AROUND LA WITH AVA®: An LA Autumn
The Unrelenting Heat
In Finland and in much of the rest of America, Fall has arrived. There is a snap in the air. Take a deep breath and the crisp ozone fills your head—it puts a bounce in your step and sends you out looking for properly colored Pom Poms to take to a football game! In some corners of the upper Mid West, the first snows have fallen and people are airing out their Raccoon coats for next week’s big game.
Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).
Back in the days before Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno kept people up past their proper bedtime, THE Tonight Show host was Johnny Carson. For years, he had a running line in his monologue where he interacted with the audience about the heat in Los Angeles that went something like this:
Carson: It was really hot today in LA!
Audience in unison: How hot was it?
Carson: It was so hot that … [insert whatever funny punch line]
Mr. Carson could have had a zinger for material this week:
Carson: It is so hot that even in Bel Air, the maids are going topless!
Picture that! If you were in the west end of Bel Air recently, at the corner of Moraga and Bellagio, there was a pink van beckoning business. This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month. I was surprised that the parking authorities had not ticketed or towed the darned thing away.
LA Finns and other students of exclusive [read: outrageously expensive!] Los Angeles real estate enclaves will recognize Moraga Drive as one of the premier ‘high rent’ neighborhoods in the mega-million dollar market. Moraga Drive recently received attention when global media mogul Rupert Murdock purchased the vaunted Moraga Vineyard property close to the Finnish Consular Residence which sits just inside the gates guarding the eastern end of Moraga. VIP visitors to the Consular Residence (or others in the beautiful residential area) could hardly miss the shocking pink van parked at the head of the Moraga corridor. Business must be good.
There was more heat out in Castaic at Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park where Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire. The 36 year old venue had completed its last customer thrill-ride on August 17th. Almost 70 million riders experienced its iconic breath-defying transport. KaChinggg!!!Apparently the fire was caused by a spark from a welder’s torch. Spectacular pictures of firefighters aiming their hoses at the fire on the abandoned super-structure from fully extended ladder trucks were timely released to the TV and print media! Jaded Angelinos will need to be forgiven the suspicion that the fire sparked at the very top of the wooden structure was nicely coincidental with the announcement that Colossus is being replaced with a new steel track ‘coaster’ that will have rolls, spirals, and steep banks. The new ride will reopen with the name Twisted Colossus. The Red Carpet guest list for the Grand Opening has not been released just yet.
Blond, Blue Eyed Snake
Another ‘breaking news’ story from up in the lovely, very ‘Scandinavianly’ populated area of Thousand Oaks was the blond snake on the loose. No, really, LA County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi were able to capture images as the cobra was secured after a woman reported it slithering on the hot pavement near Rancho Road.
Fire, Fire, Fire Everywhere…
Another fire at a landmark in our tinder-box-of-a-town was caused by a spark from another welder’s torch. A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi captured images of the flames requiring evacuation of hundreds of workers and restricting nearby local school functions for several days. Along with its sister Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles handles 40% of all of America’s import trade. No ‘Red Carpets’ here!
I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown. Rubber Ducky a l’Orange has never been on any restaurant menu I have seen—here or on the Continent!
“S” is for September
September was also for singing, Santa Monica, Simojoki, Sirpa, Sibelius, Sunset Strip, and Selänne
September 2014 started with celebrations of and in song. The Finnish Church of Santa Monica held its first service of the Fall with the St. Thomas Mass featuring the music of Pekka Simojoki. A choral workshop on Saturday preceded the Sunday Service with Terhi Miikki-Broersma and the Choir from the San Diego Suomikirkko. This event was topped off by a performance by the great granddaughter of Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius, Ruusumari Teppo! What blessings we find in Church.
The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch whose delicacies the Finnish American community has enjoyed at the Consular residence through the years. Sirpa has started her own catering business: Scandinavian Kitchen in Los Angeles. Sirpa has been so impressive at a broad range of events, including wonderful and informative cooking demonstrations at the recent Finnfest in San Diego. She worked with my nephew-in-law, Great Chefs of 2014 Troy Clayton out of Old Towne Alexandria VA, on my son’s wedding over a dozen years ago. [Troy and Sirpa prepared and served a 4 course, gourmet, sit-down feast for 150 in my back yard out of my kitchen—with some help from some ‘friends’.] Sirpa follows in the footsteps of another Finnish culinary master, the late beloved Eino Nurminen.
Speaking of Sibelius, LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena. It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer. An enthusiastic crowd including Valerie Jokela, Larry Soronen, Ellen Harju, Al Jokela, Aino Lustig, Elida Mäki, Elissa Della Rocca, Anita Finifrock (who brought her special “apron cake”) welcomed speaker Professor Michael Hart. Professor Hart from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks made a spirited and informative presentation on the life of Jean Sibelius which delighted everyone. What a great program in anticipation of Sibelius’ 150th. [While there is a Finnish Sauna on the grounds of the Pasadena Historical Museum at the Tupa, I felt like I was getting into a personal, portable sauna on wheels for the ride home as the interior temperature in my car registered 114º F!]
With the heat still on, is there a better place to be in our City of Angels than on the sand in Santa Monica? Then, if you are an opera buff, the season started with a free live cast ‘simulfeed’ of La Traviata broadcast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in ‘high def’ captured by 9 cameras! This was part of a new biannual series of live video broadcasts. Picnicking was encouraged. A bike “valet” was available. No Red Carpet needed!
Special slick solicitations arrive at my home regularly. One such promo that arrived by mail was apparently tailored for a younger generation and/or ’newbies’ to opera. While showcasing the 2014-15 Los Angeles Opera Season, the mailing was splattered with interesting factoids for statistics buffs including:
< 130 pieces of jewelry and two disco balls were used for La Traviata
< in Dido & Aeneas/Bluebeard two gold fig leaf g-strings were to be worn, and
< 18 ounces of golden glitter is used in each performance
There is nothing more wonderful than an early morning weekend drive along Sunset Boulevard –taking those curves without any traffic, feeling the air on your face, and actually making it from the 405 into Hollywood in about 15 minutes. The sights along the quiet Strip are almost serene (even with debris from the revelries the night before). Rarely is the Strip ever closed off requiring one to take frustrating detours –unless the recent rash of 100 year old water pipe bursts continues.
One planned weekend exception where people take precedence over cars and when Sunset is closed between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheny Drive is for The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.
The event makes the Roxy and the Whisky A Go-Go the epicenter(s) for groups such as The Doors, Guns ‘N Roses, The Byrds, and Van Halen where they got their starts. Jane’s Addiction was featured this year.
Among Those Sounds of Saint-Saëns
Meanwhile, in another neck of our LA woods, the classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener that same Saturday night. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted.
Special Stops on Sunset
Probably one of the most famous stretches along Sunset Boulevard is just as you begin to enter Beverly Hills. Heading east on Sunset at Carolwood, almost directly across from the house where Michael Jackson died, there is a house on the right with many statues: children playing, a security guard, a park bench ‘napper’, even children scaling the fence for a peek … . The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours. Everyone must wonder who lives there and what it is like behind the fence (like the statute of the children peeking over the wall). I know I always point out the property when giving a tour to friends new to Los Angeles. Truth be told, I never drive by that property without checking to see if the population has grown—again. Quite often, I will spot something new. Only in Beverly Hills do you use a ‘drive by’ for a Museum!
My friend Elizabeth Von Schlesinger (multimedia personality and founder of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) was at the home where we were to meet. When I went to pick her up one day, I was let in through the gates onto a grand circular drive. [Like with Pandora’s Box, it is natural to wonder what is inside.] The answer: beautiful, manicured grounds and (you guessed it) more statues! The interior site presented a beautiful and breathtaking vista showcasing an even more extensive collection of statues by various artists. There was one figure that looked like Finland’s Lasse Viren* (the great Olympic Gold Medals distance runner) enjoying the cooling fountain in one area of the garden. It was so hot that day, I was ready to join ‘Lasse’ in the fountain!
In this entertainment wonderland of a city, it is always fun to get a peek behind the scenes.
[* Lasse was sculpted in LA and cast in bronze for The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen. The sculpture was commissioned for and was a focal point of attention during the Atlanta Olympics. That sculpture remains in Atlanta. Greta Peck was an Eino collector. She had a scaled replica of The Final Meter in her yard on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills.]
Around LA with Super Heroes: Behind the Scenes
Only in a place like LA where “you know people who know people” do you have the chance of attending a monthly book club meeting where the author shows up –or of attending a film festival where the director and/or the writer are right there seated beside you. This month I went to two events where the actual subjects (the protagonists of the works themselves) were there too!
War of the Whales, written by Joshua Horowitz, is a great nonfiction read. An Amazon Best Book of the Month [July 2014] and a NY Times Bestseller List work was the chosen book for an evening hosted by friends Joanne Jackson and Carlyle Hall. Carlyle is one of the three founders of the Center for Law in the Public Interest. Carlyle’s friend and fellow environmental lawyer is the actual hero of the book [Joel Reynolds; Western Director and Senior Attorney of NRDC –the Natural Resources Defense Council]. Discussions for a film based on the book are in the works.
The riveting ‘save the whales’ tale tells of the battle for balance between national security and environmental protection. The connection between naval sonar and deadly mass ‘stranding’ of whales is revealed. The book chronicles the twenty year battle against military sonar by environmental activists seeking to protect dolphins and whales from the assault of Navy sonar. The suits and legal maneuvering all the way to the Supreme Court of the US are discussed.
You may have made a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. As a Member and a Director of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce, I helped with a Finnish Independence Day event one year under the big Blue Whale that ‘floats’ over the main lobby. The sheer size of that ‘statue’ is awesome. Over a hundred feet long and weighing over 200 tons [in ‘real life’], the Blue Whale is the largest ‘animal’ ever to have lived on Earth. Standing in the Lobby and looking up, it is only natural to say “Wow, that whale is big!”
The Blue Whale still travels just off the Southern California coast in the Channel Islands chain. The War of the Whales issues are close to home for us here on the Pacific Coast. The man who raised the issues that became the book sat with us that evening to answer questions and to provide insights.
Now, that is a Book Club meeting worth attending!
The Finnish Flash
Another evening in LA, I was at a film viewing where the starring hero was personally present! The movie: SEL8NNE is a documentary about Teemu Selänne –the best Finnish hockey player of all time. Teemu’s life is followed from childhood to the latest NHL season. His story is revealed through his own words and those of his family members and colleagues.
SEL8NNE is about our own Teemu Selänne. The film presents a fascinating view of the life and hockey career of our hockey phenom. The word “our” is used here because Teemu and his delightful wife Sirpa have been such generous, kind, long standing, supportive members of the Southern California Finnish community. From their support of charitable events to Finnish Independence Day celebrations, their warm and enthusiastic presence has been appreciated.
The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn. [SISU is the appropriate Finnish descriptor.] The Finns in the audience roared with approval as Lord Stanley’s Cup was used to pour water onto the rocks in a sauna! In the unique traditions of the Stanley Cup, the name of each winning team member is engraved onto the silver trophy and each winning team member gets to ‘…take the Cup home’. In Teemu’s case, that was Finland for 3 days. Teemu confirmed that the Cup has many tales to tell—taking a sauna is not its most unique experience! [I wonder if anyone checked the melting point of silver before ‘cranking’ the sauna?]
Teemu was his usual gracious self. He willingly spent time with each person who wanted a private moment, an autograph, or a picture. I cannot wait to read the book that has just been published!
Post Autumnal Equinox
We are now past the Autumnal Equinox. It is getting cold and dark in our native homeland. Even though we will have warm, light evenings here and probably another hot spell or two (at least until November 2 when daylight savings time ends), we can imagine ourselves coming home from the Finnish forest with a basketful of wild mushrooms. Closing our eyes, our minds can savor a taste of Finnish Autumn on our tongue.
While mushroom soup usually has chunks of mushrooms, the soup presented is pureed to be smooth and to extract more mushroom flavor. This soup is healthier and more figure-friendly because it has very little cream and butter. If you are healthy enough already—or just nostalgic, you can kick it up a notch by adding a tiny drizzle of truffle oil to bring you even closer to the actual Finnish forest primeval.
Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup
1 lb wild mushrooms, sliced
(Hard to find Chanterelles or fresh Porcini preferred—here, Shiitakes were used. If using Shiitakes, remove the stems and discard.)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
I large carrot, chopped
1 large onion (or 1 leek, white part only), chopped
1 small (or ½ large) parsnip, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cubes vegetable bouillon
6 cups water (alternatively, substitute 1½ quarts liquid vegetable broth for the cubes/water)
¼ cup cream
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and chop root vegetables. Sauté the ‘veggies’ in oil and butter until golden and soft.
Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid. Save about 4 slices to chop for garnish.
Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes.
Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes.
Taste for seasoning.
Pour into Finnish bowls and garnish with sour cream, chopped mushrooms, and herbs.
Add truffle oil to finish.
Begin preparation during the 1st LA blizzard of the season—or, at least, wait until the Santa Ana’s stop blowing! A ‘marine layer’ evening party will get off to a great start with a nice warm soup serving. This tasty liquid Finnish Forest is great to put into a thermos and take to your Fall concert or picnic—perfect for an Opera at the beach!
Fall Is Here, The Calendar Tells Me So!
It is officially Fall in LA. The way you know is you look at the calendar and ignore the thermometer! For confirmation, you go to Costco where Christmas decorations are for sale already. A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays. Starbucks is trying to tempt us into the Fall mood by running full page ads for their pumpkin spice lattes.
The real ‘tell’ is that ‘everyone’ is back in town and the Fall buzz of activities has started. Calendars are filled with events for the next several months.
See—the calendar tells you so!
Pumpkins Know It’s So
It takes pumpkins to celebrate an LA Autumn. One of our suburbs is even called “Pumpkins” in Spanish. Yes, Calabasas, home to the ubiquitous Kardashian clan is named for the large orange orbs. In fact, to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving. [calabasaspumpkinfestival.com]
And, if you want more Kardashian in your Calabasas celebration, you can see renderings of the visages of the frighteningly popular Kardashian sisters in pumpkin among 5,000 hand-carved Jack-o-Lanterns of celebrities, dinosaurs, and more. This Rise of the Jack-o-Lanterns is debuting and lighting up the Descanso Rose Garden. [therise.org or descansogardens.org]
Now that the Moraga maids have cleaned your house and the pot of soup is hot, it is officially LA Autumn! “…The frost is on the pumpkin” even if it is generated through air conditioning!
Enjoy our Autumn.
And, have a Happy LA Halloween!!