U.S.C. …according to B.E.E.

“Hey, Daniel,” Trent says. “Where do you go to school?”                                                “With Clay,” Daniel says. “Where do you go?”                                                                       “U.C.L.A. or as the Orientals like to call it, U.C.R.A.”                                                               Trent imitates an old Japanese man, eyes slit, head bowed,                                             front teeth stuck out in the parody, and then laughs drunkenly.                                              “I go to the University of Spoiled Children,” Blair says,                                                          still grinning, running her fingers through her long blond hair.                                                “Where?” askes Daniel?                                                                                                          “U.S.C.” she says.                                                                                                                    “Oh, yeah,” he says. “That’s right.”

Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis

Best hamburger sandwich in town

First, McDonalds don’t sell burgers, they sell shit.

Once this is made clear, we can discuss about the most quintessential and beloved American food: the hamburger sandwich. Come on, let’s be fair, a good, hearty and juicy burger sandwich and a beer is what you really need when you’re hungry and thirsty or when you’re team has just lost a match.

These are in my opinion the top three places in Los Angeles to eat a great burger:

#3 THE GOLDEN STATE is located in Fairfax Avenue, Mid City, in the heart of the city’s Jewish community. They define themselves as a “talent-show for the best makers of food and drink in California”. Their burger is great and features Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farms cheddar, glazed applewood smoked bacon, arugula, aioli and ketchup. The bun is soft and sort of sweet. Only minus…it’s not really big. OK, I was hungry but it took me less then 6 minutes to finish it. They have great beers too coming from small Californian breweries. My favourite? No doubt, the Cismontane Citizen,  a golden warm fermented lager with good hop aroma and 6°.

#2 RUSTIC CANYON in Wilshire Avenue, Santa Monica. Well, this is not properly a burger place but a great restaurant. I have already written about them in a previous post. Still, their burger is very good. The quality of the meat –  produced by ranchers in Southern California that practice sustainable agriculture – is excellent. The magic touch is the onion fondue on top of it. On mondays, they have burger nights: the classic sandwich is revisited with different and unusual ingredients. I had one with peperoncino calabrese (chilli peppers from Calabria) which was just awesome. Only minus…they became very trendy, difficult to find a table and they are more on the wine side of the street…beer selection is just good.

#1 and Winner FATHER’S OFFICE. Their aficionado customers claim that this small and crowded Santa Monica beer pub serves the best burger in the whole country. Well, I can’t really take a stand, but definitely this is by far the best hamburger I have ever eaten (devoured) in my whole life. First of all, no ketchup. Second, the bread is not the typical bun but a more European kind of panino. Then dry-aged beef – you could eat it raw quality – dressed with onion jam, Gruyere and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and a tomato compote. And it is not only culinary masterpiece…it is also a big, long-lasting pleasure. In addition to that, over 20 different great beers on tap and they change them every month. My ultra-favourite? The IPA Sculpin from Ballast Point, San Diego. It has fruity flavors, a strong sting and 7°.  In Montana Avenue, not far from the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre.

LA crimes

On August 9, 1969, four members of Charles Manson’s Family enter the Los Angeles residence of film director Roman Polanski and murder five people, including Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant, and Abigail Folger, the heiress to the Folger’s coffee fortune. On August 10, 1969, Manson and three members of his family enter the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and stab the couple to death, carving “War” into Mr. LaBianca’s stomach and writing “Death to Pigs” and “Helter Skelter” in the couple’s blood on the walls of their home. Manson and four members of the Family are arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. Their sentence are later commuted to life prison when the death penalty is outlawed.

James Frey (Bright Shiny Morning)

 

Ciao Tonino

« Non è vero che uno più uno fa sempre due; una goccia più una goccia fa una goccia più grande.” – (It is not true that one and one is always two; one drop and one drop they make a bigger drop) TG

A poet died two days ago, his name was Tonino Guerra from Santarcangelo di Romagna, a small city on the hills behind Rimini. He expressed his art non only on paper – he wrote many beautiful books in Italian and in “Romagnolo”, his dialect – but also and actually even more by participating in the making of some of the finest masterpieces of the history of the cinematography. He worked with his friend and mate Federico Fellini and the result was the absolute beauty of “Amarcord“. Directors like Antonioni, Anghelopoulos (he also died tragically this year), Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Elio Petri, Tarkowskij, Rosi, Vittorio De Sica were able to make some of their best films out of Tonino’s screenwriting. He was the son of a fisherman father and an illiterate mother whom he later taught to read and write. He had been in a German lager during the last World War and had a profound love for Russia.

The American press – in particular the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – reported the news extensively and emotionally. The LA newspaper said that he was an internationally renowned Italian screenwriter who collaborated with Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni  and other greats of Italian and world cinema on films such as Fellini’s “Amarcord” and Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” and “Blow-Up”. “I think he’s one of the greatest writers of our time whose medium happens to be the screenplay,” said Howard A. Rodman, vice president of the Writers Guild of America  and a professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC. And he added “When you think of European modernist cinema, the cinema that changed the way we think of movies, that inspired the glories of American cinema of the 1970s and cinema around the world, it’s astonishing how many of those films were written by Tonino Guerra.

The NYT stresses that “in a screenwriting career covering a half-century, Mr. Guerra earned three Academy Award nominations with “Casanova ’70,” “Blow-Up”and “Amarcord” and had a long partnership with Fellini and Antonioni.” It is also remembered that “Angelopoulos likened Mr. Guerra to a devil’s advocate and a psychoanalyst. But the most tangible record of Mr. Guerra’s collaborative role can be found in “Voyage in Time,” which chronicles his travels through Italy with Tarkovskyij, scouting landscapes and exchanging thoughts on life and cinema, as the screenplay for “Nostalghia” took shape in their heads.”

Guerra also said “death isn’t that awful. After all, it comes only once.”

Ciao Tonino.

 L’aria l’e cla roba lizira / che sta dalonda la tu testa / e la dventa piò céra quand che t’roid (L’aria è quella cosa leggera / che sta intorno alla tua testa / e diventa più chiara quando ridi). “THE AIR IS THAT LIGHT ESSENCE AROUND YOUR HEAD AND IT BECOMES CLEARER WHEN YOU LAUGH”

 

 

40 years of LA woman

Are you a lucky little lady in the city of light?
Or just another lost angel
City of night

(…)

Cops in cars, the topless bars
Never saw a woman
So alone, so alone
So alone, so alone

A new video for the Doors great 1971  tune “L.A. Woman” has been released today. The clip – which is only three and a half minutes long while the original song is 7 minutes and 49 – follows three professional skateboarders  as they travel around Los Angeles, visiting a variety of locations connected to The Doors’ history along the way. From Venice Beach to Grand Avenue, the Hollywood Bowl and the famous “Whisky a go go” bar on Sunset where they started their legend by opening for other groups and musicians (The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield, Johnny Rivers, etc.) in the summer of 1966.

2012 is “Year of the Doors” and other initiatives are expected.

Watch the video:

LA Woman

 

LA in 5 novels

Los Angeles, even more than sun, surf and celebrities, is pure literature. This a personal selection of five great novels set in LA. There are many others and I am curious to see what you might propose.

The High Window – Raymond Chandler 

It is a 1942 novel, the third featuring private detective Philip Marlowe. A wealthy mean widow, a missing daughter-in-law with a past, and a gold coin worth a fortune. These are the only elements of this story until Marlowe discovers evidence of murder, rape, blackmail, and the worst kind of human exploitation. It is a sort of psychological investigation magnificently written and set between Pasadena and Bunker Hill“The house was on Dresden House in the Oak Knoll section of Pasadena, a big solid coll-looking house with burgundy brick walls, a terra cotta tile roof and a white stone trim…There was a heavy scent of summer in the morning and everything that grew was perfectly still in the breathless air they get over there on what they call a nice coll day.”

Ask the Dust – John Fante 

Published in 1939, the most famous of Fante’s Bandini books. The semi-autobiographical story of young Arturo Bandini, who moves to LA from Colorado to become a writer. He falls in love with a Mexican waitress, and they embark on mad relationship that takes them on a journey through 1930s Los Angeles. A great part of this work is set by Fante in the Bunker Hill section of Downtown LA. “I went up to my room, up the dusty stairs of Bunker Hill, past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street, sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet. Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark streets”. Charles Bukowsky wrote a foreword to this novel, stating  very simply and clearly “Fante was my god”.

Post Office – Charles Bukowski

 

Bukowski spent much of his early years as a struggling writer, paying his bills as a postal worker until the late 60s when he quit the post office and went working for Black Sparrow publishing. From then until his death, he lived in a bungalow in East Hollywood. Much of the LA of his books still exists, from bars and liquor stores he frequented to former residences and Downtown LA’s Postal Annex Terminal where he worked. In the novel, his alter ego, Chinaski, works as postman. He hates and in his spare time, he writes, chases women, gets drunk, gets in fights. “So I took the exam, passed it, took the physical, passed it, and there I was—a substitute mail carrier. It began easy. I was sent to West Avon Station and it was just like Christmas except I didn’t get laid. Every day I expected to get laid but I didn’t. But the soup was easy and I strolled around doing a block here and there. I didn’t even have a uniform, just a cap. I wore my regular clothes. The way my shackjob Betty and I drank there was hardly money for clothes.Then I was transferred to Oakford Station.

Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis

The first published work of Ellis appeared in 1985 when he was only 21. It tells the story of Clay, home from winter break from college, his ex/current girlfriend Blair, his best friend Julian. They dine at Spago, drink, drug and f..k their way across the city. It’s a book about money, privilege, loss, friendship, love, lack of love. Blair, Clay’s girlfriend, studies at USC and much of the action takes place in mansions across Beverly Hills after dark. “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles. This is the first thing I hear when I come back to the city. Blair picks me up from LAX and mutters this under her breath as her car drives up the onramp. “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.” Though that sentence shouldn’t bother me, it stays in my mind for an uncomfortably long time. Nothing else seems to matter. Not the fact that I’m eighteen and it’s December and the ride on the plane had been rough and the couple from Santa Barbara, who were sitting across from me in first class, had gotten pretty drunk. . . . Not the warm winds, which seem to propel the car down the empty asphalt freeway, or the faded smell of marijuana which still faintly permeates Blair’s car. All it comes down to is that I’m a boy coming home for a month and meeting someone whom I haven’t seen for four months and people are afraid to merge.

The Last Coyote – Micheal Connolly

I have developed a real addiction to the stories of LAPD Detective Harry Bosch. I have to thank Federica for this. I read my first Michael Connolly novel after seeing her devouring his books on the beach last summer. As it is often the case, I was a bit skeptical and snobbish about a best selling author. I was wrong. Of the many stories of the Harry Bosch saga, I chose this one where at the same time Los Angeles shows her wounds after the 1992 racial riots and the 1994 Northridge earthquake and Harry investigates his own past.  “This time, he wanted to be sure he was ready before he opened it, so he sat there for a long time just studying the cracked plastic cover as if it held some clue to his preparedness.  A memory crowded into his mind.  A boy of eleven in a swimming pool clinging to the steel ladder at the side, out of breath and crying, the tears disguised by the water that dripped out of his wet hair.  The boy felt scared.  Alone.  He felt as if the pool were an ocean that he must cross.”      “The midday drive out to Santa Monica was long. Bosch had to take the long way, the 101 to the 405 and then down, because the 10 was still a week away fom being reopened (…) as he got out he could smell the sea…it was ten degrees cooler than it had been at his home…”

