Friday, October 24, 2008

Minutes from Madrid - Chapter 2

I know I've been slow, kids. Here's chapter two, and I kinda promise to work a little faster-ish.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Minutes from Madrid-Chapter 1

Here's how it's gonna be: Having now returned from Madrid with new photos and video, I'll start to tell the story.

The video I shot is high-definition, so it's a lot of memory required to create these videos, so the chapters will be short. You have a far longer attention span than I do, so you'll be just fine. (Yes, I did travel to Geneva in the early '80s to have an attention span implanted, but it didn't take. However, I did manage to have my birthday surgically removed, so....)

That said, here's day one and two.

Brought to you by Degree© deodorant. Used by smart travelers everywhere, but except in Europe, per se.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Move Your Seat Back, Please

Do you know this guy? I met him on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles two weeks ago."Met" is the wrong word, but is it too much to ask NOT to put your seat back the whole way? Apparently for him it is. My hope is that someone who knows him will let him know his creepy, skull-like countenance is on YouTube. And here.

I get irritated just looking at him again. Kinda.

Ok, more to come soon, Astronauts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Logistics, Lights and Locks

MADRID, SPAIN—This is what happens when we place our trust in things dependent—dependent on power, dependent on operating systems, dependent on batteries, dependent on things undependable.

My own faith rested in a slim metal box—my MacBook’s hard drive. Purchased only a year ago, it has now failed three times. The Greatest Invention of the 20th Century, reduced to high-impact polyurethane and titanium, fancy words for plastic and metal.

So I sat at a table three floors above Avenida de America with a small notepad and a Pilot Razor pen, wondering how long I would have the concentration to form lines and curves into sentences. I did this until I ran out of patience and my iPod, now un-chargeable, gave up its valiant struggle. (Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood” lying on his stomach in bed, scratching away on legal pads. I should complain.)

This is my second trip to Madrid in a little over two months. I’ve come to explore the possibilities of living and working here, both of which ideas seem to be becoming less and less plausible each passing day. But anything can happen.

First, there is the logistical: Americans cannot legally work in the European Union (England, Italy, Spain, Greece, France, and 20 others) without papers, and those are hard to acquire. These countries hire from within, so “immigrants” here occupy the same societal level as those in the US. Ironically, at a time when Latino immigrants are targeted and blamed, and pushed out like so many ants at a picnic, I am contemplating working in a country “illegally” as an American.

It probably won’t happen. But the irony resonates still.

Then there is the everyday of living in Europe— more things that begin with “L” this time. Like language, lights and locks.
Language. Why do I gravitate to places where I don’t speak the mother tongue? My struggles with French in Montreal are well-documented (and equally well-mocked). My Spanish improves every day, and I can shop, and say, “Can you replace my hard drive, please?” in Castilian Spanish, so that counts for something, but sometimes it’s like trying to dribble a flat basketball.
I’ve often had discussions with people where they’ll say, “Sure, they speak Spanish in Spain, but it’s not the same Spanish you know. But I think I know why no one ever actually demonstrated it to me. They didn’t know how, or only had a vague idea of what it was.

Simple. Its Spanish with a lisp. It’s Thpanish with a lithp. Thilly Thpanish. It’s “Grathias,” not “Gracias,” and “Platha,” not “Plaza.” The popular legend is that the venerated King Phillip II spoke with a lisp. Therefore, his eminently loyal subjects adopted the the style, or “thtyle.” It’s disconcerting, but believable. People have done far thtupider things in thervice to a king, so why not speak like Daffy Duck to save the National Honor?

No speech pathologist has ever really explained it, as far as I’ve been able to research. It’s all technical word noise about speech formations and derivations. But if you look at a painting of this Phillip II guy, he kinda looks like a guy who spoke with a lisp, like a guy who came up four numbers short of winning the mental national lottery.

Lights. Lights in much of Spain are motion-sensored—a nice little energy-saving trick, and certainly something simple the US could implement. But.....I didn’t know this. All I knew was that as I stood fumbling with the keys to my apartment on my first night, the lights would suddenly go out. I would straighten up, look around, and they would go back on. Probably funny for someone to watch, but for me, not so much. Part of the problem of the problem is that I was never good with...

