Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Bat Mitzvahs, Parrots and Other Stories

What a sight we must have been to Cory this evening when he came to pick Sam and I up at Studio City Recreation. Sam blackened with sand, sweat and play, Mum utterly unsuitably dressed for running about a playground in an uncharacteristically prim flowery summer dress screaming out coach commands to a mottley crew of children learning the ropes of baseball. That's what happens when you come across the likely lad Lucas, who but a few days ago caught on to the tail end of Cory and Sam's conversation. He swaggers over and asks,
"What'd he say?"
"He asked me to tackle him." Dad answers.
"I'll tackle him." he offers with an unmistakable glint in his eye.
Cory quickly distracts him and a breath later the three of them are tackling each other. Yesterday when I said goodbye to him he tells me I will never see him again. That he is starting school. I tell him I will see him again. This afternoon when he bundles over to us I give him the I-told-you-so and he gives me his story about preparing to move to India for 6 years. His ma always sits far away so I haven't had a chance to chinwag with her but our family has adopted him as our playground mascot. I did not try to hide my enthusiasm for playing with the ten or so kids who gravitated towards us tonight. Lucas with his wooden bat, Sam with his glove were like pied piper to the tykes scurrying about the sands. I was nine again. Same height. Just as bossy. Only this time I could actually catch the ball. By the time we left Sam was barely standing we managed a swift inhalation of pizza and pasta at the local, surprisingly mom and pop Italian joint, before sleep conquered.

Not surprising really, the last few days have been strewn with parties and visits. The one which tops is a last minute invite to a Bat Mitzvah. Our cousins were in town for the big event and at the last minute space opened up and the mum and dad of the young girl, having seen the show with a quick backstage tour from Cory and a hello to the sleeping Sam under the dressing table, were happy to have us come along. Our cousins explain that it is being held at CBS studios. As supremely rational folk we obviously came to the logical conclusion that with it being our joint fourth visit to the place, we were clearly destined to work there some day. Down we walked, past the offices where we had had meetings over the past few weeks, onto Gilligan's Island Ave onwards with studios 2 and 3 to our right and just beyond, the beginning of a red carpet and the set of a New York street, as used in one of our favourite shows Seinfeld. Along the "street" were tables, laid in black and fuchsia with empty film reels adorning the centre and a white dance floor laid half way down. People and much food milling around. The perfect beginning of the cool summer air. We thank the hosts for including us in the party and offer congratulations to the young Hannah, beaming from ear to ear balancing precariously on her high heels. After meeting several welcoming family members we are all called to the dance floor. Under the midnight blue, barely night sky, we are then herded through a number of dances where our MC for the night governs over the crowd and the uber happy hired partiers who have been directed to direct us all into the boogie. Sam, all fedora and eager red converse boots is boggle eyed at the proceedings and takes every bit of direction to heart especially when we get to the horah and ladies are bounced on top of chairs. Call me sentimental but there was definitely a part of me that started to imagine my great grandma in the same position jumping about. How proud would she be of me now?

After our houre d'oeuvres of cardio we move on to abundance of food feasting on salads, veggies, fresh roasted beef and a taster from the pasta bar where an almost happy chef sauteed your choice of ingredients to order. Sam liked their hats. Almost more than their pesto. Dips into the chocolate fountain followed and soon after the dancing started. In Earnest. Sam kept telling me he was going throughout the dinner, we had all we could to convince him to finish enough to get him through the night. Eventually he takes off at a sprint toward the dance floor. Fedora firmly in place. He calls back for me, but when I join him I find our boy already ensconced in some serious interpretive dancing. Wind up toy meets 80s club with a bit of soft shoe thrown in. Dad bounds along soon after giving it some. He didn't work the Samantha Fox videos for nothing. Our cousins jump about with infectious abandon and we zoop bop turn twirl jiggle and jump for the next couple of hours. Interspersed are regular visits from the "partiers" who gradually don us with every which thing of neon and l.e.d derivation most of which we pass onto Sam so that by the end of the night he looks like a christmas tree at a club. Between the glowy wotsits about his hat, the flashing rubber rings on his fingers, the rubber studded (flashing) bracelets he is a whirling dervish of plastic. The next day he relays to our friends how it was so great to be able to see in the dark, what with all the lights and everything. What we saw as decoration he interpreted as practicalities. He carried it well, I must say, though I perceived a remarkable difference between the verve with which he pulsed to Billy Jean and the significantly more reserved interpretations of Ms Gaga. Thriller appeared to throw him over his personal edge, what with the whole dance floor moving in unison like zombies. It wasn't me. The MC told us to do it. So we all did. Miss.

I took the cue and picked the fella up, he all l.e.d, flashed his way into a sleep oblivion at the back of the dance floor drooling over my shoulder. I stayed swaying about just long enough to catch Papi (90 in April) doing a jig with his grandchildren. Neon glowy necklace about him. Smiling from here to eternity. He tells Sammy he wished he knew how much he loved him. And when are we going to make another? And wouldn't I look good pregnant? And what a good fella Cory is. All this brings a smile to my face. Then I want to cry a little. Being around several generations of family makes me come over all weepy for my own. Especially my aunt, now floating somewhere in my peripheral at all times but still so sorely missed it hurts. I flood the collar of my dress a little. When we sit to watch Hannah's bat mitzvah slideshow compiled by her dad it is soaked. Cory jokes me out of my tears. My cousins give me a squeeze. Then we dance more. Obviously.

The next morning we took our ramshackle party selves to another friend for a waffle sunday party, which, basically involves a lot of delicious waffles and children running happy. It took some effort to leave what with the Sam man so happy and all, and what with our friend's sofa being so inviting and all but away we left with a quick pit stop into a grocery store and onto an old mate of Cory's from New York days. At his pad were an unusual mix of characters including a northerner turned Californian head of entertainment for a cruise line company, his partner, all earthy New York dance and verve and their beautiful daughter. Also joining us is our host's lodger a beautiful young lady with wolf eyes, her three hounds and his date. Then there is the three of us and you have yourselves a party. The boys dive in the pool. I offer assistance to the ladies running about preparing foods. I think I manage to cut the cheese into two pretty triangles and lay out a packet of crackers before retiring to the pool side and eating most of it. Sundays are for lazy, this is the bottom line. It would seem from the past week I know only two speeds. Too fast or too too slow. And thats ok with me.

Now we have entered Cory's rehearsal period (blocking of the show changing somewhat to accommodate the cuts in set and so on), so our days are a mother and son affair. This ultimately involves much fortress building, paddling pool filling and general slow mo activities. When Cory asked me if I would like to join some of the old timers at a fabulous cafe up the road for dinner last night however, I obviously relinquished a cosy night in for an aperitif and dinner with some of our old troupe (3 of which are in the show the others who have stayed ona little while lonegr). It was like the first day back at school after the holidays. Everyone was talking at the same time and full of happy eyes and stories. Sam managed a cheese sandwich before conking out in my arms and spending the rest of the evening straddling a couple of chairs out to the world.

Much time is also spent at the playgrounds obviously. It is my favourite people watching time of the day, especially when you get to spy naked chest men walking down the street with a parrot on each arm, for example, or when you sit next to a chatty Israeli grandmother who spins tales of her Yemeni parents whilst knitting, occasionally stopping to yell like a banshee across to her ADHD grandson doing 50 mph on his scooter without a helmet. By the end of the evening he was one of the most gung ho players in the out field. And I was a demure catcher on account of being supremely overdressed. Again. I think I must be turning into one of them mums who always dresses like she has been to an audition. Then again, there's no better way for me to feel like a kid than to play dress up. Just ask my ma.

One of my closest friends back home sent me a parcel of goodies for my birthday which finished the evening off in perfection. It goes without saying that secretly I celebrate it for the entire month of August, prone to excess as I am. As I type I am nursing a very posh cuppa made in a pyramid silk tea bag thanks to her. I am also eyeing up her box of trendy british toffees and admiring the little tub of fig and rose lip balm. This is the friend that has almost been solely responsible for creating my home library and I always look forward to her buying me books. She always knows what I will like. I feel a twinge of nostalgia. Again. Hey ho. Bright side is, without being away you don't often get to receive parcels.

.....Or see parrots being walked down the street.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Stardust in My Eyes

"We are made from material that was created in stars."
This is the cherished quote I took away with me which I had read just before we left the Griffith Observatory atop a hill in Griffith Park Los Angeles. Our friends had told us to make time for a visit at some point, then on one sunny tuesday afternoon they called us up and invited us to join them at Trails cafe for a coffee to start with. We found the tiny little kiosk, surrounded by hanging fairy lights and trees. There was nothing about the tiny little hut that would suggest it would be pumping the immediate air with mouthwatering smells of home cooked goods. Organic, vegan, home cooked goods. Mouthwatering, must-try-one-of-everything goods. Great coffee to boot. After we had scoffed in the afternoon sun we began our climb up to the breathtaking views of Los Angeles and its surrounding mountainous, palm dotted rockiness. The sun was getting ripe for setting casting that luscious summer early evening glow across everybody's faces. We climbed the steps of the observatory, all white Deco stark lines - a temple to science. From the top terrace we take turns to look at the moon from telescopes, making a mental note to return one evening to gaze at the stars from the enormous telescope inside. For free! This place was what Griffith had intended to be a place where all folk could aim for the stars. What better place than Hollywood? I don't think you can spend even a little while at a place like this, perusing the exhibits inside attempting to cast light on the abstract mathematics that make our worlds turn, without leaving pondering on the mechanics of our universe. Suffice it to say I had that faraway look plastered over my face well into the next few days.

How different the view of the world from up there on those wonderful hills to the sun parched world of Disney where we had spent the morning. Yes tuesday saw the clan get mickey mouse printed passes to enter part of the empire of the mouse. Once again, meeting some of the friendliest security guards who directed me beaming from ear to ear to a place where we could park our vehicle. In the shadow of seven stone gigantic "dwarfs" arranged to appear as if they were holding up the entire office building. Picture the columns of a Roman temple and you're half way there. Through the doors to an open courtyard and then up to the second floor where we were greeted by a kindly receptionist. Walking past several imposing framed posters of recent movies she tells us to wait on the comfy chairs and then brings us hot chocolates juices and water. Sammy hops up and down like its Christmas and asks me if I would like to be in a movie and which one and point to the picture of the one I want to be in. I quickly turn the conversation around to him. I have a feeling I may start waxing lyrically on my ambitions just as the casting director pops around the corner and that's not part of my big plan. No you see, in my fantasy plan, casting lady pops out from around the corner all smiles and maternal joy takes one look over my 5ft something form has a moment of inspiration and casts me as in a roving gypsy movie currently in pre production. What actually happens is a lady pops out from around the corner all New York joy sporting New York Yankee sneakers which Cory immediately catches and strikes up conversation about (takes a true fan to know a true fan). She flashes me a big grin, one to Sam and off we go into her office. It is strewn with Yankee regalia and comfortable. We chit chat on this and that and nothing and everything, she unhurried and curious, straight talking and helpful in her advice. She tells me to find an agent. To move here if I really want to work here and that she could see me playing a young mum. She also tells me I don't look quite as ethnic as I think and that America is a melting pot (actually the official more inclusive term is salad these days) and so I could be one or other of many things. A spring onion perhaps? The garlicky vinaigrette? At the end of our chat she asks me how old Sam is and I notice the faint glint of Mama Rose way way back in my mind. I just don't think we could fit his own movie schedule into both of our at the moment. At least in our parallel lives that is. She also leads me towards the employee store so as to spoil the little tyke a bit. when we eventually do find the little shop, up on Goofy drive there at the junction with Mickey ave by the topiary mouse there, the boy has been so sheltered form the Disney hype that the bits and pieces mean very little to him. He looks at and touches almost everything and leaves without a fight. I wonder how long this reluctance to children's marketing will last. As long as possible me hopes.

We walk out into the midday sun, watching all the Disney-ites hit their lunch hour but think better on staying to eat at the cafeteria lest we over stay our welcome. I take in the twenties cream painted brick building surrounding the stages and am zapped back to that golden age of Hollywood. There certainly is still a little stardust in the air here. We say our au revoirs to a bronze Mr Walt suspended in the middle of a heart to heart with the mouse himself. I click a few pictures of the dwarves for prosperity. Sam announces he wants to be Grumpy. I tell him give me half an hour stuck on the freeway and he'll be a natural.

We narrowly screeched into the Farmer's Market car park with just enough time to get something to eat and send Cory on his way to his meeting of the day. Sam and I queue up for Indonesian delights, Daddy inhales a slice and is off into the afternoon sun. Boy and I wile away the time gawking at everything, buying a little bit of everything from stickers to dried pineapple. After half an hour of dipping our cooked feet into the cool waters of a fountain we indulge in a free trolley ride up and down the outdoor mall called The Grove. The drivers are all a-dandy with their grey suits and hats, calling out "all aboard!" to the young passengers sat with their feet barely touching the ground faces reflected in the sparkling brass finishes on the wooden vehicle. We pass up along the tracks. Stop for a minute and then come back. The ride takes all of 10 minutes. Of pure joy, especially for the boy. Dad bounds back an hour later all excitement after the meeting concluded with the managers saying they would love to work with him. A possible passport to Hollywood. Cory dons his serious lets work out a plan face and for the next few days we talk about what this would entail, whether it is something we truly desire or merely the buying into the fantasy world Hollywood magics. Are we just under the sprinkle of its dream fest or is this really a place we could live a great life, amongst like minded friends, lovely children, fabulous outdoor spaces to frolic in and sunshine for our souls? Third date infatuation stage. Fun while it lasts.

All of twenty hours as it turns out. For the next morning we receive an email from the managers effusively apologising for not being able to represent Cory at this time in view of his nomadic work at the moment. In all intents and purposes they are saying that it is not worth them selling him in the build up to pilot season because he is not as of yet, definitely coming back here in the new year. All this before coffee. Ay-yai-yai. Hows about that for a dose of reality? The ups and downs of our business certainly force you to find your metal. I received similarly direct advice from another casting director this morning, when she told me that to work in this town I need me an agent and a union. Homework time.

In I waddled to her offices and found a quiet spot to wait. In the fifteen minutes or so in which I distracted any nerves with people watching I counted about ten stunningly beautiful women all one foot narrower and two feet higher than me strut in every know and then, headshots in hand, scripts scribbled with notes. Hair ironed excruciatingly straight. Heels. Lots and lots of them. Way way way up to the sky. They are all dressed like a mafioso's doll including the lady next to me. Blue Eyes Blow Dry pokes her head into the office door (despite the signs all over the room that say please wait to be called) asking for scissors and sorry to be a "pain in the butt." She returns to attach her three different headshots onto her resumes. She then uses the return scissor journey to try and make an impression. On the third pop in she asks whether she is indeed in the right spot. She is here for a general she says and is lead back to her seat. Her Mafioso look is not for a part after all. She's probably wondering why the woman next to her is a. staring and b. dressed like a gypsy. It's all part of my gypsy plan I tell Cory when he looks at me a little puzzled when I shimmy'd out in my outfit of choice for the meeting earlier this morning.
"What?!" I ask, in that mine field tone of a woman that lets anyone know whichever answer she hears will inevitably be the wrong one.
"It's very...specific." he offers. Very very hesitantly. I Half yell back that today I feel like a gypsy so why don't I bloomin dress like one with the sequinned skirt and all and that's that.
"I should dress how I feel!" I exclaim
"How do you dress PMT?" he answers calmly.
I would have thrown something had it not been so near the truth. Or so funny. I throw on a crazily huge bangle for good measure instead. Thank you Patricia.

I think something about hanging around the Getty museum has jangled the free spirit within. I have never been to a more beautiful museum. It began with a ride aboard a two car white tram which glided us up the hill to the main entrance through the craggy countryside past a sweeping view of Los Angeles in the near distance below hazy in the lunchtime smog. Leaving the tram we were ushered to a huge stone terrace with the buildings of the museum all glass, stone and modern art surrounded us. The hot stone underfoot and the familiar Mediterranean fauna about us filled the air with gorgeous smells. The bright blue of the sky crowning the caramel stone and the luminous greens of everything growing about us was simply beautiful. Onward we went accompanied by our cousins from Cory's mother's side to meet their Granpa who tells me with a cheeky giggle that he will turn 90 in April. He cracks jokes until we leave some hours later. Sammy at this point is sound asleep and remains so through our lunch in the most lofty cafeteria I have ever been in stocked with an impressive choice of freshly cooked loveliness. We all catch up a little over food and then feast on the photographic exhibition. I drink in the images of Mexican Menonites before Sam finally wakes needing some lunch. We head back out to the warm afternoon and watch the folk go by instead. Many of whom stroll up and fold up the free parasols before entering the gallery. There are purposeful Japanese groups, loquacious Italians, Texan families and boy. Face smeared with good ole fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

We spend the next hour strolling the grounds. I gaze up at the bouganville trained to climb up and out of the top of huge iron wig wam structures. I stop and listen to the water cascading down the stone creek down to a waterfall that flows into a moat surrounding a huge winding hedgerow maze. Curving arund the sides of which are little pockets of english garden all dahlia and arched trellis. A pang of homesickness. Wendy, my cousin and I, whose Dad has been entertaining us all, sit on a bench to enjoy the floral air whilst her daughter Jess (last seen in the back alleys of the University of Michigan) frolics uphill with the boy and Cory chats with Barry, Wendy's husband. Reluctantly we begin the walk back, so peaceful is the little enclave we have found, just in time to squeeze in an ice cream. We sit slurping under a triple height ceiling that creates a lofty terrace with vast views of the pacific and the blue blue sky. It is nothing short of a religious experience to be in this place.

