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April 28, 2006

When Priceline works, when it doesn’t

Recent and upcoming travel:

San Francisco – Ramada Plaza Civic Center; 2.5* $45/night Priceline
Palm Springs – Comfort Suites; 2* $79/night – booked at the hotel’s website with a Smartertravel.com discount.
Philadelphia – Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, 3* $46/night Priceline
Chicago – Club Quarters 3* $70/night Priceline (I'm flying out tonight to see the city for the first time and to see the Joffrey Ballet)
Boston – no success yet
St. Petersburg – Radisson Royal and Renaissance – award stays
London – hotels not booked, though I have a backup reservation.

Priceline isn’t always the best choice for travel plans – some examples from real life of when it works and when it doesn’t.

I was in Philadelphia last weekend staying at the Marriott Downtown. Philadelphia is usually a no-brainer city on Priceline; plenty of quality inventory in good locations at reasonable choice. It’s my first choice, except –

When there’s a convention. Boston is never a great Priceline city, next weekend it’s even worse. There’s a convention of oncology nurses; rooms via normal booking channels have been well over $200 a night and are only starting to drop in price. I’ve bid up to $120/night without success. I'll keep trying, but that’s my limit.

The usual 3* downtown hotel, the Boston Park Plaza, drives many bidders crazy because it has “Priceline” rooms that are smaller, face onto an airshaft and have one double bed. Unless you’re a couple, they’re impossible for more than a single traveler, but since I’m alone, they’re just fine and the location is perfect. I’ve spent the same on Hotwire to stay in a larger room a few stops out on the T in Somerville. Never again. The difference in the quality of vacation when you can walk to the theater, the Commons and dinner or for a drink is worth a lot more money to me.

Some cities, like Buenos Aires and St. Petersburg, don’t even have Priceline bidding. Birmingham UK offers bidding, but minimal inventory. Some cities are great. Besides Philadelphia, other no-brainer Priceline cities include Brussels and London (but I may not use it myself this upcoming trip; see below.) Cities that yield lesser deals include Paris and Barcelona. In both cases, location is the issue. Barcelona’s zones extend past the city limits; I wouldn’t risk getting a hotel in the suburbs. Paris now has 4* hotels coming up in central zones; a few years ago the good hotels that came up were at the edge of the city. Hotels in resort towns have their own problems; I did not use Priceline in Palm Springs because some hotels tack on a mandatory “resort fee” that can be up to $25 per day. There’s no way to know what the final cost of the bid will be and that makes bidding far less attractive. I’ll book by other routes.

Priceline has achieved one secondary goal for hoteliers in my case; it’s given me a taste for better accommodations and made me more willing to pay for them. Staying in places like the Marriott Marble Arch (one of my nicest Priceline stays) in London has made me willing to pay what I need to get quality accommodations. Staying at the Tage Inn in Somerville or the Meridien Etoile in Paris, a good hotel but at the very edge of the city, made me willing to pay more for a central location. Priceline has great London bargains, but I have gotten sick of staying in Kensington; it’s a 20-30 minute tube ride from Covent Garden, and that adds up. I want to stay in walking distance from Covent Garden, so I am watching hotels at lastminute.com very carefully. If a good hotel goes down to less than £80 per night, I’m pouncing. If nothing shows up by mid-May; I’ll start bidding in the Mayfair zone on Priceline.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 3:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 27, 2006

Where have you gone, Joe Adagio?

I left last night’s performance of Akram Khan’s Ma feeling disturbed and depressed. Not because of the work itself; Khan is an intelligent choreographer and has a particular gift for assembling a crackerjack team around him – the best musicians, quality dancers and even Hanif Kureishi (the author of My Beautiful Launderette) to contribute vignettes of pungent text.



At the end of the performance, there were people on their feet, screaming, especially the young woman behind me who was doing that in my ear. The hazard, I suppose, of remaining seated during the ovation.

I liked the performance. I did not love it. I do not share his aesthetic.

That’s why I went home depressed. Khan’s work, at least this work, looked a lot to me like William Forsythe’s. The vocabulary is not the same; Khan doesn’t use ballet. But the attack and the outlook was. If only it were not so relentlessly exciting. The dance vocabulary is all attack that swirls from the center like the flicking of a snake’s tongue. It modulates, but only from stillness to violence. The glossy look of the designs looks like some of Forsythe. The sets were economical, sleek and brilliant though I could have done without the Theater of Cruelty lighting trained directly on the audience. It’s very well done, but I’ve seen this before and for me it’s something that no longer bears repeated viewing.

It’s what the market demands. Adagio is being excised from dance vocabulary. There were slow segments in Ma, but they were tableaux, not dance sections, and there is a dance vocabulary particular to moving slowly, including partnering – something Khan uses only rudimentarily. Even when a choreographer like Forsythe shocks us with a rare adagio (Quintett from 1993 or Duet from 1996) what’s been combed out of dance more thoroughly than adagio vocabulary is lyricism. Even Christopher Wheeldon, whose early pieces were sweeter in nature, got the message and made his smoky pas de deux like Liturgy or the central movement in Shambards, where Miranda Weese had her neck metaphorically snapped by Jock Soto. His model isn’t Balanchine; it’s Peter Martins and Kenneth MacMillan – both of whom have done the same in their works, and also both of whose hearts are in their darkest works.

I don’t lay the blame for any of this on Khan. I’ve only seen the one work, and I use it because it’s indicative of the trends, rather than the cause. The intelligence with which Khan works makes me think that he has the imagination to see beyond the smoky, sleek and relentless. But I went home from Ma feeling like an old man at 42. But I asked this at the end of a long article on William Forsythe in Ballet Review in 2000 - "Is there no choreographer of our generation who believes in the redemptive possibilities of the form?" I've never looked for Hell in dance, but Illyria. Did it take that little time for the aesthetic I love to become irrelevant?

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006


eastern redbud.jpg

I taught here on Sunday in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The beautiful purple tree in front is an Eastern Redbud. It, along with the Dogwoods, Crabapples and Cherry Blossoms conspired to bloom all at once so southeastern Pennsylvania is a riot of flowering trees. It's very beautiful.

I taught two classes for Main Line Knitting Guild, Entrelac and Stitches No Knitter Should Be Without and had a marvelous time. I piggybacked some dance into the weekend as well; Pennsylvania Ballet did a fine job with Midsummer Night's Dream.

I'm on deadline for a few articles (Knit Simple, Ballet Review) so if I skip a few days, apologies in advance - but I'll try not to.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 21, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Kitty Nest Edition

Someone thinks that there can never be too much laundry on the floor.


Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

Laundry Angst

As I came home today Alfredo, the doorman, handed me a large black plastic garbage bag; something straight out of Jumpers. It was for the trash, in case of a strike of building staff, which looks like it will happen at midnight. I threw out whatever trash I could before that point and tossed my laundry together.

