AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A DATE FOR LIFE


AVA

Los Angeles is a city of great love stories—real and fantasy.  Let me tell you one of them.  After all, February 2016 has Valentine’s Day and Sadie Hawkins’ Day—that every 4 year phenomenon of a 29th day Leap Year.  [In days of yore, on Sadie Hawkins’ Day a woman/girl was permitted to ask a man/guy for a date.  Yes, the world has changed.]

Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 15, 1937 "Li'l Abner" daily strip.

Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 15, 1937 “Li’l Abner” daily strip.

Even in our ‘hook-up’ environment, preliminaries usually begin with a “date”.

A word with multiple meanings, “date” in its simplest form is the fruit of the palm tree (taateli).  Date can mean (treffit) –a potentially romantic meeting between two individuals.  The Internet and all of its iterations has redefined “dating”, but for our purposes we will use its simplest, old-fashioned form where a lady or girl was invited by a gentleman or boy for some alone time with an agreed-upon starting hour, on a specific day, for a shared activity such as a meal, a movie, a concert, or a prom. Both parties played by the same rules hoping to make a romantic connection leading to a possible future relationship—or, at least, another date.  Hollywood made millions on movies of the varieties of good, bad, tragedy, and comedy premises.  My date story is of the ‘50s “… and they lived happily ever after” genre.

palm

But, for an added ‘hook’, there is a palm tree involved!

Our beloved City of Angels is known for its palm trees.  Finns have called it missä palmut huivuu –the place where the palm trees sway.  There are many species of palm trees, but the most prevalent here are the tall coconut and date palms.  If you drive around west LA and Santa Monica, you will see these amazing, tall, skinny ‘towers’ bending and swaying with the wind.  Their supernatural structures endure the Santa Ana winds and other environmental issues in seeming defiance of the laws of nature and physics with a fairly small root structure.  Their inner fortitude seems to say: “I belong here.  I can take it.  I am here to stay.”

Each morning, my first view at first light is of a palm tree across the street.  The palm is probably approaching 150 feet tall, rising majestically above all other trees and landscape in the neighborhood.  Let me tell you the love story behind that palm tree.

Sunset and Vine in the 1950's.

Sunset and Vine in the 1950’s.

The ‘love couple’ are the dearest people in the world.  A local rarity, they are two native Angelenos with amazing roots in Los Angeles going back over 9 decades of the city’s history, with stories to match.  This accomplished couple still live in the home they designed, built, and thrived in since the early 1950’s.  Each well designed detail of the home and garden is amazing and lovingly preserved.  The look of the place reminds me of beautiful homes in Finland.  It could have been designed by a Finnish architect with its timeless beauty reflecting (and fitting in) nature.

But, back to dates and palms—our focus for this column.

There is a wonderful romantic song with lyrics “…what are you doing the rest of your life?” that projects the ultimate “date” when “happily ever after” is the result and becomes the reality.  Quite a warm experience when presented on celluloid by Hollywood movie moguls—quite a remarkable inspiration when lived by real people you know!

Every morning when I look at that incredibly tall palm towering over Bel Air, I smile at the date palm’s history that reflects the strength and love of the couple behind the story.

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The nonagenarians met as youngsters (both were born in LA and grew up in the same neighborhood) sharing amazing adventures during the early ‘glory days’ of our fair City of Angels.  They had great careers in academia, business, military, and social circles.  The tales of their lives would make your head spin.  Suffice it to say, with backgrounds in architecture and engineering on both sides, the home exists as an iconic early 1950’s model of the great life in southern California.   The towering 150‘ date palm stands as an exclamation point overseeing the house and its manicured gardens, grounds, and pool.

The starring couple were married in 1952 in Los Angeles.  Palm Springs was an exotic and romantic place to spend their honeymoon.

palmsprings

The Coachella Valley is home to Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, and Indio—among other villages. The Valley was then and is now an agricultural area.  Among the major cash crops are dates.  When returning to Los Angeles from their honeymoon, this sweet young couple brought and planted the seed (pit) of a date in their backyard.  The date palm that rules the neighborhood as the tallest tree around is the product of that seed!  It is also a symbol and tribute to a wonderful, long-lasting love.

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As an aside: Once a year a tree crew is hired to trim the front and backyard trees and hedges.  I always ask to be informed on the arrival of the specialist for the date palm. This monkey- of- a- man [tiny in stature, but not of courage] with a huge belt for safety and spikes on his legs winches up the mighty palm that begins to move in concert with his ascent.  Machete in hand, he hacks away at the lower, dried fronds that fly off as he and the tree trunk sway in the breeze.  The neighborhood ‘gallery’ holds its breath until it can give a huge sigh of relief when this annual circumcision is complete and the surgeon has safely descended after his snipping.  For many, many years the same young man had the ‘duty’.  As decades slipped by, the tree got taller and the guy got older.  Fresh legs have been brought in to harvest the crop!

