Charmlee Wilderness Park

Categories Half of Myself

Last Sunday was the first free Sunday I’d had in a while, so I wanted to get away from my computer and todo list. I’d read about Charmlee Wilderness Park, a hike/park in the Santa Monica mountians on lamag.com and it sounded charming.

Waze said it would take me 7 fewer minutes to get there if I took the 405 to the 101 and entered the mountains from the east, but I wasn’t trading the PCH for the freeways for a difference of 7 minutes (even though I knew there was construction on the PCH).

I was a little sad about being out there alone (none of my friends were available), but it’s hard to be sad on a Sunday morning in a car on the PCH, with the windows open, the ocean on your left mountains on your right and the prospect of road, hike and views before you.

Charmlee is pretty far, past Paradise Cove and the north end of Malibu, but it’s a straightforward drive.The park is a couple miles up a mountain road and is easy to spot. At the park, there’s a parking lot, a nature center with copies of a crude trail map, and luckily for me, bathrooms. (The bathrooms are in a stone structure, but the doors are inexplicably in the back so it’s impossible to know what they are unless someone tells you.)

At the entrance to the trails there is a shaded picnic area where some people were setting up a baby shower. They told me that the expecting parents had had their reception here. Good party spot for the outdoors minded, and for those with friends willing to drive the hour to get there.
The lady at the nature center had highlighted a route for me so I followed her instructions, but I could have just guessed. There are lots of trails but the park is rather small and centered around a meadow. I doubt you could get lost if you tried. I was amazed to find a meadow in the mountains. I tried to frolic but the grass was itchy and tall and I wasn’t wearing long enough leggings.

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You do have to walk past the meadow to get to the western edge with the ocean views, which are breathtaking. There’s the familiar j shape of the beach, which you can see all through the Santa Monica mountains (from Temescal further south for ex.) but the park is far enough north that you can also look up the coast.

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The map has an area labeled ‘ruins’,’old well’, and the sinister sounding ‘black forest’. The ruins weren’t much, the well probably was originally a well, and I’m pretty sure the ‘black forest’ referred to a cluster of trees that didn’t resemble a forest or anything remotely sinister.
My favorite part was that along the trail there were these shaded spaces, full of trees that enclosed the area into a private oasis. The trees were perfect for climbing and sitting on their sturdy limbs, and you could just barely hear the traffic from the PCH. But mostly it was incredibly quiet, private and beautiful.

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I kept wanting to take pictures and post them to tell everyone to stop what they were doing and come up here and enjoy this peace, which of course made me be not-in-the-moment anymore and not so peaceful, but my excitement was genuine. On my way up I’d seen so many crowds at the beaches and I wondered if they knew they had this option too. Luckily there wasn’t a good enough signal to upload or share anything, which is why I’m doing this now instead.

I did hang out in a tree for a while, took pictures of the sun through the branches with my crappy phone camera. I was visible from the trail but there were so few people in the park (another perk) that it didn’t matter. I didn’t achieve nirvana and my digital-ADD mind didn’t really quiet completely, but it was a start.

The nature center lady had told me that the route she’d highlighted should take about an hour, longer if I had time to “mosey around”. I don’t think I was there for longer than an hour and a half, and I definitely moseyed. With the drive there and back (an hour each way), it could have been less than 4 hours.

On my way back I stopped at Latigo Canyon beach, a little beach that can be accessed via a staircase hidden on a road off the PCH.

I took a walk in the surf, adopted some sand, and drove home barefoot.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Categories Bookshelf

The Solitude of Prime NumbersThe Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The idea is beautiful. Compare people to numbers, compare the loneliness of people who don’t know how to belong to the otherness of prime numbers, and thus imply that there could be resolution to their alienation because it’s part of a logical pattern, and if they can’t belong to everyone, at least they can belong to each other.

However, other than the fact that Mattia, one of the main characters, is a genius mathematician, and one passage where he introduces the concept of twin prime numbers, there’s really no mention of this theme.

In addition, the characters are dull and silent at best, and selfish and unlikable at worst. There is no progression. The relationships and the characters all follow the same motions, repeated endlessly for the 20 years that are covered in the book.

If prime numbers interest you and that’s how the title caught your attention, read pages 111-113.

View all my reviews

Blue is the warmest color (thoughts on, unedited)

Categories Bookshelf

It’s hard to judge a movie that comes highly recommended, but equally hard to judge one with no context.

“It’s a very well acted movie.”

“Where does a sex scene end and pornography begin?”

I was expecting lesbian sex and a girl with blue hair and magnetic charm, which I got. I didn’t know to expect that the blue haired girl is secondary. The main character is Adele, a high school junior who falls in love with the blue haired art student, Emma. It’s through Adele’s eyes that we see most of the film. The discovery or acceptance that she’s gay, love at first site, hopes raised when her love speaks to her, hopes dashed when she finds out she has a girlfriend, the budding romance, the passion, the plateau and the breakup.

Things move slowly. Every time you think there will be action, other plot lines to accompany the romance, they slink away. Everything is background only to their relationship, to Adele’s view of it. She’s desperately in love. We know before she does that it’s over.

It was there from the beginning. Emma and her parents, artists all of them, don’t believe that Adele truly wants to be a teacher. It’s only that she hasn’t thought bigger, they think. Emma encourages her to do something she loves. Adele insists that she is.

Emma’s family serves shrimp. Adele’s family serves spaghetti and homemade sauce. “The pasta is delicious,” Emma says. “Simple but… very good.” They come from different worlds. Adele’s parents see art as a luxury, working in art, something you do only once or if you have a stable source of income.

That’s ultimately what divides them.

Some movies are about a slice of time, about something that happened. This follows Adele’s life. It’s unclear for how many years. There are no captions to tell us. One minute she’s eating dinner as an 11th grader and the next she’s an assistant teacher and living with Emma.

The movie is also known as Adele: Chapters 1 & 2. This must be chapter 2.

Emma no longer has blue hair. Adele throws a party for Emma’s friends. She’s been modeling for Emma. She makes a giant pot of pasta. Can she cook anything else? But Emma tells her later, “You made a good impression on my friends.”

There’s something lost between them. Adele and Emma barely spend any time together at the party in their yard. Adele eyes Emma with Lise.

I loved watching Adele dance. She doesn’t dance with abandon. It always takes her a minute or two to get into it, and then she’s someone a little different, less deliberate, less sullen, more alive. I also liked the dialogue. There’s a lot of it. The conversations in Adele’s high school lit class about love –

“I want you to think about the idea of predestination in their encounters, okay? Like what happens with love at first sight.”

about Sartre in the park –

“He started an intellectual revolution which set an entire generation free.”

the art discussions at Emma’s party –

“I’m working on morbidity in Shiele’s oeuvre.”

The teacher sets up Adele’s meeting Emma, but would I have caught it if I hadn’t already known the premise of the movie?

There’s a lot of spaghetti eating, and Adele is constantly playing with her hair and almost always has a hair in her face. Why? Adele never makes it to New York, where “everything is possible.”

There’s a lot you see the second time around. You see the details instead of the big picture. The pieces are wonderful as standalone pieces. The whole? Maybe because I tried to read to much into it, to see a theme from beginning to end, to understand why these pieces were needed for this whole, it felt unfinished, unsatisfying.

It leaves you with a feeling of regret like Eli says in the beginning, “Regret. Regret about not filling the emptiness in your heart.” He’s talking about missed chances. I mean that Emma and Adele don’t remain together. It feels like they belong together, like it was true love. Emma should have given her another chance.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Categories Bookshelf

I’m here to write about Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson because I need to return it to the library. I have no idea what to say.

The book is about a woman, alone on a beach, and nothing happens but what’s already happened, and her sporadic trips for laundry, water, and other needs. She is, or believes herself to be, alone in the world. A review in The Nation said this, “Suspense is generated not by action but by thought.” That’s excellent.

The story moves forward. Somehow. With lots of backpedaling and so much uncertainty that certainty becomes unnecessary. This is typical:

“In Madrid, I once lived in a hotel named after Azurbaran.
Unless perhaps it was named after Goya.
And was in Pamplona.”

The story isn’t what happened but what Kate, the narrator, thinks happened. And that might change from day to day, from writing to writing, from one sentence to the next.

She is concerned with language too, how we often misspeak but know nonetheless what we mean.

“Once, Turner had himself lashed to the mast of a ship for several hours, during a furious storm, so that he could later paint the storm. Obviously, it was not the storm itself that Turner intended to paint. What he intended to paint was a representation of the storm. One’s language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.”

Is there an order to madness? Kate used to be a painter and she catalogues the madness of many painters, and philosophers, and many others. Characters in Greek literature share time with Leonardo and Picasso and Rembrandt, the way they do and did in space, Leonardo in the ruins of Rome; the way they did in time – -painters could paint those character in their day, many days after the characters came to life in a different kind of painting – words – also representation, and also free from the confines by time and space.

Kate is fascinated by the fact that three thousand years ago soldiers died in the Greek wars, and then died in the same place again in World War II. Not the same soldiers.

One of her favorite quotes that are interwoven in and out of other thoughts, stories, memories.

“The world is everything that is the case.”

