Archive for the ‘ Photographs ’ Category

Aftel Archive of Curious Scents

My nose needs a nap after taking in dozens of smells this morning from the 300 note perfume organ at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. The Archive is a tiny museum located next door to perfumer Mandy Aftel’s home in Berkeley.

Mandy and her son graciously answered our questions about the artifacts on display. Mandy showed us her collection of ambergris, which is used as a natural fixative in perfume. When sperm whales eat squid, they produce ambergris to protect their stomach linings from sharp squid beaks. Sperm whales puke or poop out waxy lumps of ambergris, which then float on the ocean until they are collected and sold. In 2016, three fishermen from Oman harvested 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of ambergris valued at $2.8 million USD! Ambergris smells better than expected – it is musky, earthy, and sweet. Mandy’s son opened a small vial of oud oil and held the stopper under our noses. To me, oud oil evokes a dank moldy forest. It is distilled from agarwood using steam. High quality oud oil may sell for as much as $50,000 USD per kilogram.

We were invited to take home paper strips dipped in our favourite essences. Scott chose dill, plai, and massoia bark. Dill is Scott’s favourite potato chip flavour. Plai is a Thai ginger. Massoia is an evergreen laurel from Papua, New Guinea that smells like sandalwood and coconut. As Scott put his strips in a single glassine envelope, the plai and massoia bark aromas were quickly overpowered by the dill. I chose citronellol, tolu balsam, and ravensara. Citronellol is a compound found in rose oil. Tolu balsam is a dark sticky resin that smells warm and spicy. Ravensara, an evergreen from Madagascar, reminds me of anise and fennel.

Our sensory experiences included not only smells but also tastes. After eating dark chocolate spritzed with essences of cardamom, ginger, and peru balsam, Scott bought a pink peppercorn spray to flavour our salads and ice cream at home. Yum!

Julia’s Restaurant

Hearst Castle architect and engineer Julia Morgan was the only woman to graduate from UC Berkeley civil engineering in 1894, and the first woman awarded a certificate in architecture from Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1902. She designed the Berkeley City Club and led its construction in 1929. Tonight, we dined at the Club’s restaurant, which is named after her. Both are local gems.

To Catch a Thief

img_0267

On Thursday, our Canadian friends Alison and Jeremy drove from Yosemite to San Francisco for dinner with us at the Ferry Building’s MarketBar.  They are repatriating to Canada after living in Santiago, Chile for seven years.  To ease the transition, they are currently taking a 12 week road trip through the Americas with their sons William (almost 11), Jackson (newly nine), and Lucas (four).

Dinner was messy and fun.  We bonded over our respective experiences as ex-pats and squeezed nine years of stories into the time it took to share cocktails, oysters, pizza, and Pork Pork Pork.  During the meal, Jackson drew the animal kingdom on a dry-erase board and the paper tablecloth.  I really liked his dry-erase doodle of a blue dinosaur.  The boys made countless trips to the washroom.  They had appointed me to be their pee buddy, so I raced with them to and from the toilets.  The boys were full of energy and seemed eager to test the plumbing and hand dryers.  As they had started their day at a campsite, their fascination with creature comforts was understandable.

After dinner, we decided to go outside for the golden hour.  As we left our table, I reminded Scott to pick up his bag, which he did.  Once outside, we walked toward the water.  I set up my tripod and we posed for this group shot in front of the Bay Bridge.  Robertson Davies wrote that “a portrait is among other things, a statement of opinion by the artist, as well as a likeness”.  I love how this photo captures essential qualities I see in William, Jackson, and Lucas.  William is good-natured and has Alison’s confidence.  Jackson has Jeremy’s calm and happy-go-lucky spirit.  Lucas is a lover and a fighter in a charming pint-sized package.  As we took the photo, several people milled about nearby – including a shabby-looking man on a bicycle.  Scott, an avid cyclist, noticed that the man’s black Surly bicycle had a “Read a Fucking Book” sticker on it.  Rather than linger among shady characters, we wandered across the pavement to the Ferry Building in search of ice cream.  Along the way, Scott and the boys climbed all over Mohandas K. Gandhi, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi that greets people as they walk from the pier to the Ferry Building.

As we entered the Ferry Building, Scott realized that he no longer had his bag with him.  He ran back to the pier and returned empty handed.  Fortunately, Scott had his personal phone in his pocket.  He used the “Find My iPhone” app to track the location of his work phone, which had been inside his bag.  His work phone was already half a mile away.  The thief was likely the man on the bicycle!  Scott was afraid that the thief would soon disable location tracking on his work phone.  He decided to run after the thief.  Jeremy, who runs marathons for fun, was up for the chase.  They sprinted away before Alison or I could reason with them.  William wondered if Scott would get in trouble for losing his work phone.  Alison assured him that Scott would likely be given another work phone without too much fuss.  William asked me if I thought the thief would hand over the bag to Scott.  I told him I didn’t know.  As Scott and Jeremy unleashed their inner vigilantes, Alison and I took the boys to Humphry Slocombe for ice cream.  To the boys’ delight, we had candid discussions about the effects of lactose intolerance and food poisoning.  As I ate my flower power sorbet, I had visions of Scott and Jeremy getting shanked in the Tenderloin.  I hoped our evening would end without a trip to the ER.  I kept my morbid thoughts to myself.  To her credit, Alison did not betray any anxiety until we finished our desserts – when I couldn’t reach Scott on his personal phone.  I quickly dialed his missing work phone.  Alison and I were both amazed and relieved when Scott answered right away.

Scott and Jeremy had caught up to the thief at an intersection.  Scott recognized the bike and noticed his bag sitting on the bike’s handlebars, so he asked the thief for his bag.  Jeremy wedged his foot behind the bike’s rear tire to prevent the thief from escaping as Scott reclaimed his bag.  It was empty.  Scott then asked the thief for each item that was in the bag before it was stolen:  work phone; wallet; $100 cash; credit cards; government lab ID; earbuds; phone charger; FedEx receipt; gum…  For each item, the thief rummaged through his pockets anew.  Scott asked the thief repeatedly why he had stolen the bag.  The thief denied stealing the bag.  He claimed that he had found the bag with its contents strewn about a curb, and that he was planning on putting the bag in a mailbox.  Scott considered calling the police and decided against it.  He thanked the thief (!) and then walked away with Jeremy.

When Scott and Jeremy returned to the Ferry Building, they were all smiles and fist bumps.  To catch the thief, they had sprinted 10 city blocks – stopping only to call the police (who claimed they couldn’t help without a suspect to identify) and to summon (then cancel) an Uber.  To their dismay, the missing phone’s location disappeared and then reappeared on the app map as they ran.  I asked Jeremy if he felt “young and alive” after the chase.  He grinned, likened the caper to a sightseeing tour, and proposed that he and Scott run a marathon together.  William exclaimed that he knew the man on the bicycle was trouble – he had noticed him while we were taking our group shot.  I laughed when Alison voluntold Jeremy to pick up Lucas from the floor since Jeremy was feeling so young and alive; Lucas was having a meltdown between Alison’s ankles.  Jeremy called an Uber.  Within minutes, it was time for everyone to hug good-bye.  Scott and I took BART home.  I washed Scott’s bag in hot soapy water.  He resolved to stop carrying a bag.

 

140 Maiden Lane

On Saturday afternoon, Scott and I wandered into 140 Maiden LaneFrank Lloyd Wright‘s sole contribution to San Francisco architecture.  We were unaware of the building’s cultural significance when we entered it.  We were merely curious if the building’s interior matched its plain yet elegant exterior.  We were surprised to find an architectural marvel inside.

Visiting 140 Maiden Lane was a serendipitous detour.  I had been leading the way to Britex, my favourite fabric store, when beautiful voices beckoned.  We walked along Grant Avenue and turned left onto Maiden Lane, where a tenor and a soprano were performing for passersby.  They stood in the middle of the street.  As they sang, their operatic voices reverberated off the surrounding buildings.  We listened to several arias, and then Scott tipped the buskers as we walked past them towards Britex’s back door.  A century ago, if voices beckoned visitors onto Maiden Lane (which used to be called Morton Street), the voices likely would have belonged to prostitutes, and the visitors likely would have been johns.  The 1906 earthquake destroyed the Morton Street red-light district.  But I digress.

Across the street from Britex, a large “goop MRKT” banner fluttered in the wind above 140 Maiden Lane.  “goop MRKT” is a pop-up curation of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s lifestyle brand.  Scott told me that he had noticed 140 Maiden Lane before but it had always been closed or vacant.  The building’s tall exterior wall of tan brick is relieved by a metal gate hung below a brick arch.

As the gate was open, we walked through the arch into a lovely atrium merchandised with tasteful art, books, and clothing.  The space itself seemed to be the main attraction for many of the visitors I observed.  A large white circular ramp spirals up from the atrium to a mezzanine like a giant nautilus shell.  A drop ceiling features 120 white acrylic domes which conceal the building’s pitched glass roof.  A hanging planter floats over the atrium like a verdant flying saucer.  A small plaque near the door reads “This structure [is] designated by the American Institute of Architects as one of 17 American buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be retained as an example of his architectural contribution to American Culture – 1960.”  Scott and I peeked behind wooden doors to find hidden offices and a decommissioned dumbwaiter.  We opened drawers full of fancy soaps for sale.  Eventually, we left and went to Britex.

The next day, I returned to 140 Maiden Lane with a prospective client.  We had hit it off while exploring the newly-renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art so I was happy to share this discovery with him.  He seemed taken with the black walnut built-in furniture and fixtures, so we sat in silent appreciation of our surroundings.  Before we left, I asked a clerk to tell us about the building’s history.  She told us that gift shop owner V.C. Morris commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to renovate 140 Maiden Lane in the late 1940’s, and that the circular ramp in the atrium served as a physical proof of concept for the architect’s interior design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  She advised us that “goop MRKT” is open at 140 Maiden Lane only until May 22, so there are a few days left to enjoy the space before it closes.

 

Peacock

At the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden this afternoon, my Canadian friend Lynne gave me a heads up.  There was a large peacock perched in a pink trumpet tree directly above us!

Stift Melk

We recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by cycling along the Donauradweg (Danube Cycle Path) between Passau, Germany and Vienna, Austria

At the end of our fourth day on the road, we arrived in Melk after a late start from Grein. In Grein, we had replaced the hard narrow saddles on our rental bikes with wide cushy saddles from a small bike shop located on the Kreuznerstrasse.  The new saddles enabled us to cycle comfortably for long stretches of time, even after we lost our way in the dark en route to Melk.  We realized that we had taken a wrong turn when the well-maintained bike path gave way to gravel and grass.  Our unintentional detour added a couple of kilometers (about a mile) to our journey. Most cyclists hit the Donauradweg at dawn so that they may arrive at their destinations by mid-afternoon.  Thus, getting lost while pedaling along the Danube River is nearly impossible during the day as the route is well-marked.  Getting lost in the dark is still quite difficult, but we managed to do so.

