Friday, March 28, 2008

Birthday Boy

Every day is improved with a visit to my horse. He's always glad to see me and I can hear him nickering as soon as I get out of my car. He is definitely the best birthday present I ever got, even if I had to buy him for myself. It is never too late to have a happy childhood.

Ace will be 11 years old on Sunday (I just saw somewhere that was also the great Secretariat's birthday--almost 30 years earlier.) He was born with Comet Hale-Bopp in the sky and and a matching one on his forehead. Hence his registered name, Auspicious Comet. Ace comes from the initials A.C., not shorthand for the drug. I heard about his birth shortly after he arrived. He wasn't the bay mare my friend Melinda hoped for (Ace's sister Phaedra would fulfill that wish exactly two years to the day later) but he turned out to have good confirmation and a great personality. Everybody loved Ace, the horse who would rather hang around people than eat.

At the time he was born, there wasn't the slightest clue that he'd eventually come to own me. I hadn't been on a horse in over 20 years, I'd never taken lessons to ride, and I had never spent that much time around them. My grandfather never delivered on his many promises to buy my sister and me a pony (and not just because my mother wouldn't have allowed it, I'm sure.)

I got regular updates about this beautiful colt from Melinda every time we spoke. When he was a year old, I took a trip out to New Mexico for the Nebula (R) Awards Ceremony and stayed at Melinda's for a few days. In retrospect, it was probably love at first sight, even if he did try to take a chunk out of my shirt and shoulder when Melinda and I weren't paying enough attention to him out in the barn one day. I've never seen anyone react faster than Melinda did in disciplining him--he never knew what hit him and he's never tried that again.

I signed up for riding lessons that fall, but I had to put if off for a year when I broke a bone in my foot walking to my car. That's why you should be careful of cracks in the sidewalk. Len and I had originally talked about taking lessons together, but just before we were to start, he wound up in the hospital and I haven't been able to convince him to give it a try. His reaction is that he likes to know where he is on the food chain and is of the conviction that the horse is higher. I think that may be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

When Ace went under saddle sometime after his third birthday, Melinda and I started joking about me owning him someday. I think at the time she expected to campaign him as she had his mother, a lovely mare with an imperial bearing named Flames Sirocco, called Rocky or sometimes the Ayatolla of Rock 'n' Rolla for her temper. (Her sire, Bask Flame, seems to have had a reputation for that kind of hot-headedness. Ace's sire, Padron's Mahogany, apparently throws his own famous sire's much more mellow personality.) As it happened, Melinda was moving on to warmbloods to compete at higher levels of dressage where Arabians are not favored in the ring and she had finally gotten a bay mare out of Rocky's second breeding to Mahogany. Our conversations about where the gelding would end up became a little more pointed.

I paid a visit to New Mexico again in the spring of 2001 to see how Ace and I got along. At four, he was really too young a horse for as inexperienced a rider as I was, but we definitely bonded. I gave Melinda a down payment and came home to find a place for him to live.

My husband was totally against the idea of horse ownership, but I think Marv Wolfman said to him, "if she can afford the horse out of her own money, what's your problem?" I was in the middle of a big case for Harlan Ellison, and Ace is often referred to as "the pony that Uncle Harlan bought." I had to go to New Mexico to take depositions on the case at the end of June, whereupon we concluded the sale and Ace got on a transport the day after I flew home. He arrived the next day, unhappy about losing his family but glad to see a face he recognized when he looked out the door of the transport. He managed to gouge his flank in his panic to get off the bus.

It took a while for him to get used to the idea of being where he didn't know anyone. He kept calling out for voices that never answered. (When Melinda's Hanovarian Steppe arrived at Pierce for a brief stay about three years later, the two geldings were undeniably excited to see each other--it was a family reunion for them.) I've noticed that he's never become a "Siamese twin" with another horse, but he seems to get along with most other horses pretty well. The only other time he's had a difficult transition to a move was when we left Pierce--he settled down when two of his barn mates showed up a few days later. But the two moves since then have been uneventful. He seems to be just fine as long as I'm attentive--and I'm very attentive. He likes to flirt with other women, like my trainer Gayle or her assistant Ashley or Gina who does the evening feeding at the barn. Even Zsuzsu, who owned Ace's turnout buddy Otero at our last barn, fell for his charms and felt that she had to treat him with lots of carrots whenever she gave them to her own horses (I did reciprocate and Ace would be annoyed--it was as if he knew those could be his carrots.) He is definitely a woman's horse, but I will say that he's got plenty of respect for Harry Whitney, who has schooled him on several occasions.

I've had several people say to me that Ace is a "once in a lifetime horse" and I have to agree. He's all personality and art in motion when he moves. My friend Teddy noticed he bears a striking resemblance to the George Stubbs painting of Whistlejacket, the grandson of "The King of the Wind" Godolphin Arabian, although Ace has more chrome. Even other horses stop to watch him in action, as if they too know he is something special.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Broadway Baby

My sister called me about 1 a.m. New York time to let me know that Kristina's Broadway debut was an absolute smash. And that she's going on again in today's matinee. How cool is that? I got e-mail from Jim Newman, director of What's My Line Live on Stage, who managed to get to the show last night. He wrote:

So I just returned from the theatre having seen your niece's Broadway debut. "August: Osage County" is a play full of great lines and great performances. Kristina fit right in. Had I not known that it was her first night on Broadway ever, I would have thought she'd been part of the opening night cast along with all the other fantastic actors.
She looked radiant and beautiful (what a head of hair!)
She did not appear in the first act of the three act play, but she opens the second act with a four page monologue! She got laughs and applause on her lines, she had a big old kissing scene. Her character was playful and nervous and fragile and self-deluding and Kristina nailed every aspect.
During the curtain call, as usual the actors with less stage time take their bows first and the leads come last. In this case the four leads take their bows together. There was Kristina in the final four. It was a big, meaty role.
Thanks for letting my know about this. I would have missed it otherwise and it's not the type of experience I would have liked to miss.

I thought it was great to get an unbiased opinion of the performance . My sister said she sat through the monologue with tears rolling down her face--not the reaction a director might want to see in the audience of a comedy, but she's incredibly proud of her talented daughters. Me too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Enter Stage Right: Kristina Valada-Viars

What a week it has been. A number of friends of ours were nominated for Hugo Awards, Len was nominated for the Eisner Hall of Fame and tonight, my lovely niece Kristina Valada-Viars will make her Broadway debut.

Kristina was hired last fall to understudy Kimberly Guerrero's role as Johanna Monevata in August: Osage County when the play moved from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre to New York. The show opened to rave reviews and the run has been extended until at least July, although there will be a change of theaters next month. About a month ago, she was given two other parts to cover as second understudy and tonight she goes on as the youngest daughter of the Weston clan, Karen Weston.

You have no idea how excited I am for her. This is what she's wanted to do ever since she was old enough to express the desire. She made her stage debut when she was very little and she's had amazing training--starting with my sister's children's acting classes at the Des Moines Playhouse. She appeared at the Fringe Festival in Scotland in Agnes of God when she was 16. She studied in London while she was an undergraduate at Grinnell and earned her SAG card with her appearance in The Door in the Floor.

The news came too late for us to jump on a plane and may be too late to send flowers, but we'll be there in spirit and waiting for my sister to call with a review after the show is over. At least she and my niece Stephanie will be able to attend, which is the most important thing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Well Earned Recognition

We received word over the weekend that my husband, Len Wein, has been nominated for a 2008 Eisner Hall of Fame Award. It is a life-time achievement recognition which has him asking "is my career over?," but he's chuffed to be asked to the dance in such great company. Needless to say, I'm plenty proud.

Information about the award and the list of nominees can be read here and here. The voting is being conducted entirely on line and voting ends on April 18. If you are a professional in the comic book field, you can vote here. Unless my foray as his co-writer of Classic Comic's adaptation of "The Autobiography of Stephen Douglass" counts (my name is spelled wrong in the credits), I'm not eligible to vote.

This week marks the 40th Anniversary of Len's professional status as a writer. That's what happens when you make up your mind about what you want to do with your life at the age of 8 and you stick to your goal, I guess. Len will be the Comic Book Guest of Honor at MidSouthCon 26 in Memphis later this week (March 28-30). Drop by if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

What's My Line Live on Stage

I've been in touch with my friends who open What's My Line Live on Stage tonight in New York at the Barrow Street Theatre. My sister's been giving them a hand with off-stage matters (she's an actress and director herself) and is escorting one of the guest/contestants to the show this evening. Betsy Palmer, a regular on I've Got A Secret in the 1950s and 1960s, is one of the panelists.

