Sunday, October 30, 2016

Shopping and not much else

On Friday, we kissed and made up with Delila the Corolla then went to Victoria Gardens for the shopping and had a nice brunch at the Bluebird Cafe in Johnston Street. Peter had a bad cold so we didn't do much else for the weekend apart from read the papers and consume some of the shopping until on Sunday night we went to Joe and Anne's city flat in Westgarth for dinner. It was very good to catch up, especially about our parallel US western national parks trips. We were equally bemused about the US character and national sentiments but also in awe of the natural wonders. Today, Monday, we had Burmese fishcake salad for lunch, then soto ayam for dinner. A very quiet and restful day.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

War and Peace

After a quiet day at home (Peter went out to do some shopping), we went to the Malthouse, had a good meal at their cafe, then went to 'War and Peace' devised and performed by Gob Squad. It was okay for about half for me, then lost dramatic momentum and seemed to be filling in time rather than going anywhere right up to the feeble finish. It seemed odd to be seeing a Berliner ensemble in Melbourne when Frank was really in Berlin. The cast were excellent and the theatricality was good; it just seemed to lack point in every sense of the word including French.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Australian String Quartet

After a quiet day at home (French onion soup for lunch), Peter and I joined Bryony and Philip for a meal at Blondie at the Recital Centre. They seem to have lost the plot a bit. B.'s calamari went missing for the whole meal. Usually they have offered good and quick service. We had spare, bonus tickets to the Australian String Quartet who gave a wonderful concert of works by Mozart, Ligeti (exciting) and Ravel (superbly moving). A good time was had by all; pity about the meal.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Democracy and memory

On Saturday, we picked up Constantine (Delila is being unfaithful again and seems to have gone bush with someone) and did our normal shopping at Victoria Gardens. Before that we visited the Collingwood College to vote in the council elections. It was relatively easy but there was NO SAUSAGE SIZZLE. What kind of election is that? In the evening, we had a quick meal at Yoyogi then went to the Playhouse for a Melbourne Festival performance (our third) of Robert Lepage in his show about memory called '887', the street number of his childhood block of flats. Devised by theatre company, Ex Machina, it was a well-staged one-man show which melded his personal and family history with Canadian history and especially the Quebecois separatist movement. I still believe it is a little self-important and pompous to believe that you need to have a 2 and a quarter hour show with no interval. For why? To maintain dramatic continuity? I doubt it. However, the play was thought provoking and so absorbing that there was a small brouhaha at the end between one row who complained to the man in the row behind that he had laughed too much, disturbing their enjoyment (and hearing) of the show.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sad memorial at ANAM

Yesterday was a quiet day at home for me while Peter went into town for lunch with Robin S. where they had a good meal at a new Italian joint with the suits. In the evening, we headed for Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. However, the trams were diverted at the casino, so we had to catch a short cab ride to the Salon de Sushi where we had another good and quick meal. They are very friendly (apparently a lot of ANAM students get food there) and provide good, fresh food. We then went to ANAM at the old South Melbourne Town Hall. It was a concert honouring four Jewish composers murdered by the Nazis. They were Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff and Gideon Klein, all Czechs, and Leo Smit, Dutch. The music was far from gloomy. The other good thing was, apart from two items with piano, the instruments were all winds. The three 'guest' teachers are all wind soloists in their respective orchestras and were included in the players. Schulhoff's Flute Sonata was brilliantly played by Silvia Careddu, flute and Alexander Waite, an ANAM student, piano but the whole concert was splendid finishing with an energetic divertimento for wind octet reconstructed from sketches by Gideon Klein. The pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns made for a stirring finale.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The good, the bad and the very delicious

Yesterday, I had to get up early to go to the Club (Royal Melbourne Hospital) for my monitoring, this time by Maxillo-Facial. I got there as scheduled at 8.45, clutching my yummy chocolate milkshake from downstairs. I ran out of novel around 10.30am and was finally seen for a couple of minutes at 10.45am. There is surely no need to ask you to be there at 8.45 when they know they won't get up to you for two hours. The young doctor I saw explained the difference between Maxillo-Facial and ENT. 'Maxillo-Facial specialise in bones, ENT in tissue or more or less.' 'Why do I need to see both?' 'Each speciality comes with a different emphasis. See you in three months.' Sigh. However, he did find out the name of a spray which could ease my dry mouth which has occurred since the op. in February and got worse. (He got the name wrong but the pharmacist divined the correct one.) I spoke to the publisher about the novel report later. Then in the evening, Peter and I went to a Scion winery dinner at Anada, the Spanish restaurant in Gertrude Street. It was a superb five-course meal (the jamon, the sardines and the quail were exceptional) and the wines were wonderful and very well-matched with the food. Rolly, from Scion, told us how the wines were made very succinctly and pungently. We retired replete.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fence hole

Yesterday, I finished off the novel report and sent it off to the publisher. As well, the fence folk returned to punch a hole in the new fence so the gasman can read the meter when we're not here. I doubt it will accommodate the water meter reader as well. In the evening, Peter made a delicious chicken Thai curry. It was NOT in honour of the dead Thai king.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fence finished, novel nearly

Today, the fence man came to finish off the gate. He was worried about using his angle grinder as he smelt gas in the backyard, but he did it anyway after damping down the gas meter with a rag. In the arvo, Peter got the gas people to come and he moved the meter, put in a new one to stop the leak. Ho hum! Now we have a new fence and a new gas meter. Meanwhile, I've nearly finished the report on the novel which I'll probably do tomorrow. We had beer battered fish for dinner which I cooked: flathead from Lakes Entrance, not cheap but delicious.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ancient Rain

On Saturday, Peter and I picked up Delila the Corolla and went to Victoria Gardens for our usual shopping, though this time on Saturday as the fence fixers were here on Friday, building a new back fence. They'll finish on Monday. Home again for chorizo lunch. Then in the evening, we went to the Arts Centre and had a good meal at Barre, their restaurant where we ran across Kerry B. and Janelle H. Kerry and others (Neil D. etc.) are busily rehearsing to be supernumeraries or warm props in the upcoming Ring Cycle. We then went to the Playhouse to see 'Ancient Rain', a collection of Irish poems set to music by Paul Kelly, Camille O'Sullivan and pianist Feargal Murray. They were joined by Paul Byrne, drums and percussion, Dan Kelly, electric guitar and Sokol Koka, cello. It was a very affecting performance and powerful, though as I said, 'Not much of a cheer-up' and one departing audience member said, 'No wonder they took to the drink.'

Ancient Rain

On Saturday, Peter and I picked up Delila the Corolla and went to Victoria Gardens for our usual shopping, though this time on Saturday as the fence fixers were here on Friday, building a new back fence. They'll finish on Monday. Home again for chorizo lunch. Then in the evening, we went to the Arts Centre and had a good meal at Barre, their restaurant where we ran across Kerry B. and Janelle H. Kerry and others (Neil D. etc.) are busily rehearsing to be supernumeraries or warm props in the upcoming Ring Cycle. We then went to the Playhouse to see 'Ancient Rain', a collection of Irish poems set to music by Paul Kelly, Camille O'Sullivan and pianist Feargal Murray. They were joined by Paul Byrne, drums and percussion, Dan Kelly, electric guitar and Sokol Koka, cello. It was a very affecting performance and powerful, though as I said, 'Not much of a cheer-up' and one departing audience member said, 'No wonder they took to the drink.'

Friday, October 14, 2016

Work and play

The last few days I've been reading and reporting on the new novel. In the meantime, on Wednesday, Peter and I had lunch with Alexis W. at Moat (underneath the Melbourne Writers' Centre). It was a good meal in the bowels of the State Library but better was the magging, catching up on what we had all been doing. On Thursday, Peter went in the arvo to his gallery U3A course, this time to Hawthorn Town Hall to what sounds like a very good exhibition on Louis Kahan. Early in the evening, we went to the Recital Centre for 'Buried Country', a truly impressive pot-pourri of Aboriginal country music. Performers included iconic elders Roger Knox, Auriel Andrew and L.J. Hill, Central Desert legend Warren H Williams, and younger artists such as Leah Flanagan, Luke Peacock and James Henry. It was written and directed by Clinton Walker with musical director, Brendan Gallagher. It was inspiring and finished with Jimmy Little's grandson leading the whole cast in 'Telephone to Glory'. Everyone sang along, some (like me) without much conviction. We then went to Yoyogi for the first time since we got back. It was a cheap and cheerful as usual.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Local council elections

Another quiet day at home yesterday with a bit of reading of a new novel (for report). In the early evening, Peter and I went to the Fitzroy Town Hall for a meeting organised by the Fitzroy Residents' Association to meet the candidates in the upcoming elections. There were 18 of them (not all) for two wards only (Langridge, ours plus Nicholls which is North Fitzroy). It was well moderated by Tom Elliott, local resident and son of John. The ability to see and hear the candidates was very helpful and I've now made up a very eclectic list for myself of a mix of Labor, Socialists, Greens and one independent. Voting is like manure; it's no good unless you spread it around. Congrats to the FRA for organising it and to Tom Elliott for a very good job of compering in very trying circumstances. One local identity castigated him for being John Elliott's son, which he can hardly help.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Settling in

The last few days have been spent settling in at home. Occasionally, I still wake up thinking that we're still on the road. However, on Friday, Peter and I did 'normal' shopping at Victoria Gardens after picking up Delila the Corolla (who probably has been fretting for us). Otherwise, we have just been catching up at home and doing 'normal' things. This afternoon, we went to the Recital Centre for the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. It was a performance by their octet, who premiered a new work by Graeme Koehne 'Nevermore', part of a trilogy which I'd like to hear the rest of. Then it was a beautiful Dvorak sextet, then Schubert's quintet. All in all a wonderful concert. Roger and Sally joined us on our 'guest' tickets and enjoyed it too.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Club plus Mozart plus...

I was up early yesterday morning to get to the Club for a Plastics visit. I wondered why I was visiting them as they didn't do very much in my late January op. They agreed and I have gone off their agenda. Next to remove Maxillo-Facial in a week or so. That leaves Ear, Nose and Throat for a regular visit. Home again, then in the evening, Peter and I went into town for a concert by the Australian Piano Quartet who did two piano quartets by Mozart and premiered a fine new work by Lachlan Skipworth, a tall drink of water who was present for the concert with a bit of explanation. It was a splendid concert and we hurried home for 'Deep Water' the new SBS series about gay killings in Sydney. It seems very promising on the first episode.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Respighi plus

Last night, P. and I went to Hamer Hall for the Melbourne Symphony early concert (6.30pm). The concert included Szymanowski's Concert Overture, Schumann's piano concerto and Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome. We were close to the stage so were almost overwhelmed by the sound. It was a great concert conducted by Marcelo Lehninger with Nelson Freire on piano. A bonus was meeting up with Julie and Roger Watts in the foyer. Afterwards, P. and I had a quick pasta dinner at Fatto next door. This morning, I bought all the finances up to date including this quarter's Business Activity Statement, so I feel very virtuous. I still haven't worked out how to upload the photos from the trip onto the interweb. Oh well, another day.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Nearly all done

Since we arrived home, I've spent a lot of time sorting the photographs which Peter loaded onto my computer and blogging details of our trip. This was mainly to act as a diary for myself, but if anyone else is interested they are welcome. As well there was the usual business of unpacking and washing dirty clothes, catching up on correspondence and paying the bills, doing the subscriptions for things which arrived while we were away and so on. I still haven't sorted out the finances of who paid what while we were away. A major diversion was the Friday night visit to the Malthouse for the production by Victorian Opera of 'Three Saints in Four Acts', music (excellent) by Virgil Thomson and bizarre libretto by Gertrude Stein. Add to that a 3-D set and a dinner to follow with Robin Archer as Gertrude and Merlyn Quaife as Alice B. Toklas interviewed by Richard Mills. The meal was good, the show diverting and a fine evening had by all, I think. We're now nearly back to normal.

