Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tiger's Nest monastery, Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, clings to the slide of a cliff about 10,000 feet above ground in Bhutan's Paro district. The monastery was built in the 17th century and damaged in a fire in 1998.

Visitors can reach the monastery by mule ride or by foot. Walking takes about two hours from the base of the trail. The monastery is still used, and entry is restricted.

-- Jason La

More info:
(Photo above by Scott Bonhard)

Historic Center of Craco, Italy

The Historic Center of Craco was first developed between the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., and the tall watchtower that hovers above this rocky village was built in 1000 A.D. The town has been abandoned since 1991, when a landslide forced out its remaining residents. Because this hilltop town was built on an unstable slope, it will be hard to protect this ancient piece of Italian history.

-- Deborah Netburn

More info:

Icehotel, Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

Every winter since about 1990, sculptors have built a hotel and bar made of ice blocks from the nearby Torne River. When the spring thaw arrives, the facilities melt. New ones are created the next winter, usually opening in early December.

Some outstanding actresses never won an Oscar -- Below are some who never won

Ava Gardner
Marlene Dietrich
Greta Garbo (three nominations, honorary Oscar)
Deborah Kerr (six nominations and an honorary Oscar)

Marilyn Monroe

Kim Novak

Hedy Lamarr

Mae West

"Two lives spent in the shadows"

Lost for decades in the shadows of Cold War spookery, the tale of Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey has been blasted over state-controlled media this year. Yelizaveta's death this fall, as a 97-year-old widow, gave Russian officials the chance to trumpet the derring-do of the two star agents.

The story has found an eager audience. If there's one thing Russians love, it's a spy thriller, especially one that conjures up the proud days of the Soviet Union and the fading glory of World War II. Add a touch of Hollywood stardust, and so much the better.

Despite the surge of interest in the couple, hard facts are scant. Anatoly Mukasey, their 71-year-old son, says intelligence officials told him it would be 150 years before the Russian state would divulge the full extent of his parents' missions. All that remains now are the stories they told their children, and the fragmentary memories they eventually set in print. Shown above, the Moscow graves of Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Sunset on the Rio Marañon"

(Photo by Carrie Kay taken 3/24/2009 southwest of Nauta, Peru)

"What will we know and when will we know it ???"

Chile's $19-million Museum of Memory and Human Rights will honor the 31,000 murder, kidnapping and torture victims of Pinochet's regime. Many wonder how the events will be portrayed. (December 27, 2009)

Is it the last drop ???

It's hard to imagine a world in which polar bears don't exist in the wild. Alun Anderson, former editor-in-chief of New Scientist magazine, asserts that it most likely will occur in our lifetime.

In his book, "After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic" (HarperCollins, 2009), Anderson takes a close look at the complicated past, present and future of the Arctic region, the area of Earth that he says is certain to feel the effects of global warming first and most powerfully.

"one of the great blessings to be experienced here on earth"

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp, on the cover of Time magazine, and in perhaps a shelf-ful of coffee table books. Since the house was opened to the public in 1964, some 3.5 million visitors have made the pilgrimage to its sylvan location off Route 381 in the hills of western Pennsylvania. Wright's stunning creation-the living room with its mound of native sandstone swelling up through the floor, the ribbons of red-trimmed steel windows, and, above all, those daring cantilevered planes hovering over the falls of Bear Run-has enchanted architectural critics and the general public since its completion 64 years ago.

Too bad it wasn't built properly. While millions of people have a nodding acquaintance with Fallingwater, relatively few of them know the latest, most dramatic chapter in its history: Only an ingenious repair, completed a few years ago, removed the growing risk that a large chunk of the house might tumble into the creek below.

The problem had been brewing since the beginning. The concrete beams that support the hung-in-space living room, its two adjoining terraces, and the master bedroom terrace above were too weak for the load they needed to carry. The beams sagged from the moment their supports were removed during construction and continued to droop a little more each year, until by 1994 they were an alarming 4 to 7 inches out of level. It took five years of assessment and planning, four months of actual work, and $1.5 million to stabilize the structure, but now, at last, Fallingwater is secure in its airy perch.

When Wright wrote in 1955 that "Fallingwater is a great blessing-one of the great blessings to be experienced here on earth," it wasn't just more hyperbole from the legendary self-promoter. "The house has a real presence in the American psyche," says Richard Cleary, an architectural historian and Wright scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. "That view of it over the waterfall is a sort of perfect American fantasy. It showed we could have both technology and the natural world, and make them work beautifully together."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Snowy avenue"

(Photo by Odyssevs on Flickr)

Frank Lloyd Wright has left his mark

Modern southwest desert, this contemporary and sophisticated resort combines the elegance of Frank Lloyd Wright Design with warm colors symbolic of a desert. Nestled at the base of the Red Rock Canyons allowing all guestrooms to have awe-inspiring views of the Canyons or 180 degree views of the Las Vegas strip Red Rock is the perfect combination.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"an exhilarated rush"

The usual tranquility of Llano Seco had a new twist on Christmas Day. Normally. the geese stay to the far west of the refuge and leave the viewing area up front to the more subdued sound and activity of the ducks. The mintue we got out of the car we could hear the garrulous activity of the Snows and White Fronted Geese just to the South. It wasn't long before a cruising Bald Eagle had them up in the air. About the time one group would settle back down in the water, another group would head upward. The sound and activity of the geese in great numbers never cease to send an exhilarated rush through me! (Photos from "champbass2's photostream").

Outstanding Photography

(Photo from Sophaschwein's photostream on Flickr).

"timeless shadows, and wonderment"

"And just for a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete slip across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Essence." Jack Kerouac

We hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch to enjoy some winter in Arizona. Every step was ecstacy and inconceivable radiance (Photo by Al_HikesAZ on Flickr).

Los Angeles: A little L A History

After founding Farmers and Merchants National Bank, the brothers Herman and Isaias went their separate ways, but gave the downtown some distinct structures (circa 1903).

"Go live in a tree" takes on a whole new meaning

"Behold the Day"

After seeing "Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart," showing at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through Jan. 31, one may wonder why Gearhart isn't better known. Back in the 1930s, at the height of her career, she became one of the top color-block printmakers in America, displaying her work at the Smithsonian and the Brooklyn Museum, as well as at numerous shows on the West Coast. -- Deborah Netburn

Above: Frances Gearhart's Untitled (Big Sur's Bixby Creek Bridge), 1933, Color Block Print, 13 1/4" x 10 7/8," Private Collection.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Mt. Rushmore from the Canadian side"

(source unknown)

"average fuel economy of 100 mpg"

"We are very excited to be bringing the Fisker Karma back to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)," said Fisker Automotive CEO Henrik Fisker. "In the year since we debuted the Karma, the reception we've received has been tremendous. I'm proud to announce at this time that we are already sold out on the car until mid-2010."

With a base price of $87,900 (USD), the Fisker Karma began delivery in November 2009. Featuring the proprietary Q-Drive powertrain, the Fisker Karma will has an all-electric range of 50 miles (80km). After the all electric 50 miles, the gasoline engine turns a generator to charge the lithium ion battery. Once the 50-mile electric range has been exceeded, the Fisker Karma can be used as a normal hybrid vehicle. With this balance of electric and gas range, Fisker Automotive estimates that most Karma drivers who charge the Karma overnight and commute less than 50 miles per day will be able to achieve an average fuel economy of 100 mpg (2.4L/100km) per year.

"Festivus for the rest of us"

Did you know that Wednesday was Festivus? That's the pseudo-holiday created by a famous episode of Seinfeld. You're supposed to gather around an aluminum pole to "air your grievances" and demonstrate your "feats of strength."

11-Year-Old Finishes Walk To DC To Raise Awareness About Child Homelessness

Eleven-year-old Zach Bonner, a recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award, takes part in a press conference after the final mile of his 600 mile trek from Atlanta to Washington, DC on July 9, 2009 in Washington, DC. Bonner, whose trek was titled "My House to the White House" founded the Little Red Wagon Foundation in 2005 to raise awareness about the plight of homeless U.S. children.
(July 9, 2009 - Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

Mazel tov

This year Neil Diamond joined musicians of Jewish heritage who have put out Christmas-themed collections with "A Cherry Cherry Christmas," an album for which he wrote five original songs, including the title track, to weave in with standards such as "Joy to the World," "White Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride."

