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!

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