CULTURAL LIFE CONTINUES

SCRIPT.  AIRED in public radio news.  12.1 18

 Getting back to my enjoyable normal routine of attending cultural attractions these days, frankly, has been hard, since the wildfires of last month that devastated my Malibu, the disruption of the mandatory evacuations, and then coming back to a home that was miraculously spared, but in need repairs and cleaning.

Meanwhile, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the cultural life of Los Angeles continued to thrive, with a rich and diverting schedule of stage productions, art exhibitions, and dance and music concerts.  I look forward to doing double duty and being able to see some, the holidays and L.A.’s ever worsening traffic not withstanding.

High on the schedule is the musical “Come From Away” at the  Ahmanson, and the ever challenging venues at the Redcat and UCLA’s center for the performing art, and a diversity of engaging exhibits at the Hammer, Getty, Skirball and LACMA.

Keep tuned for those commentaries.

So oddly for my first foray back into the cultural scene in L.A. was not a particular exhibit or production, but a luncheon atop of the Petersen Automotive Museum, that bright red stainless steel ribbon wrapped mass in the mid Wilshire District.

The luncheon for the underpaid cultural media, who forever welcomes a free meal, was hosted by the Academy of Motion Pictures; the occasion, the unveiling of plans for its long awaited premier museum,  that not incidentally will be located across the street from the Petersen and next door to LACMA, in the renovated and expanded May Company building, , at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.

The opening will not be until late next year, but the Academy in the tradition of  playing coming attractions in movie theatre, reviewed with pride and enthusiasm at the luncheon the plans for its permanent and initial temporary exhibits, two film and performance theatres, an art education studio and spaces for public and special events.

 As a venerable movie lover, I prefer not to give away the plots, content to wait until the museum opens and can be experienced as a curious visitor and user advocate that I am.

But let me leave you with the tease, that the museum will be drawing on a vast, rich collection of films, and all aspects of their production, including technology, set and costume design, makeup and promotional materials. It promises to be a blockbuster attraction that I’m listing as a must see.

With a hooray for Hollywood.

POST FIRE: MALIBU TWO CITIES

Very much on display at the recent City Council meeting was what I would describe as the two cities of Malibu, one angrily testifying with justification what they witnessed in the wildfire of last month, the other vainly absolving itself.

As I comment on radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites, my two city theory is at the core of the mismanaged fire, and more generally at the disappointment and discontent with the city administration and the strident calls for the dismal of the city manager, Reva Feldman, and her top staff.

It is the city manager that in effect acts as a de facto mayor, at the helm of a bureaucratic construct that is the dominant city, its rank and file experiencing their domain in the glare of computer screens, their responsibilities spelt out in bureaucratic babble.

The other city I would describe as a resident conceit, be they a homeowner or renter, for the most part pleased to be living in arguably one of the world’s most agreeable climates, 21 miles of scenic beauty, not withstanding the escalated real estate prices the bane of the PCH, and frustration with n government.

For most of the last quarter of the century since Malibu was incorporated, the conflict between the two cities has been considered minimal; with residents periodically protesting development with limited success. And if even aware of alleged problems of cronyism and mismanagement, most residents deferred to the city manager form of government. 

As exposed in the fire, there are real problems in the limits of local government, as there are problems in governments everywhere at every level , as civic skeptics in defense of their disinterest in any political accountability.

 So much for the concept of home rule and Jeffersonian Democracy. There is a lot of talk in Malibu these days for reforms, but few people appear ready to spend the time and study necessary to make government work.

However, this might have changed. Listening to residents in the wake of the fires, I believe, the inherent conflict of the two cities has been brought to the front burner, and to a boil, that fateful Friday of November 9th .

It is then when the unchecked fire roared into Malibu,  destroying  in its capricious hundreds of homes thought in the past to be safe.

So, while saddened residents are sifting through the ashes of their homes, I contend it’s time for the incoming council to sift through the city’s service contracts with administrators and consultants, as part of a needed review of the debacle.

And hopefully it will do so with the aid of a little Hoover Commission and independent interest groups, such as the L.A. Emergency Preparedness Foundation.

Let’s find out who was responsible, and who was irresponsible, who pretended to serve our city but in harsh reality just served themselves, before we lynch anyone. I hate lynch mobs.

