Saturday, November 30, 2013

Palm Springs getaway

Palm Springs sunrise - click any photo to "embiggen"
Celebrating both the Thanksgiving holiday and my birthday, we took a little trip to Palm Springs. [The Man I Love] made all the arrangements, including booking us into a dog-friendly hotel that had a little outdoor enclosed patio we could leave Jack in if we left the room without him.

Although we knew it was an insane choice, we drove out on Wednesday afternoon.

Predictably, traffic was horrendous. We took surface streets from the Westside to East LA, before we got on the freeway, which was moving at 10 miles per hour until Rosemead.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Picnic in Purgatory

At the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. It's a dead sea, on a dead beach composed of pulverized dead fish bones, and it stinks of dead fish.

Who would want to picnic there, but pelicans?


Click to "embiggen"
Friday morning in Palm Springs. We are having adventures.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Beautification of Public Places - a fable

A meeting just wrapped up in a large, well-lit conference room to discuss an incident six months ago where some people trampled the flowers – namely, some pelargoniums, zinnias and begonias planted as summer bedding in a planter box.

A big cosmetics company had put on a special event –a fashion show, in a local shopping complex with an open air pedestrian courtyard. They’d built a runway out in the middle of the courtyard, and during the fashion show, some spectators had climbed on the planter boxes for a better view, and the plantings were crushed.

A $400 bill to replace the plantings had been sent by the property owner to the corporation, who refused to pay it, claiming they weren’t responsible for the damage to the summer bedding plants.

Follow up requests for payment were met with no response, and a lawyer-drafted letter threatening collections action was also met with no response.

That was six months ago.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gather ye rosebuds

If you drive down Wilshire Boulevard in mid-city Los Angeles, you wouldn't expect to find an oasis of serenity in this urban setting, nor in the steel and glass corporate buildings that line this, one of the busiest streets in North America.

But there are a lot of paradoxes in Koreatown, and one of them is that this robust and vivid culture also values the quiet serenity of time spent in contemplation and conversation with friends. When you step in from the busy Wilshire sidewalk into Hwa Sun Ji Tea and Coffee, you feel your pulse slow and your mind ease.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

String of Arts

Tiny fabric hearts, strung on threads, make a garland so delicate that it barely catches the eye, against the white wall.

Huge floor cushions, plump and inviting, that can cradle your entire body.

Orbs of braided cotton; hand-pieced embroidered runners. Handwoven cloth, indigo-printed patterns. Whimsical retro butterfly chairs, their fabric slings a patchwork of color, threaded with gold.

All this is what Christina Kim of dosa has brought to a spare, empty space in Westwood. Gathering works made by hand, with recycled materials, by people in communities all over the world, dosa champions the small, the minimal, traditional arts, and natural materials.

She's just one outpost of Los Angeles artists and artisans in a kind of pop-up craft market called Arts Restore LA. 

Filling empty storefronts in Westwood Village, they bring accessible art to the streets. And bring shoppers to the streets of Westwood.

Looking for handmade skateboards? Prints by noted Los Angeles artists? Hand thrown pottery and intricate jewelry; one-of-a-kind textiles and home-made jams and preserves. It's all here.

Arts Restore LA is an effort spearheaded by the UCLA Hammer Museum. Running November 1 - 24. You can still catch it today, if you're in town.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Soju is distilled from starches like rice, potatoes, or tapioca. It's the best-loved tipple in Korea - and also in Los Angeles' Koreatown. It's got a rough, sweet, medicinal bite that makes you almost wince.

It goes great with steamed pork belly with garlic, jalapeno and pickled chile radish, wrapped in Napa cabbage leaves.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cloud shrouded

The rain came yesterday evening on the drive home. In a line of cars, red tail-lights glowing, just below the Getty Villa on Pacific Coast Highway, it started, the drops on my windshield so fine I thought it was another car's washer fluid, then like a spray hose opened up, full, and I turned on the wipers.

As we inched up the canyon road, windtossed rain hurled itself intermittently at the car, road slick beneath, snaking up the S-curves.

The flat roof on our post-and-beam house is like a drum-head for the rain; last night's rain was like the tap and stroke of deft fingers on a tabla. It went on steadily all night; awake in the dark and you hear it above.