We were standing on a bridge when I took this photo of the Stift Melk (Melk Abbey).  It was raining and I was tired.  Nearby, a campground full of teenagers partied in the rain.  As Scott consulted Google Maps to confirm the route to our hotel, I did my best to keep my camera dry as I took photos of the abbey. The Stift Melk was founded in 1089, when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria donated a castle (which was later destroyed by fire) to Benedictine monks.  The abbey’s architecture “went for Baroque” between 1701 and 1736.

We toured the abbey before we cycled from Melk to Traismauer the next day.  The abbey’s Marble Hall, Library, and Church are fabulously ornate.

Golden Gate Bridge

In the past two months, Scott and I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge from afar and up close during our weekend staycations.

I took this photo of the bridge’s north tower when Scott and I went flying in December with Scott’s former colleague Jim, who is an amateur pilot.  Instead of exchanging Christmas presents, Scott and I pooled our fun money and asked Jim to take us flying.  Jim is a member of the Alameda Aero Club, so we took off from the Oakland Airport‘s North Field in a Cessna Skyhawk which we had rented from the club.  It was a calm and sunny day.  We had a clear view of San Francisco, and of landmarks such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory above UC Berkeley, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Point Reyes National Seashore.  At one point, Jim let Scott take control of the plane – I held my breath and focused on taking photos of the scenery below!  We landed at the Petaluma Municipal Airport where there were several small planes parked on the airport apron, including a shiny old Royal Canadian Air Force Beechcraft Model 18.  We ate lunch at the Two-Niner Diner.  The diner’s name refers to runway 29, which is nearby.  Despite our ideal flying conditions, I felt a wee bit nauseated so I was happy to settle my stomach with a delicious lunch of salad, chicken-fried steak, and blueberry coffee cake.  After lunch, we flew back to the East Bay.

In January, Scott and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on a Saturday afternoon.  First, we took BART into San Francisco and had fancy dim sum at Hakkasan to carbo-load before our seven-mile (11 km) hike.  I’m not sure how many carbs are in Hakkasan’s famous crispy duck salad; I needed exercise after eating it!  After lunch, we took UBER to the Presidio, a park and former military base that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.   We walked through a beautiful eucalyptus grove called Lovers’ Lane, snacked on macarons and Bavarian cream at the Walt Disney Family Museum, watched the sunlight and shadows of trees dance across the tombstones at the San Francisco National Cemetery, and took some selfies when we arrived at the bridge before sunset.  Heavy traffic made the walk across the bridge noisy and somewhat chaotic, but crossing the bridge on foot enabled us to touch the International Orange paint that protects the bridge from corrosion.  The bridge’s architect Irving Morrow chose the paint color to complement the landscape and enhance the bridge’s visibility in fog.  The Sisyphean task of maintaining the bridge’s paint job is the work of 38 painters.  Once we crossed the bridge, we put on our headlamps and power-walked in the dark to Sausalito so that we wouldn’t miss the ferry back to San Francisco.  At the Ferry Building, we had a wonderful Vietnamese dinner at The Slanted Door before we went home on BART.

Dragonfly

20130714 Dragonfly

Last Saturday, we drove with Scott’s Indian colleague Aditya and his wife Kamakshi from Berkeley to Bolinas for lunch at Coast Café and a hike along part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.  We had plans to hike between the Palomarin Trailhead and Bass Lake.  But first, we took a quick detour down to the beach.  I’m glad we did; I found this lovely dragonfly sitting on the rocks.  He and his stained glass wings were ready for their close-up, and I was happy to oblige!

Griffith Observatory Sunset

Yesterday, Scott and I spent the day at Griffith Park with my German colleague Wilfried and his Costa Rican wife Ana.  This is the amazing sunset we saw as we stood on the observation deck of the Griffith Observatory.

I think that Mother Nature put on a spectacular show to impress Wilfried and Ana, who are new to Los AngelesHerzlich willkommen, Freunde!

Unsafe Safety Pin

Corridor Pin, Blue” is an enormous sculpture of a safety pin by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. There are several of these sculptures on display in America: one is in New Orleans; the artists’ proof is in Dallas; and the one I saw stands in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the de Young Museum in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. The sculpture is 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall and it is made of stainless steel and painted aluminum. The pointy end of the pin looks sharp enough to poke out a dinosaur’s eye. Good thing there are no dinosaurs roaming around Golden Gate Park. Or are there? The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display at the California Academy of Sciences next door wasn’t always a skeleton. Perhaps T-Rex had impaled himself on a safety pin sculpture and that’s why his skeleton is now on permanent display!

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were not only artistic collaborators but also husband and wife. They must have had so much fun deciding together what to make: “Let’s make a huge clothespin!”…”No, let’s make a big shuttlecock!”…”Why don’t we make a giant trowel today?”…”I feel the urge to make a flashlight for King Kong.”…”You know what the world needs? A massive pair of binoculars!” Their “Binoculars” sculpture anchors the Chiat/Day Building in Los Angeles designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Coosje van Bruggen met Frank Gehry when they both served as adjudicators at Documenta, a contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany. Arne, my first friend in L.A., is from Kassel. In May, Arne gave me and Scott a grand tour of Kassel after we rendezvoused in Helsa. Yes, I share my name with a suburb of Kassel!

I took this photo of “Corridor Pin, Blue” last Sunday, just after a kind stranger had taken a group shot of me, Scott, Mama Chow, my Uncle Jeff, and my Auntie Lynne. We were in S.F. for a short but sweet family reunion: Jeff and Lynne live in Australia; Mama Chow lives in Canada; Scott now lives near Berkeley; and I live in L.A. Earlier that day, I had run 10 miles along the trails of Golden Gate Park while my family had wandered through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. It was a perfect day, really.

Dance On

I recently lent a Sarah Harmer CD to an Austrian colleague named Harmer.  My colleague claims his last name isn’t very common, so I think it would be neat if he and Sarah Harmer were related to each other.

Sarah Harmer’s music is delicious, like a slice of Canadiana served warm with maple syrup.

Her songs have become a soundtrack to my life. My favourites are stored in my iCloud, so she occasionally rides shotgun on my daily commute. Her voice rises over the hum of the dishwasher when I want to pair some good tunes with my good housekeeping; and I dance with Scott in the kitchen whenever we hear her streaming on CBC Radio.

Two years ago tonight, I took this photo of Sarah Harmer performing at Spaceland in Silver Lake. After Sarah’s set, we lingered by the stage door until she came over to greet us. Scott took a photo of me and Sarah as we chatted. When I told her that her music inspires impromptu dance parties chez nous, she wrote “Helsa & Scott – Dance On ♥ Sarah Harmer” as she autographed our copy of Oh Little Fire. We will, thanks to her!

Schlumpfdorf

Yesterday, I had lunch with two German colleagues and the conversation shifted to the topic of fungus as Christopher described his brother’s research to me and Eva.  At one point, Christopher couldn’t find the word he wanted to say in English, so Eva prompted him in German and he responded in kind.  All I heard was “German German German FUNGUS German German”.  This happens to me quite often, and not only at work.  Earlier this week, I accepted an invitation to Skype with my German friends Julia and Eberhard tomorrow morning.  They seem to forget sometimes that I’m not German as I had to run part of their email through Google Translate to understand it.

I took this photo of fungus growing along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park a week before last Christmas.  My Canadian friend Lisa inspired the shot as she had once told me that she wanted to capture a wild mushroom’s point of view in a photo.  To me, this juicy cluster of Armillaria solidipes resembles a Smurf village, or Schlumpfdorf as my German friends would say!

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

Chocolate Mousse Taco

Yesterday afternoon, I wandered into Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose Avenue and discovered their Chocolate Mousse Taco.  Imagine a Florentine folded into the shape of a taco, filled with Mousse au Chocolat, and topped with wide curly ribbons of dark chocolate.  The delicious result is a mash-up of traditional Tuscan(?), Mexican, and French treats!

I took a photo of this fine dessert to share it with you.  If Willy Wonka‘s Television-Chocolate Room / Wonkavision were real, then I would use it to broadcast a piece to you right now!

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

Yesterday afternoon, I ran some errands in Hollywood.  As I drove north along the 101 from DTLA, I noticed that my car was running on fumes so I exited the freeway and headed toward the closest gas station, a Chevron on N Highland Avenue.  When I saw that traffic was at a standstill near the gas station, I realized that I’d driven straight into Oscar madness!

The former Kodak Theatre, now known as the Hollywood and Highland Center Theatre since Kodak filed for bankruptcy recently, is where the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be held this evening.  The Theatre is 0.3 miles (0.5 km) away from the Chevron station.  Since I had my camera with me, I decided to fill ‘er up, park my car on a side street, and walk towards the Theatre to see what was happening on the red carpet.

Hollywood Avenue was shut down and a chain link fence kept the curious at bay.  Having shepherded many visitors through the Hollywood and Highland Center to take photos of the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Kodak Theatre, I’m familiar with the nooks and crannies that afford a good view of the street below.  I took this photo of the red carpet while standing in front of Sun Taco on the third floor of the Center.  If you watch the ceremony tonight on TV, Sun Taco’s signage will be hidden from view by a glamorous gold curtain, which is hung each year to hide storefronts.

Mike’s Cafe

This week, we enjoyed a brief visit from my Australian friend Penny and her younger brother Ian.  Ian had backpacked his way around the world for several months before he visited Penny and her “registered partner NOT husband” Chris in the Bay AreaLos Angeles was Ian’s final pit stop before he flew back to Australia on Wednesday night.

Penny had chauffeured Ian from the Bay Area to Las Vegas for two days of gambling before they arrived on our doorstep Tuesday evening, bearing gifts of 99 Ranch Chinese roast duck, Sun Tropics mango passionfruit juice, and a Cuisinart immersion blender!  Penny and I used to shop at the 99 Ranch in Mountain View on Thursdays after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley.  Chinese roast duck was and remains a treat, but cartons of Sun Tropics juice were staples in our fridge back then!  We inherited the blender from our German friends Julia and Eberhard, who are moving from Menlo Park to Hamburg next month.  To repay Julia and Eberhard’s kindness, I sent Penny home with a small framed print of Death Valley Desert Gold for them, as they had visited Death Valley over Christmas.  To repay Penny’s kindness, we enjoyed comfort food together at the Nickel Diner in downtown L.A. and Tender Greens in Santa Monica.

Penny’s kindness manifests itself in countless ways.  She pours love into the meals she cooks for her friends and family.  She makes my long commute bearable by Skyping with me once a week as I inch along the freeway.  And despite her occasional tantrums when I’ve taken “too many” photos during a hike or party, she encourages my photography.  She arranged for Ellen and Mike, the proprietors of Mike’s Cafes, to display my work at their Palo Alto restaurant for three months this past summer.  This is a photo of my prints on display at the restaurant.  Scott hung the frames; he did an excellent job.  If you scan the mirrored wall closely, you will see the reflection of Penny chatting with Mike.

Christmas in Beverly Hills

To celebrate the first day of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we had lunch in Beverly Hills and did some browsing on Rodeo Drive.  Like all good tourists, we took a photo of ourselves at the fountain in front of Two Rodeo Drive.  Later in the afternoon, Santa Claus sat behind a velvet rope beside the fountain.  Parents tried to pose their frightened children on the jolly old man’s lap.  I can still hear their screams.

I took this snapshot as we walked out of Missoni at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.  The sun cast interesting shadows along the shop’s woven aluminum facade.

Merry Christmas!  Joyeux Noël!  Feliz Navidad!

Bookmarc

Today, I decided to treat myself to a new book from Bookmarc.  Bookmarc is the Marc Jacobs brand extension / bookstore on Melrose Place in West Hollywood.  I bought On Paris, a selection of articles written by Ernest Hemingway between 1920 and 1924 for The Toronto StarI had no idea that Ernest Hemingway was once a foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star!  This is the magic of Bookmarc:  it’s small and well-curated.  Usually, I enjoy the serendipity and thrift of discovering old favourites and new treasures among stacks of haphazardly catalogued used books at Know Knew Books in Palo Alto, Bart’s Books in Ojai, or The Last Bookstore in DTLA.  However, I also enjoy the luxury of being the first person to thumb through the heavy pages of an art book or the deckle-edge pages of a novel.

I took this photo of Bookmarc in March 2011, when it was warm and sunny outside.  That day, I bought The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy.  Books I own tend to languish on the shelf for months until I’m ready to read them.  I finished reading The Dud Avocado recently.  Similar to On ParisThe Dud Avocado offers an American perspective about living in post-war Paris.  Different from On Paris (which is non-fiction and written after the First World War), The Dud Avocado is juicy, thinly-veiled fiction set after the Second World War – I highly recommend it for the title alone!

On a whim, I bought presents for Scott and my Canadian friend Dave.  (Dave, thank you for asking me about my birthday when we spoke on the phone today.  I’m sorry I forgot to ask you about yours; please enjoy the book I’m sending to you, Debbie, and Mika in Toronto!)  Mark, the clerk, offered to check the storage area for pristine copies of the books I chose and then wrapped them so beautifully I was afraid to leave the store with them as it was raining outside.  While I waited for the rain to stop, I flipped through a copy of Ron Galella:  Exclusive Diary.  Ron Galella takes old-school paparazzi photographs of glamorous people.  Many of the photos in the book were taken in Hollywood, just a couple miles east of Bookmarc.

Mount Wilson

Last night, we watched the moonrise over Los Angeles from Mount Wilson with our friends Orison and Maria.  During the day, we had toured the Mount Wilson Observatory and hiked part of the Rim Trail together.  It had been a clear day, so we could see the ocean from our perch 5,700 ft (1,737 m) above sea level.  Acclimating to high altitudes is good practice for Orison and Maria, as they are getting married in Lima (elevation:  5,079 ft = 1,548 m) over the new year – congratulations and best wishes!

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” ~ Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Steve Jobs died today.  Many people will remember Steve Jobs for how he revolutionized the way we create, convey, and consume cultural content.  As much as I admire his professional accomplishments, I will remember him most for his front yard:  I took this snapshot of poppies growing in his front yard when I walked past his house for the first time in June 2009 with my German friend Manuela.  At the time, we didn’t know that the property belonged to him and his family.  All I knew for certain was that a subversive with excellent taste lived there – someone who dared to forgo a manicured lawn in favour of a wildly whimsical field of poppies.  Someone who dared to stay hungry and stay foolish.

The Jewelry District

Last week, I had commented on Facebook that I’ve lost all perspective since moving to downtown L.A. My Thursday night commute was rainy, so I was worried about driving 40 miles along a wet and slippery 101. Once I exited the freeway, I dreaded the nightly obstacle course of hipsters and homeless who jay-walk across the street that leads to our loft. But the street was empty – in place of pedestrians, I found police barricades blocking access to our street. I detoured around several one-way streets before pulling into our parking lot. Too tired after a long day to muster up any concern or curiosity, all I felt was mild annoyance when Lino, our parking attendant, grimly informed me that a manhunt was underway after a robbery, stabbing, and shooting down the block in the Jewelry District. Lino chided me for living in such a dangerous neighbourhood (he lives in Burbank) as he gallantly escorted me into my building.

On Saturday afternoon, I shopped in the Jewelry District with Maria, my Swedish friend who lives in Pasadena. She and her Peruvian fiancé Orison are traveling to Sweden in a couple of weeks to visit her family so she wanted to buy some presents for her mother. In St. Vincent’s Jewelry Center, I introduced Maria to the proprietors of Easigo Gem and Jewelry Exporters; they sell $5 strands of gemstone beads which are fun to string into necklaces. Maria bought herself a lovely string of garnets.

Last May, I took this photo of Easigo’s counter piled high with necklaces-to-be as my Austrian friends Eleonore and Monika weighed down their purses with bags of the colourful stones. That day, I bought myself some garnets. They’re red and juicy-looking, like the pomergranate seeds which garnish the hummus and tabbouleh served in cafés outside St. Vincent’s Jewelry Center.

Angels Flight

On the final night of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we walked to dinner at L.A. Prime atop The Westin Bonaventure where we admired the Los Angeles skyline, had a nice meal, and then fought over the bill as good Asian families do (Mama Chow won).  On our way to the restaurant I took this photo of the Angels Flight railway, which we rode up Bunker Hill from Hill Street to California Plaza.  

This photo was a happy accident.  I had set the shutter speed at 15 seconds as it was dark outside, but then I forgot to turn off the camera’s flash.  The camera captured the train in motion.  The illuminated tower that hovers over the train is Los Angeles City Hall.  City Hall, which was completed in 1928, wasn’t even around when Angels Flight was built.  A plaque mounted onto a boulder next to the train station reads: 

Built in 1901 by Colonel J.W. Eddy, lawyer, engineer, and friend of President Abraham Lincoln, Angels Flight is said to be the world’s shortest incorporated railway.  The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel a 33 percent grade for 315 feet [96 meters].  It is estimated that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile [1.6 km] than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years.  This incline railway is a public utility operating under a franchise granted by the City of Los Angeles.

Between 1901 and 1969, the railway ran along tracks which connected Hill Street and Olive Street at Third Street.  The railway was dismantled in 1969 to make way for redevelopment and was finally re-constructed in 1996 to operate at its current location until 2001, when its gear train failed.  The railcar at the top of the hill, Sinai, hurtled down the hill and crashed into the other railcar, Olivet.  One man died and seven people were injured in this accident.  Angels Flight re-opened in March 2010 and a one-way ticket to ride now costs 25 cents.   

In the film “500 Days of Summer” (2009), the main character Tom takes his girlfriend Summer to Angels Knoll Park.  The park is his favorite spot in Los Angeles as he can look out over a number of buildings he likes, although the view is spoiled by parking lots.  Seven dots of white light shine from these parking lots in my photo.  The Angels Flight railway runs through Angels Knoll Park.

Malibu Sunset

The sunset in Malibu on Saturday evening was worth searing my retinas for – don’t you think?

Malibu Freestyle Sun Salutation

On Saturday, I was going blind taking photos of the sunset in Malibu when this man suddenly appeared and started meditating beside me.  I took a couple steps back and snuck a snapshot of him as I knew no one would believe this story unless I had photographic proof.

Earlier in the afternoon, Scott and I had gone hiking along the Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.  It had rained all morning, so we waded through the muck for four miles (6 km) before we decided to sully our car and drive to Real Food Daily (our favourite organic vegan restaurant in Santa Monica) for some surprisingly tasty meatless enchiladas and dairy-free fettucine alfredo.  We drove along Saddle Peak Road until we reached Tuna Canyon Road, where Scott pulled over to make sure we were headed in the right direction.  I could see in the rear view mirror that the sunset was going to be stunning so I grabbed my camera and ran out of our car.  I stood on the shoulder between a barbed wire fence and a telephone pole, looked straight into the sun (don’t try this at home, kids – it’s bad for your eyes), and took pictures until I heard a car pull up, a door slam, some rapid footsteps, and then some loud beeping.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man fiddling with his beeping iPad:  the time was flashing on the screen in large red numbers like a digital alarm clock.  He dropped his iPad on the ground and started gesturing methodically at the sun.  Although it was 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) at sunset, there was a strong humid wind blowing up from the ocean.  I regretted that I had left my toque and mittens at home.  I couldn’t believe that the mysterious meditator was wearing only a t-shirt and white linen pants (after Labour Day).  He must have been chilled to the bone.  It wasn’t long before he picked up his iPad, ran back to his car, and sped away.

Runyon Canyon

Last weekend, we went hiking in Runyon Canyon. We had been looking forward to a quiet nature walk so we were reluctant to share the concrete “trail” with what appeared to be a casting couch mash-up of aspiring actresses, their pampered dogs, and chubby screenwriters. Pneumatic girls bounced along the pavement as their off-leash dogs sniffed our bottoms. Paunchy middle-aged men shouted into their bluetooth headsets as they brushed past us. Scott and I decided to cut our hike short. As we left the park, I took this photo of a billboard rising out of the urban forest like a gorilla in the mist. The billboard is a promotion for Spa Luce in Hollywood. The model resembles Lindsay Lohan. She’s definitely not Dian Fossey!

The following Monday, I asked co-workers about what they thought of the concrete jungle within Runyon Canyon. They laughed when our Norwegian colleague Ingvald informed me that the park is known for its pick-up scene. That explains why everyone around us seemed single and ready to mingle!

“Where The Streets Have No Name”

Bono wrote the lyrics to “Where The Streets Have No Name” after hearing a story about how a person’s address in Belfast is indicative of his or her religion and income.  In 1987, U2 filmed their guerilla video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” on the roof of the Republic Liquor Store at 7th and Main, a block from where we now live in downtown L.A.  The intersection marks the southwestern border of Skid Row, an urban wasteland where the streets have names but not much else going for them.  In 1999, the Los Angeles City Council passed an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance which enables developers to convert vacant office and commercial buildings into renovated live-work spaces.  This shift in urban policy spurred gentrification in the city’s Historic Core.  These days, transient hotels and loft conversions share the same zip codes in our neighbourhood.  A graph of gentrification vs. time for downtown L.A. would show an inflection point at x = 2010.  For the time being, the area supports the demographic diversity which Belfast lacked in Bono’s mind.

The Republic Liquor Store has given way to a 24-hour Mexican greasy spoon called Margarita’s Place.  By staging their video on a rooftop, U2 paid homage to The Beatles.  In 1969, the Beatles played atop the Savile Row roof of Apple Records.  No. 3 Savile Row in London is much more posh than 103 E. 7th St. in L.A.  At the entrance to Margarita’s Place, a sign states “No Drugs, No Drug Dealers, No Loitering, No Weapons, The Los Angeles Police Department Makes Regular and Frecuent [sic] Patrols of These Premises”.  Consider yourself warned.

During U2’s video shoot, fans lined the street in front of Dearden’s.  Dearden’s is a furniture store which recently celebrated its centenary.

