A Writer Written in the Stars

The West Coast seemed to exemplify the ’60s: San Francisco and Los Angeles had become gathering places for hippies. When I was living in New York and working as a fashion model, I’d only heard about this group of young people who were following the dictum of Timothy Leary by “turning on” and “dropping out” of high schools, universities and society in general. Now I was newly divorced and had come home to L.A. because that was where my family was. So I saw hippies in their natural habitat: grazing along the Sunset Strip, hitching rides from passing motorists and waving sticks of incense that trailed wisps of sandalwood- and patchouli-scented smoke. There were girls with waist-length hair and long dusty skirts and boys, long-haired and snake-hipped in their patched 501s, tie-dyed shirts and hand-stitched buckskin jackets. They were all very young. I found them colorful to look at but I wasn’t curious about what lurked beneath all that paisleyed finery.

I was working as Rudi Gernreich’s model and living with my daughter, Lisa, in one of those beautiful 1920s-built apartments in West Hollywood when I met Victory Rain. I’d become friendly with my neighbors, Glenn and Bill, and we often visited back and forth. Their place was furnished with collectors’ pieces, the hardwood floor gleamed and the air was filled with the cedar scent of Rigaud candles. It reminded me of New York, where everyone’s home, including ours, was awash in that fragrance. Glenn and Bill had another visitor one afternoon: a rather exotic woman who looked to be in her late 20s. She was seated, a penumbra of cigarette smoke around her head, in a nest of needlepoint pillows at one corner of a dark blue velvet sofa. On the wall above the sofa, a vintage Hermès scarf was displayed in a boxy Lucite frame.  This unsmiling, strangely attractive woman with her long black hair and falcon’s eyes, seemed quite out of place amid all the trappings of the uber-chic, and my initial thought was that she might be a gypsy. Then she smiled at me and patted the space next to her, and as we chatted I realized this was someone as intelligent as she was welcoming.

Her name, she told me, was Victory and she surprised me by saying she worked as chief bookkeeper at a production company that filmed commercials. She seemed not at all the type who would choose that kind of work. But her true passions, she said, were mysticism and astrology. I knew nothing about mysticism of any kind and I was profoundly ignorant of all things astrological. I knew I was an Aries (like my mother) and Lisa was a Leo. Full stop. Victory asked for the date, time, year and location of my birth. I noticed she wrote nothing down and we went on to talk about other things. She called a few days later to tell me she’d worked out my astrological chart and we made plans to get together. When I saw her, she told me things about my background she could not have known, stuff that neither Glenn nor Bill knew. She informed me that modeling wasn’t what I was meant to be doing — I was a writer, she said; it was right there in my chart: Jupiter in my ninth house. My response to this information was to tell her, with respect, that I thought she was nuts. I was doing pretty damn well with a modeling career; what did writing have to do with it? Victory smiled and changed the subject, the way people do when they realize the person on the other side of the conversation isn’t ready to take in information.

Within a month or so we were friends, speaking often on the phone, going out for meals and the occasional movie. I learned that Victory was a vegetarian — not because it was a popular thing to be in the late ’60s but because she’d made a moral decision not to eat meat when she was in her teens. She never tried to push it: I’d order steak at a restaurant and she’d have a salad or buttered pasta without comment or attitude. She didn’t push the writing, either, except to tell me my degree of Scorpio rising was similar to that of Charles Dickens. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and let it go at that. If I’d been a bit faster on the uptake, I might have saved myself some real time by taking her advice seriously. I have always been an avid reader and I was educated by Dominican nuns who hammered the correct use of language into my head. But it never occurred to me that I might become a writer (despite that astrological connection to Dickens). Maybe it just seemed like too much work. When I asked about her background, Victory told me about living with her foster mother in a trailer park on the outskirts of Chicago. The foster mother, Betty, resented the kid and assured her she would never escape trailer park life because she was too ugly, too stupid and too stubborn.

Two of these observations were patently untrue; the third was right on the money: Victory was stubborn. She loved school and when she was 9 years old, she walked into a used bookstore and told the owner she couldn’t buy any books, but was it okay if she just looked. When the owner said yes, the girl knew she had found a warming place. She sat on the floor and began to read — first a book on astrology, then she was drawn into studies of metaphysics. By the time she was 11, she had a paper route in the trailer park and the means to buy books. She was happy but unlucky. At 14 she was raped by a young guy who was AWOL from the Air Force. He spent time in the stockade and within two months of his release, Victory discovered that she was pregnant. Her son, Tom, was born six months after her 15th birthday, and his father, who’d barely seen the baby, demanded full custody, warning Victory about the people he knew who would swear to her inability to raise a child. She knew she was a good mother but she was frightened by the man’s threats. She was still a kid who didn’t know how to fight this guy, backed up by his wealthy family, and although she begged to be allowed to keep her baby, he took the child from her. It would be more than 30 years before she was able to reconcile with Tom, who now had other children of his own. She had moved to L.A., found her first job as a cocktail waitress in a jazz joint and enrolled in a city college where she learned accounting. She is retired now and has become close with her son and his kids. She doesn’t resent the man who fathered Tom and took him from her. “He thought he was doing the right thing in the only way he knew.” I wasn’t then and am not now able to be that forgiving. Victory says it’s because of my Scorpio ascendant.

She has never quenched her thirst for knowledge or her interest in astrology. She has never been in the business of making money from that knowledge; she will do only the charts of those people who have become her friends. When, at the tail end of the ’80s,
I told her I was beginning to write, she didn’t gloat, didn’t say she’d told me so. She simply smiled broadly — content that I was fulfilling the destiny she had seen so long ago in
my chart.

Sons and Daughters of Liberty

Let’s bring back the true meaning of “tea party.”

If you’re anything like me (and I can only imagine that if you are one of my readers, then we have at least a little in common), you are still shell-shocked. Every morning I wake up, am happy for about 10 seconds, then I remember our political predicament. There is a gray cloud of dread that follows me around like Pigpen’s dust. 

And I know you are probably hoping that I have an amazing culinary cure for this — something you can cook that will comfort you and yours. I hate to break it to you — no amount of macaroni and cheese is going to fix this. Sorry if that bums you out. I’m bummed too.

One reason the situation hit me hard is that I have always been a super fan of America. I am a U.S. history buff. When I was a kid I installed a mini museum in my room, with placards describing “artifacts” I acquired at gift shops on my bicentennial trip back East. I visited the Freedom Train, the Americana exhibit that toured the country in 1976. I bought a fife, learned to play it and talked my sixth-grade music teacher into letting me play it in the concert band. I wore out my LP of the soundtrack to the musical 1776. I voted as soon as I could. I cry actual wet tears every time I hear the national anthem. I was Betsy Ross for Halloween once. And a Minute Man the year after. I followed the trail of Lewis and Clark. The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday (even though the Declaration was ratified on the 2nd, and it wasn’t fully signed until August). I have seen every episode of all seven seasons of The West Wing at least a dozen times. I am deep, deep into Hamilton

In short, I love America, and I am not about to accept anything that is in the least little bit unAmerican.

