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ART – MADE IN L.A. 2014

Daughter Heidi (who was conceived/made in Los Angeles) and I went to the Hammer Museum UCLA for the “Made in L.A. 2014” exhibit yesterday to discover the latest artistic expressions from the Los Angeles art world. Over thirty artists exhibited and what a variety it was. There was a sign on one of the gallery doors that some of the artwork wasn’t suitable for children, and we soon found which ones.

I’ve never seen such a diversity of art forms at one exhibit—from short videos of all sorts to paintings and sculptural pieces in all kinds of mediums. Most of the art was made specifically for this exhibit. Fortunately, viewers could read general background information on each artist as well as specifics on the various pieces. Before we wandered the galleries, we ate lunch in their outdoor café and enjoyed a modern dance performance by a young man in a free-flowing garment (similar to a dress).


Untitled by Lecia Dole-Recio at Hammer Museum UCLA exhibit

Untitled by Lecia Dole-Recio at Hammer Museum UCLA exhibit

There’s not space to describe but a few of the highlights of this unusual mix of artistic expression. I’ll share a few impressions that stuck with me, like a video on a medium-size TV screen of the face and head of a young pretty Asian woman in red lipstick continually smiling without changing expression. It kept drawing my attention even while looking at another video, full of movement and dialogue in the same room.

Modern artists aren’t generally obsessed with beauty or conservative subject matter; they’d rather get to their truth. Artist Max Maslansky’s erotic paintings of sexual fantasies painted in pinks and reds took up most of a room. The artist achieved a soft blurry look by using old bedsheets instead of canvas, but the viewer wouldn’t have guessed unless you searched for the information. A documentary video in a small room nearby focused on the dangers of being a stunt man in the entertainment industry. The pay is lucrative but injuries are common, and the work is truly death-defying.

One of the more delicate and intriguing sculptors was Ricky Swallow, who crafts small objects in wood or cardboard and may cast them in bronze. Their forms were delightful—one looked like a tiny modern chair, one resembled a small ladder-back chair, which could have been just a decorative display.

The work of Marcia Hafif, who explores and experiments with types of paint, filled an entire room with square paintings, each a different color, and all evenly spaced and at the same height. I didn’t take the time to check on the subtle differences between the paintings.

I enjoyed the very vibrant work by Lecia Dole-Recio, and used the museum’s postcard of one of my favorites for this blog. She doesn’t title her work, which is what she calls “painted constructions” of paper, cardboard and tape, not quite paintings and not quite collages.

I was moved by a very personal, charming and amusing video by Judy Fiskin—“I’ll Remember Mama.” Her title was inspired by the film “I Remember Mama” made by George Stevens in 1948. Coincidentally, I became friends long ago with Peggy McIntyre, who starred as the daughter Christine in the old film. Peggy worked at AT&T in Hollywood as a fellow service rep in the 1960s.

Fiskin’s film focused on her own mother, who she filmed a few years ago at age 89.  Fiskin decided to make a video when her mother was still alive instead of making it a memorial piece. Although affectionately done, Fiskin focused on the difference in age and personal preferences between mother and daughter, and the personal objects (furniture, etc.) her mother will leave behind. Her mother, like many other wealthy LA widows, lives by herself in one of the high-rise apartment buildings on Wilshire Boulevard. Narrating the film, Fiskin points out that at night, the lights of cars traveling down Wilshire reflect on the apartment windows and look like tears traveling down the face of the buildings.


Robin Williams recent tragic death reminded me of a friend’s story that had a happier but not romantic ending. Angels do exist! I’m offering a short preview of my book; for the entire story, this short book is available on Amazon.

When Samantha arrived in Los Angeles, she got an immediate job as a feature film extra. Although she sometimes tired of standing around waiting for filming to begin or end, she found the business fascinating and took the time to ask questions and get to know the players both in front of and behind the camera. Her striking looks, with her added knowledge and flair for the right clothes that attracted attention while emphasizing her curvaceous figure, encouraged many a director or producer to talk with her. On a hot and crowded set one day while filming a crowd scene in a busy parking lot, Peter sauntered up to her during the lunch break.