I do laundry as if I was in college; when the pile takes over the floor and the cat nests in it, I load it into an old-lady shopping cart and wheel it downstairs. Our building has “enhanced” the laundry machines with chip-cards instead of coin slots. Today I noticed that they were .10 more per load. The cards eliminate searching for quarters, but allow plenty of unannounced price increases and breakage for the company as laundry now costs $2.10, $2.60 or $3.10 and the charging machine for the cards only takes cash and only accepts $5, $10 or $20 bills. My card has .50 on it, so I add $20.

I load the first machine; my card now reads $18.40. I load the second machine. The card reads $1.60. What is going on? I’m leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow. There’s about to be a strike; who knows if they’ll lock the laundry room. I don’t have time for this. I run upstairs to get another $20 bill, because I don’t know where to get a new chip-card. When I come down and stick the card in the charging machine, it reads the card correctly - $18.40. The big machine still reads my card as $1.60 however. I take all the laundry out, and carry it in armfuls to a medium sized machine and jam it in. It’s packed solid, but I’m past caring. I dump in detergent and borax, insert the card, start it and leave.

When I come back down to load the laundry into dryers, of course half the laundry from that machine has not even touched water from being packed so tightly. Argh. I try to separate out the dry stuff to put in another wash. I bring it over to another machine . . . and once again my card reads $1.60. First I try moving my clothing from one machine to another – a messy process because I already added borax. No dice. Still $1.60. And I’ve left my cash upstairs.

I race upstairs and get two $5 bills. Mercifully, the machine reads them, and so does one of the laundry machines, so I start up a new load and go back to loading my wash into the dryers, trying to pick out the unwashed items.

A lady comes in and peers dubiously into the washing machine I couldn’t use. There’s borax left at the bottom. As I shuttle more unwashed laundry over to the washing machine, I apologize and tell her it’s borax, thinking she’ll just use the machine.

“Are you going to clean it up?”

Something inside me snaps. She reminds me of the girls from Long Island I used to loathe in college, only grown older but no less entitled and prissy. I just lost more than $15 from these fucking bandit machines and now she wants me to clean borax out of a washing machine. It’s a laundry booster, she might as well just use the machine and consider it a bonus. I look at her as blandly as I can manage and say, “No, I’m sorry.” This is my fault, I should have communicated better, because instead of “borax” she apparently thinks I have said “anthrax”. I go back to loading my wash into the dryer as I hear her explaining to someone that I refused to clean the machine. She then goes out to get paper towels to scrub the machine out and quietly but obviously suffers through the task. I am just too pissed off at this point to try and apologize or even reason with her.

I hustle down to take the final wash out of the last machine, then once it's dry I bundle it into my old lady cart to fold it in my apartment. I always fold it in the laundry room, but I just didn’t want to deal with her.

I'm still surrounded with laundry. And of course some of it is still damp.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

Re-filling the gift basket

More simple knitting. None of it is particularly original, but it's all fast, pleasant to knit and makes decent gifts.

I can't show you the toilet paper covers from the forthcoming Knit.1 article on embellishing knitting in their full twisted glory; I'll just say one thing: more that 150 safety pins. However, since no one in their right mind is going to knit toilet paper cozies; the bottom two hats in the photo below are the exact pattern that's in knit.1, unembellished except for a sensible pompom on top. Knit (as in the magazine) in a double strand of Wool-ease, they are being given to the parents of newly-born twins. The light blue hat on top is the same stitch pattern, but a different gauge and with a turned up cuff.


I've made a few scarves to vary the tedium. Both were made from yarn from the Goldman's haul. This one is plain garter stitch in Berocco Lavish. It's a faux fur yarn with glitz shot through it, and at the specific number of stitches in the scarf, the printed repeat of the striping knit up into vertical stripes for a very Phyllis Stein effect.


Cast on 3 stitches, increase one stitch at the beginning of each row until the scarf is four inches wide. Continue knitting until desired length, or you've only got about a yard and a half of yarn left. Decrease one stitch at the beginning of each row to reverse shaping, when you have only three stitches left, k3tog, pull the yarn through that stitch to bind off. Ta Da. Decorate with a tassel or as desired.

The knitting is simple enough to do as a first project, but if you're a beginner knitter, do yourself a favor and make your first project in plain yarn. Novelty yarns, especially fluffy or furry yarns are a source of intense frustration to new knitters, because they can't see the stitches. I used to give new knitters this pattern to do; now I have them do a plain garter stitch scarf in bulky wool.

Speaking of same, this one is knit in garter stitch lengthwise rather than vertically for two reasons. It's the simplest way to make lengthwise stripes, and also I only had two balls of yarn (Tahki Baby, a superbulky merino) and did not know when I was going to run out. I think a slightly thin scarf is the lesser evil compared to a too-short scarf, so I cast on sufficient stitches for the right length and kept striping as long as I could while maintaining symmerty. The biggest consideration for a lengthwise knit scarf is how to cast off. A standard "chain" cast off does not match the cast on, and on two five foot long edges, the disparity becomes striking. I used the sewn garter stitch cast off from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac:


Begin with yarn at the right side. Break yarn, thread through needle.

*Thread needle through first two stitches as if to purl. Thread needle back through the first stitch as if to knit. Drop off first stitch*

Continue until you've cast off all the stitches. This has a similar tension and look to a cast on; use it where you want the cast off edge to match the cast on.

Here's another picture showing the "right side" and "wrong side" of garter stitch stripes. These are 4 rows or two ridges wide.


Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

Leigh's Dance Card - Knitting Edition

Weds, 4/19 - Sourcing Stravinsky at Dance Theater Workshop. Yvonne Rainer does her version of Agon. I've got to see this.

Fri, 4/21 - In Philadelphia teaching a knitting workshop, so why not see the Pennsylvania Ballet do A Midsummer Night's Dream? Julie Diana is Titania, and that should be good casting.

Both on duty for Ballet Review.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Covered in flowers

My mother’s front lawn is covered in violets. When I walk across it I try to walk around them to avoid crushing the beautiful purple flowers underfoot. They’ve crowded out the grass. It started years ago; first wild onion and now the violets. The yard is overgrown, with tree branches from long-ago storms uncleared and shallow roots lacing across the ground like netting.

I go to visit her once a month now. I used to see her about every six weeks or sometimes less, but her health is not what it was. I block the dates out half a year at a time in my organizer, six to nine months in advance. If I don’t, I put the visits off.

When I visit, I ask her to make a list of things she needs done. It’s always a simple one; change a light bulb, bring boxes up or down the stairs, assemble a new vacuum cleaner. Things she can’t reach or can’t haul. It takes me about twenty minutes to do what would take her half a day.

In my head, I’m making a list of the things we aren’t doing; cleaning the place up, throwing papers out, packing things up. Getting her ready to move. She has difficulty getting up and down the stairs, getting into the tub. She climbed the seven or so steps from the entry landing up to the main floor. It took her more than a minute. I asked if she wanted help. “What would I do if you’re not here?” she asked.

She won’t move out. I’ve given up trying. Mom’s been a prisoner there since she and my father divorced; first a prisoner of her own stubbornness and pride when she refused to leave a house she couldn’t afford, now a prisoner of her infirmity. And time. The idea of living somewhere else; somewhere without steps so that she can get around attracts her. The idea of moving horrifies her.

The house is filled with stuff. Layers of stuff, like overlays of dust over dirt over yellowing varnish. Newspapers from six months ago with helpful hints she hasn’t gotten around to reading yet. The kitchen is filled with empty plastic containers spilling out of every cabinet and drawer, containers from supermarkets and delicatessens that she cleaned and frugally kept. More containers than she could ever possibly use. The refrigerator has expired coupons and two year old ads for Chinese buffets attached to it with magnets. They cover the entire surface.

Downstairs is worse than upstairs. There was a flood more than a decade ago. The parquet flooring buckled in protest and gave way. I think there was an insurance settlement, but Mom never got around to fixing it – probably she couldn’t find someone to do it for the money she got, or even someone she trusted to do the work. The black oilpaper is still exposed; boxes are still piled in the center of the playroom.

The door to my bedroom is shut. I haven’t opened it in about a decade. I don’t want to go in there; the room hasn’t changed since we moved into that house in 1967. It’s a sarcophagus of my childhood. I slept in the house once since 1985, and I couldn’t sleep in my room; I slept in my brother’s. Mom is now sleeping in my brother’s old room as well. She didn’t tell me; I noticed that the bed was being slept in. “My bed broke. I don’t have the strength to buy a new one.”

The visits recently have been much better. I even look forward to them. They’re short and structured. Mom meets me at the train station. Either we go out for a meal first or go to her home and do some tasks. I take her shopping. We go back to the train station; I go home about four hours later. I take Mom out for a Chinese meal; it is the only food she wants. She can eat Chinese food every time we go out, even the same entrée. Mom is steadfastly, maddeningly consistent. The furniture in the house has not changed since we moved there, except to become more worn and threadbare.

There was a Chinese restaurant right near her old office that we went to on occasion. It changed management and became one of the best Chinese restaurants in the county. The food is delicious, but we’ve discovered that the restaurant’s real gift is for daily specials. They have no touch with Cantonese hit parade items, chicken and broccoli tastes like packing material; crispy shrimp with walnuts are soggy. But flounder sautéed in delicate cubes is served on a bed of its fried carcass with different vegetable each time; this time with Chinese greens. Beef sautéed with fresh mango is sharp and sweet. With a little cajoling I can get her to try a new dish every time.

Things are not going to get better. Maybe they’ll stay the same for a while. But the house is going to keep falling apart and the stairs are going to get harder to climb. The tree branches will fall on the roof and the lawn will be a carpet of violets. I’ll have to get her out then. I look around my own apartment when I get home. The floor is covered with laundry, papers are strewn where they lay or where the cat knocked them over. Tapes are in dusty piles, books are heaped on the bookshelves. There are dishes in the sink. I dream about having a clean room to live in before I’m covered with a carpet of violets.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 15, 2006

Ich bin ein New Yorker

Over at First Draft, Scout was talking about the recent immigration rallies and asking how long her readers’ families have been in the United States. I’m between third and fourth generation on both sides and my family's history formed my pet theory of immigration:

The first generation gets here.
The second generation makes it.
The third generation looks around and thinks “There’s got to be more to life than making it.”

I’m proud to be an American (Hmm. Catchy. Someone should write a song . . .) but my real pride comes from being a New Yorker. I was born in the city, at the French Hospital, which is no longer a hospital. One night about a decade ago, I was walking on 30th Street and saw a large building that looked like a converted condominium labeled “The French Building” above the lintel. “Oh my,” I thought, “I was born there.” I hadn’t been there since my birth. I should have been born at Beth Israel Hospital farther downtown, but it seems that I wasn’t going to wait that long as my Aunt Molly was driving Mom to the hospital.

I was raised outside the city in Mamaroneck, but moved back to the city by the age of 21, at first to a tenement sublet share at 21 First Avenue in the East Village when it was only hip in the minds of developers. Mom: “We spent 30 years moving out of that neighborhood only to have you move back?” I moved out of that place within two months to Midtown, had a share at 714 9th Avenue (on the corner of 49th) for six months and then my name on the lease of a two bedroom walkup on 50th & 9th until 1991 when I moved to my present apartment on 56th Street.

I’ve been in New York on momentous days; the blackouts, the Bicentennial, the blizzards of ’93 and ’96 – I didn’t go outside for the one in ’06 – and yes, September 11. I don’t think it’s the momentous days that make one a New Yorker, in much the same way that New Yorkers take pride in not having been to the top of being to the Empire State Building. Being a New Yorker is taking the subway or walking to work every day, the same route every day. It’s shopping at the grocery store with your ubiquitous “old lady” folding cart; the only practical way to shop in a primarily car-less city. It’s grabbing something fast, a bagel or a banana, at the Korean deli. It’s knowing where to get the best hot dog in the city, cheap (Gray’s Papaya). It's the promenade at the State Theater or standing room at the Met. It’s not about the extraordinary, it’s about the quotidian. I go to sleep in the city, I wake up here, I spend my days here. It forms the rhythms of how I think. It’s what I know. It’s my first allegiance. I am a New Yorker.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 5:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Kitty on the Keyboard Edition


Someone's been using my computer for her own personal affairs again.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 13, 2006



Lisa Rinehart's piece on James Sewell Ballet shows something she does particularly well - air her criticisms without seeming to try and settle a score.

James Sewell tries hard to make amusing, irreverent and meaningful dance, but with the three pieces on offer at the Joyce, he comes up short. His influences are a mixed bag of classical ballet, six years of contemporary dance with Feld Ballets/NY, and dabblings in yoga and Qigong. The result is work that's decently structured, professionally presented and essentially unremarkable—a virgin pina colada for the subscription set.

This is harsh criticism (better to be flat out bad than serviceable), but there's a method to the meanness. Sewell can do better.

There's a lot of food for thought on both sides of that idea - easy enough to say someone can do better. Yet, the painful truth is that some work, no matter how competent, is still not a valuable addition to the canon. And try telling that to the artist (myself included) who needed to make it.

