Rites of Spring

Jirayr "Jerry" Zorthian's primavera parties have been part of Pasadena's folklore for years. We snagged an invitation to the annual bacchanal held at his Altadena aerie last weekend. We've been told that the format for the event, which he started in 1984, never changes, but this year's bash was special. The irrepressible artist/bon vivant and his wife, Dabney--they've been married for 44 years--were celebrating his 90th birthday, which was actually April 14. The celebration was postponed because it fell on the Saturday before Easter this year. That's when Zorthian traditionally leads the annual Blessing of the Animals procession around the plaza on Olvera Street.

Like his past primaveras, this one featured the unearthing of pit-roasted pigs, turkeys, and mountains of vegetables. This year's skit again had the host snoozing on a custom-made throne dressed as "Zor-Bacchus" in a toga and red long johns. Undulating nymphs--stark naked, save the wreaths on their heads--enticed him until the roar of the crowd "awakened" him. To mark the special occasion, there were 10 nymphs, "one for every nine years," said Zorthian. Actually there were 10 1/2--one was un peu enceinte. "It's sooo neoclassical-pagan-surreal-Peter Pan-Woodstock," noted one voyeur with an appreciative sigh.

We left before it got dark and started to drizzle, but Dabney reported that the last of more than 400 revelers went down the hill at 5:30 a.m. "In the past, some have stayed for two days," she said. When asked about the secret of his vitality, Zorthian said with a shrug, "The minute you say, 'I'm too old for that,' you are too old."

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