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....

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