Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Pasadena to play host to the North American Tree Climbing Championship

Tree climbing champ


A climber participating in the 2011 Tree Climbing Championship.

If you visit Brookside Park and see a bunch of adults climbing trees, don't worry--it's completely normal. At least for this weekend. 

Arborists from all over the U.S. and Canada will compete in the 2014 North American Tree Climbing Championship. The Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture hosted the first tree climber event more than forty years ago, and now they've brought it back to its birthplace here in California. Arborist Dick Alvarez started the event in 1975 as a way to preserve the classic skills that a climber would need if he or she had to perform an aerial rescue. The competition's changed a bit since then. There's now a work climb and a belayed speed climb. Part of the work climb involves walking back and forth along a narrow tree limb and then ringing a bell--with a handsaw. 


LACMA architect Renzo Piano revamps Boston's Gardner Museum

The new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Halfway through lunch in the gleaming, sprawling, glass-caged café, a young guy came out of the kitchen and started to sing. Obviously a trained tenor, he performed a 10-minute aria about the terrible, yet heavenly burden of love. We sat riveted over our mid-day snack (fine clam fritters and good wine) and basked in the music.

“He’s the real deal,” said our waiter, Dustin. “He practices in the pantry on his breaks.”

Dustin asks if this is my first visit to Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. No, I say. I last visited in 1960, and a lot has changed since then, both positive and negative.

The Gardner Museum has recently sustained a $118 million renovation by architect Renzo Piano, who brought us the Resnick Pavilion and Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA. The additions, including an entirely new entrance, studio space, and a fine-looking concert hall, are as startling to me as the lunch-time aria.


Unpack the Reuben in this extreme DIY class

Reuben sandwich

Joey/Flickr Creative Commons

Classic Reuben sandwich

There's long been dispute over the origins of the Reuben Sandwich. Some credit Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian-born grocer from Omaha, Nebraska. He and some buddies (they called themselves "the committe") created the sandwich during their weekly poker game. Others hold it was German Arnold Reuben, owner of the once landmark Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City. 

You're free to choose your own mythos. But the Institute of Domestic Technology wants to teach you how to build a classic Reuben from the ground up.

In this four-hour hands-on workshop, participants will learn how to make each ingredient from scratch. At the end of the class, everyone will enjoy a fully-built Reuben with a bottle of Dr. Browns Cel-ray soda. Rashida Purifoy, chef/owner of Cast Iron Gourmet, will lead students in the sandwich crafting. Since 2010, Purifoy has taught the art of cooking bacon and other cured meats. She's also received acclaim from various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Better Living, Southern Living, and Draft Magazine.


San Diego Opera closing a dismal sign for the city

San Diego Opera

The San Diego Opera in action. The company recently announced that this season will be its last.

The San Diego Opera is closing

“After nearly 50 years as a San Diego cultural cornerstone providing world-class performances, we saw we faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward. We had a choice of winding down with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, or inevitably entering bankruptcy." — San Diego Opera CEO Ian D. Campbell

I suppose we should have seen it coming months ago.

That’s when the opera, going on 49 years of operation, quietly dropped plans for a 2015 50th anniversary celebration.  That would have been, really, when management determined that California’s third largest and second-oldest opera company, probably wouldn’t be alive at that time.

In any case, when the opera’s board decided by an almost unanimous vote Wednesday to close the curtain on music drama on the Civic Theater stage, it took the classical music world by surprise.  Opera companies in major cities including Baltimore, Boston and San Antonio have closed in the past decade. Even the New York City Opera, which was long both a scrappy competitor to the world-famed Metropolitan Opera and the ladder to the top for a myriad of great singers, was recently forced into bankruptcy.


A Room with a Typewriter? Steve Soboroff snags EM Forster Oliver for $11,401


The Oliver typewriter used by British author E.M. Forster

Steve Soboroff — the local businessman, space shuttle promoter and head of the Los Angeles Police Commission — has about two dozen historically significant typewriters, including ones owned by the Unabomber, Julie Andrews, Andy Rooney, Hemingway, and John Lennon. As he said to Off-Ramp in the past:

"What the typewriter symbolizes now is timelessness, and also a slower, more thoughtful way of life. What is made these days that will be used 60, 70, 80, 100 years from now? I don't think there's anything, and these typewriters have hundreds of years to go."

He brings them to charity auctions and says he's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by letting people pay for the privilege of typing on them.

RELATED: Steve Soboroff's typewriter time machines

Now Soboroff has added yet another typewriter to his collection: one used by E.M. Forster, the British author who wrote "Where Angels Fear to Tread," "The Longest Journey," "A Room with a View," "Howards End," "A Passage to India," and the scandalous "Maurice."