Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A picture is worth a 1,000 words

A boy plays in the mud near the Ravi river after a downpour on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan. August 24, 2011.

REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Open-Air Venue

One of the world's biggest casino operators has hired Los Angeles shopping center magnate Rick Caruso to develop a $550-million retail and entertainment district in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip crowned by an enormous Ferris wheel.

Caruso, who is weighing a run for mayor of Los Angeles, was tapped by Caesars Entertainment Corp. to oversee creation of the Linq, a new open-air attraction across Las Vegas Boulevard from Caesars Palace.

Where did everybody go ???

A stroller has little company at New York's Times Square as Hurricane Irene arrives.

Better with age

The organizers of the annual Cinecon film festival in Los Angeles have a simple mantra.

"We have a saying among ourselves that if it's rare we'll show it," said film and TV archivist-historian Stan Taffel, the festival's vice president.

That's not to say every film featured at the five-day festival, which features silent movies and early talkies, is a gem — to be honest, a few could even be described as turkeys. But that's not the point. "Because these films are so rare, no one has seen them," Taffel noted. "We are making these films available to be seen so they can be appreciated on their own merits."

Cinecon 47 opens Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and continues through Sept. 5. Besides screening nearly 30 films, Cinecon also features memorabilia and collectibles show at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. The Sunday evening banquet at the hotel will honor veteran performers Julie Adams ("The Creature From the Black Lagoon"), Jimmy Lyndon ("Life With Father") and Fay McKenzie ("Down Mexico Way"). Cinecon is also honoring the work of the National Film Preservation Foundation, which funds the major U.S. archives' film preservation efforts and played a key role the past two years in repatriating silent U.S. films in the New Zealand Film Archive.

Above: Russian actress Alla Nazimova stars in "Stronger than Death" (1920).

"the greenest commercial building in the world"

Its developers are calling it the "the greenest commercial building in the world." Monday afternoon, Seattle's Bullitt Center project will officially break ground on the $30 million project to create a "zero energy" office building on the edge of Capitol Hill. With solar panels generating as much energy as it needs in a year (in Seattle!), capturing rainwater for all water needs and treating all wastewater on site, the Bullitt Center goes far beyond a typical green building.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Switzerland: Resort hotel offers Tesla sports car package

Here's a chance to double-dip on luxury -- and thrills. La Reserve Geneve, on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, pairs use of an electric Tesla sports car with a two-night stay at the resort. Guests can take off in the roadster, which accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds without a sound, for a day of zero-emission touring.

Solvang, California's Danish village

Solvang was founded in 1911 in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. This authentic Danish village offers visitors hundreds of shops and restaurants to explore and enjoy. Chocolate shops, bakeries, coffee and beer gardens fill the streets of this walkable town. Solvang was voted one of Sunset Magazine's 10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the Western United States.

Beautiful city with music to match

Bonn, West Germany's capital before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, was Ludwig van Beethoven's birthplace in 1770.

(Michael Sondermann / August 25, 2011)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"His aim is to set seven breathtaking records in seven days by going higher or further than anyone dared go before"

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Where others take the cable car, Freddy Nock knows he can just hop on top of the steel wire and walk up to the peak.

The Swiss tightrope expert has already inched his way up or down four mountains in Germany, Austria and Switzerland this week.

His aim is to set seven breathtaking records in seven days by going higher or further than anyone dared go before.

On Thursday, the 46-year-old was saddling up near Bern, the Swiss capital, in a bid to cycle across a wire strung between two cranes 50 meters (164 feet) above the ground.

Nock, who never uses a safety harness during his stunts, is donating proceeds from his weeklong daredevil tour to charity

Hector Tobar's Los Angeles

Like the narrator of Italo Calvino's novel "Invisible Cities," I felt I was wandering a city with a history largely unknown to me. So I taped a passage from that book to my Times cubicle:

"The city … does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps…."

These days, just about everywhere I go in L.A., I feel history written in the landscape. L.A. is getting older. And when I go home, to the blocks where I grew up, I see the imprint left by generations of Angelenos.

(excerpts from a commentary by Hector Tobar, L A Times)

"Chasing Madoff"

What should have been a disturbing examination of a colossal financial crime in "Chasing Madoff" is instead a disturbed one.

Using an irritably distracting collage of hopped-up graphics, archival footage and faux-noir re-creations in black and white, director Jeff Prosserman's frenzied documentary focuses on the scandal's much-noted whistle-blower, a securities analyst named Harry Markopolos, who had been trying for 10 years — before Bernard Madoff's 2008 arrest — to let the world know Madoff's money-managing operation was a Ponzi scheme

Dolly led the way

With the huge rise in popularity of young female country stars such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood taking home Grammys and other awards and climbing to No. 1 on Billboard charts, it's difficult to imagine a time when the women of country music did not appeal to such a wide audience. But before Swift, Underwood and Miranda Lambert, there were a handful of women like Dolly Parton paving the way for female country stars.

"electronic tattoo"

Forget those old, bulky electrodes of the past. Researchers have created a device that can track your heart, brain and muscle activity as effectively as conventional monitoring systems — and is thin enough to be laminated onto the skin like a temporary tattoo. Down the line, such electronic patches could be used to monitor vital functions, aid in physical rehabilitation or perhaps be deployed in covert military operations.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Even Cary Grant said he wanted to be Cary Grant"

Even Cary Grant said he wanted to be Cary Grant. And why not? Cinema’s well-tailored Prince Charming made everything look effortless — whether fleeing a murderous crop duster or taming Katharine Hepburn. Still, no one’s quite prepared for an African American on death row to go all C.K. Dexter Haven in Rick Pagano’s inventive but awkward legal drama, “Treat Yourself Like Cary Grant,” now at the Lillian Theatre.

Battle over shark fin soup heats up in California

An emotional battle over a traditional soup has split California's Chinese American community as environmental and animal welfare groups push the Legislature to ban the sale and possession of shark fins.

The bill passed the Assembly last month, 65-8, but is running into trouble in the Senate.

The fight has pitted influential Chinese American politicians against one another, some of whom are running for mayor of San Francisco. Chinese traders and restaurant owners have hired lobbyists to oppose a ban, and busloads of Chinatown residents have descended on the Capitol, saying that a ban would violate cultural custom.

Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming has joined other celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson, in public support of a ban. "Remember, when the buying stops, the killing can too," says Ming, in a YouTube video that shows him pushing away a bowl of soup.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hallstat, Austria

Winter, summer, spring or fall -- it's always beautiful.

"The largest animals ever to live on Earth"

Blue whales are returning to Alaska in search of food and could be re-establishing an old migration route several decades after they were nearly wiped out by commercial whalers, scientists say.

The endangered whales, possibly the largest animals ever to live on Earth, have yet to recover from the worldwide slaughter that eliminated 99 percent of their number, according to the American Cetacean Society. The hunting peaked in 1931 with more than 29,000 animals killed in one season.

The animals used to cruise from Mexico and Southern California to Alaska, but they had mostly vanished from Alaskan waters.

But several sightings of California whales in recent years off the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia suggest that the massive animals are expanding north again in search of tiny shrimp-like krill to eat, scientists contend in a recent article published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Blue whales can grow up to 100 feet long and typically eat 4 tons of krill a day during the summer.

"Astronomers report seeing supermassive black hole swallowing star"

For the first time, astronomers say they've borne witness to a supermassive black hole consuming a star.

Two papers released Wednesday by the journal Nature describe powerful blasts of radiation whose brightness and behavior can be explained only by a sun-sized star being torn apart by the gravitational forces of a black hole at the center of its galaxy, the authors say.

Scientists believe they have seen the aftermath of such stellar violence before, in the form of fading glows emanating from distant galaxies, in whose centers supermassive black holes usually reside. But they had never caught one in the act.

"This was the first time we saw one of these big black holes going from quiet and silent to very loud and noisy, producing a lot of light and radiation," said Davide Lazzati, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University who was not involved in the study.

Shown above is an artist’s rendering of a burst of radiation released as a supermassive black hole consumes a star.

(Aurore Simonnet / Sonoma State University / August 25, 2011)

"Ground Zero"

Previously the site where the world famous World Trade Centres stood, this construction site provides fascinating viewing. A great place to reflect on the events of September 11, especially the museum across the road from Ground Zero. Eventually this site will contain more incredible architecture (pictures), with a memorial to those who lost their lives on that tragic day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Sue Fondrie

Oshkosh, WI

The winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who works groan-inducing wordplay into her teaching and administrative duties whenever possible. Out of school, she introduces two members of the next generation to the mysteries of Star Trek, Star Wars, and--of course--the art of the bad pun.

Prof. Fondrie is the 29th grand prize winner of the contest that that began at San Jose State University in 1982. The contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels takes its name from the Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who began his “Paul Clifford” with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

At 26 words, Prof. Fondrie’s submission is the shortest grand prize winner in Contest history, proving that bad writing need not be prolix, or even very wordy.


As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

Rodney Reed
Ooltewah, TN

"Rugby is a sport where you get to know people intimately"

"What really happened ???"

The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and surface vessels allegedly disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Popular culture has attributed these disappearances to the paranormal or activity by extraterrestrial beings.[1] Documented evidence indicates that a significant percentage of the incidents were inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, and numerous official agencies have stated that the number and nature of disappearances in the region is similar to that in any other area of ocean

"Interesting Facts on Stonehenge"

Interesting Facts on Stonehenge•Stonehenge was built between 3100 – 1100 BCE.

•The circle was aligned with the midsummer sunrise, the midwinter sunset, and the most southerly rising and northerly setting of the moon.

•The ground plan and structural engineering of Stonehenge incorporate sophisticated mathematical and geometrical understandings on the part of its builders.

•There were two types of stones used in its construction: the ‘bluestones’ (weighing as much as four tons and brought from 240 miles away) and the Sarsen stones (averaging eighteen feet in height and twenty-five tons in weight).

•It has been estimated that the construction of Stonehenge required more than thirty million hours of labor.

•More than nine hundred stone rings exist in the British Isles. Of these, Stonehenge is the most well known.

•The megalithic monuments of Britain and Europe predate those of the eastern Mediterranean, Egyptian, Mycenaean and Greek cultures.

•The Druids had nothing to do with the construction of the stone rings. Druids are known to have conducted their ritual activities mostly in sacred forest groves.

"What Is a Ghost? "

The concept of a ghost, also known as a specter, is based on the ancient idea that a person's spirit exists separately from his or her body, and may continue to exist after that person dies. Because of this idea, many societies began to use funeral rituals as a way of ensuring that the dead person's spirit would not return to "haunt" the living.

Places that are haunted are usually believed to be associated with some occurrence or emotion in the ghost's past; they are often a former home or the place where he or she died. Aside from actual ghostly apparitions, traditional signs of haunting range from strange noises, lights, odors or breezes to the displacement of objects, bells that ring spontaneously or musical instruments that seem to play on their own.

"UFO phenomena"

UFO HUNTERS follows the team of Bill Birnes, Kevin Cook and Pat Uskert, as they investigate UFO cases around the world. The team's access to UFO evidence is unparalleled—and their expertise allows them to quickly identify bogus claims of UFOs. Together, they use eyewitness accounts, scientific experimentation, documents recently released through the Freedom of Information Act and footage that has never been seen on television to piece together compelling—and sometimes chilling—evidence of UFO phenomena.

This season they will investigate some contemporary cases where video and audio evidence are in abundance, and dig into history for evidence of sightings going back centuries. Their investigations will take them across North America and Europe including Tinley Park, Illinois; Kokomo, Indiana; Aurora, Texas; a fresh look at Roswell, New Mexico; and others—spanning the years from 1897 to 2008.

"his dizzying adventure: climbing Mt. Whitney"

At 7, Tyler Armstrong is missing his two front teeth and is getting ready to start second grade in a couple of weeks.

While some classmates will surely share the usual summer vacation tales, Tyler, the blond-haired Yorba Linda boy with a competitive streak, will tell of his dizzying adventure: climbing Mt. Whitney.

At 14,494 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the Lower 48. Tyler trekked to the summit late last month in a speedy seven hours and 50 minutes with his father, Kevin Armstrong.

“Tyler was pushing me up the mountain,” Armstrong. “He was going faster than I’d ever gone before. The fastest I’d ever done it was nine hours.”

