Hawaii for the Holidays, Again

After my first semester as real film student at USC, I needed a bit of a break and visiting my family in Hawaii for Christmas sounded like a good place to get it – even if it was going to be a working break. We only visited the beach a couple of times, but I really enjoyed being able to just sit around baking things, watching movies, playing card/board games, and chatting with my brother and parents at least some of the time before re-entering the frey of Los Angeles filmmaking.

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach

The trip back was a little more relaxed than I had expected. When I got to the airport nice and early, the lady at the counter put me on an earlier island-hop flight, which gave me about a 2 1/2 hour layover in the Honolulu airport. The first leg of the flight was right around sunset, so it was extremely gorgeous.DSCN5910

I spent the layover shopping around in the little tourist stuff stores, getting ice cream, and reading one of the textbooks for the next semester. The flight back had terrible movies showing and it was very bumpy, but it was relaxed and I had a fine enough time and stayed hydrated. I got back about 5am. L.A was cold and totally socked in with fog. My freezer had somehow got open and everything was a horrible moldy melted mess on the floor that I had to clean up. After that, I took a nap for 7 hours and then bought some food to replace the melted mess.


Bloggin’ From the Airport!

Taken with the built in camera on my laptop at the LAX gate waiting area for Alaska Air. Pretty cool, eh?

I know it’s not really substantive, or substantial, to post about, but I think it’s really awfully cool that I can blog from airports that have free wifi access. There’s about a 3 hour layover, so I have nothing better to do with my sleep-deprived brain cells.

KOA (Kona) airport went smoothly. I sat next to a little boy who was trying to sleep on the flight to LAX (which meant I wouldn’t be able to sleep, since kids squirm, kick, and tip over onto surrounding people during sleep). And the only movie available to watch was Arbitrage (barf-up-a-chunk-worthy Richard Gere film about skeezy lawyers/finance types). But I had my tuna and pickle sandwiches to keep me happy. So far, this gate has had flights leaving for places ranging from Chicago to Seattle, Las Vegas, Portland, etc. Even though I’m coming back from quite a bit of traveling, it still makes me feel lazy to hear all those places go by and know that I’m just going back to school. Maybe I can make more of an effort to be as a tourist in Santa Cruz this time around. We’ll see.


The 29 Hour Day – My Journey To Paris

August 19th-20th

Hallway at the hotel

I stayed my last week in Los Angeles at an Extended Stay America in Woodland Hills. On the Sunday I had my flight, I awoke up at 7am and got into the airport shuttle at about 8:50am. The airport was only about 20 minutes away. I didn’t know if there would be traffic, so I was leaving about 4 hours before my flight was supposed to take off. For this flight, I was using an airline I had never heard of before called Air Tahiti Nui because they happened to have a relatively inexpensive one-way ticket – although they do charge $75 for the second checked bag.

Going through security was fairly simple, although opting for the pat-down over being irradiated by the x-ray machine like a non-organic chicken and the security drill the staff held as I was putting back my electronics probably added a few minutes. I got to my gate at 10:12am, so the whole thing took just about an hour. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a 1:10pm flight flight was delayed to about 2:30pm, and I didn’t find out until about 1:15pm so it was a long wait for me.

While I was sitting around at the gate, I struck up a conversation with a French lady who had been visiting her mother in L.A. She and her husband run a pizzeria in Paris and one of her nephews goes to UC Irvine to study biology. It was fun to chat a bit, but we ran out of conversation after a half-hour or so because we knew too little of each other’s languages to continue.

The flight itself was long, but pretty nice otherwise. We were served dinner a couple hours into the flight and breakfast a couple hours before we landed. Each seat had a little screen and there was a choice of a replaying cycle of movies, a few arcade-style games, and music as entertainment. I listened to language tapes a bit, but I also watched the movies Wrath of the Titans, Man on a Ledge, One Day My Father Will Come, 21 Jump Street (although I kept switching away because it’s not very good), and I re-watched The Incredibles. Dinner was the airline-food version of coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine with mushrooms), steamed broccoli and carrots, a salad with lettuce/bell peppers/corn, a roll with butter, and some kind of cheesecake thing with a gelatin layer on top. Sorry I forgot to take a photo.

I took a few photos out the window at night, but they didn’t come out. Here’s one of the sunrise though.

Breakfast was a choice of apple/cheese crepes or omelette (I chose crepes), croissant with butter and/or jam, mixed fruit (pineapple, red grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew), a choice of hot cocoa or other beverages (I chose cocoa, but it was the watery kind), and fat free raspberry yogurt. I decided to go crazy and use both jam and butter on my croissant. I was pretty tired, but breakfast food always seems best when I would normally eat dinner after a really exhausting day.

I’ve never been able to sleep on aircraft, but I think I managed to make my self dose off for a few minutes a couple of times before being startled awake by the screaming infant a few seats down (through earplugs yet).

The area right around Charles de Gaulle Airport looks like farmland: all patchwork.
When we landed, I followed my fellow passengers through customs and down to the “bagages sortie” to get my checked (or “oversize,” as they call them here) bags. The baggage carts were free, but as usual I got one with a sticky left wheel. I then spent a couple of hours being misdirected by info booth people while looking for the shuttle service. Oddly enough, at the very second I was about to give up, the shuttle service guy came up and asked me if I was looking for him. There was supposed to be a “VEA desk” for me to find, but it turned out to actually be a wandering guy with a blue necktie holding a clipboard. No desk or signs. After one of my bags leapt from the cart into a rain puddle (and a nearby lady fortunately saved my jackets) the shuttle took me to the correct address at the street near the entrance for the area wherein the ACCENT center is located. It really isn’t obvious. There’s a little passageway under the address of 89 that leads you there, but it takes some guesswork to find it after you’re plopped onto the curb with your bags. Although the email they sent out said the front entrance from the street was a courtyard, it’s actually the entrance to a little alleyway that leads to said courtyard.

The guy at the ACCENT desk gave me an envelope with my key and some instructions. He said to ignore the map and follow the written directions instead. I shouldn’t have, as they were so confusingly written that I and everyone else to whom I’ve spoken since got lost following them, but I did. A few minutes into my search for my apartment at Daumesnil, it began to rain a little. It was annoying because I had left my umbrella back at ACCENT with my big bags, but I couldn’t help think of that line out of the movie Sabrina where Audrey Hepburn’s character says everyone’s first day in Paris should be a rainy one – and that one shouldn’t carry an umbrella. I saw that movie just before I left L.A.

After almost an hour, I decided to do the sensible thing and use a combination of the map for general directions and asking one or two passersby for more specific directions. Then I had to get into the building. Still foolishly trying to follow some of the written directions, I stood around trying to find the red electric “eye” that my keychain was supposed to activate to open the outer door. Fortunately, another student who had already gone through some of this experience came over and we mutually figured out how to get through both airlocks.

The whole thing had taken so long that it was already time for the program’s mandatory walking tour of the neighborhood, that I wasn’t informed of until after I arrived and checked in. I was already pretty tired, but I resigned myself to be social anyway. We walked around for a bit, then had cookies, sandwiches, and soda at the ACCENT center. It was nice to meet everyone. A couple or so were even from UCSC.

After snacks, I emailed my parents to let them know I got here okay (since my cell phone had no service in France) and took my two big bags back to my apartment and went food shopping so I’d have something to eat for dinner and breakfast the next day. After I took a quick shower, I wanted to rest a minute before cooking dinner. It was only about 6:30pm so I figured I could stay awake a few more hours, but I must have fallen asleep the instant I lay down because I blinked and 8 hours had gone by. In retrospect, I should have closed the window even before lying down, but it was 86 degrees and I didn’t think there were mosquitos in the middle of a city. When I visited Switzerland with my family almost a decade ago, I made the same mistake and woke up with half a dozen really inflamed mosquito bites. When I got up at around 6:45am on the 21st, I smashed a skeeter I found in the bathroom that was filled with blood; but I didn’t know it was mine until I came home at the end of the day and found four or five badly swollen bites on my toe, ankle, and thighs. The use of Benadryl cream and Neosporin seems to be helping, but they’re still pretty awful looking/feeling.

As difficult as some aspects of travel can be, that’s just part of the experience. The first day or tow are always somewhat difficult, I’m in Paris for the next four months so weeeeeeeeee! (or, perhaps, ouiiiiiiiiii! (?)).

As a final note, don’t use just any source of free wifi you come across. I merely opened a browser on my phone after connecting to one and, despite doing nothing else, I got an email from Google the next day saying that the source of that wifi had attempted to hack into two of my email accounts a couple hours later.


Touristing It Up In Santa Monica

July 27, 2012

Santa Monica Municipal Pier dedication marker

I had some business in Santa Monica, so I decided to spend the extra dollar to get on the bus and visit the beach. The initial view of the place when one hops off the bus is an odd one. In stripes along the horizon is a boardwalk/theme park on the pier, an ocean and beach, an enormous parking lot, and a highway.
There was quite a crowd out, but I guess you’d expect that on a Friday afternoon.

The first attraction at the beginning of the pier is a building with a gift shop on one side and a merry-go-round, soda fountain, and arcade machines on the other.

The penny-squasher, electro-shock (“passion tester”) machine, and female Zoltar I expected; but the Mutoscope was a surprise. In my film history class, the teacher said only a few existed in the country nowadays, and there I was staring right at one. For those of you who don’t know, a Mutoscope is one of the original nickelodeon machines. It shows movies in the form of a giant flip-book (often with thousands of little paper cards) through a peep-hole style viewer. It was invented by W.K.L Dickson (after he left the employ of Thomas Edison) as a motion picture machine that was different enough from anything Edison had invented to defeat Edison’s numerous attempts at patent infringement lawsuits.

I wonder if this was the Mutoscope’s original paint job.

There were lots of rides and junk-food vendors galore, but there were also some kind of off-the-wall activities. The one that seemed the most novel was a trapeze school just sitting there amidst everything else.
At the end of the pier, past numerous representatives of the local homeless population that were attempting to eke out a living as “performers” (viz., loudly playing a boombox while flapping a puppet around), were groups of amateur fishermen – some of which were probably also homeless. I wonder what kinds of fish they catch there, and how palatable they really are.
The beach itself was mostly interesting for sociological reasons. Everyone was either traversing the wooden walkway to the shoreline or clustered all around the outlet of the walkway with towels and umbrellas. As you can see, the rest of the beach was empty. It has always been my habit to walk the length of beaches I visit. Not so for others, I guess.

The view from the pier

View from the staircase above the beach

I took a self portrait when I got down to the sand. The plethora of french fry stuffed pigeons and seagulls floating overhead made me nervous, but I decided that my wide-brimmed hat would protect me in the event of an bird excrement-related malady. Unfortunately, the very moment that I went to take a second photo of myself, that hypothesis was tested when I saw the shadow of one of the winged sewage factories cross my own, shortly followed by experiencing the sensation of a hot-one landing on my head. Luckily, it was small and mostly sand so I was able to clean it off fairly easily. However, I’ll let that be a lesson to me in the future not to tempt fate.

I had to start studying for my final exam, so I decided that was enough for one day. However, it’s worth mentioning that on my to catch a bus on the 3rd St. Promenade I  came across a house with some of the most remarkable gardening I’ve seen in a while. I don’t know who lives here, but isn’t this one of the most striking examples of exterior design you’ve ever seen? Just fabulous!

I had intended to take video, but I forgot to bring the battery for my video camera. My regular snapshot cam’s batteries died too, so some of these were taken with my phone.


Let’s Go Shopping! – Santa Monica

I was invited to my cousin’s wedding (which happened on July 28th), so on the 24th I decided to go shopping for a new dress, shoes, etc. Since I’m of rather limited means, I decided to visit one of Santa Monica’s Goodwill stores first. There was an interesting display out front in the form of some birds perched on a bike.

Parrots in front of Santa Monica Goodwill store.

Blouse and gown.

I found a nice pink, frilly blouse, but just about everything else was was size 12 – four sizes to small – and the nicer dresses (which were also too small) were about $29 minimum. Awfully overpriced for that place. Fortunately, a lady in the store told me there was a mall nearby and gave me walking directions. I didn’t know it, but all those stores were on the famous 3rd Street Promenade. I got a really nice $24 gown at the Sears to use with the blouse. It’s funny that a brand new gown cost me less than a used one would have.







After that, I wandered around a Bloomingdale’s and the rest of the mall.

Note the unusual fountain on the right.

A short distance down another street was a strange dinosaur-ish fountain and some stores with rather outlandish window displays.

A flag made entirely of shoes that filled a store window.

When I got back to Westwood, there were a couple of funny things I noticed. I didn’t get a photo of it, but someone was stuffing copies of the book The Da Vinci Code under the windshield wipers of all the cars on Weyburn Avenue. Also, there was a huge number of stereotypically snooty guys out wearing polo shirts and driving around in Porsches. I assume they came for the Farmer’s Classic (tennis competition at UCLA).

Shopping and display area behind tennis stadium.

My new shoes.

A couple days later, I got some shoes for the wedding (and some non-sneakers to wear in Paris, so I wouldn’t look like such a tourist) at a Ross that’s a fairly long, but manageable, walk from UCLA for about $10 and $14, respectively.


First Day of School at UCLA

June 25th

Well, only about 24 short hours after arriving in L.A, doing some food shopping, and moving in, I had my first day of school.

I got up a little early to see if I could wander over and get my student ID card before class, but Kerckhoff Hall was packed with a line of students that extended clear to the back of the building. Oddly enough, it even took me a while to figure out that they were all there for ID cards too – mostly because they were nearly all Asian students that hardly spoke a word of English, so asking what they were in line for was to no avail. I got my card the next day though, as you can see. It’s quite different from my UCSC ID (I’ve removed the ID numbers and bar codes from this photo. Otherwise, this is how they look).

I arrived at Melnitz Hall, UCLA’s film program building, half an hour early and decided to look around for a while. Someone was wheeling a huge light into one of those rooms on the right when I came in. The building is very organized. There’s a bunch of editing rooms, an animation area, a massive equipment checkout room (which I talked my way into getting an unofficial tour of), and at least one fairly large sound stage. Notice all the yellow signs designating each area of the building. I’ll try to take less blurry photos next time.


Here’s a video of the sound stage I wandered into. I was really impressed that they had a fully constructed set right in the building, just like a movie studio.

I went to my section meeting first, then to class. I’m taking FILM 106A (History of American Motion Picture). A real shocker was the fact that the professor told us not to take notes while watching a given screening. Instead, he just wanted us to “just soak it up” during the first screening. This was an astounding departure from my classes at UCSC, wherein I usually miss about a third of the films because I’m often looking down to write notes. However stated that there would be no analysis of the films in the exams, only historical data drawn from the readings. I have to say, so far I’m liking this method of teaching. After introductory statements, the class went directly into screenings. Don’t worry, I’m only going to describe this one class. I won’t do this every time.

Anyway, it began with screenings of the trailers for The Robe (which I saw when I was little), Lolita, Viva Las Vegas (not the best Elvis movie, but an okay one), Unforgiven (a highly disappointing movie), Empire of the Sun, The Last Emperor, Conan the Barbarian (which was funny when I was little, but now seems to suck), Evita (meh), Peewee’s Big Adventure, and Pulp Fiction. Then, we saw the entire of Singin’ in the Rain (one of my favorite movies, and one which I agree has considerable historical importance). The teacher then lectured some.