Our friend Mark Evanier had a clip which shows many of the "Mystery Guests" from the Los Angeles run, which I will try to link here. You'll see a shot of the panel as Greg Proopst guesses Wink Martindale. At the far right, with his face obscured by a mask that can't obscure his lovely head of hair, is my husband Len Wein.

If you are in New York on a Monday night over the next six weeks, go see the show. It's a fun evening and Len will be a panelist on April 21.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Remembering Sir Arthur C. Clarke

A dear friend from back East called on Monday night to say he was in town and to find out if we were available for dinner. Len was busy, but I jumped at the opportunity. Although Len may have given him one of his first professional assignments way back when (I've seen the Marvel magazine), Michael Whelan and his lovely wife Audrey Price became close friends of mine long before I had ever heard of Len Wein. It's a very small world, after all.

Michael was in California to look for a gallery to represent his fine art painting. I own several original Whelan illustrations which grace our walls and I have a number of framed prints in storage because there is simply no room for them on the few walls that don't support book shelves. I find this to be a crying shame. Michael has a beautiful website where you can see examples of his work and purchase prints or originals. Audrey has handled that aspect of the business for as long as I've known them, which is approaching 28 years (How time flies.)

One of the prints I own is of Michael's cover to Sir Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010, the first of three sequels to 2001. It was nice to spend Tuesday evening with people who wanted to talk about Sir Arthur, and who were saddened by his passing. Rather like having a mini-wake.

Now to that story I couldn't write yesterday.

I was the outside general counsel for the Science Fiction Writers of America for about six years. The most fun I had during that time was volunteering to chair the 2001 Nebula (R) Awards Ceremony. I know how to throw a good party and that one came out pretty well.

2001 is one of those landmark years in the science fiction world (1984 is another), and nothing would have made me happier than to get Sir Arthur to Los Angeles to be my guest of honor. That wasn't going to happen, unfortunately, because he was no longer leaving Sri Lanka. If I had the budget, I might have gotten a satellite appearance, but the weekend operates on a very tight budget. So, not long before the actual event, I realized my solution was to make Sir Arthur my Guest of Honor in Absentia.

Then I figured it might be nice if Sir Arthur had a greeting for his fellow SFWAns and I sent off a fax to him (I had a fax number, but not an e-mail. Go figure.) I happened to work late that night--it was in the middle of the Ellison lawsuit against AOL--and the phone rang about 7:30. At first I thought it was an automatic sales call. I said hello several times into what seemed like dead air. Then I heard a voice say "Miss Valada?"

I responded "yes" and the answer went into what seemed like an abyss. After the second time I was asked "Miss Valada?" I started to get a little irritated. Then I heard:

"Ms. Valada, this is Arthur Clarke."

To say that knocked the wind out of my sails is no understatement. I nearly fell off my chair.

"OH MY GOD," I responded before I could gather up my thoughts for an intelligent conversation. One of my very favorite writers was on the other end of the phone, calling from Sri Lanka. The abyss was due to satellite delay on each end of the call. I was, as I've heard friends say, gobsmacked. (This does not happen very often. A professional photographer doesn't have the luxury of being flummoxed by celebrity.)

He was utterly charming. He had just awakened to find my fax and wanted to let me know that after he was finished with a satellite hook-up to the University of Illinois, home of the Hal 9000, he would write a greeting to send to SFWA. He was utterly charming and I treasure the memory.

The short remarks arrived the next morning and they were read by my master of ceremonies, Neil Gaiman. (Neil relates his own encounter with Sir Arthur on his March 19, 2008 journal entry linked to here.) At the event, I had a table and place setting for Sir Arthur next to the podium, on the stage. When Neil finished reading the letter, I even poured some champagne in the glass at the setting. It made a nice touch.

My opening exclamation had not gone unnoticed. At the end of the letter, Sir Arthur had added a post script. "The next time someone greets me as a god," he wrote, "I shall have to decline divinity."

He may not be a god, but he is truly one of the immortals.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It's a bad week when talent you respect dies. It's worse when it is someone with whom you've had personal contact.

Dave Stevens, the creator of The Rocketeer, made famous in a film from Disney back around 1990, and an old friend of my husband passed away from a form of leukemia at the age of 52 last week. Dave was a nice, soft-spoken guy who created beautiful artwork.

