Saturday, July 25, 2015

Going to the Birds

An unexpected hit which helped the Horror genre
In 1963, a film was released that turned a sleepy little town on the Northern Coast of California into a mecca for film buffs the world over. Overnight (well, actually it took nearly three full years in which to write, develop, produce and release the movie), Bodega Bay became a household word and ornithology was looked upon with a new respect – or fear perhaps.

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s first attempt at a horror movie, actually a precursor to that genre in the future, proved to be a mighty success. The film received a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 96% with the comment; “Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history”.

From the folks of Rotten Tomatoes – that was quite a compliment. Hitchcock had a flying success – yes the pun was intended.

We at J and L believe that there is not a person alive who once had the chance to view the film ‘The Birds’ hasn’t had at some time in their life a slight sense of apprehension when noticing a grouping of winged creatures alighted on telephone lines.

Nothing wrong here, move on without fear - if you can???
“Just birds.” Yeah, but looking over the shoulder cannot be stopped. Hitchcock, you truly scared us with that gem – thanks a lot!

Alfred came up with the idea after reading a novella by Daphne du Maurier “The Birds” which actually takes place in Cornwall, England right after World War II and was published in 1952. Along with the writing by du Maurier a slight disturbance had gotten the director’s attention in 1961 in the town of Capitola, California. On August 18, 1961 the residents suddenly found their small town being ‘attacked’ by thousands of birds who were flinging or flying themselves to death against windows, rooftops and anywhere else they could spread their wings for the last time. A local newspaper in Santa Cruz wrote that the citizens believed the birds of demise were possessed by demons or perhaps drugs – it was the sixties after all. Anyway, Hitchcock had an epiphany– that’s how genius directors think – death, disaster, scared people all equal to a hit film.

Roll the celluloid!

Hitchcock hired Evan Hunter in September of 1961 to write the script after working with him on earlier projects and knew her style well as she knew what her boss wanted also. They worked together and finished the script. 

The always famous cameos of Alfred Hitchcock

Now for the actors:

A good looking lead male – Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner hit the mark as the handsome attorney from San Francisco who made it a tradition to be home with his widowed mother and younger sister every weekend in Bodega Bay.

An attractive leading lady – Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels truly made the right statement as a beautiful and spoiled socialite from San Francisco who happened to bump into ‘Mitch’ in a bird shop in San Francisco (coincidence) and decided he was to be her next boy toy – so a short drive to Bodega Bay in her silver Aston Martin convertible wouldn’t be such a problem. Really, watch your hairdo ‘Melanie’!

What every woman wears in a boat -  a mink coat!
The rest of the cast – Jessica Tandy (as Mitch’s mother), Suzanne Pleshette (as Mitch’s platonic friend – yeah), Veronica Cartwright (as Mitch’s younger sister), and the others were more than enough talent to get the point across to the audience – these were real people living in a small oceanside town seventy miles north of San Francisco and they were scared out of their minds with the winged demons dive bombing anything that moved. Poking heads and eyes with their pointed beaks made movie viewers scream in the plush seats and look into the skies as they left the movie theaters.

As stated earlier – once viewed, once warned.

Now, this is Hollywood after all so reality has a lot of help from fantasy and trickster maneuvers. The actual shooting of the Potter School House, the church and the children running from the birds – as well as the wonderfully attractive shot of Suzanne Pleshette sans eyeballs was actually filmed in the town of Bodega which is five miles southeast of Bodega Bay. An inland tiny town which fit what Hitchcock and Hunter envisioned as the perfect look.

Suzanne Pleshette with eyes - for now before the angry birds
Bodega Bay was used for filming other integral parts of the film including the rather sad but funny scenes in the Tide Water Bar where the patrons were eating, drinking and thinking why were the birds acting so aggressively. Ethel Griffies, who played ornithologist Mrs. Bundy poo-poos the ideas of birds being nasty to everyone in the establishment when in the next instance birds are on a free-for-all swooping here and there tearing the eyeballs out of anyone on the street.

“Oops, my bad,” she retorts after looking out the window and seeing a man being blown up at the gas station across the street after a gangster bird came in low and took him out.

Right - very friendly birdies!
Okay, perhaps that’s not how it truly was in the script but could be if a sequel was made today.

The rest of the film had various smaller locations and the special effects were created at Disney Studios but it was and is Bodega Bay which will always be the place where birds lost their minds and beat the daylights out of humans for a couple of days. That’s all it took to make a legend – two days of ducking, diving, scratching, and poking to put a town into the annuals of movie history.

How the school and church look from the same angle today

J and L, on our trip driving the Highway 1 north of San Francisco came across Bodega Bay and being fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s work decided it was time to delve a little more into this film phenomenon.

John in front of Potter School which is a private residence now
With a little research and exploration, the truth of the filming made it clear this is where we needed to be. With an almost cult following “The Birds” has made this coastal city a must see by movie buffs and each year the town hosts a festival in honor of the filming and Tippi Hedren actually visits and talks to fans and does autograph sessions.

 Rumor has it that this coming Labor Day may be her last visit but we all know those Hollywood types – they like final statements so they can come back the next year and have larger crowds.

Laureen discussing techniques with Alfred in Bodega

Traveling can bring unexpected and wonderful experiences and that’s why J and L travel – to see things, read about them and smile together.

That’s what exploring is all about isn’t it?

It could happen again - who knows?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Remember the Date Line

A lot of islands out there Captain Cook - we mean a lot!
An eleven hour flight from LAX to Fiji seemed just fine except for the fact that we left at eleven-thirty at night and were crossing the date line a few hours after skipping over Hawaii at nearly thirty-three thousand feet. Once landing in Nadi, the tourist mecca where the International Airport is located,  there was a so-called short bus ride to the Suva, the capital city of the three hundred islands of Fiji which took nearly five and a half hours. We were told it was a 'two and half or maybe three hour drive’ – we were misinformed as the bus stopped at every opportunity to pick up or drop off passengers.

A 5 hour bus drive after 11 in the air, no big deal!
Tired was not even close to how we felt as we dragged out our suitcases from the underbelly of the bus and staggered to the only hotel with room to spare in Suva. It wasn’t a manger but darn close with no hot water, no television, and air conditioning which worked when it wanted to – turned it was on strike.

The fan worked a bit but nothing else
Luckily, June is winter in the southern hemisphere so we only sweated a bit – John quite a bit and Laureen only glowed with the humidity.

But we were in the South Pacific – tales of Bligh, Cook, and countless other wanderers from India, Africa, and Europe lighting up our imaginations. This is where the ancients (and not so ancient) had ventured into the Pacific Ocean with only the stars and their wits to guide them to whatever laid in front in the path for a better future.
Adventurers is a meek term to utter when describing how the peoples who knew nothing about the written language were able to shove a wooden canoe manned by sixty paddlers and strike out into the blue waters hoping that they would eventually land somewhere they could call home. 
Replica of just one of the various styles of outriggers used by the early Fijians
Brave or stupid but the fact these land seekers also piled into those canoes family members, pigs, dogs, and lots of living agriculture leaves nothing but admiration for these hearty souls. They made it from the tip of India or Asia (depends on who you read) and traveled from archipelago to archipelago over hundreds of years to eventually reside permanently in the South Pacific (wasn’t there a famous musical with that title?).  

That's the place - the South Pacific!
Of course, the islanders often landed and left residents on other islands like a tidal wave and each culture became its own except for the very inner workings. All these folks held tightly to their religious values which if looked at in nearly every island culture works its way right back to each other – too many similarities to not be similar. An amakua (family protective god) may be a turtle in Fiji and perhaps a shark may work in Hawaii and maybe a Miller Lite works in California but the point is all these people had something in their roots which recognized each other.
They warred with each other over the eons but don't also modern families?
This is why there are jobs for anthropologists – theories and more theories combined with research leaves more questions than answers. Especially where research is very difficult when none of these fine people being studied used a written language and history was passed down through the generations orally with the occasional use of the kava root – well, history can change a bit when the inner mouths are tingling and the mind goes from seeing clear to seeing flying dolphins.
Per the dictionary: The roots of the kava plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. (See canoe plants.) Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity (yeah, right - our addition to the definition).

Let's all belly-up to the Kava bar
It should be noted that at no time did the research team of J and L indulge in a Kava ceremony in a local village – that would taint research.
Dude! Did you see that whale dancing with the mermaid – oooohhhh – one more cup of Kava please.
Back now to the story.
Being in the capital of Fiji and the home of nearly one million people we were ready to hit the streets and do what we do best – walk.
No taxis for the crew – walk and walk until the need to buy new pairs of shoes. Our brains were geared, as always in a new country to get out and explore but brains be damned – our bodies said ‘no.'
One night in a hotel which when taking a cold shower in the morning reminded one of a scene from Shawshank Redemption with the warden laughing in glee while clapping his hands told the intrepid duo to find a new hotel – rest and explore the following days.

J and L decided that a respite at the Grand Pacific Hotel was what was needed and though rather costly (something the Irish in John didn't like) it was money worth spent. The GPH has hosted royalty, celebrities from around the world and makes them and all guests feel at home. It was an extremely enjoyable experience for both J and L and will be the only place they stay on return trips to Fiji.

The Grand Pacific Hotel - Suva - 5 Star and worth every one

Nice lobby to unwind in after a day of exploring

A nice view from our room

Good choice – a wonderfully comfortable bed, plenty of space, unlimited hot water and hotel employees who kept asking if there was anything else needed to make our stay any better. That does make a difference after spending nearly seventeen hours reaching the destination and losing a day.

One rule of travel is to understand time zones and really understand that to enjoy you have to be able to keep the eyes open and the brain alert.

The Victoria Lounge - time to relax

If not – grab a good hotel and relax – there is always tomorrow – there have been for billions of years. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cruising the Time Machine - Part One: Fort Ross

Cruising the Time Machine – Part One: Fort Ross

Our keyboards don't have those letters - is it really Russian?
 Overlooking the cold dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean from a grassy cliff, stands the refurbished but authentically accurate Fort Ross where the Russians first invaded the United States. Actually, there was no invasion since in the early 1800’s the United States was not the country it is now with expansion not even past the Mississippi River. California was not much of a thought and the gold rush which would change that concept forever was still at least 37 years away.

View of the Pacific Ocean from Fort Ross

Fort Ross is an easy drive along the narrow and dangerously breathtaking Highway 1, approximately 8o miles north of San Francisco. The passengers will have a great time staring down at some of the most majestic and beautiful coastline in the world while the driver will get blurry eyed gauging the roadway and wondering if the whiteness in his or her knuckles will ever go away.

Nice setting for a Russian Fort on American soil

The Russian-American Company (RAC) whose main function it was to collect seal and otter furs, built the fort in 1812 and carried on business there until 1841 when the decline for such furry clothing made it non-profitable. Bad for the RAC but good for the little creatures of the Northern California coastline. A secondary priority was growing food for the employees of RAC who were stationed in Alaska – this too turned out not to be good as the growing season was rather short and the amount of gophers in the farmland proved too much bother to deal with.

Looking north from Fort Ross - nice view
J and L took a short four day cruise up the northern coast of California in their RV though it should be noted here that it is not recommended to drive such large vehicles on the winding stretches of asphalt. But since the drive and scenery is a must, just tow a smaller vehicle if a RV is the mode of travel. Our rendition of the ‘Herbie the love bug’ is our go-to transportation for daily excursions away from the RV. Light-weight, funky looking, and fun to drive.

John pointing - always looks good in photos
Now that's a Russian design

The rather large wooden fort was built on an ancient Kashaya Village site and is considered one of the truly first International communities in North America (some of the Russians married the local natives which were then referred to as Creoles). Located on the Spanish Frontier and occupied by Russians, Native Alaskans, Kashaya, Miwok and Pomo Indians living together as one large ‘family.’ Almost equal number of males and females made up the population which was documented by Father Ioann Veniaminov who conducted a census of the community in 1836: 260 residents made up of 154 male to 106 female (120 Russians, 50 Kodiak Aleuts and 39 various other local natives as mentioned above). Besides the regular inhabitants, the fort was also the destination for dignitaries and businessmen from around the world – United States, Europe and Mexico.  At this time the Russian Empire and the Chinese Empire did not get along too well so the Americans were used as go-betweens to sell the fur to China which was the highest market for the little furry creatures. Because of the location of Fort Ross deals were made with the Hawaiian King Kamehameha during that time period making this a true community of diverse cultures.  In fact, the people got along so well that the Pomo baskets which are some of the sturdiest and decorative native handicrafts from the area were so admired by the Russians that the largest collection in the world is in Russia today.

Replica of California's first windmill - Russian made

Wow, if only that were the case today – maybe not the baskets but the getting along part.

Then again, the baskets are pretty nice.

The fort is also known the place to be where the first windmill to grind grain was built in California – this is a locale where firsts just keep coming.

Explorers on the explore

After the fort was abandoned and everything sold off by the RAC, the area became farm land, grazing land and even a stage stop for those folks traveling the coast of California.