The Beaux Arts-style Board of Trade Building which Bono serenaded in the video is now SB Main, a loft conversion.

Two blocks away, developers have converted the old Rosslyn Hotel into Rosslyn Lofts.  A refurbished rooftop neon sign glows with pride over the building’s original “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSSLYN – FIRE PROOF ROOMS – POPULAR PRICES”.  Bono’s fascination with the “Million Dollar Hotel” likely inspired the large replica sign that served as a backdrop for the video.  The replica was mispelled; it read “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSLYN”.

In the video, a big blue sign advertised The Cecil Hotel’s “LOW – MONTHLY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS” as Bono sang “I want to reach out / And touch the flame / Where the streets have no name”.  The sign is now red, and it’s been modified to promote the hotel’s “LOW – DAILY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS”.  Several floors of this flop house have been renovated and re-branded as Stay, a cheap and chic hotel which shares an elevator with its gritty parent Cecil.  We stayed at Stay while we were loft-hunting in downtown L.A. less than two years ago.  It was an eye-opener to ride the lift with guests who had checked out long before they checked into the Cecil.

Theme Building @ LAX

A couple of weeks ago, Scott met my flight at LAX after I flew “home” from Canada. “Home” has become an abstraction for us and many of our friends. “Home” is not necessarily a house, it’s not where we keep our stuff, and it’s somewhat exclusive of where we pay tax. In the kitchen of our loft in downtown L.A., I’ve hung two photos of the little house we own in Canada. When we first moved to America, I worried about our tenants painting our old bedroom pink. Now, I’m satisfied when our tenants send us a cheque each month. My Canadian brothers-in-law are saints: their basement in Toronto is filled with our belongings. Back in the day, American colonists cried, “No taxation without representation!” to express their resentment over being taxed by the British parliament. We happen to pay tax both in Canada and in America. Although it’s frustrating to pay tax to the Canada Revenue Agency, at least we can vote in Canadian elections. We pay state and federal tax in the U.S., but we don’t have a say in how this money is spent as we aren’t able to vote in American elections. But I digress…

We go “home” to visit family and old friends in the country that issues our passports. And then we go “home” to our spouses or partners in the country where we work and live. If we’re lucky, our spouse will meet our flight and, broken elevator be damned, carry our heavy suitcase up six flights of stairs to the car. I set up my tripod and camera on the roof of the LAX parkade to take this photo of the Theme Building.

The flying saucer-shaped Theme Building at LAX was designed by architects James Langenheim of Pereira & Luckman, Paul R. Williams, Welton Becket, and Robert Herrick Carter. Construction of this mid-century design icon in 1961 cost $2.2 million. The spidery legs of the 135 ft (41 m) high parabolic arches are made out of steel-reinforced concrete, and the crossed arches are a hollow stucco-covered steel truss. The building is now home to the Encounter Restaurant and its observation deck now offers free admission to the public on weekends.

Harry Perry

Earlier this summer, we trolled the Venice Beach Boardwalk looking for a famous busker named Harry Perry as our Canadian musician friends Jason and Kelly were keen to meet him.  Harry Perry’s electric guitar, in-line skates, and Sikh turban make him pretty easy to spot in a crowd.  He was performing near the north end of Ocean Front Walk when we found him.  We listened to Harry sing several trippy songs about science fiction and Jason, who’s a jazz guitarist, admired Harry’s chops.      

Last month, Scott and I re-traced our steps along the boardwalk with my cheeky Australian aunt and uncle.  They were hunting for tacky souvenirs so we wandered through head shops and T-shirt stalls searching for counter-culture artifacts that would scandalize their children.  Halfway up the promenade, we ran into Harry Perry.  He was in the middle of a song, so I took a photo of him as I waited for a chance to talk with him.  Once he finished his song, he posed for a couple of photos with his fans, sold some T-shirts and CDs, and offered positive affirmations to passersby.

We made eye contact so I asked him how his running was going; I had read that he runs 20 miles each day.  He told me that he had completed a marathon recently and is planning to do a couple more races this year.  He’s 59-years-old and he’s in incredible shape!

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Yesterday, I ran seven miles and renewed my love of running in the rain.  The temperature outside was 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit):  it was warm enough for me to run in shorts and a T-shirt; yet cool enough for me to feel refreshed as I motored along the pavement at turbo turtle speed.  The rain washed away the salt which otherwise streaks my face as I run.  I’m visiting Mama Chow this week and I am so happy to escape the oppressive heat of Los Angeles for the crisp weather of Vancouver.

I ran along No.3 Road in Richmond towards the Fraser River.  At the intersection of No. 3 and Steveston Highway, suburban sprawl suddenly gives way to farmland.  In the words of Shel Silverstein, I ran “Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow…  To the place where the sidewalk ends.”  No. 3 ends at Dyke Road, where a trail hugs the bank of the Fraser River.  The river was a grey satin ribbon, shiny yet subdued.  The water’s surface kept breaking like there was someone standing beneath me skipping stones.  I listened to the splashes and tried not to blink as I scanned the area.  I quickly realized that I was alone except for the large FISH that were leaping out of the water – to them, the river was a trampoline.  Because I was mid-run, I didn’t have my camera with me – the rain would have made picture-taking difficult anyway.  I watched the life aquatic until I started shivering.  And then I turned around to run towards a patch of blackberries I’d passed earlier.

DIGRESSION:  How would you determine the number of times these fish might jump in an hour?  Use the Poisson Distribution!

A mile from Mama Chow’s, there is a large house that is surrounded by overgrown blackberry bushes.  Cars were parked all over the lawn yesterday and the front sidewalk was slick with ripe and rotten berries that had fallen to the ground – such a waste.  I stood on the sidewalk and ate a bunch of blackberries off the bush.  Thorns dug into my elbows:  a small price to pay for easy foraging.  The berries were sweet; they gave me plenty of energy to finish my run.

UPDATE:  The Sockeye Salmon run in the Fraser River is newsworthy!  The next day, Mama Chow and I drove to the river to see the salmon run.  The river was choppy and the fish weren’t very active, but I managed to take a snapshot of one sockeye as it poked its head out of the water.

WaterWorld

At Universal Studios Hollywood, each performance of “WaterWorld” ends with a bang.  An explosion engulfs the set in flames and this fireball was the highlight of my visit to the theme park last month!  Big hugs and many thanks to my Australian uncle and aunt for this treat!

Cemetery Cinema

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a unique setting to watch a film on a Saturday night.  Cinespia is in its tenth season of transforming this famous cemetery into a moonlit cinema.  Last weekend, we watched “The Sting” (1973) with 3,000 other movie lovers and the spirits of screen legends interred nearby.

In the daytime, the cemetery is popular with tourists who want to commune with dead celebs such as Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc; producer Cecil B. DeMille; actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr.; “Golden Girl” Estelle Getty; philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith; guitarist Johnny Ramone; gangster Bugsy Siegel; and actress Fay Wray.  Hollywood Forever is bordered by strip malls and car repair garages so its glamour is a bit frayed at the edges.

As the sun set, we enjoyed a picnic with our Canadian friends Ethan and Zarene on the grass beside the mausoleum which holds Rudolph Valentino’s tomb.  The lawn was cool and damp so we sat on an unzipped sleeping bag as we dug into stromboli, salad, corn on the cob, and cake.  The group next to us huddled around a tablecloth covered in tea lights, so we were in fine company dining al fresco.  DJs Hair and Carlos Niño spun Bob Dylan and Portishead to keep the crowd feeling groovy.  Most smokers were kind enough to congregate near the porta-potties next to a field of parked cars.  Scott was smart to pack our camping headlamps so that we could find our way in the dark.

Just after sunset, “The Sting” was projected onto the side of Valentino’s mausoleum.  “The Sting” stars Robert Redford and the late Paul Newman as Depression-era grifters who con a mob boss out of half a million dollars.  The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director in 1974.  It’s fun and exciting to watch – such a crowd-pleaser!

Jared Harris, Amoeba Music, and “The Rachel Papers”

Last week, “Mad Men” was filming an episode a couple blocks from our loft in downtown L.A.   As I waited to meet Jon Hamm (who plays Don Draper on the series), I took this photo of his co-star Jared Harris (who plays Lane Pryce, Don Draper’s former British overlord / new business partner).  The crew member I was speaking with as I snapped this shot was surprised that the British actor has fans in America.    

One of my favourite retail haunts in L.A. is Amoeba Music.  Amoeba Music is the world’s largest independent record store:  new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, posters, T-shirts…  it’s all there.  Our French friends Aude and Adrien brought us to the Haight-Ashbury store in San Francisco last summer and when we moved to L.A. last fall, I was eager to explore the Hollywood store on Sunset Blvd.  The original store is still open on Telegraph St. in Berkeley.

Recently, I bought a used DVD of “The Rachel Papers” (1989) at Amoeba Music.  I was excited to find it as I had seen the film once on late-night TV in the early 1990s.  I had liked the film enough to read the novel, which is by Martin Amis.  Scott watched the film with me and we’re sorry to report it hasn’t aged well despite its interesting cast:  Ione Skye, Jonathan Pryce, James Spader, and you guessed it, Jared Harris.  Although Jared Harris once lamented on NPR that being a chameleon-like actor is “good for the craft; crap for the career” and that “in this country, a good actor is confused with a famous actor”, we recognized him right away and are happy that he’s still a good actor and now a famous one, too.

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

In my hometown of Winnipeg, the land is flat and the city’s urban forest boasts the largest population of American Elm trees in North America.  From the air, the treetops are so abundantly green in the summertime that the city looks like a tray of freshly-steamed broccoli!  In our current neighbourhood of downtown L.A., shade trees are few and far between so sometimes I miss walking under Winnipeg’s canopy of century-old elms.

Colorado Blue Spruce trees anchor the landscaping of most yards in Winnipeg.  These evergreens are perennial reminders of Christmas in a town that’s covered in snow six months of the year.  During our first Christmas in California, I didn’t know what to make of the palm trees draped in tinsel and cotton batting:  Charlie Brown would not approve of these tarted-up palm trees.  I grew to love the Bay Area’s majestic Canary Island Date Palm trees.  Their thick trunks and full crowns inspire confidence:  these are trees that you can trust.  I feel no such affinity for the tall and skinny Mexican Fan Palm trees which are most common in L.A.  Their spindly trunks and feathery fronds remind me of flighty Hollywood starlets.  Mexican Fan Palms are the “Paris Hilton of Trees”.

Scott shares my fascination with trees; his all-time favourite tree is the Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Santa Barbara.  We visit this Ficus macrophylla every time we pass through town; it is the largest of its kind in the country.  A plaque in front of the tree indicates that it was planted in 1877 and designated a historic landmark in 1970.  Its branch spread was 176 ft (53.6 m), its height was 80 ft (24.4 m), and the circumference of its trunk was 41.5 ft (12.6 m) at 4.5 ft (1.4 m) above the ground in July 1997.  I wonder how much it’s grown since then.

