Dec 29, 2008

Smoke The New Year In

Chesterfield! It is smoother, milder, and guaranteed to make you feel sexy.

Dec 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

These quasi-religious holidays are a real mess if you really look at them. Christmas is a confusing stew of Baby Jesus, Santa Claus and pine trees. The beauty of it is that you can take one part out and it still works. You can have an all christian holiday without Santa, and you could probably leave out the tree, just throw up some decorations.

When I was growing up behind the good ole iron curtain we left the religion out, and it worked fine. By the time I was born the harsh days of communist era were already left behind. Religion was not persecuted, though not encouraged either, which coincidentally had us in sync with the very un-communist West.

At Christmas time we had a tree which we decorated not unlike it's done here. In December street vendors popped up all over Budapest selling Christmas ornaments. We also hang szaloncukor on the tree, a colorfully wrapped "parlour candy." The Idea was that you would slowly eat them off the tree, but they are not that good, so they became permanent ornaments to be reused year after year. Early on we also used to put actual Christmas candles on the tree. They had special clip-ons. Naturally it was a bit of a fire hazard. Then we upgraded to Russian made tree lights. They had big bulbs and if one went out, there went the whole string. They could also give you a mild electric shock. We also put sparklers on the tree.

It's funny how the same holiday develops different flavors and traditions in different places. For example, we always opened the gifts on Christmas Eve, never on the next morning. There was also a pre-Christmas holiday. Mikulás day is December 6. Traditionally the night before you would put your shoe or boot in the window, and the next morning you'd find goodies in them, mostly candy, nuts, tropical fruit. Eventually it turned into the custom of parents putting store bought red plastic boots, filled with said goodies, in the window. Part of the lore is the figure of Krumpusz, a goblin like creature, supposed to scare bad kids.

Ironically this extra holiday is the result of previously strong identification of Christmas with religion. December 24 was the day of baby Jesus, so St. Nick - Mikulás in this case - had to move to a different day. Then after the war, and the coming of the Communist era the bearded fat man developed a multiple personality disorder. On the night of December 6, unseen, he would leave small edible presents on your window sill, and then on the eve of the 24th in his full glory as "Télapó" (Father Christmas) he would deliver the real goods. A real mess, I know, but I never questioned any aspect of it growing up.

The traditional Hungarian Christmas meal is also completely different. It is usually fish soup, followed by fried carp filets, and finished off with beigli made with walnuts or poppy seeds. Around the holidays another popular dish is kocsonya, jellied pig feet, that actually is much better than it sounds.

Dec 22, 2008


I guess the rest of the country must look like something like this. It's very pretty, but not very practical when you are trying to go about your business.

This is a Czech postcard from the 40's. Quite pretty in its almost abstract winteryness. Yet it's the two-headed piglet of my collection.

It has History stamped all over it. It's like a carnival freak show, I'm not sure how I should feel about staring.

For finisher, something more light hearted:

A chalet from the 1960 Winter Olympics. I love those baby blue and pastel classic cars serenely resting under the snow.

Dec 21, 2008

For All You Socialist Pr0n Lovers Out There

No comment...

Paul Krugman is like a cuddlier George Cloony, also Nobel Prize winning economist. This book was published in 2007 but getting republished next year, I hope with some updates. Audio version can be bought and downloaded on audible.

Dec 16, 2008

Leaf Bandit Finally Apprehended

The notorious Leaf Bandit who left sap-smeared leaf prints on windows, then disappeared into the night, despite of being a fifteen feet tall shrub, have at last been axed.

"Leaf Bandit" surrendering to the garden shear equipped authorities.

This slippery assailant have evaded the authorities for over a year, but yesterday he was finally cornered by the Garden Police Task Force.

Once in custody his true Identity was revealed as Teddy Bear, resident of the Loretto Hall Gardens. Neighbors of Mr. Bear - known just as Teddy in the neighborhood - were shocked. A conifer who did not want to be named, have told this reporter that he knew Teddy as a quiet, but friendly shrub. He once noticed Teddy's leaves being extra sticky, but thought nothing of it.

The authorities have assured the public that now with the culprit under arrest, they could sleep easy again. "It's time to turn over a new leaf" - said Sheriff Gardner.

Dec 13, 2008

Pasadena Scene

Pasadena had streetcars in 1912. And the sky had a slightly greenish tint.

What I find hard to believe that even then the mail could find the addressee based on just a name in a city like New York. And what is "R.J.D.#4" ? A signature? So many mysteries...

Dec 11, 2008

Three Blondes

This is sooo California! This photo to me is like million year old insect encased in amber.

Dec 7, 2008

The Wiener Factory Is No More

It was a nice overcast day, so I spent the better part of the morning driving around The Valley, listening to The Prairie Home Companion and hunting down things to photograph. The Wiener Factory (rip) is on Ventura Boulevard. I first spotted it while driving to the Sherman Oaks Arclight.
This Mexican themed mural is on small street, a block from Sherman Way.

I've been thinking of getting a GPS adapter for my camera. That way I could tag my photos with the exact location. Maybe I'll get it for myself for Christmas.

