dainty things in blue

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'd like to dream my troubles all away...

Until about five years ago, I'd never had much interest in visiting Los Angeles. Smog, traffic, annoying surfer-dude lingo, a shallow obsession with celebrities and plastic surgery... that, I'd been told, summed the place up. But around the same time that our friend Ian moved out there and started working on movies, I got really interested in mid-century modern architecture. It seemed like practically every issue of Dwell featured some L.A. County marvel, and all of the houses I loved on various HGTV shows were either in my already-beloved Chicago or, again, in Los Angeles. The place started to sound less horrifying to me, and since Ian likes it and I have made a few friends online who live there and seem to like it, too, I wanted to check it out.

We were supposed to go to Hawaii for our big vacation this year, but when we sat down to work out the budget, we realized that we couldn't yet afford to do Hawaii the way we really wanted to do it. So it was between Austin, Texas & L.A., and since airfare to L.A. was cheaper and we'd prefer to visit Austin during SXSW, L.A. won.

After an ice storm scare at home, our flights ended up undelayed and we arrived at LAX in the middle of the California afternoon. The legendary traffic was showing off, I think, because a crane collapsed on the 405/101 interchange and we ended up sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard for three hours. Not fun. (But it was neat to creep along and recognize every single street name from pop culture.) When we finally reached our hotel, Vibe, we had a bit of a shock, as the place did not even begin to meet our expectations. Over a much-needed meal at Truly Vegan across the street, we decided to stay the first night at Vibe but arrange another hotel for the remaining five nights. As we shivered and half-slept (the window wouldn't close, the heater was broken, and the bed had only a thin blanket and sheet), various songs kept popping into my head: "Hotel California," "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," "L.A. County..." nothing terribly flattering.

The next day completely made up for the bad start, though. Since I have read Helter Skelter about 10 times, I really wanted to see Cielo Drive, where Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered. Of course, the original house is gone and the address changed slightly, but it was still chilling to drive there. The homes in Beverly Hills are mind-boggling, but the landscaping is really what set them apart for me. Everyone there must have a full-time gardener. Ian and his fiancee, Caroline, took us to Palms Thai restaurant for lunch, and then we went wine-tasting in Santa Barbara wine country. The scenery on the way up was beautiful. It's all a little fuzzy after we hit the second winery, but I think we went to five places. (We avoided the ones with signs that said "As seen in Sideways" -- cheesy!) On the way home, we stopped at an all-vegetarian Chinese place for dinner where our waitress had a high, squeaky voice like an anime character. Our new hotel, The Mayfair, had certainly seen better days, but it was a palace compared to our former lodging. It also had the advantage of being only 10 blocks from Ian & Caroline's loft across the street from MacArthur Park -- Wikipedia says it actually IS the place where he left the cake out in the rain. I am so excited; my dad loved that song.

On Sunday morning we woke up bright and early, since our bodies were still on Baltimore time, and we drove back to Hollywood for their Sunday farmer's market. It was amazing to us that during "winter" they had three times the produce that our favorite farmer's market has during its peak in August. I bought dates, raisins, and an onion bagel, and Chris got a loaf of olive bread. It was a great place to people-watch, and when Ian & Caroline showed up, Caroline pointed out Charlize Theron just a few yards away from us. (My other celebrity sighting is uncorroborated, but I swear that I was a foot away from Johnny Depp in Whole Foods across the street from The Grove later in the week. But I reluctantly admit that it could have just been another exceptionally beautiful man who looks & dresses exactly like Johnny Depp.) After the market, we walked back up Hollywood Boulevard, past the creepy L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition building, over those famous sidewalk stars, and back to Truly Vegan for breakfast. We ate too much, and the hot noon sun beckoned us towards an air-cooled building: Amoeba Music. We spent an hour or so making mental notes of things to add to our wish lists, and we bought a fair number of CDs there, too. Then we drove over to Book Soup, but Chris was far more impressed than I was. I hate to say it, but the big chain bookstores have given me expectations that most independent stores just can't meet. I can make allowances for a small, crowded store if the selection is amazing, but Book Soup was kind of anti-literary. They did have a really stunning art book section, but since the place is cramped, it doesn't make leafing through the books a lot of fun. After a rest in our hotel, Ian joined us for a trip to the Trader Joe's in Silver Lake. Okay, not fair: not only do they have amazing wine prices and vegan chocolate chip cookies, but they sell actual hard liquor -- tequila! vodka! scotch! All way cheaper than in Baltimore's liquor stores. We drove around Silver Lake (I have also seen it spelled Silverlake; not sure what's correct) and I got to see many of the houses of my dreams. Then we went to Little Ethiopia for dinner, and back to Ian & Caroline's to (what else) drink more wine.

