Saturday, June 2, 2012

Three Fugues on a Diebenkorn Theme


Detail from “Ocean Park #79” (OCMA Website)
I recently viewed the Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park Series exhibit at the Orange County Museum of Art. I went in part because my friend Mat Gleason said, in his review of the show in the Huffington Post:

If you miss this one, you are just not into art. Maybe you're buzzing around some tertiary sphere like design or product photography or academic advancement, but you are not really with those of us who like art.

This exhibit is a litmus test both of whether you make time for great art and how sensitive you are to paintings that are as good as it gets. How do you feel about being in the presence of art that hangs with the most rigorously challenging abstraction and yet is as unabashedly sentimental as holding hands on the beach at sunset? Richard Diebenkorn created mesmerizing paradoxes with these pictures that tossed away all references to representation and yet confirmed a sense of place and geography far more informed than any illustrative landscape could hope for. Deceptively simple, the placidity of these paintings is an antidote to the conceptual, but not to the intellect; in the Ocean Park series intelligence is paired with relapsing emotion.

I think I’m “into art,” but that isn’t the reason I went – to prove whether or not I was “into art.” Mat’s instincts – or maybe it’s his evolved knowledge – are unerring. Mat is almost never this glowing about art. That was part of the reason I went.

The other part of the reason is that I’d had an experience earlier in my life that served to open a portal into art.

Diebenkorn’s name was dropped during this experience, like a magic word, an “abracadabra” that would open the portal. And this “open sesame” experience served to heal a wound that sometime before had closed the portal into art in a painful way. The purpose of this personal essay is to tell the dual stories of the closing and the opening.


Detail from "Ocean Park #36" (OCMA Website)
For most of my life I’ve known that it was my calling to write. Writing is part of who I am. Somewhere along the way, I realized that a “calling” is a lifelong quest to find ways to be fully ourselves, to be true to ourselves, and to bring what we’ve got to the table, despite all the usual and customary roadblocks and setbacks.

Writing was an aspiration as well as a means to an end. I enjoyed writing, felt I was good at it, and wanted to make my living from it. In a sense, this is what I have done, but as a “communications professional,” not as a writer of published fiction, which was the original goal. I’m coming back to this goal only after learning what it takes to be an artist.

This paragraph from the literature for the Diebenkorn show serves as a good description of “what it takes to be an artist”:
Each work was for Diebenkorn a search for “rightness,” an attempt to solve complex and often self-imposed compositional and spatial problems, to welcome mistakes, push through objections, and come to a balanced resolution. The artist worked and reworked the canvases, scraping and repainting, building up layers as well as atmospheric fields and planes, finally arriving at a solution through a combination of intention, intuition, and improvisation. [Emphasis mine]

I’ve spent most of my career as a “communications professional,” devaluing both the work and the experience. I was using my talents as a “hack,” working in cramped cubicles and offices in the service of agendas that were not my own. Seeing a familiar name on the plate identifying one of Diebenkorn’s “works on paper” included in the exhibition made me realize that seeing myself as a “hack” was closing me off from seeing the ways in which Providence had attempted to expand not only my view of myself, by my view of the world.

The familiar name at the Diebenkorn exhibition was Maybelle Bayly Wolfe. And this particular piece, 73.7 cm high by 55.9 cm wide, was a “work on paper,” made from acrylic paint, crayon, gouache, and cut-and-pasted paper. I interviewed Ms. Wolfe, a prominent Pasadena arts patron, a number of years ago. She said she was a collector of works on paper. Her Diebenkorns were among her most prized pieces. This may have been the first time I heard the name “Diebenkorn.” It was also the first time I’d ever met an art collector who specialized (many do, I now realize).

I was interviewing Ms. Wolfe because she had recently donated a large work on paper by Pat Steir to an organization I worked for. The piece I was writing required me not only to interview the donor, but also learn something about the piece that had been donated. (A similar work from this series can be found on the Cerritos Library’s website.) It was this research that cracked open the portal ever so slightly. It required me to learn not only about Steir and her art, but also about traditions, techniques, influences, and sources for art. In this case, the lineage of the work on paper Ms. Wolfe had donated included Hokusai’s “Great Wave Off Of Kanagawa,” Gustave Courbet’s “The Stormy Sea also called the Wave,” and an incredible printmaking collective called Crown Point Press.

I found that I really dug art.


Detail from "Ocean Park #79" (OCMA Website)
Maybelle Bayly Wolfe was not the first art collector I had met. But, whereas Ms. Wolfe’s donation and brief afternoon with her collection opened portals to the world of art, an experience with another collector seemed almost designed to close them off.

This collector, in fact, was my friend Eleanor’s father. Eleanor’s late mother had been a collector first. Her father took it up later in life, after a windfall stock split made him a wealthy man. Two subsequent stock crashes have made him destitute. A lesser man than I would say, "Karma's a bitch, isn't it?" But I try really hard NOT to be lesser.

Eleanor's father, whom I will refer to as Smitty, grew up in New York City, and was attracted to the art scene, which in the Fifties included cool jazz, abstract expressionism, and the pinnacle of American theater, marked by the likes of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. In fact, Smitty fell in love with an actress who had a baby (Eleanor). He wound up marrying the actress and moving them all to Miami. The couple divorced seven years later. 

Smitty was, as the British would say, a cad.

But not completely. He did marry several more times, but he continued to support Eleanor for another fifteen years or so after her mother died, ("of a broken heart," Smitty told Eleanor), not long after the divorce.

Smitty was smitten by abstract art featuring parallel lines. Barnett Newman was the most well-known proponent of this approach. I remember visiting the Getty Center in Southern California with Smitty soon after it opened. While the architecture reminded me of Francisco Franco's monument to Fascism at the Valle de los Caidos, I'll never forget Smitty's observation that the Getty Center contained a Newman-like "zip," that starts at a "spring" on top of the hill upon which it is built, and holds its line as it drops through widening levels that simulate the local flora and fauna, emptying in a circular "pond" that features a topiary maze, effectively breaking the "zip" into a a series of concentric circles, perhaps mimicking the proverbial tossed stone.

Smitty seemed to know something about art, and I was eager to learn. I remember how my enthusiasm began to build as I listened to Smitty talk about art once when Eleanor and I spent a day in New York City "gallery-hopping" with him and Wife #3. Toward the end of the day, when Smitty was contemplating entering One-Gallery-Too-Many, I must have said something like, "Gee, Mr. Smitty, that sounds really swell." Wife #3 had had enough. "Ask Sidewinder," she said in a voice loud enough for me to hear, "That if you said shit was green, would he agree?"

It was offensive, but Wife #3 was offensive, so I took it in stride. But when Smitty repeated the question to me, it really hurt. I smiled and said something like, "Sure, shit IS green, isn't it?" But inside I said, "Fuck all y'all and your snooty, supercilious, hypocritical bullshit." I couldn't really articulate it any better than that. But I've come to think of that incident as the day that almost closed the portal into art for me.

It was over a decade later that I met Maybelle Bayly Wolfe and her Diebenkorns. And, of course, another 15 years or so after that, at the Orange County Museum of Art's exhibition, I can see the influence not only of parallel line abstraction in Diebenkorn's work, but also the beautiful fields of green and blue that must have radiated to his studio in Ocean Park from the top of the hill upon which the Getty Center would one day be built. I could see the fields of blue and green traveling like a laser beam through time to OCMA, and perhaps emanating to Manhattan, where Larry Rubin of M. Knoedler & Co. exhibited Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series for 10 years. 

In fact, now that I think if it, the "zip" at the Getty points directly at Ocean Park, like a "ley line" connecting the two to perhaps infinite portals into art.

I realize now that Smitty is a cad precisely because he had once wanted to be an artist, but was too afraid to follow that "zip." A parallel realization is that fear is like a stone that ripples out in waves that leave destruction in their wake. 

I have vowed to follow the "zips" that connect to portals of love, which radiate into fields of joy, life, and infinite possibility.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


From the "Positively Minnesota" website
of the Department of Employment and
Economic Development
From Snyder, Gary: Practice of the Wild, North Point Press, New York: 1990.

"Sometime in the mid-seventies at a conference of Native American leaders and activists in Bozeman, Montana, I heard a Crow elder say ... 'You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough -- even white people -- the spirits will begin to speak to them. It's the power of the spirits coming up from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren't lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.' "

"What becomes possible when we are intentional relationship with the powers of place?"

La Ciudad Encantada
La Ciudad Encantada, outside of Cuenca, Espana: a favorite PLACE that I haven't thought about for many, many years where I DEFINITELY felt the power of place. I felt "Las Hadas" were all around me, just out of sight.

Another favorite place from the early seventies: Nelson's Resort (this link is from another lover of this place whom I don't know, but she captures it beautifully, as does her blog entry on the place). This is where I saw my first bald eagle, where I saw the only whooping crane I've ever seen, where I had a hallucinatory experience in a large lake of lily pads, and where I saw a moose and her baby swimming down the Loon River early one morning. THIS VERSION of the Ojibway or Wyandot story of the
Star Maiden links stars with lily pads in that part of the world, and spoke to my experience among the vast landscape of lily pads in the North Woods.

Finally, a breathtaking AND comical series of photographs by Michael A. McNamara from a visit to the Greater Earthship Community in Taos, New Mexico a while back. Earthships are WHERE IT'S AT!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Link to Sidewinder-LA's previous Live Journal Blog

Sidewinder's writing and ideas evolve almost as slowly as some of Darwin's favorite species, but there is integrity in those evolving ideas that makes it worthwhile to engage in a bit of blogging paleontology, which is why I offer here a "link to the past" -- of Sidewinder's evolving blog that is.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What does Malibu mean to you?

When you think of Malibu, what pops into your head? Movie stars? Gazillion dollar homes? Surfing? Blonde hair and a great tan? After reading the 10 Malibu-related words and phrases below, we hope that the next time you think about Malibu, you'll feel more like a native and less like a tourist.

Sidewinder at Zuma in January.

Here's a quiz: what language does the name for this 27-mile strip of prime real estate come from? If you guessed Spanish, you would be wrong. If you guessed "Chumash," you would be right, sort of (see #2 below).

"Malibu" is actually how early Spanish settlers (and later English speakers) heard the word humaliwo, which means "where you can hear the surf." It was the name of a village of seafaring people, not unlike the Polynesians, who went back and forth to the Channel Islands on big plank canoes. The village was located near the Malibu Lagoon.
Malibu is one of only a handful of places in Southern California that got to keep its name after the people who had lived there for the previous seven or eight centuries were "cleansed" from the landscape.

Who were the Chumash? Good question. The standard answer is that they were an Indian tribe - or group of Native Americans - who lived in most of what is today Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties.

But the real answer is more complicated than that.

Nobody on the Central Coast called themselves by that name. It was coined by anthropologists as a handy way to group these separate-but-linguistically-related peoples together.

The people who lived in what is now Santa Barbara called the people who lived on Santa Cruz Island, across the Channel, the "shell-money people," or "Chumash," in their tongue. Those same Santa Barbarans called Santa Cruz "Michumash," or "where the shell-money people live." The shell-money people called their own island "Limuw," or "the Island" (literally, "place in the sea").

Shell-money people? The coastal peoples were prosperous traders. They had one of the most sophisticated economic systems on the continent. Instead of using a "gold standard" to back the value of their money, they used the "shell standard." The money itself was made out of shells, which were strung together in strings of various sizes, indicating different denominations. The money was "minted" -- i.e., the shells were processed -- on Michumash.

According to Richard Applegate, Ph.D., "Today the descendants of the Chumash recognize themselves as a distinct community, although they preserve relatively few of their old ways. There are no longer any native speakers of any Chumash language." (From "Chumash Narrative Folklore and How People Spoke," Journal of California Anthropology, Vol. 2, No. 2, Winter 1975).

Meaning "abundance" in the Malibu dialect. There was a settlement where Paradise Cove is now, but the name referred to all of the Point Dume area. Zuma is also the name of one of the most pristine beaches in Southern California.

The long bluff that marks the northern end of Santa Monica Bay. It was named in 1793 by British explorer George Vancouver to honor his friend Padre Francisco Dumetz from Mission San Buenaventura. A typo on Vancouver's map (leaving off the "t" and the "z") was never corrected.

Powell was head librarian at UCLA for many years. The undergraduate library (with the beautiful tiles) was named for him. One of his essays, "Ocian in View" (the title comes from the Lewis and Clark journals), paints one of the most sublime portraits of natural Malibu that I have ever read. Powell began hanging out there in 1944, and finally moved, with his wife, in 1955 to "a cliff by the estuary of Encinal Creek." 