Today it is Sir Arthur C. Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. He was 90 and not in good health, but he seemed immortal. I remember watching Sir Arthur on television with Walter Cronkite during the height of our space program in the 1960s. He would also appear on other television programs talking about science. He conceptualized geostationary satellite communication back in the 1940s. His work, particularly his short stories "The Star" and "The Nine Billion Names of God" have stuck with me since I started to read him when I was in college. Most people will point to 2001: A Space Odyssey as the work they most associate with Clarke. I prefer the short story "The Sentinel" to the novelization of 2001 which represented the cinematic expansion of the shorter piece. His novel "Childhood's End," again an expansion of a short fiction piece entitled, as I recall, "The Guardian," is one of those properties which has been in development hell in Hollywood for decades.

One evening in April of 2001, Sir Arthur called me. I'll write about it as soon as I can do it without crying. At the moment, I feel the need to grieve.

Match It for Pratchett

The news this morning indicated that one in eight of us baby boomers is likely to come down with Alzheimer's Disease. I looked at Michael and told him he was going to be responsible for taking care of Len and I if we get it and he went white. His paternal grandmother died of complications from the disease.

Which brings me to this. A few months ago, author Terry Pratchett announced he has an early onset form of the disease. Terry, a delightful man who is an acquaintance of mine, has long been one of the funniest writers in the science fiction and fantasy field. He has collaborated with my friend Neil Gaiman on a novel entitled Good Omens, which I highly recommend. He is most famous for his Discworld books.

Terry donated $1,000,000 (more accurately, half a million pounds sterling) for research and there is now a call out to help build a fund for Alzheimer's research to match Terry's donation. You can read about it at Match It for Pratchett, which my friend Pat Cadigan, an American writer living in London, helped get set up on-line over the past few days. You can make a direct donation or purchase some of the merchandise. Like many of the writers I know, I'm doing what I can to get the word out.

Consider a donation to be enlightened self-interest.

Playing Detective

About four years ago, our friend Sandy decided that we all had enough "stuff," so instead of stuff for Christmas and Channukkah, he was going to give us "experiences." By us, I don't just mean my husband, son, and self. No, Sandy extended this to all of the people with whom he exchanged gifts each year.

The first year, we went to Descanso Gardens, to see their famous gardenias. This was followed by a picnic lunch and then a trek to a small bowling alley in nearby Montrose. Quite a full day and everybody had a good time, especially since the weather was very nice (I think it was February when we did this.)

I passed on the second year's event going to a go-cart type place east of Los Angeles, but Len and Michael had a great time.

Last year, the crowd of what looked like 50 or 60 people went to the Pirate Adventure near Disneyland. It was, unfortunately, a little too loud for my taste. But it was a fun show and the children, particularly, had a fabulous time.

On Saturday night, we did the most recently planned event. Sandy appears to be doing this in conjunction with some other folks, which is good. I'd hate to think he's frittering away his retirement money this way. We were treated to "Mysteries en Brochette" a murder-mystery dinner theater production at the Marina del Rey Hotel. No small children for this one.

With a theme of "Hollywood's Fatal Premier," folks did have an opportunity to get dressed up. There were about 40 people in our party plus another 40 or so people in attendance with other groups. The food was uneven, as hotel food can be, and so was the acting. The character who functioned as the emcee, however, more than made up for any other short comings. He was just great. He also wrote the production and he was a whiz at the ad lib.

The way these things go, the story is presented and some one or several ones are murdered. At the end, it is up to the audience to come up with a solution. Prizes were given to the individual who correctly solved the mystery and the one who came up with the funniest solution.

It's a tough room when two famous comic book writers and best selling novelist Larry Niven are working out endings. Len won the funniest solution--with the emcee/writer saying it was such a good solution they should incorporate it into the show--and the wife of the other comic book writer was the first to turn in the actual solution. That writer got an honorable mention for funny.

One of the people not with out party posited that one of the characters was a superhero like an X-man and one of our party ratted out Len to him. So Len got his picture taken with this stranger who was an X-men fan. It always gives me the giggles.

Me, I just sit back and watch. Len loves these kinds of things (he won the solution to the last party like this we went to, which is why we have TWO replicas of the Maltese Falcon in our house), but I know my limitations. I'm happy when I've got the solution to Law & Order.

