Friday, July 30, 2010

The Reagan Library, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley

I, Ms. border-line socialist princess of the cosmopolitan coasts, had a thoroughly middle American, straight-edge Republican day. And all in the same amount of time it takes to drive to Malibu, that Streisand/Geffen vortex of the liberal elite. My good friend Shannon took me to her hometown, Thousand Oaks (T.O. in locals' lingo), a shiny, desert suburb about 30 miles up the 101-N. We stopped by her lovely grandma's flag lined neighborhood, had lunch at a family owned BBQ chain and tried on padded bras at Victoria's Secret. It was a suburban mom's dream and I couldn't have been better prepared with my neck brace and Vicodin prescription, thanks to a recent car accident.

Gated communities abound in the Calabassas/Thousand Oaks/Simi Valley area. So do man made lakes with little motor boats, strip malls fancied up with heart shaped shrubs and plaster statues and perfectly paved, almost empty roads, filled with regular looking people living seemingly normal, regular lives. The local schools have their lockers outside and everyone is friendly and casual. It was so fun and relaxing- the perfect area for our most relaxed President's shrine, grave, institute or whatever a Presidential library is exactly.

The Reagan Library sits on top of a rather ugly mountain in an under-developed part of Simi Valley. It is designed very much like a sprawling, wild west ranch and the view from the top of the mediocre mountain is sweeping and awe-inspiring, which I am trying to tie into some metaphor for America...nope can't do it. The Library includes a replica of the Oval office and there are jelly beans everywhere, including the gift shop (CAPITALISIM!). On the grounds are President Reagan's very impersonal grave, a really pretty piece of the Berlin wall, and a rose garden payed for by the Reagan's close friend, Merv Griffin (HOLLYWEIRD!).

A lot of the Library is under renovation right now in preparation for Regan's centennial in 2011. But there are two exhibits so cool that they made the $12.00 entrance fee more than worth it. One is a real Air Force One, retired in 2001, in a giant glass pavilion on the side of the mountain so that it looks like it is about to take off. It is smaller than you would think, shiny with beautiful blue accents and inside it is very dated, 80's chic. Very nice, elderly docents tell you little factoids about each section. Also in the pavilion there are limo's and tons of motorcycles, as well as a pub called "Ronald Reagan's" that for some historical fact that escapes me is an actual pub the Reagans visited in Ireland.

My favorite thing by far, and the perfect thing for any little girl tourist you need to entertain, is the insanely detailed dollhouse of the White House. The main house, the west wing and the east wing are all shown in minute, glorious detail...from the microphones in the press room to Bo Obama sniffing around the First Lady's dressing room. There are also re-creations of FDR's war room, Lincoln's Oval Office and a model of muti-culti workers chaotically building the White House while drinking ale and starting fires.

When we were still in T.O. Shanon took me to meet Wally, her old piano teacher who has a rustic old store behind a scrap yard off the main drag of the now posh Thousand Oaks. Wally, an old hippie from the mountains, greeted us warmly and told us how much things had changed. "When I moved here in the 60's, this road was nothing but dirt, and it was winding. It was beautiful up here, this was the wilderness, the desert, and it was so quiet. It was magic." Well, sometimes it still is.

Travel: B
Ease: B
Content: A
Subjective coolness: A-
Overall: A-

Directions to Library: Take 101-N to CA-23N. Take Olson Road exit. Keep right and merge onto Olson Road, continue on Madera. Turn left on Presidential Drive.
Hours:10am-5pm, Monday-Sunday.
Price: Adult-$12.00, Seniors-$9.00, 11-17-$6.00, 11 and under-free. Free parking at site.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Magic Castle

Once, I went on a date with a much older guy who asked me out after hearing me sing one of his grandfather's songs. On the date he brought along HIS MOTHER, who glared at me all night with pursed coral lips, and smoked like a chimney. At the end of the night when this bespectacled Dana Carveyesque man asked me on another date, I almost said yes. I almost said yes because he lured me with his membership to THE MAGIC CASTLE.

The Magic Castle is legendary in LA lore. It really is a castle where an association of magicians perform and there are shows all throughout the night. The rules for admission are strict. You have to be a member or invited guest, men must wear jackets and women must wear cocktail dresses or "fancy pants suits". No photography or cell phones are allowed. So when Maureen hooked it up that we could all go, let's just say I was titillated beyond measure. It's always nice to feel part of the in crowd.

