Palm Springs

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Desert Hijira: To Palm Springs

Racquet Club Garden Villas

The pool at the Racquet Club Garden Villas, once part of the famed Racquet Club Resort. Photo by David Lansing.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the sand on the edge of the Pacific watching a small group of middle-aged women taking a stand-up paddleboard class. There was a slight breeze coming off the water, keeping things to a comfortable 75 degrees or so.

An hour and a half later I was in Palm Springs where, at noon, it was 108 degrees in the shade. I am staying in a small garden villa that was once part of the Racquet Club, a resort I’ve written about before that was founded by Charlie Farrell, a character actor from the 20s and 30s whose career was revived in the 50s when he played the worried father of troublemaker Gale Storm in My Little Margie.

Charlie Farrell was quite the bon vivant both in Hollywood and Palm Springs. I guess you could say he was Carey Grant before Carey Grant.

Marilyn Monroe at Racquet Club, Palm Springs

A young Marilyn Monroe, circa 1949, at the Racquet Club. Photo by Bruno Bernard.

Anyway, Charlie, like his beloved Racquet Club, became a bit of a mess after his wife died. But I remember going out there in the 80s, a few years before Charlie died, and it was still something to see. You’d walk into the Racquet Club, where Bing Crosby used to play bartender, and see all these old publicity photos on the wall: Marilyn Monroe, in a robins-egg-blue two-piece bathing suit sitting coyly on the end of a diving board; Spencer Tracy playing chess with Charlie; Kirk Douglas catching a breather between sets of tennis. There were shots of Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis and Joan Crawford.

It was something.

Now there’s a low wall between my condo and the old Racquet Club, which has been deserted for years. From my courtyard, I can still see the old Bamboo Bar and the boarded up buildings that used to be the famous bungalows nestled around what used to be the verdant Mission Garden but is now just a dusty, weedy lot. A few years ago there was an ambitious plan to bring back the Racquet Club to its former glory. Infrastructure was built. Some of the historic Albert Frey bungalows restored. Then the market crashed and construction stopped dead. Now I hear the homeless often break into the old bungalows and crash there until the police run them off. Like Charlie Farrell’s last years, an ignoble end for a once magnificent desert character.

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Randy Grubb's Decoliner. Photo by David Lansing.

From our Palm Springs correspondent:

We’d heard about the Vintage Airstream Trailers show during Modernism Week and headed over to have a look at the decked-out Caravels, Safaris, and Bambis. Our favorite, however, wasn’t an Airstream at all. It was Randy Grubb’s Decoliner, an odd beast that looked like a cross between a 50s bus and a hot-rod Globetrotter.

Randy had driven the Decoliner, which has an open-top flying bridge (so it can be driven from either inside the cab or from on top of the roof), all the way from Grant’s Pass, Oregon, where he is a glass-blower when he isn’t messing around with cars. It took him 20 months to construct the beast which is made from a ’73 GMC motor home chassis, a 455 Oldsmobile engine, and a hulking 1950 COE (Cab Over Engine).

This thing is just meant for a long road trip.

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Michael Petry artwork

Some of the 250 hand-blown glass eggs in Michael Petry's art installation in Palm Springs. Photos by David Lansing.

From our Palm Springs correspondent:

One other fabulous exhibit currently at the Palm Springs Art Museum: Michael Petry’s  “The Touch of the Oracle.” The concept behind this is a little difficult to explain but let me try. In a gallery with a blond hardwood floor, Petry has hung 100 gold mirrored droplet-shaped glass vessels that have something to do with the Greek myth of Danae, who was impregnated by the god Zeus in the form of a golden rain shower. So the 100 golden vessels are like sperm.

On the hardwood floor are 250 hand-blown glass “stones” or, really, eggs. In short, the golden sperm hanging from the ceiling is preparing to impregnate the multi-colored glass eggs. Okay, the story sounds a bit lame, I agree, but the exhibit is really quite stunning. Even if you ignore the whole “golden-rain-impregnating-hand-blown-glass-eggs” thing.

The Touch of the Oracle continues through July 29.

100 gold mirrored droplet-shaped glass vessels hang from the ceiling.

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David Hockney's "Sun on the Pool Los Angeles," a composite of Polaroids from April 13, 1982.

From our Palm Springs correspondent:

It was the perfect Easter Sunday in Palm Springs: blue sky, mid-80s, and not a trace of wind. A day for either sitting by the pool or, perhaps, looking at pools in the form of a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum to walk through their special exhibition  “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982,” part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition currently running in more than 60 museums in Southern California.

There was so much eye candy here but our favorites were the series of David Hockney Polaroid composites, such as the one above, comprised of dozens of individually shot Polaroids of a backyard swimming pool. So very clever and so very entertaining.

Backyard Oasis continues through May 27.

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Tequila por Mi Amante. Photo by David Lansing.

Tequila por Mi Amante. Photo by David Lansing.

As much as I love Charles H. Baker’s 1939 cocktail guide, The Gentleman’s Companion, I have to say that a lot of his recipes are just garbage. Like his Parisian “Good-Morning” which calls for a jigger of absinthe, French vermouth, yellow chartreuse, anisette, and fresh lemon juice. Drink one of those and you’ll give up drinking.

And then there are some spirits that he just doesn’t seem to have a handle on. Like tequila. Tequila, writes, Baker, is “very potent, colourless, and has a strange exotic flavour which—like Holland gin—is an acquired taste.”

He then writes about going on a quest to find a tequila-based cocktail that wasn’t “a definite menace to the gullet and possible fire risk through lighted matches.”

One of the libations he comes up with is Tequila por Mi Amante, or Tequila for My Beloved, which isn’t really a cocktail—it’s just infused tequila. However, I’ve made it (recipe follows) and find that it makes a lovely margarita. Baker’s recipe calls for putting a quart of ripe strawberries in a covered jar, pouring on a pint of tequila, and letting the whole thing steep from three to four weeks.

First of all, a month is way too long. I find that a week is fine, although ten days may be better and two weeks isn’t out of the question. The best way to tell when it’s ready is to taste it every day after you turn the mixture upside down to mix it up. What you’re looking for is when the edge has come off the tequila and seems to have mellowed a bit. The minute you reach that, you’re done. Strain, dump the berries (I haven’t found any good use for drunk strawberries), and pour the mixture into a clean bottle. Store in the refrigerator (there will still be some little strawberry bits in the liquid and you don’t want them going nasty on you).

Now you can drink this straight up (chilled) or on the rocks, and it’s terrific in a Paloma (2 oz. tequila por mi amante over ice in a Collins glass topped with grapefruit soda or, better yet, fresh grapefruit juice), but do try it in a margarita as well. It’s a splendid spring cocktail.

Tequila por Mi Amante

Wash, stem, and cut into halves enough berries to fill a quart-sized jar. Add about a tablespoon of simple syrup to the berries. Pour silver tequila (do not use Jose Cuervo Gold!) up to the top, completely covering the berries. Store in a cool, dark place, turning the jar upside down once or twice a day. Start checking for taste after about a week. When you’ve got it where you want it, strain and pour the liquid into a sterilized bottle. Put in refrigerator or freezer.


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