Actors Gang performs Dario Fo

Actors Gang theater © Elisa Leonelli 2019

The 1970 play Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Italian playwright Dario Fo is being performed until March 9 by the Actors Gang, founded in 1981 by a group of actors, with Tim Robbins as artistic director. Since 2005 their theater is located in Culver City’s historical Ivy Substation, built in 1907 in the Mission Revival style to house electrical equipment for the Los Angeles Pacific Railway. It was left vacant in 1953 and restored in 1993.

Tim Robbins, who had directed and acted in the political satire Bob Roberts (1992), now says, “I made that film as a warning about politics becoming superficial entertainment, based on factors that have nothing to do with the truth, image over substance, and the power of the media to create an image for someone, even though their past is very clearly clouded with potential misdeeds. And I believe that is what happened with Mr. Trump, he was elevated into a candidate by this crazy fascination we have with reality TV and celebrity.”
“There is a direct line between Bob Roberts and Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which stands in defiance of fascism. At a time when authoritarian governments are being supported by our president, and the judiciary is being corrupted by politics, this play resonates as if it was written yesterday. What inspired me, when I first read Dario Fo, was his ability to produce incredibly funny situations and dialogue about important social subject matter. Dario’s wicked humor and courageous satire gave me great inspiration to create theater that was relevant, entertaining and dangerous in its uncompromising telling of truth to power.”

Dario Fo

We went to see this American version of the play and were impressed by its manic intensity. You may read a review in Cultural Weekly. However, if you understand Italian, we encourage you to watch this 1987 video of Morte accidentale di un anarchico, with the incredible Dario Fo in the title role.
It is preceded by an introduction about the real life events that inspired the play, when police immediately arrested a railway worker, Giuseppe Pinelli, accusing him of the bombing of a bank, which had been more likely carried out by a right wing group with ties to law-enforcement. While the innocent man was being interrogated at police headquarters in Milano, he jumped or was thrown out of a fourth story window to his death. Fo recalls that the authorities were quite upset about the staging of his play, that made a farce out of their criminal blunder, and they brought his theater troupe to court 40 times. So in order to avoid sentencing, the name Pinelli was never mentioned, it was replaced with Andrea Salsedo, an Italian anarchist who in 1920, two days before Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, fell to his death from the a 20th story window of the Bureau of Investigations offices in New York City.
Dario Fo, who died in 2016 at the age of 90, was a comedian, a playwright and a political activist. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

Text by Elisa Leonelli

Wisdome LA

After reading an article in the LA Times, we visited Wisdome in Downtown LA. 1147 Palmetto St.
We walked inside 5 darkened domes, white on the outside, we sat back on couches to watch SAMSKARA, a psychedelic 22-minute 360 degree video by digital artist Andrew “Android” Jones.

Fantasmagoric paintings and holograms by the same artist are displayed in the art gallery of two other domes. See some of the artwork on Jones website.
Another dome houses Virtual Reality experiences like Burning Man by Jones, Micro Desert and Blue Nebula, where you can paint your own swirls and butterflies onto fantastic backdrops.
You may watch an interview with Jones where he explains how he was influenced by the Art of Burning Man.

Wisdome LA is open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 11pm. $29 admission.
Be sure to click on red hot weblinks for video promos.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

P.S. Read a lenghty article, published in LAIST on February 14, 2019
Massive Domes Filled With Trippy 3D Visuals Take Over 35,000-Square-Feet In DTLA

Meditation Gardens

I had read about the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens, located at 3500 West Adams, in the online magazine LAist over a year ago, but did not visit it until yesterday.
I planned to meditate about the end the year in this “spiritual oasis,” and I did, but what I wasn’t expecting was to connect with my Italian heritage. I discovered that the elegant Guasti Villa, that now houses the PAL&G, was built by a wealthy Italian immigrant in 1910.

Guasti Villa, 1910

Secondo Guasti, born in 1859 in Monbaruzzo, province of Asti, in the Northern Piedmont region, emigrated via Mexico to Los Angeles in 1883, arriving with one dollar in his pocket. He found work as a cook at the Italian hotel and restaurant Italia Unita, located in the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street. In 1887 the enterprising young man, then 28, asked the proprietors for the hand of their 15-year-old daughter Louisa Amillo, and their happy marriage lasted 40 years until his death. Secondo bought cheap land in the Cucamonga Valley near Ontario, an arid desert where the soil was good but the water scarce, and in 1900 founded with several partners the Italian Vineyard Company, the largest in the world at 5700 acres, producing 5 million gallons of wine a year by 1917. In 1912 he built a small town called Guasti for his 1,200 Italian and Mexican workers, with a school, a market, a bakery, a library, a firehouse, a doctor’s office, and in 1926 a Catholic church, San Secondo d’Asti, modeled after the one in his hometown, named after its patron saint.
Read Guasti’s story in this 2000 LA Times Times article “From Penniless Immigrant to Wine King”

Guasti Villa, pond

I had found out about the history of Italian immigrants in Los Angeles 3 years ago, while visiting the newly opened Italian-American Museum, IAMLA. You may read my article in Cultural Weekly at this link. Guasti is mentioned in the 2009 book Los Angeles’s Little Italy by Mariann Gatto, with vintage photos.