While no official records are kept, Tyler is among the youngest to hike Mt. Whitney in a single day, his father said.

“He was just determined to get to the top of the mountain,” Armstrong said.

The young boy’s fascination started with a documentary about hiking that he watched with his father, who at 11 also climbed Mt. Whitney with his father.

Sea Otters Endangered ???

A remarkable comeback of Alaska's sea otters may revive an international trade in the otter's dark-brown fur pelts not seen since the animals were hunted to near extinction a century ago.

Alaska Natives, the only people allowed to hunt otters under federal law, have been harvesting growing numbers in southeast Alaska. They are trying to develop worldwide markets for otter products, from "dance blankets" to sex organs as aphrodisiacs.

"Everyone's Talking About Pianist Yuja Wang's Short Dress"

A classical music critic is raising hell over Yuja Wang's outfit choice when she performed at the Hollywood Bowl last week.

The 24 year old took the stage in a tight orange mini dress, which according to LA Times writer Mark Swed isn't appropriate classical attire for the year 2011.

"The Story of America's T. E. Lawrence"

On June 7, 2011, Iona Prep alumnus William Doyle '74 released his much anticipated book A Soldier’s Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq. The nonfiction book is about the incredible story of a fallen American hero who was instrumental in turning the tide of violence in the Iraq War. Travis Patriquin was a young Special Forces officer who had already won a Bronze Star in Afghanistan before being transferred to Iraq. An Arabic linguist, Patriquin set out to establish a crucial network with tribal leaders built on mutual trust and respect. A Soldier's Dream is a tribute to a man who loved Iraq and a devoted soldier who made a crucial impact on the Iraq War.

William Doyle is an award winning author who also wrote American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962 and Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton.

"a link to the golden age of Hollywood"

The last surviving Brown Derby restaurant building, a link to the golden age of Hollywood, is on the market for $10.6 million.

Now an Italian restaurant and bank, the domed structure at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue was the fourth Brown Derby, a small restaurant chain popular with the entertainment industry.

Holy Yoga! Check out these pics from the LA times - certainly an inspiration!

Click on the heading above for more.

"Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West"

Photography and the American West have a lot in common. Both were "discovered" by Europeans in recent centuries, despite the fact that neither was exactly new. The camera obscura existed in the ancient world; photography only came into being when chemicals were invented that allowed images to be fixed to metal plates or paper. And, as curator Eva Respini points out in the catalog to MOMA's "Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West," the area west of the Mississippi River had been occupied for thousands of years. It was only named "the West by the most recent people to settle there: Americans."

Above: Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, by Darius Kinsey, 1906

The "upcoming relaunch"

DC Comics is already setting sales records for its upcoming relaunch of 52 superhero titles, a sign that the Superman and Batman publisher's new strategy is garnering fan attention, at least for the moment.

The Warner Bros. unit revealed in a story in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times that pre-orders for Justice League No. 1, which goes on sale Aug. 31, are already higher than 200,000. That makes it the bestselling comic book of 2011. In addition six other No. 1 titles -- Batman, Action Comics, Green Lantern, Detective Comics, Superman and Flash -- have pre-orders higher than 100,000, making them among this year's bestselling comics too.

DC is relaunching its entire superhero line with No. 1 issues over the next month in a bid to simplify and modernize stories and characters to draw new, younger readers. In addition, for the first time it is making all of its comics available on digital devices like iPads the same day they go on sale in stores. It's a two-pronged strategy to revive sales in the slumping comic book market at the same time that comic book characters are being used more than ever by entertainment giants like Warner.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The “Stone of Hope” to be dedicated

On Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the “March on Washington” and Dr. King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech, thousands will gather in Washington, D.C. to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a special dedication of the MLK Memorial, The “Stone of Hope” which is 30-foot statue of Dr. King located on the National Mall (north of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial).

Forgotten but not forever

Florence Lawrence, who appeared in almost 300 films and is considered to be Hollywood’s first movie star, rested in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery for decades before actor Roddy McDowell purchased a marker for her grave. She was severely burned in a studio fire in 1915 while trying to rescue a fellow performer. After she recovered from her injuries, work was harder to find. Lawrence killed herself in 1938 by taking a dose of poison.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Sur, California

Many visitors staying at Big Sur or simply passing through will find themselves drawn into a number of the town's innumerable art galleries. A number of these are to be found along Highway 1 and in particular, at the Village Shops area, where the Soul River Studios and the Big Sur Arts Center are particular favorites with many, the latter of which also features very attractive gardens.

"What Matters Most - Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman"

Barbra has long desired to release an album with lyrics only by her longtime collaborators and dear friends, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. That dream will finally be realized with her latest release "What Matters Most - Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman," coming August 23.

The new album, which Barbra personally produced, features ten Bergman songs which she has never previously recorded. Included in the set are the Academy Award-winning song “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, “So Many Stars” which was a hit for Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66, “Nice ‘n’ Easy” as popularized by Frank Sinatra, and “That Face” as first recorded by Fred Astaire.

Reflecting on her long-held desire to devote an entire album to the amazingly varied and consistently inspired music of the Bergmans, Barbra noted, “Alan and Marilyn have a remarkable gift for expressing affairs of the heart

"the dark labyrinth of the subconscious"

Sigmund Freud sniffed it. William Halsted injected it with a hypodermic needle. Both men, as ambitious and driven young doctors in the 1880s, became addicted to cocaine. History suggests that Freud kicked his habit; Halsted never did. Halsted pioneered a host of surgical methods, the use of anesthesia, and antiseptic procedures in surgery rooms. Freud gave us a lantern with which to illuminate the dark labyrinth of the subconscious. Both men played their part in the invention of our modern world, and their stories, as well as that of cocaine itself, are braided together by Howard Markel in "An Anatomy of Addiction."

Friday, August 19, 2011

A "haboob"

A monstrous dust storm roared through Phoenix, Arizona on Tuesday night, delaying flights and causing power outages for thousands of people.

The AP reports that the massive dust cloud, also known as a "haboob," was around 5,000 feet when it arrived in Phoenix, but radar data reveals that it reached heights anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 feet high prior. The storm appeared to be around 50 miles wide in some areas, KSAZ-TV reported.

The dust storm originated in Tucson, and was a part of Arizona's monsoon season.

"a friendship that will last a lifetime"

After one day together -- July 15, 1988, their college graduation -- Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world more »will be his playground. For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several July 15ths in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realize that what they are searching and hoping for has been there for them all along.

"Everything's coming up JUDY"

If you’re in New York City, be sure to attend one of the two Judy Garland retrospectives that will be running concurrently in New York this summer.

First up is the Paley Center for Media’s “Judy Garland: The Television Years“ running from July 20 through August 18, 2011. Per their website: ”In addition to six full episodes from The Judy Garland Show, where she shares the spotlight with such entertainers as Mickey Rooney, Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, and Peggy Lee, the screening series will include her four specials and all extant guest appearances on such programs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, On Broadway Tonight, and The Jack Paar Program.” Check out their site or click on the image to see schedule details.

During that same time period, The Film Society of Lincoln Center will be screening a retrospective of Judy’s films from July 26 thought August 9, 2011 titled “All Singing, All Dancing, All Judy!“

Mozart's Sister (a film)

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, born in 1751 and known as Nannerl, was said to posses a rare talent that, by some accounts, this film included, nearly rivaled that of her brother. Played by Marie Féret (the filmmaker’s daughter), Nannerl is an attractive, obedient and rather opaque 14-year-old going on 15, given to watchful silences and long looks at Wolfgang (David Moreau), who was younger by four and a half years. They were the only children out of the seven born to Leopold (Marc Barbé) and Anna-Maria (Delphine Chuillot) to survive childhood. If the calamity of those deaths weighed on the family it doesn’t register in “Mozart’s Sister,” which unfolds at the end of a long tour that began in 1763 when Wolfgang was 7.

“Kilroy Is Here"

The City of Redondo Beach Department of Recreation and Community Services Summer Drama Camp 2011 is celebrating its 24th year with the production of “Kilroy Is Here.”

The musical salute to the men and women who fought in World War II is based on the book by Tim Kelly with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur. The 1940s nostalgic play is being staged at the Woman’s Club of Redondo Beach, located at 400 S. Broadway, that was actually used as a USO club during the war, the setting of much of the play.

Pictured is the cast with a 1941 Packard in front of the Woman’s Club. Performances take place Aug. 17, 18, 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 20 and 21 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 with children under three years old free. For more information, call (310) 937-6606 or to speak to the Redondo Beach Cultural Arts supervisor at (310) 318-0610, ext. 4561.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

McCrory ---------- #1

Nick McCrory dives during the men’s platform finals at the AT&T National Diving Championships, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011, in Los Angeles. McCrory won the event.

( Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press )

"There's gotta be easier ways to kill yourself"

Mexican Jorge Ferzuli performs a reverse somersault during Round One of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2011 in Athens...

"Give it your all"

Zachary P. Parry, from Mission Viejo, during Saturday's 17-year-old boys preliminary, 1-meter spring board competition at the Riverside Aquatics Complex.

"10m Platoform synchro final"

Sasha Klein and Patrick Hausding of Germany compete during the men's 10m Platoform synchro final during 2011 European Diving Championships at Piscina Monumentale on March 12, 2011 in Turin, Italy.

(March 11, 2011 - Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images Europe)

"Your Balloon is making too much noise"

Nearly every winter sunrise for decades, hot air balloons floated above the Coachella Valley. People on the ground would wave and admire the chromatic airships, while the passengers would gaze down at the date palm groves, the sere desert floor, the plum shadows on the San Jacintos.

Then the Marrellis came to town.

They bought an 80-acre parcel in 1999, double-fenced it and planted it with thousands of olive trees. When the trees were grown and provided a screen, they started building a compound in the style of a "Moorish fortress castle": two sprawling buildings and a bell tower, surrounded by 24-foot-high walls — four feet thick — with turrets on each corner and a deep moat at the entrance.

In a business plan marked "personal and confidential" contained in a court file, they called it Oasis Ranch and stressed the need for privacy, exclusivity and security at what they described as a "getaway" and a "retreat."

Neighbors never met John and Carol Marrelli — who lived on a hillside estate in Del Mar, according to voter registration records — and knew little of the castle; the trees hid all but the barrel-tiled roof of the tower.

Only later would they learn how much the family disliked having hot air balloons fly overhead.

Cindy Wilkinson, who owns Fantasy Balloon Flights with her husband, got her first cease-and-desist letter on Nov. 20, 2007.

Attorneys for the Marrellis alleged that her balloons were flying too low over Oasis Ranch, violating Federal Aviation Administration rules and creating a "public nuisance" and an "invasion of privacy" amounting to "harassment."

"If that was not enough, we received a phone call from our construction superintendent (the ranch is under construction) who indicated that a worker nearly plunged to his death from the 55' tower … when he was startled by one of your balloons flying dangerously close to the property," according to the letter.

The attorney asked that the balloons stop floating over the property at all — even though they had a right to fly at 500 feet or less while taking off or landing — or face "immediate legal action."

Oasis Ranch sits in the middle of the La Quinta cove, a flat area of calm winds between two rocky spines of the San Jacintos. It is the prime ballooning area of the valley, with plenty of empty spots to take off and land, and polo grounds that host annual balloon festivals.

"It's pretty much the worst spot to be if you don't like balloons," said pilot John Hennigan, who has flown the area since 1991.

Wilkinson said she had never received such a complaint in 26 years of offering balloon rides in the Coachella Valley.

She wrote back to the Marrellis' attorney, disputing the interpretation of FAA rules but agreeing to cooperate.

"Hot air balloons have been flying in the area for the past 40 years," she wrote. "Now that you have brought to my attention that you do not like the balloons so strongly … we will try to avoid the property, and will instruct other balloonists to avoid the area also."

It seemed like no big deal to her. The property was just one among hundreds in a vast green and brown checkerboard of farms and scattered homes.

The Wilkinsons received repeat letters in March 2008. By then, several other balloonists had received similar notices, including the company Hennigan worked for.

Then came the lawsuit. Filed March 27, 2009, against four operators, it would ultimately target every balloon company and pilot in the valley, alleging that they were still flying low over the property and making loud noises. It sought a permanent injunction against any overflights, as well as unspecified damages and attorney fees.

The Marrellis also filed complaints with the FAA, which investigated and found no violations.