I think Cory felt something similar watching all the auditionees leave after their auditions this morning, struts and blow drys still perfectly intact, or when we arrived at the park later this afternoon for an impromptu run about just as the entire city's worth of yummy mummies were having their monthly get together. It was like watching a commercial for motherhood. I had to take off my sunglasses and wipe them what with it being in soft focus an' all. I don't think I have ever seen so many happy babies and mummies in one place. Ever. I gazed away the rest of the afternoon watching father and son wrestle about, collect little friends and leave not without several tears from both for a spot of dinner. Boy all sand and filthy hands and feet. Dad, all sand and filthy hands and feet. Mum, all wannabe filthy hands and feet somewhat handicapped by the bloomin gypsy skirt. Still, got to run about a bit, nosey on the Russian family doing their quiet reading practice next to the playground (I felt for those jiggling kids!), admire the toned mamas of studio city and attempt and royally fail to complete one pull up on the metal gym equipment (a.k.a grown up playground).

Tomorrow we plan to head back to the Griffith sanctuary for breakfast with Sammy's favourite little lady and a spot of tree hugging with our friends. In the background Cory is cackling to the roasting of David Hasselhoff on tv. Boy is conked out to the world dreaming perhaps of American football, flips and his favourite little girl. Me? I'm enjoying the fact that I have not set the oven a light like last night or had to listen to Cory murder a giant Californian cockroach. As we stepped into bed last night I catch him looking at me like he has bad news and does not know whether to tell me. I obviously ask him to tell me. Actually I think I just ask if it's under the bed. he nods. "Spider? Rat? Tell me it's not a beetle..."
I barely catch the beginning of his nod and I am out the door barking out orders for him to usher it out far far far away from hysterical old me. They touch a prehistoric phobic nerve within. I don't like to admit it, but at midnight I am not in the best place to address and conquer fears. I just want to go to sleep. I hear Cory brandish what sounds like a sword then his tip toes punctuated with loud swoops of what i realise must be the poker (now I remember hiding the fireplace tools in the closet at our last party away from the three year olds). Many swipes needed it would seem for those who survive nuclear explosions. The victim is then swept through and up into the waste disposal. It's not humane. It's nothing to be proud of. I just hope the extended family have not moved in by mistake.

I've got to stop writing. The Hoff has started singing and someone needs to take charge of that remote....

Monday, 16 August 2010

Dancing LA style and Other Tales

"I'm not going to go to sleep." boy whispers conspiratorially as we cosy up in bed, black eyes twinkling up at me from under the tip of the sheet. Man of his word that one. In the end I did something I never do and invited dad in to take over. He's is in there now all hush hush in the middle of Mr Jeremy Fisher. When you read a Beatrix Potter like that it has the uncanny knack of making it sound like an espionage novel. We're trying to convince the slightly feverish lad to get some well needed rest. I think the weekend was almost more then his little body could take. There were girls involved. Nuff said.

It began with a short jaunt down to Manhattan Beach where we had been invited to spend a couple of nights with one of Cory's friends from high school. It was another gloriously sunny day as we found their little patch of suburban paradise off of route 405. Cory's friend's wife's father, a first generation Slovenian mason had built the roomy home, and, as we came to find out, many of their neighbour's too. It was wonderful to be back in somebody's real home again, especially with a garden and homemade tacos on the table and a little girl of 4 to play with. We tucked in, home made margaritas to boot and the tykes played easily. For the rest of the afternoon the three of us went down to the beach whilst our friends were at a previously arranged party. The first thing that strikes me as we approach Manhattan beach is the steep narrow hill that leads down to the shore lined with coffee shops and boutiques the latter laden with swimmy, beachy gear all tropical colours and summertime. It was like being in the Med. Palm trees along the front, everyone doing the sandy shuffle. Especially the sensationally energetic volleyball players bouncing and flouncing on the twenty-some courts along the sand. A pier jutts straight out into the ocean with a bohemian cafe and an aquarium. At least that's what the sign said. The cafe looked more like a good ole pier fry-up to me but I digress, creature of habit as I am.

The wind whipping up more of an early spring temperature to the place had us almost fully clothed. The oldies at least. Boy insisted on stripping down into his regulation body suit speedo outfit hopping in and out of the water collecting friends on the spray. It took some convincing to get him wrapped up in a towel even though he began, after an hour or so to shiver like an arctic explorer the wrong side of hyperthermia. We swaddled him in towels, and whilst dad dug himself a recliner in the sand I held the boy and fed him pretzel nubs, his little salty face opening up like a baby bird, eyes half mast. I filled the air with Buster Keaton stories just learnt form his autobiography which Dad gave as a birthday gift. I linger on the part where he describes an actress travelling in her own rail car, flat bed attached at the back for her limo and red carpet laid from the wings to her dressing room. Even the tyke expresses surprised delight. That's the way to tour. Too late to negotiate that I'm s'posin'

But you know, for all my failed attempts at grandeur I am more disposed to comedy in the end, as witnessed by the members of the Zumba and Danzmundo classes I attended on the same day earlier int he week. Obliques have not been right since. That's because both classes involve copious amounts of zhhuzzh and hippy flicky twirly jumpy stuff. In the first class, Danzmundo, I had a moment of perfect enlightenment praising the universe for endowing me with the kind of bum and hips one absolutely needs for the kind of Bollywood Persian African combinations the smiling Claudia was demonstrating. I always had a hunch that they were absolutely useful for something. My lower body, finally, has found its true calling. Swimming pool of sweat later, my friend Michelle who had invited me to go along, also let me keep her daughter's coined and belled little hip scarf whatsit, all wannabe ethnic. I am almost not embarrassed to say it made me very very happy. Dress up and dancing in one morning = happy mama.

In I jingle to the homestead, boy and dad mid stooge song thanks to You Tube that has provided a never ending resource of old time stuff with which to fill our three year old's imagination. The song in question is one where the three are trying to teach a girl's class the alphabet and they do so, in their characteristically ramshackle nonsensical way. The two of them have been singing it ever since. In the middle of the night last night, when our boy woke up slightly feverish they sang it to the three o clock moon to get back to sleep. In the car it's at full volume. In the bath. In the kitchen. On the loo. Suffice to say I know my stoogey alphabet inside and out. Finally.

But back to mama and her shakey bootay. After a few more shakey shakey in the kitchen, we were all fed and ready to hit Hollywood YMCA for boy's dance class. Our friend's wife is teaching there and has invited Sam to take part at no cost. In he waddles tap shoed and eager to make some noise. Jazz plays on the stereo. Donald O' Connor dons his serious dance face eyeing our friends shoes with the concentration of a viper about to attack. He shuffles, taps, stamps roughly five beats behind everyone eyes alive with happiness. Quick about turn and it's into ballet shoes for a few plies and such. Our friend asks the children what their feet smell like (nice ruse to get them to touch their toes with their noses). Sam announces his are the flavour of cream cheese and whips back to check if all the parents are laughing. Later in the car he asks us whether he saw how he got the laugh on cream cheese. Been listening to his dad's comedy dissections a little too carefully methinks.

After his pirouettes we head back to our friend's house and their delightful little girls all songs and make believe and mother hens. We heat up the food Cory and I have brought (a little Sardinian pasta sauce for the soul and such) and just about when its time to clear up I leave with our friend to take Zumba. Apparently it is officially taking over the world. I know that in a corner of Hollywood the class is so packed you can barely flick a hip without flicking someone else's out of joint. Just a risk you take when you are being taught by a 5ft something musular lizard man who is high on life and such things. He heated up that room with his larger than life Latino personality effeminate machismo oozing out of every wiggle and whoop and teethy smile. I don't think he stops for breath. At the end of each track the room bursts into spontaneous applause. Congratulating one another for surviving the gruelling cardio hoop-la. I cast my eye around the room. Cat woman is to my far right, talons four inches long, false eyelashes, chocolate skin glowing with exercise though she is probably in her early fifties. Dennis, the leathery chap next to her stays his ground, hips a wiggle, though he is probably in his late sixties. Women all shapes and sizes giggle about me, middle aged, teenagers, lean, round, muscular, fleshy, sweaty. Happy all of them. Ladies at the back in late middle age, demure in their undulations, mexican women feeling the beat, a couple of teenagers to my left launching themselves into the routines with unadulterated energy. The place is pulsing with real life. Especially the dear lady with wispy hair sporting her fisherman's hat and clashing layers of eighties throwback clothing. This is real people LA. I feel like I am home again. After a near miss with exercise nirvana we head out to the starry night and take a stroll back to their house. In the time we have been gone, the children have painted all the big rocks that line their sandy path to the house so that it looks like a place that would fit in perfectly on haight street. Their work matches their psychedelic ledge on their porch painted every colour and encrusted with rhinestone gems in rainbow shades. I want to take it home. Obviously.

