot and Kalua coffee, then I'm sure there'd be more.

Friday, 22 July 2016

hot hot hot


Theres a heat wave running through Southern California at the moment.

Yesterday we recorded 104F and today it is supposed to be warmer. The helicopter in the picture is one of the ones used to put out the fire close to Cahuenga Boulevard.

We headed for the Farmer's Market and had fun looking through the varied stalls.

There's plenty of fresh fruit and a whole range of food to eat at this bustling 75 year-old market. Never far from Hollywood moments, we happened upon Patsy d'Amore' Pizzeria. That's a one-time Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin hangout. Time for a song anyone? Pizza pie?

And right alongside the market, via a trolley bus is a whole modern mall style shopping area, giving a further excuse to explore.



Thursday, 21 July 2016

Paramount Pictures


As well as being opposite the Chinese Theatre, with its evening premier of a new movie, we decided it was about time to visit the only full-size movie studio still working in central Hollywood.

That's Paramount Pictures, now owned by Viacom. We travelled there by taxi, and the driver didn't know the right entrance, so we even managed to get in through the big gate used in many movie scenes - that's just before we 'U-turned' to exit again to find our correct way in.

Paramount Pictures was founded in 1912 as the Famous Players Film Company by Adolph Zukor, who had been an early investor in coin-in-the-slot nickelodeons. The company went through numerous reconstructions, mergers and acquisitions and I'd count the blending with Desilu Studions (the Lucille Ball TV show company) as a landmark.

We also saw the dressing room that Lucille Ball took over from Katherine Hepburn, and the side entrance that Hepburn used to take into the studios on her bicycle, with a stunt double arriving for her at the main gate.

Paramount was a great example of the production line company, with writers, directors, actors and production facilities all arranged around a square inside the grounds.

In their heyday they could churn out 100+ movies per year. Now its more like a dozen. Indeed, the 12 stars around the Paramount logo originally represented the first stable of Paramount stars, before the phrase 'film star' had really been coined.

Of course, the modern shifts to Netflix, Amazon, HBO and similar mean that there's a chunk of the facility used for third party productions and the latest (gossip alert) new mini company to move in is the Di Caprio/Scorsese duo, who have just taken office space.

We toured the massive studio in a golf cart, with an amiable 'page' named Jason driving us around. There were many interesting moments as we travelled past huge shed structures housing the studios and a massive timber storage warehouse where they have the resources to build things like -er- the Startrek Enterprise.

An amusing moment for me was seeing the 'sky' which had been painted onto a vast wall under Cecil B de Mille's instructions. After the studios won the first ever Academy Award for a film called 'Wings' they were criticised for filming the plane scenes against a clear sky. They were told it looked as if they had used models instead of real planes and a blue backdrop. It was actually all real, but the clear skies of L.A. don't have so many clouds (look at the gate picture at the top of this post). So Cecile B de Mille asked for a vast wall to contain a fake and slightly cloudy sky.

The adjoining car park in front of the sky is also special. It takes a whole day to flood it and it can then be used for seascapes, with the sky in the background. The famous parting of the red sea was filmed here, as were many other air-sea rescue scenes over the years,

We also explored inside the studios. They were getting ready for the next Dr Phil show, which has a ridiculous amount of lights and 11 cameras for a day time sofa type show.

And of course the props department where I could try out a teleport from the brand new released today Star Trek Beyond movie. The New York Street scene was also available to walk about. It was being cleared from one production and set up for another one that evening. No pictures though, not allowed.

Certainly a bustling studio, with the bulk of productions now maybe skewing more towards television and presumably box-sets.

I've visited other movie sets, but this one really gave a sense of the busy workload being processed.

elephant in the convention

There's surprisingly limited information from outside the USA here on mainstream telly.

The only European news is either sport-related or about Pippa Middleton (and that news item is sponsored by the local Mercedes dealer).

