Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pole-toberfest II: Return to Pierogiville

With a proper Polish princess as a distinguished member of the wacky tacky adventure team, the opportunities for cross-cultural exploration are both frequent and fun.  Getting restless remembering our "Doin' the Dozynki" exploits of last year, we excitedly donned our butter-stained pierogi bibs and headed for  Our Lady of the Bright Mount (Southern California's premiere Polish parish) for the 2014 Los Angeles Polish Festival.

Now we know why Warsaw is the capital city.

I've said it before but it shouldn't go unstated that, as a regular attendee of our local German club, card-holder of our members-only Asian grocery store, patron of the southland's two European marketplaces, and investigator into the local Dutch club, it is clear that I am in the midst of a chronic cultural-identity crisis!  The only thing my family had that tied us in any tiny way to our Yugoslavian ancestry was "Toshka," a mac-and-cheese/mashed potato hybrid dish that my great-aunt made on special occasions (I have found zero substantiation anywhere online to verify the authenticity of the more-than-likely-midwestern foodstuffs).  With every new dip into the Polish pool, however, I feel like I'm moving in the right easterly-European direction; now an old pro on the festival circuit, I knew that my mission was to find and document the three "F's."

The line for pierogies was so long that I could only capture the first third in the picture.
Exhausted by the wait, we soon gave up on sampling much of the Polish cuisine -
except for my preferred prune-filled Polish pastry, the paczek (it doesn't look like
 much...actually it kind of looks like turd but it is really good).

I believe this is what is referred to as the Polish Tuxedo.
Cynthia was quickly taking style notes for next year's festival.

Without question, my favorite Polish dances are hip-hop, the tango, and the Zorba...
Wait, those aren't indigenous to Poland?  Well, it looks like some of these dancers were
experiencing a cultural identity crisis of their own.  Seriously, there was a Polish hip-hop
number with a routine that culminated in the king of Greek dances - it was AWESOME!

As much as I enjoyed our one-day excursion to Mother Polonia, I was even more excited by the festival venue.  On the grounds of an Edwardian-era estate, I had heard whispers that the beautiful house once belonged to a Hollywood movie star.  I figured that it must've been a star of Polish descent who deeded the enormous estate to the church upon his/her death.  After doing some investigating, I learned that, rather than Pola Negri or Theda Bara, the true owner of was one of Hollywood's most infamous legends.

wacky tacky polish festival
Fatty Arbuckle lived here (a fourth F)!!!
Clad in high-fired terra cotta block, the Vienna Secessionist-style house was completed in 1910.
Unfortunately, the only access to the interior that we were granted was the basement bathroom/library (a brilliant, if completely un-photogenic, combination).  The terraced backyard has enough remaining details to have our wacky tacky imaginations running riot thinking about the amazing parties thrown here.

This adventure was definitely a "twofer" - Polish festival and Hollywood house hunt all in one!  I was thrilled to find that the fourth "F" of our festival experience stood for Fatty; sometimes it feels good to know that you're not the only fatty waddling around.  Neither fatty, Arbuckle nor Tiny, claims any Polish lineage, but His Holiness loves us just the same.  Dziekuje, PJP II...see you next year!

Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish
3424 W Adams Blvd
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Friday, September 26, 2014

Holy Rollin': SHRINE On, SHRINE On Nippon Moon

I can't believe it has been a year since our life-changing trip to Japan.  As I see no passport-worthy adventures on the immediate horizon, I will just have to honor the one-year trip-a-versary with some heretofore unexamined material; please bear with me as I moon over our magical days in the "Land of the Rising Sun."

Throughout all of the times I've been to Japan (once, including that excursion of last year), I've become aware that the most striking quality of the country is that it is a true study in contrasts.  Never have I been in a place where the ancient coexists so peacefully with the ultra-modern.  Citizens of Japan, as a general rule, dress and comport themselves in a manner highly-conservative, abstaining from ostentatious styles, conspicuous behaviors, and talk of a loose nature; yet the sight of a businessman looking at rather lurid comic books on the commuter train is not at all uncommon.  Aggravatingly-slim, our Japanese hosts and friends regularly ate this American-sized American well under the table.  From my perspective, the people are particularly non-religious, yet they are profoundly traditional when it comes to honoring ancestors and participating in sacramental rituals.  Lucky for them that, in a very literal sense, there is a shrine and/or temple on nearly every single block.  In short, one could not throw a stone in Japan without hitting a shrine or temple...and then seeing it ricochet off at least three more.  