Angels inUniform#1

Six-feet tall with a tanned, muscular body, a Germanic face and thinning blond hair going gray, his studied informal air and casual but expensive clothes gave him away as a producer. Sam perceived all this in an instant; to protect herself she had always been observant and perceptive. He stood in front of her, removing his sunglasses to reveal startlingly azure blue eyes. He gazed frankly into her eyes, assessing her looks and manner with no apology; he had been in this business too long to waste time on courtesies. Her height, in small heels, was equal to his; her forward gaze did not flinch or look away modestly. She took a few lazy moments to give him a slight smile, her nose flaring as she smelled his expensive cologne. She was at ease and ready for any banter he might direct her way.

“Miss?” he opened casually.

“Hunter. Samantha Hunter.”

“I’m Peter Hood, the producer for this epic.” He laughed.

She gave him a cool smile. “I know.”

“I haven’t seen you before. Are you new at this game?”


“I imagine you get impatient on days like this, when it’s hot and crowded.”

“Actually, no. I thoroughly enjoy this business, even though I am at the bottom…for now.” She could tell her reactions were intriguing him. He was probably so used to the star-struck, over-impressed, naive routine. The chase, she thought to herself, how they love the chase.

“Would you care to learn more about the business?” He paused for emphasis, testing her self-contained manner. “From a producer’s point of view?”

“What did you have in mind?” She could just imagine, but she gave no hint of sexual interest, it was too early in the game.

“Dinner this evening… perhaps by the ocean.”

She deliberately took her time answering as she slowly smiled at him, her dark eyes were pools of mystery. “Yes…I’d be honored,” she answered with just a hint of sarcasm.

He laughed, genuinely delighted at her comment, and knew he might not be the master of this game. Here was a dark-skinned woman who looked like she would lead him around if he were not careful, a challenge to an attractive, powerful man used to getting his own way. He was heartily tired of having women gush and succumb over him so easily because of his money and position.

They had dinner in Malibu, sitting by the expanse of window at one of the trendier, wood and glass dining palaces perched along the coast. Each crash of the incoming waves seemed to meld these two passionate natures together. Sam was sassy and direct enough for him; Peter was more mellow, but opinionated and strong enough to fight for control. Sexually, the chemistry blazed, and they lit the fire that first night.

He took her to his home, and she’d been with him ever since—until she left this morning, before the sun was even up. Thinking of how their romance began, Sam’s tears began to flow again. They became sobs that racked her body, so powerful they sent pains through her chest and back. She nearly lost control of the car, and was forced to drive more slowly.

As she gained control of herself and the car, she began to analyze. Why couldn’t he accept her as she was, slightly damaged? He knew she had inner strength, had survived much for her young years. Hadn’t she told him some of her darkest secrets? Maybe she should never have opened up to him; he wasn’t the father figure she never had. Was that what she expected? When would she stop looking for the strong, caring male? They did not exist. This thought brought tears again, but she willed them away.

She needed some music and grabbed for a CD in a holder on the console. She put one in without even looking. As she started to listen she recognized Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. How appropriate, she thought ruefully—star-crossed lovers, only happy in death. What a beautifully sad piece of music, certainly in keeping with her mood. Why didn’t she drive off the highway now, and end it in a flash? But what if it didn’t work, and she became more maimed that she was already? She wanted something certain, at least in death. Available in Ebook format on Amazon. http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud


Being a writer usually leads in a variety of directions. It’s frequently said that life is what you make it, and that people are as happy as they want to be. I prefer to have fun and enjoy what I do. I took a somewhat different path after my divorce when I decided to pursue advertising and public relations instead of the newspaper trade.

Pelican’s Retreat Restaurant in Calabasas, CA was my version of a magic carpet ride for a few years. It was a pleasure to plan parties and special events, especially when the restaurant owners were a congenial bunch. Fishing excursions, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, live entertainment, participation in nearby Agoura Hills’ Pony Express Days, and mixers for various chambers of commerce were a few of the activities.

John, Gert, Bruce & the Pelican

John, Gert, Bruce & the Pelican in Western garb among the Calabasas oaks.