Diamond closed the album with a raucous performance of comedian Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song," which name-checks Jewish entertainers, including Kirk Douglas, Dinah Shore and "Star Trek's" William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

"I thought I'd throw one in there for my people too, because we always feel a little left out around this time of year," Diamond told the Telegraph in London recently. "Christmas music is amazingly evocative to people of all religions and cultures."

One of Hitchcock's BEST !!!

Sunday evening, the Egyptian will show a 70-millimeter print of Alfred Hitchcock's erotically charged 1958 thriller, "Vertigo," starring James Stewart as a retired San Francisco police detective with a fear of heights who becomes obsessed with a mysterious woman (Kim Novak) he is hired to follow. Barbara Bel Geddes also stars in this gem, which features a great score by Bernard Herrmann.

"Singin' in the Rain"

On Saturday, the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre presents two of the best MGM musicals of the 1950s: "Singin' in the Rain," directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and starring Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen, and Vincente Minnelli's best picture Oscar- winner "An American in Paris." Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant star in this stylish Technicolor soufflé, which features the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.

"Mourners" to tour U. S.

The white alabaster figures draped in cloaks show their grief in different ways: from a bent head, the face shrouded by a hood, to a hand swathed in cloth reaching up to wipe a tear.

The nearly 40 "mourners" commissioned in the 15th century to adorn the tomb of John the Fearless, the second Duke of Burgundy, will be seen together for the first time outside of France when they begin a tour of seven U.S. cities this spring. Los Angeles will see the exhibition in 2011.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bridge Cinema de Lux multiplex to be sold

A deal for the remaining six theaters being sold by National Amusements, including the Bridge Cinema de Lux multiplex near Los Angeles International Airport, is expected to be finalized in the next couple of weeks. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / October 19, 2001)

It is claimed that Napoleon Bonaparte wore a Breguet watch in 1798

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"A Piece of the Rock"

It was like a scene out of a sci-fi movie: A behemoth threatens an innocent town from atop a cliff, shrugging off all capture attempts.

Only this real-life besieger was a 116-ton boulder, which gave indications in February 1979 that it might plunge onto Pacific Coast Highway and possibly squash a BMW or two, if not some beachfront architecture.

The innocent town was Malibu, so naturally elements of show biz were involved.

It was movie producer/ writer Robert Radnitz who led a campaign lobbying Caltrans to bring the big rock down from its 186-foot-high perch.

He was understandably nervous: His home lay in its potential path on the ocean side of PCH. Radnitz estimated that the hulk had slipped 20 feet in the previous two weeks.

PCH was closed to traffic, making it the perfect gathering spot for dozens of onlookers during the 40-hour drama.

A few watched from kayaks.

One viewer was sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong, who said he wanted a piece of the Malibu rock so he could fashion a mini-Mt. Rushmore: a 3-foot-high bust of then-Gov. Jerry Brown, alongside the words, "For President."

Yes, the same Jerry Brown who is now state attorney general.

But the hunk of sandstone wasn't being cooperative.

A 2,500-pound steel net was dropped on it by a helicopter, but efforts to loosen the boulder from above failed.

At one point, a fire hose was attached to a hydrant and aimed at the big rock. A continuous stream of water slammed into it for more than two hours.

The Caltrans contractor in charge of capturing the giant told The Times that he had come up with the idea after his father-in-law said to him: "Why don't you wash it down?"

A reporter asked if his father-in-law was an engineer.

"No," replied the contractor. "He's an accountant." (but he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night!)

Alas, the hosing failed to bring down the boulder.

Finally, after more than a day and a half of struggle, an inch-thick cable was attached to the steel-webbed net.

The cable was fed through a pulley-like device on PCH and secured to a huge four-wheeled skip loader parked about 400 feet down the road.

Darkness was falling, "turning the boulder into a hulking silhouette," when the skip loader began to pull the cable, The Times reported.

At first, only a few fragments broke loose. Then a rumble could be heard.

"It's going! It's going!" someone yelled.

The rock began sliding slowly, its fall inhibited by additional cables attached to it on a plateau.

Then it snapped the cables and began to tumble faster and faster, caroming off an outcropping.

It crashed onto a 4-foot-deep earthen landing pad on PCH and stopped. Dirt spewed about 75 feet into the air.

"For several seconds no one said a word," The Times reported. "Then, as if on a director's cue, a loud cheer went up from the people standing nearby. Finally, there was steady applause."

One young woman scrambled atop the boulder and danced.

Crews used pneumatic drills and dynamite to break the rock into small pieces.

Onlookers chipped off souvenirs and snapped photos.

Radnitz, now 85, wrote an unproduced script about the incident, titled "The Rock." He still lives in the house near Las Tunas beach. Today that stretch of PCH is guarded by a sagging chain-link fence.

Strong, the sculptor, paid $100 for a 12 1/2 -ton chunk but changed his mind about a Brown-for-president sculpture.

"I decided to do someone not so controversial," he said.

Brown's penchant for making offbeat pronouncements had prompted critics to dub him Gov. Moonbeam.

Instead the artist chose a more strong and silent type -- actor John Wayne.

Strong rented an air chisel and, working from photos, labored for 10 weeks on his chunk, which was parked at a shopping center in Century City. Spectators watched.

"For a time, I was getting comments from people like, 'I believe that's Jimmy Durante you're carving,' " said Strong, referring to the comic whose trademark was a big schnoz. "But now people say they can see the resemblance."

An Arizona real estate man bought it, reportedly for a million dollars, and put it on display for a few weeks at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

There was talk of the celebrity rock going on a tour of East Asia but that venture never came off.

Eventually the Wayne bust was donated to Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas, where it sits in the library.

Contacted by The Times last week, a librarian there said, "Oh, the rock from Malibu."

She added that people "come up and ask about it all the time."

Jerry Brown has yet to be elected president.

"The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail"

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail provides spectacular backcountry travel the length of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. It is the most rugged long-distance National Scenic Trail.

Trail users wind their way through some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States and have an opportunity to enjoy a greater diversity of physical and natural qualities than found on any other extended trail. The route of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail crosses five ecological life zones, and users can take in the topography, climate, vegetation, and wildlife of the Rocky Mountain West. The trail travels from Canada to Mexico, through five western states—Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The trail's southern node is the Mexican border near Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The trail shoots north through the desert into the Gila National Forest and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. It then crosses the El Malpais National Monument, picking up the 1,000-year-old Zuni-Acoma trade route. Before reaching Colorado, the trail travels through the Cibola National Forest and the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests.

Entering Colorado from the south, the Trail passes through remote, rugged alpine terrain like the South San Juan, Weminuche, and La Garita Wilderness Areas. There are several crossings of the Continental Divide and the Colorado Trail; for over 100 miles, the routes of the CT and the Continental Divide Trail are contiguous. The trail is almost entirely on national forest land, including San Juan, Rio Grande, San Isabel, Gunnison, White River, Pike, Arapaho, and Medicine Bow-Routt. A chunk of the trail passes through Rocky Mountain National Park and the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.

The trail ventures into Wyoming at Routt National Forest. It then crosses BLM land before reaching the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Popo Agie and Fitzpatrick wildernesses. From there, it's on to Yellowstone National Park.

The trail crosses into Idaho at the Targhee National Forest. It stays close to the Montana border, and after it finally jumps the line, users get to explore the Salmon National Forest, Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, and Helena National Forest. The trail transverses the Scapegoat, Bob Marshall, and Great Bear Wildernesses. Finally, after passing through Glacier National Park, the trail ends at the Canadian border.

A Delicate Balance

Even canes and shoes, items that appear to employ no technology, are getting smarter.

A team of researchers at UCLA's programWireless Health has fitted these walking aids with accelerometers and gyroscopes -- devices that were developed for fighter jets and missiles but are now in smart phones.

The canes and shoes would be used to monitor balance and teach users how to walk safely and avoid falling. Sensors inside can also transmit data in real time to doctors and caretakers who keep track of the user's mobility. The canes and shoes are still in the testing phase, but developers hope to have them on the market early next year.


To honor the lion and help safeguard its preservation for future generations, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino has created a one-of-a-kind Lion Habitat as a showcase for public education and appreciation for this majestic creature of nature. The lion has been a part of the MGM heritage for many years, beginning with the legendary Leo, whose roars have welcomed generations of moviegoers to epics of the silver screen.