But I am just a chef. I work with food for a living and have, like most people, a very small sphere of influence. There is no way that my flourless chocolate cake is going to change any minds. (Oh, if it were only that easy!) And I realize that no Tweet or Facebook post, no matter how on point, is going to convert anyone. All I can do — all any of us can do — is continue to call out injustice when it rears its ugly orange head.  Maybe I just need to call it out a little louder now.

No minds will be changed overnight. Change only ever really happens one on one. So maybe that’s it. If I set an example of American patriotism, I might be noticed by a couple of people along the way. So with that, here are the patriotic things I will continue to do:

I will welcome your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send me the homeless, tempest-tossed — I will lift my lamp on my front porch. I don’t care what you look like, who you love, what you wear on your head, what language you speak, what god you revere or how you got here. I just don’t. Because life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the unalienable rights of all people — not just Americans. 

I will respect your freedom to worship however you like. I’d prefer that you didn’t try to make me join you. Just go about your business, and I’ll do the same.

I will say whatever I want. I promise not to endanger you with my words, but it’s very likely that I will annoy you. But I’ll let you do the same, so it’s even-steven.

I will relish the fact that the press can say whatever it wants. I will also choose for myself where I get my news, because I know that much of it is crap.   

I will continue to peaceably assemble. Not only is it fun, but it might lead to a redress of my grievances. If it doesn’t, I might burn a flag (though I probably won’t, because that seems dumb to me). But I won’t bully you, or try to scare you, or make you feel unwelcome. Flag burning is symbolic. Hate speech is appalling.

I will hold firm in my belief that our constitutional right to a well-regulated militia does not refer to those who are merely disgruntled, the Dukes of Hazard or the Bundys.

I will not quarter soldiers in my home (except when they are my invited friends), but I will continue to have great affection for the military.

I’m going to trust that the judicial system will follow the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments before they get all up in my business.  If they don’t I will refer back to the First.

I will fight to keep my private business private. I’d prefer that you keep your nose out of it.   

And finally, if I see that you are failing to uphold these tenets of liberty, I will call you out on it. Loudly. Publicly. Righteously. I’ve got to believe it’s what the Founders would want me to do in times like this. 

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

The Digital Burn

Streaming exercise classes are mushrooming, offering fun, convenient alternatives for home exercisers.

Until recently, fitness-minded folk have had to choose between convenience and stimulation. Working out at home is certainly more convenient than traveling to a gym or studio and working scheduled classes into your routine — and then still having to deal with finding parking, changing and showering. On the other hand, a constant diet of the same home-exercise videos can be a bore, not exactly conducive to getting you off the couch. That’s why many people prefer the stimulation of a live class, with fresh moves and other people working just as hard alongside you.

But digital technology is starting to change the home-fitness landscape. Consumers can now stream live classes (or tap extensive libraries of videos) using their smartphones, TVs, tablets and computers. Some fitness companies have devised streaming services that even enable home exercisers to interact with instructors and other students.

Bryan O’Rourke, a fitness consultant and president of the Louisiana-based Fitness Industry Technology Council, believes the rise of digital technology, combined with the growing number of people who work from home, will spur future demand for home-exercise programs. In a report titled “The Club of 2020,” O’Rourke and Greg Skloot, a vice president of Netpulse, which creates mobile apps for gyms and health clubs, predict that by 2020 exercise services ranging from virtual training and coaching to on-demand trainers dispatched to customers’ homes will be commonplace. “More and more of the fitness journey will likely happen outside the club’s wall,” they conclude. Health clubs, they add, will also rely on a hybrid of “digital and physical” experiences to attract members who are willing to pay more for the convenience and experience of exercising at home.

Some online companies offer both live interactive online classes and prerecorded videos. Peloton (peloton.com) is one of the more successful, boasting on its website that its New York facility is “the first and only cycling studio to marry boutique fitness with live home streaming.” Peloton requires a hefty upfront investment of $2,000 for its own home spinning bike (a different animal from traditional exercise bikes), which can purchased online or at a showroom — the L.A. showroom is located at the Santa Monica Place mall. The bike comes equipped with a 21.5-inch sweat-resistant screen on which thousands of cyclists can stream live classes at any one time. Other features are designed to make the cycling classes an interactive experience. Cyclists can video chat with other users while they ride, use the activity feed to check the performance of fellow riders and view the real-time leaderboard to compete with other cyclists. And once clients invest in the bike, unlimited classes are quite reasonable at $39 a month, which also includes access to a library of 3,000 videos. Peloton’s monthly cost compares to SoulCycle’s price of $30 for one in-studio class, although first-timers pay $20 and discounts are offered on bulk purchases.

Several other companies infuse live, interactive classes with dance. New York–based Ballet Beautiful (balletbeautiful.com), for example, is a ballet-inspired exercise program created by Mary Helen Bowers, a ballerina and trainer who coached Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan and claims Taylor Swift, Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss among her adherents. Customers access online instruction, which includes toning exercises, stretches and high- and low-impact cardio workouts. Another site, sleektechnique.com, was founded by two London-based ballerinas, Flik Swan and Victoria Marr; Sleek Technique offers live ballet-inspired courses in addition to prerecorded instruction. And the Powhow platform (powhow.com) streams live fitness, dance and yoga classes, enabling its professional instructors — dancers, musicians and artists — to connect with students via webcam, to broadcast and stream their in-studio classes live or to upload recorded videos for students to train at a time convenient for them.

Also in the mix is Yogaia (yogaia.com), which offers more than 100 new live and interactive classes each week. Its live-streaming yoga classes allow teachers to see students and offer instruction in real time. Monthly membership rates start at a wallet-friendly $9.99. Another exercise chain, Barre 3 (barre3.com), which teaches a technique combining Pilates, barre and yoga, allows members to choose from an array of more than 250 online workouts ranging in length from 10 minutes to one hour. More expensive options permit members to receive exclusive workouts and real-time guidance from instructors. Memberships range from $15 to $55 a month. At EMG Live Fitness (emglivefitness.com), you can stream live or recorded classes in cycling, barre, kickboxing and more from numerous gyms and studios, promising variety in instruction without having to travel for it. Clients pay for only one class at a time.

Easypose (easypose.com), a Los Angeles–based yoga instruction company, goes a step further: the firm makes house calls, in addition to offering prerecorded lessons. Clients can use the company’s website or mobile app to schedule yoga sessions in their home, office or hotel, selecting the date, time, and style of yoga instruction for one to 20 people. Easypose offers a first-class deal of $40; after that it’s $60 for up to four students. The year-old company has hired about 1,000 certified yoga instructors in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay and New York metropolitan areas. Cofounder Ruben Dua says Easypose was created because “people were very frustrated with doing yoga in a studio. The yoga studios are crowded and they are very intimidating to some people, more like a fashion show. We make it accessible and affordable; it’s easier for people to participate.”

While health clubs generally expect you to show up for their live classes, some clubs maintain libraries of recorded videos for home exercisers. Crunch, for example, was the first national gym chain to offer its group fitness programs online. Members can access Crunch Live (crunchlive.com), where they can stream 85 workouts — yoga, barre, dance cardio and total-body bootcamp — for a monthly fee of $19.99. Crunch Live also offers customizable workout plans and what its website describes as “playlists to keep you motivated, on track and having fun,” as well as 15-minute “quickie” workouts for people short on time.

