A French Revolution Love Story

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The adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena is a love story and a commentary on the horrors of war and the courage of sacrifice, driven by a plot of political espionage.

The opening lines of the play, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness …” reflect for many the current political temperature.

The play is worth seeing for a well-performed and well-directed insight into the times that led to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, as well as for those drawn to love stories that feature the most poignant of declarations of devotion—deathly sacrifice.

Adapted by Mike Poulton, who was Tony-nominated for “Fortune’s Fool” as well as his adaptations of “Wolf Hall” and Bring Up the Bodies, the play first premiered at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton in 2014. Julia Rodriguez-Elliot and Geoff Elliot, artistic directors of A Noise Within, direct the U.S. premiere at A Noise Within.

“A Tale of Two Cities” play through Nov. 19, 2017. Tickets and more information: anoisewithin.org

Photos: Top: Frederick Stuart (Sydney Carton). Photo by Craig Schwartz. Middle: Ensemble with Tavid Doucette (Charles Darnay) center. Bottom: Geoff Elliott (Marquis) and Tavid Doucette (Charles Darnay). Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Borrego Springs Slice of Heaven

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Nestled in the northeast area of San Diego County, hundreds of thousands of visitors are drawn to Borrego Springs from throughout the world. The weather and climate with the dry air and mild winters, combined with the breathtaking beauty are what make this small town of yesterday so friendly and inviting.

Borrego Springs is the only certified Dark Sky Community in California, and one of the only two in the country where the stargazing is unparalleled. The community is surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is an oasis without even a stoplight and protectively by far the largest state park in California. Font Point in the park has been nominated as an 8th wonder of the world.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

One thing’s for sure, there is something here for everybody. You will want to come back as often as you can with anticipation to relax, play, or adventure in California’s  “secret desert.” It is a prime travel destination spot that is unforgettable. The more you explore, the more you will discover, it’s never-ending.

The desert blooms and wildflowers are a must see, and the Borrego Desert Nature Museum and Visitor Center is not to be missed. The talented artists and artwork on display are absolutely fantastic. Some of the dramatic yet whimsical works of art are the desert metal sculptures dotting the 22 miles of mostly paved roads throughout the park. Each exhibit tells a story of the past. The landowner of Galleta Meadows Estates said the property was developed for the sole purpose of displaying the metal sculptures. He had envisioned the starkly beautiful desert property enhanced with the incredible steel-welded sculptures of artist Ricardo Breceda, who is based in Paris, CA. About 130 of his sculptures are located in this area with new ones always on the horizon. The original sculptures were inspired by animals that lived millions of years ago in the Anza Borrego area during the Plio-Pleistocene age. Later works were representative of local history, and whim and fantasy motivating the creation of many others. There is even a full-sized Willy’s Jeep CJ-3A with a passenger. You can purchase a road guide to all the sculptures while visiting. The guide will take you to each location where grouped or individual art is placed. These sculptures in themselves are worth the visit.

Metal sculptures by artist Ricardo Breceda dot 22 miles of roads throughout Borrego Springs

Another wonder located in Borrego Palm Canyon is a worthwhile hiking destination to a real oasis. The hike/walk is one and a half miles to reach the lush oasis, which is located deep within the canyon. All life in the desert revolves around water so don’t be surprised to see Peninsular bighorn sheep, which are an endangered species, lizards, wonderful birds and a great deal of action around the water and palm trees. One is seriously transported to another world. Another interesting experience is seeing the remains and traces of the ancient people, the Cahuilla Indians, who chose the Palm Canyon area for a home and village site. Today their presence is strongly felt.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  is named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or  bighorn sheep. It is the largest state park in California, with 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and miles of hiking trails.

We stayed in one of the ruins at the park where a working fireplace still stands and is useable today for campers. We enjoyed sitting at the campsite watching a full moon, and constellations and meteor showers.

Full moon rising over Anza-Borrego SP

If roughing it is not your thing, there are hotels with full amenities nearby. Borrego Springs Resort is family friendly, and the more high-end Borrego Valley Inn offers an amazing stay. It’s a premium desert inn that offers a great breakfast and afternoon treats. The inn has two pools , one for bathing suits, and the other a private European pool for nude swims and sun bathing. It is a rich, rustic experience, with a courtyard that has a  beautiful bird aviary.

