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Photograph courtesy of Covello & Covello Historical Photo Collection

Downtown Santa Cruz, Christmas 1957: This long-gone McHugh and Bianchi building with the holiday trimmings always seemed to represent what Santa Cruz used to be. At least up to about the early '70s when progress took over. May this particular holiday season be a great one for you.

Bruce Bratton

DATELINE BIG BEAR LAKE. We were here last week just in time to watch 12 inches of snow cover everything in about eight hours. Aside from stupefying beauty and a chill factor of 22 degrees, it meant tire chains and numbing cold and a sudden remembrance of why Buffalo, N.Y., is no longer home. Big Bear Lake is the training camp for such boxers as Sugar Shane Mosely and Oscar De La Hoya. Matter of fact, Mosely's autographed photo decorated the wall of the tire chain store. The proprietor wouldn't tell me any inside secrets about Mosely, or if he's been able to overcome his recent defeat.

FIRST NIGHT PROCESSION. If you're not going to partake in the annual First Night procession, don't forget to plan on being there, it's still one of our community's finest hours. First Night must still need more volunteers, so call the office at 425.7277 or go to www.firstnightsc.com.

POLITICAL CELEBRITIES. I hope you've seen Sean Penn's full-page letter to President Bush. It's as accurate and well stated a document as you could ever hope to read. Author and playwright Harold Pinter did exactly the same thing a few weeks ago and documented his hopes and beliefs in an appeal to Bush to listen to reason. On the other hand, we do have Charlton Heston and Arnold Schwarzenegger to contend with, and I'm not sure if it all equals out or not.

KINGDOM OF SHADOWS. Watch for Rabbit-Proof Fence. It's a gut-wrenching film based on a true and yet unbelievable story of three Aborigine children who ran away from an Australian children's home. They crossed hundreds of miles of outback to return to their mother. Kenneth Branagh stands out as the only actor in the film, and in this case that's not a compliment to him. Go see it, take your visitors to it, they'll love it and it probably won't be showing in their hometown.

DATELINE LOS ANGELES. Spending holiday time with 2- and 3-year-old grandsons is a great way to forget just how scary our 2002 national scene can be if you think about it. Rain, storms and some very cold nights don't seem to be like the L.A. I remember. The muffelata sandwiches at the Farmers Market aren't as good as they used to be. And one half of the Farmers Market was eliminated to make room for the Grove. As I've mentioned before, the Grove is a picturesque, almost Thomas Kinkade version of a shopping mall. It's full of stores like F.A.O. Schwarz, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, and you know the rest. What's surprising is that it was so poorly designed that they have to have a crew sloshing around pushing water with 4-foot-wide squeegees down the nearest drain so shoppers won't get their feet wet. I think that of every city on earth, Los Angeles tops them all for creating nearly 1 million ways to make your holidays as commercial as possible. That's not all bad, but nearly.

COMING ATTRACTIONS. Circle Jan. 14 as the date to see and hear Habib Koite at the Rio Theatre. If you haven't heard of him, just know that he's a favorite of such notables as Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Habib is a guitarist, singer and composer, and plays both traditional music of Mali and music that's close to blues or even flamenco. The show starts at 8pm and you should hurry to get tickets at the Book Loft next door to the Rio Theatre. Call 425.1812 for information.

MORE RIO ATTRACTIONS. I went to the Rio to hear Electron Salon IV and suggest you attend Electron Salon V, which happens Jan. 26. The salons are evenings of improvised music and improvised visuals. Some of it is jazz, some just sounds, but it's exciting to watch and hear the artists create. Lawrence Bedford, the Rio maestro, told me of lots of exciting evenings that are being planned for 2003. There's a Vintage Italian Film Series that starts off with the 1951 classic Miracolo a Milano, or Miracle in Milan. There are scenes in this film that have stayed with me all these 51 years, and seeing it on a big screen will delight you, I promise. It plays Sunday, Feb. 9. Kurosawa's 1954 film The Seven Samurai starts at 7pm Jan. 19. There are not many words left to describe this masterpiece, except that filmmakers have been copying it for decades and still haven't topped or even equaled it. I laughed when I saw posters announcing Puppetry of the Penis in Berlin when I was there last April because I didn't believe anyone on Earth would know about this show. Now this two-man show is happening at the Rio Jan. 22 and 23. It's a pricey evening and the few reviews I've seen couldn't disagree more, but since it'll probably never be made into a musical, this could be your only chance. There are plenty more attractions happening at the Rio, and I agree that a nicer, more appropriate use of that building couldn't be found. Well maybe the puppetry thing is stretching it a mite, but you know what I mean.

SPEAKING OF THEATERS. Being in L.A., I can't get all the details, but Jim Schwenterley of the Del Mar and Nickelodeon tells me the our very own Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency received a special award from somebody for their work in saving and restoring the Del Mar. It's only been about 10 months since the Del Mar reopened and doesn't it seem like it was never closed? The next time you're in the Del Mar, take a look at the ceiling in the upstairs mezzanine. Its original artwork is being restored. Look around both inside and outside the Del Mar and note the original decoration theme of the ocean ... as in "Del Mar."

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From the December 25-31, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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