Dec 3, 2008

Picturesque California

I thought it was and odd postcard. Do oil fields really count as tourist attraction? What's next, earthquakes, brush fires and drive by shootings? But then I found this photo:

Now I'm completely flummoxed. Is this normal, living next to oil wells? Isn't it, you know, unsafe?

Nov 30, 2008

The Mobile Homeless

Maybe a year ago I saw a documentary about the mobile homeless, people who live out of their cars. There was a father with three kids in an RV, a middle aged woman in VW minibus, a woman who lost her job and home due to a car accident and mounting medical bills. It was scary. They were not like the usual homeless we see on the streets, they looked "normal," they had or used to have jobs, but life took a wrong turn somewhere. It reminded me how easy it is to fall through the cracks.

Due to the worsening economy the number of mobile homeless is growing. I was trying to find that documentary on the web, but instead I found a more recent ABC News item about the growing number of mobile homeless in Santa Barbara. Here is the transcript and the video.

I see the campers, vans, RVs, everywhere in the Valley, trying to be inconspicuous on the dingier side streets, semi-industrial areas, mostly staying out of the residential areas, but not too far from them. The area between Vineland and Lankershim where Phil's Diner once resided used to be one of those areas, but all the condo and commercial developments keep pushing them out.

I also found a BBC News video of tent cities. Grapes of Wrath, anyone?

Nov 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Duck

I made duck yesterday. I followed Sarah Moulton's recipe for "Best Roast Duck." I must admit it came out very tender and juicy.

I also made Sweet Potato Pie (Emeril recipe) for the first time ever. It tastes just like pumpkin pie, but far easier to make from fresh ingredients. I'm smitten with sweet potatoes, these humble but tasty tubers. It's another food source that was woefully absent from my childhood.

Nov 25, 2008

Nov 23, 2008

Rogue Ducks

I spent the entire Saturday in Disneyland. At the Happiest Place On Earth everything carefully orchestrated and controlled. Except the ducks. It seems these enterprising avian squatters simply just moved in. Mostly they hang around "The Rivers of America," feeding on Cheetos, but I saw a couple of them waddle around Walt's statue then perform what seemed to be the re-enactment of Pearl Harbor, heading in the direction of Snow White's Castle.

I'm pretty sure they are not official Disney Ducks, because if they were, they would be wearing name tags. This one was blissfully sleeping on a rock next to a "raging hippo" in the Jungle Cruise ride. I didn't have my real camera with me, just a crappy point-and-shoot Lumix. Half my pictures came out blurry or oddly focused. I like this one blurry. It's an abstract with a hint of duck.

Nov 21, 2008

Zen (?) Friday

Sorry Petrea. I'm feeling fuzzily disjointed today. I set out to find the perfect corn bread recipe, but failed. Heading in I knew nothing of corn bread. I learned that there are distinct Southern and Northern varieties. But which one should I side with? I had corn bread two or three times maybe and didn't even like it much, but maybe they were not good ones. Would I even recognize a good one?

Even the concept of corn bread was unknown to me when I was growing up in Hungary. Why is it? We had corn. Though it mostly served as chicken feed. Eggs of corn-fed chickens have deep yellow, almost orange yolks. We also cooked corn in water, with the husk, simmering it over low heat for an hour or so. Yumm.

My father was a writer, but at one point he gave up city life, moved to the country and took up raising chickens. That's how I learned how to put a chicken into a catatonic daze without hurting it. You pick up the chicken, tuck its head under its wing, then you swing it gently sideways a few times, back and forth. When you put it down it will just stay there motionless. To wake it up you just give it a little shove.

In Missouri I learned to wrap up corn in foil and bake it in the oven like baked potatoes. Apparently it's a Midwest thing - like fried (pig) brain sandwiches.

How does it happen? How come one culture looks at corn and decides to grind it up and feed it to chickens, another decides to grind it up and bake with it?

PS. Don't get me started on peanut butter.

Nov 19, 2008

Little Green House

I went out photographing, just within walking distance on Sunday morning. I've noticed this cute little green house years ago. Earlier this summer it was up for sale, for too much, not that it mattered. Now it's standing empty. Out of curiosity I looked it up on Redfin and PropertyShark.

It's 1,033 sqft, sitting on a 5,804 sqft lot. It sold in 1989 for $220,000 and again in 2001 for the exact same amount. Then in 2006 it sold for $540,000. It seems to have foreclosed in August this year. It confounds me that people honestly found nothing unusual about the value of a house in a not so special neighborhood going up 245% in five short years.

Across the street used to be a yellow house, but it's gone now, replaced by an apartment building of nondescript color. I took a few pictures before it was gone, but my best shot was not of the house but the backyard.

Nov 15, 2008

The Unknown Newlyweds

This is the largest of all my found photos, roughly 17.5x22.5 inches with frame. There is a story how I came in possession of it. Back in my college days in Indiana I had a summer job working with a grass-roots type of organization, utility watch dog, all that. It was going door-to-door daily. I got in quite a good shape thanks to all the walking, and got soaked by summer showers more than once.

