Posts Tagged ‘ Art ’

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Verity

“Believe me, if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are for ever in our way:  conventional comforts that are no real comforts, and do but make work for servants and doctors:  if you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: 

‘HAVE NOTHING IN YOUR HOUSES THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW TO BE USEFUL OR BELIEVE TO BE BEAUTIFUL.’

And if we apply this rule strictly, we shall in the first place show the builders and such-like servants of the public what we really want, we shall create a demand for real art, as the phrase goes; and in the second place, we shall surely have more money to pay for decent houses.” ~ William Morris, “Hopes and Fears for Art

Until I read “Hopes and Fears for Art”, I assumed that William Morris was advising us IN CAPITALS to maintain a functional and stylish home.  This, in itself, is a worthy endeavour.  Then I realized his vision was more profound:  he’s suggesting that mindless consumption dampens creativity.  Why should we bother to invent or create anything new or better if the market enables us to settle for something immediately available yet mediocre?  He’s challenging us to be more discriminating in our taste as consumers.  By doing so, we would send a strong signal to the market that we are willing to sacrifice quantity in favour of quality, and distinguish between our needs and our wants.

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.

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