That’s Wittgenstein, though as far as I can recall she never says so. She then says, “I have no idea what I mean by the sentence I have just typed.”
A second is some variation of this:

“Doubtless these are inconsequential perplexities. Still, inconsequential perplexities have now and again been known to become the fundamental mood of existence, one suspects.”

She attributes it alternatively to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, possibly Heidegger.

I would recommend it to anyone interesting in writing or language. It’s unclear why it works, how it works, but it does. It’s so unconventional that it shakes the entire foundation of storytelling. It isn’t a story. It’s the inside of someone’ mind. Unreliable, recurring, full of accidental debris of a life lived, some thoughts you can’t let go of, some that won’t return, stray bits of songs. What are facts without context? What’s a mind without context?

The Square (Review)

Categories Bookshelf

A documentary about the Egyptian revolution, the Arab spring of 2011 that became summer, then fall, then winter, and then spring again and it still wasn’t over. The people back in the square, demanding the fall of the regime.

We read the news, we saw the clips, shuddered a little at the violence, thrilled at little at the youth and idealism and power of the people, for us it was a show.

Is it a great documentary? Does it tell the whole story? It gives a neat timeline, helps sew together the snippets of NPR interviews, the NY Times articles, the headlines and analysis, the predictions, the exposes, the photo essays, from the last 3 years.

The people overthrew three regimes. First Mubarak, then the army, then Morsi. Now the army is back.

Before the film I didn’t see the three stages. Before the film I didn’t understand that the Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution. When the Brotherhood’s rise to power was in the news I worried about extremism, about mixing religion and politics, less about what it meant for the Egyptians that had chanted “Freedom” in Tahrir. Before the film I thought Morsi was democratically elected, not anymore.

Besides for a few brutal moments, there is very little violence in the film, and more of the rise and fall of disillusion and hope, the flares of outrage, the rifts that grow between former friends, the hard choices.

It follows a few revolutionaries, uses their voices, sometimes talking to the camera, or each other, or people around them.

Ahemed Hassan is the Marius or Enjolras of Les Miserables, the fiery young revolutionary with the beautiful smile, prepared to die, optimistic for the future. His voice is frequently hoarse from yelling in the streets. He repeats the same speeches every two hours to new groups of people, half of which agree with him, he says, and they join.

Khalid is the intellectual, a British-Egyptian actor. “We communicate with slogans,” he says and always seems a little weary. He Skypes with his father, “I’m not going to vote,” he says, “We’re not ready for elections.” He’s often on YouTube, a leader in the media war. Get everyone you know with a digital camera, they need to know what’s really going on. They being us, here. When the police chase them, the people hide their cameras.

Magdy is the beard, the Muslim Brother. He disarms us all with his sincerity, his eagerness. He brings his kids to the revolution, he sometimes refers to himself as an individual, sometimes as a brother. At the end, when the country is split between the Brotherhood and the people’s revolution, Magdy is on the opposite side of Khalid and Ahmed. Magdy’s at the sit-in for Morsi while the revolutionaries celebrate his removal. They’re still friends though, they talk on the phone.

“If I die I’ll blame it on you,” Ahmed says, joking.

Other things I noticed: A lot of curly hair, obvious glasses, women dressed in everything from eye-only burkas to pants and trendy haircuts, how very frightening the power of religion, the image of the thousands of Brothers who turned up at the square on orders of the Brotherhood. Like Mecca, thousands bow together,and thousands rise together. That was the leverage, the card the Brotherhood played to make a deal with the army that gave them the parliament.

Since the movie was produced by Ahmed and Khalid and a few others, it’s hard not to suspect that the narrative was too easy, and still it leaves enough to the viewer.

Did the revolution accomplish anything? Khalid says we won’t know for 30 years, Ahmed the people took Tahrir square three times. If we need to we’ll take it again.

The Square is available on Netflix and was nominated for 2014 Best Documentary Feature.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart, by David Samuels

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“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is a collection of magazine pieces by the journalist David Samuels.

The book is difficult to rate because the quality is inconsistent, though it leans towards mediocre, with a few standouts.

The first essay, “Woodstock 1999”, is an excellent mix of fact, insight, and storytelling. The tone is conversational, a little ironic, a little nostalgic, a little nonplussed by the state of the universe.

Aside from that, my favorite pieces were the personal ones – “Being Paul McCartney”, about the kind of man he is and the kind of man he’s trying to be for his girlfriend, “Life is full of important choices,” about living in New York post 9/11. As a Detroiter I also enjoyed the piece on Detroit.

The rest of the essays follow a similar format, and I found myself skipping through them. He describes the main character of the story, and simply reports on his time with them – things they said, what they were wearing, what they did. He was trying to be the fly on the wall, to ‘show not tell’, to give us the story wholesale, and let us draw conclusions. To me, it just felt remote and formulaic.