Sunday, March 29, 2009

Insert Postal Pun Here

"Mauritius," at the Pasadena Playhouse, is one of the most enjoyable plays I've seen in a long time.

It's a suspenseful thriller based on, believe it or not, stamp collecting. I think part of the fun is the emotions runs so high over something as banal as stamp collecting.

The actors are all first rate, especially the actor who plays a very intense international arms dealers who nearly pops out of his skin at the prospect of acquiring a one and two penny "Post Office" stamp from Mauritius -- an island nation off the coast of Africa.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Stale & Cheesy

There's a new British grocery market chain -- Fresh & Easy -- supposedly making a major push into the Southern California area.

They claim to be budget priced, offering fresh and wholesome foods and a variety of prepared meals in convenient locations. Each store is going to be about the size of the average Trader Joe's.

They sent me a $5 coupon so I thought I'd check out their new Hollywood location in a hard-luck mall at Hollywood & Sycamore.

What a horrid experience!

Their "unfinished warehouse" look is painful to look at. Their selection is very limited. The produce is all pre-packaged and bar coded. And there's trash strewn about the place!

I quickly got my parking validated (at one of the cashier-less check stands, they appeared to all be that way) and escaped without spending a penny.

It looks like the British are about as good at grocery stores as they are at dental hygiene.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Huckleberry Hound

Rochelle Lewis and I had lunch yesterday at the Huckleberry Cafe on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica -- which is probably the best bakery I've ever been to on the West Coast.

They have a full menu for breakfast and lunch, but it's really their baked goods which are sensational.

At $2.50 a piece their sugar donuts (upper left hand corner) ain't cheap but they're worth every penny.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Whatever you did to celebrate, I hope you made the most of what you've got.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Fraud Alert!

As loyal readers know, I recently completed a trip visiting several countries around the world.

Prior to departing I carefully called American Express and Visa to let them know my itinerary. I didn't want the unusual spending pattern on my credit cards to trigger any suspicions over fraudulent use of my credit cards.

And I used my credit cards in establishments, large and small, throughout the trip without any problem whatsoever.

So I was surprised last Thursday to receive five separate phone calls from American Express along with four different emails regarding potentially fraudulent use of my card.

So what item tripped up American Express' predictive algorithms and sent their computers into overdrive to fight fraud? What charge was so out of the ordinary it must have meant my card had fallen into criminal hands?

$99 to renew my gym membership for a year!

Well I never. I'm sorry, but it's not THAT preposterous. Of course, it's one thing to renew a gym membership and it's another to actually go. But I'm working on it.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More Vanilla Pudding

Went to see another boring show Saturday night at the Geffen Playhouse -- "Time Stands Still." Written by Donald Margulies, this play looks at adrenaline junkies drawn to foreign conflicts -- reporters and photographers. Are they seeking conflict overseas as a way to avoid conflicts in their own lives?

The acting in this show is really great, but the script is SO boring. How do you write about conflict and take all the drama out of it?

Another two hours of my life wasted at the Geffen Playhouse.
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Friday, March 06, 2009

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed

I'm having a heck of a time with my sleep patterns since I got home. I've been falling asleep really early in the evening and then waking up at 5:30 in the morning.

An L.A. Times photographer captured this picture of me yesterday when I arrived 45 minutes early for a hearing starting at 9 a.m. -- and that was after I was at the door of one of my favorite restaurants when it opened for breakfast at 7:30 a.m.

About the only time I'm an Early Bird is when jetlag is involved. I'm actually looking forward to the time change this weekend and losing one hour.
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I love traveling overseas, but I also love returning home -- especially to restaurants where I can understand the menu.

For instance, yesterday GeezBob and I had lunch at Cole's French Dip restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Cole's competes with Phillipe's over which restaurant truly invented the French Dip sandwich one hundred years ago.

Cole's got really run down and closed a couple of years ago. But as part of the rejuvenation of downtown Los Angeles it re-opened last December all scrubbed clean with updated food and updated prices to match.

It's nice enough (and the French Dip sandwich is good) but I have to admit to being partial to the authenticity of Phillipe's.
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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

We're Not in Rio Anymore, Toto

Passing through Washington's Dulles Airport yesterday, the snow on the ground was a sudden reminder that it's not summertime, beach weather everywhere. And today it's been raining in Los Angeles.