Locks. If it has a key, forget it. Im in trouble. Who knows the reason, but keys and me never agreed. If a key can break in a lock, it will, for me. I once started my friend’s car with my car key, thinking it was the right one. You get the idea. Me and keys will never be.

Add to that little dilemma the fact that in Spain, the second floor is called the first floor. I was told my apartment was on the third floor, so, you guessed it, Peanut. There I was, at midnight, trying to open some stranger’s apartment. On the fourth floor. How fast would I have been shot in America? Faster than a speeding bullet, if you will. Faster than you could say “gun rights.” So make sure you’re opening the right door out there, OK, Astronauts?

I should have written a lot more by now. But I have lots of photos, and lots of video that I’ll put together in an epic presentation upon my arrival back in the New World. I’ll write some more this weekend, about Aranda de Dueros, about Santo Domingo de Silos and the Cathedral at Burgos. And how Madrid as a functioning city kinda makes LA look a little silly. It’s the little things, but I’ll get to that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Places That Begin With M

MADRID, SPAIN—This just in: one year goes by really, really fast.

On this date last year I had just moved into a small and shabby apartment on the dark end of Rue Boucher, a half block off St. Denis, near that weird pizza place, and eons away from Los Angeles. I spent that first day shopping for a cell phone, new sneakers and enough ethernet cable to connect myself to my landlord's computer, unspooling it out the front window and up to their second floor apartment. You might have read that entry already. Um, a year ago, right. The memory seems vivid to me at the moment, because my subconscious has been knocking on my window a lot lately, reminding of the date.

First it was Montana, then Montreal, then Madrid. All these places that suddenly and dramatically changed my life, either physically, spiritually, or in how I viewed my own everyday. Three summers ago, I was a city dude extolling the virtues of the Cowboy Life. I didn't really want to run away and join the rodeo, but in one week at a camp high in the Gallatin Mountain Range, my LA existence was stirred up just enough to suddenly appreciate the value of fresh horses and sturdy boots.

Montreal was the first simple test of a new language and a new culture—not exactly foreign, but different enough that simple tasks were a new challenge. Ride the Metro, order lunch, shop in a store, and head back home, in French. A tiny challenge, but enough to make me play bad French pop music all day on the radio, in case any phrases might seep into my subconscious. (Sadly, few French-Canadian pop songs used the refrain, 'What is the Loonie exchange rate today?" in the chorus.)

I was lucky enough to make two trips to Montreal with you, dearest reader; once in the dwindling warmth of late September and then in the frozen snowdrifts of March. Before that there was the non-White Christmas of 2006, and then the spectacular July of 2007, when there was no city in the world as beautiful as Montreal, and no street as perfect as Laurier above St. Denis.

My first two months in Montreal were equal parts magical and mysterious. My second trip was lonely and frozen. But never regretted.

Enter Madrid. This was every adventure at once. It was the first trip to Europe, a language I understood, and one I thought I did, but one that sounded as if it was "thpoken" by cartoon characters. Theriously. But Madrid is another one of those great, eye-opening cities. I've not seen Rome or London yet, and only saw the Paris airport. Those cities are on the list for this dilletante explorer, but Spain, like America, could take a really, really, really long time to fully explore.

Loyal readers in Los Angeles and far beyond already know way more than necessary about VaughanTown, this past summer's little adventure. This time, I'm creating the Podcast thing, and may not be back at Vaughantown until next summer.

Meanwhile, I've lost ALL the video from my last Madrid trip— including the groovy little iMovie video I made, and almost every important newspaper file—in a catastrophic hard drive failure over the weekend. It will take a long time to rebuild everything.
Until then, I'm beginning to learn that not only are material things not as important as we think, but digital files, too. Everything comes and goes. Attach yourself to little, OK, astronauts?

This is Day One in Madrid, Phase Two. Don't go far. There's more to read tomorrow, depending on which side of the International Date Line you get your mail.

"MadridMadrid" is also available at: and It's the same fine quality product.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is What it Looked Like

You read all about it. Now you can experience it, as if you were there. Kinda. Not really.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Kids are Still All Right

The passageway to the stage at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, is narrow and hidden, deep amongst a maze of staircases leading away from the bar at stage right. You know you’re headed in the right direction, because there is a big sign on the door that says, “Artists ONLY Beyond this Point.” There, in a crowded fog-filled hallway, we tap our feet and make nervous little Spinal Tap jokes, our collective hearts pounding like jukeboxes, as we wait to play for a packed house.

These are the final hours, and final day, in fact,of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp’s “On Tour Summer 2008” event. From the end of July to the end of August, the camp’s sleek silver tour bus traveled fromcoast to coast through 15 cities; from Boston to Chicago, to Nashville, across the South and the Midwest to Vegas, San Francisco, and finally the campus of UCLA to teach ordinary, non-rock star people to rock with the best of them.

Unlike the usual week-long Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp sessions, today’s will be one day and one day only. It’s meet your bandmates and counselor at 10 a.m., head off to rehearsal rooms to learn three songs (!), name your band, eat lunch, take a master class, jam a litle, rehearse some more, and be ready to leave for the House of Blues at 4 p.m.

This summer’s staff is a impressive lineup of working rock musicians who’ve sold mcjillions of records among themselves. There’s Gilby Clarke of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Elliot Easton of the Cars, Earl Slick, guitarist for John Lennon and David Bowie; Glenn Hughes, of Deep Purple, and 90s big hair band survivors Mark Slaughter of Slaughter, and Kip Winger of the band of the same name. Acting as head counselor is mega-producer Mark Hudson, who by himself has been responsible for the sale of nearly 50 million records (Sure, a lot of them were by Celine Dion, but a lot of them were by Aerosmith, so there.)

The camp was created by New York entrepreneuer David Fishof, who also masterminded the successful 1986 Monkees reunion tour, as well as creating Ringo Starr and his All Star Band, and too many more successful projects to name here. Over the years, nearly every rock band or musician you can think of, has gotten involved in the fantasy camp, from Slash to Roger Daltrey to Jane Weidlin, to George Thorogood to Bill Wyman to Robin Zander to Brian Wilson, and far more than you or I can think of at the moment.

Since we’re in LA, there are of, course, a host of working actors who’ve plunked down $1999.00 for their one-day rock and roll dream cum laude. In Kip Winger’s band is Angus Jones, the kid from “Two and a Half Men,” Brandon Barash, from “General Hospital,” is the lead singer in our band, led by Mark Hudson. Other cast members from CBS’ “Cold Case,” and Showtime’s “Californication” take up seats in class.

Kristin Coleman, a Los Angeles event planner, is in a cold sweat. At breakfast, she confesses she can barely play the guitar, and can barely sing. While most of the campers come to the camp with plenty of talent, just not enough cool, Coleman is in safe hands. Despite popular notion about rock and roll attitude, each of the counselors is supportive and sympathetic, and the bonding among band mates and their leaders is nearly instantaneous.

Let’s get to rehearsal. We’re packed into several floors of the dorms at UCLA’s De Neve Plaza during Family Orientation Day, and I can only imagine the fine impression we’re giving the parents, as wave after wave of loud rock music wafts across the campus from the un-insulated rooms.

The 40 campers (plus me, ssssh) will be broken up into five bands. We’ve been given a list of songs to know before arriving, most of them tunes any self-respecting rock fan would know in a heartbeat.There is a quick discussion of butterflies and nerves, and someone describes a physical feeling too graphic to describe in a family newspaper.

“That’s called a ‘taint,’” someone a little too knowledgeable, offers.

Hudson says, “Hey, great band name!” With that out of the way, he puts The Taint to work right away.

“Okay,” he says, “This is ‘All Over Now,’ by the Stones. Everyone knows it, right? OK. I need someone to give me that Chuck Berry rhythm.”

I am so there.
He looks at me and smiles, “Yeah, you do that.”

He turns to the rest of the band members and begins handing out parts. He explains, “Guitarists, you can’t all just play the same thing, or it will be a sludge fest.” To the guitarist on the other side of the room, he says, “You do the ‘chink chink’ thing with the drummer’s beat.” The other guitarist on my left is struggling with the three chords necessary to put the song across.
But he is three chords ahead of the female singer, who is a bundle of nerves at the moment. (Names are withheld to protect the guilty.) She is clearly in over her head, but she is a trouper. She sings willfully, if nervously, and it will have to do.

Alongside me, Earl Slick, he of David Bowie fame, is cooly taking it all it in. Given his part, he sprays bursts of Excellent Loud Rock Guitar® in delicate layers all over the tune. We’re starting to sound like a band, and it’s only past 11.Hudson comes up with a spoken breakdown for the middle of the song with a chance for the singers to do a little “acting” with the band as foils. It works perfectly in rehearsal, but...

With Earl Slick playing alongside me all morning, I’m secretly hoping we’ll play “Rebel Rebel.” As it turns out, what else would we play?

He begins to play the tune’s distinctive opening riff, the drummer kicks in, the bass player does that little thing at the opening, and we sound like the radio.

Instinctively, I sing a harmony line over the bridge, and Hudson notices right away. On the next one, he is right there with me. Okay, the guy who actually played on the record is on my left, Ringo Starr’s producer is sharing my mike, and this is what the commercials and advertisements for the Fantasy Camp are all about. It’s actually kinda thrilling, and no one is even watching. Yet.

Former Monkee Mickey Dolenz visits the camp at lunchtime and tells a few rock and roll war stories, that I frankly hoped would be better, or at least funnier.

Like regular summer camp, a few of counselors get up and tell stories, only these have nothing to do with bears and a guy with a hook terrorizing young lovers in the Eastern Sierras. These are mostly about girls on the road, and stories I could never tell my kids when I was a summer counselor. (Well, maybe the one where Hudson saved Ozzy Osbourne’s life with the Heimlich Manueuver.)

Following lunch, campers have a choice of master classes in guitar, bass, drums, songwriting or producing, or a jam with Gilby Clarke.

You know where I went. As if I don’t have enough chances to play my guitar loud at home, I jump at the chance to play with a new band. This group is actually far more talented than me, and I hang on for dear life, until we get to “Bang a Gong,” something your mother should know. I was all over that one, playing the ending chorus again and again, just south of delirious.
Returning to rehearsal, Mark Hudson is just finishing his producing class.
“Remember, it’s the song first, the writer second, and the band last,” he reminds the campers. Makes sense to me.
We have one hour to learn the last tune, “Wild Thing,” before we have to pack up for the show. Hudson adds a little trick to the song, we hammer it down, and it’s time to head east on Sunset.

And there I am in that narrow little crowded hallway with my band mates, one of whom is wearing pajamas. I gotta respect that. The show is sold out, there are TV news crews in the photo pit with the shooters, and everyone in the balcony is standing. I remember once thinking about how the only way I can get into a club like this is by being in the band, and start to admire the view.

There are five bands, we go on second, and we roar like jets once we launch the set. No one makes an obvious mistake, the audience cheers after every song, girls are smiling, and I remember why anyone is in a rock and roll band.

And everything went by too fast. Like every good thing. Rock on, per se.

Rock ‘n’Roll Fantasy Camp. 1-888-762-BAND

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vaughantown and the Spanish Sky

Copyright © 2008 The Arroyo Seco Journal

MONFRAGUE, EXTREMADURA, SPAIN—150 kilometers from Madrid near the Portuguese border, the sun is bearing down on this national park like light through a magnfiying glass burning little black ants.

Three hours from Madrid, on a four-acre, four-star resort hotel property in the shadow of Trujillo Castle, 10 Spanish students and 10 “Anglos” are assembled in “VaughanTown” for a week of one-on-one chats, discussions, phone calls, play performances, evening cocktails and morning coffee. The idea is to create a full-immersion learning situation for native Spanish speakers, far away from dreary classrooms.

I spent three weeks in and around Madrid this summer “working” at Vaughan Learning Systems’ two Spanish campuses, in Gredos de Avila, and Monfrague, in the region of Extremadura.

This is the basic idea: English-speaking “Anglos,” as they are referred to, are recruited from all over the world to stay in a luxury hotel here, and spend the week conversing with Spaniards. About everything. And I mean everything. Spaniards hear english as it is actually spoken, and not just by Americans.