One short quote from this very short essay (which can be found in Writing Los Angeles, edited by David Ulin):
Characteristic of this coast is the offshore wind that blows after dark, very faintly, a mere breath of mountain air suspiring delicately toward the sea, bearing smells of sunwarmed brush and stream-bed with smoke from our chimney, ghosts of the beach-wood, drifting down over the dark sand and waste, residue of fire, liberated energy, sweeter far than incense of cathedral.
A coastal mountain range that rises in Hollywood and stretches 50 miles northwest to Point Mugu (Chumash for "beach village"), and therefore encompassing Malibu.

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the second largest urban park in the United States, and one of the places you can learn about the Chumash culture, at the Satwiwa Native American Culture Center. (Yes, satwiwa is Ventura Chumash for "bluffs.") 

Topanga is also an indigenous word, but not Chumash. It is a Tongva word meaning "close to heaven." The Tongva lived in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Topanga Canyon meets the beach at the extreme southeastern end of Malibu.

On any given day at Zuma Beach, if you wait long enough, you will see families of dolphins cavorting in the ocean, just beyond the breaking waves. Three types of dolphins can be found in Malibu's waters: Bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus), short-beaked common (Delphinus delphis), and long-beaked common (Delphinus capensis). (Source: Ocean Conservation Society)

Home of J. Paul Getty's collection of antiquities. Spectacular location, spectacular setting.

From one end of Malibu to the other, three inexpensive places to grab a bite of seafood with an ocean view.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

L.A. Art World Fringe

On Saturday, October 17, I attended an artist reception for three female artists at 5412 Wilshire Blvd. The location was called, "Sophia Louisa Projects with Phantom Galleries LA." It was at an art gallery. I'm not sure whether the gallery was called "Phantom Galleries LA" or not.

The artists were Rebecca Niederlander, Leigh Salgado, and Coleen Sterritt, and the exhibition of their work, which runs from October 8 - December 5, 2009, is called "Grace Beauty Fortitude." The piece that heads this post is "Take me out tonight" by Leigh Salgado.

I've been watching Leigh's art develop for over a decade, when I attended her first show, "Girly Things" in Los Feliz. I even own a piece of hers:

This is how her website describes her current working style:
"Her labor-intensive compositions are of abstracted imagery occasionally morphing into recognizable subject matter. Viewers are simultaneously looking at interpretations of netting, lace, clothing patterns and original woven abstraction.
"Salgado is a leading proponent of Sculpted Drawing. This buegeoning medium brings a third dimension into pictorial space without compromising the elements of drawing. Exacto knives are used to eviscerate the negative space between the lines in her ink drawing, while texture and shadows reinforce a physical experience. Hung away from the wall, this medium delivers the spatial sensation of a third dimension in static two-dimensional drawings.
 In Other Art News
Another artist whose work I've been following since the late 90s is Chris Ward of CWA Architects. His most recent work is the Park Century School in Culver City, Los Angeles. Chris and the school were mentioned briefly this past Sunday (11/8/09) in the New York Times Magazine "Style" section. One cool thing about this project is that Frank Gehry was a consulting architect on the project. Chris was his "boss."

Also, last night I had the opportunity to hear another person whose progress I've been following, gallery owner Peter Mendenhall of Peter Mendenhall Gallery, talk about his work as a gallery owner. Here are some of the highlights of his talk:
  • The art market peaked in 2006, making NOW a great time to buy art, if you've got the cash
  • In 2006, galleries were successful if they sold 75% of the pieces in a show
  • Today, they feel good about a show if they sell 25%
  • Back in the heyday (2004-2006), you'd have a show up for four weeks; that's stretched to seven now
  • Peter has two or three artists a week requesting to show; he accepts about .05 of those requests
One of the artists Peter represents, David Buckingham (I can't link to his page on Peter's site, so visit it on your own) was a copywriter for a big ad agency in New York for a number of years. It's easy to tell from his work. It kind of reminded me of another friend, Tom Koehne, who was a crossword editor when I first met him; he then became a children's book editor, a legal proofreader, and a poet. Now he's doing art, sometimes using words, sometimes not, but doing very provocative mixed-media collage:

He's got a website, now, too.

During his presentation, Peter Mendenhall said that artists need imagination, skill, and anxiety to succeed. I'm tempted to add another quality: a dose of healthy obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Leigh has been making the Sharpie/Exacto lacy constructions for years; each year they morph a little, but are recognizable from year to year. And if you look at the gallery on Tom's site, you'll definitely pick up that sense of doing something over and over and over and over again.

Quoting a famous Robber Baron (he didn't know which one), Peter said a good gallery owner had to be a combination businessman/dreamer/sonofabitch. He cited Larry Gagosian as the ultimate art dealer, who embodied all those qualities. "You spend years nurturing a market for an artist you believe in, and the minute your artist and his market clicks, Larry takes them from you."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This post has three parts:
-- Sherman the Sea-Sick Sea Lion
-- The New Russian Blue
-- Jane Goodall's Heroes

    PART 1

    Eve and I had the good fortune to spend the weekend of September 19-21 at a Ventura beach house with a group of gourmands and libertines that date back to Eve's earliest years in a part of Eden called Key Biscayne.

    However, when we arrived at this idyllic location (chilly and foggy, whereas, in our part of Paradise, it would reach close to 100 degrees during the same period), there was a sea lion who, for all intents and purposes, lay dying on the rocks right in front of the beach house.

    The sea lion, whom I dubbed Sherman, was moving his head and flippers listlessly on occasion, and our hosts said he had been there since noon the previous day. Many calls had been placed to marine mammal rescue, to no avail. Finally, putting their heads together, our hosts came up with another number to call, and success!

    Late in the afternoon, a man and a woman in their 50s arrived to assess Sherman's situation. They could tell that he was two-years-old and said that sometimes, after a big meal, sea lions would come out of the water and lay on the rocks for a 24-hour period digesting, conserving energy for their return to the ocean.

    The man -- big and Teutonic with a reddish-gray beard, a floppy camouflage hat, boots, cargo shorts and a T-shirt that said, "September 19 Coastal Clean-Up Day" -- went back to his utility van, got a big net and great Dane-sized kennel. The woman hardly spoke and had a very dour expression. She slipped plastic ties into the sides of kennel to secure the top and the bottom halves. The man, whom I'll call Gunther, made an initial attempt to catch Sherman. The sea lion, who up to that point had done nothing but slightly stir, slid swiftly into a crevice.

    Gunther produced a pole with a noose on the end, which he used to gently prod the poor animal from his hiding place. Sherman panicked, tried to make a flat-flippered run for it, but instead of loping into the surf, where he would be harassed no more, he scampered two houses up the beach, where a trio of majestic German shepherds paced and bayed on a parapet above him, defending the perimeter that they'd clearly been trained never to cross. The effort and the commotion taxed what little energy remained to Sherman, and he laid his head in exhaustion on a rock at the foot of the parapet.

    Gunther cautiously approached the sea lion with his net.
    It was low tide, thank goodness, because the beach disappeared at high tide. With surprising dexterity, Gunther dropped the net over Sherman, who barked and wailed mournfully, then dropped the sea-sick sea lion into the kennel. Sherman struggled for a moment only, but then several of us hauled the kennel off the beach, up some stairs, through a narrow alley between beach bungalows, and out the back to the waiting wildlife ambulance.

    Sherman became docile, as if aware that he was going to get help. Gunther and the woman took Sherman to a vet facility where he would get antibiotics and be released in a couple of weeks.

    The New Russian Blue

    The day we got back from our adventures in Ventura, we headed over to Adams Hill in Glendale where a friend of a friend of Eve's had rescued 15 cats living in an abandoned house. Among them was this sweet kitty (left), whom we've named Violet, or Violetta when we're feeling saucy. There was an instant bond. She's acclimating herself to Eden, and we're just waiting until she and our jaguar kitty, Henry (below, right), make friends.

    Adams Hill has a fascinating history: once it was part of the original Rancho de los Verdugos Spanish land grant, then it was part of the Santa Eulalia Ranch, which became Tropico then Acacia Hills. I have no idea, however, who "Adams" was. Interesting tidbit: Adams Hill was the home of the Snowbird Ice Cream store run by a guy named Irv Robbins. Eventually Irv teamed up with his brother-in-law, Burt Baskin, and their partnership became the celebrated Baskin & Robbins/31 Flavors franchise. Click on the Baskin & Robbins link to hear a very incongruous "ice cream cake" rap.

    Our first night with Violet we watched an amazing show called "Jane Goodall's Heroes." During the course of the show, you meet five people working to save endangered animals in all kinds of different ways. These extraordinary individuals are listed below. The one that grabbed my attention the most was George Archibald, founder of the International Crane Foundation. There are no clips from the "Heroes" show available, so I dug up this one about the work that George did with whooping cranes. It shows extraordinary dedication. Check it out!

    washo shadowhawk

    WASHO SHADOWHAWK is a 15-year-old Native American boy from Oregon who is involved with a local Roots and Shoots program that provides enrichment to monkeys at a primate research center. Find out more about Washo Shadohawk.
    samuel hung

    SAMUEL HUNG lives in Hong Kong and has devoted his life to studying and helping the endangered Chinese white dolphins. Find out more about Samuel Hung.
    george archibald

    GEORGE ARCHIBALD is the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. When he began the International Crane Foundation, there were only 66 pairs of whooping cranes left in the world; now there are over 350! Find out more about George Archibald.
    tom mangelsen

    TOM MANGELSEN a renowned wildlife photographer, recently founded the Cougar Fund. The Cougar Fund strives to protect the cougar throughout the Americas and to educate the public on the value of cougars in nature. Find out more about Tom Mangelsen.
    juan carlos antezana

    JUAN CARLOS ANTEZANA, who runs the Inti Wara Yassi sanctuary for street children in Bolivia, rehabilitates Amazonian wildlife such as pumas, jaguars and monkeys. Find out more about Juan Carlos Antezana.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    "All That Glitters..."

    The Books of Summer

    So Eve, my sidekick, and I took a road trip this summer. Part of it involved driving for endless hours north on the Golden State Freeway, aka Interstate 5. One of the things we did to pass the time was listen to books on tape.

    Eve is one of the most well-read women I know. My own taste tends to oscillate between the really good books that Eve has discovered (two recent examples are The Known World by Edward P. Jones and The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea) and obscure books that nourish whatever obsession I'm researching -- Lynn Gamble's The Chumash World at European Contact is a current example.

    Having established our rather high-brow and eclectic reading credentials, it might surprise you that one of the books on tape Eve selected (there were extenuating circumstances, which I won't get into) was Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger, who also wrote The Devil Wears Prada. Back in 2006, Weisberger was ranked #4 on Trashionista's Top 10 "Chick Lit" list.

    Chick Lit, you ask? According to, "chick lit is a genre comprised of books that are mainly written by women for women." The site goes on to define the Chick Lit genre by explaining that, "The plots usually consist of women experiencing usual life issues, such as love, marriage, dating, relationships, friendships, roommates, corporate environments, weight issues, addiction, and much more." also warns that, "There is much speculation that chick lit is nothing more than “trash”, “fluffy, mind-numbing garbage”, “formulaic vapid prose”, and more. I’ve heard it all, and then some. The problem I have with probably 99% of the people who say those things is that they haven’t extensively read into the genre. So why are they labeling something they have little idea about?"

    I plead guilty.

    However,  despite the fact that Trashionista claims that Marian Keyes is "arguably the originator of Chick Lit" because her book, Watermelon (1995) came out a full year before Bridget Jones's Diary, I think that The Golden Notebook (1962) by Doris Lessing -- another book I read this summer that dealt with "women experiencing usual life issues" -- may be the granny, or "Bubbe," of Chick Lit. Of course, it went by another name back then: feminism.

    In her New York Times Book Review of Notebook, Elizabeth Hardwick says that the book "left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of young women," and the Washington Post reviewer said, "Doris Lessing writes about her own sex with the unrelenting intensity of Simone de Beauvoir, and about sex itself with the frankness and detail of John O'Hara." Lauren Weisberger could not be accused of that.

    Chasing Harry Winston is such a promising concept for a book in this genre. Harry Winston Jewelers has outlets in all the great capitals of the world: New York, Beverly Hills, Costa Mesa (?), Paris, London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Beijing, to name just a few. And the three material girl protagonists of the novel are approaching thirty and anxious about their status as "ringless wonders." Are they going to span the globe in search of proposals from Mr. Right in any of these exotic destinations? Not really.