Last Monday night, we stood under the Moreton Bay Fig Tree at dusk.  It’s such a beautiful tree.  The sun had set so I tried to compensate for the darkness by using a tripod and setting a slow shutter speed on my camera, but my photos didn’t turn out.  The photo I’ve posted is of the tree as it appeared last August, when we visited the tree during our move from the Bay Area to L.A.  Someone had chained a bike frame to the fence that surrounds the tree.  The white bike frame lends a sense of scale to the shot.

Big Sur: Overcast

 

It was cloudy last weekend when we camped in a Sibley Tent at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, a resort known for its oceanside yurts, off-grid power system, and delicious lamb tajines

I had forgotten how grey the sky can be in Northern California during the summer.  On our previous trips to Big Sur, the blue of the sky was rivaled only by the blue of the ocean.  At first, I was disappointed that the sun was smothered under a thick pillow of clouds and that there was nearly no horizon to separate sea from sky.  But then I realized that not everything was greyscale:  the hills were green and lush in a way they never are in Southern California, where the chaparral seems withered year round.  The overcast sky and cool weather were a welcome respite from the heat that can spoil afternoon hikes.  In Big Sur, it’s pretty easy to find silver linings in grey clouds.

Me and “Mad Men”

This afternoon, I met Jon Hamm!  He plays the debonair yet damaged Don Draper on AMC’sMad Men“, my favourite TV show.  “Mad Men” is about the professional and personal lives of advertising grunts and gurus working on Madison Avenue in Manhattan during the 1960s.  The series is much more compelling than my summary suggests, so watch new episodes on Sunday nights and old episodes on iTunes

Scott and I have been huge fans of “Mad Men” since 2007, when Rogers on Demand aired Season 1 in Canada.  When we moved to L.A. last fall, we didn’t subscribe to cable as we don’t watch a lot of television.  Thanks to iTunes, we haven’t missed a single episode of “Mad Men”.  Season 4 debuted on Sunday, but we were camping in Big Sur so we didn’t watch the episode until last night:  it was excellent.

As Scott walked to work this morning, he noticed a film crew setting up in our neighbourhood.  When we spoke on the phone at lunchtime, he mentioned that a crew might have been filming an episode of “Mad Men” at the Broadway Bar.  I decided to walk past the bar on my way to the grocery store and ended up lurking on the sidewalk near the set.  Billy, a crew member, asked me if I was a paparazzo.  I showed him my camera, some shots of me and Scott camping in Big Sur, and a couple photos of “Mad Men” stars Jon Hamm and Jared Harris.  Once he knew I wasn’t a tabloid “photojournalist”, Billy invited me to stay and meet Jon Hamm.  Wow.  When he offered, I exclaimed that I was on my way to the grocery store and that I hadn’t combed my hair.  He laughed and asked if I was turning Jon Hamm down.  I smartened up and told him I’d love to meet Jon Hamm.  Nevermind that I looked like a crazy stalker with my hair still all messy from camping.  I was wearing a mushroom hoodie and Birkenstocks:  what was I thinking when I walked out the door?!

While I waited, several crew members came over to talk with me:  Robert the security guard brought me a bottle of water and asked me what I thought of the U.S. healthcare system; Michael the truck driver asked me about real estate prices in downtown L.A., Toronto, and Vancouver; and Tristan, who scouts locations, told me about his job.  They asked me about my life in L.A., in the Bay Area, and in Canada.  Their curiosity was endearing.     

Jon Hamm is lovely.  When we finally met, we shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other.  He asked me where I was from.  I answered, “Canada”.  He asked me if I was from Eastern or Western Canada.  I answered, “Central”.  He then nodded, “Oh, Manitobes!”  I giggled.  He put his arm around me and Billy took a photo of us.  He then shook my hand again and thanked me for watching the show before walking away.  I thanked Billy and then went grocery shopping, sunburnt and giddy from my brush with fame.

Santa Catalina Island: “The Vanishing Canadian”

“I found my love in Avalon beside the bay / I left my love in Avalon and sailed away…”  Unlike Nat King Cole, I lost my love near Avalon this past weekend. 

On Sunday, I took a wrong turn near the end of our hike on Catalina Island.  That morning, we had taken a bus from Avalon up to the Airport in the Sky which is located 1,602 ft (488 m) above sea level.  After a delicious picnic with our French friends Aude and Adrien, we hiked five miles before hopping on a bus headed towards Avalon.  Along the way, we saw several bison.  Bison aren’t endemic to the area:  fourteen bison were brought to Catalina in 1924 during the filming of Zane Grey’s “The Vanishing American” (1925).  After shooting wrapped, the bison were set free to roam and propagate on the island.  Before the Catalina Island Conservancy thinned the herd to its current count of 150 to 200 animals, there were as many as 600 big brown beasts dotting the island’s grassy hills.  

Two miles from Avalon, we got off the bus so that we could walk under the eucalyptus trees which line Stagecoach Road.  We were on the outskirts of town when I lagged behind (again) to take photos.  Scott, Aude and Adrien kept walking as they assumed that I would eventually catch up with them.  This had been our routine all afternoon.  Unfortunately, I assumed that Scott had taken a staircase carved into the hill between two houses, which was a more adventurous path than sticking to the main road.  After I descended the staircase and walked for a bit, I realized that my party was nowhere in sight.  By then, I couldn’t find the staircase again, so the best thing I could do was walk through Avalon back to our campsite at Hermit Gulch.  Fortunately, Scott and our friends returned to our campsite as well once they realized I had taken a wrong turn and wandered away.  I’m sorry my stupidity caused them to worry and I’m happy we weren’t apart for long.  We cleaned up and went for a satisfying dinner at The Lobster Trap in Avalon:  the cioppino is excellent. 

Ironically, I was in a similar situation two years ago when I hiked the Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walkway near Sydney, Australia with Mama Chow.  During that hike, I was the one who had walked ahead on the trail and she was the one who had lagged behind to take photos.  Neither of us realized that there was a fork in the trail (it wasn’t on the map).  We took different paths and because hers turned out to be a shortcut, she ended up a mile ahead of me:  hikers I met on the trail told me that they had seen a small Asian woman with a big hat and that I needed to run if I was to catch up to her!  We were very relieved to find each other.  We finished the hike, took a taxi back to Sydney, and celebrated our final night in Australia by going out for sushi.

Bronson Caves a.k.a. The Bat Cave

The Bronson Caves in Griffith Park are best known as the Bat Cave where Batman and Robin parked the Batmobile in the 1960s when they weren’t busy saving the day in Gotham City.  The Caves were once part of a quarry which produced crushed rock used to pave streets in nearby Hollywood a century ago.  If you drive north on N. Bronson Avenue into Griffith Park, the road will lead you to a parking lot near the Caves.  If you drive south on N. Bronson Avenue to Melrose Avenue, it will lead you to the Bronson Gate of Paramount Pictures.  In 1954, an actor named Charles Buchinsky took his stage name from this Gate.  You might know and love him as “classic tough guy” Charles Bronson, star of “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Great Escape” (1963), and “The Dirty Dozen” (1967).      

Last weekend, we explored the Bronson Caves with our Austrian friends Eleonore and Florian.  We found ourselves in the middle of an indie Sci-Fi Fantasy film set.  Cars parked on the dirt road leading up to the Caves displayed dashboard permits with the word “Hirokin” on them, so watch out for “Hirokin“:  it’s coming soon to a theatre near you.  We walked into a cave and found a giant plaster obelisk, fake boulders, and a member of the crew moving lights and cables around in the dark.  Beyond this cave, there was a tent village.  Actors dressed in linen tunics walked past a green screen to buy lunch at a snack truck parked in a makeshift lot.  On Mt. Lee a mile (1.6 km) away, the Hollywood Sign shone like a beacon over the set, a silent reminder to those toiling in the heat of what dreams may come:  fame, fortune, a percentage of the box-office…

I.M. Pei and the 34th Tallest Building in the World

We have a great view of downtown L.A.’s Financial District from our rooftop in the Historic Core.  The tallest building in the Financial District is the U.S. Bank Tower.  At 1,018 ft (310 m), it is the tallest building in California and the 34th tallest building in the world.  The U.S. Bank Tower used to be known as the Library Tower because the city sold the air rights above the Los Angeles Central Library to the developers of the skyscraper, thus enabling the tower’s construction next to the library and the library’s renovation.  I borrow many books from that library as my books remain in storage back home in Canada.  The U.S. Bank Tower was designed by I.M. Pei, the architect who is most famous for designing the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris.  I’ve never been to the JFK Presidential Library.  The last time I saw the Pyramide du Louvre was on the morning before our wedding.  We couldn’t sleep so we went for a walk at 5 am through the 1er arrondissement.  Paris in July is so quiet and cool at sunrise.  We had the courtyard of the Louvre and its crystal pyramids all to ourselves. 

Fun Facts: 

  • I.M. Pei first conceived of a glass and steel pyramid for the JFK Library in the 1960s, but stakeholders in Amherst, MA protested it would clash with the colonial Georgian architecture of Harvard Square.  The library was later built in Boston without the pyramid. 
  • I.M. Pei designed the glass and steel pyramids which now stand in the courtyard above the main lobby of the Louvre.  Critics panned the Pyramide du Louvre for clashing with the surrounding architecture when it was first constructed, but the design has aged well. 
  • I.M. Pei designed both the Pyramide du Louvre and the U.S. Bank Tower; both structures were completed in 1989.

Independence Day Fireworks

Last night, we celebrated America’s 234th birthday by watching the Independence Day fireworks over the Rose Bowl from Ethan and Zarene’s roof in Pasadena.  Our Canadian friends had made us an excellent dinner:  homemade chicken burgers dressed with the tastiest guacamole I’ve had in a long time, and seafood pasta salad.  Dessert (brownies, strawberries, and champagne mangoes) was just minutes away when I took this photo.  Most of my photos were blurry, but the last one I took turned out really nicely.

Canada Day

Today, Canada celebrates its 143rd birthday.  Tonight, we will offer a toast to our homeland with Eleonore and Florian, friends from Austria via Stanford!

2010 NHL Entry Draft

Taylor Hall was the Edmonton Oilers No. 1 draft pick in the National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft held last week at Staples Center in downtown L.A.  The Oilers had a dismal 2009-2010 season, finishing last in the League.  Selection order in the draft is based on a combination of weighted lottery, regular season standing, and playoff results.  Teams draft in the same order all seven rounds unless they trade draft picks or players.  The lottery is weighted so that the team with the worst record has the best chance to obtain a higher draft pick.  Only the five lowest-ranking teams from the regular season are eligible to receive first pick in the draft, so winning the weighted lottery may be a sign that a weak team:

  • is finally reversing a string of bad luck; or
  • threw games to become a bottom-five team once they realized they weren’t going to make the playoffs; or 
  • traded their more experienced players late in the season to teams still in the hunt for the Cup, dampening team performance sufficiently to finish in the bottom-five (such trades are generally done to shore up the team’s income statement or create some room under the team’s salary cap).  

The Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the Stanley Cup this year, were set to pick last (No. 30) in Round 1 but they traded some players for the Atlanta Thrashers No. 24 pick and gave their No. 30 pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for picks No. 35 and 58 in Round 2.  All this wheeling and dealing took place on the arena floor, which was a sea of suits and laptops.

During Round 1, each team had 15 minutes to make their selection.  As spectators, we cycled between excitement and boredom for three hours:  a minute of commotion as a team announced their pick and the drafted player made his way to the stage for a photo op before being thrust into a media circus, followed by a few minutes of anticipation while the scouts, lawyers, and agents for the next team bent over their laptops before making their pick or trade.  I felt bad for Cam Fowler, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Round 1 draft pick, as many L.A. Kings fans were committed to boo-ing Anaheim every chance they got.  I felt happy for Jaden Schwartz, who was drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Blues on his 18th birthday. 

To pass the time, Scott kept track of the top Canadian draft picks and their birthdays to replicate Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in “Outliers“.  I thought about the strange incentives created by a system which rewards under-performing teams with first dibs on fresh meat. 

I also noticed some interesting fashion statements:

  • Team owner’s kids in full-sized No. 10 (as in 2010) hockey jerseys delivered food to their parents who sat at team tables on the arena floor.  
  • Girlfriends, sisters, and mothers of drafted players rocked cocktail dresses, heels, and up-do’s as they cheered in the stands.
  • Team owners who had their photos taken on stage with their draft picks generally wore dark suits, but most contingents had one rogue in a beige suit who obviously didn’t get the memo. 
  • The stands were filled with tanned businessmen in sharply-tailored suits and drunken meatheads in jerseys and face-paint.

Mulholland Dam

William Mulholland (1855 – 1935) was Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power when he designed the Mulholland Dam.  The Dam was constructed in 1923 as part of the controversial Hollywood Reservoir and Owens River Aqueduct System used to supply Los Angeles with most of its drinking water.  Frederick Eaton, the Mayor of Los Angeles from 1898 to 1900 and Mulholland’s political crony, blocked the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from irrigating the Owens Valley and paved the way for water to be diverted south to Los Angeles from Owens Lake via an aqueduct system designed by Mulholland. 

The south-facing facade of the Dam is decorated with arches and a sleuth of California Grizzly Bears.  The Grizzly Bear is California’s State Animal, despite its extinction at the hands of settlers who colonized the state.  Bears that have been hunted to extinction guarding the ill-gotten drinking water of a sprawling car-dependent city in the desert:  which karmic debt will demand repayment first?

What goes around comes around:  Eaton’s fortune was wiped out in August 1927 when the Owens Valley Bank collapsed; Mulholland’s career came to an abrupt end when the St. Francis Dam failed in 1928.  Mulholland had supervised the St. Francis Dam’s construction and had pronounced it safe less than 24 hours before it collapsed and killed more than 500 people.  The Mulholland Dam was fortified after this disaster:  mounds of dirt were deposited against the south-facing facade of the Dam, underneath the concrete Grizzly Bears.

FUN FACTS:  

  • When viewed from the top of Mulholland Dam, the bas-relief grizzly bears look like a pack of golden retrievers. 
  • William Mulholland’s Metropolitan Water District offices were located on the top floor of the Million Dollar Theater in downtown L.A. 
  • The Oscar®-winning classic “Chinatown” (1974) was inspired by the Owens Valley – Los Angeles water controversy.

Gandhi’s Ashes in L.A.

On Friday night, we watched “Gandhi” (1982) on hulu.com.  I remember going to the cinema with my parents to watch this film when it was first released.  I was so small; I had to sit on everyone’s winter parkas to see the screen.  I had never seen a cremation before so the image of a burning funeral pyre was seared into my six-year-old brain.  

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was working as a lawyer in South Africa when he first decided to challenge the injustices faced by Indians living in South Africa.  When he returned to India in 1915, he started to question the status of Indians within the British Empire, and his own place in Indian society.  To highlight inequities perpetrated and perpetuated by the ruling class, Gandhi and his followers practiced non-violent civil disobedience for decades until Indians won freedom from British colonial rule in 1947.  He was assassinated in 1948 while on his way to address a prayer meeting.  After his cremation, his ashes were divided into urns that were sent across India to memorial services held throughout the country.  Most of Gandhi’s ashes have since been scattered along bodies of water, in keeping with the Hindu belief that releasing ashes into the water, the air, or the earth signifies the return of a body to its elements and smooths the spiritual transition to the afterlife. 

I was surprised to learn that some of Gandhi’s ashes are enshrined in Los Angeles at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades.  On Sunday, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.  In 1950, a guru named Paramahansa Yogananda had built the shrine on the grounds of Inceville, a silent movie studio.  The property is now a twee theme park of religion, a pastiche of faith featuring statues, a waterfall, a windmill, a houseboat, and a temple which welcomes all creeds.  The Golden Lotus Archway is a “wall-less” temple that leads to the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a thousand-year-old Chinese sarcophagus holds a portion of Gandhi’s ashes.  The monument is an incongruous tribute to a man who was devoutly ascetic.

Missing: Pigeon Toes

I’ve seen this Rock Pigeon hobbling around downtown L.A. more than once.  I’m pretty sure he’s a male as he has a patch of green iridescent feathers around his neck.  He’s easy to recognize as he’s missing all but one of his left toes and he no longer has a right foot.  Despite his disabilities, he flies around with his friends.  He’s obviously a tough old bird to survive the mean streets of downtown L.A. without proper feet. 

In some ways, he’s the perfect mascot for our neighbourhood:

  • He roosts on the window ledges of buildings where people live, or on statues in parks where homeless people drift.               
  • He and his buddies are occasionally sidewalk nuisances, like the perverts who make sucking noises at female pedestrians within earshot. 
  • He poops on the street, like pet dogs and some crazy people who have no shame. 

FUN FACT:  Male Rock Pigeons are active parents.  They take turns with their partners to incubate eggs.  After the eggs hatch, both parents feed their babies.

The Station Fire

The Angeles National Forest is located in the San Gabriel Mountains north of L.A.  Arsonists started The Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest three days after we had gone hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains for the first time.  We had just moved to L.A., so hiking in the mountains was a welcome diversion from unpacking the mountain of boxes in our flat.  We enjoyed exploring a trail that led to the Vetter Mountain Fire Lookout.  The 75-year-old Lookout burned to the ground less than a week after our hike.  It became impossible for us to look at the San Gabriel Mountains without feeling a sense of loss after the fire destroyed over 160,000 acres of terrain.

A week after our hike, I was on the roof of our building in downtown L.A. when I saw a huge plume of smoke rise from the San Gabriel Mountains.  Although I was busy painting shelves (which I later installed in our kitchen), I ran downstairs between coats to grab my camera.  I took several photos of this giant pyrocumulus cloud as I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it hovered over the city for days.  The air felt very hot and dry.  Ash rained onto our car which was parked in the lot next to our building.

Joshua Tree Sunset

 

Last year, we spent U.S. Thanksgiving weekend in Joshua Tree National Park with our German friends Manu, Micha, and Arne.  Mindful of the holiday’s significance, we were grateful for our brief time together as Manu and Micha had driven six hours from Stanford to visit us in L.A. and Arne would be returning to Germany before Christmas.

Micha drove us to his favourite spot in Joshua Tree to watch sunsets.  We like to tease Micha about his greatest love:  sunsets, National Parks, or Manu?  (Micha knows the correct answer:  Manu!)  After he parked the car, we followed him through the White Tank Campground to his “secret” lookout among the boulders. 

As I trudged up a hill, I heard people call my name.  I looked up and saw Cristina, Christian, Julia, and Eberhard.  More Germans from Stanford!  Mutual friends had told them that we would be in the Park, but we had no idea of their travel plans.  It was a lovely coincidence that we could enjoy the sunset together.

The sun seemed to sense it was a special occasion.  It set the sky on fire before extinguishing below the horizon.

Welcome to “OHLLYWODO”

Hiking the Hollyridge Trail is a nice way to see the Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee.  Hikers share the dusty trail with tour groups on horseback from Sunset Ranch so watch out for road apples – you’ll smell them before you see them!  Along the trail, there’s a point where the sign reads “OHLLYWODO” instead of “HOLLYWOOD” – neat, eh?  The letters hug the curvature of the hillside; they aren’t aligned along a plane.

The summit of Mt. Lee affords a great view of the city.  The enormous Hollywood Sign is literally at your feet and the Hollywood Reservoir is a mirror reflecting the sky.  In the middle distance is downtown L.A.’s skyline.  On a clear day, you can see Palos Verdes, Catalina Island, and the Pacific Ocean.

Arpilleras

Last weekend, I admired this arpillera in Ojai and couldn’t resist taking a photo of it.  Now, I wish I had brought it home with me.  Arpilleras are three-dimensional appliqué textiles sewn by folk artists in South America.  This particular tapestry was created in Peru; it depicts a happy day at the beach.  Ironically, the technique originated in Chile as a means for craftswomen to overcome their despair.

Chilean women first created arpilleras to earn much-needed income in the 1970s following Augusto Pinochet’s violent rise to power.  Pinochet’s policies encouraged women to embrace domestic life and discouraged them from being politically active.  However, Los Desaparecidos (The Disappeared) and the widespread poverty that ensued forced many women to seek employment outside their homes to support their families.  Raúl Silva Henríquez, the Archbishop of Santiago, enabled women to run arpilleras workshops in Roman Catholic churches, and facilitated the sale of finished tapestries abroad.  This grassroots enterprise evolved into a social movement as the artisans started documenting the harsh realities of their daily lives in the arpilleras they created.  Participating in arpilleras workshops empowered women to fight for social justice and political democracy in Chile.

Fountains of Bellagio, Las Vegas

These are the Fountains of Bellagio as immortalized in “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001).  We spent three days in the Philistine paradise of Las Vegas before Christmas last year.  As I was able to book a reasonably-priced room, we stayed at the Bellagio.  While checking in, I shamelessly played the Sandwich Trick (hey, it’s Vegas!) and was really pleased with the view from our room:  it was spectacular, especially at night.

Estate Sale

 

On Sunday, we went hiking in the hills above Los Angeles with our Swedish friends Anna, Mikael, and Saga.  We wandered into this private residence after we saw an “Estate Sale” sign leaning against a chair on the driveway.  The house looked forlorn and the garden was unkempt in contrast to its manicured neighbours.  The door was open so we walked inside.  We stepped into a large drawing room replete with wood-beamed ceilings, elaborate tilework, a mezzanine and a huge stone fireplace.  Where the pale blue plaster had fallen off the walls, we could see dark wood laths.   

We were admiring the home’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture when we were greeted by an old man.  He explained that his mother had passed away recently and that he was selling her things to finance some much-needed home repairs.  His family had built the home in the 1920s and had lived in it since then so it is filled with over 80 years of happy memories.  When the man told us he lived in a suite of rooms upstairs, I was embarrassed that I had taken pictures of his home without asking his permission.  I realized he didn’t mind when he winked at me as he welcomed us to take a closer look.  We thanked the man for opening his home to us and continued on our hike.

