Monthly Archives: June 2008

Hidden Treasures of Ventura County

Jewel-like plant from Oxnard wetlands

On Saturday I went exploring and ended up in some wetlands in Oxnard, California, where I saw these amazing jewel-like plants. If you click on the pictures, you can get a closer view. Part of the plant looks like ornaments made of glass beads. It felt like that, too, hard and smooth as glass against my fingertip, and yet clearly a living, growing thing. It also had white flowers.

Jewel Plant 2

I found another sparkling patch of what I suppose is a more mature version of the same thing. If you click the picture to enlarge, you can see that the entire plant looks like it has been sprinkled with diamond dust. It isn’t sand. The plant was growing in the dirt, and I touched it and the sparkles were clearly attached. I haven’t yet found out what this plant is called, but wanted to share these pictures of these living jewels.

Oxnard wetlands

I saw them at the wetlands at what is apparently called Ormond Beach. As soon as I got near the marsh, a Great Blue Heron flew back and forth over me. I also saw kingfishers swooping down and plucking food from the water. Also people flying kites and fishing.

Old factory

There is also an abandoned factory right next to the wetlands and beach. Apparently it is an old metal recycling plant that dumped its waste into the wetlands and ocean until the environmental regulations were changed, and then until lawsuits shut it down. It seems there is a movement to restore the wetlands and make the area into a nicer park.

Then I went to Port Hueneme and walked a path along the port to the lighthouse. I also visited friends in Woodland Hills and did a lot of shopping.

Why High Gas Prices Might Be a Good Thing

Gas prices near downtown LA June 2008

When I started working on the west side of Los Angeles two and a half years ago, I found that it would take forever to commute by public transit, which I had done when I worked downtown. I started driving, but it was nerve-wracking to share the road with all the monster SUVs that were popular then.

Then the Prius became chic, and I started to see more and more of those. It was nice to see environmentalism become popular. I bought a Yaris and was very happy.

As gas prices have risen, I’ve seen more and more small, fuel efficient cars, and hardly any gas-guzzling behemoths on the roads. Indeed, recent news reports confirm that my observations represent trends.

SUV sales are way down, and auto companies are starting to change their offerings based on demand. Train riding is up. We’ve now reached the levels of European prices. You know what they have in Europe? Small cars and lots of trains.

I realize that the high fuel prices are undermining the economy in some ways. Gas prices lead to higher food prices. People are spending so much now on food and fuel that they don’t have money to spend on anything else, and so everything else is down. The high fuel prices are affecting the companies for which some of my friends work, and they are expecting layoffs and salary cuts. It’s ugly.

Still, in some ways I think fuel prices should stay this high. Low-cost fuel is not a basic right. It has always cost us a lot in some ways. Having to reconfigure our lives and livelihoods around high fuel costs could be a good thing in the long run.

I’m looking forward to being able to take the train to my new job.

Photo by kangster.

Love and Theft and Covers and Parody

Usually I prefer to hear Bob Dylan sing his own songs in his own idiosyncratic voice. Recently, though, I’ve collected a few covers of his work that really got me to experience songs I already loved in new and interesting ways. These songs are by artists working in very different genres. They do all share with Bob Dylan an expansive knowledge of American music and a confidence in combining styles that wouldn’t always overlap, but that express their particular experiences of America.

I was going to try to link to these somehow, but in this case you can just look them up for yourself if you’re interested.

The Dixie Chicks, “Mississippi,” Top of the World Tour (Live)
This furious bluegrass-rock rendition of “Mississippi” weaves layers of defiance and skill and musical mixing into a compact message and summary of the group’s complex history. Apparently Bob Dylan wrote this for his album Time Out of Mind, but left it off and gave it to Sheryl Crow for her album The Globe Sessions. Then Dylan did use it on his album Love & Theft, in a rendition filled with regret and endurance, which I’ve loved since I first heard it. The Dixie Chicks’ version follows Crow’s arrangement closely, but this live performance surges with energy, and there’s that amazing little hoedown of banjo, fiddle and electric guitar near the end.