Ventura Highway

“US 101, the Santa Ana/Hollywood/Ventura Highway or the 101. The highway that is so damn cool it has five names. And yes yes yes, this is the highway that the song “Ventura Highway” by the supergroup America is named after, that song from the ’70s with the great vocal harmony, the first time you here it is great, the second time it’s ok, the third time it’s annoying and the fourth time it makes you want to find a grenade and stick it in the goddam stereo.(…)The 101 is LA hometown freeway, most akin to the outside world’s image of the city. People all over the globe equate the 101 with good times, fast cars, hot chicks, warm weather, movie stars and money. As it is also the case with its Hollywood namesake, the reality of the 101 is very different from the outside view of it. It’s crowded. It’s dirty. It’s run-down.It’s dangerous. Runaway kids and homeless crack and heroin addicts live in cardboard-box encampments beneath its underpasses. Garbage lines its shoulders. Deserted tires, and occasionally dead bodies are dumped on it. Driving on it it’s a terrible experience. It’s either a standstill (…) or it’s like the the world’s largest, most crowded, most dangerous racetrack, with cars weaving in and out of lanes, cutting each other off, running into cement walls and barriers hat line it.”

Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey

About inequality

Plutarch, the master of all historians, had already identified the issue twenty centuries ago: “An imbalance between the rich and the poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.

Today, inequality is possibly the worst problem of American society.

Over the last 30 years, income differences in the United States have increased substantially, with the overall level of inequality now approaching the extremes of the period before the Great Depression. According to New York University economist Edward Wolff, the richest 5% of American households control almost 60% of the country’s wealth and the richest 20% hold 83% of it while the bottom 80% has 17% and the bottom 40% less than 0.5%. Statistics tell us also that among OECD countries only Mexico distributes wealth more unequally than the US.

This is the first, direct cause of inequalities in education beginning at primary school level. As over half of the school’s funding come from local taxes with only a minimal percentage of Federal intervention, the wealth of the district of residence decides the quality of public school. This leads to higher barriers in access to university for low-income student, adding poor high school records to extremely high tuition costs.

In health, disparities tend to fall along income lines almost everywhere – poor people generally get sicker and die sooner than the rich. However, in the United States the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than in most other developed democracies. This is mainly due to the fact that despite the much criticized Obama “socialist” mini-reform – the law is due to take full effect only by 2014 if not abolished before – still there is no universal access to healthcare. The number of people who lacked health insurance reached the 50 million mark in 2010. Of those, 8.1 million are children less 18 years old. The United States ranks twenty-first among the 30 nations in the OECD in terms of life expectancy, and twenty-fifth in terms of infant mortality. Not really the result one could expect from the world super-power.

Actually, the US healthcare system exacerbates the inequality in access to care and health status between the haves and the have-nots.

______________________________________________________________________

“I was uninsured and faced an eight thousand dollar medical bill. I googled and found a service (http://www.klfinancialservices) that was able to negotiate my bill down to four thousand dollars. I was pleased, but still pissed that hospitals overcharge uninsured people so much. This was for one night in the hospital! It is out of control”

 

“All I know is this. I had some chest pains about a month ago. I thought I was having a heart attack or something. I wanted to go to the ER but the price kept me a way. I survived.I bet right now out there in America there is somebody with chest pains who doesn’t go to the ER because of the price. They will most likely die tonight.”

 

http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/13/news/economy/census_bureau_health_insurance/index.htm

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Out of personal experience, the bill for a simple visit to the Emergency Room of the local hospital  in Santa Monica– my 9 year old daughter had temperature and viral throat infection – was about 1000 dollars.

And things could get worse: the Obama Medicare bill got fierce opposition even among Democrats and all Republican candidates declared they will abolish it if elected. Rick Santorum for example states in his electoral platform that he repeals ObamaCare and its burdensome job-destroying bureaucracy, taxes, mandates, and heavy-handed government decision-making. Even liberal and libertarian Ron Paul has a very simple and clear mind about it: no one has a right to medical care.

But there is even a bigger concern for the American society. Economic inequality leads to greater political inequality, and those who are further empowered politically will use this to gain a greater economic advantage which in a vicious circle will lead to even more inequality. Yale University political scientist Robert Dahl described U.S. politics in the sixties through the lenses of local politics in the city of New Haven as a system in which not only the wealthy but even the middle and little man had voice. That system – and quite honestly not only in the US – is now in decline. Money matters much more in politics today. The rich people, lobbies and corporation have greater access to politicians and to media, and can better communicate and impose their points of view and interests – and masquerade them as “national interest” — much more effectively than the rest of the people.