O’Rourke estimates that streaming exercise programs account for less than 10 percent of the current U.S. fitness market, but he expects these services will expand in the future. He adds that health clubs and other fitness providers will be challenged to “create a seamless and relevant complete-user experience for gyms or studios. Just offering streaming isn’t enough; it’s about creating a contextually useful blend of in-gym and digital experiences that are enjoyable to member customers. The bottom line is that people want personalized, engaging brand experiences in all markets.”

Customers, he says, want “enhanced experiences” to be conveniently delivered via “omni-channels” – a wide range of different platforms and devices. “What this will mean will evolve through experimentation.” But while digital home fitness continues to evolve, there already are several ways to use new technology to exercise at home. So if your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more in 2017, there’s no excuse to procrastinate. Get off the sofa and start streaming so you can feel the digital burn.

Beauty Bites

Whether natural or enhanced, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and the most critical beholder is usually the one you face in the mirror. But appeasing her can sow nice dividends: When you feel and look your best, you can move mountains, not to mention turn heads. As 2017 opens for business, check out the following products and services that will pamper, delight and upgrade your beauty quotient.

Hide Behind This Mask

No time for the spa? No worries, your skin can still receive a little tender loving care when you employ a high-quality Korean mask in the comfort of your own home. Applied to just about every body part from feet to hands, eyes, lips and face, these wash-off masks are made with natural ingredients and are available from Beauteque for all skin types. There are prices to fit every budget ($1.90–$33) and you can enroll in a monthly program to have beauty items and assorted masks delivered to your door.

Available at beauteque.com.

Scents of SoCal

SoCal’s diverse landscapes are the inspiration for this line of eaux de parfum that evoke wild California deserts, mountains and coastlines. Blended by hand in downtown Los Angeles in small batches, Los Feliz Botanicals scents contain no synthetics, preservatives or fillers. As many as 40 different essences are mixed drop by drop; scents are distilled from flowers, leaves, roots, resins, woods, seeds, peels and even lichens. Of course, perfumes smell different on every person; for example, Yucca Valley Eau de Parfum can be rosy on some and musky on others. Since the base is a natural perfume, it won’t last as long on your skin as its conventional counterparts; but the scents come in handy portable containers for easy reapplication. Prices range from $18 for a sample kit to $55 for 15 ml. Even better, the company donates $1 to charity: water, a nonprofit that brings clean water to people in developing countries, for every bottle sold.

Available at L.A. County Store, 4333 Sunset Blvd., L.A., and
losfelizbotanicals.com.

Grooming Guys

Get your groom to groom with Guise Etiquette, a new men’s skincare line created by professional makeup artist Ada Trihn, who has worked her magic on basketballer Kobe Bryant, actor Matthew Morrison and skateboarder-turned-model Shaun Ross. These apothecary-quality products are handcrafted in small batches and infused with high-end active botanicals. Ingredients are local, sourced from organic farms in California, New Mexico and Arizona. A simple three-step skincare system can transform the most befuddled of men into a skin pro in days. Guise’s facial cleanser is made with fresh cucumber and mint; skin tonic contains neoli oil to combat razor burns and bumps; and its plant-based moisturizer is infused with aloe vera and aspen bark.

Available at Ron Robinson, 8118 Melrose Ave. L.A., and guiseetiquette.com

Bee Beautiful

Botox on a budget? Many folks swear by the properties of bee venom as a natural way to lift and firm skin while improving blood circulation, thanks to its brew of antioxidant and anti-aging ingredients. Based in New Zealand, Saintsco is one of the leaders in the bee-venom beauty biz; their extensive line of products (eye creams, lip-plumpers and more) has been coveted by royals and celebrity users including Kate Middleton, Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow. Best known for its Bee Venom Mask ($100.22), Saintsco encourages combining that application with Bee Venom Eye Cream ($61.67) and Bee Venom 24-ct Gold Serum ($92.51) for a skin trifecta that’s as smooth as honey straight from the hive.
Available online at saintsco.com.

Eco-friendly Hair Color

Can you pronounce all the chemicals in your at-home hair dye? Finding an eco-friendly hair dye that produces long-lasting rich colors used to be an impossible dream until BioKap Nutricolor Delicato arrived on the scene. Made with 90 percent natural ingredients, BioKap avoids troublesome chemicals such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which can cause skin to become swollen, red, blistered, dry and cracked. You won’t find ammonia, parabens or resorcinol in the BioKap mix either, yet these formulas still hold color longer than natural henna-based dyes. Based in Italy, BioKap offers a PPD-free line of at-home hair dyes that includes 18 colors and one lightening cream, all fragrance-free.

Available online at biokapusa.com

Blading the Brow

Eyebrows are easier to maintain after they have been professionally shaped and crafted through microblading, a new beauty technique that’s the brainchild of Beverly Hills–based Daria Chuprys. The procedure uses a bunch
of needles (not blades) to artfully create natural hair strokes that mimic eyebrow hairs — think of it as eyebrow embroidery. The results are glossy full brows that need no penciling or touchup. Born in Greece and one of the first microblading artists in Europe, Chuprys
established a teaching academy program in L.A. to share the technique with professional artists; students undergo an intensive 100 hours of training to learn the fine details.

Arrange a consultation at
dariapermanentmakeup.com.

Talking Skincare

Imagine having an in-depth skin consultation with an expert — as easily as picking up the phone. Promising an approach that will make you love your skin again, Orange County–based skincare guru Emme Diane offers Virtual Skin Coaching, a comprehensive phone consultation to match skin needs with appropriate products and techniques so you can be your glowing best. Known as the “skin whisperer” by her loyal fans, Diane covers the gamut of skin problems from acne to aging. She’ll ask about everything from your eating and lifestyle habits to how you apply your current products. She’ll also prescribe a customized regimen of cleansers, moisturizers and anti-aging treatments from her own exclusive collection of products and methods.
Consultation and products available at emmediane.com; products available at Emme Diane, 1835 Newport Blvd., Ste. 128, Costa Mesa.

Headphone Hair

More than just a music delivery device, headphones can be a hairstyling tool — if you know the right tricks. L.A.-based celebrity hairstylist Riawna Capri, who tends to Julianne Hough’s tresses, has created The Jet Set, a series of simple styling techniques for women on the go, especially travelers who want to avoid flat, messy hair at the end of a day on the road or in flight. Capri honed her techniques for creating breezy, carefree hairstyles using the Beats by Dr. Dre wireless earphone collection. The Beats Solo3 Wireless is particularly adept at “setting hair” the Jet Set way so that when you arrive, you will have cascading waves as you greet the unexpected airport paparazzi — or the extended family.

View Jet Set techniques at vimeo.com/189692346; find

Beats Solo3 Wireless at the Apple Store, 54 W. Colorado Blvd.,
Pasadena, and apple.com.

