Tuesday, November 30, 2004

BOOK: Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Brilliant. That's all I can say about Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town. Just brilliant.

It's been more than a year since the last time I saw a play being performed on stage. Since I can't go watch a play I thought I might as well just read them, which I haven't done since high school.

After reading Our Town, it's become the measuring stick by which I will judge all other plays I encounter. That's how awesome I think it is. You must read it. All I will say is that it's a three-act play that depicts a small town in America at the turn of the century (not this one obviously). It focuses on two families. The last act especially blew my mind away.

I would love to see this play being performed live. Maybe it'll come around L.A. sometime soon.

::5 stars::

BOOK: Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Intrigue, unrequited love, an unlikely romance, pasts unearthed, unexpected connections. You'll find all these in Charlotte Bronte's second to last novel, Villette.

Like her other famous opus, Jane Eyre, this book is narrated in the first person by a young woman. Villette is about Lucy Snowe, a young English gal who is transplanted to a small town in the north of France. She has no relations and becomes estranged from the only two friends she has. So this book is about "self without society." Lucy is left alone and penniless in England and decides to go to France to find work. As Lucy starts to build a new life in France, she eventually gains a coterie of friends.

In true Bronte fashion, this book doesn't start to get interesting until you're well into a hundred pages. But Bronte sure knows how to weave a tale. Although the characters in themselves are not that interesting, I like how Bronte creates an ensemble of characters that complement one another.

Now about Lucy. She is a delicate, super-sensitive, emotional creature. And she's quite autobiographical as was Jane Eyre of Charolotte Bronte. Sometimes, she's just too much. You think maybe Bronte kind of went overboard and overexaggerated Lucy's emotional reactions to the most mundane incidents.

To my surprise, religion turned an important theme in this book. I think people will find Bronte's approach to the Protestant-Catholic debate interesting. Makes you wonder why this was important enough for Bronte to incorporate into her novel.

This was a fun read because one gets to see how Lucy's life unfolds. It got quite suspenseful at some parts. If you're a fan of 19th century novels like me, then you'll enjoy Villette.

::4 stars::

Crazy California

California has gone insane. That's more reason to explore this great state of ours, and appreciate all its diversity and "loco"-ness. So my friend, Jane, and I hit the road on a madcap romp through Cali. Ok, so it wasn't quite the romp, but it was fun nevertheless.

Drove up the dusty 5 to our first destination , Sacramento - our pathetic state capital. I've always had a fondness for Sacramento for some mysterious reason ever since I visited in '96, so I was eager to revisit the capital. They have a charming "old town," Old Sac, as the locals call it. It was pretty mellow for a late Friday afternoon. Old Sac makes you feel like a tourist in every sense of the word. Lots of candy shops and tacky souvenir stores. But the architecture is awesome. You feel like you stepped into a movie set. Buster Keaton filmed one of his movies (Steamboat Bill, Jr.) in the 1920's in Old Sac, and I swear I recognize the buildings from the movie. We had dinner at Steamer's Coffee. They serve salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices ($5-$7). I had the Siciliana, which is a grilled panino with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. Quite yummy, but a bit too salty. I got the mixed greens as a side, and it was deliciously garnished with raisins, goat cheese, and walnuts.

After dinner, we drove to the state capitol building which will soon see a new governor. All I have to say is that it has a well-manicured lawn.

After an hour and half, we left the quiet, sleepy (and deserted, I might add) town of Sacramento and got back on the 5, heading north towards Chico - our next destination.

We stayed at the YWAM Chico base on Richardson Springs Dr. where Jane's friend is on staff. We stayed in a rustic little cabin next to a bubbling brook. This was my first time in Chico, and I arrived not expecting much. All I knew is that Chico State is the #1 party school in California.

On Saturday we drove into "downtown" Chico, which actually turned out to be charmingly cute. We went to the local mall, and stopped by the weekly Saturday farmers' market which is AWESOME. Fruits and veggies galore. We picked up a few things for the dinner I was going to make later that night. Had lunch at Sultan's Bistro, which is a Middle Eastern fast food joint. I ordered the dolmas pita. First time I had dolmas, which is herbed rice stuffed in marinated grapeleaves. They also have your regular selection of gyros and kebabs.

To my delight, it turned out that my favorite American brewery, Sierra Nevada is in Chico! I was so stoked. (It also explains why Chico State is the biggest party school). So we stopped inside and it turned out that a tour of the brewery was going to commence in a few minutes. Our tour guide was Jeff, who of course had a beer belly (he's worked there for many, many years). The tour was very educational. I'm being serious. Making beer is a meticulous process. It's a craft. Makes you appreciate your libation even more. The highlight was seeing the packing plant. We saw thousands upon thousands of bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (my fave) being systematically filled, capped, labeled, and packed into cases. It was hypnotic.

On our way out we stopped by the pub. We each got to sample three selections for free. So I tried the Stout, Porter, and Summerfest. I ordered a half-pint of the Summerfest which is a tasty, crisp lager. It was the Gold Medal Winner in 2000 at the California State Fair. Chico instantly became hip/cool to me and worthy of revisiting because of Sierra Nevada. If you're a beer connoisseur, go to Chico.