As for that other famous detective I'm watching these days, I can't figure out why New Amsterdam isn't doing better in the ratings. The stories are very good and it really helps that the show is actually filmed on location in New York. I got a little bent out of shape about a rape victim's name and picture being spread across the Internet in last night's episode, but I did figure it to be a so-called honor killing as soon as I saw the body, beating Len to that one. However, I suspected the unseen brothers, not the father.

Last night also marked the return of Big Bang Theory. I think it's gotten a bit edgier than it was before the strike. We laughed a lot, particularly as the boys did the ape victory dance from 2001 and when Sheldon tried to psychically cause Leonard's head to explode. I was also anxious to see Chuck Lorre's latest end credit card. The one that was up when the strike hit said "United we stand." Last night's was a meditation about going up against Marlee Matlin on Dancing with the Stars. (It's not available on Chuck Lorre's website yet, but he refers to the "deaf chick dancing her ass off.")

The wind was up again yesterday, so my lesson on Ace was a bit cautious. Since the wind wasn't a constant, we decided to go on with it. We had to share the arena with a horse which was jumping (and whose rider couldn't control him in a turn), but we managed. It wasn't as good a ride as Saturday, but tomorrow is bound to be better.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Midweek Lesson

I had a particularly satisfying lesson on the Arabian Prince last night. It was a nice way to end a day which felt somewhat off as I got into my car to drive to the barn and got more irritating once I arrived.

When I got to the barn, If found a plastic container of gasoline sitting right outside of Ace's stall. The owners are trying to get some drainage along our walkway before (a) we get any more rain and (b) they erect tack sheds. The tack sheds look like plastic numbers with a 3' x 7' or so foot print. I think my saddle racks will fit inside, but I don't yet know if we each get one or if we will be sharing them. It is going to cut into the walkway space. I usually take Ace out through the arena, but the other owners sometimes walk their horses along this path, which has the shed row barn on one side and a 6' or 7' fence on the other. I've seen a horse sticking his nose over that fence from the ranch next door, so I'm a little concerned about gnawing on these new tack sheds.

I moved the gasoline, which I didn't want so close to my horse's room. Then I went down to the current tack room, where the equipment for 9 horses is crammed into a 12' x 12' stall. The refrigerator was blocked by a large metal shelf unit about 5' long and 4' high. My tack rack, which is on wheels, was blocked by some heavy and tall piece of equipment they are using to dig the drainage holes. Why that stuff can't be put in one of the other empty stalls, I can't quite figure.

I finally maneuvered my stuff out of the tack room and got a look at Ace. He had a nice big skinned spot at the point of his left shoulder. The newest boarder let me know that the big thoroughbred next to Ace opened a gate between their stalls and hillarity (and, apparently, damage) ensued. A chain is now attached, but I've already seen Sebastian escape from that kind of apparatus into the arena, so a more secure arrangement may be necessary. I've never seen Ace with so many bite marks on his body.

I got Ace dressed while someone else was setting up jumps in the arena. I had told that person that I was about to have a lesson, so she did keep the jumps on one side of the arena. I set up cones along the other in front of the stalls and Ace did a pretty good job of ignoring what else was going on. I'm not entirely sure what the dimensions of the arena are. I think it is somewhat larger than the covered arena at Pierce. It's probably about 170' long (the approximate length of the shed row barn) but less than 1/3 of that wide, so there is room for several riders to work on the flat comfortably. The big problem is the footing. We keep picking up rocks and the owners don't have the right equipment to maintain it. Nor do they work it often enough. At least it isn't too deep and they aren't using it for burying corpses for films like the last place.

Gayle got there for my lesson and we began to work weaving in and out of the cones. Ace does not like to bend to his right. Not that he can't--he was quite capable when looking for a treat. And on a loose line, he'll bring his head around to touch my right toe and back to the left with little prompting. But he is very resistant to go straight or bend right. I think it gets in the way of his escape mode of blowing through his right shoulder. When Ace spooks, if he doesn't do the Arab squat, he drops his shoulder and goes to the right. Every time I've come off him (except for the time I passed out in the saddle), I've wound up on the ground to his left.

A large part of what I've worked on with Gayle has been learning to block or support that shoulder and keeping myself plugged in the saddle. I find it harder to plug into the western saddle than I do my Schleese, but I still feel a bit more secure in the western right now. Mind, I've flown out of both of them at one time or another, but I've got a better chance of grabbing the horn or pommel on the western.