Though weary from a day's worth of socialising and exercising mum and dad, decide, hours from dinner, that it would be a great idea to invite a few friends round for an impromptu dinner for dad's birthday. When everybody says yes we do an about turn in the store and come home laden with ribs and drinks and almost everything in between. I could have made a lasagna. Instead I decide to create six or seven dishes for folk to graze on. I always forget I don't travel with a sous chef and that chopping always takes longer than I give time for. This would despair my late aunt, especially when I made the salads for dinner. When tired of chopping I would (still do) throw in veggies a little too close to whole. That's what teeth are for right? Not so if you have dentures. However expensive they may be, you can't crunch a whole carrot without a little worry. "You forget to chop again?" she would ask. Every, single, time. Sometimes I think I would leave in the big pieces just so she could say her favourite retort. Worked a charm.

It was fantastic to be able to have folks over, only downside was that tyke was overtired to say the very least, and greeted his little friends with the warmth of Attila just before battle. Noise quickly escalated, young'uns skillfully steered to calm by unfazed parents chit chatting in between outbursts. After food the boys began their display of acrobatics with the little girl following suit in her best Isadora Duncan impressions. Wine, cake, ribs later we had a cosy vibe in our little place, despite the occasional 3 year old alpha male clashes.

Next day, the boys went to let off steam at the park after a quick round of bowling at the local PinZ place. In we went from the harsh sunshine passed the Men-Z and Women-Z loo to collect our funny little slidey shoes and join the neon lit throng of ball rollers. Or lobbers as is the case with Sam. Who would think his little arms could throw a 6 pound ball. Someone forgot to tell him shot putting was for tomorrow. Dad showed off his ballet technique with some delightfully graceful rolls. Mum bent down and hoped for the best. Occasionally I hit quite a few of those white wotsits down. On the whole, the game is a little stop starty for me. Too much sitting down and waiting. I like the hustle. The jib jab of hockey. The quiet but energised dance around the pool table. Up and down under the spotlight is not my thing. Still, the boys were happy campers to say the least. Not so for the young Korean next to us who, loudly berated himself every time he didn't get a strike. I fear for his puberty years. At barely nine he has adopted the frustrated angst of an almost grown genius. Apparently the teenager to our right was exhibiting the same kind of behaviour. Are we putting too much stress on our young I wonder?

Speaking of stress. Dad has thrown in the blanket. The two of them have abandoned Potter for American football. I think the fever reducer elixir has given the tyke a little delirium, He's sat with his papa on the sofa with a cold compress around him talking end lines or something with the big boy. Thank goodness for the blog or I would most likely be forced into some such sports schooling.

That is what most children were engaged in at the concert we attended last night on our Manhattan beach weekend. Every sunday during the summer the Manhattanites gather at the park for free concerts. Yesterday it was a Neil Diamond tribute. The crowds filled the hill rising up from the large duck pond superbly equipped for a night in the outside. Mini pic nic tables just the right height for sitting on the grass, laden with nibbles and Californian wines sipped from wine glass shaped plastic. Fruit, laughter, children, babies, grannies and everyone in between out for the late afternoon rays and music. In the end, the volume of the band was such that it became more of background music to the general putting the world to rights talk going on at our camp over flowing red wine and spanish cheese. Boy gathered friends under every tree. A little baseball with one fella over here, a bit of running with girls over there, hop skipping about the place, a few minutes on dad's shoulders. The music wrapped up at 7 o clock (definitely one for the families!) and we headed back in the californian sunset, our friend's little girl's natural hair highlights glinting in the glow, Sam hovering around her determined to hold her hand. There were tears before bedtime when she decided she would prefer to sleep in her own bed rather than share his futon on the floor. His face red into sleep and again during the night when he awoke a little out of sorts.

Suffice it to say that our full week deserved another chicken-soup day, hibernating and nesting and generally trying to do things to re-balance the travelling souls. No better way than to take the wrong turning off the 101 on our return home only to discover a farmer's market. Crops grown one side of the road and sold at a very large tin roofed open sided shack on the opposite. I don't think I've tasted strawberries quite like it other than freshly picked on a warm June day at the plot. We ladened ourselves with corn, the sweetest of the year yet, and a plethora of fresh delicacies which I rustled up for us tonight. Further down the road something caught our eye. I joked that it looked like an allotment and after some questioning of our amiable farmer's market owner she tells us that for $25 you can have a little patch of the community garden to grow your own. We tell her about our allotment. You would have thought we were talking of our first born. I stop myself going into anymore details when she gets that slightly glazed look in her eyes. How she would not be as excited about our asparagus patch is truly beyond me. Suffice it to say I insisted on giving it the once over. Nothing much different to ours other than the crops of cactus and the palm trees in the distance. Other than that there were the regimental dahlias, tomatoes, basil, Russain male gardners with red braces. A man dressed in muddy shorts was tending to his tomatoes. I take a quick jaunt through the plots each tomato pricking me with a little nostalgia for the Britain land. Quick sniff of a plot was just enough to keep me going for a little while anyhows. It may seem inconceivable with all the to and fro of the last few sunny weeks but homesickness is rearing its grey head a little. I look forward to visits from folks over the coming months. Till then there's always radio 4, and friend's facebook updates about the Edinburgh festival. My cousins are celebrating Ferragosto in Italian lands, my folks put up with some dreary summer rain in London, and here we three soak up the sun. All in each other's thoughts dancing across the morning-night skies. I come from nomadic stock. This way of telecommunication is something I, and all the travellers before me, have been born with methinks.

Boys are still on about the end lines. Night has fallen. I plan on some serious beauty sleep, I am meeting with the casting ladies at Disney tomorrow. Perhaps they are casting a well rounded Iranian, capable of some seriously comedic Zumba moves, best friend role? If not, I can always suggest writing in the character of a stocky heavily moustached Sardinian widow, known to roam the open mic nights stateside, into their next big movie. Or small movie.

Gotta start somewhere people....

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Happy Happy Birthday To Me!

It has been a very memorable birthday weekend. Kickstarted with a delightful afternoon at Paradise Cove - never a more apt description written - Malibu. About half an hour away from the main hub bub of Los Angeles is the oceanic haven that is Malibu. All glass fronted uber homes and infinity pooled residences. To get there you begin on the freeway eventually turning off to cut through Malibu canyon, otherwise known as journey through mountainous splendour. The road, eventually narrowing down to a one lane snake job from a five lane motorway twists and turns through the rocky valley, peaks overlapping in the near distance and rising up about us like a breathtaking watercolour. In and out we turned through the "june gloom" (yes I know its August but thats what the locals say) clouds hovering over us hiding alternate peaks in their mists. Eventually we make a final right turn and the infinity of the blue grey ocean splays into view on the horizon. I don't know who is more excited, me or the two love birds in the seat behind me currently teetering on the brink of an early morning spat. Plans had been changed at the last minute and we have now been invited along on a beach morning on account of our friend having the sole responsibility of keeping hr other friend out of the house in preparation for her surprise 40th that evening. I took my duty of posing as a Californian beach chick incredibly seriously clearly.

We arrived at the cove after a five mile cruise alongside the water, mama gawping at the homes with their huge terraces and jaw dropping views. On arrival we find the car park chock-a-block with vintage corvettes, each lovingly restored within an inch of their lives to utter retro perfection. they sparkled even in the over cast morning. I photographed almost every single one. One chap, most likely a very proud owner took a snap of me. Posing unashamedly. The corvette car club meets once a year for breakfast. On we ran to the white sandy beach, waves undulating into a surfers paradise. Behind us the cliffs jutt up to the sky creating a sheltered haven from reality. At that time in the morning there was room enough for the tykes to flip to their hearts content. And they did. Eventually the ssshhhhhhh birthday gal arrived with her little surfer dude son, all sun bleached hair and sparkly blue eyes. For the rest of the morning the three children took it in turns to play and bicker, most especially towards the imminent hunger for lunch at which point each lad displayed serious possession issues over the young lady, who was blithely unfazed by their screeching dramas and insistence that she stay exactly where they wanted her. Hot dog or two later and the three were back to their joyous bolting up and down from the shore's edge running into and out of the shallow surf squealing with the kind of joy only three yea olds and adults who remember how to be three understand. Tragic tears when it was time to leave. Ssssshhhhh there was a party to keep her away from.

Sam and I make our way back home accompanied by another lady friend who had joined us. Rose quartz pendant hanging form her rear view mirror, legs crossed in a half lotus as we cruised down the free way. We drop into effortless familiar chat. The whole morning I have been surrounded by gorgeous, talented, insightful, earthy women who have made me feel like I have known them for quite sometime so inclusive and warm are they in their relating to me. Over picnic lunch we had shared a bottle of Sofia Coppola's sparkling wine and laughed at each other's tales. Best saturday morning in ages.

Mum and boy settled into an early night, giving the surprise party a miss in view of it being 50 miles away from the theatre and ma does not have wheels, but also because we all needed our rest before hosting Sam's Bagel Brunch III the following morning. I will not pretend that I have felt the frayed edges of melancholy in the run up to the first leg of the show reaching its closing night. I have dealt better with closings of my own shows, often not feeling the loss till sometime later. As a sending off we decided to buy a hundred or so bagels and muffins for our troupe and all the local crew to feast on. Cory's dressing room, turned deli, was filled with a little bit of everyone for the hours leading up to the final matinee. Mood buoyant and filled with expectation, energy frizzling with last-day-of-school excitement. Mr. Fred pulls me aside and asks to have a word in private. He introduces me to a lady who dresses in between her casting jobs and who goes on to explain that a reading of Cold Comfort Farm the musical is scheduled to take place in New York in October and it may be possible that there are a few character parts which I might be able to do should the other casting team agree to give me a shot. I bristle with grateful thanks and excitement, thank her and Fred for taking me into consideration and in my mind start planning a week in New York though a voice in my head tells me to not jump to conclusions. There's no fun without a little creative visualisation surely?

Eventually the crowd thins out to get wigs on and such. Just odour de bagel left whafting in the still, dressing table light heat. Sam and I watch dad get ready, he weaving in and out of his father and his lovely dresser John "helping" in every which way he knows. Then he sits next to his dad and the two put on their make up side by side. The younger somewhat heavy handed with the old pancake. With each stroke he is looking more and more like the ladies we see all botoxed down the high street. Whilst the show begins, the troupe take it in turns to stop in and compliment him profusely on his make up work. Compliments he receives readily. With a big fat, black penciled grin from powdered ear to powdered ear.

Towards the end of the first act boy and I scurry up the stairs where my niece watched her last show. Our eyes darting in the shadows of the wings. Boy and ma soaking up the crew beavering behind the scenes and the excitable whoops of mania from the onstage performers. I never tire of the wings. The smell of backstage. When it ceases to be enchanting I will know it is time to leave the business.

In between shows we all scatter for dinner. Our family opting for a fancy schmancy sushi place across the street where Cory's friend had taken him the other day. The maitre d's greet us on impossibly high shoes apparently as impossible to walk in from the looks of things. We shasay past the uber chic bar area with white metal knives in cased in clear perspex cubes atop of cubic columns and pout on to the main dining area where all five sushi rollers look up and greet us loudly in Japanese. The ritual repeats with every new customer accompanied in by the ladies wobbling on the heels. Boy does his best Astaire impersonation yet in between edamame and mum and dad inhale black salt cod, seared tuna and a roll or three. Pretentious but extremely delicious and almost worth the cost.

We let dad have a quick kip and get ready to watch the final show at The Pantages. I hover around the coffee pot back stage, flitting in and out of conversation with the crew, boy jumping from foot to foot with anticipation. Around 6ish we collect Schuler's daughter, who is also watching and the three of us bundle into the busy Hollywood Boulevard. Above us helicopters hover. We find out later that snipers were on top of the theatre aimed at the W hotel across the street as a man was on the rooftop seemingly strapped with bombs and threatening to jump off the edge. In the end, all possible tragedy was brought to a peaceful end. Certainly added a certain je ne sais pas to the folk backstage anyhows. In we go through the silver and gold art deco glamour to the main doors, boy incapable of moving without dancing waving his fedora in and out of hat tricks like one half of a wind up monkey and organ act. The usher asks me how old he is. I consider lying but there is no way she will believe he is 5. I tell the truth. She asks me to stand aside. Her supervisor comes out, asks me the same questions, explains their policy on letting under 5s into the theatre. I stand my ground, as politely as I can whilst the lights are flashing on and off to signal for the herds of people to get to their seats fast. She tells me to wait for the house manager. I explain to Sam that once we convince them to let us in he is under a severe oath of silence except for laughter and applause, what with it being a comedy an' all. He promises, from under the rim of his fedora that he won't make a peep. I put on my extremely serious mum face, eyebrows unifying with severity. His big brown eyes promise me he will not make a peep, and should he need to leave he will ask so in whispered tones. When the house manager comes over to us Sam blurts out all of the above, without breathing for commas. The manager looks up at me and I provide the translation. It takes a little convincing but in the end manager relents. We settle in. From the overture to the bows both children are rapt. I love to glance over at him, the reflection of the troupe dancing in his eyes, wide with admiration. I hope the night will be committed to a memory that might last his lifetime.

We reach back stage afterwards, with some negotiations with the security guards to let us through to stage door and find the cast milling about, more reluctant to flee the building than I had expected. We pack up the odds and ends, say our goodbyes and fill the car. Sam is beginning to droop, but manages to stay awake another half hour whilst we head on down to the dressing rooms beneath the stage where an impromtu farewell party is taking place in Anne's room. There are hugs, promises, numbers and happy-sad smiles. Few more hugs and hopes and we headed out into the chilly Los Angeles night zooming up route 101 to a new chapter.

What better way to open it than a slap up birthday? It began with mum tip toeing around the boys blushering and tustling herself into some semblance of celebratory garb. With twenty minutes to spare I stir the boys, rustle up coffee, pack Sam's breakfast and overnight bag with but a few minutes to spare before his favourite babysitter rings the bell to say she is downstairs. He, beaming from ear to ear settles into her car with a "have a great party ma!" and the two pull away to begin a day of frivolity in Hollywood that will involve some serious soccer time, make believe and anything that takes their fancy. So generous is she and her husband, that they even offer for Sam to stay over with them. I suggest she sleeps with Sam, unaccustomed as he is to sleeping alone and without the folks. Just when I thought the boy couldn't smile any wider he cracks into an even bigger grin at the prospect of snuggling up to a gorgeous 6ft blonde who adores him as much as he does her. It warms my heart.

Back to the task in hand and dad and I are dashing about the apartment locking up and trying to appear functioning. When the bell signals the arrival of our friend (ma of Sammy's favourite little girl here) we dash out to find her beside a friend of hers, all Hollywood sunglasses, in a top down of a convertible. Mama is a happy camper. Cory and I gladly squeeze into the backseat and prepare to be windswept down the freeway. The fella driving tells us that he had believed that money couldn't buy happiness until this particular purchase. He goes on to explain that it was in part the product of recovering from a particularly disastrous relationship. He then launches into what can only be called a stand up routine and continues to make us laugh the entire day, right up until 2.30am when we finally get home.

After about half and hour we find ourselves at the sssshhhhh forty year old birthday gal's pad that looks every inch the mansion out of a magazine. Thick white walls, dark jutting wood in the Spanish style. An entire wall is glass and looks out onto the enormous garden with an ancient oak at its centre, comfy chairs beneath, table laden with morning treats. On the chairs sit the prettiest group of people I have seen in a long time. Over the day we are welcomed into the clan by some very attractive personalities unified in their great sense of humour, fun, creativity and maturity. We bundle into a stretch limo and hit the road. I am grinning from ear to ear and am handed a mimosa thank you very much happy birthday to me indeedy!

In truth Cory has made me swear that I would not steal the birthday girl's thunder, seeing as the day is about her outing. I am totally in agreement. Especially knowing myself. Half way through our journey north to Santa Ynez valley however, someone starts asking about birthdays. I couldn't very well lie could I? The group squeal with delight. More mimosas all round. Trouble with mimosas is that they make you pee. More fool me for not getting out at a pee stop after the first hour and a half. Little did I know, that 20 minutes later we would be cruising down the motorway with my bladder about to combust into 25 million sodden pieces. I whisper to Cory that I absolutely must go now and absolutely now and please you'd better stop the car or it ain't gonna be pretty. We screech into the hard shoulder. I thank the stars I am wearing a skirt. the group jeer at me as I head out of the limo, me trying not to laugh so hard because then I really will have an accident. For discretion purposes I choose to walk away from the car, to be, as I see it, out of view from my new friends. Not the way I thought I would engratiate myself to new Los Angelesian folks. As I relieve myself I hear my husband a few feet away taking pictures and cackling loudly at his wife. I am a sight. This much is true. Especially when I realise that in moving away from the car I have become easier to view both from the limo and from the hundreds of people driving up the freeway beside me. I hope I have not killed the succulents I just watered as I step back into the limo to raucous applause. Husband does not stop laughing till he falls asleep many many hours later. No one ever called me classy for nothin.

The first winery we get to is hidden beyond the winding roads that somewhere nestled between parched yellow grassed hills, cork trees jutting out at irregular angles like the sun scorched country side of Sardinia. Eventually we arrive at what looks like a tin shak with bamboo veranda, cactus laden with prickly pears. As we stepped in, bubbly with bubbly, we are plyed with delicious bio-dynamically grown wine. Rich, full, luscious liquids scurry over our palettes. Everyone buys a bottle or two and then we are back out on the road trying to keep up with our itinerary. Quick pit stop to a delectable road side grocery filled with fresh salads and breads. Most of which make it back into the limo. We all eat like we are 14 year old pubescent boys. Next we arrive at our second stop only to find it closed proceeding to turn back the way we arrived, pleading with our final winery to accept our visit seeing as we are almost 2 hours late. This is, in some part, to blame on the driver, whose navigation system fails half and hour into our journey and who is mapless, and to be a little cruel somewhat gawmless in the face of orientation. His expression remains a constant neutral throughout the day. Frozen perhaps in numb fear.