I’ve taken a couple of film history classes before, but I still learned some new things (or maybe just things I forgot). For example, the fact that Muybridge’s first attempt at capturing a horse’s motion failed, that movies were originally popularized by screening them as part of vaudeville shows, that vaudeville shows went on organized national circuits (in which these films later traveled), and that some early films were used in much the same way as the Soaring Over California ride in today’s Disneyland.

We saw Melies’ A Trip to the Moon and Edwin S. Porter’s Jack and the Beanstalk, as a demonstration that Porter’s film was meant to imitate the fantasy themes in Melies’ popular works, and then Porter’s The Great Train Robbery and Life of the American Fireman (to show the first of Porter’s more popular “realistic” films). The section and meeting together ran about 7 1/2 hours. Classes are generally made into marathons during summer.

As first days of class go, this was a pretty good one. Long, but good.


The Journey to UCLA

June 24th

At 5am, I got up after my brief 2 or 3 hour nap and ate as much of the remaining food I wasn’t able to pack, consume, or store before the driver for my airport shuttle called to inform me that she had arrived almost half an hour early. So, I rushed out the door with my bags and my checkout form/keys and left. It was good that she came early because we actually ended up leaving right about on time around 6am. It only took about 40 minutes to get to the San Jose Airport, during which time I made sure to take my Dramamine to compensate for my sleeplessness and unusual breakfast (and the probable air-sickness I have experienced for the last decade or so).

At the airport, I found out that my $15 baggage weighing device was off by exactly four pounds – for each check bag. So, after a routine that I have to assume outwardly resembled a cross between Mr. Bean taking off pants through his swimsuit and Dan Aykroyd’s character from Trading Places eating a smoked salmon through a fake beard, I ended up lightening my bags sufficiently by spending the remainder of the trip wearing four jackets with every pocket stuffed full of socks, computer components, and various other odd items. The photo to the right shows me at the gate, with a white sock peeking out of my pocket. Sadly, I still had to throw away a few pairs of socks.










The flight itself was short, but interesting. I ended up chatting with an elderly Irishman who designed semiconductors, and who had recently returned from a trip to Vietnam where his wife had gone just because a dentist she liked lived there (and because dental work costs about half the price there). He said that about 90 percent of the population seemed to ride mopeds, and that there were some lovely French restaurants near the government-owned hotel at which they stayed. We mostly talked about movies and politics/economics. I was enjoying the chat so much that I was actually somewhat disappointed when the jet landed. All flights should be so interesting.

Finally, I checked in to my two-person studio apartment at/near UCLA. To my surprise, my roommate is also a Banana Slug. That is to say, she is a theater major at UCSC who is also taking summer classes at UCLA. That’s her stuff in the photo, blurred to protect the names of the products from being advertised by the picture. Just kidding.

It’s a pretty big apartment, so I’m kind of wondering why there’s a bunk bed instead of just two beds. There are some neat things about the place though. When you plug into the modem using an ethernet cable, it just works. You don’t have to download/install spyware or keep logging in. Very cool. Also, we have elevators and handy trash chutes on every floor, although I’m shocked that there doesn’t seem to be any recycling program here.

It’s in the middle of an actual college town called Westwood Village. There actually seems to be a whole little mini-city built around the school with stores and cafes and banks. Within a ten-fifteen minute walk, you can get to a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Ralphs, CVS, a bunch of clothing shops, etc. My class at Melnitz Hall is about an 18-22 minute walk away, as is most of the main campus. Humorously enough, they have the same exact jokes about getting “legs of steel” and the “reverse freshman fifteen” as we do at UCSC. I’ll talk more about the school and my first day of class in my next post…