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Date Country Visit

In January, I spent several days in the desert attending legal seminars.  It really is a fun place—and seems to ‘expand’ so much between trips.

This adult, fun playground of sun, scenery, sports, celebrities, film and music festivals, and the best of leisure time can provide a shot in the arm –even if only for a weekend.  You can enjoy a ‘shot’ or two of an adult beverage at a casino or at a myriad of fine dining establishments.  The area does have a drink specialty appropriate to our topic and that is the date shake.  Yes, a date milkshake!  This super/sweet, local, iconic pirtelö will put a spring in your step or a snap in your golf swing.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

A place not to be missed for all things ‘date’ related (including the date shake) is Shields between Indio and Indian Wells on Hwy 111.  Lovely date palms that are part of the farm hover over tables at the restaurant.  The front tourist shop features dates in every possible incantation.  There is an informative film with a provocative title for you to view that has been running for years. The film is titled (drum roll—wait for it…): The Romance & Sex Life of the Date.  Don’t worry, it is ‘G’ rated!  Shields is a campy tourist trap well worth the stop—for a date, for a date shake, and for a laugh!

 The Romance and Sex life of the dates- DVD This retro-funky documentary delight explores the world-famous Shield's Date Garden and the history of the date industry in the Coachella Valley. Fifteen minutes presentation modified only slightly over the years.


The Romance and Sex life of the date.
This retro-funky documentary delight explores the world-famous Shield’s Date Garden and the history of the date industry in the Coachella Valley.

Dates and Visitors—Or, Just Karma

Did you ever wonder how the ideas come for the musings that appear each month in this column?  Probably not the first thought on your mind, but four weeks do go by pretty quickly these days.  In this household, we measure by ‘Fridays’ which seem to accelerate arrival at a bewitching rate.  Somehow something as esoteric as “dates” came into focus this month.  Was it glancing at my neighbors’ giant palm swaying in the Santa Ana Winds bringing hot, dry gusts during our pent-annual El Nino season when we were expecting floods and mud slides?  Was it craving the unique sweetness of a date shake as I drove past Shields on my way to a legal seminar in the desert?  Or, was it the unique ‘house gift’ (tuliainen) of freshly picked, real mid-east desert dates brought by old friends who spent 5 days with us near the conclusion of their ‘around-the-world’ trip?

SERENIUSOur delightful houseguests were none other than former City of Angels- based Consul General and Ambassador of Finland to Latvia and to Turkey, Maria Serenius and her husband Tapio.  Their LA visit was on their eastbound route back to Finland after stops in the near and far East. We shared wonderful meals, memories of their times here, and great discussions of world affairs, politics, and life’s wonders.  What fun it was to have a world leader and expert on current events and middle eastern affairs on premises sharing insights and perspectives.  We even had a chance to wish this couple well on their 45th wedding anniversary—speaking of “dates-for-life”!

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For all of you Maria fans, you should know she had her hiking boots with her and she completed a 10 mile hike in the Santa Monica Mountains one morning –no problem.  What an inspiration!

In Memoriam

Two leaders in our Finnish community recently lost their spouses.  In a month celebrating love, we are reminded that even though the greatest gift of love comes to a physical, human end, it endures forever.

Our hearts go out to Rueben Perttula on the loss of his dear wife Margaret and to Elissa Della Rocca who bid farewell to her husband Renato.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles

Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

The Circle Continues

While she was here during her stay with us, one night Maria brought home some fresh flowers.  I was pleased when she offered to arrange the bouquet since I knew how much she had enjoyed her Ikebana classes during her tenure here.  Maria took an Alvar Aalto vase and within minutes had created a simple, yet breathtaking floral masterpiece.

[There is some wonderful synergy with Finns and Japanese in their aesthetic styles.]

The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.

More Gardens

My travels around LA this month included a sojourn to the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens for a San Marino League Fundraiser.  Since 1958, The San Marino League has raised money to restore the Japanese House where members of the Ikebana Class have installed fresh flower arrangements every week throughout the year.  The League members have led tours as Docents since 1966.  Both the Japanese Gardens at the Huntington, as well as, the Fine Arts Scholarships are funded for the Art Center College of Design.

Rex Reed

Rex Reed

The Huntington Library and Gardens: This jewel in the crown of our beautiful City of Angels is a Garden of Eden –a Mecca of art, a true treasure to behold.  And, this time of year the camellias are in bloom.  If you have not been to the Huntington, go! You will be transported and inspired by the experience.