One of the most satisfying occasions was the Living History party. The restaurant building, nestled on a hill adjacent to the 101 Freeway and the Calabasas Grade (a steep drive down to the Conejo Valley from the western end of the San Fernando Valley) had a long history. On the hill behind it had once stood the first Calabasas one-room schoolhouse, built in 1890. When the old Victorian-style school was demolished, another one-teacher school was built further down the hill in 1925. A retaining wall and stairway, plus the north wall of the restaurant, remained part of the remodeled building, which was a rambling old place with atmosphere. There was a double-sided fireplace, a rather long narrow bar area and two outside patios shaded by shapely trees, appropriately named Trees of Heaven.

The Calabasas Historical Society hosted the party at the restaurant, prompted by the painting of the original 1890 Victorian schoolhouse by a local artist. Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of LA’s famous engineer, William Mulholland, whose efforts had brought water to Los Angeles, was there as well as Charles Mureau, who had bought the school property in 1950 (Mureau’s story was detailed in last week’s blog). A few relatives of original area pioneers, who had homesteaded huge acreage or had local businesses, like the first garage, café and courthouse, attended. The area had changed a great deal since the days of oak trees and native grasses with a definite Western flavor. It was fast becoming the exclusive and expensive residential area it is today.

Our mutual efforts brought out a good crowd to see 19th and early 20th century black and white photos. Original desks from the schoolhouse era were also on display. The capper for the evening was attracting the attention of the Los Angeles Times, our largest newspaper. They sent reporter Bob Pool to write a long story about the affair. A few years before, Bob and I were both writing newspaper stories about the Conejo Valley.

The restaurant, like many of the pioneers who attended, including Charles Mureau, are long gone and the building is empty. The empty building is still a good location for a restaurant. The area is already a prime spot for several car dealerships, like Mercedes, BMW and Acura.



Calabasas, California resident Charles Mureau, who died in 2004, a few days short of his 100th birthday,  could most accurately be called a Renaissance man. He was a landowner, an artist, an inventor, an astute businessman and an accomplished horseman who once “rode to hounds.” He had built a croquet field and a party house on his personal property, and owned a building across the freeway from his home that was Pelican’s Retreat restaurant for years.

Mureau left his mark on Southern California. He had come from Nebraska in 1945 and bought land in Calabasas: 24 acres for his own home on top of a hill north of the main artery leading from the San Fernando Valley northwest to the Conejo Valley, and the 3-acre property on which the restaurant (an old schoolhouse when he bought it) stood. He was considered a pioneer; Calabasas wasn’t yet the tony city it is today with very expensive homes. The street that borders his property and crosses the 101 Freeway is named Mureau Road, after him.

Calabasas Schoolhouse, which became Pelican's Retreat Restaurant

Calabasas Schoolhouse, which became Pelican’s Retreat Restaurant

I met the very gentlemanly and dapper Mureau when he was in his 80s. Sporting a mustache, usually in a British flat cap and cravat worn with a sports jacket, this soft-spoken bachelor was so spry and well dressed he seemed ageless.

For an interview I did for my Daily News column, I was invited to his hilltop art studio workshop, as unusual as he was. The airy, high-ceiling building had its own built-in dovecote, complete with cooing doves that flew in and out as they wished. Around the walls were Mureau’s many oil paintings and a few of his metal sculptures made from scrap and old car parts inventively put together.

He told me he used to be a member of the West Hill Hunt in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of foxes, they’d use horses and hounds to go after coyotes, and the hunt would also be held in places like Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks. Mureau and an Englishman, David Sanford Evans, published The Pink Coat or The Why’s & Wherefore’s of Fox Hunting in 1961.

In the early 1980s, Mureau was saddened by the AIDS epidemic in the US. Being naturally artistic and creative, his mind was usually ahead of others. He had put together a sculpture using scrap metal car parts: a carburetor and an oil can with a long spout, among others. He felt the sculpture was the perfect symbol for the AIDS Foundation, which was just getting off the ground at that point. He showed me a photo of the sculpture, which seemed to depict a lion tamer. I didn’t get the point at first, but didn’t want to say so. I showed my teenage son later, and he immediately figured out the message, “It’s a man taming his dick, Mom,” he told me with a laugh. I did some preliminary exploration on promoting the sculpture symbol, but it went nowhere and Mureau gave up on the idea.

Instead, he pursued his longtime dream of having a distinctive party house and a regulation croquet field to be used for tournaments. His property bordered the freeway and for years drivers could see the beautiful, large white octagonal building with a cupola surrounded by a lush green lawn.

While I was writing for the Warner Center News in Woodland Hills, published by Kathleen and Rodger Sterling, Mureau invited Rodger and me for a special private lunch in his party house. The Victorian-style building was quite spacious inside and boasted a solid maple hardwood floor for dancing and a 200 year-old English fireplace. The main room was big enough to hold at least 300 guests. To keep the old-fashioned idea intact, the bathrooms had pull-chain toilets.

Last time I looked, the party house and lawn, now in disrepair, can scarcely be seen through the bordering trees. I bet Charles Mureau, wherever his soul wanders, might be a little sad about his neglected property.



In memory of character actor Strother Martin, who died on August 1, 1980 and was an acquaintance of mine, I’m resurrecting one of my previous blogs. Besides, I’m editing a biography written by Madelyn Roberts, which consists of many interviews with those who knew him (relatives and people in the film industry) : Strother Martin, A Hero’s Journey Fulfilled.

Strother and his wife Helen had lived in the Conejo Valley (Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks) for years. I got to know them because they were active in the community, and  I was the editor of the local newspaper and attended the weekly chamber of commerce meetings.

Strother Martin in COOL HAND LUKE

Strother Martin in COOL HAND LUKE

Helen was an enthusiastic member of the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District (TLVRCD), which dealt with preserving and conserving the cherished Santa Monica Mountains—the western boundary of the Conejo Valley. Coincidentally, Ronald Reagan’s first political job was his election to the Board of the TLVRCD: he was recruited to run because he had a ranch in the area in the 1950s . If you know American history, you’ll remember what that position eventually led to!

Strother had an active career in film. I will never forget his famous words as the prison camp superintendent of “prisoner” Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He and Newman did several movies together—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slapshot among them.
Considering himself a participating member of the community, Strother volunteered to be part of the local chamber of commerce’s Christmas celebration at the Calabasas Inn one year. He read something from Dickens, and we all felt honored to hear his dulcet tones.

I was always looking for news and interviews and in early 1980 decided to do an interview with the fascinating Strother, especially since he had made a movie not long before with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn: Rooster Cogburn. He gave me some publicity shots from the film, which I still have, and then mentioned he was due to host Saturday Night Live on NBC. It was April 1980 and it was one of his last jobs.

Not long after my story was published, I got the news that Strother had had a fatal heart attack. He was only 61. Helen informed the members of the chamber of commerce about the funeral plans, and we were all invited to attend. The service and burial were scheduled for the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery; this one is in the Hollywood hills, not the one where Michael Jackson was laid to rest. I distinctly remember following Ernest Borgnine’s expensive car into the cemetery. I knew it was him by the personalized license plate.

Sitting in the small chapel, we chamber members were surrounded by some of Hollywood’s elite. Trying not to stare, I noticed Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart, both favorites of mine. Paul Newman, I was told, couldn’t attend but had sent his daughter. It was strange to see the once vital and entertaining Strother in an open casket as we filed by for the obligatory viewing.

After the funeral, a few of us (no one famous) were invited back to the Martin’s house. Helen let us know she was surprised and honored when President Jimmy Carter called personally to give her his condolences.

For a few years afterward I would see Helen Martin, who kept herself busy with the community and the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District. One night I was invited to accompany her to a play at the Ahmanson Theater at the Music Center in downtown L.A. She drove us in her huge yellow Cadillac. At intermission, she introduced me to Strother’s longtime agent, Meyer Mishkin. Mishkin enjoyed telling us that he had recently hosted the wedding of actor Richard Dreyfuss, in the agent’s Beverly Hills home.

In Southern California it can be both odd and exciting to meet and perhaps be a small part of the lives of those you’ve admired on the silver screen.

Heidelberg Memories

There’s a German song, “Ich hab’ mein herz in Heidelberg verloren,” which means:“I left my heart in Heidelberg.”  I lived there for about eight months in the mid 1960s, and I can vouch for those words. It’s fun to reminisce  about those days now that there are very few American military personnel left in Germany.