Tiny & Mary temple time

It should be noted at this point that, as a guest in a foreign land, I do recommend quite against the practice of throwing stones at sacred structures.  It is decidedly bad form and if I'm going to be called an "Ugly American,"  I want it to be about my face!

Who you callin' ugly?!?!!

I'm unsure if it was acceptable but, after a primer from our Japanese sister, we really got into participating in the multi-step process of Japanese holy rollin' - there is a lot of clapping and bowing.

There is also plenty of incense lighting.

And bell clanging...

And the hanging of wish/dream/prayer paddles...

But the first step is a little wash wash.

Such fans of full-immersion tourism, we practically had to be restrained from jumping in and immersing ourselves in the cool, clear water of those incredible fountains (apparently another big touristy no-no).  The bamboo dippers are used for hand-washing (and maybe drinking??? - we saw a couple folks take a sip).  Whether in rough-hewn stone or in the form of imposing dragons, the fonts are a symbolic reminder of the old saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."  

The temples are timeless to an eye wholly-untrained in the history of Japanese architecture, but it seems that each new temple is even more spectacular than the last.

That roofline was indescribably beautiful. 

Even the sacred temple couldn't save us from
the-most-unflattering-camera-angle-in-the-world pose but
we wanted our faces in the picture with that ceiling and medallion.

We were lucky enough to see an afternoon service - chanting monks, incense, the whole works!

I'm partial to that imperial orangey-red!

Temple guards!

Just try rubbing the belly for good luck (his not mine)...that Buddha was more than eighty-feet-tall!

Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) - Kyoto, Japan
The photo (taken by a kindly stranger) with our faces in it 
negates any of the breathtaking beauty of this gilded building.

For all of the loveliness and grandeur found on the beautiful grounds of these gorgeous temples, a more subtle and more personal beauty is found at the neighborhood shrines.

Okay, so maybe "subtle" isn't quite the right word.

The shrines offer convenient opportunities for daily communion.  Observers - and those far less observant - can pause during the day to express hopes and prayers (usually by jotting them down on a wooden plaque and hanging them on the edifice of the shrine).  Interestingly, many of the shrines are dedicated solely to a specific purpose, for example...

Remembering the dearly departed

Honoring historical figures (by imitating their statues)...

...or rubbing a bronze cow's nose???

Covered in baby bibs, this shrine was both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Presumably, perspective parents go to pray for the opportunity to have children.

This shrine was incredible; dreams/prayers/wishes were scribbled on tiny
scrolls of paper and tied to the branches of the trees - look out cherry blossoms!

The best shrine was found in an out-of-the-way neighborhood in Kyoto.  Of course it was our favorite because it was the most inexplicably weird and awesome - at least to our Western way of thinking.  I'm sure there is a valid and beautiful philosophy behind the shrine's purpose...but we couldn't couldn't come up with one.  Why on earth, we wondered, would there be a heavenly porcine shrine?  WHY?!?!!

The swine shrine - praying for pork?
Realizing that the Japanese are always working to prove their superior
wacky tacky cred, it seemed that the real question was, "Swine not?"

For as many temples and shrines as we visited during our tour of Japan, we never got bored with the experience.  We looked forward to the clapping, bowing, lighting, clanging, and washing opportunities to be had on nearly every street corner.  I can't wait to go back, heartily welcoming the chance to do some more Japanese-style holy rollin'.  "Shrine On, Nippon Moon!"

"Shine On, Harvest Moon" - Ruth Etting


Mr. Tiny

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hollywood House Hunting: Norma Desmond's Seaside Retreat

Between The OC, The Real Housewives of Orange County, and the countless references from Angelenos about the horrors found behind the "Orange Curtain," Orange County, CA gets a bad rap for being vain, insipid, prejudice, and altogether too tan (I'm making it my ghostly-white mission to defeat that particular stereotype).  Unsure if this does anything to disprove the prevailing notion of Orange County, it must be said that the OC's beach communities were weekend getaways for Hollywood's greatest stars.  Bette Davis occupied multiple homes in Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, while the "Duke," John Wayne, took up full-time residence in Newport Beach.  One day, as we motored around San Clemente, Orange County's southernmost beach town, we decided to pop in at the seaside retreat of one of Hollywood's earliest and most-enduring celebrities, Ms. Gloria Swanson.

The weekend home of Gloria Swanson (1926) - San Clemente, CA
I guess the stars really are "just like us;" there are few things
I love more than a 1920s, Spanish-style, California bungalow.