Monday morning we went to the George C. Page Museum at Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. (The bright yellow photo in the collage is of their exhibit of dire wolf skulls that were excavated from the tar pits.) After braving the school groups to learn about the geological history of the area, we walked up Fairfax to the Farmers Market, which is a permanent semi-outdoor market and not to be confused with the Sunday market in Hollywood. We had lunch at Singapore's Banana Leaf, and we were not disappointed. My fish curry was amazing and Chris loved his salad. Then we walked back down to Wilshire and saw the Magritte exhibit, amongst other wonderful things, at LACMA. Magritte is one of my favorite painters, so I was thrilled to be able to see so much of his work together. They really did an excellent job curating this exhibit. (I put the exhibition catalog on my Amazon wishlist and plan to buy it as soon as I can afford it.) Then we backtracked to vegan-friendly Mani's bakery for some spectacular cupcakes after we walked off our lunch. After our daily hotel room rest, we called our friend Pete who lives in Manhattan Beach with his girlfriend, also, crazily enough, named Caroline. We were in the mood for sushi, so we decided to meet them at a place called Tengu that we found in a glossy tourist magazine that was in our hotel room. It was in Westwood, the neighborhood by UCLA, and we weren't quite prepared for the outrageous menu (prices nor concoctions). Our waiter, Wayne, was super-friendly and helpful, and we all managed to settle on dishes that wouldn't completley wipe out our bank accounts. Chris and I shared a flight of sakes, and Pete got a strange sushi "shooter." After dinner we walked through the neighborhood and had some ice cream. (None for poor Chris, because it wasn't vegan ice cream.)

Tuesday was another beautiful, clear, perfect day -- do they have anything else in Los Angeles? -- and we headed to Getty Center. People had mentioned that the gardens there were nice, but nothing had prepared me for the bountiful plantlife. I have never been into gardening, but this place was truly inspiring. We must have spent ninety minutes walking around the big garden while Chris photographed every plant he liked. The view over L.A. was kind of smoggy, but I still got some good shots. We also had this really delicious melon 100% fruit slurpee-like drink. Oh, and there was a photography exhibit that really spoke to me, and that exhibition catalog is on my Amazon wishlist too. Since it was so nice out, we thought it was the perfect day to visit Venice Beach. Only,when we got there, it was so foggy and cold that we decided to just eat our Mediterranean lunch and head back to L.A. That night we went to Ian & Caroline's and got take-out Vietnamese food from Blossom. I accidentally ordered something that was full of beef, so I didn't eat very much. I played a lot with their fabulous cats, Chloe and Crosby. Chloe got a little too rambunctious and tried to break my camera while I was photographing her, but Chris fixed it pretty quickly. (It did not escape my attention that I have 6 photos each of those cats, but not a single photo of Chris or any of our friends.)

Our last full day, Wednesday, was bittersweet. The last day of vacation always is for me. We went back to Mani's and got lunch and baked goods, stocked up with airplane treats at Whole Foods, and took a stroll through downtown. I got to visit the main branch of the public library, which knocked my socks off with its adorable gift shop. We walked over to MoCA, but sadly, our guidebooks misled us into thinking they would be open. That was a big disappointment. We saw the Disney Concert Hall and visited their gift shop. We wandered sadly around downtown, not knowing what to do with the afternoon we'd reserved for MoCA. Finally, we decided to go back to Hollywood. I needed some introvert time (it's really hard for me to go that many days without any reading or writing) so I went to Borders. Chris went back to Amoeba and then drove around a bit. At dinnertime, Ian took us to a fun, boisterous, CHEAP sushi place. $3 sake was right up our alley after Tengu. Then we went back to Ian & Caroline's to drink our last bottle of wine with them before we see them for their wedding this May in Mill Valley. (Two California trips in 4 months -- aren't we spoiled?)

There were still plenty of things I wanted to do in L.A., so I'd love to visit again. I didn't get to meet any of my online friends, not that I was very good about making advance arrangements to do so. I'd like to do a mid-century modern architecture tour. Obviously, I want to go to MoCA when they're open. I'd like to see the Getty Villa, and the Huntington, and go shopping on Melrose. I am sure that there are hundreds of things I don't even know about that I would
love, too. We were kind of sad that we didn't get to see any live music while we were there, but I guess it was a slow week for that while we were there. Oh, and we didn't get any mashed yeast.


  • At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Danny said…

    Put me down for your next visit! You visited so many of my regular haunts that I probably did see you during your trip without even knowing it!

    Never heard of Vibe but it sounds way too hip for its own good.

  • At 10:51 AM, Blogger jek-a-go-go said…

    i missed you! drats! i wanted to see you! we were on the 405 headed south that very ame day of evil traffic. luckily we didn't have to sit in traffic. i hope you had a blast and i am so sorry i missed you. it was so busy on our end i kept thinking yo uwould be out around then and that you'd email me...;) no worries but drats!

  • At 11:01 AM, Blogger jek-a-go-go said…

    oh and you did sooo much! you could have gone to Olvera St. & Chinatwon when you were downtown. I had Wednesday totally free you should have called me! :) Oh and Artboy and his crew were the ones who hung the Magritte show, wasn't it nifty? Come back again someday, I hope you hada blast!


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