This Smeller’s The Feller


So this blog post has a very long history. I traveled to Europe after I graduated college, 20 years ago, with my friends Laura and Jean. I remember hiking on a goat path on the Italian Riviera in the Cinque Terre, which makes me sound more fancy and international than I actually am. What I distinctly remember is the smell. I remember that it smelled like caramel, and I kept looking for the plant that was giving off the aroma, with no success. I finally just assumed it was just more of the magic of Italy, like pizza and gelato. The country just smells good.

Several years later I moved to Los Angeles and was hiking in the canyons. Again, I smelled the caramel sweet fragrance and started smelling every plant and shrub on the path, looking for the source of the fragrance, again with no luck. Italy and Los Angeles both have a Mediterranean climate, so it would make sense that they would have the same foliage, but I couldn’t find the plant. I then assumed that it wasn’t actually a live plant that I smelled, but something drying out or breaking down, so I started smelling the debris. I had become obsessed with the sweet, vanilla tobacco smell, and I looked ridiculous hiking like a bloodhound.

Two years ago Albert and I were going to Aroma Cafe in North Hollywood and were walking on Tujunga. We passed a boutique, and I smelled the fragrance again, so Albert and I started sniffing all the plants. Yes, I make Albert help me solve my mysteries, even if it means smelling bushes on the sidewalk. After passing the boutique several times, we finally went in and found that the source of the smell at this location was an expensive WoodWick caramel candle that they are known for selling. So, I was correct that I was smelling caramel, but that candle could not have been what I was smelling when I was hiking outside. It was killing me!

Last week I went with my friend William to the Payne Foundation nursery in Sun Valley, which focuses on native California plants. I had been once before, so I wasn’t expecting anything new. As I was walking through I smelled the smell again, but this time I was passing containers of individually marked plants. I could sample each, one at a time. I picked up a good dozen pots with no luck, and again assumed that it wasn’t actually a plant at all, but maybe the decomposition of a plant. Finally I picked up what looked like a pot of grass and immediately new that I found the source of the fragrance. It smelled liked baked goods. My mystery plant is in the evergreen family and is called California Everlasting. It is known for having a sweet maple pancake aroma, and it is now in my yard. So, now Hollywood smells as fancy as the coast of Italy.

I have two movie reviews for you. We went and saw Lincoln on Friday night, and I hated it. The acting is great all around, but Sally Field is too old to play Daniel Day-Lewis’ wife. The bigger problem is that Lincoln himself dodders around, wrapped in shawls or blankets like a grandma, and tells long-winded story after story like a crazy person. Each time he begins one of his many overly earnest anecdotes, a patriotic horn starts playing in the background to beat you over the head with his wisdom. It is really boring and I couldn’t wait for the slaves to be emancipated, so we could be freed from the theater.

Sunday we went to see Life of Pi, a movie that I wasn’t that excited about. I wasn’t familiar with the novel, but I love the director Ang Lee and it’s getting good buzz, so I thought I’d give it a try. I loved this film, and Lee is a beautiful storyteller. It’s really a unique tale and visually stunning. What I love about the movie though, is that it’s linear enough to be satisfying, but vague enough to be open to many interpretations. I cannot stop thinking about this film, and talking about it with people who have seen it. Go see this one on the big screen in 3-D. We saw it at the Cinerama Dome…along with Jodie Foster and her kids!




Well, it has certainly been a while since I’ve chatted at you. Last we spoke, our new kitten Max had broken his own sternum. He seems to have healed from that, and has gone on to scratch our other cat’s eye, for yet another trip to the vet. He is adorable and his name is being expanded to Maximilian because of the millions he is going to cost us in medical expenses. He is napping on my lap as I type this, between stints of attacking Ratty and vomiting on my hardwood floors.

I haven’t blogged since Thanksgiving, which was lovely. Our friends Trevor and Joey had us to their beautiful mid-century modern home in West Hills, which is literally over the river and through the hoods, as far as one can drive without packing luggage. It was a really fun and delicious potluck with a huge gaggle of friends. The next day, Albert and I organized Thankswigging 2, our second annual wig-hike in Runyon Canyon. The purpose of this is to work off some of our calories from the feast, and to avoid Black Friday. I am much more thankful about hiking with friends, than I am for beating up strangers for bargains on products that none of us need anyway.

Friday night after the hike, Albert got violently ill from both ends. Then we learned that everybody from Thanksgiving was getting sick. I believe it was the flu and not food poisoning, because I didn’t get sick until Sunday night, and it lasted for four days. I’m not going to blame anyone because I probably got it from Albert…who probably got it from Eric Whitaker! Of course, this was just days after I passed on getting a flu shot from my doctor, when I said, “Flu shots are for old people!” Karma quickly projectile vomited out of my old mouth.

Well, it hasn’t been all disease and doctors since November. We went to a tree trimming at out our friend John Price’s and a fun white elephant party back at Trevor and Joey’s. We also went to holiday parties at our friend Maggie’s place, at the W in Westwood for Albert’s work (thanks for your patience with my blogging, Ellen), and at our friends Art and Aaron’s beautiful home in Pasadena. We get around.

I also have a couple of theater reviews for you. Albert and I went to see the play Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, downtown at the Taper. This show was on Broadway in 2011 with Stockard Channing and Judith Light, who won the Tony award for her performance. I didn’t love this play about a liberal writer confronting her conservative parents about secrets from their past. JoBeth Williams was excellent in the Stockard Channing role, but Jeannie Berlin couldn’t carry the role for which Light won her award. The character is great, and there were times when the actress nailed it, but other sections when she was just reciting text. The problem could be in the material itself, which I often felt was too repetitive. The lead daughter came off as a liberal whiner, and her parents as misunderstood one-percenters, with a secret I didn’t care about by the time they revealed it. Skip this one.

Last night we went to the Tony winning revival of Anything Goes, downtown at the Ahmanson. First let me say, that I don’t love old-fashioned musicals or jukebox musicals, and this is both. This show dates back to 1934 and is packed with the hits of Cole Porter. It has been updated and revived many times since then and I can pretty much guess why—two numbers. The big tap-dancing Act 1 finale “Anything Goes” and the Act 2 showstopper “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are spectacular. They are really amazing to watch. The rest of the show feels like filler. With that said, it is beautiful filler. The songs are pretty and the costumes are gorgeous. Also, Rachel York as Reno Sweeny is unbelievably good. She is a true triple threat in a very demanding role and she is stunning. So, if you like old-fashioned musicals, this one is done VERY well. If you don’t, then buy cheap seats on and bring an old person, or just watch those two numbers I told you about on YouTube.

I just got back from Bronson Canyon where I was running next to a coyote. It was very exciting until I realized that it is more likely that the coyote would bite into me, than I would it.MaxBed