LONG DAYS IN MEXICO, LONG NIGHTS IN BEVERLY HILLS

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.

 

 

A VIBRANT BERLIN REVISITED

 

This holiday season it was to be, “this year in Jerusalem,” far from Malibu.

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

Berlin, of course, also has a history, a tumultuous one, which frankly fascinate 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 US government, haunted as a Jew by the Fascist holocaust and as a liberal humanist by a Communist autocracy.

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 station, not piercing cold as 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 an 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, in Germany past, and now in the United States.

.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 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 tonight 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.

 

 

A BERKSHIRE RAMBLE

It’s back on air on public radio KBU 97.5 and in print after several weeks on the east coast that included returning to my cultural roots in western Massachusetts.

There, I am happily to report the Berkshire Mountain is still joyfully flourishing, as a wellspring of dance, music and the visual and performing arts, in an accessible historic cluster.

For us that meant locating in the pleasant village of Lenox, and making daily forays to the surrounding attractions.

First and foremost was nearby Tanglewood. The Koussevitsky Music Shed was inviting as ever, though to be sure I no longer sat on the lawn for concerts, but in a chair under cover and closer. And the summer resident Boston Symphony Orchestra was as crisp and refreshing as expected, in a program of Mozart’s youthful violin concerto number 3.

The soloist was Daniel Lozakovich, a 15-year-old European phenom, making his American debut. He performed faultlessly, and was cheered enthusiastically, especially by his mother, who sat near us.

He joined her after intermission for the program’s second feature, Mahler’s fourth symphony, and arguably his most genial. This performance also had a family touch, the orchestra being conducted by Andris Nelsons, and the last movement’s vocal centerpiece, delivered by his wife, Kristime Opolais.

In the evening, it was the Ozawa Hall, and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the American Songbook, batted out enthusiastically by Tanglewood’s vocal troupe accompanied by members of the Boston Pops. I just loved Stephanie Blythe, who echoed Ella Fitzgerald.

The next day Tanglewood’s own orchestra performed, with the addition of world renown trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, in a program that included some several modern scores. Ever engaging was Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, less so Mark-Anthony’s Turnage’s From the Wreckage.

To be sure, the humid weather and thunderstorms were not as climate perfect as Southern California’s, but the festivals and museums forays were sublime, notably also Jacob’s Pillow for dance and a forever expanding and engaging Massachusetts Museum of Art in North Adams.

My Berkshire ramble prompted the thought of Los Angeles, and how the region’s emerging and engaging cultural gazpacho might be better organized and orchestrated to serve Southern California’s expanding and diverse population, fractured and institutionalized as it is.

Ah, if some of those selected self aggrandizing arts efforts were only less insular and more attuned to audiences and artists, how refreshing and energizing our cultural scene could be; if only our vain patrons and pandering politicians were less ego involved, indeed, if only pigs could fly.

 

 

REVELING ALONG THE ROMANTIC RHINE

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.