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Piotr Beczala and Stephanie Blythe
Photo by Ken Howard

My 24-year-old daughter, Chelsea, likes to follow the rules. If she gets a bookcase from IKEA, you can bet she’ll huddle down to read every word of the instructions. Once that’s done, she’ll check that she has all the needed materials pictured and carefully group them in a logical fashion. And when all that’s been accomplished, she’ll patiently follow each step in exact order. Eventually, without any swearing under her breath during obstacles, she’ll have a perfectly put-together piece of furniture.

That’s why it came as no surprise to me when she insisted on doing research before choosing San Diego Opera’s Pagliacci, The Elixir of Love or A Masked Ball when I invited her to her first opera experience.

After dutifully reading the scenarios on Wikipedia and listening to arias on YouTube, she still couldn’t make up her mind, so she went to a website called “reddit opera” and asked for advice. She got 14 replies, fairly evenly divided between preferences. Three were noncommittal. Four chose Pagliacci: “In terms of first operas, usually the shorter the better” was the general consensus. Four others picked Elixir: “Nobody dies, people get drunk and fall in love.” Hmmm. Four people opted for A Masked Ball, all of whom mentioned Stephanie Blythe. Said one: “Stephanie Blythe will blow your mind — that and I’m in the chorus. But Stephanie freakin’ Blythe. Her voice is a force of nature.”

In the end, Chelsea left the choice with me. But, other than knowing the expression “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” I’m no opera expert. I have seen but one opera, (OK, musical) on stage: Cats. My opinion? The high, screeching soprano voice seemed like a pretty good imitation of a cat in heat to me.

I decided to go with Stephanie freakin’ Blythe and A Masked Ball. I’ve at least heard of Verdi and know the historical story of King Gustav III’s murder. Plus, what girl in her right mind doesn’t want to fantasize that two men — one a king, one a count — are madly in love with her?

Thank goodness we decided to get dressed up for the occasion. Although I told Chelsea that we shouldn’t wear jeans, I was not expecting so many San Diegans to dress in gowns, sparkles and furs (hopefully, not real).

A Masked Ball was three hours long (including two short intermissions) and a deep dive into opera for a first go-round. We agreed that the sets and costumes were divine, that we preferred the chorus to the arias and that Stephanie Blythe has a formidable voice (and that, in her gown, she reminded us of Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid). Our favorite singer was soprano Kathleen Kim, who played Oscar. Judging from the applause, the audience loved Kathleen too, but preferred the three main characters (Piotr Beczala as Gustav III, Aris Argiris as Count Anckarström, Krassimira Stoyanova as Amelia) and Stephanie freakin’ Blythe.

On the way home, I asked Chelsea if she’d like to venture forth to the opera again some time. “Let’s go to the next one,” she said, “Verdi’s Requiem on March 20.” Seems she already researched that, too.

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


Photo courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum

Instead of running into Johnny Depp at opening night of Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship, I met two strangers, one of whom, according to her nametag, was a board member at the San Diego Natural History Museum where the exhibition is being showcased. She and her husband joined me at the little round table where I was hugging my glass of wine, my only company thus far except for the bowl of scurvy-preventing tangerines that served as the centerpiece.

Instead of discussing the exhibit, though, they steered the conversation toward home design (my nametag also was a dead giveaway: Eva Ditler, Managing Editor, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles). They wanted to know what was on the way out as far as home materials were concerned. Well, I’m no Phyllis Van Doren (SDH/GL's Senior Editor and author of our spring and fall Interior Design Reports), but I’ve worked at the magazine long enough to know a few things.

“Granite,” I offered.

Then, of course, they wanted to know what was replacing granite.

“Engineered quartz, you know, Silestone, CaesarStone,” I said, confidently. (I may have looked rather foolish in the piratical scarf someone wrapped around my head when I arrived, but I knew my stuff.)

Next question: “Who’s your favorite builder or contractor?”

“I don’t have a favorite.” (Phew, avoided that trap.)

“What about Jackson Design and Remodeling?” (Who were these people, really? Spies?)

“Well, they are wonderful, but I don’t have a favorite. I do have a favorite style of house and that would be Mid-century Modern, probably because ….”

Ah, saved. Theresa Kosen, director of the museum council, had stepped up to the lectern and begun the preamble. At the same time, SDH/GL Editor Janice Kleinschmidt, my “date” for the evening, slid into the spot next to me.

Theresa introduced the star of the show: Barry Clifford. No, he’s not a pirate. He’s the underwater explorer who discovered the remains of the Whydah (or as Janice jokingly referred to it later, the “Why? Duh”), the first fully authenticated pirate ship discovered in American waters and the main subject of the exhibition, along with artifact recovery, conservation processes and, of course, pirates (duh).

The first item unveiled when we went up the stairs to view the exhibit was Wydah’s bell, inscribed “Whydah Galley 1716.” Its discovery authenticated the shipwreck site. There were many billboards of information about the ship’s captain, Sam Bellamy, and his piratical crew — including an 8-year-old boy who left his mother’s side and insisted Sam Bellamy take him on (spoiler alert: both the boy and the captain were lost at sea in a storm); about pirates in general; about 18th century Caribbean life; and about Barry Clifford and what it takes to uncover a shipwreck. Showcased items included the ship’s rigging and tools; pistols, muskets, cannon and swords (shiver me timbers!), navigational tools, artifacts representing the stuff that real pirates use (including an actual commode – ew!) and, finally, a treasure chest loaded with booty (“authentic coins last touched by real pirates” — oh, my!). In fact, one of the hands-on activities was being able to touch authentic pieces of eight that pirates had touched. (I will never wash my hands again!)

Here’s a tip: If you want to touch the booty that’s been pirate-handled, learn about the history of piracy and have underwater archaeology explained to you, February 2014 is the silver anniversary of museum month in San Diego. With a pass, up to four visitors can gain admission to the National History Museum and 43 other participating museums for half-fare; and the pass can be used all month long. Passes are available — while they last —at Macy’s in San Diego, Temecula and Imperial Valley. All hands on deck!

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


Luci Dumas Fine Photography

When my girlfriend and her husband moved from the Chesapeake Bay area to San Diego in the early ’80s, they were optimistic that, even though they had a short-leashed budget, they would be able to find a four-bedroom, three-bath, single-family residence with a nice back yard for their golden retriever.

I had my doubts, but was pleasantly surprised when, a few months later, I ran into her at a wooden-car show and she told me they’d bought a nice-sized house that met all their requirements. “It’s kind of in the hood,” she admitted. “But we don’t mind.”

The “hood” was South Park, although she often referred to the area where her house sat as the edge of Golden Hill. Her home was a large, eclectic Spanish-style, but most of the houses around her block were smaller, rundown Craftsman homes with peeling paint and weedy yards. Some had bars on the windows. Many were rentals.

Just down the way, a straggle of shopkeepers were trying to make a go of it, many keeping their doors locked and only opening them if a customer happened to knock.

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I had a lunch date and opted for Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro. It had two pluses: SDH/GL restaurant reviewer Stephen Silverman had given it a Silver Fork Award, and it was within walking distance from her house.

Thirty years have gone by since she and her husband bought their house; and although my friend and I gained a few facial lines, it seems South Park lost its wrinkles in the process of growing up. As we strolled down wide, tree-lined 30th Street, pale yellow blossoms drifted down on us like bits of confetti. We walked by a gourmet food truck and a brightly colored drive-through coffee kiosk, where we stopped to chat with a senior citizen who was busy planting a circle of fuchsia, pink and red impatiens around the base of a palm tree. He said he felt lucky that he could do his part in keeping the streetfront beautiful and that, no, he wasn’t worried someone would steal the little table that looked just like a tree trunk. He’d placed it there for the coffee vendor some time ago and no one had taken it yet.

The Craftsman houses we wandered past probably have bigger mortgages now, but are beautifully restored and have real landscaping. Just beyond a smattering of cute bungalow courts, we peeked into a couple of vintage-style boutique-shop windows. One shop was selling flapper beachwear.

We reached our destination, hungry from the walk. As we sat down to enjoy our three-plate Sweet & Savory Brunch, I commented on the changes in South Park. My girlfriend laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess I can’t call it 'the hood' anymore.”

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


Photo by Dahna Logan

Photographer David Harrison knows that if you want to play blues harmonica in the key of G, you need a harmonica in the key of C. Self-taught in harping, he plays with The Bedbreakers at their once-a-month La Mesa gig in the Riviera Supper Club’s Turquoise Room.

It seems unfair that, without formal lessons, David (shown above playing with The Bedbreakers) can soulfully hit those blues pitches with speed — and he’s probably improvising. I guess you’re either musically inclined or you're not. Unhappily, I fall into the latter category.

From grade two through grade six, my mom enforced weekly piano lessons. It wasn’t that I had begged to be taught or that she discovered I had an ear for music. It was because she thought instrumental instruction, like household chores, would be good for me.

I assume the piano was chosen rather than the violin, flute, oboe or any other smaller instrument because my dad got a “good deal” on a used antiquity that, at one time, had been a functioning player piano.

My dad, a fix-it-yourself handyman kind of guy, had grand plans to eventually make the player operable again. He also envisioned glass within the large wooden cabinet so that the hammers could be seen striking the strings as the music roll passed over the perforation holes to sound out the notes.

In the meantime, we managed to cram the large wooden upright along the wall of our tiny dining room so that my sister and I could take lessons from Mrs. Cadieux, who lived two doors down.

I showed off my musical prowess at my first lesson. I told Mrs. Cadieux that our piano at home must have been the wrong size to play properly. (She owned a 36-inch-tall, “normal” upright; ours was a more-than-45-inch-tall giant.) I couldn’t wait to get home from my lesson, so I could relay what I had been taught: If we washed our piano, it would shrink!

After four years, I gave up on lessons. Although, in all that time of formal instruction, I did manage to learn how to read music and could play a bit more than “Chop Sticks,” I noticed that in my last halting, mistake-ridden etude performance, audience members were so delighted with my playing that they winced.

Which brings me back to David. When he expresses himself through his harmonica, the audience is jumping, not wincing. If you decide to go see him and his band play, get to the Riviera early for the fun of grilling your own steak and to ensure a good seat in the Turquoise Room.

Don’t expect a sleek nightclub, though. The Turquoise Room is a retro cocktail lounge with leather booths and red lights. When I went, the noise precluded any conversation; the mood was wild and the crowd young. The place was so packed that servers with filled trays needed snake-slithering skills to wind their way through the throng gyrating along the aisle next to the tables. (There is no dance floor.)

Hmm. Perhaps David’s wife, Dawn, could put her designer hat back on and throw them a bid for a remodel …

My father fixed the player piano, which now has a basement location. It’s for sale —
along with the music rolls — but the buyer will have to figure out how to lug it up the stairs.

player piano

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


In the 1960s when I was a kid living in Ontario, Canada, sunny summer weekends were spent “going to the lake.” We’d pack up the old ’54 Chevy with an ice chest of food, lawn chairs, beach blankets, towels, our fiberboard box suitcase, the Coleman stove, the tent and all its paraphernalia, sunscreen, Off bug repellent, magazines, fishing poles, a tackle box. Then, with a little adjusting of stuff here and there, the four of us (mom, dad, me and my know-it-all older sister) would pile in. With a good-luck pat on the dashboard from Dad so that the car would make it to our destination, off we’d go.

Whether we traveled to Golden Lake, Silver Lake, Blue Sea Lake, White Lake or any other lake, my sister and I busied ourselves swimming, diving off the floating dock, building sand castles, filling our pails with tadpoles or fresh berries and reveling in the warmth of the sun. In the mornings, my dad would make French toast on the Coleman stove. In the evenings, we’d roast marshmallows around the campfire.

Those blissful weekends are treasured memories — memories recently jogged from their nesting place when I visited Newport Beach’s Crystal Cove (shown above), a stretch of beach where families just like mine spent similar summertime weekends.

This lagoon-like retreat started off as a set for Hollywood filmmakers during the silent-film era (Treasure Island was filmed there in 1918). To give the illusion of an exotic island locale, palm fronds were placed on huts. When these sets were left behind, families would stay in them. Soon, vacationers began building rustic, eclectic cottages on the shoreline and on the bluff. By the 1930s, families of campers were staying in tents right on the beach — all with the generous permission of property owners James Irvine II and James Irvine III.

Every Saturday at 4 o’clock, campers gathered ’round the flagpole, where a flag depicting a martini glass was raised. A vacationer blew the bugle, and cocktail hour officially began. Adults filled their cocktail glasses, while teens hung out at the general store’s soda fountain. I envision happy families enjoying beach bonfires, luaus, tiki parties and communal fish fries (a little different than our lake forays, where tea and cookies were served at 4 and there was no surf, but still the same basic kind of lazy summer days).

In the late 1930s, the Irvines invited cottage tenants to either move their cottages elsewhere or lease their cottages from the Irvine Company. Most opted to lease. In 1962, tenting on the beach was outlawed due to overcrowding; and in 1979, the cove was sold to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. In 2001, the cottage occupants (or coveites, as they were called) were evicted by the state.

Today, thanks to the Crystal Cove Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve the cove, this stretch of beach looks pretty much the same as it did back in its heyday. Of the 46 cottages built between the 1920s and 1950s, 22 cottages have been restored. Thirteen are charming overnight rentals. Eight are used for visitor services, including a store and the check-in office; and one is a marine research lab. The CCA is busy raising the funds necessary (a hefty 20 million bucks, give or take a few dollars) to restore the remaining 24 cottages.

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor



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March Show-ers


As much as I love looking at paintings and sculptures by famous — and in many cases long-dead — artists, I appreciate even more the paintings and sculptures of artists who are not household names. Actually, they are household names — in my world. They are “local artists” that are living and breathing life into new ideas all the time.
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