"A Thoughtful Voice Amid the Din"

I am a 66-year-old lifelong Republican who always enjoyed listening to Bill Moyers. ("A Thoughtful Voice Amid the Din," by Neal Gabler, Dec. 13.) With his unique personal style and calming voice he had the ability to discuss both sides of a political issue in a calm measured way that enabled you to understand his point of view and what the real issues were. The shrill, vitriolic ranting of talking heads like Bill O'Reilly or Donna Brazile regardless of party affiliation only serve to polarize every critical issue we face as a nation and leave a scorched earth landscape behind them where no rational discussion can take place in the middle.

Moyers' explorations over the years into topics centered around who we could be as a nation if we wanted to were often just plain inspirational.

Like Ed Morrow and Walter Cronkite before him, Bill Moyers is a once-in-a-generation broadcaster.

(Letter from Michael Joyce, Fort Lauderdale)

"Notes on the Decade"

Some smartypants point out that, technically, the '00s (oughts?) aren't over til next year. But technicalities never stop journalists or critics from their appointed rounds of deep reflection.

So in addition to their usual ten-best lists, The Times' crew of arts (and entertainment) critics have written, "Notes on the Decade," highlighting some terrible, but mostly, some heartening devleopments over the past ten years. For details click on the heading above.

"Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel"

Boilerplate looks like an old stove with legs. He was built by Chicagoan Archibald Campion as the model for a new kind of soldier -- for "preventing the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations." After many exotic adventures around the globe, he disappeared in 1918, during World War I, in the Argonne Forest in northeast France: No piece of wreckage was ever found. Subsequent rumors, though, suggested that the robot had been recovered by the Germans and later rechristened as "Panzermann."

This robot, given his due in "Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel" (Abrams Image: 168 pp., $24.95), is actually the creation of Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, a husband-wife team of comic book veterans. Like the novel "The Difference Engine" and all its Steampunk progeny, this book imagines our world as a place of clockwork parts and steam-driven machines. The Steampunk world still contains sophisticated technologies, but they come with a crude, clanky appearance. Boilerplate is no exception. With his goggle eyes and horn-shaped speaker, he's the kind of robot that the Little Rascals probably would've built with parts found in a junkyard.

The book includes lavish illustrations and period photos that insert Boilerplate, a metallic version of Zelig -- or Forrest Gump -- into so many pivotal moments in American history. The illustrations are so good that there's a tangible, believable quality to them that has fooled many (just ask comedian Chris Elliott, who thought Boilerplate was real and used him in his 2005 debut novel -- later, according to one media outlet, he negotiated a settlement with the authors for using a copyrighted character). There's Boilerplate, standing next to Lawrence of Arabia, mingling with the Buffalo Soldiers, boxing with Jack Johnson, even traveling to the Yukon of Jack London. The book also includes a section, on other mechanical men, under the title "Boilerplate's Brethren."

"Boilerplate" is a delight, a perfect ramble of a read that needs no bigger justification than the pleasure of sharing in the authors' fantasy. But if you do need a bigger purpose before diving in, just consider: The variety of i-gadgets today are lauded for their smooth, sleek design, right? "Boilerplate," however, taps into a yearning for things that are more old-fashioned -- for technology that still has some wires showing.

Above, Pancho Villa and staff with Boilerplate in Mexico in 1916. (Paul Guinan / Abrams / January 30, 2009)

"a Modernist reverberation"

Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield This breathtaking exhibition, organized by artist Robert Gober, demonstrates the extraordinary power Burchfield (1893-1967) was able to coax forth from the watercolor medium. A sheet of paper emerges as a membrane stretched between the outer world of nature and the inner world of the artist's emotional life. Think of it as an aesthetic skin, separating different domains that are both in constant flux. His story as an artist is the lifelong odyssey of reconciling the two -- of finding the means by which to bring them into harmony or its semblance. Burchfield gave the spiritual intuitions of 19th century American transcendentalism a Modernist reverberation (C.K.). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Jan. 3. (310) 443-7000. Shown above is Charles Burchfield's "Rainy Night".

"militaristic themes"

In 2009 at L.A. Louver, Ben Jackel showed stoneware sculptures on militaristic themes that fuse brutality, fragility and play.