Then we returned to the base to go hiking on the extensive grounds. The place reminds me of being on a African safari. Anyway, it wasn't hiking as much as it was boulder climbing/hopping. Our destination was the hidden pool. One of the people who happened to join us for the hike is from Vancouver! Haha, always making the Canadian connection. Let me tell you, I was in no shape for this hike, pardon me, boulder climbing (I'm still in extreme pain; every muscle in my body hurts). Stretch before you do this hike!

Sunday morning, Jane and I decided at the last minute to go to San Francisco, my favorite city in California. But we first made an important stop in Berkeley. I got to see a part of Berkeley I'd never seen before on my previous trips. We exited at University Blvd. on the 80. It turns out University Blvd. is freakin' Indian row. I was pleasantly surprised since I'm in the middle of a mad love affair with India. We passed by a bunch of Indian restaurants, music shops, and saree shops. Another reason to love Berkeley even more, and even more reason to regret not attending UC Berkeley (what was I thinking!). Anyway, we came to Berkeley with a mission of utmost important: to find Mondo Gelato. The original Mondo Gelato is in Vancouver, and it's my favorite gelateria outside of Italy. I even called my friend Ray in Vancouver to ask him to find out the location for me from Sharon who's the niece of the owner (it's a small world after all). But Berkeley is a small town so we found it pretty quickly ourselves. It's on Shattuck between Center and Addison. I saw the sign instantly and squealed with delight. I think my excitement startled Jane, who was driving at the time.

But before pigging out on gelato we grabbed lunch first at Curry In Hurry which is an Indian fast food joint nearby on Shattuck and University. I had one of my favorite Indian dishes, Dal Makhini, which is brown lentils in curry. Jane ordered the Chole, which is chickpeas in curry. Both only cost $2 each. Indian pop music was playing over us as we ate. I love Indian music so I was tempted to get up and dance like in those wonderful Bollywood films.

Then off we went to Mondo Gelato! I wanted to cry for joy. The store had the same exact furniture as the one in Vancouver, except this one is more spacious. It was kind of bizarre not to see a line coming out of the store as is typical in Vancouver. I drooled over the large selection of gelati and sorbetti. They had my favorite, bosc pear, so I got that and banana on a cone. Sadly, they didn't have my other favorite which is Indian Mango. It is worth driving up to Berkeley just for the gelato alone. Now I don't have to fly all the way to Vancouver just to gratify my tastebuds.

We drove into San Francisco to do a quick drive through the hilly city. Crossed the Bay Bridge (toll is $2) which offers a spectacular view of the SF skyline. We first went to Grace Cathedral which has a replica of the Baptistry doors in Florence, Italy by L. Ghiberti. Then we went to infamous Lombard St. to drive down the crooked little street. Then headed straight to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill to get a magnificent 360 view of beautiful San Francisco. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was breezy and cool. The temperature was perfect - around upper 60's low 70's. I enjoyed every second of it because I knew it was going to be another half year before I experience this kind of temperature again. Then we drove down to Fisherman's Wharf and drove through The Embarcadero to get back on the Bay Bridge, to head back to L.A., back to reality.

When it comes to road trips, music is essential. Chico has some pretty good radio stations. I recommend the alternative music station on 107.5 FM. There's also an excellent oldies station and a soft rock/pop station (it's called Sunny), but unfortuntately I forgot the dial numbers (both are somewhere in the 101's and 102's) . My favorite radio station in the SF area is called Alice (ha ha, and it's not my fave because of my namesake) on 97.3 FM. The playlist consist of mostly pop rock selections. Similar to Star 98.7 in L.A. but with way less annoying DJ's and better song picks. If you like Coldplay, Train, Norah Jones, Matchbox 20, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, etc. then this station is for you.

Huell Howser, eat your heart out.

Steamers Coffee 101 K St., Sacramento, CA
Sultan's Bistro 300 Broadway St., Chico, CA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 1075 E. 20th St, Chico, CA
Mondo Gelato 2106 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA
Curry In Hurry 2011 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA

::5 stars::

MUSIC: The Great American Concert @ The Hollywood Bowl

Just came back from the Hollywood Bowl. I went with my rowdy home group. Tonight's show was The Great American Concert with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri. I thought it was going to be mostly Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein. Well, I was right one out of three. The orchestra performed Copland's Lincoln Portrait.

Carol Channing was the first special guest. I never was a big fan of Channing but tonight she made me one. Wow, to see this American legend sing "Hello Dolly!" was like one of those special opportunities you're glad you had in your life. She's truly an entertainer. She defines "showmanship." They don't make 'em like her anymore. They're a dying breed.

Then the second special guest was Michael Bublé, who ironically is Canadian. But he sang selections from the American songbook. He is one great jazz vocalist. He sang the favorite standards such as "The Way You Look Tonight." He even made me like the songs I don't like such as "Fever" and "Moondance." Michael has a GREAT voice. He sounds like combination of young Sinatra and Michael Feinstein with a hint of Julio Iglesias. This was his Bowl debut, and everybody around me was just raving about him. He really captured everyone's heart. And guess what? He's a Vancouver boy. So it goes without saying that he's cute (there must be something about the gene pool in Canada). The dude is only 25 years old! And, boy, could he sing! He's one to watch out for in the coming years.

The concert ended with fireworks. It wasn't that impressive. After seeing the fireworks competition in Vancouver last year, I've been ruined. Nothing can compare to the awesome firework shows I saw there.

TRAVEL: Downtown L.A.

Be a tourist in your own town! My friend and I did a walking tour of Downtown L.A recently. You're probably thinking, Downtown L.A.???? Yes, indeed, there are things to be seen, food to be had, and music to be heard. I recommend the following itinerary:

We took the subway (Metro Red Line) from the Wilshire/Vermont station. Street park your car along New Hampshire which is a parallel street one block west of Vermont. Purchase at round trip ticket for $2.70. Then take the subway towards "Union Station." Get off at the Pershing Square station, and exit towards "4th St."

Once you're outside walk north on Hill St. and immediately you'll see Grand Central Market on your left. GCM is Los Angeles' oldest public open-air market. You can buy produce and other staples for dirt cheap. Grab lunch from one of the many food stalls. A favorite is Ana Maria's, which is famous for their tortas (sandwiches). Be sure to try the milanesa torta, $4. A large, refreshing horchata will help wash the grease down. If you're vegetarian like me, then go next door to Roast to Go and order a "no meat" burrito, $2.50. But be warned, their burritos are hefty. I swear, I think mine weighed at least 2 lbs.

Anyway, have your lunch there, or take it up to the Water Court in California Plaza, which boasts of beautiful water fountains. Exit GCM the way you came in and cross the street. Right next to Angel's Flight you'll see a flight of stairs. Take it up, and up, and up. You'll come upon an outdoor ampitheatre, where you might just catch one of their weekly noon concerts. Check the schedule for upcoming shows. Every weekend, they feature an ethnic musical or dance group. We were able to catch Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, an African-American acapella ensemble.

Afterwards, exit Cal Plaza by walking west towards Grand Ave. and walk north. MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) will be on your right, and up ahead you'll see the new Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry & co.), which looks like a giant deformed tin can from outer space. It will be the new home of the L.A. Philharmonic starting this upcoming season. Visit the Music Center, which is pretty dead during the day and has a lot of patio tables to sit at. Grace and I just chilled there by the water fountain.

Then, we walked towards Temple Street, which borders the north side of the Music Center. You'll see the newly constructed Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels. It's a huge, brown, modern looking building that resembles a fortress. Head east on Temple Street where the entrance is. You can go inside the cathedral which is beautiful compared to the unattractive exterior. Check out the beautiful wooden pews and the huge tapestries of the saints that adorn the walls. This cathedral ain't your typical traditional Catholic cathedral. It's got a lot of modern flair. Very simple and stark. It's the antithesis of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, which is so ornate it's distracting. I don't know how people can worship with all the art to look at.

When you exit the cathedral go left (east) on Temple St. When you come to the intersection at Hill St., take the DASH bus Route B "Chinatown," which only costs a quarter to ride. You're going to take this to Union Station. Get off there and cross the street to El Pueblo. El Pueblo is the oldest settlement in Los Angeles. Check out Olvera Street which is a small alley full of vendors and eateries/restaurants. It's supposed to resemble a Mexican marketplace. They have really yummy tacos there. I like to go to Mr. Churro and get one of their filled churros for $2, which are to die for. You can get your churro filled with dulce de leche (caramel), custard, or strawberry jam. I like to get it with the dulce de leche. You can check out the other landmarks in El Pueblo.

Then cross the street over to Union Station, where you'll take the Metro Red Line back to the Wilshire/Vermont station. If you're thirsty, you can get boba at Boba Loca at Vermont and 7th. St (one block south of Wilshire). I had the watermelon juice for $2.95, which hits the spot on a hot day.

::5 stars::

MUSIC: eastmountainsouth

I looooooove eastmountainsouth.

eastmountainsouth is Kat Maslich and Peter Adams.

ems is everything I like,

mellow, emotional, earthy, haunting, intimate.

Americana, folk, a little bit of country, singer/songwriter-ish.

simple music. Kinda like Hem but more stripped down.

Kat's and Peter's voices blend and meld beautifully.

I first heard of ems a while back on KCRW. Then I saw them accompany Alexi Murdoch on a couple songs when I went to the Temple Bar in May. I thought, not bad. Peter stood out to me. Plays the keyboard and sings. I like that combo. KCRW started to play more and more ems songs. I liked what I heard but I didn't pay much attention. So I didn't do any further exploration. Then a couple days ago I was watching a TV flick and I heard a beautiful song. Totally fell in love with it, and I was determined to find out who it was by. I had a suspicious feeling that it was perhaps ems. And I was right! The title is "So Are You To Me." Very poetic. I love going on a quest in search of an obscure song. I'm a nerd. I approach music like a research project. So anyway, now that I'm hooked on ems officially, I want to spend some time getting to know their music. This is going to be a bit of a challenge since I can't buy their CD.

You can listen to the archive of a live performance ems did on KCRW in June.