Last night, I managed to get Ace to do what Gayle calls a "schooling trot." It's a very, very slow sitting trot with a good deal of lift in the horse's back and no drag in his feet. I actually could feel it. His walk following this exercise was much more energetic--he tends to do the march of death at a walk, and not so rhythmic as that might sound. Gayle told me that when she did it while riding Ace, she almost got him to stay in place. If we could get him to tuck his butt, we might someday see a piaffe.

Adding yoga back into my life is already showing rewards in my riding. It's hard to get up for that 7:45 a.m. class on Saturday, but it is worth it. When I follow the class with a lesson the same morning, I sit better and I am more relaxed. I really need to throw on Linda Benedik's videos of yoga for the equestrian a couple times a week (if I could only find the time or space!)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on Televsion

So many people are snobs when it comes to watching television. "Oh, I never watch T.V." "It's such a waste of time." "There's never anything good on." Nonsense.

First of all, some of the best writing is on television. Gilmore Girls under Amy Sheridan-Palladino and West Wing under Aaron Sorkin were two of the best shows ever done on television. Crisp, rapid dialog along with great acting and directing made them both "must watch T.V." I've been a fan of the Law & Order franchise since it began and I do tend to watch every episode of each of them. I'll sometimes watch CSI with Len, but I rarely watch CSI: Miami and never CSI: New York.

This season's been a bit of a disappointment, but the third episode of New Amsterdam was as good as the first, with an interesting twist at the very end. I'm looking forward to next Monday. I thought that Canterbury Law has possibility (I like Juliana Margulies and Aidan Quinn), but I'm not sure I'll commit. Next week also marks the return of Big Bang Theory, a show which leaves me in stitches every time I watch it. The other two comedies I watch faithfully are Aliens in America and 30 Rock.

Now even I am a snob when it comes to "reality T.V." First of all, many of those shows are clearly written--maybe not the dialog (which would be a big improvement) but the storylines and structure clearly are. The scum-sucking weasels who are pocketing the big bucks rather than pay their writers decent wages, pension, and health should die horrible deaths and have a special place in hell reserved for them. None the less, I've mentioned before our devotion to The Amazing Race and Beauty and the Geek.

Beauty and the Geek returned last night, but the game has changed again. I'm not sure I like what they've done with it, because I really thought the pairing of the beauties with the geeks went quite well. I will say that last night's turn, where the beauties had to decide which of the geeks to send to the elimination room, worked amazingly well. The beauties decided that the guys to send were the ones who might not need the improvement skills as much as the ones they didn't pick. That was a pretty smart move on their part. I do wonder if there's some plan afoot to change things during the season though, because in the past the show eliminated a pair of contestants each week and this way they only eliminate one a week. That could add up to a 17 week season the way things appear to be structured.

I've taken a bit more of an interest in American Idol this season. I'm not sure why. Maybe I was waiting for the singers to get a chance at Lennon-McCartney tunes or maybe because it looks like they did get rid of the really marginal talents before the top 12 got down to work last night. There are more important things to me than watching the show (I slept through three of the singers on Lennon-McCartney night), but I am curious about how it works out. Although Simon Cowell doesn't need a writer, Randy and, especially, Paula could use one. Can anyone actually understand what either one of them is talking about? Last night, when asked why the songs have lasted, Randy threw in the word "copyright," but in a way that had nothing to do with what copyright means at all or what the question was. Paula couldn't express that the "risks" she was suggesting people take should have "pay-off" or "reward." She needs help with simple sentence structure. What a ditz.

I feel sorry for the girl from Oregon who sold her rodeo horse to go to the audition. She did a dreadfully rushed, country & westernized version of "Eight Days a Week" that really missed the mark. My favorite cutie with the dreds didn't do a particularly good job either. And the 16 year old favorite really fell down. Chikezie was the big surprise. I haven't been particularly impressed but he did a great job with "She's a Woman." Unlike my husband, I'm not taken with either the rocker-biker-nurse or the Irish bar maid. At least we're down to two nights a week for Idol, rather than three, from here on out.

Now for something I doubt I've mentioned before: food shows tend to be the default when nothing specific is on television (and televisions are always on in my house: my husband doesn't like quiet like I do.) Talk about reality! We get BBC America, which hooked me on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares (and, yes, I'll probably watch Hell's Kitchen this year, which I haven't in the past) and now we're enthralled by Last Restaurant Standing.

Cooking shows are not a new thing for us to watch. We used to lay in bed on Saturday mornings watching cooking shows on PBS like the Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook back before there was a Food Network. Now, my husband records every episode of Rachael Ray and buys all of her books. It's improved his kitchen repertoire beyond belief. He does resent that it takes him about 90 minutes to make one of her 30 Minute Meals, but he's resigned to it. The knife skills class I sent him and my son to last year hasn't improved his speed, just his technique.

We were watching some show one Saturday night on the topic of camenbert cheese, looked at each other, hit the record button and ran out to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to secure a lovely arrangement of cheese, fruit, bread and crackers for dinner. We came back home and ate while we watched the rest of the show. Talk about the power of suggestion.

We started watching Iron Chef back when it was only available on the Japanese language television channel out here. Its migration to the Food Network was inspired. We really enjoy the American version (much better once they got rid of William Shatner) and I can't wait to try Michael Symon's restaurant the next time I am in Cleveland. I've been begging for dinner out at Mario Batali's Mozza since it opened last year. (Batali's partner in this venture, Nancy Silverton, is my own personal baking goddess. I worked my way through her bread book, beginning with making a sour dough starter from my home-grown grapes and doing all of the extended proofing required for her recipes. I don't have the time for this anymore, unfortunately.)

Although I don't get to watch many shows, I find Alton Brown's Good Eats fascinating. I bought my son both of his books, since Michael is into many things science. I've been trying to catch Jamie Oliver's new series which features food from his cottage garden, but I forget to schedule the recording. There's no Italian cooking show I really like right now. Giada doesn't do it for me. She's no Marcella Hazan, whose books are my Italian cooking bibles. I find Bobby Flay annoying. Ditto Paula Dean (but I enjoyed her sons' eating on the road show.) Emeril is always entertaining, but I know that I've got a two-day tolerance for the heaviness of New Orleans cooking.

I hear Top Chef is back with a new season tonight.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam was the original name of the settlement on Manhattan. It is also the name of the drama I was most looking forward to this season. We saw the pilot last spring and loved it. It didn't make it to the fall schedule and, despite filming half a season, there was concern that it wouldn't see the light of day.

Then came the writers' strike.

New Amsterdam, staring Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, finally made it to the air last week. We re-watched the pilot and then saw the second episode this weekend. It definitely is on my must watch list for as long as it lasts.

The conceit is that he received an kind of immortality for saving the life of a native American as the Dutch arrived to colonize Manhattan. He was born in 1607 and now works as a detective in Manhattan. My very favorite part of this story is that he has spent the past 400 years in life-long learning. He's gone to Ivy League schools, he's a doctor, a lawyer, a famous furniture maker, and I'm certain we don't know what all yet. By the second episode we learn that he's been married--but only to one woman at a time--and he appears to keep at least some of his children in on the secret. A daughter was his aging secretary just prior to World War II. His aging son runs the bar where he has a hidden studio, turning out his famous style of now antique furniture when the need for cash arises.

He's Lazarus Long without the incest. He has no superpower except that he can't die--until he finds his one true soul mate, at which point he will age normally and die.

There's something about it that reminds me of Beauty and the Beast. Probably because he knows all of the hidden places in the city because he's seen it change over the course of 350 years. There is also something quite fun about the fact that he doesn't hide things that make people go "You think that's a joke? I can do the math. It means you've been sober since 1959." "I've got a young face," he replies. As a photographer, I love the series of pictures he has taken every year for about 150 of them of Times Square. There was a great special effect building Times Square through the years using still photos taken from the same place.

Coster-Waldau is utterly charming. I'll be there for the next episode, which is tonight at 9 on Fox.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Copyright & Trademark Lecture

If you've read my opening page, you know I describe myself as a "recovering attorney." As in the wisdom expressed in The Godfather says, "just when I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in." The California Lawyers for the Arts called yesterday and asked me to give a talk on "Copyright and Trademark Basics for Visual Artists," something I could probably do in my sleep since I've done so many of them. I went off to law school to help other creators. It turned out to be a lousy way to make a living (most artists can't really afford to actually pay a lawyer), but I do really like to educate creators to help themselves. This was an easy yes (once I decided I could devote 2 hours of vacation time to it), since I don't have to take on any clients from it.