    Emmy, whose character was borrowed from Charlotte in "Sex and the City," does go to Paris. No proposals there, however. And there is a scene at CuraƧao, an exotic resort in the Caribbean -- alas, there's no Winston salon on the island, and nary a mention of the jeweler during the girls' visit.

    Leigh, whose character is a hybrid between Carrie in "Sex and the City" and Lauren Weisberger herself, does in fact get engaged. There's no mention of where the rock came from, however. Aside from the aforementioned Caribbean junket, the farthest Leigh gets from Manhattan is the Hamptons on Long Island. No Winston boutique there. Citing a lack of passion, Leigh breaks off the engagement (returning her to the ranks of the ringless) and quits her coveted publishing job with plans to sell her apartment and get an MFA in creative writing (!?)

    In fact, the only time Harry Winston figures in the plot is when Adriana, the Brazilian vixen whose character begins as an hommage to "Sex and the City's" Samantha and morphs into Carrie (complete with a sex advice column in Marie Claire magazine, soon to become a major motion picture), is taken to the Winston store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and presented with a pair of sapphire earrings previously worn by Salma Hayek at the Oscars (if memory serves - remember, I listened to the book).

    Note: there is no Miranda from "Sex and the City" in Harry Winston. The closest we get is Emmy's little sister Izzie, who's a successful OB/GYN in Miami. Nope, Harry Winston's Bal Harbour boutique is neither visited nor mentioned on Emmy's visit with her sister, whom Weisberger named in honor of the doctor of the same name on "Grey's Anatomy," which is a favorite show of the nearly-thirty trio of protagonists.

    Without making this post longer than it already is, I'd like to close with a paragraph from Winston and a paragraph from The Golden Notebook, which was read and simultaneously blogged about this past November in an interesting literary experiment conducted by a group of seven women writers, none of whom (as far as I know) has yet made Trashionista's Top 10 Chick Lit list. You be the judge of whether one paragraph appears more "trashy, fluffy, and vapid" than the other. I don't think you need to have "read extensively in the genre" to decide, by the way.

    From Winston. The scene is Leigh's New York apartment, when she breaks off her engagement to Russell, the hot TV sports commentator:
    "Russell, you're not listening to me. You know I love you but I can't stop wondering if things didn't move so quickly with us because of circumstances, you know? You start dating someone at this age and they fit all the criteria of being smart and successful and attractive and everyone else is getting married and they're all asking you when you're going to settle down. And it just chugs right along. What might have been a great, fun, yearlong relationship when you're twenty-five all of a sudden starts to take on a whole new meaning when you're thirty, thirty-two. Then, before you know it, you're getting engaged and committing your life to someone you don't necessarily know all that well. Because 'it's time,' whatever that means..." [I found this on the Google Books version (incomplete) of Chasing Harry Winston, page 243, excerpted from the Simon and Schuster hardcover edition, published in May 2008.]
    From Notebook. The scene is Anna's London apartment, where she has been holed up for weeks in a twisted love affair with Saul Green, an American screenwriter who was kicked out of the Communist Party for being anti-Stalinist, then blacklisted in Hollywood for being a red. Saul has just left to see another of his women. Anna is 35, divorced, and has a pre-teen daughter who would be Meryl Streep's age now...
    "Then there was a moment of knowledge. I understood I'd gone right inside his craziness: he was looking for this wise, kind, all-mother figure, who is also sexual playmate and sister; and because I had become part of him, this is what I was looking for too, both for myself, because I needed her, and because I wanted to become her. I understood I could no longer separate myself from Saul, and that frightened me more than I have been frightened... For with my intelligence I knew that this man was repeating a pattern over and over again: courting a woman with his intelligence and sympathy, claiming her emotionally; then, when she began to claim in return, running away. And the better a woman was, the sooner he would begin to run. I knew this with my intelligence, and yet I sat there in my dark room, looking at the hazed wet brilliance of the purple London night sky, longing with my whole being for that mythical woman, longing to be her, but for Saul's sake..." [pp. 587-588 from the Bantam Books edition, published in September 1973 by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, who published the original hardback in June of 1962. Note: my Bantam Books edition cost $1.95 brand new!]
    Los Angeles plays a minor role in both Winston and Notebook, in the context of the creativity and power of the entertainment industry. Its natural beauty is not a factor for the sophisticated urbanites who must deal, somewhat distastefully, with the angel city's monopoly on the movies.