FILM: For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000)

I like watching films about musicians - documentaries or dramatized. I love films and music so to get both for the price of one...what more could I ask for? A new one to add to this favorite genre of mine is For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. It stars Andy Garcia as Sandoval, Cuban trumplet player extraordinaire. Gloria Estfan has a bit part in it, and Charles Dutton portrays Dizzy Gillespie.

For Love or Country is an engaging story about Sandoval's effort to leave Cuba so he could freely play the music he loves and not be stifled by the Communist government, which dictates the kind of music he can write and perform. Arturo has plans to defect when he goes out on tour, but just before he leaves Cuba, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, Mariella. Problem is, she works for the government and she's loyal to the Communist Party. Arturo, on the other hand, hates the government. Nevertheless, he abandons his plans to defect, and despite their different views, they get married (love always triumphs! Ha!). The movie deals mostly with Arturo's denial of artistic freedom by the Cuban government. He loves American jazz but it's considered the "enemy's music" so it's illegal for him to not only perform it but even to listen to it!

The movie tends to drag sometimes but it's worth watching because it's saturated with great Latin jazz. I love all things Cuban (except for politics) so this movie was a real treat. However, you could tell that the story is very one-sided (extremely anti-Cuban government), and they stretched the truth in some parts. Plus, sometimes Andy Garcia isn't very good at pretending to play the trumpet, which is annoying.

::4 stars::

ART: Edward Weston: A Legacy @ The Huntington

Edward Weston. Since the first time I encountered his photographs at LACMA back in the days, I haven't been able to forget the images I saw. They've been burned into my retinas. I think about his work often. And I was absolutely delighted when I saw the street banners advertising the Edward Weston exhibit at The Huntington this summer. To see his photographs again...after all these years...wow...I feel so fortunate. So I went, saw, looked, stared at those wonderful photographs of his. The Huntington has a large collection of Weston's prints which he donated back in the 1940's.

The collection consists mostly of the photographs he took during a road trip through the West and Southwest. Lots of pictures of Death Valley, Point Lobos, and Yosemite. The only downside is that there weren't enough of his still life photographs which I love. He took these amazing pictures of shells, bell peppers and other vegetables that look like human sculptures. It's fun to imagine what these mundane objects resemble. There's this one photograph of a bell pepper that looks like two people in a passionate embrace. It's wild. Also I like the photograph of a cabbage cut in half that resembles the cross-section of a brain.

Weston shows you how to look at the world in a different way. He had such a stinkin' good eye. His photographs make tremendous impact because of the strong lines and sharp constrasts. You'd be missing out if you never lay eyes on a Edward Weston photograph. The exhibit is showing now through October 5 at the The Huntinton Library and Botanical Gardens in the Boone Gallery (Tuesday-Sunday 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.). While you're there also check out the beautiful grounds. My favorite place is the Cactus Garden. Second favorite is the Japanese Garden.


::5 stars::

FILM: Woman of The Year (1942)

Woman of The Year is my new favorite movie. It's been a while since I enjoyed watching a movie so much. This is an old Kate Hepburn - Spencer Tracy flick. Actually, it was their first together, and boy, do they define the word "chemistry." It's a comedy drama directed by the great George Stevens. This film is a social commentary on gender and power relations.

Hepburn plays Tess and Tracy plays Sam. Tess and Sam work for the same newspaper. She's a political columnist and he's a sportswriter. She is a very successful, sharp, independent career woman, and he's a regular shmo. They fall in love and get married. However, it becomes very apparent that Tess wears the pants in the relationship. He's the one who moves in to her apartment. She makes big decisions without consulting him first. She's too consumed by her career and success and neglects her marriage. It's funny to see how the roles are reversed. And of course, after much emasculating Sam has enough and leaves Tess. Tess is eventually "enlightened" and understands that in order to salvage her broken marriage she has to sacrifice her career and be a "good, little domestic housewife." The scene where she fumbles through her first attempt to cook breakfast for Sam is classic. It is truly a hilarious performance.

I'm very impressed by how ahead of its time this film was. It was released in 1942, way before the feminist movement began. Tess has a male secretary which is incredible considering the time period. She often wears pants (which Hepburn was commonly criticized for), and in one scene she sits in a very butch, unlady-like manner. It's interesting to see Tess embody the stereotypical role of "husband" who is too preoccupied with his own job to really take interest in her spouse's not-so exciting life. Sam, of course, like a "wife" feels that his spouse doesn't care about him and feels neglected by the successful, sophisticated Tess.

The reason why I liked this film so much is because it is so thought-provoking. I like movies that make you think. The movie ends open-ended. Even though Tess tries to be the domestic wife that she thinks would make Sam happy, Sam probably knows that realistically she is incapable of fulfilling that role and doesn't expect her to. And if she did, she would not be very happy being someone she is not.

Woman of the Year is not one of George Stevens' best works but it's definitely worth to watch. Even though the script is flawed and stilted, Hepburn and Tracy manage to redeem it by their suberp performances. Just to watch the sparks fly between them is reason enough to see this movie. You could tell that they were absolutely smitten with each other in real life.

::4 stars::

MUSIC: Heather Headley

Don't you just love it when you discover a new artist? This time, it's R&B/Soul singer Heather Headley. She performed this beeeeeeeeeeeautiful song on The Isaac Mizrahi Show called "If It Wasn't For Your Love" (I think that's the title). She said it's a song she likes to sing for her mom or God. I just love the lyrics to the song. And the piano arrangement of course was beautiful as well. To me, encountering a super great song for the first time is one of the greatest priveleges - it's like coming upon a treasure chest unexpectedly.

"If It Wasn't For Your Love" is one of the prettiest songs I've ever heard. I was so moved by it because it's such a spiritual song and the lyrics capture what God has done for me.

Furthermore, I love Heather's voice. It's crystal clear, pretty, and full of emotion. She performed in two Broadway musicals, The Lion King and Aida. So it's no doubt she's super-talented. She even won a Tony Award!

She released her first solo album last year This Is Who I Am. It's definitely going on my Christmas wishlist this year.

FOOD: Cha Cha Cha

Mon amie, Nancy, kindly treated me out to a cool restaurant called Cha Cha Cha this morning. It serves Latin American-Caribbean food. We went there for brunch and we ordered the chilaquiles which were yummy and had a nice crunch to it. I especially liked the decor. It's very colorful and offbeat. Really makes you feel like you're in another country. Also, the service is good. I hope to have dinner there soon so I can try their main entrees. They have several paella selections, jerk chicken (of course), and they're known for their sangria.

656 Virgil Ave. Los Angeles, CA. @ Melrose Ave.

::5 stars::

Monday, November 29, 2004

MUSIC: Steve Reynolds and Alexi Murdoch ~LIVE

Two musicians I like performed in the same night! I love a good line-up. More bang for my buck.

I went to see two singer/songwriters at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica Tuesday night. The main act was Alexi Murdoch. I came to know his music last fall through KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic (the main source of excellent music). Alexi's music is mellow and his voice is soothing. He had a full band up with him. He's not depressing mellow. His songs are hopeful. It's so cool to see musicians live after listening to their music on the radio. Live music is a hundred times better than listening to a recording. Alexi has an EP out called "Four Songs," and his first full-length album is due to be out in a few months. Can't wait!

Steve Reynolds was one of the opening acts for Alexi. I just discoverd his music recently. I wrote about him a few posts ago. I only heard his music once on the radio (KCRW of course) and was immediately captivated. His band rocks! They totally jammed. Steve has a slight alt-country flavor to his music. He's also pretty mellow, but more upbeat than Alexi. I couldn't understand any of the lyrics he sang but I didn't care because the music was soooo good. I'm amazed how people can just compose music. All the musicians who performed with Steve played some sort of string instrument or other and there was a drummer of course. I just loved how all those instruments melded together. I was very, very impressed by the band. Man! The music was so good! Can't say enough good things. Steve is cool. He's Canadian. From Vancouver. 'nough said.

::5 stars::

BOOK: The Alchemist

"My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up the moonless sky.
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."
"Every second of the search is an encounter with God," the boy told his heart.
"When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I've known that every hour was a part of the dream that i would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I've discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had i not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve."
p. 130

"Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested." The boy remembered an old proverb from his country. It said that the darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn. p. 132

The Alchemist is filled with more wonderful prose like the ones above that are full of wisdom and simple truths. It's an inspiring tale of a Spanish shepherd who embarks on a journey to find his treasure. But along the way he meets all sort of people who either help him or hinder him. And he learns some very, very important lessons of life through all the trials he endures. Coelho's book is about hope, optimism, and perseverance. These are universal themes that touch every human being on this planet. Everyone can read this book in his or her own way and be inspired to pursue his/her purpose in life. I read it from a Christian point of view and read it with God in mind and the journey that he has set me on. And I couldn't have read this book at a more timely period of my life. It helped me understand why God has me on this particular journey and motivated me to keep pressing on for the prize (like Apostle Paul) despite the obstacles and enormous challenges.

This is a short, sweet book that is written in a simple style. Once you begin you will not be able to put it down. And it also has a pretty cool love story. Did that pique your interest? I hope so! Read it. You'll love it. We all need a little inspiration.

::5 stars::

MUSIC: Steve Reynolds

It's always exciting and refreshing to discover a new talented singer whose music is so satisfying. This time I was introduced to singer/songwriter Steve Reynolds when I happened to tune in to a live set he did on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic a few days ago. As I was listening, I thought, Hey! This guy sounds like Ryan Adams but a hundred times better. His music has more depth. The music is mellow and hauntingly beautiful. And not overly emotional. More on the wistful side.

As I was doing more research on Steve I found out that he's from Vancouver! Ha! I knew it! All good things come from Vancouver.
I'm glad that I happened to run into his music. How serendipitous!

You can listen to his live performance by clicking on the MBE link above. He self-released his first album "Exile" this year.

::4 stars::

FOOD: Father's Office

Cool down-to-earth bar on swanky Montana Ave. in Santa Monica. They've got about 30 draft beers on tap, mostly California microbrews. You've got to try the sweet potato fries and the regular fries with the aioli mayonnaise dip. They are heavenly. Father's Office also has a good selection of tapas. Of course, they are traditionally all very salty foods so as to encourage you to imbibe more. I tried the patatas bravas which was too spicy for my taste and extremely salty. I prefer the patatas bravas in Vancouver's original tapas restaurant, La Bodega on Howe St.