It is said that Americans have a higher tolerance for income inequality than Europeans. Still, the question is more when – and not if – enough will be enough.

 

Smelling LA – It’s Chandler again…

 

It was getting warm outside now. The rushing sound of the traffic had died a little and the air from the open window, not yet cool from the night, had that tired end-of-the-day smell of dust, automobile exhaust, sunlight rising from hot walls and sidewalks, the remote smell of food in a thousand restaurant and perhaps, drifting down from the residential hills above Hollywood – if you had a nose like a hunting dog – a touch of that peculiar tomcat smell that eucalyptus trees give off in warm weather.

Raymond Chandler – The High Window (1942)

 

A day in the life of a EU fellow in Southern California

The alarm clock wakes us up at 7 am just like in Brussels.  It is a bright sunny morning –as it is very often the case here in Southern California– with a light fresh breeze from the Pacific. A quick breakfast – the coffee is Italian – a couple of shouts to the girls (9 and 12 year old) who have to hurry up and get ready for school, sometimes even the chance of seeing dolphins swimming in the bay of Santa Monica and just before 8 am we are ready to hit the road.

I take the Rosa Parks Freeway, which is also the initial part of the Cristopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway and in Los Angeles is referred to as the “Santa Monica Freeway”. We drive eastbound to Overland Avenue and after 15/20 minutes I drop the girls at the Lycee Francais of Los Angeles. Instead of taking again the freeways – I should continue on the “Santa Monica” for a while and then get on the Harbor Freeway – and having to face the heavy traffic approaching downtown LA, I recently  found out that it is much quicker to drive through the streets of the city. Angelenos love (and hate) freeways and as a consequence there is virtually no traffic on my way to the University of Southern California. It is also a very interesting drive through very different neighborhoods: from Culver City with the Sony Pictures Studios, the splendid Kirk Douglas Theatre and trendy restaurants like Akasha to more crumbling and clearly disadvantaged areas like Jefferson Park with its houses with windows protected by strong, metallic bars and an incredible number of every possible kind of churches. I finally get to the USC campus by 9 am, approximately one hour after I left home. Not so bad actually for LA.

Today, I have been asked to prepare a lecture for the students of the Master in Public Diplomacy. The course is on European Public Diplomacy and is taught by Professor Mai’a Cross. I always sit in her class in order to reply to specific questions on the work of the European Institutions and discuss about European current affairs. The students come from all over the world. I am always so happy to see the level of interest they have in the EU. But back to my presentation: I have to deal with the power of individuals in public diplomacy and my analysis is about Italy’s case. The lecture discusses how personalities influence positively and negatively the image of their country in the European context. I use the examples of Altiero Spinelli and Silvio Berlusconi.  Guess who was the one doing well for Italy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is lunchtime now, I buy a sandwich and walk to the Mc Donald Olympic Swim Stadium: two fantastic 50 m. long outdoor swimming pools. It is great to swim in the sun (23 degrees today  – 73 Fahrenheit ) and then eat your sandwich while admiring the training of the Diving Team of the University.

In the afternoon I go to the awesome “School of Cinematic Arts”. I have an appointment with Jason Squire. He has been a high level Studio Executive at United Artists and 20th Century Fox before joining the faculty of USC.  In his office there is a big picture of himself with Sergio Leone and the poster of one of my favorite films, “Novecento”, signed by Bertolucci as he’s been working in the production. He is really a nice and available person and his hints will be very helpful for my paper on the Film Industry. He invites me to join his class. He teaches “Movie Business” to enthusiastically committed undergraduate students: the future of the Studios. Back to my office, I write down some notes for future lectures and for my paper, reply to some messages, check the Commission’s mail and by 5 pm I am ready to leave.  I’ll probably stop by at the Santa Monica Fish Market to buy some fresh Californian shrimps, clams and scallops for a nice “spaghetti ai frutti di mare”. After dinner, there will be for sure something interesting at the American Cinematheque’s AERO Theatre in Santa Monica…we are in “Movieland” after all.