Both flights home went off without a hitch. But after being waited on hand and foot it was quite a rude awakening to be back on United Airlines. While I was happy to be in First Class on both flights, United's service isn't even close to what other airlines I flew on during this trip offer.

Having said that, United's "First Class Suite" was probably the nicest seat of the entire trip. A very roomy lie-down flat bed meant I actually got a few hours of sleep on the overnight flight out of Rio. What's odd is in addition to a seat belt you have to wear a shoulder strap for take off and landing (similar to the shoulder strap in your car). I asked the flight attendant what it was about the "First Class Suite" that required a shoulder harness? He didn't know but added with the recent reconfiguration of United First Class and Business Class cabins on international flights "there's a lot we don't know about these airplanes."

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Life is a Beach

Well, it's arrived -- my final day in Rio de Janeiro and the final day of my trip. I spent it on the beach.

I checked on visiting the Municipal Theater but my Hotel Concierge said the tours weren't available today. Next time!

I'm fixing to check out of my hotel and head to the airport. I've been watching the coverage on CNN of the storm battering the East Coast. In the back of my head I'm thinking if Dulles Airport gets shut down I might be forced to spend another day in Rio. Wouldn't that be just awful?
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Vendors on the beach sell just about anything you could want -- sandwiches, ice cream, beer, soda, even shellfish.

They walk up and down the beach touting their goods adding to Ipanema Beach's lively atmosphere. It's lovely but it's certainly not a quiet day at the shore.
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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Spectacular Spectacular

Spent Saturday night in the Sambodromo watching the Parade of Champions. Last Sunday and Monday nights Rio's 12 best Samba Schools competed to be named the Champion. The results were announced on Wednesday, with each team ranked. Last night the best six recreated their performances. The sixth ranked school kicked off at around 9 p.m. and the Champion, Salgueiro, stepped off at 4:30 a.m.

I didn't see it all, intentionally arriving late but in time to watch the best four.
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The Sambodromo holds 20,000 people in a combination of luxury suites, box seats and grandstands. It's kind of like a straightaway at a racetrack. Each Samba School (the word "school" is more like "club" than learning institution) has 75 minutes to conduct their parade from one end of the Sambodromo to the other. There's a 15 minutes period for clean-up and to prepare for the next school.

Here's a bit of trivia: the Sambodromo was designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer as a facility to hold the two Carnival parades the Sunday night and Monday night before Ash Wednesday and the Parade of Champions the following Saturday night. Those are the only three nights a year the Sambodromo is used. If Rio get the 2016 Olympics the Sambodromo will be incorporated into the Marathon competition. My hotel is on Avenida Niemeyer.
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The fourth place winner -- Villa Isabel -- used "the Municipal Theater" as their theme.

100 years old, this Rio Opera House was designed after the Paris Opera. I'd been thinking about taking a tour of the building but hadn't gotten around to it. Now that I've seen this Samba School's parade I think I'm going to visit the Municipal Theater tomorrow before I leave.
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Portela, the third place winner, went with the theme of "love."

The Banner Carrier and her Escort are the only two members of the Samba School not allowed to samba. Instead, this romantic pair sways and swirls elegantly. The best way to understand their graceful movements is through an old metaphor: he is a bird courting a flower.
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Synchronized birds.
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Seniors with their walking sticks.
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Beija-Flor is considered "the Yankees" of Samba Schools, having won the Championship five out of the last six years (including when I was here in 2005).

This year they came in second. Their theme is "water."
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Rayssa Oliveira, the Beija-Flor Percussion Section Queen.
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Taking a shower on a Beija-Flor float.
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It was easy to understand why Beija-Flor is the Samba School to beat.
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The theme for Salgueiro -- this year's Champion -- is the drum, obviously central to the Samba.
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You could just see from the get go why Salgueiro won this year's Championship.
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So much and yet so little.
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This was so touching! It looked like the Salgueiro Banner Carrier wasn't going to make it. It looked like she was going to pass out and it seemed like she was saying she couldn't go on. Her escort got her some water. It seemed like the top portion of her costume was cutting into her shoulder. So her escort took off the top portion of his costume (you can see a women holding his feathers to the right) so the pair would still match and tried to help the Banner Carrier out of the portion of the costume hurting her.

Ultimately, they couldn't get it off and she soldiered on. I hope she made it to the end.
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Working it! Viviane Araujo, the Salgueiro Percussion Section Queen.
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