Current Events

A picture is worth a thousand comebacks. Read this entry on immigration by The Editors at the Poorman (scroll down at a leisurely pace for the best effect) for one of the best single picture retorts I have seen.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 12, 2006

When you’ve only got one shot at bidding in London

A friend uses Priceline to bid on London, particularly Kensington, frequently and at the last minute. Here’s a bidding strategy that can give him a few extra bids; if it’s useful to you feel free to try it. Make sure that you have looked at recent wins at Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel to get a sense of the bidding and win trends.

At present there are roughly three tiers for the London bidding zones. I’m not including London Bridge and Bayswater in this consideration because I don’t know enough about them; there isn’t much reported data.

Bloomsbury, Kensington and The City have winning bids in the cheapest range. At any given time any of them could be the lowest; it depends on who is loading the best priced inventory into Priceline. I don’t know Hammersmith and Regents Park as well, but they (especially Regents Park) seem to fall into this approximate range as well. One notch in cost above that is Westminster; a notch above that is Mayfair.

My friend has had no problem getting 4* hotels in Kensington the day before for $75 a night – with taxes and services about $107.

To undercut that bid in any of the lowest priced zones, try the following:

Note: This assumes normal occupancy in London – check first to see if the “usual suspect” hotels in your zone have rooms available at normal prices. If they’re sold out or much more expensive than usual, be prepared to bid higher. This also isn’t going to work with the higher priced zones, especially Mayfair. You really only have one shot in Mayfair – adding in another zone will probably get you a hotel in that zone before Mayfair, because the prices are lower in the other zones. Bid with that in mind.

Bid $65 for a 4* in Kensington (or any of the other zones). If the bid is not accepted but you get a counter offer at under $90, it is the best sign that you are in striking range.

Optional step if getting a hotel in Westminster is not more desirable than Kensington. Close the browser. Start a new bid for a 4* in Westminster at $52. Your odds are infinitesimal that you would actually get a hotel for that price (but there is some risk – my advice is to shut up and be happy if you get a room in Westminster for $52), but what you might get is a counter offer. If it’s lower or close to the one you got for your desired zone, proceed with caution.

Otherwise add in Westminster, raise your bid to $70.

If it’s not accepted, close your browser. If desired, repeat the optional step with Mayfair and close your browser again. Begin a new bid for Kensington and Mayfair at $72 if you’re feeling confident or $75 if you aren’t.

If it doesn’t work, add in Westminster and raise your bid to either $75 or $80. Caution: if you don’t get a hotel on this bid things get more difficult.

If you have to keep going, close your browser and repeat the optional step with any other London zone, one at a time. Hopefully something will come back with a much higher counteroffer than Kensington. If so, use that zone “X”. Bid $82 in Kensington and X, then bid Kensington, X and Westminster. Close the browser, bid Kensington, X and Mayfair. If that doesn’t work, bid Kensington, X, Westminster and Mayfair and let’s hope by this point you have a hotel room!

This strategy can be tweaked to work for other cities, but it works particularly well in zones that regularly offer counteroffers to bids as happens a lot in London. You could start by doing the optional lowball step with every zone in London before starting and use the zones with the highest counteroffers as quasi-free rebids. Just remember that you are taking a calculated risk. Priceline can defy all logic and give you a win in any zone you bid on, so make sure you're bidding in zones it wouldn't be a disaster for you to stay.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2006

Leigh's Dance Card - Post-Seder Independents

My week will be leavened post-Pesach with the following performances:

Fri 4/14 - 8:30 pm at the Thalia at Symphony Space - David Parker and the Bang Group. David is a friend from alt.arts.ballet days; he creates brainy, funny dances which specialize in percussive accompaniment formed by the dancing itself.

Sat 4/15 8:00 pm at Joyce Soho - Trinayan Collective is an Odissi dance group - classical Indian - performing Sakshi/Witness. The fabulous Lady In The Fur - Rajika Puri, is the narrator.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 9, 2006

Caveat Emptor – Best Price Guarantees and Londontown.com

You may be familiar with Hotwire's “Double the Difference” guarantee or any of the price matching guarantees that many travel booking sites offer.

Londontown.com has one of the most extravagant of all of them, offering a full four times the difference in price if you find an identical booking for less.

Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is.

I booked the Kingsway Hall Hotel on Londontown.com for £638 for four nights in a fully cancelable booking. Not only was it not the cheapest price; it wasn’t the cheapest by a longshot. Bookings.org had the same room for £396.

I checked the terms of the offer carefully before filing a claim. Exact same room type. Both rates included V.A.T. Both came without breakfast. Both were fully refundable and neither involved prepayment. So I sent my claim in and waited.

Londontown.com’s acknowledgement states they will get back to you within four working days; after four days I sent in a reminder and waited for a response.

It came a day later, here it is reprinted in full:

Dear Leigh

Money Back Guarantee

Thanks for your email to LondonTown.com and for drawing this cheaper rate to our attention.

In order to be eligible for our Best Price Guarantee your "cheaper rate" needs to meet the terms & conditions outlined on our site: These are the terms and conditions of the Best Price/No Quibble Guarantee offered by LondonTown.com to you in relation to hotel accommodation:

Our promise to you:

1. The website www.londontown.com (the "Website") is owned and managed by London Marketing.com Limited ("London Marketing"). London Marketing GUARANTEES to pay to you 4 times the difference in price if, within 48 hours of making a hotel booking through the Website, you find an "identical offer" not through the Website, which is lower in price than the price advertised on the Website at the time the "identical offer" is found (the "Guarantee").

2. An "identical offer" means an offer which, aside from price, is identical in all respects, such that it can be accessed and booked by the public for the same hotel, same room type, same number of guests, same currency, same applicable taxes, same dates, and the same terms of payment and cancellation.

Unfortunately the offer you located on www.booking.com has a 24 hour cancellation. The booking you made through www.LondonTown.com has a 2pm on the day of arrival cancellation policy.

As your lower rate does not identically match the rate booked through www.LondonTown.com I am afraid that your claim has been unsuccessful.

I hope you have a fantastic time in London.

Best wishes and thank you


Thanks for the good wishes, Nadine. My favorite part is the Orwellian humor of a “No Quibble” guarantee that denies a claim based on the fact that though both rates were fully cancelable, there was a less than 24 hour difference between the two cancellation policies. In short, though this should be no surprise, it would have cost them more than £900 to honor their guarantee. They were going to deny on absolutely anything.

They’re within their rights to do this; the claims were not identical down to the DNA, and as they say in their terms and conditions:

5.London Marketing at its sole discretion will decide whether you have a valid claim under the Guarantee and will, as soon as possible, inform you whether your claim under the Guarantee is valid.
What this translates to is it’s their decision and their choice. They will honor a rate it suits them to honor. I'm glad that I had a fully cancelable rate and I wouldn't have even tried this rate if it were not cancelable without a penalty. They’re not the only one to do this; most of the low-price guarantees aren’t worth the pixels they are printed on because of the identical booking clauses. Octopus Travel had a better rate at the Birmingham Hyatt in England than Hyatt.com. I called Hyatt and they refused to match the rate because the rate on Hyatt.com did not include breakfast and the rate on Octopus Travel did. It was cheaper and included more; therefore it could not be covered by their guarantee. Catch-22. Gary Leff mentioned to me that the same thing happen to him at Starwood. I have, however heard of several people successfully claiming the Double the Difference guarantee at Hotwire.

Looking at their site, Londontown.com had several rates that seemed advantageous but they quote without VAT, which raises the rates considerably. Do they have the lowest prices? Occasionally - I found a few rates that looked better than elsewhere. Will they actually guarantee you the lowest price? No. Does that guarantee mean you’ll get the lowest price? God, no. You’ll only get that the old-fashioned way, by comparison shopping. The guarantee’s purpose is to dupe you, not to protect you.

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April 8, 2006

Ballet Builders – Building Ballet?

I helped out in some rehearsals for one of the pieces in this year’s Ballet Builders showcase (Helen Heineman’s Badlands Suite - Mary and Abe, two dancers I've worked with a long time, were in it) so I’ll just say I’m pleased with the performance of it and thought the dancers pulled it together nicely. Of the other pieces, Cupid Revealed was a brief, sweet duet to Handel choreographed by Joseph Jeffries and danced by Travis Bradley and the lovely Crystal Brothers, all three associated with Ballet Memphis. It didn’t break new ground but it had charm and freshness all the same and for Brothers, underneath the charm was a core of solid technique. It was a bright spot in what was mostly a weak evening.

One of my disappointments with Ballet Builders has always been that it’s never done much to build ballet. One piece on the program wasn’t a ballet at all; two more qualified listlessly, a fourth was at too low a level to mean much. It’s a bit much to dump the task onto one small independent choreographer’s showcase in New York City, but the name inspires the question: What are we doing to build ballet?

Ballet is an art form with a history and a memory. It’s an imperfect memory but the chain still exists. We take from the past, add our contribution and pass it on to the future. What is our contribution? Balanchine died in 1983, Tudor in 1987, Ashton in 1988. We’ve had about 20 years now; time enough to have made a mark and formed a style. What have we produced, what can we pass on?

It’s a short list. The list is never incredibly long, and it usually doesn’t consist of one-offs but of people like Balanchine or Ashton who worked for an extended period of time with a single company until they had a style of their own. William Forsythe is probably the most influential of the current choreographers and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitiude will probably persist in repertory. Both of those pieces are now at least ten years old and he hasn’t made much ballet since. He isn’t really interested in ballet beyond as a tool; he certainly isn't interested in it as an institution. Worse still, his style is a dead end for ballet; works he made in 1989 look dated already and he stripped several aspects of technique (adagio, for instance) out of ballet. Christopher Wheeldon, the anointed hope of ballet, is acting like a guest choreographer instead of an artistic director. If San Francisco Ballet is going to move from being a top quality importer of ballet to a company that produces its own works and its own style, that hope lies in Yuri Possokhov but it’s too soon to know. There are other names out there; people like Christopher Hampson or Michael Corder whose work I haven’t yet seen. We need people to make classical dances, dances where the form is essential to the meaning and most importantly dances utilizing the corps de ballet. If there’s someone you’d like to mention, by all means do so in the comments. It’s been 20 years without someone to take the baton and run. How much longer can we jog in place?

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April 7, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Kitty at Rest Edition

Naturally, every time she did something interesting, by the time I got the camera out she was back to a more typical pose like this one.

And she looked so cute when she was tap dancing and juggling.


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April 6, 2006

Car Culture – Southern California and the desert, III

Lesson about the intersection of one interest group with another: There may be none.

At the Sunday Brunch, the Flyertalkers had a gift exchange. Suggested value was $10; I put in a few electronic gewgaws (wireless card, retracting cable) a wallet (the same kind as I use myself – I think it’s great) and one of the knitted hats I made. It was in a small anonymous red bag. I have no idea how it got picked first.

The geegaws didn’t seem to bother the poor fellow. The wallet confused him – apparently everyone assumed there must be more cash or a gift certificate inside, right? The he pulled out the hat and was utterly flummoxed. Knitters would have known that it was handmade, but this wasn’t a gathering of knitters. I apologized to him afterwards. Next time I’ll do what’s expected of me and slip in a few gift cards instead. It’s cheaper in a sense, and I’ll save my knitting for more appropriate occasions.

I had already checked out of the David Lynch Suites and had a few hours to kill, so two other fellows and I went on a drive suggested by Joe. “Go down 111 a few miles into Rancho Mirage until you hit Monterey or Highway 34 or 134. Turn right, towards the mountains. It’s beautiful up there.”

Monterey is a main intersection; the highway in question is route 174 towards Hemet and San Diego. Well, he didn’t say “you can’t miss it.” We didn’t have time to go too far, but the road wound mountains strewn with pebbles and boulders in a rocky landscape that was almost Biblical in imagery. A few miles up there is a turn off with a scenic view down into the valley.


The three of us drove back, one got dropped off at his hotel, a second drove to Ontario for his 7 pm flight and I went to Joe’s room so I that could change into a black t-shirt and jeans. That would have to pass for appropriate leather-bar drag. We all went to The Barracks.

Oh, the humanity.

I haven’t been to a bar that crowded in a while. I made it with the group about 10 feet on to the back patio, found a few square inches of room behind some sort of sign and slipped in there, having a pleasant conversation with “Dek” most of the time. I haven’t been to a leather bar in ages, either. As Mr. Semi-Fashionable, I must say: Bears are not my thing, though I have nothing against them, nor fur. I admit that I’ve never liked tattoos, but tattoos with hair growing out of them are the be-all and end-all of Yuck.

15 of us headed to dinner at the Red Tomato, a friendly and campy place with decent homey Italian food and Albanian lamb dishes. The Panzanela relish mentioned in the article is delicious; rather like gazpacho as a dip. One of the other guys recommended the lasagna, so I had it. Regarding camp – I forgot to mention it, but there was one waiter at Wang’s who took the prize – probably in his early 40s, dark skinned and a fading beauty who had something to say about everyone’s habits and orders and an ever so special way of pursing his lips. We ended up referring to him as “Bitter Waiter”.

I was taking the red eye that left Ontario at 12:30 am, so I left Palm Springs at 9:15. On the way home I finally figured out how the cruise control on the car worked and almost, just almost got the hang of driving so that I felt comfortable. Even late on a Sunday night with light traffic there was still one 15 minute delay right near I-15. I’m glad I left extra time. The Ontario airport isn’t crowded, but it also isn’t efficient; as I said earlier there are no check-in kiosks for jetBlue, so if you can use online check-in, do it. I slept almost all the flight home and arrived back sleep-deprived, but as with my last California weekend, having packed in a wonderful time.


One last random tip: Neutrogena sunblock is awfully good. I spent all day out in direct sunlight without burning or needing to reapply.

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April 5, 2006

Car Culture – Southern California and the desert, II

The jetlag caught up with me on Saturday morning and I woke up exhausted. The Comfort Suites includes breakfast in the price of the room. It’s a negligible affair; cereal, packaged pastry, bagels and toast and the ubiquitous Make Your Own Belgian Waffle machine that everyone (including me) likes to play with. As I was getting cereal an older gentleman in a black t-shirt knocked into me, apologizing profusely. The hotel had about 5-6 tables only in their breakfast area, so there was no where else to sit and I ended up eating with him, and what turned out to be his partner. Though this was not a gay hotel (there are a profusion of those in Palm Springs) it was pretty obvious quickly to all concerned that this was the queer table. It may have been when he started talking about walking down the streets in Amsterdam in full leather while traveling. Turns out he was a periodontist originally from Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. He was a very nice man, but the thought of a periodontist in full leather makes me think of the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.

I was to meet Joe and the gang to go on the aerial tramway at 11 am. I had asked him how to get there the night before. “It’s about two miles north of town on 111, the main drag. It takes about half an hour to get there. You can’t miss it.”

Ah, but you can.

I ended up going all the way to I-10 not seeing a sign for a turn off to the tram. It also takes a bit more than half an hour from Cathedral City if one is going through town (and taking pictures of the mountains through your windshield).


Turning back from I-10, there is a small sign on 111 heading towards town that indicates that the tramway is half a mile ahead on the right. For the record, the turn (left if heading west, right if heading east) is on San Rafael.

The road to the tramway wends steeply up a mountain for 2.5 miles climbing to 2,000 feet in altitude. I got to the parking lot at 11:25, where a tram takes you to the base station. I made it there at 11:40, after the ticket lines I finally made it on the 12:00 noon tram.

Some people would find a cable car with enormous glass windows (some that open slightly) and a slowly rotating floor to be exhilarating. Some of us just want to lie on the slowly rotating floor and barf. I’m not frightened in an airplane, but this has the same feeling as a Ferris wheel to me; that of stupid danger. I can't help but mentally calculate the drop when one of those 9 lb per inch super sturdy cables malfunctions. The car sways as it passes over each tower. Everyone oohed and aahed. I just wanted to slug someone.


It was about 80 degrees in Palm Springs that day; it was 52 at the top of the tram but there was still snow on the ground. Children were running around making snow angels. Southern Californians think snow is charming. I like winter, but it's not unfamiliar to me, and it wasn’t what I had flown six hours and paid $21.50 to get up to the top of the mountain to see.


A couple from North Carolina, “stsebastian” and “Bluesincenew” (I know fellow Flyertalkers better by their screen names than their given names), were coming up the hillside at the upper station just as I was heading down to explore. They had taken a lightning fast tour; that didn’t inspire much ambition in me either. I walked around for about 15 minutes, came back up and met with a few people in the group and headed down again; staying closer to the center of the car this time.

The Renaissance Faire was what had brought Grace up to Palm Springs, and as she said, “How could you possibly miss the chance to see me in garb?”

As Grace explained, Faire is a little like a sci-fi convention, only in medieval garb. Some people strove for accuracy, many more to satisfy their own fantasies, including the guy with nice pecs and a sword strolling about bare-chested in leather chaps. When I saw him later with his girlfriend I wanted to take him aside and explain that his outfit was really, well . . . gay. But in a good way. And I should know.

Grace was dressed in peasant garb, eschewing the dark heavy fabrics and feathers of the nobles walking about. “Way too hot,” she explained with her usual practicality. We walked about; she was knitting a sock – her concession to period was using double pointed needles (I don’t think that’s a concession for her; I think she uses dpns for sock making. I use Addi 12” circular needles – not everyone likes them but they’re a lot faster for me). I recognized the yarn (Lang Jawoll cotton superwash) and even the color, because I made a pair for myself in that very yarn and color.

For me, the interesting thing about Faire was the sexuality of the subculture. Part of the fun of the dressing was to wear outfits with a codpiece or revealing cleavage. Leather workers sold floggers. We sat down on a bench to talk while Grace knit. A thin gentleman with a curly carrot-colored mane came to the stage behind us and started to busk for his act that would happen in a few minutes.

Grace flinched. “I don’t like him.” We talked for a few minutes more, then tried to leave unobtrusively. He caught us.

“Where are you going?” He shouted after us.

Not wishing to be heckled by someone Grace did not like, I said the one thing I knew he wouldn’t have a comeback for.

“I’m going to poop.” I said cheerily.

We left him sputtering.

Palm Springs and the desert cities (Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indio, et al.) are built on one long spine – Route 111. The weekend felt like endless trips back and forth on that road: to dinner in Palm Springs, then Back to Cathedral City for the martini party, then back to Palm Springs to the tram, then back to Cathedral City to rest, then back to Palm Springs for dinner . . . Everything seems to move on that main drag, and it does not move all that quickly.

Saturday night dinner is the apex of the Gayla and Joe worked like a dog to plan this one. It took place at Wang’s in the Desert, a Westernized "pan-Asian" place that most importantly had a back patio that we could commandeer. The food and drinks were just fine, but the entertainment made the meal. Tommi Rose, a grande dame of the Palm Beach drag scene, had helped Joe put together a brief but lovely evening. Tommi is of the sequined gown school of drag; she worked three separate costume changes including a turn as Mae West. She brought as her associates one tall skinny black queen in a brassiere and bananas who did a Josephine Baker number. It seemed to confuse the audience, but we learned later that was the point – as Joe said later, “to throw you off the scent” before the pièce de résistance of the evening.


We got two. Leo and Michelangelo. Cryptically, Leo seemed to spend more of his time with the women. We wondered why – it was reported later he said that he went to some of the men at first and they didn’t seem interested.

Go figure.

Michelangelo came out; a little fellow with a big chest in an ill-fitting pinstripe suit. The poor tailoring was soon forgiven; Michelangelo may not have been the best dressed gangster on the block, but he knew his trade very well. And in the words of Ren, “huuuuuge pectoral muscles”.

I’m not going to try and describe Michelangelo; I’ll let the pictures talk. What they don’t show is when he took one lucky man, upended him in front of all of us and all but impregnated him. The things some people will do for a buck. In a fit of singularly bad timing, I had visited another table right before the show began and couldn’t get back to my wallet to tip, so no pony rides for me.

From Wang’s, we were to embark on a bar crawl, led by “Olafman”. He suggested that we could go to a piano bar first, then the Hotel Zoso, then Hunter’s. After chatting for a while, three of us walked up the street to find the piano bar, needless to say without quite knowing its name. The search was fruitless, and after a few blocks of back and forth aimless walking we simply went to the Hotel Zoso.

The most eventful thing about Hotel Zoso, besides drinks that were as expensive as in New York City, was the sudden appearance of Kevin Nealon and a very pregnant Brooke Shields. Shields was wearing an Empire waisted gown and Elvira Mistress of the Dark hair. One hopes that Tom Cruise was not anywhere around.

is the sort of big catch-all gay bar that doesn’t exist in Manhattan because land costs too much. I saw two rooms; a main bar area and a discotheque and had a great time dancing with several Flyertalkers. “Fanoftravel” is simply adorable when he dances; he’s all club kid except that he’s from Des Moines and as wholesome as fresh milk. The most interesting thing about the time at Hunter’s was a long conversation with “Missydarlin”, who had been president of the Talkboard, the governing body of Flyertalkers. If that sounds like a silly or overblown job, keep in mind there are 80,000 people on Flyertalk. The dynamics of the group are fascinating to me because of all the years I helped to run Ballet Talk.

The Gaylas and the GLBT forum presents its own series of problems for Flyertalk. The most complicated is splintering. When the forum was formed (before I joined Flyertalk) the worry of the Talkboard was that it would drain off conversation and exchange from the community at large. It could be argued that has in fact happened and it was interesting to hear Missy’s point of view on this (she’s a “friend of” rather than GLBT). Because I got to Flyertalk after several special interest forums had been established, I regarded them as a valuable feature in a forum too large and unwieldy to view as a whole. 80,000 members is a lot of talk and information. I only read five of the forums (there are probably over 50, devoted mostly to different airlines or destinations). To me, splintering into smaller groups is a by-product of the success of the community, and the only way to keep it together is to give the smaller sub-cultures some autonomy. Weirdly enough, besides the GLBT forum, one of the most vibrant groups at Flyertalk is one devoted to a single airline – the British Airways forum.

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April 3, 2006

Best. Use. of I-Cord. EVER.

A Flying Spaghetti Monster Tree Topper.

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April 2, 2006

Grace's shawl

I couldn't blog this as I knit it because I wanted it to be a surprise.

It's mostly the same pattern as the Razor Shell shawl I did earlier, but with an improvised improvement to make the yarn-overs balance better as the shawl grows. I also used a different edging that was nearly my undoing.

Here's the shawl close to its inception:


Here it is before blocking:


If you look at the first version, the lace eyelets don't immediately become pairs. There's a single one until enough stitches are added to make another and I didn't like the way that looked. I didn't chart out the method I used to add in a yarn over and corresponding decrease, but that is what I did that to get the second yarn over in sooner. The yarn-overs on each side are matched by a triple decrease (sl1, k2tog, psso) at the center of each of the knitted columns or leaves. Since there is only a yarn over on one side, I added the yo and either an SSK or K2tog as appropriate until there were enough stitches from increasing at the edges and center to do a triple decrease.

Instead of doing the simple faggotted edging I did on the previous shawls, I tried a diamond edging. The edging pattern has been around at least since the Victorian era, Sarah Bradberry's source for her site is an 1891 edition of Home Work; I have the same pattern in a Harmony Guide to Knitting Stitches from the late 1980s. In its original form, the pattern was worked in garter stitch; I decided to switch that to stockinette (purling the obverse rows instead of knitting them) because the lace in my shawl was also based on stockinette.

That's when the problems began.

The knitting of the edging itself proceeded uneventfully but I used about the same ratio for attaching stitches as I had with the faggotted edging based on garter - 1 or 2 stitches from the main shawl knit together with the edging on every single row. Garter stitch has a much more compact vertical gauge than stockinette. It looked fine until it came time to block. I intended to block the shawl in the same simple triangular shape as the previous shawl. This shawl put up a huge fight. The edging was so overstretched the lace could not be seen.


and I had to block the shawl in a semi-circle to block it at all. Note the distortion in the central lace column:


To spend all that work on an edging to have it be invisible is ridiculous. I would have ripped out the edging and reknit it, but I didn't have time and wasn't sure what the result would be once I had already started the process of blocking. I came up with a two-step that was an acceptable save. I let the shawl block as above, then unwired it and blocked only the edging with pins.


It changed the shape once again, but to a rather pretty one that reminds me a bit of a gingko leaf or a butterfly. I think it will drape nicely and the distortion will not be noticeable when worn.

Here's a closer look at the re-blocked edging:


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April 1, 2006

Car Culture – Southern California and the desert

Two things brought me to the desert; someplace I’d ordinarily never go. The first was FlyerTalk’s GLBT Traveler’s forum. Much of what I’ve learned about miles and points I learned at Flyertalk. The GLBT group has sponsored get-togethers – “Gaylas” before; I went to one in Philadelphia in September ’04. Joe has organized three gatherings in Palm Springs so far; I met him in NYC around the holidays in ‘04 when he came up to NYC, along with another FT’er we all went to the Trocks together.

Joe asked me to come this year, but what clinched it was when my friend Grace told me she would be there at the same time. That, along with a JetBlue sale, was a sign from above. Flights directly into Palm Springs cost at least $150 more; I could have earned miles on another carrier but JetBlue’s direct flight to Ontario, 70 miles from Palm Springs, and redeye service meant I was getting the most vacation for my money. The ticket was bought, hotel arrangements were made and off I went Thursday night.

JetBlue’s flights are perfectly fine and uneventful, but on four flights so far (roundtrips to Oakland and Ontario, CA) I haven’t been on one with less than a full load. Assume you will have no room to spread out. The JFK terminal has free wireless, which is appreciated. The ONT terminal does not have check-in kiosks, so try and check in online if you have access to a printer. One more tip, the JFK terminal has two security checkpoints, one obvious one close to the escalator to the second floor and a second one across the terminal - walk across the floor past the snack shops and newsstands. That one has a shorter line.

JetBlue flight 89 left JFK at 8:30 EDT and arrived about 11:30 pm PDT at ONT. It was 2:30 am in my body, time to get to bed. I had made arrangements to stay at the Marriott at the airport instead of trying to drive to Palm Springs. The hotel, a perfectly decent Marriott with large rooms and a very large health club, went for $40 on Priceline.


Wired hi-speed access is another $10.

National Car Rental had no compact cars when I arrived, so I was given a choice between a mid sized sedan or a Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the same cost. The Monte Carlo looked comparatively swoopy so I opted for style over practicality. Perhaps not the best choice.

Car culture is alien to me. I’ve walked to work almost every day since 1985. With a few exceptions, I walked to work in Boise and in Lexington, Kentucky when I danced there. It freaked the dancers out at Ballet Pacifica, because I walked the 20 minute walk to the studio in Irvine even in the intense sun and with sidewalks that stopped randomly. I drive when I see Mom, but that’s about it. I was careful to check for a few things when picking up the car but somehow I manage to treat a car like software – I’ll learn features on a need-to-know basis.

This is a bad idea.

On the way out of the parking lot I hear inexplicable clicking and dialing. “Hi, this is Michelle. What is the emergency?”

I asked the only logical question. “Who are you and why are you talking to me?”

“Did you just adjust your mirror?”

I thought about denying it, but I admitted it. I had accidentally tripped the dickety-doo phone in alarm. Off I headed to the freeway interchange.

I was a few miles down I-10 when I wanted to switch lanes. I duly signaled, checked traffic in my mirror, turned my head and realized my view to the back was almost completely blocked by the headrest. Frantic beatings behind my head to slam the damned thing down had no effect. I had pretty much made up my mind to stay in the same lane for the next 70 miles to Palm Springs when there was a rest station and I cautiously made my way to it, resolving to figure out how the damned car worked. It took about three minutes to figure out the headrest and how to move the seat forward – I kept looking for a manual lever and it was an electrical control under the seat. The rest of the drive was mercifully uneventful. I did remind myself not to get over-confident that I was getting the hang of driving.

The Comfort Suites in Cathedral City looked to me like something out of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, older, dark and yellowed, but with a certain cheery sinisterness. Calling the room a suite was a bit grandiose a description. It was a simple bedroom with a queen bed and a kitchenette that took up too much room.


Grace arrived in Palm Springs almost at the same time that I did – we met at the hotel and I gave her a few gifts – a box in the shape of a cat and a hand knit shawl, to be described on the next entry. To her bemusement, she found that not only was I determined to go hiking in the desert, I was monomaniacally obsessed with the idea.

When I visited Grace in San Diego two years ago, she sheepishly asked if I might want to hike in the desert with her one day. “I’d never do it otherwise. Take me!” We hiked to a palm canyon in Anza Borrego and I found it fascinating; now I associate her with outdoor adventures. I would have liked to go to Joshua Tree National Park; but that is more of a drive from Palm Springs than it seems. Checking on Tripadvisor, I found the Indian Canyons that are right on the edge of town and they seemed to be exactly the thing.

We chose Palm Canyon, Grace joking that I just wanted to do the exact same thing again. Before heading down we stopped at the trading post for a snack and were both pleasantly surprised at the fair prices. A good turkey sandwich was $2.50; Grace looked at contemporary Indian pottery that was about $25 for a small piece.

Looking out over the canyon, I was surprised at the color of it; not brown or sandy, but a pale, sage green from the scrubby bushes covering the hills.


My cell phone rang.


“Guess what I had for lunch!”

“Mom, I’m not where you think I am. . .”

Mom was calling to brag that she had eaten the yu choy from our last shopping adventure. I explained that I was not looking out my office window, but looking out over the desert. She was a bit surprised. The miracles of cell phone technology.

We hiked the first mile of a 15 mile trail. It was delightful. Besides stands of palms with magnificent dried-leaf skirts that in some cases looked suspiciously manicured.


There seemed to be a national lizard convention in the canyon. It was filled with the little fellows darting out from rocks and crevices and sunning themselves. For an easterner, the most interesting thing is that “The Living Desert” is no misnomer. The place was filled with life, though probably 100 yards from the stream bed is a completely different ecosystem. We saw one jackrabbit, but the most common mammal on view were ground squirrels. They look like a mangy and sandy version of an eastern gray squirrel.

We sat on a log in the shade after a mile where the trail forked. I had drunk the better part of a quart of water but was surprised that I wasn’t uncomfortable from the heat; I usually don’t take it well. It was in the 90s, but so dry that the sweat evaporated quickly. Weirdly, snow was covering the high distant peaks.


There were a few forks in the trail. Two led up a hill and into the sun; the third said “Palm Canyon Trail”. The last thing we needed to do was go up a hill and into the sun, so we chose the canyon trail. We crossed a stream bed and followed it, then went about 200 yards and . . .

Up another hill and into the baking sun. We probably went another 300 yards navigating a crevasse before we realized it was more of the same for what we could see, had enough and turned around.

Back at the trading post, an information stand was lined with hummingbird feeders and the hummingbirds were buzzing about. There were at least ten of them, at one time there were four at one feeder. I tried to get a picture of one hovering but a digital camera just doesn’t move fast enough.


The most interesting wildlife spotting came as we were driving out. Sunning itself in the road was a good sized rattlesnake. As we drove by it coiled itself. I was quite glad to view it from the safety of a car.

The canyons are at the end of South Palm Canyon Drive; Moorten Botanical Garden is at the intersection with East Palm Canyon Drive. The gardens are about four acres of exhibits and nursery of the most serendipitous collection of succulent plants. Huge agaves, tiny cacti and everything in between. The garden is private, so everything about it had a homemade kitschy feel that fit in with the David Lynch vibe of the day. The Cactarium was a Quonset hut filled with cacti spilling out of their pots, some even suspended and growing down from the bottom of the pot. If only some of them had been carnivorous. The nursery sold several varieties cacti including a few only a mother could love with swollen green bulbs and a few wispy flowers. A tiny little plant in a two inch pot was poking a few water-swollen leaves out from gravel. “It’s about seven years old. It’s a very slow grower” the attendant explained sheepishly.

After dinner, (passable Mexican at the Blue Coyote Grill, but I’ve had so much better in San Diego and San Francisco – the company was better than the food) I said good bye to Grace and headed to meet Joe and gang at The Villa. Flyertalk gatherings seem to involve a cocktail party on Friday, dinner on Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Joe was fussing good naturedly and everyone settled in to meet one another. It seemed about half the gathering was from Southern California and half from farther. I hadn’t traveled the farthest; Glenn had also come from the NYC area and Dale came from Portland, Maine. I don’t think anyone traveled internationally. I found Joe in his casita – the little cabins that make up The Villa. Though both The Villa and the Hotel Zoso were offering rates of $129/night (relatively low for Palm Springs) for our stay, I wanted to stick to budget and opted to save about $100 total by staying at the Comfort Suites. Next time, if I have it, I’ll spend the extra $100. The Villa was $50 a night nicer, bright and airy with a big rock placed mysteriously in the bathroom. I wanted to give Joe one of the hats I knitted as a thank you for all his effort. He picked the one I had just finished (and not yet photographed), a striped blue beanie. I didn’t drink at the party (I was paranoid the entire weekend being a bad enough driver sober) but I’m not much of a drinker anyway. I came back to the David Lynch Suites overtired enough that I had trouble getting to sleep, and finally passed out.

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