Harnessing the
Hair Dryer

More speed and less hair frizz set the AW 4600 Argan Dryer ($295) apart. This professional salon–quality styling tool relies on science, technology and an innovative oil nozzle. Air passes through the nozzle, which distributes the perfect amount of oil on your hair, thus reducing breakage while boosting luscious shine. No matter the speed setting, the Turbo produces gentle yet efficient air circulation for intricate styling or just your average blow and go.

Available at arganwoman.com

Skin and Lip Treats

Putting the glow back into winter skin and smiles are hydrating hand creams and lip-smacking Lip Calms ($9.98) from John Masters Organics. The rich and silky hand creams come in three distinct scents (Lemon & Ginger, Lime & Spruce and Orange & Rose) and incorporate nutritious oils, such as lime and orange peel. Made with an organic sunflower and olive oil base, Masters’ lip balms have yummy flavors with exhilarating scents (peppermint, raspberry and vanilla) that protect your pout against cold and wind.

Available at johnmasters.com

Beauty Smorgasbord

If these beauty bites make you hungry for more, head over to the second annual Indie Beauty Expo on Jan. 18, which will be open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. at the California Market Center in downtown L.A. Browse new beauty and wellness products and discover under-the-radar brands and cult-favorite cosmetics, skincare, grooming and other beauty devices. Southern California brands will also be in the spotlight; check out offerings from Jordan Seban Hair, DNA Renewal, Beauty with a Twist and more.

California Market Center, 110 E. Ninth St., Penthouse 13C, L.A., 

indiebeautyexpo.com

Kitchen Confessions – Death Metal

Even when times are tough, love (and food) will find a way.

 

If there is one thing I love more than cooking, it’s music. And I don’t discriminate. I like it all. In fact, I have been known to pick up an instrument or two myself. (Practicing was never my thing, though, which explains why I am a chef and not a rock star.) But the only music I routinely battle the ticketbots for is rock ’n’ roll. I love going to live shows. At concerts, I am the one down on the floor shoving my way to the railing. I’m the one dancing when no one else in my section is. I’m the one with 50 concert T-shirts, and on the way home, that’s my stereo you hear three cars back at the stoplight.      

My love of live music started early. In high school my best friend, Mike, had his finger on the pulse of modern music, and he would drive us to shows all over the Bay Area in his parents’ ’69 Ford Country Squire (with hidden headlamps). I can’t believe our parents allowed all those trips to the city, and to so many clubs up and down the bay. That was in the early ’80s, when we didn’t need fake IDs to get into bars (although we had ’em). We saw so many bands — the Knack, the B-52’s, The Tazmanian Devils, Greg Kihn, Dead Kennedys, Tommy Tutone, The Tubes, Rubber City Rebels — we even caught an early tour of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five with the Sugar Hill Gang and Kool Moe Dee (I remember we were not 100 percent welcomed by the other fans and kinda hid in the back of the venue — but it was awesome). In college I continued my concertgoing and was attracted to my future husband by, among other virtues, his volunteer usher gig for Bill Graham Presents — which meant free shows every week! 

I’m telling you all this to explain the importance of my attendance at a concert last September. It was the Eagles of Death Metal. (Their name is ironic — the sound is more bouncy rock ’n’ roll/rockabilly than any kind of metal.) They played at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A. It’s a small venue, and everyone there was a real fan, including me. I think it was my fifth or sixth time seeing this band. The mood was electric, and I danced so hard and got so sweaty that by the end I looked like I had been through a car wash. It was a great night.

Fast forward a few weeks. As I drove into work a news bulletin broke through with reports of a mass shooting by terrorists at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris. I was stunned. Those were my people. When I got home I jumped on the Facebook fan sites. Everyone was freaking out in the worst possible way. I was glued to the news for a couple of days, like everyone else. I don’t typically get emotionally wrapped up in world events, and I didn’t personally know anyone affected by the incident. But in a way, I knew them all. They were just like me — dancing so hard and having so much fun. I can’t remember ever being so depressed by something that happened to strangers a world away.  

To bring myself out of that state, I decided to try and cheer up other fans the only way I knew how. I wrote a goofy recipe based on one of the band’s song titles and posted it on the Facebook fan page. It was super-corny and a little bit dirty. The response was huge.

Hundreds of Facebook “likes” and comments. “Thanks for cheering me up!” “This is just what I needed!” “So Funny! It’s nice to laugh again!” I started posting one recipe each day based on the songs. It was very cathartic. 

Then, after about a week of this, I was contacted by a record company. Would I do a cookbook like this for charity? Damn straight I would! And that’s where I am today. The book is called Cook, Eat, Death Metal (Dog Ear Publishing), and it was released November 13, the one-year anniversary of the incident. All the proceeds go directly to aid survivors of the Bataclan, and the families of those who were lost. You can get it on Amazon, at dissentionrecords.com and at several places around L.A., including Wacko on Sunset Boulevard.

The book is not sad at all. In fact, it is hilarious (if I do say so myself). The recipes are real and delicious. I hope you will buy one for yourself, or for the rock ’n’ roller in your life. It’s the kind of gift that gives back, and it will make you seem way cooler than you really are.

Wasabi in L.A.

(“Wannabe in L.A.,” from the album Heart On, 2008)

Wasabe Guacamole with Wonton Chips is a particularly eyeball-rolling example of stereotypical Southern Californian cuisine. The rest of the world assumes we Angelenos eat avocados every day. They’re right! In fact, the state constitution mandates that California citizens each consume 12 kilos of avocados annually. It’s a burden, but this recipe makes it bearable. 

Ingredients:

½ purple onion, diced

1 to 2 teaspoons wasabi powder, paste or freshly grated root 

1 teaspoon water (if using wasabi powder)

3 ripe avocados 

Grated zest and juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon pickled ginger, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup cilantro leaves, minced 

1 package square wonton wrapper

Frying oil 

Method 

1. Cover the diced onion in cold water and set aside. This removes offending oils that cause your breath to stink. (The world appreciates this.) Stir together wasabi powder and water, and set aside for 15 minutes.   

2. Halve and pit the avocados, scoop their meat into a large bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in lime zest, juice and pickled ginger. Add the salt and wasabi and mix. Fold in onions and cilantro. Adjust seasoning, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface, which will prevent discoloration. Set aside at room temperature while you fry the chips.

3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet to 375°. When it reaches that temperature, drop in 4 or 5 wonton skins (don’t crowd them) and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Remove to a paper towel–lined tray, then sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers. Serve guac with wontons and rice crackers. Now you are very hip.   


Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

NASA's Hotwire to Hollywood

Publicist Warren Betts says science truth is stranger (and better) than science fiction.

 

Arroyoland has kept itself gloriously free of Hollywood hijinks involving papparazzi who swarm the streets for a glimpse of A-list stars and maitre d’s who dole out tables according to the diner’s box office ranking. Yet right here, on Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, we have one of the world’s most unusual and sought-after Hollywood publicity and marketing firms. It’s headed by Warren Betts, a guy with a physics degree, a passion for science and technology and a client list that includes Sony and TriStar, Warner Bros., Universal, Columbia, United Artists, Walt Disney and Virgin Records, among others.

His firm, Warren Betts Communications (WBC), connects Hollywood’s top studios and high-concept filmmakers with the world’s scientific geniuses and innovators (think Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk), whom Betts recruits to advise on technical issues. Let’s say you’re about to view this month’s potential blockbuster, Passengers, to be released December 21. It’s about a luxury spaceship with 5,000 souls on board, all traveling in suspended animation to eventually arrive and live on a distant planet. They’re still asleep in pods when the ship malfunctions, and two voyagers (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) awaken to find that they and the rest of the travelers are in dire peril.

Science fiction? Yes — but not totally. In fact, there’s as much science as fiction in the current genre, Betts says, and it’s often the real stuff that’s more fascinating than the imaginary. In the case ofPassengers, Betts called in experts from NASA (and others he can’t name, due to a nondisclosure agreement) to help director Morten Tyldum and the rest of the crew make the ship, the characters and the storyline as realistic as possible. And if the plot doesn’t strike you as realistic, consider this: Elon Musk (founder of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX) is already testing equipment designed to come and go from Mars, which Musk — age 45 and worth $11.2 billion — hopes to colonize and where he has repeatedly said he plans to be buried.

Betts, 57, lives in Sierra Madre and travels the world to consult with filmmakers before, during and after production (when he helps promote the films), and with experts he recruits to help those filmmakers get details right in the increasingly nonfictional aspects of sci-fi. Betts has relationships with NASA, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and research institutions such as MIT, Caltech, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. He calls on these agencies and institutions to find the right advisors for all kinds of films, from animation (Angry Birds) to Imax (A Beautiful Planet) and a wide range of dramas, comedies and sci-fi epics that require expertise otherwise unavailable.

Betts says he has worked with Hawking on a few films, including Star Trek and the theoretical physicist’s biopic, The Theory of Everything. For the National Geographic Channel’s Mars series, which debuted last month, “we brought in experts from NASA. Also featured are [science celebrities] Elon Musk and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson,” director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

For Inferno, Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code sequel released last month, Betts recruited Caltech bioterrorism and biology Professor Alexei Aravin to advise filmmakers and media on viruses that could actually be released by lunatic despots trying to control the world.

For spy movies, such as the James Bond series, Betts says he has worked with the Department of Defense to recruit KGB defectors as expert advisors in the high-tech worlds of annihilation and espionage. Another project, the Angelina Jolie film Salt, utilized the expertise of Tom Ridge, the nation’s first director of Homeland Security, thanks to Betts. Although most expert advisors are paid for their work, Betts says, “I don’t think Ridge asked for a fee. He only asked for a favor. He wanted to meet Angelina Jolie.”

He adds that highly placed government types and world-famous academics are eager participants in entertainment. “Oh, they love Hollywood,” he says. “And they’re just excited that filmmakers are seeking their technical and scientific expertise.” Money isn’t an issue for most of them, he says, “but of course the Hollywood people don’t like to take their time and expertise without compensating them, so we always want to do that.”

Betts isn’t your typical voluble publicist. He is soft-spoken, charming and understated. In fact, getting him to talk about his connections with the high and mighty in Hollywood, government and academia is like prying the sweet flesh from an extremely unmanageable crab leg. He’s been doing this work for about 30 years, has been involved with many (if not most) of the blockbuster films involving science, has recruited so many dozens of experts world-renowned in their fields and traveled so extensively that he seems at a loss when asked to select high points in his exotic career. After a few moments of thoughtful silence, he says, “Well, I’ve been up on the ‘Vomit Comet.’ We took director James Cameron on it when we were working on the first Avatar film.” What’s the “Vomit Comet”? “It’s that airplane they take the astronauts in to train them for zero gravity. It’s at the Van Nuys airport and a lot of people get sick on it. It was fun, but I was nervous at first. It goes up very high very fast and then does a nose dive. That’s when you lose gravity.”

Some of Betts’ tech contacts do double duty as his publicity and marketing clients, including NASA, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. What does he do for them? “Many different things. A good example might be the ‘NASA 101’ conferences we hold, where we bring NASA experts from all over the place and have them interface with filmmakers, writers, producers, even actors. It’s so they can exchange information and learn how NASA might be useful to filmmakers” and vice versa, he says. “For Apple and Microsoft we work on themes that might have to do with technology for computers, or airlines or for prolonging life. We also do product placement for them in films,” he says.

Betts was born in Houston, Texas. His father, a NASA engineer during the Apollo and space-shuttle eras, was transferred to a space-flight center in Alabama, where Betts grew up. He attended two Alabama schools — the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo, where he received a masters degree in physics, he says. “I never thought I’d work in Hollywood. I wanted to be an astronomer, but it all just happened right out of the blue. An older fraternity brother took a job at 20th Century Fox, and George Lucas asked him if he knew of a young scientific person who’d be good at marketing and publicity. My friend knew what a geek I was and said, ‘Warren Betts. He’ll be graduating soon.’” So right out of college Betts had a summer internship with George Lucas; the filmmaker liked Betts’ work and wanted to inject science into publicity for his films. He hired Betts for a year, and then extended it for two more years. “By that time I was hooked,” Betts says. “And by then George had an office on the Fox lot in Century City because all his movies were produced through Fox. George thought the Fox people should hire me to do all their science movies, which they did. Fox and Lucas decided to hire me indefinitely and share my talents.” Then, Betts says, “I was working on Apollo 13 with Ron Howard, who encouraged me to start my own company. He thought Hollywood filmmakers needed an agency with my expertise.” So in 1993 he took Howard’s advice and started Warren Betts Communications on Lake Avenue. 

Why did you locate your business in Pasadena, since it’s not a Hollywood-oriented town? “Yes, but it’s Hollywood’s brain trust, isn’t it?” Betts says. “You’ve got the California Institute of Technology and you’ve got JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory], you’ve got such a lot of people here working in the business of science and technology. So it’s a great place to be. In fact, it’s the place to be.”

So is science and technology, for a growing number of filmmakers. Betts says the number of films that deal with both has climbed prodigiously through the years. “Back when I worked with Ron Howard onApollo 13, NASA was reluctant to work with any of the studios because they thought all they did was make up the science and it wasn’t anything they could endorse. But I’ve seen not only a growing amount of movies themed to science and technology, I’ve seen filmmakers coming to me with a larger interest in acquiring the scientific knowledge to make the movies more authentic and make the science and technology more believable to the public. Of course, all the scientific institutions we work with have come to really appreciate that,” says Betts. 

And their science expertise can be very entertaining. “The truth is that real science is much more interesting than science fiction,” he adds. “It’s often weirder and stranger than science fiction. And a lot of filmmakers are starting to agree with that philosophy.”  

Color Master

Event designer Billy Butchkavitz creates extraordinary environments for HBO’s biggest celebrations.

 

Bold. Vibrant. Exotic. The lavish, elegant and over-the-top creations that event designer Billy Butchkavitz creates for HBO’s annual Emmy Awards and Golden Globes celebrations are legendary in Hollywood, making them the hottest party tickets in town. His rich and opulent style — often inspired by strong Asian, North African and Spanish cultures he encounters in extensive ,  around the world in search of treasures to fulfill his vision — first caught the eye of HBO executives in Hawaii in 1994. Since that time the Pasadena resident has been the cable giant’s exclusive party planner, creating not only awards season bashes but every grand event HBO decides to throw, from series-premiere celebrations to high-end executive retreats.

