More snapshots of my favorite things from this wonderful year, not counting rainbows on roses and whiskers on kittens:
SPORTS – Madison Bumgarner. Madison Bumgarner. Madison Bumgarner. ... and Clayton Kershaw.
The older I get, the more I love baseball. Of course, when you're a kid, baseball is boring – to watch and to play. Especially if you're pretty bad at baseball, as I was. (I was OK at basketball, etc., but eventually, in baseball, they had to put me in right field.)
But as one ages, one comes to appreciate the infinite beauty of baseball. It's a cliché around our house: "Every time you watch a baseball game, you see something new, something you've never seen before." And it's true. Try it the next time you watch a game. Guaranteed.
For me, a Dodger fan (though, to be perfectly honest, in my long past I've rooted for the Cardinals, the Mets, the Yankees, and the Angels, in the wake of the Dodgers' abandonment of Brooklyn), it was a frustrating year. Because of a turf battle between Dodgers and my cable TV company, I saw very few Dodger games on TV. Fortunately, I caught them a few times on nationally broadcast games because the team was so damn interesting and star-packed. Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, etc.
Which brings me to Clayton Kershaw. I love him, I'm proud of him, even though he basically gets away with a balk move, he's the best Dodger pitcher since Saint-y Koufax. OK, it's just the tiniest of hitches in the middle of his delivery, but it certainly destroys the timing of almost every hitter who faces him. And he's a fighter on the mound, the fiercest since Bulldog Orel Hersheiser. And he can hit too!!!
But he unravels in the World Series. As great as he is in the regular season, he has yet prove himself in the post-season. Lifetime, his record is 1-5, with an ERA of 4.98 over eight starts. Against the Cardinals alone, he is 0-4 with an ERA of 7.15. So, for a three-time Cy Young award winner, he still has a mountain to climb and a ring to win.
Unlike the magnificent Madison Bumgarner. Because I didn't get enough baseball on TV during the regular season because of the Dodger blackout, I pigged out on all the post-season baseball I could. I Tivo everything on TV and watch it later, fast-forwarding through all the commercials and crap, but it still cut greatly into my writing time in October, trying to watch two, three, even four games a day. But I tried my best.
Bumgarner rewarded baseball fans with one of the greatest extended performances in the history of sport. First, he dispatched the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game with a four-hit shutout. In the first game of NL Championship Series, he pitched 7-2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals, setting a new, all-time MLB pitching record for postseason consecutive scoreless innings on the road, with 26-2/3. And in the Series, he compiled a record of 2-0 against the Royals, with one save – in Game 7, on two days rest -- and an ERA of 0.43. In three appearances, he gave up one run in 21 innings.
He was right up there with Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth and Koufax and the absolute gods of baseball. It was great to watch greatness in action, even if it was for the Giants. I don't think I'll ever see a performance like that again in my lifetime.
OPERA – Opera means a lot to me. I listen to opera all the time, but especially when I write. And the best thing I saw this year was a recital by one of my favorite current singers Sondra Radvanofsky.
This superb American soprano sang a classic diva's program at the Dorothy Chandler to an adoring Los Angeles audience, including me. The Tiny Goddess and I had seen Sondra three times before at the LA Opera: as Elisabeth in "Don Carlo," one of my favorite Verdi operas, a stunning Suor Angelica in Puccini's one-acter, and as Tosca. Each time, she has delivered "Golden Age" thrills to my ears. I would say to myself, "These days, this is as good as it gets." Thrilling live Verdi and Puccini.
The Dorothy Chandler recital was a triumphant homecoming for the Illinois-born singer who studied at both UCLA and USC. Acting at UCLA, music at USC. "Both a Bruin and a Trojan," she bragged. She sang Verdi and Puccini and Beethoven and Massenet and Copland songs (her father's favorites, which brought her to tears, breaking off in mid-song, something she said that she had never done before.) She topped it off with classic, red-meat encores of "Io Son," from "Adriana Lecouvreur," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Vissi d'Arte" from "Tosca," and "O Mio Babbino Caro" from "Gianni Schicchi" (and "A Room With a View" and a million commercials.)
She was Madison Bumgarner with piano accompaniment.
BOOKS – The best book of 2014 was my book. There.
My other favorite books of the year – well, these are not books written in 2014: these are chosen from the books that I read in 2014 – are:
TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS by H.W. Brands – a full-scale biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although I'm not sure how sympathetic the author was to Roosevelt's aims, I think he delivered a good, comprehensive biography that made me appreciate and understand FDR's greatness more than ever before.
THE BIG SLEEP – I re-read this honey for the first time in – I don't know long -- forty years, so it was sort of like reading a new book. Plus the Tiny Goddess and I are such insane fans of the Bogart/Bacall movie (directed by Howard Hawks, with a screenplay by the estimable trio of William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett), watching it multiple times, that it was fun just to re-read the book against the movie version that I now know so well. Lots of differences that I had forgotten like Vivian had been married to Rusty Regan, not any "Mr. Rutledge" and she wasn't even in the final shootout scene with Canino. And Chandler does give us another scene with General Sternwood, something that's missing from the movie. The main pleasure, of course, was in savoring Chandler's style. His concentration. His attention to detail. His LA-ness (amazing – or maybe not – for a guy born in Chicago, raised in Britain, who didn't come to LA until he was twenty-five: he was always an outsider.) What a first novel.
BALLET – If LA is just fair pickings for theatre and opera, it's even worse for dance. That's why the Tiny Goddess and I planned an entire vacation in New York around a Saturday night performance of the New York City Ballet doing "Jewels," George Balanchine's three-act masterpiece. We had seen it back in the 70s (I think), but it was the first time the NYCB had done it in twenty-five years. A perfect excuse for a long weekend in New York.
Books have been written about the genius of Balanchine, much less blogs. I'm just going to say that the performance was one of the absolute highlights of my year. I like ballet for many reasons, but one of the main, visceral reasons is that everything is done without words. Ballet is, for me, a unique vacation from words. Its meaning is beyond words, which puts me in a special place. And if you have a great company like the NYCB dancing the work of a choreographer like Mr. B. working at his peak, with magnificent music by Faure, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky, you get the highest form of artistic magic.
I got the tickets almost a full year in advance – first row of the first ring – and it was worth the wait.
The farmer's market in La Canada every Saturday morning ... Turner Classic Movies, my default station (always gotta see what's on TCM) -- I watch classic movies, the ones I love, the Fords, the Wylers, the Cukors, over and over and over again... moules and frites at Meet Me In Paris in Culver City ... the view from the 22nd floor of the Fairmont in San Francisco ... swimming in my backyard all summer, especially the night swims under the black sky, the pinpoint stars, and a forty-foot palm tree ...dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley ... the pulled pork sandwich at the Oinkster in Eagle Rock ... take-out from Min's Kitchen in La Canada anytime ... seeing Calder Leigh Robinson every time ... and, the very best thing of all, having the Tiny Goddess home all the time.