This morning it's still dripping. Jack took a run in the rain and came back in fast. The mountains are shrouded in cloud. The roads will be a mess today.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


At work, my office is across the hall from the copier room, and just down the hall from the department's kitchenette and bathrooms.  Each day, everybody in the building passes by my door at least once.

There aren't many convenient places to eat nearby, so most people bring lunch from home. With a microwave, a coffee maker, a toaster oven and a full-size refrigerator, our well-equipped kitchenette allows for food preparation that goes beyond the usual office lunch. But whatever someone decides to cook back there, I'm always the first one to get a whiff of it.

Throughout the day, I get to share in the experience of everyone's breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack, whether it's Pop-Tarts, Lean Cuisine, chow mein or garlic bread. I love it when someone brews a fresh pot of strong coffee. One of my co-workers is Punjabi - her lunches are redolent with spices so powerful I often wonder if the memo I fold into an envelope will carry the scent of garam masala to the distant addressee.

My co-worker Susan has a long commute, and to save time, she makes her breakfast on her morning break. She's on an earlier shift than I am, so just about the time I arrive and log into my computer, she's in the back, making toast.

There's nothing like the smell of toast first thing in the morning to make your mouth water, even if you did have breakfast at home. I couldn't help saying, "Wow, that smells good!" the first couple of weeks I started working here.

Now sometimes Susan offers, before she starts her breakfast, "Would you like a piece of toast?" and then she'll bring me a slice, spread with good butter.

"I feel bad," she says, "if I'm making you hungry, I feel I should share." One lunchtime she shared sweet potato Tater Tots she crisped up in the toaster oven.

I try to reciprocate. The last time I made fresh bread at home, I brought in a few slices for her. "Oh, you're such a good cook!" she said. "I wish I could cook, but I can't. I just make easy things."

This morning, she asked me, "Do you like sunflower seed butter?" I'd never had it before, so as I checked my morning email, she brought me two slices of wholegrain toast, slathered with creamy sunflower seed butter.

Such a simple thing, a piece of toast, warm and fragrant, slathered with nut butter. Smooth and salty, it has an herbal nut-like taste and an unctuous mouthfeel with just a little fine grit. I licked the oil off my fingers when I finished, and I felt good about starting my day.

Susan says she's not a cook, but she has mastered the art that all good cooks aspire to - the gift of sustenance.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Street and Fleet

Big surprise - Friday on my day off, I got a call from someone in another department in my organization. I was on the recruitment list for a position, and they were interviewing for a vacancy. Could I come in Monday morning at 8:00 am?

Of course I could, I said.

The interview was to be at the complex where all my organization's physical plant maintenance work was carried out. I left the house early, wearing my black Eileen Fisher pantsuit that I wear for job interviews. I had only visited there a few times in the past - it's a rambling complex with workshops, warehouses, garages, equipment compounds, and mechanical shops. I pulled in and parked in a "visitors" parking space, and tried to figure out where to go.

The email directed me to a central office, and instructed me to check in with someone named Tyra. I thought I found the right office, but they directed to me go back outside and walk down a few yards. "There's an umbrella table outside the door - go in there and ask for Tyra."

I saw the umbrella table, and I also saw a group of people standing around it, coffee cups in hand, talking and laughing. One man stood in the walkway, one foot on the concrete bench of the umbrella table, his body blocked my passage. But as I approached, my heeled shoes clicking on the pavement, someone murmured, "hey, get out the way," and he turned and stepped back when he saw me.

I smiled and said good morning. "I'm here for an appointment with [Person], and I'm supposed to check in with Tyra. Can you tell me where to go?"

Tyra was a tall, pretty black woman with dreadlocks, standing in the group. "Of course, you're the eight o'clock, come on in," and she led me to a chair to wait. I was ten minutes early, so I checked my email on my phone and waited.  The radio on Tyra's desk played at low volume, Santana's "Oye Como Va."

When the eight o'clock hour came, a man greeted me and led me back outside. "We've grown in the last years, and we've had to make some office space out of the shops," he said. But even so, I was a little surprised when he led me across the grounds into the bay of a vehicle garage where cars and trucks were hoisted up on lifts. We eased past a work bench, and my escort nodded and said hello to the mechanics whose buzzing air tools ministered to them.

A group of jumpsuited workers were performing stretching exercises in unison. We threaded our way through them, saying hello and I caught one worker's laughing eye. Then, we went into a conference room where the interview panel sat.

It was a half hour. I think I did OK. I was nervous and my mouth was stone dry, but I felt comfortable answering the questions, and I think my answers were good. There were some silly questions, like "describe your biggest weakeness," and "tell us how your friends would describe you." But, on the whole, I felt good.

The job's duties include one area that is a great strength of mine. I would also learn one computerized process that I've always been interested in learning. It pays about $5000 a year more, to start, than my current job pays.

The atmosphere is casual and blue-collar.

The field is totally without connection to the career in arts and entertainment that I've spent my life in.

Except - I am used to working with guys like this.

There are two other candidates. They want to make a decision soon. Whatever happens will happen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The state of things today

 We live in a world where people go to a bar to drink beer and eat brussels sprouts.Think about it.

Autumn arrives

Morning fog
This week it really feels like autumn has arrived in Southern California. Mornings are foggy, with a chill.

Deciduous trees are changing color. You don't think of this happening in Southern California, but there are are places where ruddy or golden foliage, while not as glorious as those in frost-kissed northern climates, brings that familiar feeling to the heart of a former Midwesterner like me. In our canyon, the native sycamores, or platanus racemosa, that grow along the creekside turn a subtle gold-tan, and soon drop, raising the startling white branches to the sky.

Grape leaves
 In the Valley north of us, in Woodland Hills, the streets are lined with tall, straight liquidambar trees - what I grew up calling "sweetgum" -  whose star-shaped leaves turn purply-crimson. The grapevines off our deck blaze scarlet.

This contrasts with the almost startling steely blue of new eucalyptus growth or the dark cedar foliage.

Today a dark cloud heavy with rain hangs over the canyon, and yesterday it looked even more menacing above the parking lot at the supermarket.

clouds over PCH
When I lived in the north, we'd call clouds like these "snow clouds" - and perhaps they are dropping snow on the San Gabriel mountains to the north. But when these heavy lowering masses are near the coast, they sometimes have a startling beauty, here lit by the setting sun on Pacific Coast Highway.

It's chilly in the morning when we walk, Jack and me.

It's sweater weather. It's time to make warming soups and stews. It's time to buy firewood again. It's autumn.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Egg salad with a pop

L.A.'s Koreatown is exciting not just because it's a vibrant immigrant community with a fascinating ethnic culture to explore - it's exciting because it's an amalgam of multiple immigrant communities, and from this it has created its own fascinating culture.

The best-known example of how cultures are embraced and adapted into a new dimension is the famed Kogi truck; a catering truck selling short rib tacos and kim chee to young hipsters hanging out in karaoke clubs.

Korean cuisine is assertive, and when Korean cooks take on other cuisines, something bold, brash and vivid happens; strongly flavored and served in abundance.

Strange skies

This morning it was foggy, and there was a fine mist blowing up from the coast.

By late morning, when I walked Jack, the sun was shining feebly on our side of the canyon, but dark clouds loomed over the western side.

It's changing every minute. Watch.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Come and see!!

Sunset over the park
 This evening in our office, we all bent to our computer monitors, sending emails, working on reports, calculating formulae in Excel. Now that it's no longer daylight savings time, it starts to get dark earlier in the evening, and the park outside our windows darkened and the glass only gave back reflections to us.

"Come outside and look at the sunset, you guys!"

It was Erin, whose window opened on the west side of the building.  She skipped down the row of cubicles, past the push-gate at the front counter, and out the door.

"I could see it through my window! It's gorgeous! Come and see!"

We all came out of our offices and went outside. I brought my phone and took a picture. Someone else went back in to get her phone.

We looked up at the sky and let the warm rosy light play on our upturned faces. Then we went back in and finished whatever it was we were working on, but felt better for it.

The world needs more people in it like Erin.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Cozy Jack
I'm trying hard to hold out until 12:00 noon before eating the lunch I packed to work. That's just how disciplined I am!

And bored....

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Return to the scene


We went here again. Yes, it's the same place in the photo above. It's a little hazier today than on that clear day earlier this year, in January. There are two plastic lounge chairs there, now, at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the sea.

We climbed up there and we sat for a little while, feeling the sun hot on the black hat I wore. Jack the dog curled beneath [The Man I Love]'s chair, in his shadow.

We sat in the sun and then the wind began to blow onshore - bringing coolness from the ocean up the slopes of the hills, touching us. The curve of the bay stretched out before us.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Miracle of the fishes

I was exploring Los Angeles' Koreatown - that busy, bustling neighborhood infused with multiple layers of the city's history. Once LA's most exclusive address, it went from show-biz glamor to run-down slum, to besieged and burnt out during the '93 unrest. And all the while since the 1960s, the Korean immigrant community thrived and grew here, transforming fusty old hotel dining rooms into hip young anju bars, karaoke clubs, and upscale shopping malls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dining with billionaires

Stock photo from clip-art
Leave the car with the valet at the entry to the mega-mansion high above Bel-Air. Have a glass of champagne, and may I offer you some hors d'oeuvres? Do try the little blinis with caviar, they are scrumptious!

Walk around, enjoy the city views from the terrace, check out the home theatre on the lower level, and best of all - an automated commode in the guest powder room!

Control panel
It's been a busy week - and it's only Wednesday!

Monday, November 4, 2013

LA traffic

Evening rush hour traffic is a nightmare on LA's west side, but fortunately I had a full hour to go from my workplace to meet up at a fine restaurant; a dinner related to [The Man I Love]'s work - a three mile trip.

So of course it only took me twenty minutes. I am here in a supermarket parking lot  cooling my heels, cause there's no way I'm going to arrive at the valet earlier than five minutes!

That's LA traffic. If I'd only had a half hour, it would have taken me forty-five minutes!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eating too much in Koreatown

Dan Sung Sa
We could hear the shouting from the drunk sitting outside Dan Sung Sa when we got out of the car. On a bright autumn Saturday, we found a meter outside this Korean pub known for its bar food like skewered chicken gizzards and kimchee pancakes.

Now, two o'clock in the afternoon, the bar was shuttered, and the drunk sat, a 40 ounce in a crumpled bag on the pavement beside him, yelling at passersby.

"Hey, mister! You're a writer, huh?" he shouted when he saw us crossing the lot. "I can tell by looking at you, you're a writer."

"You nailed it, brother," [The Man I Love] replied. "You got me."

We quickly skirted the corner and headed west on 6th Street, taking in a whiff from the garbage dumpster behind Dan Sung Sa as the street dipped gently down.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day, the second of three holidays celebrated by Catholics and known in Mexico and Mexican immigrant communities as Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Though skulls and skeletons are symbols of the holiday, it's not gruesome or scary at all, but rather a time for families to gather and remember their lost loved ones, to honor them at special altars created for the day, and to tend and decorate the graves of the dead.

Each year if I can, I like to go to a tiny Oaxacan bakery called Antequera Panaderia y Pasteleria on Santa Monica's Ocean Park Boulevard, and buy a loaf of pan de muerte, a sweet yeast-raised bread made for Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

There are many bakeries in Los Angeles that make pan de muerte, but I think the one made here is particularly unique and charming. The golden brown crust of the loaf is decorated with arabesques and spirals of piped white icing and colored sprinkles. A little wax saint's head is embedded in the end, as if the saint herself were baked into the loaf.

Visiting this shop on a holiday like Dia de Los Muertos is a magical yet humbling experience for someone like me who doesn't really know the culture as well as I should, and who doesn't speak Spanish. The tiny room is crowded with families picking up their pre-ordered baked goods, or peering into the glass case at pastries.

The interior of the shop is decorated all over with pictures of saints and crosses, calendars with rustic pastoral scenes, posters for concerts and sports, garlands of Halloween decorations, flowers, candles and bundles of cinnamon sticks; and the pretty pierced tissue-paper known as papel picados.

Even the basic Spanish I know always evaporates from my brain when I step up to the counter, and the short, middle-aged aproned lady behind the counter doesn't speak English. I pointed and smiled until another customer kindly translated for me.

The senora disappeared into the back room, where you could see unadorned racks of bread waiting for icing; moments later she returned, deftly ripping a piece of white butcher paper from a roll nearby. She laid my loaf down on top of it, and smiled at me.

According to Antequera's price list, my loaf is a chico, which is $10. You can get smaller loaves, and you can also get a huge grande like the one displayed in the window altar, along with fruits, candles, and sprays of marigold flowers, which are traditional for the holiday.

Even if you don't celebrate Day of the Dead, this is a good weekend to take a moment and remember those who are gone with such beautiful symbols of abundance, sustenance, and mortality.