The Emmy extravaganza is Butchkavitz’s biggest annual soirée. Held in a massive custom-built tent on the fountain plaza of West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center for the 14th consecutive year, the 2016 gala used water as the design inspiration. He started choosing patterns and developing a color palette for the September gala in February — seven shades of blue, from the palest aqua to the darkest navy. By May, large-scale décor elements were finalized, original furniture designs were being made into prototypes for approval and the design of the custom-made, rippling-water–patterned carpeting (all 59,000 square feet of it) was fine-tuned.

Butchkavitz says the eight days leading up to the Emmy bash are always intense: That’s when the tent goes up and the venue is built. “I have to do everything from meeting with electrical inspectors and the fire marshal for the permits to dealing with the fact that HBO has added more people to the guest list at the last minute, which means you have to build a bigger kitchen and order more restroom trailers,” he says.

Then there are those things that are beyond anyone’s control. Last year, a torrential downpour delayed the delivery of the Emmy party’s carpeting. “The trucks were coming in from Georgia,” he recalls. “It was like a river on San Vicente, so we had to cancel everything for a day and find someplace for the trucks to park.”

Over time, he has learned to roll with the punches — and anticipate disaster, even if it never comes. “If the party is on the 10th, I tell my vendors it’s on the first,” he says, “because a lot of my material coming from overseas can sometimes get caught up in Customs. I overorder a lot, too, because I always have a backup plan if something doesn’t get here in time.”

On the night of September’s fete, which celebrated HBO’s six Emmy wins including Best Drama Series (Game of Thrones) and Best Comedy Series (Veep), a water-themed collage — created by Butchkavitz’s longtime event photographer, Gabor Ekecs, based on Butchkavitz’s designs — served as a backdrop for the 150-foot press line. Invitees then walked through (or relaxed in) a 105-footlong lounge, built around a huge rectangular fountain, which stretched from the entrance to the VIP dining pavilion. Twenty-five-foot-high decorative perimeter walls constructed to enclose and enhance the space were covered with two-tone metallic jacquard punctuated with 25-foot-high blue metallic columns. Guests feasted on Wolfgang Puck’s cuisine at tables topped by hand-blown aqua pedestal bowls with floating “dinner-plate” dahlias, creating the effect of tabletop water gardens. A 24-foot-tall cascading fountain sculpture held court in the multicolored dining pavilion, while the lighting, a crucial element in all of Butchkavitz’s dramatic designs, created the impression of being underwater.

“Lighting is everything,” he says. “It helps to set the mood, enhances the environment and defines the energy of the event. Since 90 percent of my events take place at night, I depend on the lighting to convey my design message and to showcase my work.” 

Not surprisingly, Butchkavitz says the secret to pulling off celebrations of this magnitude is to be organized. Knowing how, where and when to spend money is crucial, too. Though his parties look like a billion bucks, during his international travels with his brother, Brian, Butchkavitz is always on the lookout for skilled artisans and quality materials with the lowest prices. (Butchkavitz runs day-to-day company operations with a team of four: Brian; their sister, Peggy, who does the bookkeeping from her New Jersey home; and Butchkavitz’s best friend, JR.) “We just go on our adventures and find weavers and textile factories,” he says. “When I go to Chiang Mai [in northern Thailand], China or Rajasthan, India, I can draw a picture of what I want — whether it be a vase, a chandelier, furniture, textiles or costumes — and they will make a prototype for me to approve before it goes into mass production. I don’t go to the wholesaler. I go to the place where the wholesalers buy. I get more bang for the buck that way and HBO appreciates that.” 

They also appreciate his distinctive designs. “Billy’s creativity and ingenuity are limitless,” says HBO Vice President Lauren McMahon. “Each event is an amazing realization of so many ideas, all flawlessly executed. There’s no mistaking a Billy premiere — it’s always visually and experientially unique and seriously great fun.” 

Butchkavitz has carte blanche in selecting awards season celebration themes, but when planning premiere parties, he works with HBO executives to develop a game plan, generating ideas by watching advance screenings and picking out elements unique to the show.

For the September premiere of one of the cable network’s most recent hits, the futuristic Old West–themed Westworld, held at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre and the nearby Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Butchkavitz recreated the show’s homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Vitruvian Man, devising a 13-foot-tall Styrofoam replica of a white skeleton-like figure standing inside a giant circle with arms and legs outstretched. In the series, the circle serves as a device that creates very human-like robots, known as “hosts,” which help “guests” play out their darkest desires at an Old Western fantasy playground. Butchkavitz also created a “laboratory” in the hotel lobby, with metal sculptures representing the initial stages of the manufactured “hosts” and a second Vitruvian Man holding court in the center of the room. In the hotel’s ballroom, partygoers dined against a Westworld town backdrop, while other venues in the hotel became show-inspired settings: a brothel, a casino and an underground storage facility for discarded “hosts.” Outside, yet another, larger Vitruvian Man rotated on the hotel’s facade — a convincing projection, created by master projection designer Bart Kresa, with whom Butchkavitz routinely works to create an otherworldly, immersive experience.

By his own admission, Butchkavitz was a colorful kid. (“In school, I was the one who decorated the classroom [for the holidays],” he recalls, “and at home would tell my mom which drapery we should get.”) So it comes as no surprise that he ended up in the line of work he did. Even so, he didn’t set out to be a designer. In fact, he was on track to pursue a career in broadcast journalism before a bit of serendipity changed all that

The Philadelphia native’s serendipitous moment came after he graduated from Temple University in 1985 and moved to Hawaii to intern at a local TV station. Butchkavitz also began working for a catering company as a waiter/decorating assistant, and as a lifeguard for an exclusive, privately owned home that was featured on the TV series Magnum P.I. and often rented out for special affairs. “The two women who owned the catering company were also into flowers and they taught me all about their treatment, care and design,” he says. “After working for them for about a year, they asked me if I wanted to do the décor for a party they couldn’t take on because they were going out of town.”

It turned out to be a high-end affair at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum for the National Audubon Society and England’s Prince Philip, for which Butchkavitz created a vibrant luau-themed event. That celebration’s success sparkedted a stream of calls from other aspiring clients.For the next eight years, Butchkavitz designed private parties for wealthy Japanese families in Hawaii and produced celebrations for a number of hotel openings. He met HBO executives at the opening of Oahu’s Ihilani Resort & Spa in 1994 (now the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina), and they liked what they saw. Once Butchkavitz started working with them, HBO’s party strategy evolved from hotel dinners to spectacular events in enormous tents — sometimes requiring street closures in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills — including a memorable Moroccan-themed Golden Globe bash in 2005. “I have never been to Morocco, actually, but I buy so much stuff from there through my importers,” he says. “A lot of the design, particularly the inlay, is very similar to that found in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.” It’s one of the few countries he hasn’t visited yet. He’s also had textiles made in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Europe. 

When shopping overseas, Butchkavitz has learned to ask a lot of questions — and with good reason. “I once saw these really beautiful urns when I was preparing for one of my first parties in Thailand, at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. Some were done in metalwork and some were painted porcelain,” Butchkavitz recalls. “I decided to use a number of pagoda-shaped ones as vases. I found out after the fact that the little pagodas were actually funeral urns.” 

When he started working with HBO in 1994, Butchkavitz left Hawaii and moved to downtown Los Angeles, where still he has a 10,000-square–foot warehouse. That’s where he stores exotic props and treasures he can’t bear to give up, plus all the shipments for upcoming celebrations. You won’t find a lot of furniture from past parties there, however, since Butchkavitz isn’t in the habit of reusing things. Instead, he gives many reusable furniture items to one of his vendors, Town & Country Event Rentals. “You’ll very rarely see me reuse something,” he says. “If I do, it might be a very generic urn — like the ones I had made in the ’90s for a Sopranos premiere in New York; they look very Tuscan but they’re just very neutral and really tall. I still use those.”

Three-and-a-half years ago, he moved to Pasadena. “I love Pasadena. When I lived in downtown L.A., there was nothing down there; there were homeless people everywhere, hardly any restaurants…so I would come to Pasadena to go to Trader Joe’s or the movies,” he says. 

He walks around town as much as possible and, more than once, he’s been inspired by strolls through the majestic botanical gardens of The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. “I was totally inspired by the Huntington’s water lilies for a party I recently did for Bizbash,” he says, adding that the silhouette of water lilies adorned the carpet,  tabletops and walls.

Since the Emmy celebration wrapped, Butchkavitz has been hard at work preparing for January’s Golden Globes, the details of which, at press time, were still top secret. Inspired by the late legendary Hollywood designer Tony Duquette, who worked on movie sets, in jewelry and in interior design until he passed away at the age of 85, Butchkavitz is thinking about branching out into other areas. He says he’s been approached about doing reality shows but has turned down the offers because he’s afraid the overexposure would cheapen his product. “I’ve also been approached to do a line of vases and china but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’d definitely like to do a movie set, though,” he adds. “I’m in it for the long haul. I want to keep doing this until I’m in my 80s.”  

Billy’s Holiday Tips

While Billy Butchkavitz has decorated many hotels, resorts and private residences with gorgeous over-the-top designs for the holidays, when it comes to decorating his own home, he prefers to keep things a little simpler. Here are six of his decorating tips for a more personal touch.

1. KEEP IT BASIC

Make sure that whatever decoration you’re putting up isn’t too difficult to install and is equally easy to take down. “Once the holiday season is over, I don’t want to waste a lot of time packing and storing holiday décor,” Butchkavitz says. “That’s why I tend to use a lot of live holiday greens and flowers that can be thrown away once they are past their glory.”

2. USE WHAT YOU HAVE

Butchkavitz likes to use containers he already owns to display things. “I’m not a big fan of tree stands,” he says. “I much prefer placing trees in decorative urns or planters.”

3. MIX IT UP

Butchkavitz likes to incorporate layers, assorted textures and mixed patterns in his holiday presentations. If you’ve got some figurines or other small decorative pieces, blend them into your display of presents under the tree to add some depth, whimsy and texture. “If you choose wrapping paper, boxes and ribbons that work with your design palette, that’s an extra bonus,” he says.

4. CHOOSE COLOR WISELY

“Since my place is already overloaded with color, I tend to stick with white lights, white candles, Christmas greens, red ornaments and red and gold ribbons,” he says. For darker interiors, he suggests using lots of silver and/or gold. Got a neutral colored space? “Use assorted festive holiday colors and go to town!”

5. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on holiday décor, “a few wreaths and holiday greens, decorative ribbons, some bowls and vases filled with colorful ornaments and lots of white or ivory candles” will go a long way toward capturing the holiday spirit, he says. 

6. KEEP IT CLEAN

“The cleaner, neater and tidier an environment is, the better the holiday decor will look.” 

Ring-a-Ding-Bling!

Lois Boardman’s unusual jewelry collection forms an unusual show at LACMA.

 

It’s very unusual for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to feature a jewelry collection, but this is no usual collection. As the exhibition title suggests, Beyond Bling: Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection (through Feb. 5, 2017) takes us into another dimension of jewelry: it’s still wearable body decoration — you can put it on your finger or around your neck — but the 50 pieces here veer into the realms of sculpture and conceptual art, and are testament to the continuing ingenuity of artists. They are part of a gift of 300 pieces of studio jewelry to the museum by Lois Boardman, a longtime resident of South Pasadena and a dedicated patron of the arts in SoCal. 

Three years ago Boardman contacted LACMA’s Decorative Arts and Design Department, saying she was interested in donating her collection. Rosie Chambers Mills and Bobbye Tigerman, associate curators in the department, came to visit her. “We were sitting in her kitchen, and she brought out 20 or 30 pieces,” Tigerman recalls. “We were blown away. These were large and bold and not what you think about when you think about jewelry. They often have a personal or political message through the use of the material.”

Boardman and her husband, Bob, have lived in an old Spanish-style house in a quiet residential neighborhood for over half a century. It’s a house full of art — much of it colorful and whimsical. There are pieces of American folk art and contemporary ceramics by such well-known artists as Ralph Bacerra, Peter Shire and John Mason. During night classes at Chouinard Art Institute (long since merged into CalArts), Boardman studied ceramics under the charismatic Bacerra and even had her own studio behind the house. She also served as a member of LACMA’s Decorative Arts Council (now the Decorative Arts and Design Council).

Boardman says her jewelry habit was sparked by her friendship with gallerist Helen Drutt. In the early 1980s, they were both part of the National Task Force in the Crafts, a project initiated by the late Eudorah Moore (a longtime curator of the Pasadena Arts Museum — now the Norton Simon) on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts. Boardman and Drutt, owner of an eponymous crafts and jewelry gallery in Philadelphia, traveled together on fact-finding trips for the task force. “She kept wearing all this stuff, all this jewelry,” Boardman recalls, sitting at the kitchen table. Her pieces were one-of-a-kind, and Boardman became so intrigued she began buying pieces from the Helen Drutt Gallery (since closed) and meeting the artists who made them. “I just thought it was fun,” says Boardman offhandedly. “I got into it, this was studio jewelry. Helen guided me for a long period of time.”

“Studio jewelry” is the term coined to describe original jewelry handcrafted by an artist in his/her workshop. According to Mills and Tigerman, writing in the exhibition catalog, contemporary studio jewelry emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, in several locations — mainly the U. S., the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, all represented in the show. The exhibition title uses the catchy term “bling,” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “ostentatious jewellery.” The selection is certainly eye-catching.

Beyond Bling, in a gallery off the upper entrance to the Ahmanson Building, has proved unexpectedly popular with audiences of all ages. The rings and brooches are, of course, on the small side and must be examined at close range. Other pieces are large and bold and in your face — the very definition of “bling.” Many seem to carry a larger message than decoration — social, cultural and political transgression being one of the hallmarks of contemporary art. Take Nancy Worden’s Gilding the Past: it’s a necklace made up of gilded bone shapes (based on a chicken bone, says Tigerman) and looks rather like a necklace for a witch doctor. Closer examination, however, reveals medallions of the peace sign and the smiley face — carved from Kennedy half-dollar coins — interspersed between the bones. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Worden was active in antiwar protests during the Vietnam era. The piece questions wars (the bones being a stark reminder of death) and the “gilded” sheen we put on them.

Other unexpected materials in these display cases include plastics, textiles and feathers. One highlight is a necklace made with Lego pieces — emiko oye’s Maharajah’s 6th is white, black and acid green — a series of white Lego bricks with black end pieces and a large multicolored medallion that drapes in the front. “When people look at it, it reminds them of outer space, the future,” says Tigerman, “but in reality, she was trying to replicate this 1928 piece made by Boucheron for a maharaja.” Quite a few children come into this exhibition and hover around this piece, probably wondering what they could do with their own Lego sets — if they are lucky enough to have one.  

A tour de force of craftsmanship is Gesine Hackenberg’s Delft Blue ‘Plooischotel’, made from a blue-and-white Royal Delft platter. (Fear not, it’s not antique — it was made in 1943.) Round pieces of varying sizes have been meticulously cut out of the rim and the base, and then strung together to make a necklace. The necklace is shown with the platter, illustrating how the pieces could fit back in. Boardman admits she didn’t set out with an agenda or checklist when she started collecting, but rather relied on her own taste. “The idea of it was terrific,” she replies, as to why she bought the Hackenberg piece.   

One piece breaks the rules on the body part it adorns: Die Goldene Nase Nosepiece by Gerd Rothmann was commissioned by Boardman in 1988. It is taken from a mold of her own nose and is worn atop the nose, like a prosthesis. The piece is also a bit of a visual pun, a play on the German phrase “to earn a golden nose,” which means “to make a fortune.” Did she ever actually wear it in public?  “I did, a few times,” says Boardman with a chuckle. “Though it’s interesting, a lot of people would avert their eyes when they saw me. You know, they thought I might be missing a real nose or something.”  


Beyond Bling: The Lois Boardman Collection runs through Feb. 4, 2017 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Museum admission costs $15, $10 for seniors and students; free for members and youth 17 and under. Visit lacma.org.

A Christmas Memory

Christmas was quite the big deal at our house when I was a kid. I lived with my mother’s parents – Nonnie and Pampy (as I called them) and Nonnie’s two unmarried siblings, my great-aunt, “Hotten,” and my great-uncle, Henry. There was always a lap for me to sit on, always a cuddle and a kiss when I reached out for one. Nonnie, Hotten and I went to Temple Sinai synagogue in Oakland  for services every Saturday morning and we celebrated all the Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashana and the very serious Yom Kippur. I attended Sunday school as well, but my mother, who was on her second marriage by the time I was 4, came to temple only on the High Holidays. Pampy was a lapsed Roman Catholic who visited Christian Science reading rooms every month or so. Uncle Henry seemed indifferent to religion of any stripe.

But we all loved Christmas. 

Our tree didn’t come into the house until the day before Christmas Eve. It was always a fat, perfectly shaped little fir with thick needles that permeated the air with the bracing aroma of balsam. My grandfather’s Steinway took over the space at the bay window in the living room so the tree was placed in a corner of the dining room atop a shallow container of water. This was covered by a snowy velvet cloth dappled with tiny silver stars. Tree-trimming would begin after dinner and I was so excited I could barely sit through the meal. Uncle Henry and Pampy were in charge of threading the small colored light bulbs through the tree’s branches, and when they were lighted, the dining room glowed like a shattered rainbow. Next came the tinsel, which was placed, strand by strand, along the branches. That was Hotten’s job and she made sure each silvery strip had the appearance of a single icicle. I was her helper, lifting one piece at a time from the box and handing it to her on the tip of one index finger. Then it was time for the ornaments, none of them new, all of them left to us by my great-grandmother Mary Morris. There were fragile colored balls laced with an overlay of snowflake designs, twisted silver icicles, colored birds with a spray of artificial tail feathers and squat Santa figures. By the midpoint of the ornament hanging I was trying to swallow my yawns, so Nonnie took me upstairs to bed with the promise that a plate of cookies and a glass of milk would be left out for Santa Claus.

I nearly woke up at the sound of clumping reindeer hooves (my grandfather’s shoe banging on the floor, I would learn later) and a thrill shimmered through me at the sight of the half-finished glass of milk and the plate of cookies with a large bite taken out of the biggest one. I’d followed a red satin ribbon tied to my bed that led me into the hall and down the stairs to the dining room where a panoply of fancifully wrapped presents lay spread out under the tree. Most of them were for me and I could tell by the big, flat rectangular shapes that many of them were books, the things I treasured most. After all the gifts had been opened and exclaimed over, my grandfather went to the piano and played traditional Christmas carols. My mother would arrive mid-morning, and it always took two trips to her car to carry in the presents she brought for everyone in the family.

The details of one particular Christmas afternoon are etched in my memory. My father, whom I saw less and less of because the divorce had been my mother’s idea, appeared carrying two wrapped boxes, one large, one slightly smaller. Like most kids, I tore first into the bigger of the two packages. It contained a miniature set of tableware in a blue willow pattern identical to the dishes in our pantry. This small set consisted of six complete settings for a dinner party, including covered vegetable and soup tureens, a teapot, a cream pitcher and a sugar bowl. It was better than any tea set I’d seen in any toy department and I couldn’t imagine that whatever was inside the smaller box could delight me as much. I was wrong. When I pulled off the colorful wrapping paper I found a surprise that made me take in a breath: at least two dozen tiny, individually wrapped objects tightly packed next to and on top of each other — all of them were toy banquet food for the dish set. There was a turkey on a platter with servings of cranberry sauce and dressing surrounding a well-browned bird. There were little soup bowls filled with something that looked like oyster stew. A tureen of peas was topped with a miniscule strip of bacon. Another platter held eight or nine biscuits and two serving dishes, one filled with mashed potatoes, the other with yams. There were two desserts: a cherry pie with a latticed crust and a fancifully frosted cake. The table was completed with amber-colored goblets and six sets of inchlong silverware. 

I’d never seen anything like it, and even my grandparents and Hotten leaned in to see the marvel that had taken my breath away. It was a marvel and it is the only present I’ve ever received that I remember in full detail. I kept everything together in their original boxes but pieces were lost as I grew older and was sent to boarding school and then university. I managed to keep one of the tiny amber-colored goblets until a few years ago when it was broken during a move.

I love everything about the holidays, from Halloween straight through New Year’s Eve, even though we rarely leave the house on that night or, now that I think of it, any of the others. My daughter, Lisa, usually comes over, carrying small and wonderful presents, on Christmas. And on the evening of December 31st, the Mister and I always toast each other and the coming year with a glass of champagne and we say a small prayer for the months that lie ahead of us, our loved ones and our country. But every year, on the 25th of December, my mind goes back to that Christmas when I was still a single-digit age and my father came to see me with just about the best presents (aside from the glorious and unusual pieces of jewelry given to me by my beloved Mister) I’ve ever received. And then I can very nearly smell those beautifully ornamented little fir trees in my grandparents’ dining room.