The all-consuming story is the Cleveland Republican Convention, which to my English view comes across as something of a stage managed pantomime,

I don't think America really does panto (it doesn't even work in the spelling checker), although there's some fantastic explanations being rolled out for things like Mrs Trump plagiarising large chunks of one of Mrs Obama's old speeches.

There were plenty of denials earlier (oh no she didn't, etc) - that Mrs Trump had written it herself, then later it was with a team of writers, it's gradually all slid away (Oh yes, she did) and a hapless speech drafter has been found to take the hit.

Then we get Mr Christie, playing an oleaginous hit-man (look behind you), brought in to character assassinate Mrs Clinton. It's unremitting stuff with, by British standards, very unbalanced coverage.

Tonight's latest is Mr Gingrich explaining that Weapons of Mass Destruction are being assembled to nuke American cities.

Just in time for 'Designated Survivor' (aka Jack Bauer?) to be shown on US telly.

There's also been scarcely covered protests outside the conference, a collection of Republicans who are staunchly against their selected 'Over the Top' GOP candidate.

Not forgetting the booed speechmaker Ted Cruz who didn't endorse Trump and pointedly said 'vote with your conscience' just before Trump appeared.

Plus rumours that the funds are running out for the Republicans. Clinton has already spent $35m on television advertising, Trump hasn't used any direct TV adverts and despite their mogul identifying database called Themis, the backers (with a few exceptions like that Las Vegas Casino owner) seem hard to locate.

Naturally, all the 'best' speeches are timed to be around prime viewing times, along with some dynastic speechmaking by the rest of the Trump clan - some positioning already for 2020.

Presumably next week's Democrat session will be Clinton's equivalent event, with still months to the vote, which is hard to characterise even as a vote for the 'least worst'.

And whilst the current conference is going on, there's hardly a peep of news about anything else.

Well, except 1) The plague of nasty mosquitoes invading the USA, 2) the dangerous hotdogs that have been recalled across the whole country, 3) The massive sewage spill along Californian beaches 4) The continuing wild fires, like the one we saw yesterday quite close to the Hollywood sign.

Fire, poison, pestilence, flood...Hmmm.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Beverly Boulevard


There'll be a few more unprocessed iPhone pictures this week, as we wander about around L.A. and beyond. This was breakfast at the hotel, before we hit Beverly Boulevard.

We've dropped into the Roosevelt Hotel in the past, but never stayed until now. It built in 1926 and financed by some big Hollywood names including Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Sid Grumman.

It's a great refuge along the bustling main drag of Hollywood Boulevard, and its Spanish Colonial architecture includes a fantastic lobby, with a vaulted ceiling and a three-tiered fountain. Excuse my weird angled photograph, but it's better than no picture.


The Tropicana Pool pool we sat by for breakfast was painted by David Hockney in 1987.

We're up on the 10th floor (of 12) and have a great view across the never sleeping Los Angeles.

I sneaked up to the Gable-Lombard penthouse, (well the lift went there of its own accord). Its a 3,200 square-foot duplex with an outdoor deck with views of the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood sign. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard used to be able to stay there for $5 per night.

There's another suite named after Marilyn Monroe who lived suite at the hotel for two years early in her career.

The Blossom Ballroom on the ground floor hosted the first ever Academy Awards, with, in those days, only 270 Academy members in attendance and before the word Oscars had been coined.

There's been a gazillion other stars stay at the hotel, as well as, of course, us.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

dreamliner to LAX


I always think the 787 Dreamliner sounds like the name of a plane in a sci-fi novel, rather than a real Boeing. Our one was named after Greta Garbo, and we had some rather comfy big seats in row 2. Always good to turn left when boarding a plane ;-)

That's where we've been for the last eleven or so hours, flying at 40,000 feet and 510 mph on that diagonal course across the Americas, after the ice and show of Greenland, then north east Canada to south west California, where we've now landed.

Then pick up a car and onwards, navigating the streets of LA into Hollywood, where we're staying at the Roosevelt Hotel, right opposite what I still think of as Graumann's Chinese Theatre.