Monday, November 19, 2012

Madame Butterfly

We had to stand in line to check in at the Biltmore on Saturday. The Armed Services Ball was being held in the gold room and some kind of spectacular Asian wedding was underway with 15 or 20 bridesmaids -  plus the regular tourist traffic. The hospitality desk was mobbed. I've never actually stayed in the hotel, but used to eat lunch there every couple of weeks when I worked at Lawry's on San Fernando Road. Bernard's restaurant in the hotel was a favorite spot for visiting Unilever executives.

We enjoyed having a little extra time to wander through the public areas looking at the historical photos of early Academy Award dinners and the many famous visitors to the place. I'd forgotten how beautiful and elaborate the ceiling art is; our brother-in-law reminded us to take a look at the art deco swimming pool. If we stay there again, I'm packing my suit and one of those white bathing caps all the swimming ladies used to wear, just to get the mood right.

UCLA beat USC and the bar at Engine Company #28 was jumping. One half-crocked celebrant came running around to every table, yelling about his hatred for USC (my husband's alma mater) and attempting to pour wine for everyone. He was having fun and trying to be generous but I really didn't appreciate the dilution of my $12 per glass cabernet with whatever he splashed in my glass. Indeed, his cup runneth over - too bad it ran into my cup, but we enjoyed his energy and didn't want to be wet blankets.

In the rain, speaking of wet blankets, we dashed back to the hotel, changed into our best bibs and tuckers and got ourselves over to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion about 15 minutes ahead of the curtain rising on Madame Butterfly.

That audience was dressed to kill - no shoes on the floor, like we've seen at L.A. Phil concerts. Glittering with jewelry, swathed in long gowns, opera coats, expensive bags and fancy shoes, the ladies were fabulous. Fancy dress for men seems to be very eclectic - saw everything from a full Cleveland to tuxedos.  Devoid of jewelry, wearing my rubber soled flat shoes, I felt like a farmer from Fallbrook. Richard on the other hand, fit right in looking like Orville Redenbaker with his double breasted pinstripe suit and bow tie. Just as I began feeling sorry for myself, in rolled a couple with matching walkers, I'd guess in their 80's. She didn't look too bad, but he had Paget's disease (my guess) and was almost doubled over. To add to his challenges he was sporting a blood-speckled bandage that looked like WW1 vintage...kind of gauzy and wrapped so that it covered his face up to the eyebrows and around his hair. It was fastened with a safety pin. Two ushers helped get them into their seats and park the walkers.
During intermission we saw the couple in the foyer staring into each other's eyes and toasting with paper cups. The glitterati were swilling champagne but those two were probably taking their medications. I love the fact that nothing deterred them - not advanced age, not the need for walkers or even the freshly bleeding injury kept them from sustaining their romance or enjoying the opera. As Bette Davis said, "Age is no place for sissies".

The ladies room line was incredibly long, snaking it's way up and down the foyer like a Disneyland ride. As I stood assessing the time it would take, I saw a young man holding up a hand-scrawled sign on a stick that said, "END". As the mob moved forward, the END moved along with it, maintaining order, keeping line cutting to a minimum and indicating clearly where one joined in. I found myself laughing out loud about what kind of job description he has.

The opera was wonderful with subtle understated sets, sumptuous costumes and the soaring, spine-tingling voice of Oksana Dyka singing the Madame role. 2 hours 55 minutes passed in a flash and along with the rest of the audience, we were reluctant to leave. As we walked downhill to the Biltmore, Un Bel Di replaying in our heads, we enjoyed the cool air and admired the light reflecting off the wet buildings.

Sunday, we splurged on a hearty breakfast in the hotel and walked over to MOCA for a look. A few blocks away, a motorcycle policeman stopped us and asked if we'd wait a while. A movie scene was being shot; we watched a van equipped with one of those great swivel cameras filming while it raced ahead of another car. After a few minutes, they let us through.

Most of the MOCA art is lost on me. Huge canvases with burlap and other materials glued to the surface- then burned or smashed and schmeared with paint or splatters. We did enjoy a few of the sculptures and the people-watching...some very interesting types showed up there at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday.

Great birthday celebration weekend. 


  1. You guys sure know how to live! Your descriptions of your trips to L.A. always make me want to move back, or at least have a condo there. I don't think I've ever been to downtown L.A.
    that a movie wasn't being shot. One of the times we stayed at the Biltmore they were shooting right at the front door. I always enjoy watching- up to a point. It can get tedious.

  2. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Hi Helen Thanks for the great blog. Beth C

  3. We feel underdressed wherever we go. "Sorry man, we're from Fallbrook..." We stay at the Biltmore occasionally when Leslie is doing the gift show but it can be really loud outside, mucho street noise. Grand old dame.

  4. Loved your account of the L.A. visit. Sounds like you had a great time. How fun to go to the opera. I think I've only been to one - Boris Gudunov. Not a good choice! I was taking a music appreciation class and the professor thought that would be a good one to see because it was performed in English. But it's the music that I go for. Now I think they have sub titles on the stage. Am I right?

  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed your birthday celebration weekend, and Giacomo Puccini's music as well!!!
    A late happy birthday from Italy!