2 November 2014

Bad news – your vacation is over. We’re back from an outstanding expedition to the States and the price you pay for two weeks of blissful silence is to have to wade through a bumper edition of the Befouled Weakly News. I would stop now.

The “excuse” for this holiday was the occasion of my 45th high school reunion, the class of 1969 of the Webb School of California. Doesn’t time fly when you are enjoying yourself! Of course, we couldn’t make the trip out to southern California without stopping at various other destinations enroute – Hanover, New Hampshire to see my folks and brother Steph and his family, Lake George to visit with brother Sandy and his wife, Pam, Boston to visit with a good friend from Yale and his wife not to mention an opportunity to catch up with our Ben and Donna in LA, sister Sallie and her husband Rod in Escondido and a cousin and a favourite aunt along with the dozens of decrepit degenerates from that class of 1969.

The flight out to Boston was very good with, apparently, a strong tail wind, which brought us into town an hour early. The new-fangled immigration machines confused most folks (including us) but, with the assistance of the additional immigration officers the labour-saving devices are intended to replace, we were still in time catch the early coach up to Hanover. We were collected at the Lebanon depot by sister-in-law Hope and delivered to the Finishing School in Hanover in time for dinner with my folks. Both looked great and seem to be doing very well (either that or they certainly put on a good act).

Fall Foliage at the Finishing School in Hanover
Fall Foliage at the Finishing School in Hanover

After dinner we drove out to Steph & Hope’s wonderful new house on the banks of the Mascoma River in Canaan, New Hampshire. They’ve spent a year rebuilding and renovating the old house that was on the site forever and it is fabulous – we were privileged to be their first house guests although how delighted they were to have to entertain guests in their first few weeks in the house is subject to some debate. Not only did we get to enjoy Steph and Hope’s splendid hospitality but clearly their kids, Amanda and Greg, had not received the memo that we would be visiting so they came by as well. It was a delight and pleasure to see them all.

After several days in Hanover we made the trek over to Lake George to visit with Sandy and Pam and to see for ourselves the devastation wrought by the micro-blast they suffered in August. Pam had written about it; we’d seen some of the photos but neither prepared us for the extent of the damage. And these photos don’t do it justice either – you need to have a wider perspective to appreciate what power was required to bring all these trees down. Sandy & various friends and acquaintances spent days and days clearing up and there are still dozens and dozens of trees to clear up.

After an over-nighter at the Lake, we made our way back to Hanover for a few more days and then, on Sunday we took the coach down to Boston to visit with our very good friends Chip & Leca Boynton whose hospitality is legendary.

pastriesThey met us off the coach and, since they know me so well, they led us on a gastronomic tour of the North End. We started with dessert, oddly enough – a couple of sweets and pastries from one of the fabulous shops in the neighbourhood (I think it was Modern Pastry but Chip and/or Leca will need to correct me if I am mistaken).

From there it was off for oysters (a lobster roll for Penelope) at the Neptune Bar, a small, jam-packed restaurant/bar which has become one of my favourite eating establishments in the world. Chip introduced me to Neptune’s on a previous visit and I have been looking forward to returning ever since; he and I have a standing bet on whose team will finish with the better record, the Dodgers or the Red Sox. Thankfully, I didn’t visit last year; this year the oysters were on him!

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, that evening we strolled around the corner from their lovely home in Needham for a fabulous (and ginormous) dinner at the Sweet Basil restaurant. The lamb shanks were delicious and the “doggy bag” ensured that we were able to enjoy them a second time for lunch the following day. Chip and Leca certainly know the types of places I like to visit! Indeed, the vast majority of the weight I gained on this trip was undoubtedly acquired in Boston.

On Monday we were treated to an excellent Mayan exhibition at the Museum of Science before flying from Boston to Ben and Donna’s at Gate 19, LAX. On Tuesday we all took off for a short over-nighter in Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Indigo Hotel just by the railway station and the pier and had dinner at a superb restaurant on State Street – Opal. This gave Penny and me our first experience with Uber, the alternative to taxis in many cities.

I had heard of Uber before but only in the context of the city authorities in Berlin threatening to ban the service because of complaints from the existing taxi firms and a lack of appropriately convoluted regulation. It was very efficient, very convenient and very comfortable – we had an Uber car within about three minutes of requesting one from the hotel and the ride home arrived at the restaurant within about two minutes of Ben tapping in the details on his cell phone. I can see, though, why the existing taxi firms are up in arms.

Dinner at Opal was exquisite – if you ever find yourself in Santa Barbara do not hesitate to dine there. (Oddly enough, some of the reviews are somewhat mixed but our experience was thoroughly five-star). Penny had the Sauteed Chicken on Penne Pasta with a Homemade Chipotle Cream sauce which, I think, we all agreed, was an absolute masterpiece. My chilli-crusted filet was similarly excellent.

santa_barbara_court_houseOn Wednesday we had a bit of time for a walking tour of downtown Santa Barbara which was lovely – the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the old buildings and architecture were superb. We were somewhat rushed, however, as we had a lunch date with an old friend in Ojai.

Steve Sprinkel was a classmate of mine at Webb and he and his wife Olivia own and run The Farmer and the Cook in Ojai. Steve does the farming (organic certified) and Olivia cooks it all up and to judge by our visit, they do a roaring trade. Lunch was excellent and once again Penny had what turned out to be the dish of the day – goat’s cheese tacos.

After a brief tour of Steve’s plot we motored back down to LA just in time for another great meal out – this time at Lukshon in Culver City. Hmm, you’d think that all we did on this holiday was to eat and you wouldn’t be far wrong!

Lukshon is an Asian fusion place which, once again, as with all the places recommended by Ben and Donna, was excellent. You can tell whose son he is! This place does small plates served “family style” i.e., for sharing. I think the intention is that you will keep ordering and ordering because (a) the servings are small and all you’re getting is a couple of bites or a rib or a chicken “pop” but also because (b) it is so delicious! And, from my perspective, it is great fun to share because everyone else is so polite, not a characteristic with which I’ve ever been encumbered. That last chicken pop is mine!

On Thursday we set off down the coast to Sallie and Rod’s in Escondido stopping for lunch at the Yellow Deli in Vista for a rendezvous with my cousin Wendy and her mother (and my favourite aunt) Barbara. We hadn’t seen Barbara for far too long and it was a delight – she hasn’t changed at all, still as funny and carefree as ever. It seems there are a number of Yellow Delis all over the place and, when she heard we were from the UK, the charming waitress brought me a flyer announcing that they were planning to open one in Honiton, Devon. We’ll definitely be stopping next time we’re down that way!

wendy_barbara

On Friday I set off back up the coast to our dear friend Miles Rosedale who was hosting a pre-Webb Reunion reunion at his beach house in San Juan Capistrano. Penny braved this session at the last reunion five years ago and so, quite understandably, she decided that spending the evening with a gathering of fat, old, bald men drinking and reminiscing about their high school days was something she could happily miss and so she stayed with Sallie & Rod.

Miles is a most gracious and generous host and the gathering was a great success. The weather was just about perfect and the sea was astonishingly warm – even I went swimming! As you might imagine, there was much to eat and much to drink and everyone had a splendid time. Interestingly, five years ago the gathering began to disperse about 1.30 am. This time the guests started making their excuses about 11.00; next time I reckon we’ll all be in bed by about 8.00.

Saturday we made our way up to Webb for the day which was good fun both for me and for Penny. As most of you know, I guess, it was at the Webb School that Penny and I met; her father was teaching there in my final year and for some reason she found my company tolerably acceptable. Webb, in those days, was a boy’s boarding school although it’s a coeducational establishment now. At our graduation ceremony the headmaster commented that I was the first Webb School boy to enjoy a coeducational experience. There have been many, many changes since I left the place 45 years ago; new dorms and many new facilities, especially for the performing arts. Even the weather is better than it was in my day or at least the smog and pollution is less of an issue than it was then.

After the festivities at Webb we drove back to Ben and Donna’s and on Sunday managed to waddle our way out for brunch at a very tasty French restaurant in Culver City (Meet in Paris). After brunch we wandered around the corner to visit the astonishingly bizarre Museum of Jurassic Technology, undoubtedly the single most wacky exhibition I can remember ever having visited. It’s somewhat like the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in that it has an eclectic collection of completely random exhibits. However, the Pitt Rivers makes some sense; the Museum of Jurassic Technology makes no sense whatever! Where else can you see a collection of decaying dice alongside micro-miniature carvings not to mention fruit stone carvings and the horn of Mary Davis?

For our final dinner in southern California Ben and Donna suggested a stroll down the coast from Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach. Hermosa Beach has a particular resonance for me as my mother spent several years of her childhood growing up here. I would have taken a photograph of the Hermosa Beach pier for her but unfortunately it was dark by the time we got there. So, I had to settle for one of the Manhattan Beach pier.

beach

Not only was this an exceedingly pleasant way to spend our final evening in LA but it also served to help generate a healthy appetite in preparation for the delights of Mediterraneo, a tapas-style restaurant with an excellent selection of very tasty food, not to mention a bar tender who was capable of mixing just about any cocktail you might imagine.

When we left Boston Pen realised that she had neglected to leave a “thank-you” card for our gracious hosts, Chip & Leca, as well as a book she had brought for their new granddaughter. No problem, we’ll pop into a post office and send them off. So, on our last day we drove into Santa Monica to peruse and wander along the Third Street Promenade. A map from the Santa Monica web site showed us very clearly the location of a large Post Office so off we set.

Three blocks up and two blocks across and we spied a very large official-looking building surrounded by a very large fence and very clearly closed. Closer inspection revealed that it had quite clearly been closed for some little time! After a general gnashing of teeth, cursing and wailing we started our walk back to the Promenade. Spying a post man delivering parcels Penelope sprinted across the street and asked him where the nearest Post Office could be located – in the vicinity of 7th and Colorado we were told so off we set again – five blocks up and four blocks across.

When we finally reached it we were mightily relieved to find that it was indeed open. However, we were completely perplexed by the automated machine with which one could allegedly make all sorts of post office related purchases. Clearly the automated machines are intended to (a) save on staffing costs and (b) provide customers with an efficient means of completing their transactions. In our case it failed on both counts. We pushed buttons, read instructions, placed credit cards in and out of slots, started over again, cursed the machine and yelled at one another until finally one of the counter staff took pity and came over to help. With his assistance we managed to secure all our purchases apart from a single stamp with which to post a small card – the machine could only print over-sized postage labels for large parcels. We had to join the queue anyway.

Having concluded our transactions we made our way back to the Third Street Promenade for lunch with Ben at Monsoon before bidding him a final farewell – him back to work and us back to the house to pack having acquired an iPad mini for Penelope as well as a suitcase’s worth of new clothes & shoes. Both suitcases were already in “gut-buster” mode but somehow we managed to squeeze and cram all our possessions therein.

The flight home was surprisingly pleasant the main reason being that it was probably about two-thirds empty. Both Ms Playchute and I were able to secure a row of two seats each giving us a bit more room than normal and we both actually managed to catch a few winks. We landed at 3.00 in the afternoon on what, for the UK would pass as an outstanding day – clear and surprisingly warm! The view from the plane as we approached Heathrow was stunning and we could identify all the London landmarks as we flew up the Thames.

And so another great holiday adventure comes to a close. We’re just about over the jetlag – why does it always seem so much more difficult when travelling east than it does moving westwards?

Time to start planning the next one, I suppose.

Love to you all,

Greg

I wasn’t going to include any links to any “interesting” titbits this week but the similarity to the Museum of Jurassic Technology was too much to ignore – an article about a similar collection of oddities from the Guardian – a two-headed lamb and ancient dildos: the UK’s strangest new museum.