Heidelberg is a picturesque and ancient German university town on the Neckar River. On a hill above the town stands the ruin of an old castle from the 1600s, which overlooks the small river and a beautiful old bridge. In the summer the town sponsors a special celebration, which was called the “Burning of the Castle” in the 1960s. The lights all over town were turned off and fireworks set off from the castle and the bridge. The effect was dazzling for the town’s residents and the tourists. The best place to see it is from the river, and I was privileged to view it once from a boat my brother’s Cub Scout troop had rented.

The cobblestone streets are narrow and because the town is known for its famous University of Heidelberg, there are many small bars and restaurants frequented by students, like the celebrated Sepp’l and the Roten Ochsen (Red Ox). I still have a glass boot, a favorite and unusual drinking vessel for beer. Students would order a boot full of Germany’s renowned beverage and pass it around their table. The last one to drink from it pays the tab. Air gets caught in the toe of the boot and beer will often spray onto the face of the last drinkers, a good reason for hilarity.

Most Americans stationed  in Germany lived and worked in American facilities, built in a German style by Germans. When entering these American enclaves, it was always obvious it was a piece of Americana just by the name. I lived on the outskirts of  Heidelberg  in Patrick Henry Village. While in Mannheim, my folks had spacious officers’ quarters in Benjamin Franklin Village.

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

My first job after college was a brief but fascinating position as secretary to the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club. I took dictation, wrote letters on a typewriter, and created the monthly newsletter that informed members of all the social activities of the club. During the Christmas holidays I got to sample the special punch for the New Year’s Day party, a unique and tasty recipe from the commanding general’s wife. It was appropriately named London Fog: equal parts coffee, vanilla ice cream, and brandy. It tasted so good it was easy to get fooled, and you’d be drunk before you knew what hit you.

Since I worked with several German women, I got to polish up my German as well as learn something about their culture. They also advised me on romantic matters. One of the perks of working at the Club was the reduced price of food and all the free coffee you could drink. I was a novice coffee drinker, but it smelled good and I felt very grownup. Trouble was, I liked it with cream or milk and I overdid it. Didn’t take long before I was home in bed with a rumbling stomach or on the toilet.

I had my own mini-home just across the street from the Club: a bedroom and bathroom combo on the second floor of the BWQ (Bachelor Women’s Quarters). The BWQ was home for the most part to American secretaries, female Air Force or Army personnel, and schoolteachers. I remember celebrating a new friend’s 25th birthday in the BWQ.  Lois was a California native and bought a green MG when she came for a European vacation and decided to stay in Germany for awhile. She found an American job in the area and ended up living across the hall from me. I still have a beer mug from the 1964 Oktoberfest in Munich; Lois drove us in her MG.







For a time I called myself a Forest Guide, it was a way of explaining editing to new, usually first-time, authors. I would guide them through their forest of words, especially when they had gotten to that place where they couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. Lately, I’m conceiving of myself as a midwife, who helps in the sometimes torturous process of giving birth. The birthing pains involved in creating a book and then sending it out into the world is a lot like having and raising a child. You’ll always feel attached, much like the author does. But you inevitably must let go of your book (child) to make its way in the world.

Before I started editing books, I spent years editing newspapers and magazines. Working with words—twisting them around, rearranging, deleting, finding a more concise, more understandable way of saying something was a wonderful challenge. I’ve always loved editing and the more I’ve done it, the faster and more accurate I’ve gotten. I was an early and avid reader, from Nancy Drew stories to fairy tales and then on to the gods and goddesses of ancient Athens and Rome. I remember accompanying my mother to libraries wherever our military family was stationed. I became an early enthusiast of historical fiction.

In high school and college, English (an outdated word for the subject) was my favorite subject. I majored in English in college but managed to take a variety of history courses, a never-ending passion that would lead me to writing Melaynie’s Masquerade when I got older. As a high school freshman, I became serious about writing and I wrote for the school newspaper. In college I continued my reporting for William and Mary’s “Flat Hat” newspaper and was delighted at one of the school reunions years later when I saw a couple of my articles in a scrapbook on display.