Easy enough, right? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.

I had two misconceptions about this place at the very outset: one, that we would be dealing with stodgy Spanish executives and middle managers, and two, that this would be a vacation. Though the ages vary, the students are all youthful and dynamic. In this first week, there’s Maria Jose, the computer physicist, serious but with a streak of silliness just begging to be coaxed out of her. We spent a walk to the nearby village discussing Cary Grant movies and the creation of new computer ISDN addresses. Earlier in the week, she’d donned a wig and hideous glasses to play one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters, in a performance for the whole group.

Jesus, a 51 year-old business management consultant, portrayed Oscar Madison in a scene from Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” with hilarious results.

Andres, a “Master Student” and engineer for a produce company, and I, engaged in an intense discussion of music from Nine Inch Nails and System of a Down to Bruce Springsteen, and then, as we walked back to the hotel from the village, he proudly showed me his new iPhone.

Among the “Anglos” are Carolyn, a charming teacher from Manchester Metropolitan University; Will, a young, exuberant former college baseball player here for a week before heading off to a small private school in Maine this fall to teach; Fiona McDonald, a recent Oxford graduate headed off to the world of financial planning; Margaret, from Leeds, a landscape artist who played the wicked stepmother and narrator for an improvised traditional English pantomime version of “Cinderella.” (Due to an accounting error, I was picked to play Prince Charming. I was also the only male in our little troupe).

That’s not everyone, but combined, the first week’s group is dynamic, gregarious, smart and really fun to hang around with.
But this is no vacation, really. Don’t get the wrong idea. Come prepared to talk. A lot.

Our first week’s campus is the Hospederia Parque de Monfrague in Extremadura, a region of Spain known for its blazing hot summers and its ham (There’s a chain or restaurants in Madrid called “The Museum of Ham,” to give you some indication of the importance of the local product.) There is also a luxurious pool alongside a spacious grass lawn, as well as gracious Spanish dining with attentive and courteous waiters.

Both campuses are in fact, luxury hotels, with differing and similar characteristics and facilities. The Gredos campus sits just outside the village of Barco de Avila and the famous walled city of Avila, the fabled home of St. Theresa de Avila.

Over the course of a week from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, Anglos and Spaniards follow a set schedule that includes general conversations, and group presentations. Imagine being thrust into a vacation with two dozen strangers, half of whom expect you to talk to them, all the time, non-stop. It is as rewarding and as draining as you might imagine. Our conversations ranged from American and Spanish politics, family issues, morality, business ethics, and well, a lot more sex than I expected. Many times I was asked the names of sexual parts of the body, or questioned as to my own sexual tastes. Oh, those Spaniards. (One Anglo reportedly spent his one-on-one-time showing pictures of his FaceBook female friends to his Spanish counterpart and explaining the American slang names for well, you can imagine).

The show is run and organized by a master of ceremonies and director, who change from week to week, and from location to location. Greg Stanford, a professor of drama at St. Louis’ University’s Madrid campus, led our first week, along with Carmen Villa, our charming and elegant director.

A mixture of corn and sincerity, Stanford engaged the group with a stream of silly jokes, scenes from Simon and Ionesco, and created an atmosphere which teetered easily somewhere between family and best friends.
“We were really fortunate this week to have such a great group,” said Stanford. “Everyone got along so well. That doesn’t happen very often. This one was magic.”

Okay, now add to all of this the fact that this was my first trip to Spain, and my first trip to Europe. Ever. That backpack trip you took through Europe after college? I took it last month.

So everything was new to me. Gathering footage for an accompanying video of the trip, I told the camera more than once, that far more skillfull American writers had traveled this road before me, and I wondered what I could add to the hundreds of years of insight.

I arrived on a flight from Munich to Madrid late on a Friday night. I saw little on the taxi ride from the airport to the city. Come Saturday morning. Boarding the clean and efficient (and air-conditioned) Madrid Metro at Ciudad Lineal on my way to the Sol Station, I ascended a flight of stairs to the street above.

As if in a wide-screen movie, I emerged on to Gran Via, one of the main boulevards of Madrid. The whole of the street appeared before me—heat and crowds and beauty and history converged at once. I literally laughed out loud.

“I’m in Europe.”

Though Spanish-speaking, Madrid isn’t Los Angeles, and it certainly isn’t Mexico. Having only emerged from the shadow of former dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-70s, it has re-emerged, and re-invented itself into one of Europe’s most progressive and important cities. (Following the March 11, 2004 Madrid Metro terrorist attacks, newly elected president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promptly withdrew Spain’s forces from Iraq. President Bush, not surprisingly, is loathed by most Spaniards.)

Madrid’s modern wide boulevards, and narrow streets in its historic section near the Plaza Del Sol, teem with people at all hours of the day and night. The afternoon slows slightly with the last vestiges of “siesta,” and then ratchets itself back up, going full-bore till long past midnight.

On the Friday night of my first week in Madrid, I joined a group of Anglos and Spaniards for dinner at Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, according to Guinness. But before that, I strolled through the Plaza Meyor in the middle of Madrid near the dead center of Spain, as the lights began to come up, families and couples filled the Square, and a thin line of blue and purple lit the skies just over the rooftops. Magic would be too easy a word for it.

And oh, the Spanish skies.

Standing on the terrace at Monfrague on my first night, I stared up into the deepest and biggest sky I had ever seen. Miles from Madrid, thousands of stars filled the sky from horizon to horizon, in a huge, mesmerizing, and humbling display of nature.

The Spaniards may remember the idioms and phrasal verbs they learned. I will remember the Spanish sky. 0034.91.591.48.30

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Really Long Way From Madrid

WAIKIKI, OAHU, HAWAII—"Speed, balance and direction,’ those are the three things you need to know about surfing,” our surfing instructor tells a group of us on a sleepy Wednesday morning, just across the street from the bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Since I haven’t actually stood on a surfboard since the 20th Century, I listen intently, silently praying to Brian Wilson that, before lunch, I will be catching a wave and sitting on top of the world.

My morning at the Hans Hedeman Surfing School in Waikiki is only the latest in a series of excellent adventures since arriving here on Saturday afternoon, and parking myself at the Waikiki Outrigger hotel. (Full disclosure: Travel and transportation arrangements were provided gratis through the Oahu Tourism Bureau, who booked us at the Outrigger, the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, and the Aqua Coconut Waikiki,over a span of five nights and six days.)

Since living here in the mid-80s as the editor of the local entertainment monthly, I was startled to see the amount of new development on Kalakaua Avenue, which runs along the Waikiki beachfront. New and renovated hotels sit chock-a-block with designer stores as well as the requisite t-shirt and chotchke emporiums and ABC stores. Five-dollar t shirts hold court next to Louis Vitton and Coach merchandise. As it should be, I suppose. The effect is a dizzying whirlwind of shops and surf, coated with a fine scent of coconut oil. To this day, coconut tanning oil always reminds me of Kalakaua Avenue.

The view from the Outrigger Waikiki looks like every postcard of Hawaii you’ve ever seen. The luminescent, teal-colored water shimmers under a blazing sun that will fry you like carne asada faster than you can say, “We go power grindin’ at Zippy’s, li’dat.”

From the 14th floor, Diamond Head looms over the landscape like the Sphinx, and the horizon is a continuous monochromatic vision of blues. A $20 million renovation project, begun in September 2002, has re-imagined the once-dowdy Outrigger Hotels & Resorts' Waikiki property, including its 495 guest rooms, 30 oceanfront suites, and the 18,000-square-foot lobby. A one-hundred-year-old koa canoe sits front and center in the renovated lobby. Everything dazzles at the Outrigger, and the service and accomodations are quietly and elegantly impeccable.

Though we traveled here in the middle of summer at the height of travel season, there is really no peak season on the eight main islands that make up Hawaii. (Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and the Big Island of Hawaii, if you’re taking notes. Niihaau is privately owned, and Kahoolawe is a former military target area, not open to the public).

With Honolulu as the 11th largest metropolitan area in the US, and the largest in actual size (It’s complicated), Hawaii is unique in that there are no racial or ethnic majorities here. Everyone is a minority. Caucasians (Haoles) constitute about 34 percent; Japanese-American about 32 percent; Filipino-American about 16 percent and Chinese-American about five percent. Most of the population has some mixture of ethnicities. Very few are strictly Polynesian.

And now back to our trip, currently in progress.

Saturday evening found us beachfront at the Outrigger’s luxury Hula Grill restaurant,
staring out at a cinematic sunset and staring down at plates topped with gourmet- quality entrees, only the first of several frankly spectacular dinners we would enjoy over the course of the week, each one vying for the title of “best ------ I’ve ever had.” By the time the sun dipped below the Earth’s blue edge,we were giddy and satiated with food, sun, turquoise-colored drinks with umbrellas, and the constant ringing disbelief in our heads that we were actually here.

And things would only get better from this point on, as if that were even possible.
A drive up and over H1 past Pearl City, Aiea, and the Dole Pineapple factory (now more a museum than an active factory), brought us to the entrance of the Turtle Bay Resort. Situated at Hawaii’s North Shore alongside the beach town of Haliewa and the famous surfing locations of Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the Banzai Pipeline, the hotel is a spectacular bit of everything Hawaii offers.

“Depending on what you like,” explains PR rep Keoki Wallace, “You can find it here.”
The resort boasts 443 beach cottages and guest rooms, and owns nearly five miles of beachfront which is not only peaceful and secluded, but also lays claim to some of the most impressive waves in the world every winter.

It’s hard to believe as I sit,watching a quiet, peaceful bay with
gently lapping waves, but those same waves become 20 and 30-foot raging
monsters who take no quarter come November.

There are two pools, one with a pool slide, two golf courses, tennis courts, horseback riding, hiking and mountain bike trails, and of course, a surfing school, as well as free scuba lessons. Since the hotel’s footprint is so large and diverse, it’s the home for numerous TV and film productions, says Wallace, who has arranged close to 40 during his few years at the hotel.

Wallace points to a lush, dense clump of palm trees across the bay. “They shoot “Lost” over there.” He goes on to explain that because of the diversity of the landscape, as well as the luxurious facilities, the hotel is a popular choice among production companies.

“We can produce everything from the jungles of Viet Nam to the shores of Cape Cod here,” he says.

Just a few miles south of the resort, alongside Waimea and Sunset Beach, sits the historic beach town of Haliewa, a cozy little melange of Hawaiian cowboy shacks with restaurants, surf shops, and more surf shops. At one end of a seven-mile stretch of beaches and some 40 surf breaks, it’s a madhouse every winter, as thousands of fans converge for Uber-Surf contests like the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, with waves the size of houses roaring down toward the shore from hundreds of feet out, turbo-powered by winter Pacific storms. No hodads allowed here, bro.

We spent two luxurious nights at Turtle Bay—with daily jaunts into Haliewa for t-shirts and tourism,—with the highlight being the resort’s first-ever Winery Dinner, featuring Flora Springs Winery and Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based operation, hosted by owner/raconteur John Komes, who introduced each course and accompanying wine. The five-course meal offered a pair of Chardonnays, a Cabernet Sauvigon, and a Merlot, which Komes naturally defended after its savaging in the hit film,

Courses ranged from Cajun-spiced Ahi, diver scallops, roasted duck breast and a pan-seared beef tenderloin, each of which was sublime. And devoured.
Tuesday brought us to The Aqua Coconut Wakiki hotel, a smart, stylish boutique hotel on the banks of the Ala Wai canal, where crew teams practice in the early evening twilight. This is an affordable but high-quality alternative to the pace and price of beachfront Waikiki, and within walking distance of everything you might desire Honolulu-wise.

The Aqua chain also owns the Aqua Surf and Spa, where I was treated to a surprisingly effective massage to bang out the dents I had acquired surfing.

Oh yes, surfing.

I paddled out, turned my Laird board around to face the shore, and as the next wave tucked under and lifted me, I was sailing along in a sea of foam and wind. Remembering my lesson, I stood up quickly, and for the 10-second ride, I understood again why people give up their lives to do this. Sure, I wiped out more than a few times in true surfer fashion, but standing atop the board and dreaming of the Pipeline, I surfed. I paddled out again. I surfed. I paddled out again. I surfed. Until my shoulder said, “No mas,” I surfed, dude.

How was your week?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In the Meantime...

In the Meantime...
When I don't have time to write a lot, I'll tell you a little. I have lots and lots to write about Spain, and I promise to do that soon. Depending on the time-space continuum, and if I am very lucky, I just might see you in Montreal this fall. Hope springs eternal, which is what I've heard.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Joy Breaks Loose in Madrid

Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets of Madrid.

The Madness in Madrid

Monfrague Parc Nacional—The first time I am able to sit and talk to you, and the Community of Madrid and the country of Spain has come to a full stop. I meant to describe the excitement of my first visit to Europe, and I have arrived on perhaps the biggest weekend in Spain since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.

Spain is in the finals of the Euro Cup against Germany ("Alemania"). This is their first visit to the Finals since 1964, I'm told. After a first half goal by the blond-haired Fernando Torres, Spain is leading 1-zip. Here at Vaughantown in Monfrague Parc Nacional, the entire group of students and volunteers has gathered around two television sets—one in a smoking room and one in a non-smoking room. In the center of Madrid, thousands and thousands of Spaniards, (and no Germans) are assembled in front of jumbo TV screens in the Plaza de Colon in the heart of Downtown Madrid.

At ten minutes before 10 p.m. the sun is only just beginning its slow descent below the horizon. Night comes late to Spain in these early days of summer. 16 teams began the march to tonight's game in early June to tonight;s game in Vienna, Austria. The Euro Cup is second only to the World Cup in Importance in the sporting universe. And the World Cup makes the Super Bowl look like Franklin High School vs. the Widney High Junior Varsity. My sitting here with my MacBook balanced on a shaky cocktail table is reoughtly tantamount to a moon landing covered by the Belleville, Arkansas Bugle and Reporter society writer. Every media outlet in Europe has a correspondent here. Have no fear. Any fan looking for coverage of the tournament is not looking at this tiny blog tonight.

Spain has been on the attack all evening, and every wayward kick at the German goal draws shouts and gasps from the hometown crowd gathered in the bar here at the Monfrague Park Hotel.

Germany has mounted a brief attack with two quick shots on goal, but the match so far has been played in Spanish.

Should the Spaniards hang on to win tonight, bedlam will ensue in Madrid. If not, it will be a sad week in Vaughantown. The next 17 minutes will decide whether this is the New Summer of Love in the New Spain or the Summer of Sad.

Prepare to stand by.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Watch This Space...

It's late May, summer creeping up. At the moment I'm getting ready to play a show in Los Angeles with Jackson Browne (OK,that was weird to type). It's kind of a big deal, and I'm looking forward to it, I'll admit. I think we're doing a few shows in June, actually, miles away from Sherbrooke Metro Station, where our hero will return in September.

July will find me in Vaughantown, one of two resort complexes outside Madrid, designed for Spanish corporate executives as a place to learn English from English-speaking Americans,Brits, Australians, Texans and Canadians, if you will. Not really a traditional learning setting, but that's the idea. (

I don't know much about it yet. On Friday, June 27, I'll be in a hotel in Madrid, ready to explore the city, shoehorn, pencil sharpener and trombone in hand. Kinda like in Montreal, but without a lot of the snow. Sunday morning will find me on a bus to a town far, far from West Avenue 37. I'll be letting you know how things go, by video and by correo electronico.

I promise, after a fashion, to post more here. You've all been so very nice to read me with so many cups of coffee, at desks and in beds all over Canada and America. I should really have written. But there've been deadlines followed by deadlines, followed by Pepsis and Pop Tarts.

You know LA is home, but, just the other day, someone gave me a Lonely Planet© book on Montreal, and there was a picture of cornice work on a house in Square St. Louis, along with a long section on the Metro. I saw it and well, I panged. I yearned, just a little.

I will write more, I'll be a better correspondent. I know you were just about to forget me, and just the other afternoon, something reminded you of me, and you thought for just a second, 'What ever happened to that guy from L.A. who used to do that Montreal blog? He was, interesting."

I've missed you, too, Jacques Cartier.