The Snail, The Rosebush, and The Mummy on Mother’s Day

I took this picture of a snail nestled inside a rose at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana on Mother’s Day.  Ethan, Zarene, and I had just spent the afternoon at the Museum’s “Secrets of the Silk Road” exhibit, where Caucasian mummies which had been buried in the Tarin Basin of western China for the past 3,800 years were on display.  One of the mummies we saw is valued for her great beauty.  Archaeologists have crowned her “The Beauty of Xiaohe“.         

When I was a little kid, my dad gave me a large hardcover edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales.  In “The Snail and The Rosebush“, a snail and rose challenge each other about their respective roles in the universe.  The snail fancies himself a philosopher:  he criticizes the rose for coasting through life on her looks without contemplation.  The rose claims that her beauty is a gift she did not ask for; her beauty gives pleasure to those around her and that in turn gives her life meaning.  The rose then suggests to the snail that his mind is a greater gift than her beauty and asks how he will share his gift.  The snail expresses his contempt for the world and retreats to his shell, presumably to think deep thoughts.  Eventually, both the snail and the rose die and are replaced with other snails and roses.  The story ends with the question, “Shall we read this story all over again? It will never be different.”  Indeed.  I wonder if “The Beauty of Xiaohe” was revered for her mind or her beauty when she was alive?

U Can’t Touch This!

The Master Blister Beetle (Lytta Magister) secretes a chemical called Cantharidin in its joints.  If you touch the beetle, the Cantharidin can cause painful blisters on your skin.  No wonder this beetle didn’t seem bothered by us taking a closer look as it crawled along Death Valley – we’d be stupid to cop a feel and the beetle knew it.

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”

Last night, the L.A. Conservancy’s 24th annual “Last Remaining Seats” film festival kicked off with a screening of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1967) at the Los Angeles Theatre. Time hasn’t dulled the edge of the satire: the film is based on a mock self-help management book by Shepherd Mead first published in 1952. Robert Morse played a window-washer who climbs the corporate ladder with the help of his “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” manual; Michele Lee played his Girl Friday. Morse and Lee took the stage with “Mad Men” creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner for a brief chat before the lights went down. As they watched the film with the audience, they must have been pleased to hear everyone laughing and applauding throughout the screening. After the show, I was taking photos of the Theatre when a man asked me to take a photo of him and his friends with my camera. One of his friends was Michele Lee; she was very gracious in accepting my compliments on her performance.

Portuguese Point, Abalone Cove

The beach along Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes is covered in large smooth stones.  When the tide rolls out, the ocean rakes away the top layer of stones.  The sound of the stones scraping against each other is very similar to ice cubes rattling in a cocktail shaker.   During low tide before sunrise and around noon, starfish and sea anemones are visible in the tide pools that form along the coast.  Abalones were once abundant in this area before over-fishing drove the population to extinction.  It was late afternoon and the tide was rolling in as I took this photo of Portuguese Point.

Skull Cave, Uluru / Ayers Rock

In Central Australia lies Uluru / Ayers Rock, a massive sandstone formation surrounded by miles of desert. At 348 m (1,142 feet) high and 9.4 km (5.8 miles) in circumference Uluru is best seen from afar, where it’s easy to imagine that a giant once smashed his enemy’s skull into the stone’s eroded surface.

My mom and I hiked around the base of Uluru in July 2008. It was winter and our first time in the desert. For most of the day, we were the only two people on the trail. It was mind-blowing to stare at the horizon and see nothing but desert and sky in all directions.  I remember the silence.

Allied Arts Guild: The Barn Woodshop

Tom, who owns The Barn Woodshop in Menlo Park, noticed me lurking in the bushes with my camera during my first visit to the Allied Arts Guild in March 2009.  He invited me to look around the Barn once I was finished shooting flowers in the garden.

The Barn is 125 years old, and has housed a Woodshop for the past 81 years.  In the Barn, Tom gave me a pin to mark my hometown on a world map he uses to track visitors.  Tom traveled around the world before returning to his family’s business of building and restoring heirloom-quality furniture.  He likes not knowing who will come through the door of his Woodshop each day.  Once, he repaired some furniture for Shirley Temple; she still lives nearby in Woodside.  These days, Tom works on a steady stream of commissions from Stanford faculty and Silicon Valley honchos who trust him to restore their treasures with sensitivity and integrity.  When I told Tom about my hobby of re-finishing discarded tables and chairs, he offered to teach me how to cane chairs.  I didn’t accept his offer right away, even though Scott encouraged me to give it a try.  Now I’m really glad I did as Tom taught me how to weave cane and replace torn sheet cane.  These skills may come in handy the next time I find a broken chair on the sidewalk!  Before we moved to L.A. last fall, Tom fixed a pair of rosewood chairs that I had inherited from my grandfather.  Now, I visit Tom every time I’m in town.

Last weekend, we visited friends in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and San Francisco.  At the Guild, I renewed my contract with the Artisan Shop to consign prints of my photos and accepted Tom’s offer of display space for my photos in the Barn’s new showroom.

“Greedy Eyes”

On Wednesday night, we had drinks in downtown L.A. at the Rooftop Bar above The Standard Hotel.  Scott and his colleagues were mingling on the north side of the roof.  I decided to slip away and enjoy the silence on the south side after a real estate developer / men’s self-improvement writer mistook me for a lawyer because of my “greedy eyes”.  I took this photo of the pool as the sun set behind me.

Allied Arts Guild: The Artisan Shop

Allied Arts Guild is an artists guild in Menlo Park where Ansel Adams once maintained a studio.  Prints of my photos are sold at the Guild in the Artisan Shop and The Barn Woodshop.  Since 1929, the Guild has provided an inspiring environment for working artists, beautiful gardens and shops for visitors, and support for critically-ill children at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.    

When I first moved to the Bay Area, I booked a string of “blind dates” with people who had graduated from the same schools I did in Canada.  I met Grace, a fellow alumna of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, over coffee in March 2009.  We had such a nice time that we arranged to meet again at one of her favourite haunts:  Allied Arts Guild.  We had lunch at the Guild and stayed all afternoon to smell the roses.  

In January 2010, I decided to start selling prints of my photos.  Although we live along Gallery Row in L.A., I considered the Guild a better place to try my luck.  I called the Artisan Shop and introduced myself to the manager to see if she would help me make good on my new years resolution.  We arranged to meet the following weekend.  She looked over my work with her assistant and chose several framed prints to display in the Shop.  I sold my first print that week:  a picture of the Berkeley Campanile which I had taken after meeting another Rotman alumna over lunch at UC Berkeley.  In March, our friends Maricki and Castaña visited us in L.A.; I enlisted their help to deliver more of my prints to the Shop.  Now, I deliver prints to the Guild whenever I’m in town.

Owl @ YVR

When I first arrived in Vancouver last month, I was too tired to enjoy the beautiful Northwest Coast Aboriginal art on display throughout the airport.  When I rode the Canada Line back to YVR a couple days later to rent a car, I noticed this wood carving of an owl hanging above the YVR Airport SkyTrain platform.  I took a closer look at the totem poles, sculptures, and tapestries installed in each terminal.  As Vancouver’s airport is the gateway to Canada for many international travelers, it’s wonderful that the YVR Art Foundation curates art that makes such a brilliant first impression on visitors to our country.

Clouds

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with my mom on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay ferry when we sailed past these clouds. I stopped eating and ran onto the deck with my camera. In L.A., the sun melts clouds away so I was very happy to see these “ice cream castles in the air / And feather canyons everywhere”. Joni Mitchell, I could drink a case of you!

We were on our way to visit old friends in Victoria, former Winnipeggers who now live on the Island. I was excited to see Terry and Bob, who were newlyweds when they first moved into the house across the street from my childhood home in Waverley Heights. My parents would occasionally send me across the street to visit Terry and Bob, who knew how to entertain me: the crawl space in their basement was filled with toys and books so that young visitors always felt welcome. As I enjoyed doing menial tasks, they would give me piles of receipts to sort before tax season. I amused their accountant by drawing cars on the envelope which held their car expenses. Each Christmas, we would dip cherries, nuts, and caramel in melted chocolate before placing them on cookie sheets to harden outside on the snow-covered deck in their backyard. Terry and Bob liked having a kid around enough to have Spencer, who is now fourteen. He is such a nice kid. Terry likes to tell the story of why she calls Spencer “the kid”: my dad used to refer to me as “the kid” whenever they talked, so once Spencer came along it seemed natural for her to call him “the kid” too.

I had renewed my friendship with Terry and Bob when I was first engaged to be married, but my mom had not seen them since my dad passed away ten years ago. Being kindred spirits, we picked up where we had left off and reminisced about my dad’s endearing eccentricities. He used to scour garage sales for tools he already owned so that he could lend tools to neighbours without worrying about them ever being returned. For fun, he cut a sunroof into a car once. He and Bob would disappear into our basement and listen to Mahler or Bruckner symphonies with the volume cranked so high that heavy furniture on the main floor would shake. My dad was an audiophile who built his own speakers: we owned the first CD player on our block in the mid 1980’s. It was a Philips.

Terry had given me and Scott “The Artist’s Way” and “The Joy of Cooking” as wedding presents. “The Artist’s Way” had influenced her career as an artist so I understood why she wanted me to have my own copy. Scott and I had assumed that she chose “The Joy of Cooking” as a handy reference guide for us newlyweds. It wasn’t until she showed me her hardcover edition of the cookbook in Victoria that I understood its significance: on the first page my dad had signed his name in Chinese and in English, and stamped his old address at St. John’s College. Terry had bought my parents’ copy of “The Joy of Cooking” at our garage sale years ago. As we sat in Terry’s kitchen, my mom confided that she had received the book as a wedding present, but had decided to sell it before we moved out of Waverley Heights when I was fourteen. Whenever we had guests for dinner, my dad would cook so my mom didn’t feel the need to hang onto the book. It looks well-used and I’m glad it has such a good home.

We had a lovely visit.

False Creek Reflections

I was waiting for my friend Kathryn to meet me in Yaletown for dinner at Provence during my first night in Vancouver when I took this photo of condo balconies as reflected in False Creek.  The cloudy day was fading fast without a sunset to light up the early night.  As The Weakerthans played in my head, I watched people kayaking through the creek, walking their dogs, and running along the water:  “Between the sunset and certified darkness / Dusk comes on and I follow the exhaust from memory up to the end / The civil twilight.”

Million Dollar Theater

Last week, I looked up as I walked past the Million Dollar Theater at 307 S. Broadway in downtown L.A.  Although I was rushing towards the Bradbury Building, where my Austrian friends Eleonore and Monika were waiting for me, I slowed down long enough to shoot the Theater’s 3rd St. facade.  It is absolutely stunning.   

