See the Oils, Admire the Hulis, but Stay for the 10-Pound Pizza

Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times Orange County Edition.

Downtown Fullerton is a hotbed of art and culture. One gallery has glass, another has class (literally), there's an eatery that's a gas, and the local museum's screening "Grass."

11:30 to noon: Before its recent remodeling, Fullerton College Fine Arts Gallery was a mere 400 square feet with drop ceilings. But the art department knocked out a wall and raised the roof, as it were, and now you can see the air ducts, wiring and other innards, faintly recalling the Pompidou Center in Paris (and a hair salon I used to frequent), only painted black.

"Doris Bittar: Ornamental Subjects" opened Wednesday. Bittar's oil paintings are both exotic and contemporary, with Middle Eastern desert images rendered in passionate, hothouse colors. There are large three-panel series of paintings with four sides, and four-panel series of paintings with three sides, often hung in novel ways.

The facility is also home to a gallery exhibition class; more than a dozen students mounted the current exhibition.

"Some prefer painting walls, others prefer working with signage," noted gallery assistant Bill Hayner. "We teach every aspect of installing a show."

Noon to 1:15: The Fine Arts Gallery is 1,600 square feet; the Fullerton Museum Center is 16,000 square feet.

The museum began as a library replacing the smaller Carnegie Library, which occupied the site from 1907 to 1940. The Spanish Colonial building sports elaborate molding around the doorways and a tiled copper cupola on the roof inlaid with green and yellow Spanish tiles at the base.

On display through April 30 is "Textiles From Vanishing Cultures." Items include a prayer rug and pillow from Turkey and a goat-hair saddlebag from Afghanistan. Wealthy Tunisian families would buy intricately woven Bedouin blankets called hulis to mark a son's marriage; Muslim families chose geometric motifs, Jewish families preferred pictorial examples, such as one hanging that depicts a wedding party and what appear to be kissing camels.

Watch as much as you can of "Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life," a continuously playing 1925 documentary about the migration of the Baktiari tribe of Persia taking half a million animals to pasture.

In it, a river of 50,000 people, feet bare or wrapped in rags, wind up one side of 15,000-foot, snow-covered Zard Kuh, then down the other with frozen, bleeding feet and pain-racked bodies. The film is dramatically sprinkled with captions such as "Zard Kuh is conquered!" and "Yo, Ali!"

In the gift shop are a poster of "Ballparks of the Major Leagues" ($25), Fruit Flambee oil lamps ($12.95) and a Mini Flower Press for ages 7 and up ($3.95). Trouble dolls from Guatemala ($1.50) are a bargain; tradition has it that each doll will try to solve your troubles while you sleep. Since there are only six dolls, you are allowed only six troubles a day.

1:15 to 2: Angelo's and Vinci's may sound like two guys from Italy, but, in fact, the name is a tribute to owner-actor-choreographer Steven Peck's parents: His mother liked Leonardo da Vinci, and his father's favorite artist was Michelangelo. The building is huge. As you dine in the Piazza Fantasia, look up at the mock storefronts of La Strada di Nonne (a tribute to Peck's relatives and the businesses they owned) and admire, for instance, the huge salamis and cheeses of the Salumeria di Ignazio.

There are also acrobats suspended overhead; a larger-than-life baker that moves; a La Scala Milano opera house alcove with the sign in neon; one especially intriguing vignette with a panel of dancing legs, a Greek bust and a dove emerging from a cash register; photos of Peck with Sylvester Stallone and with other stars everywhere.

The Terrazza di Amor offers alfresco dining with views of the Plummer Auditorium bell tower. One corner of the building is devoted to Woppo's Take Out Cucina; it's also home to Peck's dance studio. The monster cellar does not mean there is room for a lot of bottles of wine; it's where Frankenstein and King Kong--and Kong Jr.--hang out.

Meatball and other sandwiches are $3.25 to $5.95, pastas $4.75 to $6.95, traditional Italian specialty dishes $6.25 to $14.95. Pizzas range from a small cheese and tomato for $10.25 to a 10-pound Sicilian pie for $29.95. It's based on a recipe from Peck's grandparents' hometown and is layered with ham, mozzarella, spinach, ricotta, provolone, salami, tomatoes, herb sauce and garlic butter. It feeds five to eight.

2 to 2:30: Each kaleidoscope at Eileen Kremen Gallery is strikingly different, each exquisite in its own way and providing a little visual ecstasy.

These aren't the cardboard kiddie kaleidoscopes you find at the five-and-dime: They range from $120 to $3,000.

One kaleidoscope uses feathers and lace delicately controlled by an atomizer. On another, the images revolve with the workings of a glass musical clock. An alabaster kaleidoscope is so translucent that light seeps through the casing. There are even kaleidoscope rings and necklaces.

The Cathedral kaleidoscope sports a Gothic dragon, and the images are like stained-glass church windows. Two-mirror models can produce mandalas. In one model that uses glycerin oil, the images resemble Oriental tapestries and continue to move after you stop turning it.

"The world is so full of bad things; here we find beauty," Kremen said. "There's so much pain; here people find tranquillity. How awful that we never have time to gaze."

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3-HOUR TOUR

1. Fullerton College Fine Arts Gallery

321 E. Chapman Ave.

Building 1000

(714) 992-7317

Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Tuesday 6 to 9 p.m. (Closed spring break, April 10-14.)

2. Fullerton Museum Center

301 N. Pomona Ave.

(714) 738-6545

Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m.

3. Angelo's & Vinci's

550 N. Harbor Blvd.

(714) 879-4022

Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.

4. Eileen Kremen Gallery

619 N. Harbor Blvd.

(714) 879-1391

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

*

Parking: There is metered parking at Fullerton College and ample free parking in lots at the other locations.

Buses: OCTA Bus 41 runs east and west on Chapman Avenue and along Harbor Boulevard north of Chapman. Bus 43 runs along Harbor south of Chapman.

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