We arrive at the Demetria estate and explain our apologies through the intercom. Reluctantly they invite us up. We drive up hill for sometime weaving along a narrow lane between rows upon rows of vines till we reach intercom number two. They tell us the code and eventually we make it to the villa perched on the hill the sun's rays splayed around the terracotta tiles roof, cypress trees line the drive. Around the side we find the terrace surrounded by a low stone wall dotted with tables and metal chairs with a breathtaking view of more vines undulating down into nowhere. The sun is beginning its descent towards dusk casting its warm nostalgic glow over the party huddled, still laughing, around a long rustic wooden table. Out comes Adonis, all black curls and wide grin and begins to ply us with tastefullness. We swirl, sniff, ooh and ahh in equal parts for the wine and him. After a couple of sips, all reluctance has visibly faded away and he and his olive skin bask in the warm attentions of the beautiful party. It is unhurried to say the least. Suffice it to say we leave the winery two hours after our dinner reservation at the restaurant which shhhhhh birthday girl had made. She invites Adonis along. A couple of the beautiful ladies are newly single. He accepts. Laden with bottles of beauty we ramble reluctantly away from the Greek terrace towards the Californian dusk. By the time we reach the restaurant it is dusk but the host welcomes us warmly. No matter we are more than two hours late and that he is staying open just for us. We sit outside, eating buttermilk chicken, lamb chops and the like. There is more wine (Adonis has even brought along a few from the vineyard!) but my body sends distinct stop light signals to my mouth and it listens. Flambe banana later, with a candle each for sssshhhhh birthday, myself and Cory (who has his big day on thursday) we sing into never after and laugh into the night. On the journey home, most of us sleep at one time or another until, just over two hours later, having put the world to rights, danced a bit, laughed a but more we arrive at the gate fo the house where we started. The black still night dotted with a cascade of stars. I wonder if my cousins have been spotting any falling ones in Sardinia. Around the 9th and 10th we would always lay out on the grass and watch the skies. I shudder with a pang of nostalgia, homesickness and deep gratefulness for one of the best birthday days I have ever had. I wish more of my family were here to share it with me, I wish my best friends could have enjoyed these amazing people. Next time. There must definitely be a time in my lifetime to make another next time for this trip.

Cory and I arrive back, heads beginning to throb ominously. We curl up in our bed, bigger and quieter without the boy. I send him a kiss on the air and hope he is enjoying his snuggles with our lovely friend. Sleep comes fast and leaves just as quickly.

It is just before 11 when the party arrive glowing with happiness and eagerness to tell of their day. Dad and I in contrast look like we have just been in a convertible for the whole night, the wrong side of wine tasting. Boy waddles proudly up the stairs after hugging his babysitters. We hug them too and plan on seeing each other when the tour hits upstate new york in the fall. He, bag strapped on his back, wheely suitcase clutched in the hand proceeds to tell us every detail of his sleepover. As he unpacks his bag sharing stories for every piece of clothing, Dad and I marvel at him, glowing in his new found independence. He looks at least a year older than yesterday. He tells us he woke in the night and did not like not being able to see Krista straight away but then she cosied with him. By the way he describes his mini break you'd think we had been away from each other for a month. Or a year. He appears all growed up. Utterly adorable. We have all we can not to squeeze him mid sentence and disturb his story.

He asks me if we had a nine candle for my birthday (don't I wish?!) and whether dad will have a twelve one. He asks what the wine party was like. I give him as graphic a description as I can muster before he begins turning a cardboard box into a little shop haranguing us to buy this and that and everything.

No shock then that I have been in pyjamas most of today trying to pretend I am not a little exhausted and dehydrated. What a marvellous marvellous way to start my 34th year. I am so very grateful for the adventures so far. I am full of love for those who have facilitated the journey. I want to say thank you ma for loaning me your belly and for my folks for devoting 34 years of their lives to encouraging me on my path. I hope I can do the sam for Sammy boy.

Happy happy birthday indeedy. Got me a couple of wet eyes.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Building up Partying Stamina

I don't function so well staying up till 3ish two night in a row. Probably why its 8 o clock and I am sitting in my pjs eyeing up the bed already. Trouble is, I always think there will be plenty of time to sleep anon and when husband calls around 11 saying he has an old friend who came to see the show and howsabout they had back and we chinwag over gin and tonics and snacks the obvious answer is invariably a - slightly overexcited - yes! It was fun to watch the fella reminiscing about 80s New York City. Mullet days. High top, hip hop Samantha Fox video days. Yes you read right. Unfortunately, fun as it was, the next day was party night and mum was a little below par on the energy front. Nothing a little brunch with the ladies would not cure, especially when Linda Gray is sat at the table behind us. When the lady beside her leaned over to ask what our friend had ordered because it looked so wonderful I caught sight of Sue Ellen - which is who she was to me growing up in the good ole days of Dallas - I did a double take. Turns out she doesn't wear lip gloss during the day after all. Nor shoulder pads. Or a pout at JR neither. Fat, polished smile though, so that was nice. Ladies and I chinwagged of everything and nothing, me feeling a tinge of melancholy to have to watch them fly off into the new york distance in but a few days. Back we cruised to the pad, mum taking herself across the road to let go of her Groucho brows by an Iranian lady with a voice for late night radio. the kind of voice you would want to hear if you could not get to sleep. I almost fell into slumber whilst she was strapping off my Italianhood. Its saying something when waxing becomes a moment to relax. Rewax.

I left the boys swimming at the pool of the hotel round the corner where most of the crew are staying. I popped my head in to find boy surrounded by ladies all giving him direction on swimming technique. It might be the underestimation of the century to say he was basking in their attentions. Then he doggy paddled around the edges and splashes water in their faces as thanks. Dad meanwhile was befriending a couple from Yorkshire who are travelling through with their two tweenager sons. It was nice to hear that accent beside a pool in LA.

Quick about turn, few jetes in the kitchen and dinner was scoffed and family were ensconced in the car making their way to the theatre for party night. In English that means mum was carrying twice as many bags. Boy and I frolicked in the dressing room, enjoyed the company of everybody and during the bows twirled into our glad rags for the closing night shindig, a few days ahead of the actual closing. I think on sunday evening at curtain down the scene will resemble a nest of cockroaches on the floor of a new york apartment scurrying when as the lights are switched on. With bags. Many of them. Fedora'd boy, blushered ma, jacketed pa (!) off for the celebrations, with a brief moment to say a warm hello to all the friends that were in that evening including the lovely Rachel and her manager. He and Cory had a quick chat and appeared to enjoy each other. He won me over by engaging Sam in some serious conversations about hats, hat tricks, shows. A quick jaunt down the block and we arrived at the bar, boy's eyes drooping with imminent sleep. Inside, past the chandeliers, the mis matched wallpaper, the trendy antique meets chic vibe, boy and I sat our selves down and he was asleep before you could say Young Frankenstein. I had a few more sips of my cocktail - the young frankenstein - and then carried our boy to a booth on the half mezzanine level. John Mark from props helped me arrange the table and another chair so that he would not roll over onto the floor. I joked with him that he was on boy duty. He sat next to Sam for the whole party. When Cory went to tell him we were only joking he told him that Sam had moved his right arm three times but his left only once leading him to the assumption that he was indeed right handed and anyways parties weren't his thing and he was much happier up there with our sleeping boy. With him in view, out to the world, mum and dad were free to roam and chat with the troupe. Mum enjoyed more than one glass of champagne care of the producers then played a brief jazz duet with one of the chaps in the cast soon to be promoted to the role of the creature on the next leg. I always forget how much I miss our piano. In between the partygoers actors turned waiters offered mini delicacies described by one character in particular with fixed pout and steamy stare. His cheeks were sucked in so much that it took me three attempts to understand what he was describing. He might do well not to pull his long gelled hair back in a ponytail so tight next time. His surly style was more than compensated by his smilier, bouncier, eager to please colleague who rustled me up a cocktail by the time I had finished describing what I fancied. The troupe put the world to rights at the bar till the staff turfed us out and dad drove a couple of friends and a still sleeping boy and almost sleeping ma back to the ranch.

We slept in. Heaven. Slit eyed we shuffled into consciousness over coffee, all three looking a bit like the morning after the night before. Nothing a day by our friends pool would not cure. Back to the friend's house we had met up with earlier last week, boy picking up his friendship with the youngest girl where he left off. The two, under the coaching of her ma devoted unswerving focus to a quick session of billiards. Took me back to my sixteenth year where I played every single day atop my parent's table top version because I realised how much it impressed the boys. I am also not averse to winning. Cory will vouch for this and recount an episode in Arizona where he witnessed some McEnroe outbursts on my part because I had forgotten how to hit the ball during a quick round of tennis. That's what happens if you don't play something for a while right? Competitive and lazy. Can be a very ugly mixture.

We watched the children frolic in the water and later another family came to join in the fun. The father is the fella we met a few days ago after Cory's casting. Since then we have spent an evening with his whole clan in which the children wowed us with their care and interest in Sam as well as their musical prowess topped off by a duet with Andy on cello and his son on piano. Their home is laden with musical instruments. We sat round their enormous heavy wooden table and ate chicken and biscuits. The children put the world to rights at their kids table after an impromtu dip in their paddling pool. Sam undressed in record time then lasted five minutes before he was shivering like a street urchin out of a Dicken's novel. The the three musketeers dove into a warm bath, water babies snuggling in and out of each other splashing about. Whilst they scoffed ice cream and cup cakes after dinner mum got a quick cello introductory lesson. I am absolutely hooked. Hwne I woke in the night I could not get back to sleep for thinking about when might be the next time I get to play. I have wanted to learn that instrument for some time. I quite fancy myself as that cello-lady Watson did a good job of some years ago. Cory rolls his eyes, accustomed as he is to my whims that arrive with the gusto of a summer storm and fizzle out just as quickly. Usually I just move furniture when I get in one of those moods, probably why the constant moving on tour keeps me uncharacteristically calm. One of our favourite ladies in the dancing group (Sam's favourite babysitter) made a CD of everyone's favourite song as a goodbye present. Mine was Wind of Change. On the day she asked me anyway.

Admittedly when I decided I wanted to learn the trumpet I was (luckily) advised to purchase a mouth piece first by the music store owner rather than spending several hundred pounds on the instrument itself. I scoffed at his advice, but went for the £12 thing anyway to be polite. It lasted a week. Far too much effort. Plus it makes your lips feel like they are about to vibrate off your face. I returned to the piano. Tail ever so slightly between my legs. But the cello? What better instrument to carry around with us right? Cory has almost conceded to perhaps maybe agreeing to us investing in a small version. That way Sam could be tempted to join in. I just need me some more lessons. Both families have offered to take Sam of a day/evening so that Cory and I can go on a date or two. Good friends. Certainly makes this LA place seem much more friendly than I had envisaged.

It is with no surprise then that our chap was conked out in my arms at dinner just short of seven o clock. Day at Griffith Park planned for tomorrow with one of Sammy's favourite little girls in the world. He asked me whether I might mention it to her to wear her special birthday skirt like at the puppet show when he next sees her. I didn't know whether to launch into a tirade about women's right to wear trousers or whatever they choose according to mood and season. I'm wondering whether somehow we are nurturing the beginnings of the type of fella who will want supreme control over the way his partner presents themselves. I pull myself out of my head and in the end choose to just give him a smile with no comment either way. He'll learn soon enough.

And so to bed. There are more parties afoot and mama needs her beauty sleep. Especially when birthday week is on the near horizon. The birthday season in our clan kicks off with my dad at the end of July and leads through the month of august, every other day devoted to celebrating someone else in the family. Celebration time of year.

This time around for so many reasons.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Tip Tapping By Candlelight

If I told you I was sat on our little patio at a mosaic table for two with a candle burning upon it, another glowing on the mantle inside, the outdoor fairy lights switched on by the fence and the final wafts of incense cleansing the air would you believe me? I use no poetic license. This is my picture of our little Los Angelesian slice of heaven. A perfect little sanctuary from the scurry that has been the last few days. Heaven knows we like to do a thing or three lickety split but the bombardment of my senses leaves me with some need for a few hours of a solace. And that is what I have found most perfectly. Here in the back yard. Our niece is watching the show for the last time before she heads back to Blighty tomorrow, the man is bringing pleasure to the raucous LA crowd, surpassing everybody's expectations both in number and vigour. Mini boy is ensconced in the bed with a well deserved early night. And me? I'm a tip tapping to the rhythm of the stone urn water feature trickling by the fence.

On tip tapping I have more news. A few nights ago I had the barely containable delight of meeting a certain Mr Fred, who as head of the local wardrobe team here at the Pantages Theatre, proudly told me of his dancing history. Cory opened up the dialogue by informing Sam that Fred had danced with Sammy Davis Junior. The boy looked up all googly eyes and tells Fred that he named himself after him. Fred smiles and does a little shuffle. Then Sam shows him a cartwheel or twelve and Fred gets on his knees (he is no spring chicken) and proceeds to coach the lad. He talks about angles, lines, straightening this and that. Sam listens and does his best to take the note. They laugh together. Then Fred does half a headstand. We all instinctively move closer in case he hasn't warmed up enough (!). Half an hour later, when he has finished dressing Brad, he comes back in with a thick ring binder full of plastic sheet protected photographs from most of the movies he has danced in. My eye dances over images of him flanking Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly, gazing at him as one of the brothers in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, Guys and Dolls, Brigadoon and other MGM classics with which I grew up with of a rainy saturday afternoon. My favourite is a picture of him standing next to a small chalk board on which is written his character, his height and the name of the picture's director. None other than Mr Gene Kelly. Now it's my turn to almost fall off my chair. Here, tangibly present is the closest thing I will ever have to meeting one of my idols. Truth be known, I suspected I would have married the man. Gene that is, not Fred (I don't think women are his type). In my nine year old head I had trouble grappling with time you see. I did find my song and dance man in the end with Mr English. When Fred comes back in I quiz him ad nauseum about the man. He tells me that he actually preferred working with Astaire. I flick back to the shot of him doing a leap in splits behind the star. He tells me of Mr Astaire's perfectionism, his keen need to help and teach when his dancers might not be absolutely on the beat in contrast to the impatience of Kelly. I listen with my wide nine year old eyes. The Fred does half a pirouette, throws a line to Sam whom, tells me our lad is 3 going on 20 and shimmys back out to work, folder in hand. I explain to the mini fella that Fred has worked with the Singin in the Rain man. Now we both have that wide eyed look.

It is not only this encounter that has fuelled the magical quality about life at this theatre. Granted it has the awful reputation of being the place where productions come to die (ironically we finish the run here also) but the production I have been observing since October has been injected with a new lease of life. Perhaps it has something to do with it being the final leg? The fact that Mel Brooks came on stage on opening night and gave a heartfelt speech on the excellence of the actors, siting Roger, Schuler and then later Cory? The way each performance has appeared utterly sold out? The way they roar in all the right places and adore the lead? Or maybe its something to do with the fact that Cory's dressing room opens right onto the wings so that you can hear the performance live and through the speakers also making it easy for everyone to stop in and chat? Or maybe, it is having the renewed sense of wonder because we can experience it through my niece's eyes as she ogles the beautiful male ensemble? Goes weak at the knees for the lead? Looks proudly at her uncle? Chats openly with all the crew as if she might very well like to make herself a home here? She has confessed, since the cab ride into the city that this place will be her home. Her uncle teased her that we hadn't even seen our home yet and that she can't drive. She shrugs this off and flicks her hair over her face so that only one eye pokes out from underneath in the enigmatic-fold-over-style.

She has been a wonderful traveller and has enjoyed being dragged about fitting into our schedule. The most recent was Cory's commercial casting. He feared the worst when, on entry, they asked for his bar code. I asked him if he rolled up his sleeve to scan in the micro chip under his wrist. He tells me he stood there all gaga until one Andy came to the rescue. None other than the chap who played Leo Bloom opposite his Max Bialystock back in the summery days of Ogunquit's playhouse summer season a couple of years ago in Maine. It was an idyllic six weeks up in the New England splendour where the two kicked off a sincere connection. Mr Taylor was also Sam's baby sitter on many occasions, under his insistence, seeing as he missed his three children so (they had had to remain home in LA with their mum and her last minute casting in a great job). The two of them, with Andy's daughter in tow met us at the park opposite the casting office afterwards whereupon Lucy became Sam's new best friend/big sister. They swung, climbed and climbed some more. I said goodbye to the impossibly yummy mummys I had started chit chat with, and as we walked to the truck Lucy and Sam made a date for that night. It was with some trepidation that we broke the news that that evening would not work out so well but that we would absolutely definitely see them very very soon (I think that's tomorrow by now actually!). With a few hours to spare before Cory had to head back to the theatre for an interview ahead of half hour call, we decided to carry on towards Venice Beach.

The sun was blazing down bleaching out the pastel 1920s bungalows that line the hill down to the blue brilliance of the ocean. What is it about an ocean view that gives me wings? On towards the palms, pass the volley ball nets, the speedy skaters, the army of bicyclists and round the back doubles on the hunt for a picnic lunch. We found the Rose Market, opposite the Rose temple. As we walked in I wondered how much my niece would be into vegetarian yogi delights. What we found was a roomy cafe and gift shop their displays full of luscious fresh salads. Just what the tummy ordered. We loaded up on all sorts of greens and purples and breads and noodles and things and scurried back to the beach. On wards we trod, narrowly averting disaster with a tanned person zooming on a bike and another coming the other way with wheels on her feet, across the fine sand, wind whipping autumnally at our faces. Finally we camped down, next to a few more bikinis and filled ourselves with Rose's delights. Boy, full of pastas then cavorted like a little chimp with needles on his feet, hopping and twirling and doing the beach-boogie. He made a few friends. When the family next to us left they all shouted out for Sammy from the sandy distance as they paced away under their baggage. Heading close to four we decided it prudent to allow time for traffic and set off, sand laden, sun kissed and happy.