I had a glass of Sierra Nevada pale ale which is my current favorite. Nicely complemented the food I had. I was hoping that they would have Granville Island beer on tap but I think i'll have to look for it elsewhere here in So Cal.

Father's Office is very small and crowded. Tables are first come first serve. Just grab the first table you see where people are leaving.

I look forward to re-visiting this bar. Anyone?

::4 stars::

MUSIC: Rosie Thomas, Iron & Wine, James Mercer

Christine and I went to hear live music Friday night at the Knitting Factory: Rosie Thomas, Iron & Wine, and James Mercer were the three acts (all singer/songwriters). I went to see the first two whose music I've heard on KCRW. It was soooo cool to see them perform live. Rosie Thomas is incredible. She talks in this very high-pitched little-girl voice but when she sings she has this incredibly mature, exquisite voice. Her songs are intimate, vulnerable and sweet. Iron & Wine is what Sam Beam calls his one-man act. His songs generate a lot of mood. I like his voice a lot - very soothing. But he kept forgetting some of the lyrics. He shoulda rehearsed a bit more. I enjoyed the duets that Sam Beam and Rosie Thomas did together; their voices blended well. We didn't stay long for James Mercer. I was way too tired (beer makes me sleepy), and I wasn't familiar with his music at all.

Things about Knitting Factory that annoyed me: it's too hot in there; show started way too late; intermissions are way too long; and I had to stand up for the whole concert.

::4 stars::

FILM: The Hours

I'm still trying to figure out The Hours. So far this is what I think the movie is about. It's about life and death, selfishness, longing, abandonment, fulfilment, and probably more... The movie is a parade of emotions. Deeply-felt emotions. I was so impressed by how accurately emotions were represented. I could relate to each character, the circumstances they were facing, and the emotions they were grappling with. The emotions were so raw, grand and intense. You come out of the movie feeling emotionally drained, and depressed.

Nicole Kidman was superb in her role as Virginia Woolf. I was blown away by her talented performance. Her segment of this cinematic tryptich was the film's strongest. The scene at the train station between her character and her husband was extremely moving. I related practically to everything she said, and I would have weeped if I was watching it alone. The emotions she conveyed were so powerful.

Julianne Moore's 1950's housewife character is a bit of a mystery. You can't really tell what she's going through because she doesn't say much, but it's all there in the face. Julianne Moore has a way of delivering profound, subtle performances. Just watch her in Far From Heave (an EXCELLENT film). She embodies "less is more." I love Julianne Moore, and I'm a huge fan of hers so I enjoyed her scenes.

The story that involves Meryl Streep was my least favorite. I didn't find it as interesting. However, there is this one incredible scene where she breaks down in the kitchen in front of someone she doesn't know very well and that really struck an emotional chord with me. Meryl Streep is such a friggin' gifted actress. I can't comprehend how she effortlessly acts out these incredibly complex emotions in such a realistic manner.

The highlight of the movie was the musical score by Phillip Glass. Never cared for Glass until now. His music intensifies the emotions that emanate from the screen. I was absolutely mesmerized by the soundtrack. The music is what carries the film. If it weren't for the electrifying music this movie would not have received half the accolades it has received.

All in all, this movie asks, Who are you living for? What are you living for? How are you going to live your life? It's exhausting to think about it.

::4 stars::

MUSIC: "Lovebox" by Groove Armada

I've been waiting a long time to get my hands on this hot little CD. Groove Armada has produced a super-eclectic dance album that is just absolutely delightful. Lovebox is a mix of hip-hop, rock, techno, disco, soul, you name it, it's there. My favorite song is "Hands of Time," and I am head over heels in love with this song ever since I first heard it on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. This song has a lot of soul. A LOT. It makes you move some part of your body when you're listening to it. I swear it'll make a statue dance. By the way, "Hands of Time" was playing on "Alias" when Will and Francie kissed.

::4.5 stars::

TRAVEL: Joshua Tree National Park

This past Sunday my friend, Jane, and I headed out to Joshua Tree National Park which is about 2.5 hrs east of Los Angeles. After visiting Death Valley last year, I've fallen in love with the desert landscape so this was a real treat. We entered the park from the north and got some very helpful advice at the visiting center. After paying the $10 entrance fee to the park, our first destination was Hidden Valley. It has a easy 1-mile loop trail and you see an array of interesting desert plant life. The highlight is the dramatic rock formations which seem to be popular with rock climbers. Then our next stop was Keys View, and we got there just as the sun was setting. It offers amazing views of the desert, valleys and mountain ranges. You can see the Salton Sea and the San Andreas Fault on a clear day. Then we drove down through the park (and tragically hit a rabbit crossing the road). Unfortunately, it was dark most of our way through so we couldn't see much of the park except the amazing stars up above. We stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center and did a bit of star-gazing (saw two satellites!). I highly recommend driving through the park to admire God's creation. It'll take you about 1.5 hours, depending how fast or slow you go. He did some handy work in Joshua Tree.