As charming as this bungalow may be, it hardly seemed a fitting home, even as a weekend hideaway, for a star the magnitude of Gloria Swanson.  I mean, here was Queen Kelly in a house that was well, apart from everything else, rather small. 

Perhaps Gloria didn't want a big house.
After all, the purpose of beach living is living on the beach.
A seaside retreat means suiting/booting up for hours of basking
in the glow of San Clemente's perpetually sunny shore.

Maybe, I thought, the house was built to scale; it is well known that the diminutive star measured barely five-feet-tall.  Still, this house wasn't speaking to me - hearing that, Norma Desmond would have probably slapped me silly before uttering something about not needing to speak.  "We had faces!"  As a matter of fact, I was actually forced to do an about-face when we rounded the corner and I caught my first glimpse of the rest of the house.

Still modest by movie-star standards, this beautiful beach house
was definitely ready for its close-up (after closing up the garage door)!

In more than eight decades, San Clemente has changed dramatically, going from a sleepy, out-of-the-way beach town to a much, much larger, sleepy, out-of-the-way beach town.  Fortunately, precious little has changed about the appearance of old Gloria's getaway.  Set into the hillside and just a stone's throw from the crashing waves, the house looks nearly identical to the day it was built.

A vintage view of Casa Swanson

The indoor/outdoor living, the smooth white stucco, the terra cotta roof, the steps lined in Spanish tile -  they're pure California, as indivisible from the coastal character of southern Orange County as Gloria Swanson from her character, Norma Desmond (at least in our minds).  Don't you love how access to the bedrooms is achieved via a covered walkway/gallery?  Don't you long for similar views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island from practically every room in your house?  Don't you desperately wish you lived in Orange County?!?!!  Okay, maybe I went a bit too far with that last one... but for the ability to frolic in the foam of San Clemente's azure surf and return home to Casa Swanson in its heyday, I'd happily acquiesce to wearing shorty-shorts and obeying creepy commands like...

"Turn around, darling.  Let me dry you."
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard with William Holden

Gloria Swanson's Seaside Retreat
418 Cazador Ln
San Clemente, CA


Mr. Tiny

Friday, September 19, 2014

wacky tacky Tunes: "Shooting Star" Are GO!

If there is such a thing as the complete opposite of a sci-fi geek, then that is what I am.  Far too vast for my meager brain to even begin to comprehend, I have always hated space and all of its trappings.  Beyond appreciating the beauty of one that is twinkling/little or one that is falling, I have zero interest in "treks," "wars," or anything else that might have to do with stars.  Did I ever want to become an astronaut?  Nope.  Do I believe in aliens?  I try not to think about it.  Would I venture into space should something catastrophic happen to Earth?  Honestly, I would run head first into the catastrophe and leave the light years and light sabers to those more daring.

The only time I am challenged to question my own grumpy belief system is when space and science-fiction are infused with subjects much closer to my heart: 1960s pop music, celebrity cameos, and puppet portraiture!  After our entries into the world of puppetry, both peanut and paper bag, it is clear that wacky tacky is not only a participant, but a patron of the puppet arts; unfortunately, our puppetry efforts were preemptively put to shame by the creative geniuses at Thunderbirds.  In an extraordinary scene (see: rocket ship guitars, Jetson-esque bubble-top cars, exploding planets) from the feature film, Thunderbirds are GO, British pop star, Cliff Richard, and his band, The Shadows, make an unforgettable musical cameo appearance.

"Shooting Star" - Cliff Richard & The Shadows from Thunderbirds Are GO (1966)

Much like the final frontier that is space, the lyrics of "Shooting Star" are vaguely threatening and make very little sense to me.  But even in zero-gravity, this song, co-penned by the vocalist, has got a good beat and you can dance to it!

"Sometimes I feel you are cheating me.
Then you kiss me and my mind is free.
But then I think I should let you know
That I've got friends. So baby, listen to me.

A shooting star will shoot you
And Mars will got to war.
The Man in the Moon will jump on you
If you don't love me no more.

I saw you in someone else's car.
You told me that he won't go too far.
That may be so, but you let him know
That I've got friends.  So baby, listen to me.


You tell me that I'm the man for you.
But you do things you should never do.
So now, hear this warning once again;
Yes, I've got friends. So baby, listen to me.


If you don't stop making me lose face,
I will have you put up there in space.
So, just do what I'm a-tellin' you,
'Cause I've got friends; baby listen to me."

Introduced in the clip as "the biggest star in the universe," it seems like there has to have been some small-print disclaimer that flashed across the screen, clarifying that the use of the word "universe" was used in specific reference to the flying, British space ranger, puppet universe.  Nevertheless, Cliff Richard has enjoyed a decades-long career in the UK, including a 1987 appearance on The Dame Edna Experience and a 1995 knighthood.  Should you somehow exist in a world without knowledge of Sir Cliff Richard's star power, here is one of his biggest hits, "Move It."

"Move It" - Cliff Richard & The Shadows (1960)

Instead of a country obsessed with winning the "Space Race," I'm thinking that I really should've been raised in earthbound Britain; I'm pretty sure their entire space program was the Thunderbirds.  A country that immortalizes its celebrities in marionette form, sounds like good people to me.

In an undeniable example of puppets who look like people who look
like puppets, we see Cliff Richard examining his marionette likeness.

Hank Marvin of The Shadows playing "[Mini] Me & My Shadow."

Are you a sci-fi fan?  Do you thrill over the Thunderbirds?  Would you like to be immortalized as a space-walking marionette?  I think I understand the lyrics to "Shooting Star," but just to be sure, could you please explain them to me?


Mr. Tiny

**p.s. While this post is definitely intended as a celebration of a musical puppet show rather than a man, it should be disclosed that Cliff Richard has been in the news lately for alleged, extremely-unsavory behavior.  At this time, we avoid passing judgment because wacky tacky is not a court of law, America has a firm belief that a man is innocent until proven guilty, and we really hope that any potential allegations are untrue.** 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mr. Tiny's Neighborhood Watch: The "Luck" of Baldwin Hills

As soon as the words left our mouths, we knew we had made a rookie mistake; during a round table discussion with a group of European friends, we suffered from an unfortunate choice of words by referring to the charming, turn-of-the-century, downtown area of a Southern California neighborhood as "historic."  History is a matter entirely relative, as was evidenced when one of our friends laughed heartily before explaining that the still-functioning church at the end of his street was constructed in the Fifth Century - like first, second, third, fourth...FIFTH CENTURY!  Yes, the rest of the world scoffs when Americans start detailing the highlights of our "rich history."  Imagine how much sillier it sounds when we as Southern Californians, wax poetic about the fascinating history of our state.  And yet, in spite of our infancy by world standards, there are certain neighborhoods that leave us feeling genuinely proud of our still-blossoming heritage.

Named after famed California pioneer, Lucky Baldwin, Baldwin Hills is one Los Angeles neighborhood that has us running to fill out our membership forms for the local historical society.  Offering unparalleled panoramic vistas of Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills is a city (within a city) upon a hill, a utopia of modernism.

The view from Baldwin Hills is, dare we say it, HEAVENLY!

Even better if you live in this flat-topped, window-walled dream house

I had heard that Baldwin Hills was filled with mid-century modern homes; after winding my way through the circuitous streets, I was happy to find out that I was not misled.

From the beautifully-manicured gardens, to the stone wall, to some of the difficult-to-capture
details, this home is a perfect example of Chinese Modernism in residential architecture.

Not to be outdone, this otherwise nondescript ranch house is done up
with contrast stripes, shaped shrubbery, and festive faux foliage!  Let it
be said that there is no guilt in gilt double-doors with dynamic decorations.

Remove that distracting satellite dish (or even better, decorate it as a UFO or giant paper lantern) and
 this steel, glass, and concrete masterpiece would be an amazing venue for the coolest cocktail parties.

Filled with an equal measure of luxury and modest abodes, Baldwin Hills is a microcosm of the entire city's history as multicultural melting pot.  The street names (Don Diego, Don Luis, Don Felipe, et al.) are a nod to California's pre-statehood days.  Once predominantly caucasian, the neighborhood has become well known as an African American enclave.  Always considered an affluent community, the makeup of the population is becoming increasingly diverse.  Fortunately, the architectural character of the neighborhood has endured the progress of Baldwin Hills' evolution.

The roofline, the corner wall of windows, the stone facade, the well-integrated landscaping, and
the atrium entryway work together to create an urban oasis in which we'd be happy to seek relief.

There are still a few holdouts in our own neighborhood with pebbly roofs; this
petite pink palace puts them to shame with it's seriously-rocky rooftop landscape. 

Whoever said, "Simplicity is beauty," must've had this sweet, little house in mind.
The stacked flagstone retaining wall/foundation and two-tone color scheme
in sage and sea foam offer all the pizzazz that this house could possibly need.

Proving that a wacky tacky pedigree is made of more than mid-century modernism, Baldwin Hills offers homes of all varieties.

Sure, there are plenty of MCM details - breeze block, decorative screens, dimensional
trim - but we really go gaga for oversized reliefs of playful elephants, regal gates with
suits of armor, and custom garage doors with the street address as a clock face!

And while we're not huge fans of apartment living, Baldwin Gardens has the look we like!

In fact, some of our very favorite homes were those that were more mainstream America than mid-century modern.

I don't know how I'd feel about trudging up those stairs with arms full of grocery bags but I do know that
I love the scalloped trim, diamond-pane windows, and subtle storybook charm of this white clapboard house.

After a second glance, I'm not so sure that isn't a multi-unit dwelling rather than a single-family home.
Either way, this stately manse cuts an impressive, nouveau-neo-Classical figure on the corner of Don Mariano.

Oddly enough, it seems that Mr. Baldwin never kept house in his namesake hills.  If I was Lucky, I would have built my castle at the very top of said hills, proudly surveying the surrounding land like a king on a throne.  If I'm lucky, maybe I'll be able to make the candy-colored, post-war dreamscape of Baldwin Hills (or a neighborhood like it) home someday.

"If I'm Lucky" - Perry Como

Well, what do you think of Baldwin Hills?  Are you a fan of city living with a quaint suburban feel?  Are there neighborhoods in your town that always have you itching to be in the market for real estate opportunities?  Is there an incredible neighborhood for which you think Mr. Tiny should currently be on the watch?  Let us know!


Mr. Tiny

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sew What?! Putting Summer Sewing to Bed in Beach Pajamas

First things first, this isn't my first time at the beach pajama-recreation rodeo; you might remember last summer's "The Copycat's Pajamas."  Well, over a year later and not completely satisfied with the results of my last attempt, I realized that it was time to revisit the idea of the 1930s sur la plage by completing a long-unfinished project.

I had long earmarked a floral-print, rayon-linen blend in the stash for some flowery beach pajamas; Using that fabric, I actually made the top in the midst of my Summer 2013 mania for Deco-era halter tops.  Out of the same cheery, dogwood-printed material, I constructed the "'Fun in the Sun' Hat" for my most recent "Sew What?!" project.  To complete the ensemble, all I had left to sew were the pants.  With the previous pajamas, I simply made wide-legged pants.  I wanted to tweak it a little by making a more period-appropriate flared trouser.  I even toyed with the idea of including contrasting godets but couldn't find a coordinating material in a suitable weight/color.

The concept

Settling on as wide a flare as the fabric would allow, I came to a startling realization once the pants were completed - it was time to take photographs!!  If I have a forte, sadly, photography is not it (but I'm working on it).  Luckily, our pal Fabian and his trusty camera were available and ready for a seaside shoot.  So, in the glow of the afternoon sun, we headed down to the shore.

As is the case when presented with so many great photographs, it is no small feat when tasked with choosing a favorite...so I didn't (I guess editing isn't my forte either).  Get ready for a picture-heavy post!

Limited fabric means the pants aren't as wide and wonderful as I had hoped for.
Nevertheless, the circumference of each hem measures forty-eight inches!

"Greeting from sunny California!"
Picture postcard perfect

Girl-on-gull action

Modeling clothes can be such a bother...

Wanting a little something extra, I isolated the floral design with a satin stitch and made a 2D/3D (2 1/2D?) corsage. 

Casual summer clothing is always a favorite to create and the heat
wave around here is only encouraging me.  Darn you, global warming!

But even if the weather says otherwise, I suppose it is time to put summer sewing to bed.

Every time I thought Fabian had captured all the angles that he wanted, I directed Mary to "frolic."
Getting fairly restless each time the frolic was called off so we could try something
else, Mary was joyful when at last she was allowed to splash in the surf!

With the temperatures across Southern California reaching into the triple digits, we are still deep in the dog days of summer.  When faced with the alternatives, we don't really mind it.  We're having a heat wave!  Do you like like summer or are you ready for it to be over (at least the Northern Hemisphereans among you)?  Are you ready for sweaters and scarves?  Pumpkins and pine cones?  Coats and candy corn?

We'll feel fine when Fall finally rolls around; until then, however, we'll still be here, soaking up the sun!

"Heat Wave" - Ethel Waters (recorded 1933)


Mr. Tiny