This holiday season it was to be, “this year in Jerusalem,”

However, our embarrassment of an impolitic president made an impolitic statement, touching off demonstrations in the Middle East, and prompting us to postpone our planned trip there to Israel and Jordan.

So dutifully reassigning our air miles, we move on to the second leg of our planned trip, to another city where I have a history, Berlin; there to celebrate a gala upcoming New Year’s and an awesome music scene there, as I comment this weekend on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere.

Berlin, of course, also has a history, a tumultuous one, which frankly engrosses me, and also stirs memories. The city is now thriving, but arguably it is the nexus of the last century, cursed by two disastrous world wars, and a crippling cold war,

It was that war that divided the city with a hateful wall I remember some 40 years ago when I crossed it on a dubious assignment for the U.S. government, haunted as a Jew by the horrors of the holocaust and as a liberal humanist by a cruel Communist autocracy. Our family did not fare well under either.

Crossing it then for me was like walking on egg shells, taking each step carefully while looking over my shoulder, whether above ground at Checkpoint Charley or underground by the subway through the security maze of the Fredrichstrasse Station.

At least it was warm in the then drab U Bahn station, not piercing cold as the streets of Berlin can be in the winter, and which makes me all the more happier to live now in Malibu.

I returned to Berlin several years later, in 1982, on a urban affairs junket as design critic for the L.A. Times. Though circumstances were more congenial, the city was still divided and edgy as ever. Journalists never seem to be welcomed in paranoid regimes, then in German, and now in the United States. (My concerns about a demagogic Trump have a veritable basis.)

Then the wall came down with a crash and cheers in 1989; Germany was united, and a decade later I was back in Berlin, this time for FOX TV News doing a documentary series on a city reborn. The redevelopment and design was impressive, and made for good visuals, and for me another Emmy nomination.

But it is the spirit of a city that most interests me. So, now, nearly 20 years later I’m back in Berlin, for a full schedule of cultural diversions, to celebrate the New Year.

For nostalgia I’m staying at the welcoming Melia hotel, on a now bright, buzzing Fredrichstrasse, steps away from the station where I was once uncomfortably interrogated before being allowed to return to West Berlin.

As sort of a celebration of freedom, among the concerts I will be hearing is Beethoven’s Ninth, the ode to joy, being performed in a refurbished hall in what was the former, joyless, East Berlin.

And then it is The One Grand Show at the restored glistening Palace, also on the Fredrichstrasse, for a lavish review in the tradition of Berlin’s sultry cabaret scene.

Prost! Beer there is as good as I remember, but definitely more expensive.





There is nothing like visiting other cities to put in perspective the heralded renaissance of Downtown Los Angeles, especially if those cities are New York and Shanghai.

To be sure, the new residential developments and the sprinkling of architectural attractions such as the cathedral and concert hall augur well for a Downtown that for decades has been an afterthought in burgeoning Southern California

But going back to my native New York City as I do several times a year to visit family and former haunts makes me realize how much more L.A. must do to become engagingly urbane.

That includes at the least shaping a diverting street life here to prompt me to window shop while walking from a dinner to a concert or a play. Walking. Now there’s a thought as parking considerations still wag the Downtown development dog. More hi-rises and density would help.

Not that I think L.A. should mimic New York City. Each has its own distinctive context, culture and communities to celebrate. No doubt we will never have Manhattan’s attitude and ambiance so evident on its thriving street life while that singular island will never have our moderate climate and mountains-by-the sea setting that flavors our envied lifestyle.

But lending me a refreshing, if not exhausting, new perspective on both L.A. and New York was a visit over the recent winter holidays to the emerging new China, in particular Shanghai. The bustling city on the east coast of the booming Asian nation in comparison makes Manhattan feel like its neighboring borough of Queens, and downtown L.A. like Santa Monica.

Actually, Queens where I spent several years in adolescent purgatory and Santa Monica where I persevered as a petulant resident in my middle years were not unpleasant. Just that despite some consumerist conceits, these diverse comfortable communities were similarly suburban, segregated, self-satisfied and, yes, sleepy.

Shanghai definitely is not. With an estimated 20 million residents, including a “floating” population of 3 million, the city seems in a perpetual state of becoming. To a tourist who fancies himself a “flaneur,” as I do, the city exudes a singular spirit that makes experiencing its streets, shop, eateries, and sights exciting.

Talk about densities. Walking along sidewalks is a contact sport that sweeps you along. As for design and development, it is everywhere, as an estimated 400 high rises in various states of construction accent the city’s studded skyline. (In comparison 46 are the planning pipeline for Downtown L.A.)

And while L.A. keeps holding talk fests calling for the revitalization of the LA River, Shanghai in just a dozen years has transformed what had been a mostly rice paddies east of its Huanpu River downtown into a sparkling collection of residential and office developments, plazas and parks. Known as Pudong, it is now the site of the world’s tallest hotel, Asia’s largest shopping center and the city’s new financial district, all lit up and open for business.

The resulting Capitalist-driven commercial clutter blessed by the city and the nation’s Communist rulers resemble if anything Gotham City of the Batman films, what with its spires and skyscrapers. But it is not oppressive, rather more like a high-rise backdrop to the city’s flavorful low-rise neighborhoods of streets and alleys edged by dated shops and housing.

The low-rise city hints of the China I remember of 20 years ago when hordes in brown and gray padded Mao jackets swarmed through the streets on bicycles or heads down trudging every which way.  China then was still in the depressing doldrums of a recalcitrant Communism, borne of in the aftermath of a devastating occupation by the Japanese, a civil war, and an oppressive cultural revolution.

Dormant but apparently not dead was the open for- business, open for- anything, Shanghai a branch of my family experienced in the early 30s after stumbling out of Soviet Russia, along with tens of thousands of other expats.

(My uncle had gone east while his older brother, my father, had scampered west, to settle in Paris, then New York, and me eventually in L.A. The family’s choices of cities, I feel, always have been exemplary.)

The bicyclists are still there, as are the hundreds of thousands of workers from rural China pouring into the city, attracted by an annual escalating income five times the national average, due in part to the construction boom.

While the housing market has cooled recently, long-term prospects remain bullish, given the inherent demand generated by China’s population of 1.3 billion. That’s a lot of people to be housed, feed, clothed and entertained, and where else better to do that but in Shanghai.

The city also is luring the nation’s educated youth, which can be seen on the streets sporting the latest western fads and fashions. And it seems they have forsaken the bicycle for cars, which in turn has resulted in L.A.-like traffic jams. This adds to the pollution that no doubt will haunt China in its continued expansion, as will a host of other environmental problems.

Regardless of echoes of concern by academics and others for the environment and the economy, development moves forward, helped rather than hampered by a bureaucracy whose marching orders are clearly practical and focused. No community outreach here or any protracted plan reviews.

“Construction is aimed first and foremost at economic development. Everything else comes second,” the director of Shanghai planning, Jiang Wu, is quoted as saying.Still, architecture and historic preservation are a consideration, if only in the opinion of developers and designers so as to better distinguish select projects and make them more marketable. One can appreciate their candor.

Meanwhile, Shanghai lurches forward, welcoming new development, new residents and visitors, as any city must do if it is to thrive. To be sure, there are lessons in Shanghai for L.A,


Appeared in now extinct LA Magazine, picked up Downtown L.A. News, various websites etc.  DATED, but still good perspective.




While combining pleasure and work surveying cultural tourism in Europe a few months ago, I could not help but wonder if there also were some lessons for my Malibu.

And indeed there was one in particular, a diverting arts and entertainment experience in Edinburgh that for years has been hyped by au courant friends and family.

The Scottish city, of course, is on a completely different scale, if not planet than Malibu, with a very successful history as arguably the world’s leading festival city.

Its International Festival was launched in the wake of World War Two, as a much needed celebration of the creative human spirit. It then flowered into a host of cultural happenings: music, dance, film, art, books, drama, you name it.

Most interesting for me, and harboring some ideas for Malibu, is Edinburgh’s aptly named Fringe Festival. Whatever engages and entertains, be it single performers or ensembles, is material for the decidedly democratic festival.

This year’s was a grand affair, hosting an amazing 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh, in school halls, university auditoriums, a few aged theaters, churches, under tents, in public parks, private gardens, living rooms and on closed streets and dedicated sidewalks.

Everywhere you wandered in the ancient city there was a peek at a production. Nearly 2.3 million tickets were issued, at modest prices, half price near curtain time, and many free.

The challenge was what to see: an acclaimed company performing an act from a London bound play, a comedy team from Germany doing mime, a Korean dance troup, juggling ballet dancers, acrobatic office workers, standup comics, stand down story tellers,, and buskers everywhere, behind every bench and bush, and on sidewalks and streets, to be sure each spot dedicated and subject to scheduling

It was all doable, because performances were limited to an hour or so, and if you were alert to the buzz, you might score the best of the fest.

The result were wild and wonderful, in part made so because the festival amazingly is open all; absolutely anyone so inspired can stage a show or event, though helping would be having a producer and securing a venue and a time slot. There are no auditions, no second guessing by bureaucrats or politicians. It’s about having the hubris and hustling.

Can something like the fringe on a thumbnail scale work in Malibu?

There are certainly scattered spaces and places that can be transformed temporarily into performance sites, schools, churches, city hall, shopping plazas, parking lots, indeed Legacy, Bluff and Trancas parks. For sure not in the crowded summer, but anytime else, thanks to our weather.

Malibu already has the cache. All it needs is the creativity and flexibility.

If the Cultural Arts Commission can ease its bonds with the city’s innately conservative council and faint hearted city government, and tap its laudable commitment, become transparent, and inspire the city’s many talented incipient residents, it can happen.

Speaking as a former if briefly Disney Imagineer, needed is imagination. It is also what the ever candid Scots in Edinburgh would say.



Went away over the extended holiday season happily observing the music and museum scene in some historic and a few new cultural venues in a familiar Berlin and London, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and in print on websites everywhere.

These included a memorable Beethoven’s Ninth in stately Berlin landmark, a holiday concert in a pitch perfect Philharmonic Hall there and a sublime offering of Bach Cantatas in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, where he had been the venerable choir master.

In London there were several concerts in the inviting Wegmore Hall and stage productions in the West End and beyond. Those were at night, and of course during the days there were the varied museums and galleries I haunt.

And, yes, they had great gift shops sporting post holiday sales. Even the winter weather cooperated, with no more than the usual threatening clouds.

It was a lovely vacation. if it was not for the embarrassing cloud of our deranged disaster of a president that shadows Europe as it does America. Everywhere we went and were identified as Americans we were offered sincere sympathy for us by foreign strangers who consider Trump an aberration, and worse.

But meanwhile back in Los Angeles I happily observe on my return that the cultural scene is flourishing, paced as it has for the last half year by a wealth of exhibitions and happenings under the banner of Pacific Standard Time.

Branded LA slash LA, it is an engaging, celebration of the rich artistic traditions and contributions of Latin American artists and Latin countries. Check out on the web:

The ambitious program sponsored principally by a generous Getty is coming to an end. But in its waning days there is things still to see and experience locally,

What should be particularly provocative this weekend are several performance pieces at varied venues downtown , including the Broad Museum and Redcat gallery Saturday night, and at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary Sunday.But do check them out first on the internet; the performances may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or shot of tequila.

With time running out for Pacific Standard Time, if you want something more conventional, and accessible there are several exhibits that will be lingering at the Getty for another week.These include one exploring the luxury and legacy of the ancient Americas, entitled Golden Kingdoms. It is amazing to think that some of the jewelry displayed dates back thousands of years, hinting at a rich culture that persists today.

That, of course, was the purpose of Pacific Standard Time, and it succeeded



For me these the last few weeks it has been arts and entertainment in Mexico, in particular its rich archeology, displayed in museums and historic sites.

Foremost was Teotihuacan, the largest city in the Americas nearly two thousand years ago, and today still very impressive, if not exhausting under a hot sun.

I had been turned on to this site just outside Mexico City by an enthralling exhibit now on display at the L.A. County Museum of Art, until July 15th. It is a must go.

I also spent a week in the Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, justly known for its culinary and craft traditions, its Spanish colonial architecture, and engaging street scenes.

Blessed by benign weather, witnessed in the plazas and pedestrian promenades was a colorful wedding reception, a graduation celebration and a salutation to a saint. And then there was the shopping. All combined to make time to slip by.

But I had to be back in L.A. in time for an opening night performance of a not-to-be missed “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” The Pulitzer-Prize masterpiece by Eugene O’Neill , arguable America’s greatest playwright, will be at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for just three-weeks, beginning tomorrow through July 1.

It’s a limited engagement of the acclaimed Bristol Old Vic production, coming to the west coast after sold out runs in New York and London. And as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU, and websites everywhere, score a big one for the Wallis.

Directed by the honored Sir Richard Eyre, its has an all-star cast, headed by Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons and recent nominee Lesley Manville. She is known for playing the cold sister in “Phantom Thread;” Irons for many roles, and is one of a few actors to have won an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy.

The play briefly portrays a family whose matriarch is addicted on morphine since the birth of child. Take it from there as the sons attack each other with brutal honesty, while the father wallows in whiskey – all exposed in a long night.

It is harrowing experience, and one I still remember with heartache 50 years ago when I saw it in its initial Broadway run, starring, among others, Florence Eldridge, Jason Robards, and Katherine Ross. The production won a host of awards, and turned me on to live theatre. It has been a joy since.






Back, in Malibu, after a month plus of extended stays in select cities abroad; revisiting some favorite haunts of my maverick past, seeing a few new one, while gathering grist for several writing assignments.

But mostly with my ever curious learned wife enjoying the cultural life and public places of what I consider the soul of the cities.

And, yes, for KBU.FM and the website City Observed. com filtering observations for possible lessons for a more a livable Malibu:

First stop, a most amiable Amsterdam, specifically to experience a restored and rejuvenated Rijksmusum, but also take in several more museums, and of course a performance at the famed Concertgebouw.

Helping was sunny mild weather and diverting, the once every five years tail ships regatta in Amsterdam harbor.Other than the weather, Malibu it is not.

But there are livable lessons, most apt, traffic. In Amsterdam it is a melange , actually at first glimpse, a crazed crush of cars, trucks, trams, bicycles and pedestrians jamming streets, and sidewalks, going every which way, though somehow, amazingly, flowing smoothly.

If there was a particular unconscious orchestration that turned every street of a very crowed city into a ballet tof sorts, was the alertness of pedestrians, the skill of bicyclists, and the reduced speed of vehicles, all yielding of course to the clang, clang of the constant trams.

Me with my ailing legs loved the convenience of the trams. But in particular I was impressed by the cautious crawl of the all the vehicles, and polite swarm of the pedaling bicyclists, not riding tandem and talking on cell phones as they tend to do on the PCH.

Traffic is not going to be reduced, in Malibu, however new devlopments are restricted or better planned. It just going to keep increasindg, no matter what development consultants say.

But it can be slowed down, by lowering and enforcing speed limits, and in the civic center creating an attractive pedestrian zone.

Amsterdam to be sure has diverting attractions — the streets and canals are engaging, the architecture respectful, the museums marvelous, and so is the beer.

And I also should add the wine, a free glass of which was given to those attending a performance at the Concertgebouw, as if one needed an additional enticement to enjoy one of grand venues of the world.

Malibu doesn’t have a concert hall, or a rich cultural history as Amsterdam.

But it has its beaches, benign weather, and is my home. If only the traffic could be better controlled and calmed,

Jf only.




I recently wandered far from my usual roost in Malibu viewing city-and-land-scapes projects and pronouncements in southern California to savor the storied settlements and scenes of the romantic Rhine. Yes, it was a welcomed vacation.

It was also for me a trip back in time, having roamed the back roads there decades ago as a journalist and briefly as a test driver for Audi Motors, thanks to my former affiliation with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena; design being my passion, then and now.

Happily this time there was no need to tightly grip a steering wheel to bounce around the European countryside as if in a pinball machine, blinking intermittently at the control panels and passing scenery, sightseeing at a glance.

The exacting, encumbering car was contentedly forsaken for a river longship, where I had to open the suitcase happily just once for a week’s cruise, and be able to enjoy all at leisure.

There would no driving for me, thanks to Viking River Cruises, as its sleekly designed craft plied down the serene river from Basel, Switzerland, beneath a parade of legendary castles and cities, to Amsterdam.

The castles, of course, were a highlight, each with a rich history, fabled or not, and together for a significant stretch of the river a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Each day the Longship docked at a succession of distinctive towns and cities, my wife and I among the friendly, mostly well traveled 190 or so passengers to be greeted by resident guides for engaging free tours of historic neighborhoods.

This included the more modest Alsatian medieval village of Colmar, with its web of 9th century streets; 13th century Gothic churches and17th century half-timbered houses. Couldn’t help but buy hand made candies there.And I could not resist the pastry or the architecture in Strasbourg, a city distinguished by a magnificent Gothic cathedral dating back to 1176, as much as having been under repeatedly recurrent French and German rule.

To an architectural and planning critic, it was heartening to see how pride has taken root in the continuing local preservation efforts, with its obvious communal and commercial benefits.

Other stops of note was Heidelberg and its majestic castle overlooking the historic university town, and in particular, the bustling, beer consuming city of Cologne, with its landmark towering Gothic cathedral.

I, of course, went rogue, and visited Museum Ludwig there, with its impressive collection of modern art, including raw German expressionism and a wealth of Picasso’s.

There were side trips to the commanding Marksburg Castle, the only castle in the Rhine Valley never having been besieged, undoubtedly because of its strategic siting and daunting steps. They were a challenge.More accessible was the rococo Augustusburg Palace, lovingly designed and lavishly built by a German archbishop, and now also a UNESCO site.

Then it was on to the Netherlands, for a tour of some select windmills. But on the way was an impressive riverfront view of the broad shouldered city of Rotterdam. Prominent was the graceful Erasmusbrug Bridge, known in engineering circles as “the swan.”

It was a modern touch to a historic rich river, before cruising on to Amsterdam, which deserves its own commentary, and then on to Scandinavia, and eventually back to my waterfront Point Dume.




The fear that local elections might be lost when moved to coincide with the traditional state and national election day of the first Tuesday in November appears to be unfounded, at least from my down home and dog park perspectives.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites, this may due to the fact that though this is not a presidential year, politics is very much on the public’s consciousness.

No doubt this might be due to the contentiousness and confusion emanating from the White House daily dominating the news, and I add perhaps intentionally to distract the public from the critical issues of climate change and no less than the future of our democracy.

But perhaps because what is going on in Washington is so far beyond the pale, to one weaned on the credo of civility and civics, to be so outrageous to be almost unreal, the focus instead on the local political scene can be considered something akin to an escape.

Here in Malibu questions are being asked, impressions shared, the ubiquitous roadside signs are everywhere, and seemingly almost every night there is a forum or debate featuring the five candidates vying for the two spots on city council.

In accordance with FCC rules, as a member of the news team at KBUU I cannot endorse a candidate, though as a commentator can review the campaign. So does my trusted official disservice dog, a companionable Corgi, who answers to Bobby the bad and tends to bark when impatient. But so do I.

Make no mistake, this local election is critical to those who embrace the city’s mission statement that boldly declares “Malibu is committed to ensure the physical and biological integrity of its environment through the development of land use programs and decisions, to protect the public and private health, safety and general welfare.”

And as it proclaims to be such a “unique land and marine environment, and residential community,” Malibu urgently needs a tough experienced city council willing to make hard decisions and not incidentally exert leadership over what has sadly become a less than transparent, self serving bloated bureaucracy. Who do they work for, anyway?

With that in mind one must look hard at the candidates, in particular what has been their presence and experience in Malibu, presented here briefly, and in alphabetical order.

Olivia Damavendi: Was Mayor-for-the day not too long ago as a Malibu High student, and later City Hall publicist and Malibu Times reporter, though I don’t know if they’re recommendations.

Karen Farrer: Long time resident (40 years) as an activist parent and articulate advocate in many challenging leadership roles on behalf of independent and improved Malibu schools.

Jim Palmer: An involved local of many years, as a restaurateur and vintner, environmentalist, and public works commissioner.

Mikke Pierson: Life long resident with deep roots as a parent and community activist, notably six years on the planning commission, and in efforts to aid the homeless.

Lance Simmens: Three year resident, briefly president of the Adamson House Board, a self published author, and touting self described senior political posts in Washington and elsewhere.

Those are the choices. You decide, I’m still pondering,



If you consider getting theatre tickets as a holiday gift for family and friends, think early, perhaps think now, for opening tonight at the Music Center’s Ahmanson , and running for a month through November 25th, is the smash hit musical “Dear Evans Hansen.”

Or as I suggest on my arts and entertainment commentary for public radio, 99.1 KBUU, and select websites, maybe you just want to treat yourself and a companion.

For there is no question that this Tony, Grammy, and just-about-every other stage-award winner, promises to be a mega hit, a simple heartbreaking, deeply personal story about a lonely teenager sent soaring.

If you go, be sure to bring some tissues, for this from all reports and reviews, is a tear jerker, very much in the present now, a contemporary tale to tug at the heart.

And yes, there is humor, too, making seeing “Dear Evans Hansen” a very welcomed experience these depressing days in which our democracy is under insidious attack. It is sucrose for the soul to on occasion be uplifted and feel good.

The production certainly wowed the critics. The New York Times called “Dear Evan Hansen” “a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical.” “An inspiring anthem resonating on Broadway.” said NBC News, and for an over-the-top rave, the Washington Post’s Peter Marks declared it “One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history.”

What makes it so involving and riveting is that the Evans Hansen character has been described as a believable somebody, to whom you at least in part can identify; a high school kid enduring the trials, tribulations of everyday life, and then an unforeseen triumph, and its challenges.

But enough said; one does not want to give away the plot,

Complementing the sensitive book by Steven Levenson is a haunting score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, home grown talents who not incidentally collaborated on the acclaimed movie “La La Land.” In keeping with the ambience of the story, most of the songs are reflective ballads, not the usual show-stopping numbers.

As such, it is a rare musical, one that is to be savored. You just might want to see it a second time.

But for the moment I suggest you might want to get a ticket before it sells out, or enter the rolling lottery to score a discounted ticket. Check out the details on the internet by logging into “dearevanhunter.” Whatever, don’t miss this.



A seemingly sincere Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District and a cadre of its consultants descended on Pt. Dume several day ago for a public meeting to review a draft environmental impact report for its proposed ambitious realignment of Malibu schools.

A sparse audience of about 20 Point residents and parents heard that though the report raised some hackles, it was nevertheless needed to expedite the project that will combine the Pt. Dume and Cabrillo elementary schools on the Pt. Dume campus; in the first phase in temporary prefabs and a second stage in a new classroom building

As I comment on public radio 99.1, KBUU, and select websites, the audience had to be wary, given the Santa Monica dominated district board’s long history of short changing Malibu schools. And this despite the real estate rich seacoast city’s disproportionately subsiding the district’s budget to the tune of millions annually.

In summarizing the dense 700 page plus report of mostly boilerplate bureaucratic blather, the district contingent sought to minimize concerns. In particular, these included the traffic impact on local streets and the siting of a two story, 28 foot high, bulky classroom building fronting Grayfox street.

There also was an impassioned call immodestly by me wearing my proud Pt. Dume parent hat for the flexible design of a community school with a progressive curriculum, to serve adults and seniors as well as students, and lend the Point a prominent public presence.

The consultants tried to assure the gathering that the traffic generated by the school doubling its capacity to nearly 400 students can be managed by tweaking commuter patterns. Good luck to that.

As for the indicated siting of the permanent classrooms, district spoke persons said that was just a so-called place holder to expedite the approval process in the project’s first phase, and that the eventual design process in the project’s second phase would include broad public input. And good luck to that, too.

It also should be noted that designating a place holder is a violation of state planning laws, but the district stumbles on.

To be sure, there is little question that in principle that the Malibu school alignment project is needed, as is the pending passage of Measure M to fund it. Malibu schools are a half century old and outdated.

Certainly it will enhance the city’s image and desirability, and while most importantly serving its children and democracy’s paragon of pubic education. And as a bonus it can be expected to boost real estate prices.

It also should prompt the inevitable, and I feel imperative, school district divorce allowing Malibu to establish an independent district, hopefully without paying an exorbitant and unjust ransom.