Dinner was in Palm Desert at Pacifica (dinner $11-$30+) on El Paseo. I ordered the Ahi Sandwich with wasabi mayo, which is like sushi in a bun. It was quite delish except I was very disappointed with the fries. I consider myself a bit of a french fry connoisseur and I give Pacifica's fries a big fat F.

Our accommondations were at club intrawest's Desert Willow Golf Resort, which Jane's family kindly let us use (club intrawest is a Canadian company based in Vancouver!). I absolutely loved the southwestern decor. The color scheme consisted of red and orange with accents of green and blue. The colors were very warm, calming and soothing. And the showers are very interestingly designed (you'll have to see it for yourself).

The next day we went into Downtown Palm Springs and had lunch at Las Casuelas (lunch $7-$20). I had the black bean salad which was all right. Afterwards, we headed to the outlet stores in Cabazon, of course!

Final thoughts: It was a low-key weekend getaway. Even the atmosphere in restaurants is very casual. Everybody's wearing shorts, t-shirts and sweatshirts, even when dining out for dinner. Palm Desert is not as high maintenance as I thought despite its reputation for being the Beverly Hills of the desert. Right now is the perfect time to visit Joshua Tree before it gets too hot in the summer. The wildflowers will be blooming in the spring. It's actually colder in Joshua Tree than it is in Palm Springs right now. If you're into amazing desert vistas then Joshua Tree is the destination for you.

::5 stars::

FILM: The Spitfire Grill (1996;DVD/video)

This movie was kinda slow. But it was well worth watching because it has some of the most interesting, complex characters I've encountered out of all the films I've seen.

Percy is a young woman who's just been released from prison and comes to a small town to start over again. She has a secret past. Hannah is an old, grouchy lady who owns the Spitfire Grill, where Percy gets a job as a waitress. Hannah has a secret too. Shelby is a sweet, timid woman with low self-esteem because she has a bastard for a husband who tells her she's dumb. This husband is Nahum, Hannah's nephew, who is a hateful, scoundrel of a man, and he eventually has a secret, too. Then there's Joe, who quickly falls in love with Percy. I might add that how he proposes to Percy is how I would prefer to be proposed to someday (I have old-fashined ideas about marriage proposals; I've read too many 19th century novels). Finally, there's a hermit in the woods that Percy discovers and befriends. And he's one giant secret. So the fun of this drama is to see these secrets unveiled one by one.

Lee David Zlotoff, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, really fleshed out these characters well. And the actors all did an amazing job bringing the characters to life. All gave very genuine and convincing performances.

The location of the film was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The location itself was practically a character in the movie. All those trees! (you know me and trees). It was filmed in Vermont by the way.

::4 stars::

MUSIC: hip-hop/electronic/dance

1. Charango by Morcheeba: It's trip-hop (whatever that means). Yes, this album is mellow but it's got some groovy beats that gets me shakin' a little. Thank God for the bass. My favorite song is "What New York Couples Fight About" (great title, eh?). And the funniest song is "Women Lose Weight" which is about a guy whose wife has gained weight over the years and isn't attractive anymore. So he kills her because divorce would mean paying alimony. "I'll send that ass right/To the morgue miss," the husband says. And when he's caught he says, "Moral of the story/is desire is important/So watch your weight/it will keep your mate smitten/It's a given/Though looking back I realise/I didn't have to kill her." It's a very tongue-in-cheek rap. So don't take it too seriously! All in all, very interesting music. Not boring at all. And the vocals are great. It'll give you an extra bounce to your step.

2. Ultra.Chilled Vol. 3: There's a music genre or movement, if you will, called "chill out" that I didn't know existed. It's the antithesis of trance music (how do you dance to trance music anyway? All I can think of doing is jumping jacks). I don't really know how to describe chill out except that it's mellow music, instrumental or not, but it's electronic so it has a lot of energy to it even though it's chill. It can be downbeat techno, pop songs remixed, bossa nova-ish, cool jazz, or ambient. Chill out is closely associated with New Age (Oh no!). I guess in its essense, chill out is background music meant for relaxation. So in this 2-disc chill out collection my favorite by far is track 1 on the first disc "More than this" by Charlie Hunter featuring Norah Jones. Norah Jones has been so overplayed that this is refreshing. Also included is "Ghetto" by the Supreme Beings of Leisure, who are phe-no-me-nal. This song alone makes this CD worth buying. The first disc features songs by more conventional artists like Coldplay and Beth Orton while the second disc is more daring and different. Try it out if you need to calm your nerves.

3. Dance Party (Like it's 2003): Gasp! I bought a dance mix (what is the world coming to?). Well, this is definitely far from mellow unlike the previous two records above. When I worked at Crate & Barrel, there was this Korean guy who worked in the stock room who always listened to techno/electroni music, and I would secretly scoff at him for listening to such crappy music. Well now I own my very first dance mix. Even though I was very ambivalent about buying it I just got it because I knew the upbeat dance tunes would be good for my head condition (got to stimulate those neurons). The collection includes disco, techno, trance blah blah blah, you get the picture. Two songs I like very much are Lasgo's "Something" and DJ Sammy & Yanou's "Heaven." If you'd like some serious booty-shakin' then this collection is for you.

Hmm, maybe I should go into the budding field of music therapy.

BOOK: Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

I thought I was never going to finish this book. It didn't start picking up until the title character finally appeared around page 200. Bronte must have had a lot of time on her hands to write a 600-page novel that is very, very stagnant . She's filled it with plenty of unnecessary characters who are for the most part very uninteresting.

I think if I gave it more than just my cursory attention I would have appreciated this book a lot more. I do give Bronte credit for being a great writer and coming up with some really original prose, but come on she could have told the story in half the amount of pages. I skimmed a great deal of the book because so much of it was pointless.

Anyway, the story centers around two girls and the two men they love. It takes place in the 1810's during the Napoleonic wars. Of course, class and gender are big issues in this story. Religion is also scrutinized a bit here. Overall, the story is not as compelling as Jane Eyre. The love stories are not as satisfying but you still root for the protagonists.

The only reason why I was able to finish this novel is because I was stuck in purgatory for 6 days which gave me plenty of time to go through it as fast as I could.

::3 stars::

FILM: The Music Man (2003)

I was very impressed with the impeccable details that went into ABC's TV production of The Music Man. For sure it was very Disney-fied, and some people may hate that, but I liked it. Probably it helped that I didn't watch the classic 1962 version. I didn't mind that it was a very innocuous, unrealistic, and artificial production cuz heck it's a musical! Also, the dance numbers were well choreographed.

Matthew Broderick plays the lead role, Professor Hill, who is a con artist that arrives in an unsuspecting small town in Iowa. Who would have known that Ferris Bueller would sing in Broadway in the future! I can't ever imagine this guy aging. His performance in The Music Man seemed lacking though. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching Broderick sing and dance because I get such a kick out of it. Bueller, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller...

I really liked the production design. Disney doesn't hesitate to splurge when it comes to achieving a "look." Hope it gets an Emmy. The costumes and sets were gorgeous. It turns out that this production was filmed in Canada (Ontario to be exact). I could always tell when a movie or tv show is filmed in Canada because of the Canadian actors that appear in it. And I can tell whether it was filmed in Western or Eastern Canada depending on which particular Canadian actors appear (Toronto actor Patrick McKenna gave it away for this movie). Vancouver and Toronto each have their own circle of actors particular to each respective region. Yes, I'm a freak for knowing this.

::4 stars::

FILM: The Two Towers

I liked the first one better.

Is it just me or did The Two Towers seem really campy? The dialogue, the facial expressions, the editing, and all the slo-mo action gave it a strong element of camp. I couldn't really take the movie seriously. Visually stunning though. I really want to go to NZ, and take the "Lord of The Rings" tour if there is such a thing.

I was sad that the elf dude dies. What's his name? He's one good-looking elf. He looks very clean. Probably smells like soap. Also, Viggo Mortensen was sexier than ever. Even his name is sexy. I must be ovulating.

::3.5 stars::

FILM: Center Stage (2000; DVD/video)

I'm not even going to provide you with a synopsis of the plot because there isn't one. The main characters in this flick are only good at dancing. The acting is painfully bad. They say their lines like robots. Maybe the fact that the script was also dismally bad didn't help the actors from the get-go. However, there were two notable members of the cast. Donna Murphy plays a deliciously bitchy ballet teacher and Debra Monk plays your typical psychotic "stage mom." The only thing that made this film, excuse me, this movie watchable was the dancing, which was well choreographed and fun to watch. Despite a lot of eye-rolling, I must admit that Center Stage is engaging because it tugs at the teeny-bopper inside all of us.

::2 stars::

FILM: Love Letter (1995)

I watched a Japanese movie called Love Letter this past weekend and I can't shake off this film. To my surprise, I was extremely moved by it. I can't stop thinking about it for some reason. The last movie that had this kind of impact on me was coincidentally another Japanese movie called Spirited Away. That movie lingered with me for weeks. I guess it's because both films tell hauntingly beautiful stories. A good story has staying power.

I don't want to give too much of the movie away because it's full of surprises. The story begins with Hiroko Watanabe, a woman who lost her fiance, Itsuki Fujii, two years ago to a climbing accident. She happens to look through his junior high school yearbook and finds his home address. On a whim, she decides to write a letter to him and sends it to his old address. And she gets a reply back from Itsuki! The story unfolds from there. Love Letter is a drama but it has its funny moments. This film made a deep impression on me, and I highly recommend it.

FILM: Adaptation (2002)

I don't have much to say except that it's weirdly brilliant. Charlie Kaufman (the guy who wrote it) is a genius. Nicholas Cage was born to play Charlie Kaufman and his twin, Donald. He's really good at playing geeky, loser types. However, the guy who stole the show was Chris Cooper who plays John Laroche, an orchid poacher. I've been intrigued by Chris ever since I saw him for the first time in October Sky (another great movie, by the way). I'm glad he's finally getting the recognition that's been long overdue. I think Adaptation will do for Chris what The Fugitive did for Tommy Lee Jones. And this movie has one of the most satisfying endings I've seen in a very long time. I'm just in love with how it ends. Charlie is a genius I tell you!

::5 stars::