Chutes and ladders leaving me where I begun / Like Jo-Jo-Joan Didion


Colony Palms Hotel, Palm Springs, Calif.

I’m back. It’s been more than a month, I know, and I hope I can get people to come visit the Tonsil blog again. Last I left you, I was Tinsel-ed out (and so you were you) and Michael and I made a getaway to California for the (un-)holidays. I’m getting some thoughts together about the book experience, but still haven’t quite got them together. Hang on for another entry. It’ll come in short takes.

The California trip went splendidly, really. And by splendid, I mean we did nothing much at all. Michael pronounced it the best Christmas ever, sans cockney Tiny Tim accent. We were in Palm Springs for a few days, which means something to a certain kind of homo, but we just don’t make that grade. We stayed at this ultra-quiet refurbished motor lodge (no, not the trendy ACE motel) called the Colony Palms. Michael read the literature on it more closely than I did — I think it said somewhere it used to be some sort of gangster getaway in the desert. Now it’s just an enclave of not-overly-trendy rooms, a big pool, a pretty good restaurant, lots of trees and flowers, a nice hot tub, and an outdoor fireplace — where I did a lot of reading. Although the food in Palm Springs is legendarily mediocre, our best meals were breakfasts — check out Cheeky’s if you’re ever there, and order the tamale and eggs, with a side of homemade maple sausage.

Oh, and we saw mediocre movies, like the drecky It’s Complicated — and later that week, in LA, we saw Sherlock Holmes, The Road, The Lovely Bones.

Fast reviews:

It’s Complicated: My medium Coke Zero was spiked with estrogen. D-

Sherlock Holmes: Minus the CSI-style f/x and clue review, I mighta liked it better. The haberdashery saw me through. C-

The Road: Honored the book and yet missed the point? Also, for all that praise, I thought the kid wasn’t very good. B-

The Lovely Bones: My new Exhibit-A when people talk about how good books become bad movies. This was really awful, sappy, stupid-looking and boring. D+

Its-Complicated---Meryl-S-001Anymore, it almost seems I’d rather talk books than movies. (And if I could keep up, and people still cared about records, I’d love to talk about records.) It’s no fun to keep throwing yourself at the movies with holiday optimism, only to have them not catch you as you fall — those four movies are $100 in tickets, and I’ve never resented ticket prices, ever, even when I couldn’t afford to go to as many movies as I wanted. I’ve always felt like it was important to go, to take the good with the bad, and just enjoy movies the way they’re meant to be, in a theater. I never treated the movies with some Consumer Reports-like expectation that my money never be wasted. But these movies? Thud, thud, thud, thud. It’s Complicated probably annoyed me the most, not for the menopausal mania but for the outrageous wealth in which the characters obliviously dwelled, free of traffic and hassle (other than, well, the complicated sex stuff), where a woman just “owns a bakery” and lives on an estate and is remodeling her woefully small (read: huge) kitchen, and picking ripened tomatoes in her garden on a day which we’ve been lead to believe is late spring. I mean, I can only take so much of that sort of Hollywood fantasy where conspicuous wealth is passed off as normal, upper middle-class. Do we really go to the movies for this kind of escape? Not me. Not in THIS ECONOMY.

The Monday after Christmas we relocated to Los Angeles, checked into the Sunset Tower (no conspicous, complicated wealth for us — they had really cheap rates over Xmas!), and we did even more than nothing than we did in Palm Springs. (At least in Palm Springs we went horseback riding in the mountains for an afternoon.)

We ate and slept and drove around in our rental (Mustang convertible) with the top down and the floor heater on, which is sort of the perfect combo, the environmentally unfriendly version of salty and sweet.