Guasti Villa, ballroom

As docent Ryan lead us through the Guasti Villa, we learnt that it was built in 4 years between 1910 and 1913, at the cost of $500,0000, in the Beaux-Arts style inspired by the Italian-Renaissance, with symmetrical architectural elements like arches and Greek columns. We admired the Carrara marble tile floor of the veranda, the grand ballroom lined with inlaid oak wood, the large oval ceiling fresco depicting the lady of the house Louisa among the clouds, with her surviving son Secondo Jr. (four more children who died appear as angels). An inscription reads in Latin “spez mea in deo=my trust is in God.” A curved staircase leads to the upper level, that we didn’t get to visit, arches open to the two parlors, one for men to smoke their cigars and drink their liqueurs after dinner, with a rose marble fireplace, and one for women, that was separated by a wall, and used to have ornate wallpaper, now preserved in a frame. On the opposite side we entered the dining room, also with an ornate mantelpiece, and tapestry lining the upper walls; one figure pictured is Bacchus the Roman God of wine.

Guasti Villa-women parlor

It’s in this room that some of us took advantage of the offer of a sound meditation to connect with our soul, which is held monthly on Tuesday evenings at this spiritual center now headquarters of the MSIA church (Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness) founded in 1968, and of the PTS (Peace Theological Seminary) founded in 1977 by John-Roger Hinkins, who had been raised Mormon in Utah. In 1988 he passed the “keys” to what he called “Mystical Traveler Consciousness” to current leader John Morton. In 1976 Hinkins also founded USM (University of Santa Monica), that offers a Masters Degree in Spiritual Psychology. He died in 2014.

Peace Labyrinth

We then were shown how to walk the labyrinth, a circular path on the ground, made of travertine marble, modeled after the one at the Chartres Cathedral in France, added in 2002. You have to set your intention for this walking meditation, ask for the LIGHT (Living in God Holy Thought). See more info at this link.

Peace Garden

Finally I descended among fountains to the 3 lower levels of gardens, filled with plants like ferns, huge birds of paradise, tall bamboo, citrus trees, I stopped to look at the red fish in the koi pond, I sat under a gazebo on a wooden bench to meditate.

The Guasti Villa is available for rent for movie and TV shoots; recently it served as a set for the television comedy Veep. Click here for 2017 article with many photos.

The mansion was used for lavish parties during the lifetime of their original owners; they ever published their family recipes in a cookbook. Click here for 1994 LA Times article.

Guasti Villa, staircase

After Secondo’s death in 1927, his widow continued to live there with her son, who died in 1933 at age 42, her daughter-in-law Gertrude remarried in 1935 and moved to New York. At Louisa’s death in 1937, the house was bought by Hollywood choreographer and director of movie musical Busby Berkley, who sold it in 1946. It was purchased by the Los Angeles Physicians Aid Association, who transformed it into a retirement home, adding two residential wings in the back. MSIA acquired the property in 1974 and spent more than 20 years to restore it to its original splendour. It was declared a Historical-Cultural Monument in 1990.

The Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens are open to the public Tuesdays-Fridays, some Saturdays and Sundays, from 12 noon to 4pm, attending a tour is required. Reservations must be made through Evite. Free, $10 donation suggested. Click on this link to register.

Text by Elisa Leonelli
Photos courtesy of PAL&G

Palisades Village

Palisades Village © Elisa Leonelli

The newly remodeled shopping mall Palisades Village had opened in September, and finally today I had a chance to visit it, when a friend invited me to lunch. We picked Edo Little Bites, because we were familiar with the Italian cooking of Edoardo, son of Giorgio Baldi. As luck would have it, one of the specials was lasagne, prepared in the traditional style of my hometown, with green spinach pasta, béchamel, pork ragout and parmesan, layered then baked in the oven. For more info about the cuisine from Modena, please click here to read my article in Cultural Weekly.

Palisades Village Xmas © Elisa Leonelli

We walked around the small cluster of shops and restaurants all decorated for Xmas, we enjoyed the Amazon Books store and the Vintage Grocers.

Bay Theater © Elisa Leonelli

Looking forward to trying the Bay Theater, built in in 1948 and closed in 1978, which reopened in November as the luxury Cinépolis, where you lounge in recliner seats and order food to eat before (hopefully not during) the movie, like at the iPic in Westwood.

LA news and midterm elections

As well as following the news in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME magazine, etc, I subscribe to online newsletters to find out what is happening in Los Angeles every week.

Downtown Los Angeles (c) 1983

It’s great that LAist is finally back, after being shut down by its owner last November.  Curbed LA is geared to real-estate news, but has other info as well, Los Angeles Magazine sends a daily update about the best things to do in LA. The once reliable LA Weekly has unfortunately been bought by consortium of investors and most of their staff fired. My favorite news source is Cultural Weekly, since I’m a regular contributor. Click here for my articles.

Disney Hall (c) 2015

It was particularly useful to consult these local publications for guidance on how to vote in the November 6 elections. On October 24 the NPR radio station KCRW sent short videos explaining some of the propositions. I posted it on Nextdoor. On November 5 Curbed LA sent an updated 2018 Los Angeles voter guide, LAist emailed a Voter game plan.

MOCA (c) 1987

On November 7, by 6am, I read editorials such as President hits his limits in the Los Angeles Times, which has improved their coverage since the newspaper was purchased by Chinese doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong. I read in TIME magazine How Women Candidates Changed American Politics in 2018, and in the Daily Good First Muslim and Native American Women elected to Congress.

Union Station (c) 1986

As Stephen Colbert put it in his live election coverage: “The Democrats have taken control of half of one of the three branches of government. All the G.O.P. has is the other half of Congress, the Supreme Court and a president who does whatever he wants.”

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Getty Villa and Getty Museum

There has been renewed interest recently in the life of John Paul Getty. It was explored in the movie All the Money in the World, where director Ridley Scott decided to remove the performance of Kevin Spacey to replace him with Christopher Plummer. Then Donald Sutherland played him with gusto in the FX-TV series Trust. The actor said: “Getty didn’t use power in an aggressive way, he wasn’t a bully, he was very pragmatic, extraordinarily well organized and brilliant.”

Getty Villa, photo by Elisa Leonelli 1982

Despite the character flaws of this wealthy man, he created something wonderful that ensures his legacy as an art collector, the Getty Villa. Built in 1976 and modeled after the Roman Villa dei Papyri in Ercolano, Italy, this lovely museum houses antiquities of Roman and Greek art.

The Beauty of Palmyra AD 190-210

I visited the Villa many times through the years, always proudly showing it off to out-of-town visitors. I was there again a couple of weeks ago for a media appreciation event. What I found particularly poignant was the room devoted to sculptures, drawings and photos from the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, because some of the temples were destroyed by ISIL in 2015.

Perfection in Black, by Edward Steichen © Condé Nast 1935

I remember how exciting it was when The Getty Trust built the Getty Center, that opened in 1997. I visit it regularly, when there’s a photo exhibit of interest. Click here to read my article about Robert Mapplethorpe. The current show, Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011, is amazing. It includes not only photos by Richard Avedon, Edward Steichen and many others, but a few actual gowns by famous designers, such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.

The New Look of Dior © Richard Avedon 1947

We are very lucky to have such world-class museums in Los Angeles. Thank you J. Paul Getty!

Text by Elisa Leonelli

Neighborhood Bookstore

We learnt from residents posting on Nextdoor that a bookstore opened in our neighborhood, which is exciting news, so we went to check it out.
Sideshow Books, a store of used and rare books that for 11 years was located on Idaho Ave, near the Nuart movie theater, has recently moved to 1639 S La Cienega Blvd just north of Airdrome St.

Sideshow Books

Owner Tony Jacobs told me that their previous place was too small, they had so many books that they needed more space for their large inventory. This new location is spacious and brightly lit by two big skylights. Tony is concerned that many people throw books away now, and they are not being reprinted, so they will disappear. Used bookstores are an essential part of the chain of life for books and they are dying out now because of the price of real estate. His mission is to preserve and promote book culture, the goal directed at younger people is to make books cool again, he hopes customers will come into his store and discover books they didn’t expect to find.

Tony Jacobs, Sideshow Books

It’s not just old books that Tony wishes to preserve, but also the appreciation for classic old movies. He teamed up with film scholar Tom Newth to show a series of Hollywood’s sleepers, like All Through the Night (1942) with Humphrey Bogart, and Italian suspense films (gialli) like Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963).
The movies are projected on the wall from a laptop in the funky back patio of the bookstore on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8.30pm. Call for program: 310-428-4631

If you love books, please support this local bookstore, and visit The Last Bookstore downtown, located at 433 S Spring St, in an amazing building from 1914 that used to be a bank.
Read Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic novel Farenheit 451, about a future totalitarian society where books are outlawed and burnt. Francois Truffaut directed a film version in 1966, it was recently remade into a TV movie for HBO. Look up my article about Ray Bradbury in Cultural Weekly.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli