Fly girls

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Saturday night in the Wind Tunnel at Art Center’s South Campus the Pasadena Art Alliance held its latest biennial art auction. Pieces from many of Southern California’s leading artists were sold, and the tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds will soon become donations from PAA to cutting-edge contemporary arts programs in the Southland. The PAA is not only the most successful independent arts advocacy group in the nation in terms of money raised and quickly dispensed to the right places and people — as always, its members know how to party. The butterfly above and the angel below were just two of the more interesting guests.

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Scorched-earth Sierra Madre: The Tuesday column today

You hate to be relativistic in natural disasters.

Wait: Let me amend that right away. You’re supposed to hate being relativistic.
In California, where we have plenty of them, the mudslides, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and the fires after fires affect us all, sooner or later. No one’s life or limb or property is more important than another’s.

But let me go out on one of those limbs, as it were, and say that the incredibly hiking-centric people of Sierra Madre are going to be hit harder by their fire this time than the residents of some tract exurb built yesterday would be by their fire. The latters’ relationship with the hills that surround them is not a loving, long-term marriage — they’ve barely kissed.

Sierra Madre’s disaster is a special circumstance.

As of this writing, we’ve got a major forest fire in the front range that’s resulted in precisely four injuries, all to firefighters: an allergic reaction to a bee sting, a twisted knee, heat exhaustion. Private-property damage has been limited to one small out-building.

It is that most public of properties, our magnificent Angeles National Forest, that is getting the hit. For the citizens of the Foothill Village, it’s their backyard. And more than in any other community in Los Angeles County, Sierra Madreans take advantage of that forest. Many of them, perhaps hundreds, hike there every morning — it’s their recreational passion, their soul, their life. And this is no recent love affair. For over a century, from the days of the Great Hiking Era, Sierra Madre has been the entry point to the forest for Angelenos. Here’s how a Web site, The Joy of Hiking L.A. County, has it: “Thousands of hikers rode the city’s Red Cars to Sierra Madre, then disembarked and walked up Mt. Wilson Trail to the popular rustic resort at Orchard Camp. Forty thousand people passed over the trail in the peak year of 1911.”

As we choke on the smoke, in despair at the charred mountains in front of us, we also take heart that there have been no deaths or severe injuries and no homes have been lost, at least as of yet, in the Santa Anita Fire.

But for Sierra Madreans, the scorched earth left behind is a tragedy nonetheless. It’s as if, for a surfer who lives on the beach, the waves had gone flat not just for one morning, but for years.

The town happily remains one of the few idiosyncratic places left in the megalopolis, with a personality, a history, among all the bland sprawl. Its mountain trails define it. It welcomes outsiders, but only up to a point. A woman who recognized me as I got coffee in Bean Town on Baldwin Monday morning called out, “Didja come on over to kinda get a flavor of it all?” I did, I admitted: “Smoke flavor.” I ran into Red Cross boss Ben Green at the gas station down the street, and we talked about what some of the people in the shelter, evacuated from Sierra Madre Canyon, are like. Not characters, in the nutty sense. Rather, individuals with character, like you don’t find much anymore very far from Mary’s Market and Cafe.

May the toyon and the scrub oak rebound soon, and may Sierra Madre forever stay Sierra Madre.

Awfully ugly fire

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When any of our brave firefighters are injured by a Southern California wildfire, we get properly reverential, along with our proper thanks for the women and men who do a killer job in killer conditions.

So far, with the Santa Anita Canyon fire, we’ve got an allergic reaction to a bee sting, a turned knee and a heat exhaustion. All three firefighters are back on the lines.

And when folks have lost their homes, we stay pretty serious as well. Everything gone — it’s unimaginable. But as of now — 11:30 on Monday morning — a little outbuilding, something like a shack, has been lost.

So, after spending some time in Sierra Madre this morning, hanging with my regulars at Bean Town and heading up Baldwin with my camera as far as the deputies would let me go, can I just note that this the main effect for most once the coughing is over is going to be years of looking at the most godawfully ugly scorched earth imaginable? Even for those who never get closer to our mountains than the Foothill (210) Freeway, you won’t be forgetting about this one for a long, long time. And you’ll appreciate how gorgeous our mountains are when the chaparral hasn’t been turned to ash.

Plus, of course, for the hardy souls — and hundreds of Sierra Madreans are among them — whose most avid hobby is hiking in those mountains, this is a more personal tragedy. Not a deadly one, no, though no doubt some critters have had it — bobcats, mountain lions, bears, possums, snakes, skunks, raccoons and any other animal that couldn’t move fast enough along the fire line — but no human lives have been lost. Still and all, the glories of hiking the Mt. Wilson Trail, a classic since the days of the great hiking era a century ago, are not going to be the same for a long, long time. And that’s a big loss.

Ugly ain’t the worst thing in the world. Great work from all the public agencies for keeping it merely that, and for keeping people and their stuff out of harm’s way so far. Not that this thing is over.

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Sunday morning from my house near the western edge of the Arroyo Seco, the smoke from above Sierra Madre had settled in low over the San Gabriels like an almost-attractive fog in a Japanese painting:

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Walt Mancini on the rocks

When I went by the homage to Allan Kaprow’s “Fluids” Friday in Memorial Park, Walt Mancini, the best photographer in the business, was already there:

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Walt will have photos in Saturday’s Star-News and an online gallery on our Web pages.

Along with my old friend Anton Kaprow from the Zorthian Ranch days, helping out with the recreation of his late father’s Happening, I found my friend Slade Bellum — the writer, former drummer in San Francisco’s hottest dyke punk band Tribe 8 and current finance director at the Armory Center for the Arts across the street — at the ice capade:

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As everyone kept noting, on a hot April day, “Fluids” was really cool:

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Art is melting upon the town

Its not that I was too young in the heyday of the Happenings to get hep to the jive. I mean, I remember my parents and their circle going to Be-Ins and whatnot and my mother and step-father participating, with the performance-art collective Metastasis, in what I believe was called a Die-In at the Music Center in protest of the Vietnam War.

Its just that in 1967, when Pasadena was both hipper and squarer than it is now, I was not yet cool enough to know Peggy Phelps, and so missed the amazing Happening in her front yard in which the late conceptual artist Allan Kaprow piled hundreds of blocks of ice only to watch them melt as part of his definitively ephemeral series, Fluids.

“The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible,” Kaprow once wrote. I don’t know if that was before or after the piece “Fluids.”

Well, with Faulkner, we know that the past is not dead its not even past. So today all of us can relive that Happening in Old Pasadenas Memorial Park, Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street, as Fluids is recreated with entirely new ice in the form of a 30-foot-long, 8-foot-high sculpture.

Its theoretically on from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; I would have guessed timings dependent on Mother Nature, but wiser artists say itll hold on through Saturdays city of Pasadena Greening the Earth Day and Armory Family Arts Festival in the park, and will be free and open to the public for viewing.

Fluids is coordinated by LACMA and MOCA and the Union Ice Company 41 years ago, also the ice men. . . .

Along with the Armory Center for the Arts, that other rightful heir to the old Pasadena Art Museums hipness, the Pasadena Art Alliance, is Saturday night holding its 14th biennial Art Auction at Art Centers South Campus. Such sales have helped provide $3.6 million to the contemporary visual arts community here since 1954. Artwork to be auctioned is online at Tickets are available by calling (626) 795-9276. Ill see you in the Wind Tunnel. . . .

Thursday I was talking about the Art Alliance auction with Heidrun Mumper-Drumm at lunchtime at Sumi Changs Europane, which I should never enter without a camera to document the amazing. But all I had was a pen.

Because as I took my quite large piece of kabocha squash quiche from the counter over to the new communal table there, another fellow who had ordered the same along with a bag of potato chips and an Orangina sat down at the opposite end. He took a lot of calls and made a lot of calls during lunch, referring to himself as Dr. . . . well, I wont use the name.

After his quiche was quaffed, somewhat to my amazement, he ordered an egg-salad sandwich on a baguette. OK hungry doc. Then, and I am taking notes at this point, he comes back to the table with a bowl of chicken vegetable soup, along with a large roll on the side. Those dispatched with a lot of slurps, Im betting on a chocolate-chip cookie as the fitting finish to such a magnificent meal. Instead, soon enough, one of the servers walks through the room, calling out, Chicken salad sandwich? Here! Our doc ate every bite, heartily.

All tomorrow’s parties

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In Pasadena, it isn’t really a major bash or benefit unless Peggy Dark’s Kitchen for Exploring Foods is catering it. In fact, before you take one of those passed canapes, it’s best to ask the wandering server, “Kitchen?” If she says, “Sadly, no,” politely decline the proferred liver-y object.

If she brightly says, “Of course!” then dig in — the cheese toast, or smoked salmon and provolone loaf, or minature chile relleno in chipotle sauce, or chocolate mousse shooter, or the classic lollipop lamb chop in fresh mint sauce, or crab salad on brioche toast, or lobster and papaya on sugar cane skewers, will not just be good: it will be great. You will chase the servers down, haunting the swinging door from the kitchen for first dibs. You will forget why you are otherwise at the shindig excepting the victuals.

Before a party last week given in honor of Peggy’s new book, “Fabulous Parties,” written with Mark Held and Richard David of Mark’s Garden, I had no idea that she also was a favorite of the carriage trade in the rest of Southern California. But it’s true. I broke my personal code of parochialism and headed for the wilds of Beverly Hills to celebrate Peggy — and because rumor had it that The Kitchen was catering. That and the fact that the party was to be held at Dawnridge, the artist and designer Tony Duquette’s unbelievably lush and crazy villa.

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It was a really great party — something out of Noel Coward. The Pasadena people clung together, making wonderfully rude remarks about the plastic surgery that had been performed upon the Westsiders.

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When you dip into Peggy’s book, you too can learn how to make a spanish almond deviled egg and the perfect wash-down: a pineapple mint julep. Bottom’s up.

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My bug

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Kidspace is having its 12th annual butterfly release ceremony on Saturday at 9:30 in the morning at 480 N. Arroyo Blvd. in Brookside Park, but I won’t be there.

Or at least I won’t be there with my bug.

Because my bug has flown.

The museum’s Timithie Gould a couple of weeks ago brought me a little caterpillar in a pillbox. She turned into a chrysalis. Bit creepy, really. Then I had to build a butterfly bungalow so she could spread her wings. I actually got here to the office on Saturday with it in the nick of time as she was starting to emerge. She lived among the jaguar spots of her box with a little sugar water I poured for her for four days, and then it was time to release her.

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Sorry the photo of her on the rosemary stick is outta focus. Charlie the dog in the background is in focus, as is all the junk in our front yard during the remodel . . . I got a little worried about her as her wings didn’t want to unfold all the way. Put her in the sun late Tuesday. When I came back out after a few minutes, she’d figured it out, and was off to wherever butterflies go. Bon voyage, bug.

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Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes

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Raleigh Renick Young, Theresa Kelley, Ella Young — pictured above — and other family and friends of Pasadena native Jeanne Thiel Kelley on Sunday celebrated the publication of her gorgeous and massive new cookbook, “Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden” at a signing party at Marka Hibbs’ Prospect Boulevard home. The event raised $400 for the Union Station Foundation. Jeanne, a Westridge and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine grad, is a contributing editor at Bon Appetit and lives on the Eagle Rock side of the San Rafael Hills with husband Martin and daughters Celeste and Theresa and a number of Araucana chickens (blue eggs), a steep and fabulous garden (multi-hued tomatoes) and a pet goat (good milk).

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That’s Martin and Jeanne at the after-party and …

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Raleigh, Francesca Schlueter, Cynthia McIntosh and Brad and Cynthia Thiel at the after, too.

Geneva Overholser to head USC J school

I hear that Geneva Overholser, the esteemed (and honestly well-liked and even revered) former editor of the Des Moines Register will be announced Monday as the new head of the Journalism School at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.

She now holds the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting for the Missouri School of Journalism in Washington, D.C., and is a print, broadcast and online media critic. She’s no stranger to the USC campus, as she spoke in February on the future of journalism and journalism education there.

She’ll replace Michael Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pasadenan who is the former editor of the Los Angeles Times. Parks — equally esteemed, equally well-liked — will continue to be a professor at the school.

It’s the best possible news for a school trying to stay on its arc of growing prestige at a time that finds journalism programs in almost as perilous a state as traditional journalism.

Bitchen car

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Walking down Lake Avenue today on my way to a lunch meeting, I saw this new Audi R8 at the curb. “Dag, it looks like a Lamborghini,” I said. “That’s because it pretty much is a Lamborghini,” said Amanda McAlpin of Napa Style, the store the little bomb was parked in front of. She’d come out to take pictures, two of which I post here. “Didn’t you know? Audi owns Lamborghini now.” She’d seen one at the LA Auto Show, but this was the first either of us had ever seen on the street. The mid-engine job tops out at 187 mph, and was named Automobile of the Year 2008 by Automobile Magazine.

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