FIRE AFTERMATH; DAY 20

My Malibu continues to reel and roil, in the wake of its worst fire ever, with an estimated 600 plus homes destroyed, its landscape scarred and ashen. And I expect it will be for sometime, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites. 

Emotions are raw: in the public social media, they range from rants to reasonable, and incidentally in need of filtering; at meetings, from personal to self promoting, and in private conversations, confiding, sad. Disasters do seem to spawn demigods.

The outpouring, I feel, is a collective healing process, with people speaking from their hearts, sharing individual experiences and grief. It resounds, like a wind driven surf rolling onto Malibu’s beckoning beaches.

You listen, and nod your head in sympathy. For an octogenarian who has had a ringside seat as a journalist at too many natural and man-made disasters and debacles, the pain witnessed however is forever raw, each new tragedy, hurting and haunting.

 It is also understandable that there be a rush to judgment; that the government infrastructure failed them; standing defeated on a front lawn, hose in hand but no water, and the hoped for fire engine with its brave first responders, not there, homeowners were naturally depressed, as they watched their houses and all its possession and memories go up in flames, felt the heat, tasted the ash.

No wonder they want to know what the hell happened, from the early hints that the fire far to the north west was uncontained, and with the Santa Anas blowing hot and heavy, just might make it to the 101 freeway, and possibly jump, creating a real threat to Malibu.

This should have triggered the city’s CERT volunteers, cleared communication channels, to coordinate with first responders, and stand ready for emergencies. And when it was determined that the unprecedented mandatory evacuations should be ordered, determine whether they be phased, with the more threatened neighborhoods evacuated first; that additional lanes heading out of Malibu be dedicated and policed, that adjoining cities be alerted and made accommodating. And what was our novice City Hall doing besides clucking?

This and so many other questions are being asked, including problems getting supplies to those who stayed, and joined others, to form fire fighting brigades in several neighborhoods, valiantly saving homes . And all this while reportedly being discouraged not to do so, and disparaged, if quotes repeated in passion are to be believed. 

It is therefore understandable that anger be expressed and retribution pursued. Indeed, as one witness, an experienced officer of the court, declared, “let there be blood,” which another civic activist added, bluntly, the city hall be burnt and all in it fired.  “They were useless.”


Emotions aside, the questions raised need to be addressed, and not by the current city administrators, adept as it is at excuses, or their favored cozy consultants, or by others accused or party to the charges of malfeasance.

 Needed is an independent hard nosed panel, a tribunal of sorts, a little Hoover Commission, to review events, seek answer to the many questions, and most importantly, explore what lessons can be learned, and what recommend actions should be taken.

This should involve a critical eye on those whose sworn jobs are, first and foremost, in the words of enabling laws, “the health, safety and welfare, of the public”, and, yes, that includes some hard questions for city manager Reva Feldman, and others in the city hall chain of command.

From a long range perspective, the tribunal could prompt a redefining and possibly no less than a restructuring of the municipal Malibu, sensitive to the city’s frail landscape, the rising challenges of climate change,, and the healthy, growing civic consciousness of its residents, born of the fire.

Though let me add a cautionary note: that it is imperative the tribunal, or whatever entity is organized, involve seasoned, reflective persons, committed to transparency and rational, reasoned solutions.  It’ll be a shame if the good will and civic concern generated by the disaster be dissipated in a rush to judgment and aggrandizement.

THE FIRE: BACK HOME

BACK HOME AT LAST, AND OBSERVING WITH SORROWFUL EYES AND AN ACHING HEART MY RAVAGED MALIBU, IN THE WAKE OF A DISASTROUS WILDFIRE THAT RAGED THROUGH ITS SCATTERED, SYLVAN NEIGHBORHOODS, DRIVEN BY MERCILESS SANTA ANA WINDS, TO TURN AT PRESENT AN ESTIMATED NEARLY 500 HOMES AND STILL COUNTING INTO CRUMBLED AND TWISTED BLACKENED HEAPS AND TOXIC ASH.

MY CLIFFSIDE HOME OF NEARLY A QUARTER OF A CENTURY WAS MIRACULOUSLY SPARED, SAVE A HEAVY DUSTING OF THAT ASH AND A FEW MISPLACED EMBERS, AS WAS MY NEARBY NEIGHBORS ON POINT DUNE, THANKS IN PART TO CAPRICIOUS WINDS AND LOCAL RAG TAG TEAMS OF SMOLDER STOMPERS.

 DEFYING THE MANDATORY EVACUATIONS TO STAY BEHIND TO FIGHT THE FIRES ON THE POINT AND ELSEWHERE WITH GARDEN HOSES AND WATER BUCKETS TO SAVE WHAT HOUSES THEY COULD, ARE THE TRUE HEROES OF WHAT WAS MALIBU’S WORST FIRE EVER.  THE NEIGHBORHOOD RELIEF CENTER WAS WELCOMING RESPITE.

WHILE THE TIP OF THE POINT WAS SPARED, NOT SO LUCKY WERE HOMES A FEW BLOCKS AWAY, DESPITE THE PENINSULA BEING CONSIDERED RELATIVELY SAFE, WITH A RESIDENT FIRE HOUSE AND A CONCEIT THAT THE PAMPERED PROPERTIES THERE WERE JUST TOO PRICEY NOT TO BE PROTECTED.  SO MUCH FOR MALIBU MYTHS AND REALTOR REASSURANCES.

WORSE WAS THE DEVASTATION OF WESTERN MALIBU AND SEVERAL OF THE CANYON COMMUNITIES, THAT INCLUDE TRANCAS, DECKER, KANAN AND LATIGO, WHICH I TOURED CHECKING ON THE HOMES OF FRIENDS, UNABLE TO RETURN TO THEIR PROPERTIES IN THE HELLISH FIRST WEEK OF MANDATORY EVACUATIONS, AND UNABLE TO FILTER THE FRAGMENTS OF INFORMATION AND RUMORS TRICKLING FROM A HOST OF QUESTIONABLE SOURCES, PRINCIPALLY TV AND THE INTERNET.

HOWEVER, CACOPHONIC AND UNFILTERED AS THE SOCIAL MEDIA WAS, NEXT DOOR, AND VARIOUS FACEBOOK SITES, SUCH AS FRIENDS OF MALIBU, WERE WELCOME IF UNVETTED SOURCES THAT YOU HAD TO READ CAREFULLY AND CONSIDER WHO WAS DOING THE WRITING.  WELL INTENTION AS SOME WERE, MOST WERE UNFORTUNATELY UNSUBSTANTIATED AND UNRELIABLE.

TO BE SURE, HAVING SOMEONE WHO IS AN IT AND AN EDITOR IN THE HOUSEHOLD WAS HELPFUL, AND ROOSTING IN LOCALES THAT HAD WIFI. 

FRANKLY THOUGH, ONE HAD TO TOUR THE NEIGHBORHOODS TO SEE THE DESTRUCTION, TALK TO THOSE WHO FELT THE HEAT OF THE FIRES, AND HEAR THEIR  WOES, FEVERISH FRUSTRATION AND PALATABLE ANGER AT WHAT THEY WITNESSED WAS THE CONFUSION AND FUMBLING OF THE POWERS-THAT-BE.

 THAT INCLUDED FIRST RESPONDERS  AND, IN PARTICULAR, THE CITY OF MALIBU.

RESIDENTS CHARGED WITH PALATABLE ANGER THAT THE FIRE SADLY EXPOSED AN OVERPAID AND UNDER ACHIEVING CITY ADMINISTRATION THAT WAS ALL BUT IRRELEVANT, FROM FAILING TO EXPEDITIOUSLY ACTIVATE ITS CERT VOLUNTEERS, TO NOT PROVIDING A TIMELY, EASILY ACCESSIBLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION. THEY ADDED THAT NOT HELPING WAS THE CITY’S TOUTED EMERGENCY WEBSITE THAT REGURGITATED SHERIFF AND COUNTY ITEMS HOURS AND DAYS LATE, WHILE ISSUING PRESS RELEASES OF CLICHÉD CONCERNS OF CITY OFFICIALS. 

PARTICULARLY DISMAYING WAS ALSO THE CITY’S MISMANAGEMENT OF ITS MANDATORY EVACUATION DIRECTIVE THAT APPARENTLY WAS NOT PHASED OR COORDINATED WITH FIRST RESPONDERS AND NEIGHBORING MUNICIPALITIES.

PCH FOR MANY LEAVING EARLY ON THAT FATEFUL FRIDAY IT WAS A FOUR AND FIVE HOUR FRUSTRATION GETTING TO SANTA MONICA, WHICH NOT INCIDENTALLY IN A GESTURE OF ILL WILL CLOSED THE STREET ENTRANCES INTO ITS DOWNTOWN. THE SITUATION DID GET BETTER FOR THOSE FLEEING MALIBU LATER IN THE AFTERNOON, WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCE ALL LANES WERE OPEN EAST, BUT NOT REALLY, UNLESS YOU CHANCED THE CENTER LANES, AS WE DID LEADING A CARAVAN.

RETURNING THE NEXT DAY THANKS TO PRESS CREDENTIALS I HAVE HAD SINCE MY DAYS WITH THE NYTIMES 60 YEARS AGO, THE DEVASTATION WAS BLEAK AND DEPRESSING. TO BE SURE, THE FIRST RESPONDERS WERE OUT IN FORCE, HAVING STRAGGLED IN FROM FIGHTING FIRES ELSEWHERE AND STANDING GUARD AT PEPPERDINE, BUT FOR MANY HOMEOWNERS IT WAS TOO LATE.

THE RUINS THAT WILL BE WITH US A LONG TIME SHOULD BE A CONSTANT REMINDER OF THE TRAGEDY AND A SPUR TO AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF WHAT WENT WRONG, WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE WE LEARNED TO CONTEND WITH THE FIRE NEXT TIME, FOR AS ALONG AS WE REBUILD AS THE CLIMATE CHANGE INEXORABLY CONTINUES, THERE SURELY WILL BE A NEXT TIME.

FROM THE FIELD, 11.20.18

FACEBOOK, NOV. 20 MALIBU REMEMBERED

Smoke might have lifted, but descending on my Malibu is a dark cloud of sorrow. Ferrying friends to their burnt ruins, giving and gettting hugs everywhere, talking and texting, is a mix of emotions: a resolve to return and rebuild, disgust with the city mismanagement (read David Saul) and many questions, and a clutter of answers, rumors and a silence which is deafening. More to come when the power comes on and im back at my computer. I miss her, my neighbors, the dog park denizens, the bark of sealions, screech of the wild parrots and the crash of calming waves.

THE WOOLSEY FIRE: FIELD NOTES

h

https://www.facebook.com/sam.hall.kaplan  11.15.18

Heart aching, body ailing, spent the day in my Malibu. Gratefully hosed away the ashes, Peg cleaned out the frig, then checked out houses of friends still not able to get in, traversing most streets on the Point and in western Malibu . The devastation is depressing. Relief came by tending to the chickens of a neighbor, and ferrying a friend to the ruins of her ranch in hopes of finding her cats. And there were stalwarts Hans and Diane rebuilding the KBUU studio, and the volunteers attending the Point Dume relief center exuding good cheer. And all this under a brilliant sky that seemed to smile on Malibu, lending the ravaged andscape a hope for the future. Now if only the power comes on.

FB  11.15 

The heralded informational meeting for Malibu in Santa Monica last night turned out to be sadly, predictably self aggrandizing. Orchestrated.by a vain glorious city manager featuring a lame duck city council clucking cliches of a stalwart citizenry, it prompted strident heckling, annoying but understandable. In praising herself and staff she related how they hAd to evacuate city hall, but did not address why Pepperdine stAaff and students remained to divert first responders from fighting the spot fires that devastated the point and western neighborhoods! Other items annoyed but hAve to be reviewed later because power low and I’m tired. Ending on A positive note, good seeing friends and neighbors, exchanging sympathy and solace. So much to be rebuilt, including a new Malibu city governance!

ttps://www.facebook.com/sam.hall.kaplan  11.15.18

EASCAPE TO THE GETTY

With the sad aftermath of the Woolsey fire still everywhere in scent and scene in my Malibu, an escape was needed, as I comment on public radio, 99.1 KBUU, and select websites.

So what could be better and more convenient than an excursion to the nearby Getty Museum on its accessible hilltop in Brentwood, and there to be transported back to an awakening, artful Europe of old, in an engaging and enlightening exhibit, entitled “The Renaissance Nude.”

Some 100 works of art offer views of the nude, vibrant and fetching , that the avant-garde artist of the day thrust on a then pious society dominated by the church, proclaiming its celibacy while censuring what they considered sin.

Viewing the once daring art in their controversial context was affecting, and reminded me of the time not so long ago when photographs of uncompromising sexuality challenged the art establishment, which then threatened to cut off funding and close down museums. We happily have moved on.

Ah, but during the Renaissance many of the artists, such greats as Da Vinci, Durer, Michelangelo and Raphael, were church favorites, and indeed in the employee of the Vatican, as well as the nobility and venerated. 

So in short time they prevailed and the nude became ubiquitous, beginning actually mostly with the male nude. So we have a large engraving from the 1470s, entitled Battle of the Nudes, in which the male is depicted in various postures.

Its fame emboldened the artists of the day, and soon the female was unclothed, in particular Venus, the Roman goddess of love, as exhibited in the differing works of Titian and Gossart.  I do love her as shown in various poses, as I am enchanted by the seductress Bathsheba exposed in manuscripts and in paintings. 

However, not exhibited is perhaps the world’s most famous sculpted nude, Michelangelo’s David, which I am sure will never be removed from its perch in Florence, or should be.

Though Michelangelo’s anatomical studies are displayed in all their meticulous detail, as is a reproduction of his awesome 45 foot Last Judgement, the original, of course, in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.   

On display also are a wealth of other masterpieces from the great collection of Europe. These include Titian’s magnificent “Venus Rising From the Sea,” and center stage in a room, Leonardo da Vinci’s studies , in pen and ink, and black chalk.

 They are mesmerizing, as is much of the exhibition, which runs until January 27th of next year. This is great, for personally it gives me nearly two months to plan other visits. This is an exhibition to be seen several times.

ith the sad aftermath of theWoolsey fire still everywhere in scent and scene in my Malibu, an escape wasneeded, as I comment on public radio, 99.1 KBUU, and select websites.

So what could be better and more convenient than an excursion to the nearby Getty Museum on its accessible hilltop in Brentwood, and there to be transported back to an awakening, artful Europe of old, in an engaging and enlightening exhibit, entitled “The Renaissance Nude.”

Some 100 works of art offer views of the nude, vibrant and fetching , that the avant-garde artist of the day thrust on a then pious society dominated by the church, proclaiming its celibacy while censuring what they considered sin.

Viewing the once daring art in their controversial context was affecting, and reminded me of the time not so long ago when photographs of uncompromising sexuality challenged the art establishment, which then threatened to cut off funding and close down museums. We happily have moved on.

Ah, but during the Renaissance many of the artists, such greats as Da Vinci, Durer, Michelangelo and Raphael, were church favorites, and indeed in the employee of the Vatican, as well as the nobility and venerated. 

So in short time they prevailed and the nude became ubiquitous, beginning actually mostly with the male nude. So we have a large engraving from the 1470s, entitled Battle of the Nudes, in which the male is depicted in various postures.

Its fame emboldened the artists of the day, and soon the female was unclothed, in particular Venus, the Roman goddess of love, as exhibited in the differing works of Titian and Gossart.  I do love her as shown in various poses, as I am enchanted by the seductress Bathsheba exposed in manuscripts and in paintings. 

However, not exhibited is perhaps the world’s most famous sculpted nude, Michelangelo’s David, which I am sure will never be removed from its perch in Florence, or should be.

Though Michelangelo’s anatomical studies are displayed in all their meticulous detail, as is a reproduction of his awesome 45 foot Last Judgement, the original, of course, in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.   

On display also are a wealth of other masterpieces from the great collection of Europe. These include Titian’s magnificent “Venus Rising From the Sea,” and center stage in a room, Leonardo da Vinci’s studies , in pen and ink, and black chalk.

 They are mesmerizing, as is much of the exhibition, which runs until January 27th of next year. This is great, for personally it gives me nearly two months to plan other visits. This is an exhibition to be seen several times.

BACK TO BERLIN FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

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.

12.30.17

 

 

THREE CITIES: L.A., NEW YORK, AND SHANGHAI

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,

1.10.06

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

 

 

THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL

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.

11.30.15