Monday, June 27, 2016


When I flew into Los Angeles last Tuesday, the region had been suffering from a heat wave, an unprecedented change-up from the usual June Gloom, at least that was how the mild, entitled dwellers of the Westside and beach communities felt about it.  But the heat broke that Tuesday. "Oh, look," said Dan my host, "we've been running the air conditioner all week. This is the first evening we can turn it off and open the windows."

And the evening was cool, just like I remember those Los Angeles summer nights, with a breeze lifting the curtains in the upstairs guest room. It was pleasant enough to eat outdoors in the patio, though I needed the light cotton sweater I'd brought.

Mural, Central Avenue downtown
Dan and his family are some of our oldest friends. We had met at University of Washington, and Dan recruited Chris to UCLA twenty years ago. Dan and his adult son Rahul had just returned to the house from an afternoon tennis game; his wife Babli was in India visiting her sister, but would return before the week was out. Their neighbor Jackie had walked the dog after her yoga class, and now the dog was nudging us to throw the ball. I was not the only houseguest - a Melbourne couple, the son of Babli's girlhood friend were also staying, on a US tour to visit her family. While we ate we talked about the effects of Brexit, and about the  European Football Championship. My first night in Los Angeles, then, was a pleasant one, a typical LA experience - talk, food and drink outdoors in a flower and fruit filled patio, eating steak hot off the barbecue with a good, multi-generational and multi-national crowd. And cake!

My trip to Los Angeles was partly practical and partly to satisfy my nostalgic craving for Los Angeles. I had set up some medical appointments - one with a very highly placed eye specialist at UCLA, a follow up to an exam 18 months ago to check my eyes for cataracts. The others were my usual annual exams by general practitioner and dentist, since I've not really established these in New Orleans. I would come away from these with a pocket full of prescriptions and a plan on how to transition to local based doctors when I returned home.

Aside from these duties, my goal was to see a select group of friends and locations in Los Angeles; to visit loved destinations and make sure they were still there, and to visit locations where new things had happened since I left almost a year ago.

I met my friend Michelle, my former co-worker, at Father's Office, a favorite bar on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. We split one of the famous Office Burgers. It was as good - and as filling - as I remembered.

The next day, after my eye exam, too dilated to drive, I donned sunglasses and wandered around Westwood south of Wilshire Blvd., in Los Angeles' "Little Teheran." I tucked into my favorite little hideaway Persian restaurant, the Attari Sandwich Shop, and had a bowl of their rich and delicious osh soup, a mixture of grains, legumes and herbs, drizzled with thick yogurt and topped with crispy, caramellized onions. Across the street at the Jordan Market, I bought condiments and spices for Persian food to smuggle back to New Orleans in my luggage.

Day two I had a pedicure at my favorite nail salon in Pacific Palisades. It made me feel good when one of my regular nail technicians greeted me, asking whether I was back for good now. My toes are now an iridescent pale blue.

On day three, I went to a Korean spa, and spent three hours there, getting soaked and steamed and scrubbed and massaged. While the Korean spa experience modeled after traditional bathhouse ritual in Korean, it has been adapted for the US and, in particular, for Los Angeles, our city of body-conscious professionals and car-based culture. I had always wanted to experience it during the 19 years I lived in LA; now I finally got up the nerve to do it.

I managed to meet up with friends, but some connections didn't work out. I became re-acclimated to Los Angeles traffic, especially beach traffic, when I tried to go visit a friend in Malibu on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It took me 2 hours driving to get to her place for afternoon tea, and the "quick cocktails" appointment I made for another friend afterwards, had to be cancelled - I wouldn't make it back to West LA until 7:00 pm.

Among the sights and tastes and visits I enjoyed were these:

Highland Park, becoming ever more hip, but still with beautiful murals and my favorite, Chicken Boy.

La Cevecheria, a little place run by a Guatemalan family, in the Latino-Byzantine Quarter. Their ceviche and their fish tacos are to die for!

Atlacatl, a pupuseria off Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood. They serve a fruit drink called ensalada, which has bits of chopped apple and pineapple. Very refreshing.

The Olympic Mercado - a totally unofficial street food happening on weekends in the Pinata District - two blocks of unregulated family craziness.

The newly renovated Clifton's Cafeteria on historic Broadway, in downtown. It's very impressive and much more vital than the old, moribund Clifton's, and I love the fact that you can get a pineapple mimosa to sip under the fake sequoia trees, but I still kinda miss the old funk of the old Clifton's.

Grand Central Market - very bustling today, with long lines and lots of customers. Like Clifton's, it has been gentrified, with young artesanal delicatessens and pastry chefs replacing the old steam tables, fish mongers and panaderias. I noticed on this visit that even the skeezy liquor store in the southeast corner has been replaced by an upscale wine and beer purveyor. Sigh.

The streets of downtown LA are slowly changing, but it's still a fascinating place. A stand-in for old-time Manhattan; the center of Latino commerce; the home of historic Los Angeles lore - it's whatever you (and the movie-makers) want it to be.


Anonymous said...

I don't often comment, but I want you to know how very much I enjoy "wandering along" on your adventures. You have shown me a lot of things that I will never see in person, and I so enjoy your pictures and your perspective. Thank you. another sue

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Like Another Sue above, I always appreciate the way you share your travels, complete with descriptions of sight and sound, and plenty of pictures!