This free brown-bag lunch event is at Continental Art Supplies, 7041 Reseda Boulevard, Reseda, California on March 17, 2008. On-site registration is at 11:15 a.m. and the talk is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call California Lawyers for the Arts at 310-998-5590 or e-mail them at Space is limited to 25 people.

See you there, I hope.

Monday, March 3, 2008

In Memory Yet Green

With apologies to good Dr. Asimov, some things are best left to memory and should not be revisited.

The "It's a Small World" ride at Disney is at the top of that list. While tolerable at Christmas, I should have avoided it like the plague rather than destroy that sense of wonderment I had when I saw it at the New York World's Fair in 1964. It was the ride we rushed to a second time in the late evening when the crowds had thinned and a repeat was possible. I can't imagine what our parents thought about it, but it is pretty awful for an adult to sit through.

Last night, in the comfort of our living room, another memory was left dying in the dust. With no new episodes of The Amazing Race on the air, we decided to let the Sunday night dinner and TV group come over to watch stuff on DVD. Anything was fair game and the first thing that won a viewing was the pilot for the TV show Here Come the Brides. Oh, dear.

First of all, I missed most of the first year of the show because of a scheduling conflict, but I remember my sister was a huge fan and I too enjoyed watching cute Bobby Sherman and even better looking Robert Brown on nights when I was home. The second season was on Friday nights, when I was almost always home to watch. Looking at the show with the intervening experience of the women's movement and, OMG, homicide should have been in order. Our friends who were watching the show with us are about 10 years younger than we are, and while Bob kept trying to make excuses for the show he had brought, Lorien and Becky couldn't really buy into the "well, you've got to look at it from the perspective of when it was made."

Although Bridget Hanley's character showed signs of budding feminism--after all, she was working on a fire-engine when we first saw her--there was a tendency to fall into the "only until a man sweeps me off my feet" attitude. The poor woman doctor who gets recruited in the second episode has to deal with shunning by most of the town's women--she was rising above her station and doing "men's work." Robert Brown's character, who usually quickly overcame whatever particularly sexist attitude he first expressed, didn't really do it fast enough.

The most disappointing part of all was that the DVD release does not have the wonderful theme "Seattle" sung over the credits. I'm guessing that there was some problem with securing the rights to the performance by "The New Establishment." I don't even know if I should call the group a "one hit wonder" when I can't find any references to them using Google. All Len wanted to do was sing along with the theme (to everyone's protest), but there was no singing to sing along with. As if to let us know we were not having 60s hallucinations about the theme, there was actually a credit for the song and singers on each of the two episodes we watched.

My friend Barbara Hambly was a big enough fan of the show to write a Star Trek novel called Ishmael in which Spock time travels to this version of Seattle where Aaron Stempel (the adversary of the Bolt brothers) explains Spock by calling him his nephew. Aaron Stempel was played by Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock's father Sarek in Star Trek (he also played a Romulan on an episode.)

In terms of shows that do hold up to watching decades later, I put the original Twilight Zone at the top of the list. While not every one is a gem, it's got a really good batting average. Well written, well acted, well directed and wonderfully cast, I enjoy watching episodes I've seen dozens of times. I want the original Star Trek to be better than it actually is; some episodes hold up but lots of others are awful. I'm in the camp that holds somewhere between 1968 and when the show started running in syndication in the 1990s, someone took those wonderful old episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and remade them badly. On the other hand, I Love Lucy is as funny and well loved today as it was when I was little. If you have the opportunity to listen to the Jack Benny Radio Show, it too is as funny as it was in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. Both shows were well written, well directed, and the stars had perfect comic timing.

I've gone down to the Museum of Radio and Television a few times to look at old episodes of television (in the days before DVD release became so common), and there are definitely other things I should have left to memory. The foremost example in my mind is a musical version of "The Canterville Ghost" staring Peter Noone. The Ugly Americans come to England to visit and the daughter falls in love with the local lordlet (played by the then-adorable Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, a.k.a. Herman of Herman's Hermits.) Complicating things is the castle ghost and some really dreadful musical numbers. But the worst part of all are the fashions. Peter wore these awful stripped bell-bottoms. I've had nightmares ever since and I'm sure that Oscar Wilde's been spinning in his grave for 40 years.