Monday 29th August

It's a long way to America. As the late George Dale said, the best way to deal with long plane journeys is to imagine you're dead when you board the plane, then come to life when you get there. So I did. Auckland airport where we stopped on the way is the dullest place on earth. We had some duty free shopping (grog), a gin and tonic, a pinot grigio. What else was there to do? Overnight was okay though we had a bulkhead behind us as we'd asked for seats together so didn't sleep very well. There was a very slow queue at processing at SF airport but we had a good cab ride to the Parker Guesthouse. The hosts were friendly and our room was fine. We then, on our hosts' recommendation, had a quite good cheap and cheerful at Chow's eatery, not Ciao, up the road. Then a good night's sleep after a very long day.

Tuesday 30 August

We had a good breakfast at the Parker Guesthouse, then went up to Market Street where we got a 7-day ticket for the public transport. We then went by cable car to Grace Cathedral (very exciting) which was a fine cathedral if you like that sort of thing (a modern church). We walked through Knob Hill and went to the City Lights Bookshop where we found a copy of Alexis Wright's 'Swan Book' in the window. We also went to the Beat Museum nearby which was a bit scrappy but interesting. Home for a nap then in the evening we had a very good meal at the Woodhouse Seafood up on Market Street, fortunately on their special 'oysters for one dollar' night.

Wednesday 31 August

Today was our booking for Alcatraz. We went by trolley to the start point, queued and made the boat. The audio tour was excellent in conveying the conditions and history of the jail. It must certainly have been punishing for the prisoners and even the guards. We saw the garden and gave Sophie's good wishes to Marney, one of the volunteers who said we were very lucky to know her (we know). We went back to Pier 39, which didn't look promising for food, but then had quite a good lunch at the Crab Shack. In the evening, we had a good Spanish tapas meal at Canela Bistro on Castro.

Thursday 1 September

We went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and saw exhibitions on Modernism, Pop, a splendid photography exhibition and a special exhibition of Richard Serra works. We had a very good lunch at their Cafe 5, then, after a quick arvo nap, a not-bad dinner at Sam's Diner before seeing 'Beautiful: the Carole King musical' at the Orpheum. The show was very well done, even though we had the understudy and even cynical old me had a tear in my eye at the end.

Friday 2 September

Today was our first visit to Golden Gate Park. We went to the De Young Museum and saw exhibitions of the work of Ed Bruscha, American Art, Niugini Art (I kid you not), and Bruce Livingstone photos. It is a splendid museum like so many others in the U.S. They also had a good eatery where we had a good lunch. The contrast between the good food we had (mostly) in SF and Los Angeles and the culinary wasteland on our tour of National Parks was huge. We went home for arvo drinks at the Parker where we had a good chat with other guests, then we went across the road to Morning Due, against our better judgment and the recommendations of our host, for a meal. The pasta and cheese was execrable. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Saturday 3 September

We went around the corner this morning to the Dolores Mission and Church. It seemed a shame to be just nearby and miss seeing it. It was full of history as well as regret for a passing culture displaced by the missions. We then took a trolley down to Mission Street and went along it to see how the other half live. It was a buzzing multicultural area including a street drama of the crucifixion. We came back to the Castro where we had a good Vietnamese lunch then went to the LGBTI History Museum which was very well displayed to be both entertaining, moving and informative. In the evening, we had a very good dinner at the Asian-fusion Kitchen Story, a fine local eatery (I bought the T-shirt). We had coffee on Castro, then went back to bed.

Sunday 4 September

We bade a fond farewell to the Parker Guesthouse and moved our bags to the Hotel Metropolis where we were to start our tour that night. Meanwhile we went to the Golden Gate Park by bus. We saw the beautiful Conservatory of Flowers, then visited the AIDS Memorial Walk which was very moving. We had lunch at the Japanese Tea Garden which was very good and adequate (not too much) and retreated to the hotel as it hotted up. In the evening we met our tour group and guide Jennie then went with local tour guide Jim on a tour of Ocean Beach. We retraced some of our steps of the other day and had dinner at Capo's, a longstanding local Italian. We got far too much dinner, so Jim boxed it up, he said, for the poor but I'm not sure. Back to the hotel.

Monday 5 September

This morning we left the Hotel Metropolis, and drove off to the Golden Gate Bridge where we stopped at the Visitors' Center to see its history. Then we drove to Sonoma and the Jack London State Park where we had a picnic lunch and viewed the museum and took a walk to the ruins of his old house, destroyed by fire. The park was very picturesque. As well we visited the St Francis Winery for a tasting, then the Corner Store complex with its gardens and antiques and had a much needed ice cream in the heat. We went on to the Cline Winery which had models of the old Californian mission houses plus a history. They also had a floating island on their pond inhabited by lots of turtles. We drove back to Jack London lodge for dinner which was an overabundant serve of hamburgers and grills. Jill and Mark deal with this by having one meal between two.

Tuesday 6 September

We drove through varied landscapes from Sonoma which included vines, of course, then fruit trees and more industrial landscapes. We got to Knight's Bridge an old town where we had a picnic lunch and a wander and finally to Mariposa Lodge from which it was a fair drive down hill to Yosemite National Park. We went into the park where we had a good pizza dinner on their patio restaurant and bar, then drove up and up to Tunnel Lookout and Glacier Lookout to view the sunset. The view was stunning and the surrounding sky and rock walls seemed almost like a painting. Then it was back to Mariposa for the night.

Wednesday 7 September

Again, we made the long drive from Mariposa down into Yosemite. Peter and I didn't take the route most of the group were taking, straight up the canyon walls. Instead, we went on the Happy Isles Nature Walk which was beautiful. We then went to the museum and the Indian village behind it, both of which were very informative on both history and the local Native American lifestyle. We had lunch at the Yosemite Lodge which we thought might be good but which was more like a low grade food hall. We waited for the rest of the group at the pizza bar where we ate the night before. I managed to spill my gin and tonic, which the squirrels eagerly lapped up in spite of being shooed away. The kind barman gave me a free replacement. In the evening, we had an okay meal at a restaurant near the Mariposa Lodge but again the portions were gigantic.

Thursday 8 September

We drove from Mariposa to Exeter through a very mid-West landscape. On the way, we stopped at a town called Visalia (famous for its oak trees) where we had lunch at a chain called Panera which seems one of the better fast food places on the road. From Exeter, we went on the long winding road into the Sequoia National Park where we visited the General Sherman Tree and went on the Great Trees Walk which encompassed the life cycle of the Sequoia. We then went to Moro Rock where most of the group clambered up to the top but Peter and I stayed to view the other tourists at the bottom. The views and the trees in the park were spectacular. In the evening, we had a Mexican dinner in Exeter where the staff kindly stayed open to accommodate us and serve up massive Mexican meals.

Friday 9 September

We drove from Exeter through the low Sierras and Red Rock Canyon to the 'Western' town of Lone Pine. It trades on the fact that lots of Westerns were made around here as it is not too far from Hollywood and the local scenery is suitable. We had lunch at the Mt Whitney Cafe where the service seemed a little tinged with racism (our table included one Indian and one Vietnamese). The food wasn't up to much either. In the afternoon, we went to Alabama Rocks which are peculiar formations where many of the Westerns were made. Most of the group went on a walk to a viewpoint from which you could see Mt Whitney (in the distance), the tallest peak in the U.S. (next day we were due to visit the lowest point in the U.S. Poetic, huh?). We then went to the fascinating Museum of Western Film History with its memorabilia of local film production. In the evening, we had a not bad dinner at the local grill, though the portions were typically HUGE.

Saturday 10 September

We got up early this morning so we could hit the road at 4.30am to catch the sunrise at the Dunes in Death Valley. The Best Western in Lone Pine was great (or their breakfast cook was) in getting us a breakfast ready before we left. Dawn over the Mestize Dunes was spectacular, near the town with the unlikely name of Stovepipe Well. We then went on to Mosaic Canyon where I jibbed out of a fairly rocky uphill walk early in the piece, though I enjoyed the peace of waiting for the others to return. We then went to Badwater Point, the lowest point on the U.S. on a salt flat. After that we drove around the Painter's Trail with coloured rocks then had a fairly ordinary lunch at the Sixty-Niners (remember 'Clementine') where the staff seemed to take it or leave it (there was not a lot of choice in Vulcan, the main 'town'). After that, we went to the famous (from the film) Zabriskie Point and the long drive to Ubehebe Crater from a fairly recent explosion. The park was truly breathtaking. Jennie, our guide, said it was her favourite. We drove on to a ghost town Rhyolite, which had a few derelict buildings and a 'poet's' house where a reclusive poet worked and a still-functioning 'art' house, though the art didn't seem up to much. We drove on to Beatty, the dumpiest town on the tour where we stayed at the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino. One of our party had trouble with cockroaches in the room. There were few food options so we tried Denny's where I had the worst hamburger I've ever had. We are now out of California and in Nevada.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday 11 September

We farewelled the beautiful town of Beatty with breakfast at Mel's Diner, a ramshackle joint which nevertheless provided a very ample U.S. breakfast. We headed for Las Vegas through a promising roadstop called Alien/Brothel though it did have free coffee even if you didn't buy anything. We arrived in Vegas and checked into the Alexis Gardens Hotel, then had an orientation drive around the town. We were shouted to a buffet lunch. It was all-you-can-eat (some of the Asian customers were going birko on not-very-nice-looking crab claws) but really the food was okay but not all that good. The place was called Rio so I can now sing that I've been to Rio (Vegas). Jennie also took us on a drive to the Hoover Dam and associated bridge. It was very spectacular. In the evening, she introduced us to the horrors of Felton Street (the old casino strip) which included the very Gothic Golden Nugget. Peter and I escaped and took a lengthy bus trip (because of the traffic) up the Strip where we encountered two pommie tourists who proudly proclaimed that they had been to La Vegas 13 TIMES. Are they demented? Finally, we found an eatery in one of the casinos called Serrano which had a very good tapas menu and we had our first good meal for a while. Home to Alexis Gardens where we were doing battle with the hotwater system, or lack of it. The hotel didn't seem to display much concern about fixing it.

Monday 12 September

We had breakfast at Alexis Gardens then Jennie kindly took us along while she did some laundromatting: tedious but necessary. We then went to Bellagio Casino to see the art gallery there, but it was closed for installation of a new exhibition. We then tried to see their much vaunted garden but it was being renovated. We satisfied ourselves with a good lunch at an eatery called Noodles, a sort of mixed Asian number. In the evening, we met the new members of our tour at a meal at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was okay, though not wonderful. The cocktails were powerful though.

Tuesday 13 September

We drove from Las Vegas to Springdale where we were to stay at the La Quinta Motel with a beautiful view of the Zion park. We are now in Utah. We went into the park where Peter and Sue did the Emerald Pools Walk (I opted out early in the piece). We then did the shuttle tour of the park and saw a film of the history of the area. It is a beautiful area. In the evening, Peter and I had a good and cheap Mexican dinner across the road from the motel with Margaritas.

Wednesday 14 September

We left Springdale and drove out of the Zion National Park through the magnificent tunnel built early last century to provide access. The scenery was breathtaking. We then arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. Some of the group went on the very steep walk down into the canyon and up again. Peter and I did the more conservative rim walk which was still very impressive. We then returned in the shuttle to the Visitors' Centre. The Bryce Canyon hoodoos are amazing. We then proceeded via the Escalante National Monument and its stunning views to the Boulder Mountain Ranch where we were staying for two nights. Some of the party were outraged by the group accommodation (in dormitories!). In fact, Peter and I shared a cabin with Ganesh which was quite easy, him downstairs and us up in a mezzanine. They provided a very nice dinner of salad and pasta with buffalo (!). The whole joint had a faintly hippie air about it and it was very comfortable with a log cabin feel and superb views from the balcony.

Thursday 15 September

We were settling into the ranch. Most of the party went on a horse ride while Peter and I just did a gentle walk around the ranch and along the creek. In the afternoon, most of the party (including Peter) went on a walk to Calf Creek Waterfall. I stayed home for a much needed rest and nap after all the activity of the last few days. At night, they provided another good dinner: this time a shepherd's pie which was really a cottage pie as it was beef not lamb.

Friday 16 September

We left the Boulder Mountain ranch and drove through the forest to the Capitol Reef Park we were saw some ancient petroglyphs. We then drove through canyons along the Colorado River and had lunch at a place with the odd name of Hog Spring. After a hair-raising drive down a switchback road to Monument Valley, we drove to Kayenta, so are now in Arizona, to drop our bags, then went back for a Navajo tour of the Valley followed by a dinner and a dance demonstration. It was a little bit like the Golden Book of Navajo but it was nonetheless fascinating. The food was good and the natural features breathtaking. The Native American groups are assiduous in displaying US flags, denoting that they are part of the nation as well as its foundation. We went back for the night to Kayenta after a very rewarding experience. We are now in Arizona.

Saturday 17 September

We left Kayenta and, on the road, stopped at a supermarket to get stuff for lunch. We then stopped at a native American trinket shop. It is good that they are selling trinkets to white folk, rather than the other way round. There was also a very good art gallery with more genuine artworks and artefacts. I bought a few T-shirts and a keyring. We then got to the Grand Canyon rim where we ate our lunch and took in the views. We then went to the visitors' centre for an overview. Jennie then took those of us taking a helicopter ride to the airport. It was with some trepidation that I agreed to go, but once there, I wasn't worried at all. I was swept into the copter and enjoyed a magnificent view of the Canyon from on high, getting good views of the Colorado River as it continues its job of eating away at the Canyon. We then went back to Tosayan for a Mexican dinner, then on to Williams for the night.

Sunday 18 September

We had an early breakfast at the Williams Quality Inn so we would get to the Grand Canyon before the heat really started. Some of our group were taking tough walks down into the Canyon. We weren't but it was good to start early before the heat was up. A bonus was running across a mother Wapiti and her baby coming up to the water taps (for filling water bottles) to drink the water from a leaking tap. One photographer got too close and Mum Wapiti charged him quite aggressively. We took the shuttle bus to Hermit's Rest at one end of the rim trail where there is a very nice rustic stone hut for walkers built early last century. It is a good example of the architecture of the time which tried to harmonise with the park. We also went to the Mohave Lookout which gave the view I was after, right down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. We lunched at the so-called posh hotel, El Tovar. It had very pretentious service but the food was very ordinary. However, it was a relief from the heat outside. We then went to Yaki Point for another breathtaking view. We had a very quick pizza dinner in nearby Tosayan then were driven back by Jennie to the Canyon for beautiful views of the sunset. Then it was back to Williams for the night.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Monday 19 September

After breakfast at the Quality Inn, Williams, Arizona, we headed to Kelignan, a town which makes the most of its position on the old Route 66, unfortunately without much sense of style. Some seedy old motels that I imagine no one ever stays in, some souvenir shops and clapped out old cars complete the picture. The supposedly 'best' milkshakes in America failed to make the grade. We moved on to the town of Kingman where we immersed ourselves in American culture by visiting Walmart where both the staff and customers all seemed to be zombies than lunched at Burgers 2 Go which also didn't live up to the promise of the best burgers in the US. We had to elbow the military out of the way who arrived at the same time as us. We moved on through some wasteland, littered with abandoned houses to a town with the unlikely name of Twentynine Pines which survives on a marine training base. We are now back in California. We went into the Joshua Pines NP for sunset which was very spectacular, then retreated to our motel. Our dinner was at a so-called Kabob place which was sort of Lebanese though none of the staff seemed of that origin. The food, however, was delicious, a prize in a culinary wasteland.