Taj Mahal & the Hula Blues, “All Along the Watchtower,” Hanapepe Dream
Hawaiian Blues, yes. Dylan’s own version and Jimi Hendrix’s famous cover howl with urgency. Taj Mahal has taken that tone inherent to the song and combined it with the resignation of the blues and the ancient saunter of island music. When he sings, “this is not our fate,” you do feel like he’s found some other path, but also like he could hold out up on that watchtower for quite a while if he needed to.

The Ramones, “My Back Pages,” Acid Eaters
Given that the Ramones managed to innovate by trying to take rock and roll back to the brilliant simplicity they loved, it makes sense for them to sing, “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” I probably like this punk cover better for its contrast with the Byrds’ chiming, celebratory rendition of this song. I downloaded both versions on my birthday last year.

Walk Hard
Also, I just got around to watching Walk Hard. The movie itself was mostly disappointing: good concept, good people, dull execution. The joke songs, though, were excellent, and the Dylan parody is brilliant:

Pearblossom Highway

Hockney\'s Pearblossom Highway

I saw this for the first time recently. Well, no, that’s not true. I saw David Hockney’s composite picture for the first time about seven years ago, although I feel like it might have been at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art rather than the Getty Museum. I was fascinated by it.

I saw the actual Pearblossom Highway recently. It looks like that artwork, but softer, without the harsh edges of the photos, but the boundaries of distant mountains, and rose-colored horizons.

Sound Travels

I’m in my apartment listening to my neighbors cheer for the final seconds of the Lakers-Celtics championship game, which I just started watching. OK, another game to follow.

I was watching the video of the documentary Bluegrass Journey. In the first few minutes, there were Dana and Lauren of the erstwhile Malibu Storm. I know them! Hi! Then the Del McCoury Band played “Love is a Long Road,” from Tom Petty’s album Full Moon Fever. I know that song! I had heard some of the other songs, too, but it was funny that one of the first in the movie was one I know from a rock record.

The documentary doesn’t show you much about the history of bluegrass, although it does allude to the music’s diverse influences. What it does is illustrate the experience of traveling to bluegrass festivals. I had heard before, often from Dana, that everyone feels very connected through them. That definitely came through in the scenes in the movie, in the music selections, and in my own experience watching it.

Menu: Dinner with Friends

Lotus root

Lettuce wraps with spiced ground turkey

Shrimp, lotus root, mushrooms and bell peppers stir-fried in black bean sauce

Rice

Steamed baby bok choy with soy-black vinegar-ginger sauce

Champagne

We were going to make brownies, but got too full.

I’d detail the recipes, but they were improvised and not measured. Good, though, particularly due to some very fresh ginger purchased at the Korean store.

Lotus root photo by taberukoto

To Cross or Not to Cross

Walk, Don\'t Walk

Today I walked up Lincoln Boulevard, which is under construction. I needed to cross at 84th Street, but couldn’t reach the button that makes the “walk” sign flash, because there was a trench in front of it. The ditchdigger looked up. He wore a reflective vest, a floppy camouflage hat, and a beatific grin. He reminded me of the gravedigger in Hamlet. He gestured, I nodded, and he rotated his shovel, lifted it high out of the ditch, and pressed the button with the tip of the handle. And from down in the depths, my way was made clear.

Photo by nickjeffery

Foggy Mountain Baroque Down

Appalachian Journey

A few months ago, I entered a phase in which the only kinds of music I really wanted to hear were classical and bluegrass.

If you are in such a phase, or even if you are not, your new hero is Edgar Meyer. I’ve been listening to Appalachian Journey over and over, and exploring related classical-bluegrass hybrids. Listening to this stuff is like watching a ballroom full of people in tuxedoes and silk dresses suddenly break out square dancing: exuberant, democratic, and fantastic.