Journalism has been a great teacher. It requires precise, easily understood truthful writing to explain: who, what, when, where, how and why to a reader. And the information is provided in a descending order—the most important facts are given in the beginning. Books are usually not written that way, but a foundation in journalism has stood me in good stead for many years.

I’ve edited over 100 books in the past 15 years and each one has been a special journey. No matter how much I’d read of each book in advance, there were always surprises. A book develops a life of its own, which proves the baby analogy I mentioned in the beginning. Because many of my clients were “newbies” to the world of writing, I became a co-writer in many instances.

I have edited almost every genre of book from how to save for retirement to what a young man experiencing the singles scene learns about sexual success and failure. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal in the process since my clients have experienced amazing things in all areas of the world.

A few recent books include: Once Upon a Man by Debra Pauli (dating tips for the single woman), Beyond Time by Carey Jones (simplifying some of the ideas in A Course in Miracles), The Gods Who Fell from African Skies by Dick Mawson (memoir of growing up and living in Rhodesia and South Africa), Parents Take Charge by Dr. Sandy Gluckman (alternative solutions for children with ADHD and the like), and A Nation of Refugees by Tim Gurung (fictional story of a couple passionate about finding solutions for the worldwide problem of refugees). Most recently, I was editing a book about Hitler and Eva Braun, and I’m currently editing a biography about character actor Strother Martin.



As I grow older, I see more and more proof that we are all connected. Not only do we humans come from the same source, the Internet has drawn us even closer. Like everything in life, these connections are both positive and negative as we can see, hear and read about every day on the news.

Having lived in Tripoli, Libya, back in the 1950s, I will always feel attached and even sentimental about that area. Since then I have met some Libyans who have moved to the US and become citizens, like Mohamed Ben-Masaud in Colorado. Mohamed has traveled to Tripoli several times since he still has family there and does business there as well.


Sami Kaarud

Sami Kaarud beside the Mediterranean Sea

On a recent trip to Tripoli, Mohamed used some of his spare time to concoct a surprise for me. I had asked him to find the home my family lived in for several years on Via De Gaspari in Garden City. After some searching, he found it and identified it by the manhole, which was still in the same spot on the sidewalk in front, although the home had been entirely rebuilt.

Mohamed had a special project in mind: to duplicate a photo of me posing on the hood of my dad’s 1955 Ford convertible. The photo had been taken by my British friend, Christopher Green, with whom I am still in touch.

To complete the scheme, Mohamed needed help and enlisted Sami Kaarud, a 28 year-old businessman, a graduate of Tripoli University School of Business who worked at Tripoli airport. Mohamed had met Sami at a classic car show held at the parking lot of the Roman ruin site of Sabratha near Tripoli. The two talked about cars (Sami collected classic cars and wanted to eventually come to the US and visit Detroit, among other places) and had lunch together. “I asked Sami if he was willing to work with me on a small project by creating a special photo for a friend. He smiled and said he would love to,” Mohamed told me.


Viki Williams in 1956

Viki Williams in 1956


Mohamed Ben-Masaud posing on 1956 Dodge

Mohamed Ben-Masaud posing on Sami’s 1956 Dodge








Sami and Mohamed got together soon after and put together a wonderful funny photo using Sami’s 1956 green Dodge as an appropriate stand-in for the 1955 Ford. Mohamed arranged all the little details—jeans, socks, and shoes on the sidewalk. Even the extra car in the background. I was totally surprised and delighted by the photo. I will never forget this effort by the two of them.

Unfortunately, and for all the wrong reasons, I will never forget Sami Kaarud. He will never get to make his visit to the US. While he was working at his office located at Tripoli airport, he was killed on July 13 by a missile fired by the militias fighting for power in Libya. May Allah bless this young man in eternity and comfort his family in Libya.

Sami Kaarud in Libyan dress

Sami Kaarud in Libyan dress





    Huge Sunny-colored Umbrellas Dot Southern California Mountain Landscape

Giant yellow umbrellas whimsically dotted the hillsides, the dips in the rolling landscape, appeared near trees, a billboard and a gas station and decorated a few ponds on various sections of the 270,000 acres of the private Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California. It was October 1991 and my girlfriend Sally and I were inspired to take the hour-long drive up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 to see this much-touted artistic statement by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) were known for designing and installing temporary but overwhelming environmental works of art. Before the umbrellas they did several projects—wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with material, for instance. In February 2005 they erected gates hung with yellow nylon material in Central Park. Christo is still at work creating ideas for installation.

The imposing yellow umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan and California. The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter of about 26 feet. They each weighed 448 pounds, without the base, which in most cases was steel and anchored to the ground. Not a small project by any means: 1,760 were installed!

Sally and I had both driven the so-called Grapevine before: it led from the San Fernando Valley through the mountains and down into another valley that led north to Bakersfield. At this time of year, before the California rainy season, which usually doesn’t get underway until November, the hills were brown, or golden, depending upon your outlook. The yellow umbrellas added a unique touch to the fairly barren area.

Although it was reported that almost 3 million visitors since October 9 had driven through the area, we easily negotiated the Interstate and were able to get off at the various viewing sites when we chose. I loved the bravado, the sheer uniqueness of the idea to take so much trouble to dot the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing an enormous garden full of massive yellow poppies.

The visitors we saw were enthusiastic and smiling at the incongruity of it all. There were a couple of places to stop and buy sweatshirts—“I saw the Umbrellas,” and similar sayings—and other memorabilia.

After meandering the 18-mile long area, taking photos and finding some refreshment, we headed home, satisfied we’d seen and participated in an event worth remembering.

That day, October 27, turned out to be the last day of the art project. We heard on the news that a young woman visitor had been killed by an umbrella just after Sally and I left. In a fluke of circumstance, an immensely strong wind had caused one of the umbrellas to come loose, and it had flown through the air and impaled her against a boulder. At 448 pounds, it was easy to understand she had no chance. Apparently, she and her husband were there just to view the artwork.

Ironically, I heard in a later news report that the woman was suffering from a probable fatal disease. Perhaps, instead of suffering, she decided to leave the planet in a particularly dramatic way.


Those readers who check my blog regularly will know that I’ve edited over 100 books for authors in all genres. I’ve written an historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade, a screenplay, Drake, and six short books, including An Army Brat in Libya.  I like to share preview tidbits to entice you to read my work, (available on Amazon–a link on this blog) and that’s what I’m presenting this time.

I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction and became enchanted with the 16th century some years ago when I attended Southern California Renaissance Faires. My fictional character, Melaynie Morgan, lives in Plymouth, England, and when she decides to turn her traditional world upside down, she embarks on a sailing adventure with Francis Drake, a daring Plymouth captain. Drake is sailing to the Caribbean to plunder Spanish treasure; thinking he has met an enthusiastic young boy, he hires Melaynie as his cabin boy. What a masquerade she accomplishes before Drake and his crew sail back to England a year later!

Mel bookw:compass 0



















Despite her disguise, Melaynie finds romance. The following is a scene from Chapter 51:

“My love, my love,” she murmured, pulling herself from his arms and his bed as she reached for her clothes in the small hours of the morning darkness.

“Melaynie,” he whispered sleepily and stroked her back. “What can I say or do?”

“There is nothing to say, Bernardino.” She loved saying his name in all its parts, like the beginning of a poem. She bit her lip to hold back tears or the feelings that might ultimately betray her. “Goodbye, my love.”

Except for the whizzing sounds of insects and the sounds of waves washing upon the not too distant shore, all was quiet in camp as she stepped quickly outside. Celebrators were long in bed or passed out where they had fallen from over-imbibing.

Their lovemaking had been so insistent and passionate that her limbs felt heavy. They were both sated, but their hours together would have to last a lifetime. She had spent her coin of emotion and feeling for now and felt numb. She dreaded the rush of desire and ache of love that she knew would return in force when she fully awoke in the morning. Worse yet, she would have to bid him goodbye in a casual fashion. It would be the ultimate test of her masquerade.

Robert did not wake when she crept in. Even if he had, she knew him to be an accepting, unquestioning man, not eager to pry into anyone’s private business. He had long ago made it clear that he did not wish to share what personal life he had left in England, nor was he interested in hers.

To find out how the book ends in Part 2, Melaynie’s Masquerade is available on Amazon.