Once you enter the castle and pay a $20 cover, you are directed to a bookshelf. "Open sesame" you say to the bookshelf and the thing opens, and you enter a strange Victorian labyrinth filled with gilded bars, artistic curiosities, card tables and hidden seance rooms fashioned in heavy wood. Older, strange looking people (late in life Orson Welles..), some with long white beards, many fat and all dressed in their raggedy finest, sit at tables teaching each other card tricks while younger folk gawk with their mouths hanging open and a drink firmly in hand . There is a lot to gawk at- a restaurant, several bars, a museum filled with Edgar Bergen's and other ventriloquist dummies and a locked library containing all the secrets of the trade. Turn the wrong corner and you will be all alone staring at yourself in an upside-down mirror, or hearing a ghostly woman's voice ask you for a drink.

There are several shows going on at all times in different areas of the castle. As a guest you can go to them all, although dinner guests get preferential seating and I HIGHLY suggest you get a dinner reservation- if not you may end up feeling like a second class citizen because the employees at the castle all act like snobby butlers protecting the family silver. Since it feels like you are in a Miss Marple miniseries, or at least an episode of Scooby-Doo, all the guests are polite to each other and sociable and put on their elegant faces and voices. There is nothing better than seeing so many of my friends who I usually see wearing jeans and slouching on the couch, poised like ballerinas in their chairs and flowers in their hair. And of course, there is nothing better than men in suits.

And then there are the shows. I have always thought magicians were weirdos and placed them at the end of the show-biz food chain just above stand up prop comics. But lord was I wrong. The shows are amazing, particularly the main show which starred the very handsome and punnily named Justin Kredible. A woman danced with glow sticks and hula hooped at dizzying speed, a man turned cards into metallic flowers with lightning quick grace, and Mr. Kredible did all sorts of fancy tricks including making a woman's wedding ring somehow go from an envelope her husband was holding to being pressed in her bra. "I still can't figure it out!" the husband told us later. "I felt the ring!".

I was awestruck like a little girl and kept letting out an involuntary "WHAT?" throughout the show. And I think that's the true magic of the Magic Castle. In this city of dreams and illusions, one doesn't feel very much wonder at all. Not with the endless concrete, the flat temperature and cynical career moves. I was sincerely delighted and amazed multiple times, no more so than when the player-less piano (supposedly manned by a ghost named Irma) in the downstairs bar played every song I asked for with a whimsical sense of humor. The first song I requested was "The Way We Were." First it teased me with "Memory" from Cats and then launched into a rendition of my song. I could have stayed there all night, pretending to be someone lovelier, requesting songs and shaking off all the stark realities of the everyday.

Subjective coolness:A+

Directions:7001 Franklin Blvd. One block north of Hollywood Blvd. Between La Brea and Highland.
Hours: 5pm-1am and Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Price:$8 for valet, $20 cover, and whatever you spend on dinner and drinks.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cold Water Canyon Park

Sometimes dreams don't come true, darlings. Sometimes that fountain of youth just ain't real. Sometimes, no matter how long you hike the hills- the damn "Studio City Lake" at the intersection of Mullholland and Coldwater Canyon just doesn't seem to exist(thanks Lance!). I was walking for over two hours searching, then I got lost and some of that time was spent scooting on my butt. Having done my typical Hadley shtick, I took the narrowest path possible, my legs stung by tall nettles, and when I came to a steep incline my rainbows were insufficient so butt scooting down the mountain it was.

Coldwater Canyon park IS right at the intersection of Mullholland and Coldwater and it is home to the other worldly and largely absent( I only saw one employee on the whole compound) organization known as the Tree People. The tree people are all about trees and water conservation and teaching city kids that there are other plants besides sick looking palms. They also want you to pee in the restroom for Christ's sake as the sign to the right attests(however they are dog on leash friendly). There are green houses, classrooms, very pretty paths that smell like Christmas and a small and very picturesque amphitheater funded partly by Steve Martin where they have shows at night.

My biggest complaint about most trails in LA is how dusty the dirt paths are. The dust clouds entice large flies that buzz around because of the shitty smelling dust. So I was thrilled that the paths Tree People maintain are covered in sweet smelling and all around cooling wood chips. It makes everything so much nicer and you don't feel like a buzzard. But alas, once you reach the serious hike and enter the Santa Monica Mountains the large, exotic trees go away as do the wood chips, and you are left with just another dusty Los Angeles hike, with outstanding views of giant houses you wish you owned and people (probably show biz people) having conversations you wish you didn't overhear.

The worst was the obscenely vapid looking dad with a "Hawthorne RN" shirt on, who kept trying to make his daughter do math problems on her I-phone or else it was "back to the workbooks." As she tried to do the division problem he gave her, he kept goading her to move faster so she tripped not once, not twice, but three times. He, and I quote, "didn't give a shit." He is probably an actor. We are a charming breed. When I asked a gnarled, faux mountain man(read: set grip or electrician) for directions to the lake, he chuckled and basically said "There ain't no water in the mountains, ya hear, if you want water you should go back to your neck of the woods, to Lake Hollywood. It's too dry up here for any water, ya see."

So after hours of hiking, focusing on the wind(I kept thinking it feels cooler, so I must be near the lake) and the pretty sky(I thought I saw the water reflecting off the clouds) and lush man made pools in the canyon below(I WANT THAT!), I finally gave up my search and headed back to my car. Since I had no clue where I was it was cool using a particular tree, or grove or mansion as a signpost for taking the right way. I felt very Jane Austen and pretended I was on a walking tour until two large writers talking about their "Ellis Island project" pulled me out of my dream. I was never more glad to get in my car, crank up some air conditioning and drive back down to my neck of the woods and my own personal lake, Mr. Bathtub.

Travel: A ( I was telling Mike and Dylan last week- there is nothing in the world I love more than driving on Mullholland, it's just so curvy and decadent and decaying- it is so LA).
Content: C( If you live in Studio City or Beverly Hills it's a great place. If you live on the Eastside forget it- just go to Griffith Park instead).
Subjective Coolness: B-
Overall: C+

Directions: Take the 101 to the Mullholland exit. Go up Mullholland until you reach the aforementioned intersection. The address is 12601 Mullholland Drive. Parking at Tree People is free( beware, it is a sharp right turn).
Hours: Dawn till Dusk.
Price: Free.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

Very pretty, very calming, very quiet...wait, did a mac truck just rumble by? Lovely flowers, nice old people, honeysuckle smells...oh man, I just got a whiff of that mac truck. Such is the dichotomy of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. It is very serene, very peaceful and right off of one of the loudest parts of Sunset Blvd. in the Palisades. How LA is that? Some of Gandhi's ashes are interred right next to a street teeming with angry cars. How Gandhi is that? Now that I think of it, very.

One of my favorite things about SoCal is how down we are with all religions, particularly Eastern ones. Paramahansa Yogananda,(you know I cut and pasted that) the man responsible for bringing yoga to westerners and writing the bestseller, Autobiography of a Yogi, founded the center in honor of the underlying truth in all religions. I guess that is why there are five markers that look suspiciously like gravestones with the names of religions on them by the lake. There are also little placards with words of wisdom from the major religions(no Scientology or Mormonisims...yet) placed all around the trees.

Admission to the garden and lake is free and was filled with people meditating on perfectly
placed benches, elderly tourists taking pictures and one bigger lady who was bitching really loudly about her annoying son-in-law(someone needs to do her oms!). There is a little museum and gift shop next to the lake filled with lots of healing stones and Yogi's robes(PS- have you heard that Spencer and Heidi Pratt have spent over HALF A MILLION DOLLARS on "magic" crystals?). Expertly crafted water falls and a breeze from the lake really do make this a soothing, calming place.

The coolest and honestly magical part of the garden was at the meditation chapel inside the recreated Dutch windmill-don't ask me why they chose a windmill. Inside it is like a tiny old English church, all white walls and shiny wood. About ten people, some in robes, sat quietly meditating or praying or thinking or whatever, and the only adornments were pictures of the great teachers, all male of course- Jesus, Buddha, etc. I meditated in there for a while and I must admit it was lovely. It was like the air was rarefied in that small windmill on the lake and everything felt lifted and elevated and well... peaceful.

The Fellowship offers all sorts of classes in the garden and in the great white temple(which is open only for services) which looms overhead. The Gandhi peace memorial, while visually unimpressive, is a very special thing to have in LA.

Ease: B
Subjective coolness: A-
Overall: B

Directions: Take Sunset Blvd. down to the Palisades. The lake/shrine/garden(this place has about a million names) is located at 17190 Sunset Blvd. Turn left and you will enter the free parking lot.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 9am-4:30pm. Sunday: 12pm-4pm.
Price: Free, except for gas or whatever you cannot live without from the gift shop.