In 1918, Sid Grauman built his first movie house, which became known as the Million Dollar Theater due to its lavish construction budget.  A century ago, Broadway was the center of L.A.’s nightlife, before subsequent Grauman properties such as the landmark Chinese Theater shifted the city’s entertainment district north to Hollywood.  The once-glamorous movie palaces that still stand along Broadway resemble a chorus line of showgirls past their prime, their expressions vacant yet expectant.  Efforts to revive the district are ongoing, yet the local arbiters of nostalgic fauxhemia seem stuck in the 1980’s:  acid-washed denim is ripe for a revival if window displays in neighbourhood vintage clothing shops are bellwethers of the fashion industry (and they are).

Once a year, the L.A. Conservancy hosts “Last Remaining Seats“, a classic film festival that draws audiences into these neglected cinemas.  It is an opportunity for us to appreciate downtown L.A.’s historical significance and support the conservation of these architectural gems.

O Canada!

No photos to post as I’ve just arrived in the Great White North, just a quick anecdote to share:

I was deep in thought as our plane descended to land in Vancouver.  It’s been 18 months since I left Canada and my life is so different in America that I know I’m a different person from who I was when I last lived in this country.  What remains the same is the great affection I have for my homeland, its people, our values (tolerance for complexity, concern for the common good, good manners etc.).  As I cozied up to these warm and fuzzy thoughts an empty water bottle whizzed past me and my neighbour (who was sleeping soundly).  The plastic projectile hit the arm of the woman sitting next to the window.  She was busy filming the earth rushing towards us until she was interrupted by the guy who threw the bottle.  He hissed, “Stop using your electronic device; can’t you see we’re landing?  You’re messing with all of us.  Stop your filming, eh!”  She shut off her camcorder and muttered an apology under her breath.  It was a very odd, yet very Canadian exchange…  it’s so nice to be home!

Review: iPad

We stopped by the Apple store in Santa Monica last weekend so that I could play with the iPad.  It’s like a giant iPhone or iPod Touch.  Naturally, helsachow.com came to mind when I was trying to think of a URL to type on the screen.  How meta!

Scott was content to be my hand model in this photo as he’d already had his “test drive” on someone’s iPad at work.  Although I still prefer to read books the old-fashioned way, I have a healthy addiction to the New York Times online and the iPad has the potential to make traditional print media like magazines and newspapers come alive.  I like the iPad’s large touch screen keyboard as I lack the magic touch to type quickly on Scott’s iPod Touch.  Once upon a time, I played the piano so I like being able to press down on keys as I type text; a touch screen serves primarily to enhance my interaction with images.  Which is why Apple’s decision to launch iPad without Adobe Flash capabilities is disappointing:  iPad 1.0 will help iTunes pad its revenue streams (pun intended), but it won’t support my hulu.com or youtube.com viewing habits.  I can picture myself using an iPad to shop online or browse photos while sitting on the couch or lying in bed, but seeing as I can already do this with my laptop, I’d rather spend my $499 USD (iPad’s current selling price) on staples such as printed cotton sundresses and Birkenstocks (you know, really useful things!).

UPDATE:  We’ve succumbed to the iPad’s charms – we’ve named ours “Buddy”.

Tampon Chandelier

We had the Arsenale to ourselves when we saw this gigantic tampon chandelier at the Venice Biennale in 2005.  Thus, I was able to take a picture of the installation without tourists or art lovers photo-bombing my shot. 

Joana Vasconcelos created “A Noiva” (The Bride) out of stainless steel, cotton thread, and more than 14,000 o.b. tampons to challenge “the decadence of the concept of white immaculate perfection” and “show the hypocrisy of the image of the pure bride.”  The Bride’s dimensions are 15.42 ft x 7.22 ft x 7.22 ft, or 4.70 m x 2.20 m x 2.20 m for my metric-loving friends.  The irony that I fell for its charms while on my honeymoon is not lost on me.  Vasconcelos’ grandiose statements aside, her work is beautiful, funny, and memorable.  Five years after the fact, it’s one of the things we remember best about our trip to Venice.

Vernazza, Italy

At brunch today with our friends Mariana and Michael, we traded stories about travel plans gone awry.  Our tale of sleeping in a tiny rental car at Milan’s Malpensa airport on the final night of our honeymoon was totally eclipsed by their account of lurching through the Andes on an all-night bus ride prior to hiking Machu Picchu.  All this reminiscing led me to look through our honeymoon photos tonight.   

We had received our first digital camera as a wedding present from my mom, so it’s evident in the photos that I was learning how to use the Canon S2IS as we traveled through Italy.  I hadn’t been bitten by the photography bug yet, so I didn’t take as many shots per day as I do now.  Still, I did take some nice pictures such as this one of Vernazza in Cinque Terre.

A Brush With Kindness

Ten-year-old Stephen and his family are painting their home in Lynwood this week with the support of Habitat for Humanity‘s “A Brush With Kindness” program.  “A Brush With Kindness” volunteers help preserve housing stock throughout Greater L.A. by partnering with low-income homeowners to complete minor exterior repairs to their homes.

While Stephen brushed a fresh coat of paint onto doors and fences yesterday, the rest of us perched on ladders to paint the trim on the house.  The foreman and I tackled the fascia, rafter tails, and eaves while five other volunteers painted window frames and awnings.  In Canada, soffits protect eaves from the elements, windows are double-paned, and houses are well-insulated so I find it interesting how California’s warm weather enables developers to build houses often without such considerations.

Jolly Green Giant

I spent most of Easter weekend crouched in the desert under the blazing sun with my camera lens less than an inch (2.54 cm) from the tiny wildflowers I shot in Death Valley.  My quads and hamstrings finally stopped aching yesterday.  Fortunately, I was smart enough to slather sunscreen all over myself twice daily so I escaped the desert without sunburn. 

This photo made my day:  a Silver Cholla cactus in full bloom.  At three inches (7.62 cm) in diameter, he’s a jolly green giant.  We found him on the alluvial fans south of Scotty’s Castle.

Death Valley Desert Gold

I was prejudiced against yellow flowers until we spent Easter weekend camping in Death Valley.  I used to think that they were boring compared to red, purple, or pink flowers which have the gumption to “pop” against greenery.  Then I took this photo of Desert Gold on Saturday south of Ashford Mill along Badwater Road in Death Valley.  As the desert is relatively blah in colour, the yellow heads of Desert Gold really shine and brighten up the landscape.  They also smell INCREDIBLE.  The strong winds carried the heady fragrance of a million desert sunflowers.

Union Station, Los Angeles

On February 6, 2010, I took this photo of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.  My friend Dave and his wife Debbie were visiting from Canada so Scott led us on a walking tour of our neighbourhood.  We waded through the crowds along Broadway towards the Grand Central Market for shrimp ceviche tostadas:  the breakfast of champions.  Sated, we carried on towards dim sum in Chinatown.  Along the way, we decided to wander through the Walt Disney Concert Hall as its shiny titanium exterior drew us from a block away.  The hall’s interior is warm and inviting and it’s a shame that LA Philharmonic tickets are so expensive.  We’ve been spoiled by the Toronto Symphony’s tsoundcheck program, which enables young music lovers to attend concerts for as little as $12.

We decided to take the Metrolink from Chinatown to Union Station as the terminal is a beautiful historic landmark.  There were several photo shoots underway inside the station:  brides kissing grooms; models posing; and tourists admiring the architecture.  I stood behind a velvet rope and shot this empty wing as it was being transformed into a ballroom.  Debbie remembered seeing several bridal parties on campus last summer when she and Dave had visited us at Stanford.  I wonder where our next home will be and look forward to Dave and Debbie visiting us there.

Chino Hills, San Bernadino Mountains

I took this snapshot of Chino Hills in the foreground and the San Bernadino Mountains in the background as we hiked the Telegraph Canyon Trail in Chino Hills State Park yesterday.  I didn’t think my camera would do justice to the snowy peaks so I took only one photo and kept walking.  It was a hot and sunny afternoon so I didn’t linger in any one spot too long.  On the trail was a large sign warning us of mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes that kept me on track as well.

Scott packed a lovely lunch for us to eat before we hit the trail:  a baguette, prosciutto, avocadoes, hummus, Greaves raspberry jam, Lindt Gaufrette, strawberries, and mango smoothies.  It was a parade of my favourite foods marching across the picnic table straight into my stomach!  I now realize that we fine-tuned our al fresco dining skills in Palo Alto last year, where we made regular use of our Coleman cooler chilly bin for potluck birthdays, weddings, and weekends.  In Canada, eating outside is a rare treat; in California, it’s an everyday pleasure.

Neptune’s Net, Malibu

My German friend Arne convinced me to mount my camera to his tripod before I took this photo on my birthday in 2009.  We decided to drive up the coast to watch the sunset in Malibu after an afternoon of ogling antiquities at the Getty Villa.  Scott sat on a rock and ate crab cakes while Arne and I took pictures of the sun disappearing into the ocean.  Once it was dark, we ran across the highway to Neptune’s Net for supper. 

Neptune’s Net has great reviews for its fresh seafood.  I was the only one who insisted on washing my hands before digging into my shrimp cocktail.  The sign next to the portable hand washing station behind the restaurant stated that the wash water wasn’t potable, but I wasn’t too concerned:  I wasn’t drinking the water, just cleaning my hands.  I don’t know if it was the prawns or the hand washing, but I got food poisoning later on that night.  Fortunately, it was after midnight and no longer my birthday, so it wasn’t like my birthday itself was spoiled.

Arne has since returned to Germany.  When he left, he gave us a tray on which he had painted all the places we had visited together.  I gave him a framed print of this photo to hang in his new apartment.  I hope he and his girlfriend Bianka think of me and Scott when they look at the print.

Tulip, Stanford

I took this photo on May 4, 2009 during my friend Lisa’s visit to the Bay Area.  We walked around the grounds of Stanford Medical Center, taking photos of the flower beds while our husbands went for a beer at CoHo Tresidder.  We were amazed at how flowers in California are gargantuan compared to flowers back home in Canada.  We were really happy to discover that even though we haven’t lived in the same city since 2003, we continue to cultivate similar interests independently. 

I met Lisa while we were both training for our first half marathon.  We’ve run seven races together.  Through snow, rain, wind, and sun…  earning our reward of chili fries, Korean BBQ, Indian butter chicken, or pancakes…  lots of great talks over great meals.  I miss her.  It’s time to give her a call.

Hello World!

Hello, my name is Helsa and I’m learning how to build a blog.  This site is a work in progress, like me.  I know most people launch their blogs only after they’ve spent hours crafting personal mission statements, target audience profiles, writing entries, choosing themes, and fonts, etc.  After all, blogs burnish one’s personal brand, n’est-ce pas? 

Friends concerned about ROI are advising me to upload my photos pronto and sell prints online, so that I can retire on the proceeds of my snapshots by the end of the fiscal year.  Well, I’m more into the journey than the destination.  If you’re a kindred spirit, then I hope you’ll check in occasionally to remind yourself of what we both know is true:  that the world’s a beautiful place full of interesting people, places, and things.  In this corner of the web, you’ll find my photos of them.

%d bloggers like this: