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.

Santa Cruz Perfect Ending to 2014

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There are just a few days left in the year 2014, and moments from the past year dance through my mind. Travels I’ve undertaken, time spent with family, both good and heartbreaking, laughs with friends, new people experienced and new friends made. It was mostly a good year — actually, a great one.

The best way to end this year is in Santa Cruz, a place I call my hometown, although I was not born here. My family moved here when I was 12 years old. I left at age 21, traveled the world and ended back in Los Angeles. But my mother, brother and his daughter still live in Santa Cruz.

I find the beauty of Santa Cruz — the redwood-filled mountains, and it’s cove-filled beaches — the perfect setting to relax, and reflect on the past year. Just stepping outside my mother’s little home and taking a walk down the street in Felton, one of the first little communities people pass by on Highway 9 when entering the mountains, re-energizes me. The clear blue skies, fresh air and green all around — I inhale deeply and when I let my breath out, I am renewed.

Hiking and biking trails are located all throughout Henry Cowell State Park, which is in Felton, CA.
On clear days, you can see all the way to the ocean from a trail peak in Henry Cowell State Park.

Many homes are quaint craftsman in style. Others are basic redwood cabins, the kind I lived in when we first moved to Brookdale, which is further up Highway 9. Thin cabin walls barely kept the cold out during winter back then, but a huge river rock fireplace in our living room kept us warm.

One of my favorite things to do is watch the sunset from Pleasure Point, at the end of 41st Avenue in Capitola. In high school I learned how to surf  this spot, where the waves on the southern end usually are low and long. The other day I stopped at Pleasure Point Pizza, which is featured in the surf film “Mavericks,” and got a huge slice of Pepperoni Pizza and a coke, and went to the cliffs to watch the sunset. It’s calming to gaze at the ocean, and watch the sky change colors from a warm gold to a deep, rich red-golden hue.


View from Pleasure Point cliff at the end of 41st ave. in Capitola Santa Cruz, CA

Another great aspect about Santa Cruz is the history, food, and the variety of live music. I had dinner the other night at Stagnaro Bros., which has been located on the wharf in downtown Santa Cruz for almost 75 years. It was founded by brothers Ernesto and Giovanni Stagnaro, whose parents came from Northern Italy to Santa Cruz via Ellis Island in 1918. The brothers ran the fish seafood market and restaurant until 2004, upon Giovanni’s death. Family members still work at the restaurant to this day.

On Monday nights the restaurant offers a fantastic special, Cioppino, for $10.95. Normally the price is $24.95. A shallow bowl is filled with baby scallops, shrimp, crab legs and shellfish, and bathed in a thick, tasty tomato broth. I added some tabasco to spice it up a bit.

I went back the next day with my mom to try out their happy hour specials on the upper deck. We were just in time for a beautiful sunset, and snacked on calamari strips, clam chowder and a seared ahi tuna on a bed of greens. All dishes were $8.95 each, and house wine and draft beers were $3 each. Not bad. Warning, don’t order the prawn tacos. They are not made with prawn, but baby shrimp, and are not tasty enough to make up for the difference.

While the weather dipped to near freezing just before New Year’s Eve, people were out and about in Santa Cruz, at the wharf, on the West Cliffs, Downtown and elsewhere, spending the last days of 2014, I imagine, enjoying the quirkiness and beauty of this coastal town as much as my mother and I.

“Santa Cruz is great isn’t it,” my mother said, as we drove down River Street, past downtown back to the mountains.

“Yes it is,” I answered.

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.


Barbecue Argentine Style in Mendoza

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The city of Mendoza in Argentina is known, among other things, for its history, including the heroic deeds of General San Martín, its Malbec wines and neatness.

Located at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range, it is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Argentina.

Globe trotter Juan Parodi, who works for a major world cargo airline, visited family in Mendoza for a wedding recently, and during one of their outings, enjoyed a traditional parrillada (Argentine barbecue). After five days of such barbecues, Parodi said he had had enough beef and and chicken, and welcomed the fish that came with la Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter).

Here are some photos from the city of Mendoza, as well as the barbecue Parodi and his family enjoyed.

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