The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom

I recently visited London for the first time and was awed by the Crown Jewels:  the actual crown, scepter and orb used in coronations, the crown the queen wears when opening Parliament, and other crowns.

Click on this link to the royal family’s website to see them.  The largest photo is of the Imperial State Crown, with a large diamond, the Cullinan II, in the lower front. Click on thumbnails (small photos) to enlarge each photo and read the caption, if you like.

Queen Elizabeth II was 25 at her coronation, and in the portrait you can see in the above link, she holds the Sovereign’s Orb and the staff-like  Sovereign’s Sceptre.

The sceptre (scepter in American English) holds the Cullinan I diamond — it’s the large diamond you see in the close-up of the top of the scepter, and there is also a close-up of the diamond alone.  (It comes out so it can be worn as jewelry.) At 530 carats, it is the largest top-quality cut diamond in the world. It’s also called the First Star of Africa.

The Cullinan Diamond was discovered a century ago in a mine in South Africa, and it weighed one and one-third pounds. It has been cut into smaller pieces, the largest being the Cullinan I and the Cullinan II, also called the Second Star of Africa, which you saw in the Imperial State Crown.

You can read more about the Crown Jewels on the royal family’s website, and also how Oliver Cromwell got rid of many early Crown Jewels after he did away with King Charles I.


Not A Classic Sculpture

Completely clothed and completely nude, this life-size art piece is cast class.  I believe the dress is very old, originally owned and worn by a pianist.  The “body” is that of a contemporary woman, that word in quotes because this piece is hollow.

Pianist's Dress Impression, 2005, by Karen LaMonte.  Palm Springs Art Museum.
Pianist’s Dress Impression, 2005, by Karen LaMonte. Palm Springs Art Museum.

It is translucent and seems to glow.  Unusual, but lovely, too.  I really wanted to share this one with you.

I saw this beautiful piece at the Palm Springs (California) Art Museum, in Contemporary Glass 2012/2013.  You can see the exhibit until November 3, or click the link below to see some of these works, and how the cast glass piece pictured above stood out, looking like a classical sculpture in a gallery of contemporary pieces. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge each photo.  All of the pieces look very different from each other:—2013/

Idaho and the Key to the Cosmos

Its bordello museum had just closed for the winter, so I almost did not stop in Wallace.

The Wallace depot now houses a railroad museum.  The interstate behind it skirts the protected historic downtown.
The Wallace depot now houses a railroad museum. The interstate behind it skirts the protected historic downtown.

The Coeur d’Alene was the most productive silver-mining district in the United States.

Lake Coeur d'Alene has scenic bike trails and an annual IRONMAN Triathlon.
Lake Coeur d’Alene has scenic bike trails and an annual IRONMAN Triathlon.

Every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wallace, Idaho

I was hoping the Oasis Bordello Museum would be open, despite what I had read.  I’m writing about the red-light district in another mining town, Cripple Creek.

It was cold and windy, so I warmed up with a latte and friendly conversation with the coffeehouse owner.

I took a stroll, and was I in for a surprise.

The arrow points to a manhole cover.

Click here for the logic behind the mayor’s 2004 proclamation and to learn more about Wallace and the Coeur d’Alene area.

Max Factor’s Hollywood Magic


Max Factor, “the father of modern make-up,” bought a  building in Hollywood and turned it into the ultimate salon for movie stars and the public. Glass bits in the columns sparkle in the afternoon sun.


He took this plain storage facility and had it decorated in Hollywood Regency Art Deco.

He had four make-up rooms for women of different hair color.  Each was painted to flatter a woman’s complexion, a woman with that hair color.


In this blue room, Max Factor turned Marilyn Monroe into a blonde.  That’s a dress she wore when entertaining troops oversees.


The natural brunette Lucille Ball, who had been a platinum blonde showgirl, became a redhead in this green room.  She looks lovely in this magazine ad for Max Factor cosmetics.  These ads always stated the title of the star’s current movie.

The room with the sign on the door “For Brunettes Only,” was for dark-haired beauties like Liz Taylor.  The pink walls flattered these ladies.


One more room.  One more hair color.


A brownette has brown hair with reddish or blondish highlights.


Here is Max Factor with brownette Judy Garland at age 13 or 14.

These rooms are only part of the Hollywood Museum, which has thousands of photos, costumes, and other items from old and recent movies and television.

Winter Warmth: Historic La Quinta Resort

Climb the stairs for a margarita on the plaza.

When this resort opened in 1926 as a desert hideaway, it began to attract Hollywood stars like Katherine Hepburn; Joan Crawford, who brought her children; and that wonderful Robin Hood, Errol Flynn.

Eighty-seven years later, the expanded resort is known more for its world-famous golf courses. It has more than forty swimming pools. I’ve been slipping away to La Quinta for the last twenty-five years.

The La Quinta Resort is near Palm Springs, California, but is located in the city of La Quinta. The city is the only one in the U.S. named after a hotel.


The landscape was pretty bare in 1927 except for the Santa Rosa Mountains.


Now it is lush year round. While visiting, I found a plaque outdoors. I love discoveries on vacations.


The plaque states that director Frank Capra first came to La Quinta in 1934 to turn the story “Night Bus,” which he read in a Palm Springs barbershop, into a movie script called “It Happened One Night.” The film won the five most important Oscars, including one for director Capra, who then brought his wife regularly to his “lucky” resort, where he wrote other classic films, such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The Best Actor Oscar for “It Happened One Night” was awarded to Clark Gable, who often vacationed here with his wife, Carole Lombard.


Winter Warmth and Sunshine

Palm Springs Desert

Palm Springs is the most famous city in the Coachella Valley.  Today, in early February, the forecast is in the mid-70s, which is about 25 Celsius, and visitors flock here to play golf and tennis in the pleasant winter weather.

It’s warmer and drier than winters in Los Angeles, about 150 miles away, and early Hollywood stars made the trek out here in the days before the interstate and airport, not to work but to enjoy themselves by playing the same sports we do today, dancing in the evenings, and relaxing.

John Frost needed this climate for his ill health.  He often painted Mt. San Jacinto, which borders this valley near Palm Springs. He painted the one below in 1926.

Mount San Jacinto by John Frost, 1926

This same year, the La Quinta Hotel was established nearby (no connection with the chain of the same name).  It attracted old-time Hollywood stars and is still open for business, 87 years later.  I’ll write more about the La Quinta resort next Wednesday.  Here’s a photo below.

La Quinta Resort

Enjoy your week.  If you are busy, you might take a little time for yourself and curl up with a book.  Make your own warmth with a blanket over your legs and a cup of tea.   Next Wednesday we’ll go back to the desert and the 1920s and 30s.

Hollywood’s First Cinema


Sometimes you just get lucky.  The investors of the first theater in Hollywood selected an Egyptian theme.  Five weeks after it opened its doors, King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and everything Egyptian became the cat’s pajamas.  The year was 1922.

One of the men who built the Egyptian was Sid Grauman, who would later build Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where the handprints and footprints of the stars attract visitors today.  Sid was a marketing genius, in my book.  The movies shown at the Egyptian were world exclusives for six months, while the rest of the country eagerly waited for them to come to their local movie houses.

While the feature-length silents played in this glamorous venue, their titles shone in lights in front of the courtyard.  Today the lights spell the name of the organization that took this decrepit building where homeless people slept, restored it, and presents a wide variety of movies there today.  Picture the sign below with “Robin Hood” or  “Thief of Baghdad,” brightly lit at night.


Sid Grauman also rolled out the red carpet for the stars at the movie’s premieres.  Long, red carpets had been used similarly in ancient times, but Sid was the first to use them for movie stars.  Now planters with palm trees take up much of the courtyard, but in the Twenties, there was room for fans to star-gaze.


The flappers and their fellas paid five dollars a head for the premiere, and between seventy-five cents and a dollar-fifty for an everyday showing.  With prices that high, it must have been a special occasion calling for dressing up.

As the movie-goers entered the auditorium, singers standing in theater boxes serenaded them as they found their seats.  Then live actors performed a prologue or short piece with the same theme as the movie.

If you visit Hollywood, or if you live nearby, relive the history of movies by watching the wonderful documentary,”Forever Hollywood,” at the Egyptian, Hollywood’s first movie theater.

Where in the World?

I hope you enjoyed my last three posts about Rome.



This is not Europe — here’s a detail of one of the figures on the ceiling above.


See the headband? She’s a flapper. All of these photos are of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, which was built in 1923.


Right now it’s decorated for Christmas.


Have a beautiful and blessed Christmas.

Magnificent Rome — The Ancient Port of Ostia Antica


I walked on streets where crowds bustled nineteen centuries ago. Living, breathing people worked at the docks,  ate and drank with friends, enjoyed the theater, fell in love.

Mosaic found in Ostia Antica

They are long gone, but their city, which had been buried in river mud and silt, remains. About half has been uncovered.

Ostia Antica, a commuter train ride from Rome, was a port at the mouth of the Tiber River.  The larger ships could not make it up the river to Rome, so workers unloaded cargo here into warehouses.


A synagogue built almost two thousand years ago, with a Star of David still on the outside. A bakery where several workers stood and ground grain with pestles near a stone oven where bread baked before people purchased loaves there. Another oven is at a café where people ate at tables and chairs in a courtyard with a fountain. I think I remember a fountain, but I do remember I was struck that they enjoyed a meal outside on a fine day, just as we do.

Theater at Ostia AnticaTheater at Ostia Antica

Here is the exterior and interior of the theater. Teens hammed it up from what is left of the stage. After shouting to three in French, they all hopped at the same time.

Maybe 50,000 to 75,000 people lived here at one time. Archeologists have found hotels, apartment buildings a few stories high, bars, brothels, houses of worship, community baths, homes, and hundreds of shops.

Magnificent Rome

I feel very fortunate to have visited Italy recently, and I am pre-empting my regular past-and-present period to move back two thousand years.

I had no idea many of the great sights of ancient Rome are right next to each other.  I was able to reach these on foot from my hotel in a beautiful neighborhood, Aventino, with lovely apartments with red-tile roofs and inviting terraces, and tall trees lining the hilly streets.  This is one of the seven hills of Rome.


Between this Aventine Hill and the Palatine Hill is the Circus Maximus.  A sign posted there stated Romans raced chariots drawn by teams of four or six horses.  The races took place for NINE HUNDRED years.

There  was once a stadium here that seated 150,000 people.  Today, the track remains.

The ruins on the other side of the Circus Maximus, shown in the upper right of the photo in the link above,  are the ruins on the Palatino, the Palatine Hill.  “Palatino” for “palace,”  and there are great, long arched walls of an ancient palace and other buildings.

This hill was the birthplace of Rome, both according to legend (Romulus and Remus were supposedly raised by a wolf here), and history. Archeologists determined people lived on this hill 3,000 years ago, about 2,000 B.C. (BCE).



The Palatine Hill overlooks the Roman Forum.

This video shows the Roman Forum, the few acres that were the center of Western civilization, of worship and government, for centuries.

[wpvideo Qt745iWr]

Visitors to the forum can enter the ancient Senate, where Roman citizens governed until the emperors became more powerful. I was awed to stand here.

Roman Senate

In ancient times, there were a number of arches in Rome commemorating military victories.  There’s one beside the Roman Forum, and a larger one, the Arch of Constantine, across the street from the Forum and the Palatine Hill, beside the Colisseum.  As I said, it’s amazing how close everything is.  Here’s the Arch of Constantine, built in 315.


That’s the Coliseum on the right.  After viewing the Coliseum, we walked past monuments, including a square designed by Michelangelo, on the way back to the hotel.  What a day.  What a walk.