In 1906 the grounds were designated a state park and is one of the oldest in the entire state of California. As any park – this one is visited by thousands of people from around the world who want to take a step back in time with a keen eye to research and exploration – that is something J and L want all travelers to do.

Sort of like a time machine just without all the handles, gizmos and electricity buzzing around. Highway 1 is enough of a thrill.

Laureen walking the beach with a jacket in July
On a side note J and L bumped into a young man by the name of Brian who is doing something pretty awesome this summer of 2015. Astride his Harley Davidson, Brian plans on hitting 48 states within a couple to three months. We chatted him up a few minutes and he even showed us his route already planned out with pit stops here and pit stops there. He plans to take paths not always taken by travelers and we nodded in agreement as in all of our travels the famous poem by Robert Frost which talks about road less-traveled should, in truth, be the one taken to influence our destinations.

Brian - on his quest of 48 states in 2 months

We wish our new friend the best in his road circuit.

Brian's trusty steed

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wrightwood Ride

A nice day for a bike ride - just take some Advil first!
A quaint small village of a little over 5,000 people hugs the sides of the San Gabriel Mountains which is only a fifteen mile drive west of Highway 15 and five miles west of Highway 138 on Highway 2 in Southern California (that's a lot of highways to remember). It is one of the easiest, but sometimes rather busy, drives to local skiing in California - when drought conditions don't linger on and on that is.

But Wrightwood is much more than simply a place to visit when the snows fall making all the fun happen at Mountain High Ski Resort - it's a community rich in history and a place where families can visit any time of the year for pure enjoyment.

A tenet of J and L is to visit local places. A short drive here or there can pull out gems for a family to explore and remember for a lifetime. A picnic beneath pine trees on a hot summer afternoon, a hike through natural mountain trails or just sitting bar side in a small saloon with friends wiling away a few hours with good conversation makes these short jaunts so worthwhile.

A family member once told John that they had taken a trip of a lifetime - but every trip is a trip of a lifetime.

Our intrepid friend, Paul Bakas and John decided to break their routine of bicycle riding along familiar paths and peddle their way up some rather steep mountain roads to visit this friendly little town less than twenty minutes from the abode of J and L. That's twenty minutes in a motorized vehicle - a lot longer by human muscle power working the calves, thighs and heart of both riders. A short five mile nearly two thousand gain in altitude took forty-five minutes but the return same five mile trip took an astonishingly eight minutes - it was all down hill.
Maybe 2 forties!

"Dude! That was quick - I'm not sure I peddled at all on the way back."

"Good thing we didn't take a header over the bars - we were hitting forty."

"I need a forty after that."

Something cold to look at during the hot summer
Anyway, the original inhabitants of the area now known as Wrightwood were the Serrano Indians who lived here before the first settlers made their way past the Mormon Rocks and north up through the Cajon Pass.  In the 19th century cattle ranches started to develop by the hard work and tenacity of a couple brothers - Nathan and Truman Swarthout. A larger ranch was created a short time later by Summer Wright (hmmm, Wright is right on with the name of the town) but in the 1920's others found the beautiful location to enriching and started building residential properties within the tall trees as a way to beat the heat from down the hill (that's what we call going into the Inland Empire, Orange County and beyond (or the I.E. or the O.C. if you are truly a hipster).

A nice place for Paul to get a bite to eat.
Soon some ski bums learned that the north facing San Gabriel Mountains had some wicked slopes and with a little back breaking work lifts were starting to pull (rope lifts at first before the high speed chairs) up during the snow season for hours of skiing fun. Big Pines Park was the original name of the ski area located in Swarthout Valley before it was changed to Mountain High in 1975. A bit of fascinating history was that the 1932 Winter Olympics were to be held at Big Pines Park but after visiting the Olympic Committee decided the area didn't have the experience or facilities for such a large event and instead awarded Lake Placid as the host of the 1932 Winter Olympics.

There's a Catch-Twenty-Two. You don't have the experience and we're not going to allow you to gain any either.
And maybe grab a beer too - just saying

Thousands of skiers visit the area each winter allowing the city at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level a chance to show off its' friendliness and warmth. But as stated earlier - Wrightwood is a place for all seasons as the boys proved with their bike ride on an early Tuesday morning.

Restaurants, parks, small fishing lakes, quaint shops are just a few reasons to go out and explore this mountain town with clean air and cool temperatures. It is a place which breathes 'relax' and 'enjoy' yourself.

And isn't that what sometimes an explorer just wants to do?