Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Hood #33: LA Times Festival of Books in University Park (USC)

Even though LA has a rep as being comprised of mostly uncultured beach bimbos, one weekend a year we show off our intellectual side with a huge book festival, held at USC (which is in the neighborhood of University Park).

Getting to USC is an easy trip on the Metro Expo Line, which is what I took to get there today.

As luck would have it, the event opens with a few numbers by the Trojan Marching Band which got me into that bookish collegiate spirit.

I'd bought tickets for several panels and interviews.  The first was with four authors writing women's fiction, three of whom I've read: Gigi Levangie (Starter Wife), Jane Green (Jemima J, Beach House), Lian Dolan (Helen of Pasadena) and Lacy Crawford (Early Decision).  It was like watching a bunch of my girlfriends sitting on a stage gabbing about this & that. Entertaining.

The next session was a "conversation" with Barbara Ehrenreich, who was talking about her new book Living with a Wild God.  She pulled in a crowd.  I know her from her nonfiction book Nickel & Dimed in which she spent a year living on minimum wage.  Smart, funny lady.

I blew off the rest of the sessions (so much for my intellectual side) and instead met up with a couple friends for lunch at the Moreton Fig, a cafe on campus named for the incredibly gorgeous giant fig tree whose fruit pelted customers throughout the afternoon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Hood #32: Westlake for the Grilled Cheese Invitational

Kraft slices chaps & string cheese bullets
Today was all about cheese & bread at the Grilled Cheese Invitational, a quirky festival held in Westlake (just west of downtown LA) that includes cheese calling, a costume contest, the Mayor of Cheese & just general goofiness.  The event actually started as a group of friends competing at a backyard bbq to see who had the best grilled cheese and grew to become a cheese lovers paradise.

I went two years ago as a contestant (I entered with a sandwich of goat cheese, provolone, basil, strawberries and pepper jelly on sourdough, but didn't win). This year, I bought a judging ticket, which was a much more relaxing (and fattening!) way to enjoy the day.

It's sort of luck of the draw which sammiches you get to rate as a non-professional judge—luckily my friend MJ had a gift for charming the servers into giving us the ones that looked really good.

Our favorites:
The Crust Lord with nut bread, some amazing cheese, caramelized shallots & lemon

Banana split cheddar grilled cheese, fresh whipped cream with maple sauce

Yeah, people get creative with names - this one had a mild cheese & pesto ... my 2nd  fave behind Crust Lord
I also liked some gooey cheesy mess called the Famous Queso Dip Grilled Cheese that involved pepper jack cheese, Velveeta-Rotel Dip Cheese Slabs and Dijon-Mayo Butter on crusty bread—seemed like it would rule at a Superbowl party.

The dud:  (sorry): something involving (we think) apple butter and ricotta.

The only other time I went to this festival was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and it was hot & felt like a suburban event - with this being so close to downtown LA, it felt far more funky. Super nice crowd.  Small town even though we were in a big city.

BTW, Westlake as a neighborhood is probably most famous for MacArthur Park, which is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing really, MacArthur Park is a real park which has a bit of a dodgy history, but according to what I read online, the neighborhood is in an upswing (as is much of downtown LA).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

'Hood #31: Brentwood - The Getty & a Jackson Pollock

I haven't been to The Getty in years, even though it's only a 10-minute shot up the 405 Freeway from where I live.  When I heard they had a special exhibition all about how they restored an iconic Jackson Pollock painting, I decided it was time to finally go there—and while I was at it, check the neighborhood of Brentwood off my list.

(Brentwood, btw, is an affluent, celebrity-infested neighborhood on the Westside of LA.)

My Aunt Marcy joined me, and we timed our visit for a guided tour of the exhibition at 1:30.  Before doing so, however, we perused the museum's permanent collection (which, as a side note, I learned has no modern art in it because J. Paul Getty was not a fan).

Then on to see the Jackson Pollock painting Mural.  The docent explained that this painting, commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim in 1943, made Pollock an overnight sensation. While the legend is that he painted it in one night in a flurry of creative inspiration, xrays done of the painting during conservation efforts showed it had to have taken months.

Mural belongs to University of Iowa, which—in an effort to protect the painting because it was starting to flake—applied a layer of varnish.  While it seemed like a good idea at the time, over the years it dulled the painting.  

I love hearing about stuff like this, and I was probably annoying the docent with all my questions about exactly how did they remove all that pesky varnish?  (The answer:  two years, Q-tips, and gently rolling over it bit by bit with a solvent that was safe for the paint but the restorers had to wear protective gear.)  

The Before & After photos were more fun than the reveal in an episode of  Extreme Makeover.  Sorry I don't have those, but here's the painting (which, btw, is a gigantic 20' x 8'):

The exhibition runs until June 1. Admission to The Getty Center is free; parking is $15.