At one evening, at the end of my route I knocked on the door of an older couple and they invited me in. Just to make small conversation I remarked on the carved wooden figures over the fireplace. The woman said she picked them up at a yard sale. I replied that I liked yard sales too, though I was collecting old photographs. She looked at me, told me to to hold on, and left the room. She came back with the big wedding picture.

It originally belonged to an elderly neighbor - it was her wedding. The man in the picture, her husband has passed away. When this old neighbor, the bride, passed away too the heirs didn't want the picture, so the neighbor I was talking to took it. However she didn't know what to do with it either, so just kept it in the basement. She was happy to give it to me, seemed relieved. So the picture now hangs in my living room.

Nov 12, 2008

Duck, Duck... Turtle?

November 13, Thursday is the big California earthquake preparedness day. They call it Shake Out. At 10 am we are all supposed to duck and cover. Bert over here is from those other duck-and-cover days.

Nov 10, 2008

Square America: Wonder Girl

After ten days I have internet again. Jose the Technician was very helpful and knowledgable. It turns out that my dedicated dsl line was disconnected at the phone box. By whom and why remains a mystery. He also told me that he never before saw a dedicated line by Earthlink.

I wonder what that W stands for. It makes me think of Wonder Woman. Having grown up on the wrong side of the ocean/iron curtain/cold war I was not exposed to this bedrock piece of Americana at the time. I later got to know about only through still images and text. Some months ago at the insistance of a friend I got to watch the pilot episode. It was a hoot! I had no idea it was so tongue and cheek.

The Seven Dwarves live in Burbank

I have proof:

I have seen a few unusual houses in The Valley, but this is by far the kookiest. I found it by chance, zigzagging around small streets by Chandler blvd. I drove by a few weeks ago and there were sunflowers growing all over the front yard. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture.

Nov 7, 2008

One Fish, Two Fish...

I still don't have internet at home. After six days of twice daily discussions with Earthlink tech support they finally came to the conclusion that something is indeed wrong and they need to send out someone. I figured that out by Sunday afternoon. My favorite part is that every time I call in we start over from zero, as I'm being told to reboot the modem. Good times.

What does it have to do with fish? Absolutely nothing.

I've picked up these funny fishing photos over the years. I like the way the photographer is so focused on the fish that the he crops the persons head off. I had professor in St. Louis who used to photograph that way, but intentionally. He would stop people on the street, on the beach and asked if he could take their picture, but he shot them the neck down. I think he was really onto something. The pictures were actually more interesting without the distraction of faces.

Nov 3, 2008

Grave Signs

I've been without internet since the start of the weekend. I have no idea why, since Earthlink's tech support is as useful as suntan lotion in a snowstorm. So I went out and took some pictures between rain showers.

I was first nonplussed till I figured out that "grave marker" is just the pastel term for tombstone. I think if the sign said "tombstones" I would find it less surreal. The house sits in burbank on the corner where Victory and Burbank Boulvards meet, across from Costco.

It inspired me to write a little poem, something a rarely do, since it's not my strength.

Let us mark your grave,
And the time you'll take
To get there.

Oct 25, 2008

Phil's Diner

Phil's Diner must have at one point been a local landmark, but by the time I found it, many years ago, it was already half gone. Physically it was still there, closed, but still standing on a scraggly, barbed wire fence spotted side street between Lankershim and Vineland. The neighborhood has gone under a transformation since the NoHo metrolink station opened nearby. The somewhat rough looking streets have been gradually been taken over new development.

The actual structure of Phil's have stayed around for a while, moved off the street to a yet undeveloped yard. Eventually it just disappeared, and now all that's left of Phil's Diner is this mural on Chandler Blvd.

There is good news however according to the Los Angeles Times, the diner will be restored and relocated to a nearby spot. Undoubtedly it will be a hipster place, still I'm looking forward to it.

Oct 19, 2008


I've been driving all over San Fernando Valley today, but didn't stop once to take pictures. No inspiration. So I was just driving around listening to Prairie Home Companion, and then some finance nitwit giving unsound advice to listeners. I'm convinced that most of these "experts" don't have the foggiest clue what they are talking about, or have any common sense even. I decided that the only people I'll be listening to are those who have seen this mess coming years ago.

When I found the picture of the burning care I picked it for its visual appeal and because there is a mystery to it. It's a frame from a narrative.

Oct 5, 2008

The Big Chill

I shot these pictures a few weeks ago, South of the Glendale part of San Fernando Road. I'm not sure what that area is called. There is a huge Levitz furniture store there that closed recently. Now it's just a big white building and a huge empty parking lot. There are a row of small furniture stores right next though.

Behind them, there is a bit of an abandoned railroad with overgrown grass.

I walked down to the end where I found what seemed to be a homeless person's encampment.

It could have been a pile of rags or someone sleeping. I stopped and turned around. I figured it's rude to walk into somebody's bedroom, even if it's outdoors.

I have not been out photographing the past few weeks. I've been fighting a cold and obsessing over the economy. I spent the weekends drinking chamomile tea, and scouring the web trying to figure out which financial analyst is right and how much I should be worrying.

The weather has turned, the nice gloominess offers a welcome break from the relentlessly blaring sun. I should go out tomorrow and take advantage of this light. Unless if it's raining.