Archive for the ‘Hollywood’ Tag

Samba, Memories and Regrets   1 comment


The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles gifts readers with an expansive, beautifully-written view of the ebbs and flows of deep friendships.

Dores, whose existence is shaped by her role as an orphan on a Brazilian sugar plantation, narrates the story. Her life changes when Graca, the spoiled, young daughter of the sugar cane baron, arrives. The two are opposites in every way. It is no surprise that their attraction is the impetus for their future endeavors.

Since there are no other children her age, Graca’s parents enlist Dores as playmate and study companion for their daughter. Despite spending much of her life up to this point working in the kitchen, Dores is a good student, much better than her friend.  Yet, Garca possesses all of the advantages that will contribute to her success: beauty, a mesmerizing voice, a strong will and privilege.

The narrative begins with Dores looking back on her past, specifically the success of Graca, who becomes legendary Samba singer Sofia Salvador. The trajectory from rural Brazil to Rio de Janeiro to Hollywood is more than a rags-to-riches story. Each chapter begins, or ends depending on perspective, with the lyrics Dores has written and made famous by Sofia/Graca.

The characters are lively, the street scenes vibrant and the pulse of the 1930s and ‘40s sets the rhythm. The connection between the two women is full of joy and anguish, frustration and pride. Dores and Graca need each other, despite often wishing this was not the case.

The Air You Breathe
Five Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
449 pages

A Technicolor Love Story   4 comments

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins is a cinematic novel. It’s easy to imagine this story playing on the silver screen. It spans years and continents, relies heavily on the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and features a strong connection to the movie industry. At its core, this is a love story, and a beautiful one at that.

Jess Walter’s tale involves a young actress, Dee, who arrives in an isolated Italian fishing village on the Ligurian Sea, where she meets Pasquale the owner of the Adequate View Hotel. Dee has been sent from Rome, where she had a bit part in the filming of Cleopatra. Dee is also pregnant with Burton’s child. Although it may sound like a blurb from People magazine, Walter imbues his narrative with deep feelings, humor, interesting characters and a clear passion for romance.

However, just when it seems the story will settle in the fishing village (the most interesting place) or even Los Angeles (because of the Hollywood scene), several miscellaneous locales are introduced: Seattle, London, Spokane, Florence, even Donner Pass in Northern California. Walter includes an assortment of characters, none of whom, surprisingly, are superfluous. Added, to this mix are different time periods: the early 1960s, the 1800s, and something more contemporary. The myriad of people, places and eras at first seems disparate, but they actually are essential what makes this such an engaging work.

Ruins are most often associated with architecture. Here Walter incorporates them into the erosion, but not extinction, of human emotions.

Beautiful Ruins
Four Bookmarks
Harper, 2012
337 pages

Table Talk   1 comment

Our presence at “The Charlie Chaplin table” at Musso & Frank Grill for dinner
recently prompted one passerby to comment: “You must be somebody special to be
sitting there.” This led to a lively discussion among those in our group while we
enjoyed what could be construed as old-school cuisine – except it tasted so good –
in the dated restaurant.

Around since 1919, Musso & Frank bills itself as “the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.”
This is hard to dispute. The staff, along with the dark and cavernous décor, helps au-
thenticate the claim. The history may be appealing, but it’s the food that continues to
draw people of all ages.

The menu is eclectic: from Fruit Cocktail to Welsh Rarebit, from Lobster Thermidor to
Chicken Pot Pie. The latter is the featured special every Thursday. Three of the five in
our party ordered it. With its flakey crust, large pieces of chicken, a colorful array of
vegetables and a rich creamy gravy, it’s easy to see why this comfort food is so popular.
I ordered Veal Scaloppini which revealed the Marsala very nicely, but the surprise was
the tapenade served atop the side of rice. The Bone-in Pork Chop was the final dish se-
lected. It covered the plate. The chop was perfectly grilled and tender, something unex-
pected given the thick cut.

Musso & Frank has no visible signs of its place in Hollywood history. Nonetheless,
the booth to the left of the front door is known as Chaplin’s favorite. We did feel
pretty special.

Musso & Frank Grill
Four Plates
6667 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA