Entertaining Christmas in L.A.
Let me entertain you, Los Angeles says! My dear friend, Marcia, has associated herself with some pretty powerful organizations in the art world as a result of her volunteering…such as The Broad Stage and the Getty Villa. Not bad, right? And this was my lucky day as Marcia took me behind the scenes to both the theater and the museum.
At the theater Sunday night, we got there early just after having arrived from Palm Springs and Palm Desert without too much traffic (yes, traffic is really lighter in L.A. during the holiday week!), in order for Marcia to get her instructions from the “House Manager” on how to greet everyone who entered. While she was doing that, I managed to be the first to take my assigned seat in the theater.
David Broza and Friends were playing, featuring the Trio Havana and some special guests. He’s an unusual mixed-bag as a singer/guitarist who blends his Israeli upbringing with his love for Spanish guitar and the Latin sound. He sings in Hebrew, Spanish, English and Arabic, if that’s not confusing enough, but I can tell you that he and the other superstars on stage with him (such as flutist Itai Kriss) brought the house down with a spice mix that drew out all the flavors, including Flamenco dancing and some serious guitar playing. One of his songs sung in Hebrew resonated with me as I remembered it when I lived in Israel and knew all the words — “YiHye Tov” (Things will Get Better). (See more by visiting thebroadstage.org/davidbrozafriends )
How did Marcia know Spanish guitar is my favorite sound of all time? She didn’t, but it was so apropos that we’d see an Israeli performer considering it was the first night of Chanukah. Spelled a lot of different ways (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukkah, etc.), the Jewish holiday is grossly misunderstood by the Christian world who thinks it’s the “Jewish Christmas.”
Let’s get this straight right now: it’s not. It has zero to do with Christ or Christmas or anything religious. In fact, it’s just a historical remembrance for when the “Maccabees successfully rebelled against Antiochus IV Epiphanes.” (Wikipedia.org) According to the Talmud (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law and Jewish theology), “the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah miraculously burned for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting.”
Tradition has it that each night over eight nights, one candle is lit to represent the night and another candle with which to light it, known as the “shamash.” Each night a candle is added, so by the end of the eight nights, we have nine lit candles. The holiday starts the 25th day of the month of Kislev of the Hebrew calendar and that’s why the date is different every year in our Gregorian calendar. The candelabra used to hold the candles is called a “chanukiah” (spelled equally as many different ways, since it is a Hebrew word and open to many variations).
Marcia and I lit the two candles and sang the prayer in Hebrew we remembered it: “Baruch atah, adonai eloheinu, melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah” which translates to “Praised are you, our God, ruler of the universe, who made us holy through your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights.” In Paris I have an antique chanukiah that dates back to Poland in the early 20th century that I bargained for in the “Shuk Hapishpeshim” (a flea market in Old Jaffa, Israel) in 1980. More because I treasure the chanukiah than the holiday, I light the candles just about every year. No, there is no tree, no “Chanukah Bush” or whatever a Christmas tree in a Jewish household is called. (My mother would turn over in her grave if I did! See this NY Times article for kicks.)
The next day, Marcia took me behind the scenes of the Getty Villa and on a private tour as one of their official docents. With her staff badge, we entered from behind the villa and lunched in the staff café before taking a formal tour of the grounds and the rooms of artifacts — a practice session for her and a learning experience for me. The villa, located in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean, reopened in January of 2006 after a major renovation project. The museum and educational center is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria and houses approximately 44,000 works of art from the museum’s collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, of which over 1,200 are on display.
I heard a lot about J. Paul Getty, the museum, the gardens and mythology from Marcia who has seriously boned up for her tours. I was impressed. The story goes that in 1954, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty ran out of room in his ranch home (on the grounds of the museum) to house his growing collection of artifacts and built the villa in which to house and display them. Inspired by the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum with details from other ancient sites, it was built before he ever had a chance to visit it for himself — he died in 1976, just two years after it opened. Can you imagine such a thing? Nonetheless, it’s magnificent and the collection overwhelmingly fascinating and beautiful, worth a visit if you’re in the L.A. area. (BTW, tickets are free, but parking is $20.)
Getty’s beginnings as a collector started with his love of 18th-century French paintings and furniture owned by the landlord of his New York City penthouse, Amy Guest, a relation of Sir Winston Churchill. He began buying up period pieces at reduced prices because the art market was depressed at the time. He even wrote several books about collecting these works. Interestingly enough, he was a stingy fellow who was opposed to paying full price and this sadly limited his collecting to mostly lesser works.
Nonetheless, by the time he died, he owned more than 600 items valued at $4 million including paintings by Rubens, Titian, Gainsborough, Renoir, Tintoretto, Degas, and Monet. When his interests skewed over to Greco-Roman sculpture, he was led to building the Getty Villa to house the collection. All this I learned by doing a bit of research, because I don’t think Marcia’s courses at the Getty taught her that the infamous man of great wealth had been a tightwad!
Later today my family members living in L.A. and I are going for a movie (Bombshell) and then after, Asian food (they prefer Thai over Chinese), as is Jewish tradition on Christmas day. The reason for that comes from the Jews in the Lower East Side in New York who, looking for a place to eat on Christmas Day, found solace next door at the restaurants in Chinatown. This goes as far back at 1899 when it was first written about in the American Hebrew Weekly journal.
And it still works well for us today!
Happy holidays to all and…
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(in relief at the Getty Villa)
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