Here’s me in the Arclight Cinema, waiting for The Lovely Bones to start, but first, waiting for more food.

hank at arclight

The food! The night before New Year’s (Dec. 30), we had what I think is one of the best meals of my life (I’ll let Michael make his own decisions about his own best-meals-evah), at Gjelina in Venice. It’s one of those totally 21st-century California Alice-Waters-is-our-Jesus places. Reclaimed wood, bare Edison blubs tastefully dangling from the ceiling, firepit out back on the patio; staff undoubtedly sporting some pig tattoos among them. Here’s what we ate (I typed it out in an e-mail to Janet Duckworth almost as soon as we got back to the hotel) …



>> Roasted beets with burrata cheese and sherry toasted walnuts. (I am in the fan club for beets these days, even the bland ones at the Post cafeteria salad bar, but when they’re great — oh boy oh boy)
>> Grilled seckel pears with grilled treviso, burrata, prosciutto and vinaigrette (the burrata cheese is just — wow. How great that we picked two items with it.)

Then we had a pizza: eggplant, tomato, oregano, mozzarella

Then we ordered some vegetable dishes:
>> Charred Brussels sprouts with dates, bacon and vinegar
>> Wood-roasted Tahitian squash with sea salt and rosemary

Small plates:
>> Crispy Niman ranch pork belly with corn grits, mustard greens and apple cider (I’m STILL thinking about how good this one was. It just dissolves on your tongue, with a perfect charred crunch…)

>> Grilled peruvian octopus with charred escarole, fingerling potato and saffron aioli

>>Grilled lamb chops with rapini-mint pesto

I know it sounds like we ordered every goddamn thing, but the servings were just right, and there were many more items I would have tried if I was slated for execution the next morning. But the governor called, and gave me a reprieve, so we had to call it quits, but not before…


>>Pear and blackberry crisp with pistachio gelato (this was great and it  would have been perfect if I didn’t know how good the other dessert was going to be…)

>>Butterscotch pots de creme with salted caramel. This last thing was so good that I lost my mind with each bite. I still think about it. Big flakes of rock salt on that caramel with that butterscoth creme underneath. I always thought people were sort of exaggerating when they compared sex to dessert. I don’t now. (See? See? It’s Complicated DID make me grow a vagina and then it made me nutty about a dessert. Woman, thou art cursed.)

Also we had a scrumptious bottle of rosé wine — forget the name. Will have to look. It was French.

We had other fun. Some nice drives around L.A. (Michael got up two mornings in a row to go make some Mulholland Drive photographs.) Some excellent breakfasts. New Year’s Eve over at Janet’s apartment for a while, and then to the Mint to see a band called Dengue Fever. I think it’s safe to say we would move to L.A. in a heartbeat, with the same insufferably daffy optimism of all newcomers, if there were jobs to be had. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to spend at least a week or two in L.A. every year for most of the ’00s. I was hooked at 21, when I moved there to be an LA Times summer intern. At 33, I made a promise to myself to find a way to move to L.A. by the time I turned 40. That didn’t work out. Maybe 45?

Sorry for this disjointed, rambly post. If I don’t post it now, I might never get the blog up and going again, and I want to; I just have to rediscover that loosey-goosey bloggy voice again. Speaking of California and Californians, I’ll leave you with the Cold War Kids’ new song, “Santa Ana Winds.” This is the acoustic version. I highly recommend you check out the studio cut on their new EP. Finally, finally (and not to drag out an LA cliche)  — someone has namechecked Joan Didion in a pop song!


  1. Nicole in Seattle on January 27, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Oh, honey, I adore you. Welcome back to the blogosphere. Sorry I missed you when you were here … but I was in LA, not eating beets, but kale salad.

  2. Jolie Noel on January 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    YAY!!! Soo gald yall enjoyed the vaca! And sooo glad you are back to blogging! Keep them coming…I love your take on life!!!

  3. Jeneane from Tyler TX on January 27, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    So glad you’re back…I just took down my Christmas tree today (1/27) and couldn’t help thinking of Tinsel!

  4. Mary on January 28, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Mr. Stuever! I didn’t know you’d return to the blog! Welcome back.

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