As for the dining experience in the Borrego Springs area, the local restaurants have everything imaginable, with a wide range for every taste bud.

There is so much to do at Borrego Springs and if you are extra adventurous, you will not have to drive far to a many more hot spots of interest. Horseback riding, tennis, a championship Golf course, fitness centers, recreational activities of all kinds are all located just a couple of hours out of Los Angeles. No matter what the season, it’s always worth bringing your camera and getting great shots. Many want to keep this place a secret but I hope you will come and see , that it is just the secret place you have been waiting for.

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Get Your Spook on at Hard Rock Hotel

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The underground club Body English at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has been transformed into a haunted house called “Bloody English” through Oct. 31.

While it may not scare the living daylights out of you, it’s an entertaining enough walk through three levels  of walkways that have been covered in cobwebs, bloody body parts, and other haunted house paraphernalia. Live actors jump out here and there, scaring visitors enough to make them scurry along at a faster pace, and some of the set design, replicating scenes from famous horror stories, is gruesome enough to make one wince and emit an “Ewwwww.”

Just watch out  near the end of the visit…we won’t tell you what happens….

More info can be obtained at www.bloodyenglish.com.


Ojai Delights

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The Gecko room porch looks out onto the grounds of the Emerald Iguana Inn in Ojai. Architect March Whitman used the 1900s river stone- and woodwork of the original buildings on the site as inspiration for the Art Nouveau inspired cottages. Image courtesy of Emerald Iguana Inn

Ojai Valley is a unique place for visitors and residents alike in that it offers distinct settings and activities, from the famed Ojai Music Festival to camping and fishing, to fine dining, wine tasting, and art gallery and spa hopping.

The Ojai Music festival, now in its sixth decade, happens next month, and it might be tough to find a place in town to stay near Libbey Bowl, where the main concerts take place, or anywhere in the “village” (as the local government describes itself) of 8,000 people, however, it’s worth a try to get a room at The Emerald Iguana Inn, which is a few blocks walk to the main part of town, and to Libbey Park. If booked, its sister lodging, The Blue Iguana, is off Highway 33, the main road into Ojai.
Ojai natives Marc and Julia Whitman bought the property that houses the Blue Iguana Inn about 13 years ago. They transformed a broken down motel into a rustic, stylish inn with a desert-like feel. The Emerald Iguana Inn was the second such venture for the couple that at first faced opposition from local residents, but the result is such a delight it is hard to imagine anyone opposing such an eye-pleasing establishment.Marc, an architect, designed both inns and Julia focused on the interiors. The feeling when arriving at the Emerald Iguana Inn, located in a cul-de-sac at the end of residential street, is that of a private retreat surrounded by lush foliage, flowers and a grove of California native oak and sycamore trees.
A multicolored, tiled “Emerald Iguana” fountain greets guests at one side of the gravel driveway. A medium sized pool is surrounded by an iron gate, and more plants, flowers and trees add a tropical feeling to the area. Breakfast of boiled eggs, an assortment of pastries, yogurt and fresh fruit, along with coffee or tea, and fresh orange juice is served daily, and in the evenings, guests can stop by the poolside office for wine and cheese. Both inns are beautifully appointed, with the Emerald furnished with items from Europe and Asia, and some rooms having wood- burning stove fireplaces, whirlpool or claw-foot bathtubs and private patios or balconies.

The focal point of the Emerald is the original “River Rock” house on the property that is nearly 100 years old, which Marc used with his unique style of architecture, featuring organic materials, and shapes and lines. Much of the artwork at both inns features Ojai artists, including that of Marc’s mother, Nancy Whitman.

Guests of either inn can be treated to private tours of the Taft Botanical Gardens, which is a must-see if one if visiting Ojai.

Situated on more than 20 acres, the gardens are renowned for their South African and Australian native plant collections. With the many unusual and colorful species of cacti, flowers and plants, it is an extraordinary experience to walk through the gardens; it feels as if you could encounter one of the fanciful characters from the story of Alice and Wonderland.

Dining in Ojai

The Ranch House is a legendary eatery in Ojai.

The Ranch House is a legendary eatery in Ojai. Founded more than 40 years ago by Alan Hooker, current owner David Skaggs (along with wife Edie) first got his start as a waiter there. Using herbs from its onsite garden, the gourmet dishes are fresh and delicious. The wine list is extensive with more than 650 selections, and the service is excellent. It’s as if you are dining amongst good friends or family members. The dining areas are set amongst lush foliage and one can take a walk through the gardens, where a stream wanders. If you dine there, the Grilled Diver Scallops are a must. Huge, tender U-1 0 scallops are grilled and served on lightly curried sweet corn sauce with oil infused with dry vermouth and basil, and shredded bok choy.

For a casual, no hassle lunch try Antonio’s Mexican Cantina at the east end of the main strip of Ojai. Nick Moeller, a former Hollywood nightclub manager, and his wife decided that Ojai was the perfect place to raise their two children, and bought the place from the original owner five years ago. Basics such as cheese enchiladas and nachos will fill you up as you take in the sun in the outdoor patio.

Vesta Restaurant also offers outdoor dining behind the main avenue (the restaurant can be accessed off Ojai Avenue across from Libbey Bowl, or from the courtyard in the back). Tasty, fresh lemonade is the perfect accompaniment to their sweet potato, garlic or rosemary-salted fries (order the Three-Way and you can have a taste of all three.) A variety of salads, sandwiches and wraps is on the lunch menu, and the macaroni and cheese is very good. The restaurant has a full wine and beer list, as well as specialty drinks. Before or after dining, you can browse for home or culinary accessories in the front store.

Ojai is filled with a plethora of wine tasting opportunities. If you’re downtown and don’t want to go too far, try the Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room and Art Gallery, located a few doors down from Vesta.

You can get a Shangri-La Flight for $10, featuring organic and vegan wines, or the Chiefs Peak Flight for $15, which also features organic and vegan, and unfiltered wines. Their 2007 Cabernet Franc, which is unrefined, unfiltered and vegan, is a smooth red that sells for only $30 per bottle.

If you love the music and crowds, do visit Ojai during the festival; if not, an off-season visit in February or March is a perfect time to visit. The weather may be a little cooler, but the quiet and the beauty of Ojai Valley are worth it.





– Emerald Iguana Inn: 108 Pauline St. Ojai, 93023; 805.646.5277; www.iguanainnsofojai.com

– The Blue Iguana Inn: 11794 N. Ventura Ave. 805.646.5277; www.blueiguanainn.com

– The Ranch House: 500 S. Lomita; 805.646.2360; www.theranchhouse.com

– Vesta Restaurant: 242 E. Ojai Ave.; 805.646.2339; vestaojai.com

– Antonio’s Mexican Cantina: 106 S. Montgomery; 805.646.6353

– Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room: 208 E. Ojai Ave.; 805.640.1255; www.casabarranca.com



Paradise in the Desert (Palm Springs)

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“Welcome to Paradise,” said the manager.

This was in the midst of a “Twilight Zone” experience of trying to check in at the La Quinta Resort and Club in the desert, though, not due to the fault of the staff at the resort.

The La Quinta Resort and Club in Palm Springs

Gracious and accommodating they were, despite the fact my name could not be found on the reservations list, or anywhere else for that matter.

I waited as staff members flurried back and forth, trying to solve the mystery as to why my planned visit of one night at the famous hideaway resort and club, with some of the best golf courses in the world, was not listed anywhere. I was offered a refreshment, “A glass of wine, perhaps?” which seems to be the customary welcome to guests checking in. At first I said no thank you, and again no thank you after a second offer of a drink, though I did say, “I might need one soon,” when the staff did not recognize the name of a person I was told would be my contact at the resort. I finally did say yes when I was told the restaurant where I had dinner booked did not exist at the resort, or anywhere in the town of La Quinta.

As I sat in the rustic, yet plush, comfortable 85-year-old Santa Rosa Lounge, sipping my chardonnay, the manager at the time said even though there was no record of me at all at the hotel, I would be staying in a casita–with a private patio and spa.

I cannot say enough about how gracious the staff at La Quinta is. They are trained to make each and every guest feel as if they are the most important person they have visiting the club. And with absolute sincerity.

An employee on a gas-powered cart led me to parking near my casita, then to my room, where the bellboy showed me how to work the spa and the fireplace in the spacious room with a firm, king-sized bed. The bathroom itself had a “king-sized” bathtub, with a glass-enclosed shower next to it and a double-sink counter. It was 4:30 p.m. by the time I collapsed on the bed. As I contemplated the mystery of my Twilight Zone nonexistence (my stay was set up by a third party-I found out later I was mistakenly booked at a different hotel), I decided the best way to relax after a 3-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles (the drive normally takes 2-and-a-half hours max.), was to jump in the perfectly temperature-set spa with jets. So private is the patio and casita, I could have jettisoned my bathing suit-but, just in case, I kept in on.

The surrounding jagged, rocky Santa Rosa Mountains, which were outlined by a deep, cornflower blue sky, could be seen from my little corner of paradise. And when dark falls, the stars fill the sky.

Walter H. Morgan, who came to the desert in 1921 for health reasons, built the La Quinta Resort and Club, originally called the La Quinta Hotel. It was a self-contained, secluded hideaway for celebrities, high-profile politicos and society leaders-a place where the rich and famous could romp and relax away from prying eyes. It is located about 20 miles past Palm Springs, off the I-10.

So many famous people have stayed here it would be impossible to say who was the most noted guest. On the literary (and showbiz) side-Frank Capra stayed in one of the original 20 casitas. It is said he penned “It Happened One Night” in Casita No. 136 (named San Anselmo). The original desk he used sits in the casita, with a copy of the Academy Award-winning script for guests to peruse. Apparently, he became superstitious about his stay in the desert and returned year after year to pen other equally regarded classics such as “You Can’t Take it With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” among others.

All the rooms and suites (now numbering 640) at the resort and club are decorated with old world, Spanish hacienda-style furniture.

On the other spectrum of famous guests-one casita is named the Eisenhower Villa. President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to visit friends at La Quinta while he was still in office, and played golf here. The first golf course in the Coachella Valley was built at La Quinta-a 9-hole course designed by golfer Norman Beth, at the cost of $50,000. Greens fees were $1, open to the public.

The idea of pampering guests with massage treatments started in 1946 when John Balaban, a Chicagoan who bought it from hotelier Arnold S. Kirkeby, hired Marvin Guziewicz. For 39 years, Guziewicz treated guests to “massages in the sun.”

Now the resort and club offers a sybaritic array of spa treatments ranging from “celestial” showers and mustard baths to whole packages that include massage, facials, baths or showers and a choice of a variety of “body wraps.”

A stroll through the various sections of the 45-acre grounds takes you through the courtyards of other casitas, past pools

There are 25 pools on the grounds of La Quinta named after famous guest, such as Dietrich and Garbo.

(there are 25 on the grounds named after famous guests-Dietrich and Garbo were near my casita) and gurgling fountains. It is an extremely romantic place, however, families were seen at dinner and even at the health club, which was all right by me. There are so many activities here to keep everyone busy that I would consider bringing my children for a visit.

Most romantic to me was the setting of the Plaza and the Plaza Bar, which is elevated above a courtyard filled with sections of flowering gardens and fountains, and surrounded by shops. A musical group called The Inka Kings played indigenous, melodic tunes, while guests either dined or just partook of beverages outdoors. The weather was perfect-in the mid- to high-70s in the day (in early February)-although a bit colder at night.

I dined at the Adobe Grill, where I had a divine appetizer as a main course-a tamale pie made with layers of corn meal, sour cream, sauce and cheese.

At 11 a.m., despite the fact several hundred guests were to check in and out that Sunday, I was taken on a tour of the Mountain golf course, one of five at the resort. I do not play golf, but the beauty of this course astounded me. The contrast between the green lushness of the course and the desert rocky mountains it abuts is amazing.

The 16th Hole is my favorite. After riding up a narrow path, you have to get out of your cart and walk up a set of stone

Mountain Course at La Quinta Resort - La Quinta, CA

stairs to the 16th tee. It gives a spectacular, complete view of the rest of the course, including the Dunes course and beyond.

Later, I visited the Hacienda Grande in the northeast section of the resort where my casita is located, which is a suite with living and dining rooms, and with its own private pool in addition to a spa. He said actor Joe Pesci always angles to get this corner to himself.

And, after all the kindness of the staff at La Quinta, I was even allowed a late check-out of 2 p.m., which gave me time to indulge in another dip in the spa, swim in the Dietrich pool, and to luxuriate in the sun.

Ahhh yes, paradise it is.