What greeted us, after a couple of wrong turns (I am a hopeless navigator when chatting with my ma-in-law at the same time on the phone) was a route 450 moving at, ooh, roughly 0 m.p.h. We eventually turn off for Santa Monica Boulevard where the traffic is moving even slower. Grid. Lock. The young'uns are conked out in the back seat, my niece contorting herself around the car seat, Sammy open mouthed ready inviting any passing sumo fly to make home. We inch forward for a couple of blocks. I think I catch a snail overtaking us. When, on our nth look at the clock we realise it is almost 6 o clock and that at the rate we are going it is likely to be past curtain up before we get to the theatre we decide to gamble domestic bliss by me navigating Cory through the rat routes of Hollywood to get him to his church on time. Me, head down in iphone, pretending I am a traffic controller. He, all high shoulders and eyes on the road with the determination of a hero in the last few shots of the movie. We zig zag up and down and around, through neighbourhoods parallel to main roads. We are almost half way there when Cory tells me he is below the final notch on the gas dial. I bite my tongue (almost) about the three gas stations he has refused to stop at minutes after leaving the freeway and hour ago. Onwards with zoom, knuckles white with hope. Finally Hollywood Boulevard welcomes us and we park with 5 minutes to spare. The boy and girl wake up from their doze. No prizes to guess which looked like they had been sleeping under 7 ft of sand. Mum has seaweed for hair. Dad looks exhausted. Niece does a shimmy of the carefully ironed tresses (luckily for her I am getting the hang of doing it having never held those straightener things in my life till this week) and looks the most refreshed but for sporting the huge shirt of her uncles. Cory sprints to work to get to his interview. Niece picks up the sand monster and the three of us edge out of the parking lot looking every inch the gypsy travellers. Our mission to find food for the man is accomplished quite easily at Juicy Burger, a surprisingly tasty, fresh delight and then family camps out for an unexpected evening at the theatre. This delights niece no end, especially when actors and dancers take turns to come in and play with the cartwheeler and listen to the budding actresses' stories of life and love and anything and everything. Towards the end of the night, boy is fading, I throw him into the shower ( to remove the beach and the inch thick layer of make up he has slapped on to turn himself into Igor-ino) and then he conks out after a book or two after which I lay him on several blankets under Dad's dressing table. Niece is up a stairwell in the shadows of backstage cosied up in Cory's Young Frankenstein dressing gown with a cat's eye view of the male ensemble's changing area and the wings. At the end of the show Cory and she leave me and the sleeping Sam to get the car and begin unloading The Hamper. That chilly empty wing silence envelops me. I read articles on my iphone to silence my imagination that is busily crafting detailed scenarios involving ghosts and slamming doors and being locked in. In the midst of my internal bickering I receive a call from Cory that the gate is locked and would I please wander around and find the security guy and let us in. A moment after picturing myself tip toeing around the wings trying to find help in a darkened deserted theatre I am tip toeing around the wings trying to find help in a darkened deserted theatre. Calling out for help. My resistance to normal breathing cut short when security guy pops up from some stairs. We give each other a fright. Moments later we are in gypsy scene two, surrounded this time by cases and cookers and family shoving all of the above into the car.

But it has not all been work work work. Cory has many dear friends in this town. All of whom have been utterly welcoming and hospitable. One lady, who has spent some time in England filming with her family welcomed us into her home a few nights ago for supper. A grand 1938 purpose built block, all Hollywood black and white movie, complete with stone stairwells, original coving and stove. Let it be known that our son has, for the past year and a half, etched the memory of her daughter into his mind under the title of Girlfriend. It came as no surprise to me that when he finally got to see her, jet lagged as she was from her recent return from China where she has family, that he could hardly wait to put his little arm around her. She, somewhat more discerning of character took a little while to accept his advances. Half and hour later they were hiding under the dinner table telling the grown ups they did not want to be seen. We carried on snacking the hors d'oeuvres whilst giggles bubbled up from our feet. Each time we lifted the tablecloth we found them locked into each other in a tight hug grinning from ear to China. Later perhaps, when the young lady decided she did not really want another hug and Sam burst into the most tragic heart broken tears I have ever seen him wail, it was a slightly different story. The fella must learn someday I spose. The ladies need a little room to breathe. Yesterday, it was similar story whilst we dined at an uber elegant dining room across from the theatre with another wonderful lady who hadtravelled into town from San Diego to see Cory. I caught whiff of the tale end of some healthy bickering when suddenly Sam clasps at his ears and begins that wail again. I hug him tight till the storm passes. Our friend takes hold of her lady and she begins to wail. The course of true love never did run smooth.

In fairness it had been a big afternoon for the two. Our friend had kindly invited us to a marionette show. Dad equipped me with the iphone directions and a good luck and the boy and I braved the public transits of the city whilst niece went to watch the show. Underground, we found a spotless, bright station, with a handful of unlikelies gracing the platform. Everyone else was sitting in traffic upstairs. Empty film reels lining the ceiling and walls, giant sculptures of movie cameras standing like dinosaurs at an exhibition along the entry. We are in Hollywood. When we reach our stop we get out into the light and start the mum scramble to find the bus stop. One lady walks by and I approach her but she waves her hands at me with a "no english!" The next lady minces by with a strapless black dress and funky sun glasses. I ask her where the number 14 bus stop is. She points up at the sign above me with a crunched brow no attempt to mask her irritation of my obvious stupidity. I point our that the sign reads 714 and that I am looking for the 14. She shrugs that it is a local line. I half expect her to add a "duh!" to the end of it but she is mincing into the distance before I can say thank you. Over the hill I catch the bus peeking up and wave my hand to flag it. It drives right by me to the number 14 stop 100 yards or so down the road at which point boy and ma rev into mega sprint. Its ok, there is a couple questioning the driver every which way about some place or other so we have several minutes to spare before we get going.

Eventually by a flyover we hop off and saunter downhill under the lunchtime glare, passed aloe and succulents and rhododendron towards the theatre. We find a milieu of children beginning to swarm the parking lot. In we pile to a carpeted room, swagged with what looks like christmas decorations. Eventually the show begins and the heavy red curtains lift up to reveal a fairy lit marionette wonderland. The show that unfolds over the next forty five minutes is like nothing I had ever seen to date. Picture a 1950s nostalgia piece harking back to vaudeville and music hall and you are half way there. Then add demonic looking marionettes and hallucinogenic portrayals of farmyard animals, plants and crops, add some slightly out of synch lip synching from a few novice puppeteers and you are almost there. One woman was rather adept at her job and delighted young and old by running around operating "Peter Rabbit" who painted our noses different flavours. I got Margarita. Hiccup. Sam got blueberry. In between the musical skits that bore absolutely no relation to the previous or the following and adhered to no notion of story telling whatsoever, a fox and a chicken made appearances in a chase sequence. Chicken bends down to flutter her eyelashes at the audience. Fox looks at her derriere and tells he she has "a nice...fan." One for the dads I guess. Turns out I had found myself at one of LA's institutions, now celebrating its 50th year. I fear it may rely somewhat too much on its reputation. A bit like the museum piece The Mousetrap back home, unchanged in every way apart from the cast, since its creation over 50 years ago. Still, the image of that blue eyed goat with a blonde wig will not leave me for some time and for this I am truly grateful.

Till my next instalment I will carry on admiring the Spanish architecture, picking out my pretend homes, wowing at the tans and the triceps and the general sunshiny-ness of this place. The agent I met the other day told me that everyone gets bored of the sun. When that happens you take off to the mountains and ski. He also told me that should I live here permanently he would guarantee I would miss damp afternoons curled up on the sofa reading. Right now its very hard to imagine, so happy am I, sat out on this clear night at my little candlelit table. The air feels like Sardinian august night.

We are entering that time of year when all my family and friends have birthdays. I always revel in that summery feeling whatever the weather. It is also when I the feeling of being away from them all is most marked. This year, the day before my birthday, we will be bidding adieu to some of our favourite folks in the show as they head back to New York. A small group of core players and crew are staying on for the next leg, but big changes are afoot. I briefed our little tyke tonight. He seemed to be absorbing the reality on some level. Then he launched himself into a complex performance which involved every musical instrument we own. And a finale. And a big bow. Holding the hands of imaginary colleagues either side of course.

Tomorrow we send our niece back to her London life where she will soon begin training to become an actrine, proper. Cory has bought her his favourite books on acting. She bought herself some new trainers. And a photoshop picture of her and another one of ther fabourite actors. ANd has filed a truck load of stories about her life backstage. In LA. I wait for her and Cory to return from her final show.

Californian dreamin'.......