Lynnette Kampe points her white Plymouth Vista up Mt. Washington Drive, her practiced eye looking for telltale signs that the litterers and dumpers have once again been hitting the turnouts.
We pull over at turnout number three--"Here's our Lady."
"She's sweet," she says, peering into a small wooden shrine. Inside, someone has placed a feather. "That's new." Sometimes fresh flowers appear alongside the yellow silk ones Kampe laid there a while back.
New, too, is a mosaic of broken slate that an anonymous admirer has fashioned at the base of "Our Lady of the Canyon," as the shrine has come to be known in these parts.
Since the shrine went up last fall, there's been a lot less dumping in the turnout. That was the idea. Kampe, who chairs the beautification committee of the Mount Washington Assn., had been pondering how to keep outsiders from coming up and trashing the neighborhood.
How do you instill a sense of reverence for the beauties of nature? she'd asked herself. The answer, she decided, might be "to pick an image that already carries that meaning." She'd noticed that, down the hill in Highland Park, only buildings with religious murals escaped defacing.
Kampe reasoned, "Who would litter in front of a shrine? It just doesn't feel right."
Neighbors Louise Padden and Evert Brown, who own the property above the turnout, were enthusiastic. Brown, an artist, offered a painting he'd done of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Kampe's husband, Mark, built the little shelter.
For a long time after Our Lady went up, Padden says, "There was no littering at all." Recently, though, some littering has resumed.
Maybe it means that people are just dumping elsewhere on the hill, but Kampe prefers to think "there's this little subliminal 'The Earth is a garden' stuff going on with them."
With the budget crunch, Kampe says, "The city is pulling back on what it can do." Most of the culprits, she adds, are not casual litterers but "people who have remodeling businesses who are saving $15 by dumping on the street."
People bring stolen cars up, strip them and leave the parts, sometimes setting them on fire. They throw toilets off the back of trucks.
She fumes about tire dealers who collect $1-a-tire dumping fees from customers for disposal of old tires--then dump them here.
Then, too, Padden says, "We get romantic couples who come up to party. We don't mind the romantic part. We mind the 30 empty beer bottles and the pizza boxes."
Minutes from downtown, Mt. Washington is a bucolic oasis with undeveloped canyons and a plethora of flora and fauna. There are horned owls and hawks, raccoons, skunks, opossums. Native plants abound.
To Kampe and her committee, each is precious, as is every inch of open space. On weekends, she and her committee clear weeds in the canyons, first tagging the native plants so they won't yank them by mistake.
For Kampe, a 10-year area resident and mother of two young children, keeping Mt. Washington clean and green is a labor of love. Her paid part-time job is with an environmental group, Northeast Trees. And she gives at least 10 hours a week to the Mt. Washington Assn.
Once, as she was picking up trash, a passing motorist figured her for someone who was working off a drunk-driving conviction. "Serves you right!" he yelled. But for the most part, she says, "People honk and wave. We wish they'd stop and put on a pair of gloves."
No Mere Cup of Coffee
Ernesto Illy savors the first sip of espresso--ignoring the lemon twist, "an American invention"--and concludes that the cup is too big. In a smaller cup, "It would taste better on the tongue."
We are dining at Patina and Illy, having earlier polished off his pasta, is about to launch an attack on a plate of five-- five! --exquisite chocolate things.
The conversation has somehow drifted from espresso to Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Illy, a mischievous man with a shaved head and a quick wit, is quoting him on love, about its being "a disturbance of the faculty of attention."
Between sips, he segues to coffee. At 68, he drinks five to seven cups a day--and it doesn't keep him awake. Did you know that espresso is much lower in caffeine than regular drip coffee?
Ernesto Illy, in town for a trade show, is president of Illycaffe, the 60-year-old Trieste company founded by his father, Francesco. It is singly devoted to the pursuit of the perfect cup of espresso.
To Illy, it is a noble beverage, an elixir. It takes 50 beans--perfectly roasted Arabica beans--to make one cup of Illycaffe. If one is rotten, "It's like making an omelet with 50 eggs and one egg is rotten."
To his delight, espresso is suddenly as American as, well, pizza pie. At corner coffee bars, it is sipped straight or steamed milk is added and it's called cappuccino or latte.
What's this all about?
Illy, a chemistry Ph.D, suggests that, for one thing, regular coffee became too diluted as coffee makers tried in vain to rid it of the bitterness that Americans abhor.
Here, Illy makes an analogy--as he is wont to do--to Venus remaining in the morning sky after all the other stars have disappeared.
But back to the espresso craze. "Also, you have people moving away from alcohol and looking for other pleasures. And there's a kind of symbolic move from the bigger the better to the new philosophy of small and beautiful."
Oh, one more thing. "Eighty percent of the population is on a diet. The ideal would be a beautiful chocolate truffle," but espresso, intense in aroma and flavor, is some compensation.
Illycaffe thinks of itself as the Cadillac of espressos--the only one served at Patina, Chasen's, Spago, Fennel, Citrus, The Bistro Garden, Lawry's, Jimmy's--and about 25,000 other places worldwide.
But one slip can spoil the cup. The water temperature must be just so (194 degrees), the extraction time 25 seconds. To eliminate human error, Illy now offers pre-measured filter packs of Illycaffe to slip into the machine.
This is especially important in the United States, Illy suggests, where there are no real waiters, "only actors."
This weekly column chronicles the people and small moments that define life in Southern California. Reader suggestions are welcome.