The evening of the fundraiser event began with a special treat: the featured speaker was the iconic film critic, columnist, journalist, author, and lecturer Rex Reed.  His presentation was appropriately titled: A Constellation of Stars: Legends I Have Known.  Mr. Reed delivered sharp-tongued, sassy, and (very) salty anecdotes of his experiences in New York and Hollywood with revered movie icons.  Reed’s vignettes made the traffic to San Marino worth the effort.  His ‘take-no-prisoners’ reviews through the years have been just ‘delicious’ to watch.  The legendary actress Ava Gardner was quoted as saying of Reed: “…he was always at your throat or at your feet”.

Ava Gardner (1922 - 1990), the sensuous Hollywood star and film actress. She appeared in 'The Killers' (1946), 'Pandora & The Flying Dutchman' (1951) and 'The Barefoot Contessa' (1954). (Photo by Baron/Getty Images)

Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990), the sensuous Hollywood star and film actress. She appeared in ‘The Killers’ (1946), ‘Pandora & The Flying Dutchman’ (1951) and ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ (1954). (Photo by Baron/Getty Images)

Rex Reed’s titillating stories of Hollywood legends included: who darned his socks, whom he danced with, whom he got drunk with, whom he skinny dipped with, and with whom he smoked ‘pot’.

His many stories and anecdotes targeted Angela Lansbury, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Betty Davis, Fred Astaire, Barbara Stanwick, Suzanne Pleshette, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Marlena Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Ann Margaret.  [If these stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood are not familiar, a ‘search’ will be rewarding.]

St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Santa Monica

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.

The Finnish Lutheran Church v The Super Bowl

For the last three years, the Finnish Lutheran Church in Santa Monica has held their worship service on the afternoon of the Super Bowl.  In America, fully 1/3rd of the country is glued to their television sets at home or at some lavish party venue.  The Super Bowl’s 110 million viewers exceeds the total Finnish population by a 20X factor.  Most ‘attractions’ would consider that competition!

Pastors Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Jarmo Tarkki.

Pastors Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Jarmo Tarkki.

Pastors Jarmo Tarkki and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen carried on with ‘business as usual’ as they shared the Pulpit and Service for the loyal Lutheran Finns in attendance.  The message of love from the Book of Corinthians, their Sermons, and the spirit of the Congregation brought together the theme of love inherent in the American Valentine’s Day and the Finnish theme of love for your friends.

The newly assembled and expanding Choir brought joyful sounds of praise to and from the Congregation.

6th street bridgeFood and Other News

The 6th Street Bridge has fallen down—if you care.

Elsewhere –and this may rock your world: the Brussels Sprout has been overcome by the Cauliflower.  In the sphere of ‘trending’ vegetables where the culinary aficionados celebrate a hero, there are shortages of the nubile darlings.

For us Finns, this opens a gold mine of memories and cooking fun.  Finns have always loved Cauliflower.  It is a part of Kesäkeitto, of casseroles, and the like.

This month as we celebrate love, comfort, dates, and passion.  Follow this recipe to bring your loved ones this easy, silky soup. It is ‘blond and bland’ until you add the optional garnish of dates, peppers, almonds, and a ‘squiggle’ of oil that will bring savory joy and warm love to your dear ones.  This soup was a favorite of my late Mother.

Can you say Kukkakaalikeitto?  No?  OK, let’s call our featured recipe “5 K Soup” in honor of the LA Marathon.  I dare you to find another soup with five Ks in the name!!

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Kukkakaalikeitto

aka

5 K Soup

(6-8 Servings)

Ingredients:

2 small or 1½ large heads of Cauliflower, sliced

½ cup butter (1 stick)

½ cup flour

1½ quarts stock (chicken, vegetable, or ham)

1 cup half & half (or ½ cup milk and ½ cup heavy cream)

Salt & white pepper to taste

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Garnish: Dates, hot peppers, mint, and almonds chopped and mixed in good olive oil

 

Process:

Melt butter and mix in flour [do not let brown]

Pour in stock

Add cauliflower

Cover and simmer until cauliflower is tender [30-40 minutes]

Puree with a ‘stick blender’ or in a blender or food processor

Add cream and milk

Heat gently for a few minutes

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

Serves 6-8

unnamed (10) AFTERWORD

Every four years we get an extra day in the calendar.  With an already busy February (Ground Hog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Awards festivities, Chinese New Year, the LA Marathon, Presidents’ Day …), getting an extra day is a blessing.

Have you finished your ‘To Do’ list from the last Leap Year Day?

Neither have I!

Let’s take this one off!!

Remember to tell your friends how much they mean to you!!!

Special is as special does!!!!

Plant your own date palm pit!!!!!

Nurture it.

Watch it grow.

Decades ago, after a visit here, my Isoisä did just that.

The last I saw it, that palm tree had reached the ceiling in his Finnish apartment.

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