Tuesday 20 September

Most of our crew went to see the sun rise in Joshua Tree Park. Peter and I stayed at the 29Pines Motel for breakfast. When the van came back to pick up the luggage (and those who had stayed in bed), they said the sunrise wasn't very good because it was too cloudy. Jennie drove us right through the park on the way to our road to Los Angeles so we got another good look at the park. We stopped on the way for petrol at a garage with only ONE loo, then stopped at an Apera bakery for lunch. In the land of fast food horror, this is one of the few outlets with passable munga. We then arrive in Los Angeles, left the trailer at the hotel near the airport and went on a tour with Summer, our local guide. We started in Hollywood Boulevard (near our next hotel), then visited an old mansion, Beverly Hills, Sprinkles cupcakes and the glitzy shops of Rodeo Drive before going to the so-called Farmer's Market for dinner. It was much vaunted but didn't really live up to its promise. Back to collapse at the Hotel Aloft El Segundo which was hi-tech but not really very comfy.

Wednesday 21 September

This morning we transferred from our airport hotel to the Hollywood Roosevelt, a once glamorous hotel which has recently been refurbished. We were very lucky to get an early checkin (a bonus nearly five hours) which gave us time to get organised after our tour. We had lunch by the pool midst palms and sunlight. After organising a few things like our Hollywood studio tour at a local tourist advice desk which was like a comedy act in itself staffed by misfits, we went to the nearby Hollywood Museum. This consisted of a lot of memorabilia of all sorts housed in the old Max Factor building. The ground floor was basically a tribute to Max Factor and his achievements but included gems like an early 50s TV with Lucille Ball running on it and a clip of Elaine Stritch in some movie or soap saying: 'And you drank wine out of A BOX'. There was a wonderful quote from Dorothy Arzner: 'When I started work in Hollywood, I took my pride, rolled it up into a little ball and threw it out the window.' My favourite was a full-size model of the Beverly Hillbillies in their rickety car. We retired, tired, to Mel's Diner next door for milkshakes and the first of a few visits. We had dinner at the hotel in their restaurant, Public Kitchen. It was a very good meal, a relief after a couple of weeks of only intermittent decent food.

Thursday 22 September

We had breakfast this morning at the hotel burger bar 25 Degrees (the supposed difference in temperature between a well done and rare burger???). It was okay but hardly outstanding. We then walked down Hollywood Boulevard to Hollywood and Vine. The Boulevard is anything but glamorous, consisting of a lot of empty shops, homeless people and tawdry sex shops and other very unglamourous outlets like souvenir shops, wig shops, smoke shops and so on. We met Steve Blue, my longtime medical correspondent (he has a rhinectomy too) at Pantages Theatre and walked back to an old student hangout of his, an Italian eatery called Miceli's which has been going since 1949. We had a good lunch and a great chat until we parted: him to collect his car and we to the hotel for a nap. We had dinner at a downmarket but good Japanese sushi place, a family run local version of Yoyogi.

Friday 23 September

We began the day with breakfast at Mel's Diner as the hotel breakfast the day before was nothing special. It was much better and more colourful with its retro decor and traditional diner staff. We then ubered our way to the Warner Brothers studio for their tour. We'd been told by Steve Blue and others that the Universal Tour was more like a fun park and the Warner Bros was more informative about filmmaking. It certainly was. A sausage machine of tours was nonetheless interesting. The sets (inside and outside), the props (I was photographed at the 'President's' desk) and the special effects were all interesting. We returned to the hotel for a poolside lunch under the palms then a nap. In the evening, we went to Graumann's Egyptian Theatre (very kitsch) for the American Cinemateque's show 'A Thousand Cuts' which was a compilation of fragments found by film buffs including old commercials, trailers, interviews and several rare dance numbers including Ann Miller still hoofing on great legs at 58. It was a great show, though the panel afterwards was a bit longwinded. So we left for dinner which we had at a very good Japanese called something like Shoo-Sushi in the Dolby Theatre building. Japanese food is a good way of avoiding American excess.