It’s day one of a new trip!
This is a trip I haven’t done before, so everything will be new – well almost everything – the flight to Miami, the Miami Airport and Admirals Club were all repeats. For once, I even booked a flight that didn’t leave at the crack of dawn so we had time to wake up at a reasonable hour, have coffee and get to the airport in San Juan. As I posted yesterday, I wasn’t fighting the early trip to the airport because I had the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy to read on the plane.
We arrived at the airport in San Juan only to find it empty. There was no one in the lines at security, no one. It was amazing. The TSA agent looking at my carry-on through her scanner took a really long look at my tripod (placed diagonally across the bottom) but let it go through without a bag search. Maybe she figured, seeing my camera there too, that I was probably going to use it for photography and not to disable the pilot.
We did end up getting up-graded, waiting until the last minute for two no shows to not show, so at least the trip to Miami included a big comfortable seat and breakfast.
In Miami, we tried to get on one of the two earlier flights to LA, but every flight to LA was booked solid so there was nothing to do but settle in and wait for our 2:25 flight, and cross our fingers for another late-at-the-gate upgrade. It came through for me (thanks to Gerry switching the order of our names on the upgrade list, but not for him. We did have good seats in coach anyway, and my upgrade left an empty seat next to him, so except for the food, it wasn’t that bad.
We’re both reading The Hunger Games at this point, so who really paid much attention to the flight? Between the books and napping, it seemed like the 5 hours “flew” by. I was 94% in my book when I had to turn off my electronic device (I did finish it as soon as we got to the hotel).
Flying into LA was fascinating. As a child (honestly, as an adult too) I liked the miniature world of model trains, so looking out the windows of the plane at the miniature landscape below is a favorite pastime, making those electronics-off moments something to look forward to. I started looking out when we were still over the mountains, and could see almost no signs of human presence at all. Once we were over the valley on the west side of the mountains that changed dramatically. From neatly laid out neighborhoods, to expansive areas of warehouses, multi-lane highways, shopping centers and baseball fields, the view from the air is never boring. I was particularly struck by a view that started at the bottom (of my window)with houses, changed to warehouses and then to skyscrapers, then to the mountains beyond all topped with smog. If I had been able to have my favorite electronic device turned on (my camera) it would have made a great image of the converging lines and geometric variation.
We rented a car, and once we got to Hertz, I discovered that I couldn’t find my wallet! It seemed like I left it at home. Not too much of an issue because I have my passport for ID, just no credit cards, cash or driver’s license. The license was the biggest issue due to the car having been rented in my name. We got that sorted out but not without some terse exchanges between me and my spouse and some rather unhelpful customer service people at the Hertz counters. (Obviously, my spouse was able to drive the car. Oh, and of course he has credit cards and cash, or more importantly, an ATM card.)
While I am looking, in what I think in my rising panic, is a methodical and thorough way through my backpack for the wayward wallet, I get a call from our LA hotel. “Oh, hi. How are you? How was your flight? Are you here yet?” Odd, right? “By the way, we don’t have a room for you tonight despite your reservation…” Ok, it is becoming clearer. Now what? They put us up at a hotel nearby for free. Not bad. I never pass up a bargain. Being flexible and world traveler-ly, we change hotels and program the GPS for the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills.
The hotel and the room are nice, except for one major problem. This is a smoking room. The smell is awful. For such a long time, I have not been exposed to people smoking that I was unprepared for the stench. I thought I would get used to it and that it wouldn’t bother me after a while, but even during the night, that smell would start to haunt me.
The best part of the day, was meeting up with my niece Laura, getting to see her apartment, hear about her life as an MBA student at UCLA, and having dinner together near her place. I am so proud of her – she really has a handle on her life, and I can honestly say I wish I could walk in her shoes! She has so much excitement ahead of her.
Since I always comment on the food we eat, I want to say something about this restaurant she took us too. It is called Bandera and it must be good because it was packed! The service was good, though even with a reservation we had to wait at least a half an hour to get a table. For starters we shared a grilled artichoke and a beet and cheese salad, both of which were very, very good. The cheese on the salad was called burrata and it was a softer version of mozzarella (i.e. de bufala). Really interesting and I had never tasted it before. I really loved the texture. The beets were small and yellow (!) and even Gerry liked them. For our main courses, I had crab cakes (best I can remember) and Gerry had Kobi-style beef that was divinely tender and Laura had tuna cooked to the perfect balance of seared and rare with a salad. We shared a banana crème pie for dessert. I wasn’t going to try it, but I broke down and I am glad I did – since it was delicious.
We left Laura about 11 (she was nice enough to chauffeur us around) and spent a wakeful night with an irritable air-conditioner. Good news this am: Gerry found my wallet! (Yes, in my backpack, right in the pocket where I always keep it. Remember I said “rising panic”? I guess it had risen higher than I thought for me not to have found it right where it belonged!)
6:50 am March 16 Friday
Thursday morning, after breakfast in the hotel, we finally abandon our smoked up room and head out to see something. Actually the first thing we decide to see is a camera store called Samy’s. It should probably be a tourist attraction: Four floors of everything photography, except the two things we were trying to find. Oh, well!
Next we went looking for Rodeo Drive – just to see it. It was everything you imagine – well-dressed people holding fancy shopping bags, with super luxury cars parked on the street and driving by. (Whizzing by!)
From there to Santa Monica, with a stop at the Wine Expo to pick up some treats for Cindy and Greg, our hosts for the next few days. We just drove through Santa Monica, unfortunately because it looked like a good place to walk around and look for a cool little place to eat or even to walk along the park on the ocean and take a look at the Pacific, something of apparently infinite fascination for me. Maybe it is that childhood wish to have been a pioneer crossing America to reach the Pacific that inspires me but I feel this distinct tug to always “see the Pacific.”
Anyway, we didn’t see it there and we kept driving, now on the Pacific Coast Highway, until we happen on a sign for “The Getty Villa.” Perfect! Let’s tourist.
We arrived right in time for an architectural tour of the villa, modeled on the Villa of the Papyrus (Villa dei Papiri, from Herculaneum) and filled with the ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts that J Paul Getty collected. It is an interesting setting for them, because though the villa is the model for the building, it is truly a museum with everything that a modern museum requires, but the atrium of the house and the triclinium still provide a good look at what a house in the ancient Roman world might have looked like. After the tour we had a nice lunch in the museum café and then spent some time looking at the exhibits.
For the tour, we were given headsets, which I thought was odd because we were going with an actual guide. What a delight to discover that we could hear the guide through the headsets, freeing us up to walk around but still hear what she was saying (You know how you usually have to crowd right around the guide and focus on him or her to actually hear the spiel? Not with these nifty headsets!) it was great because we could really look around us and also move to places to try to get better pictures.
The exhibit that interested me most was the one on “Heroes.” Artifacts with images of the various ancient heroes of the three civilizations weave in a lot of history, myth, storytelling and art. I would love to return and spend enough time to really absorb all the stories and study the images. One interesting thing I learned was that Hercules was revered by all three, and invited me to think of a parallel in our own times of a hero cult that spans time and culture.
Onward we went, to Malibu, on our way to Cindy’s. The weather was not particularly nice. It was downright cold for me and Gerry and our thin tropical blood. The wind was holding its own and the sky was overcast, but as soon as we saw the Malibu Pier (recognizable to even a neophyte California tourist like me) we had to stop and get out of the car to walk to the end! Finally a picture taking opportunity!
Can you believe it? There were actually a lot of people surfing in that cold. It made me colder just looking at them. The people on the beach were huddled under blankets. Most of the surfers were in wet suits, and they were far enough away that I thought they looked like so many monkeys out there. At one point, Gerry and I even wondered if we were looking at all surfers or if there weren’t some seal-like creatures out there, too. Of course, no seals or monkeys.
The sun finally came out – what a difference in the temperature! Our trip through the canyon, now heading north to Cindy’s, was beautiful. It started at Pepperdine University, with their campus looking so fantastic with the groomed areas of grass and landscaping against the rugged, wildness of the mountains and rock.
7:15 am March 17 Saturday
I left off telling you about the trip through the canyon, but I will just leave it at “it was beautiful.” There isn’t really much else to say about a lot of rocks – sharp, jagged ones and great big round boulders, and the full gamut of shapes and sizes in between; grasses and scrub ranging from dry and brown, to yellow orange and green; a gorgeous blue sky by then) and a winding mountain road. It was beautiful.
We arrived at Cindy’s at just about 4. Happy reunion a given. Greg came home shortly after with strawberries and raspberries from the farmer’s market, and we had a nice evening of talk, really good food (Greg is an excellent cook!) and probably too much wine.
Yesterday was pretty cloudy and cold again (cold for us). After an early but unhurried morning, Greg took off for the city because his mother was having surgery (which went well) and Gerry, Cindy and I drove down to the Getty Center, via the famous traffic-choked expressways of LA.
The Getty Center is fantastic. It isn’t unlike the Getty Villa we saw the day before – in scope and feel – but here is where you find the rest of J Paul Getty’s art collection. Like most private art collections there are minor works by great artists as well as works by artists who are not well-known outside art history circles. There were a lot of decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, silver etc.) as well as painting and sculpture.
We got the audio guide and did the highlights tour, which had us moving quickly through the four pavilions, first and second floors, in search of those few major works by major artists. We got “defiant” after a while and just turned off the tour so we could walk through some of the other rooms of the museum. Doing that, I found my favorite piece, a small marble sculpture of an “emaciated young man” exposing his torso but hiding his head behind his folded arms. I woke up this morning thinking about the picture I took of it but kicking myself (metaphorically) for not having written down the name of the artist. The description of the statuette mentioned something about its autobiographical aspect.
We had lunch in the restaurant at the center. Gerry and I had bouillabaisse which was good beyond words. Spicy and creamy orange broth with mussels, clams and shrimp (which I gave to Gerry), it all disappeared. I did what I could to restrain myself from licking the bowl.
Our waiter was fun. We all noticed the dramatic transition he made from introverted, taciturn young man on the tram on the way up to the lively, charismatic server who took our orders and brought our food.
We did about half our tour before lunch and finished up afterward. The more time we spent walking in, around and among the buildings of the center, the more I liked it. Every view seemed to include hard architectural lines, broken with the softer textures of trees and water and the irregular shapes of rocks and flowers. The views from the Center (it is way up on a mountain) are also spell-binding. You can see the greater LA metro area spread out below, receding to faint, faint outlines way off in the distance, but giving the impression that the city never ends.
We were back in the car by 3:00pm – the witching hour for cars hoping to escape the city without getting caught in the traffic, and we whizzed home in just 25 minutes.
Nap time! I thought I would just lie down and read for an hour or so, but I slept for almost two hours! All four of us took advantage of the downtime (Greg having arrived home just a few minutes after we did).
Last night, we enjoyed more of Greg’s cooking, this time home-made pizza. I am going to get his recipe for the dough from his blog, because his dough not only tastes better than mine but is much easier to shape. Lauren, a friend, joined us for dinner. Another evening of just a little too much wine, but lots of good conversation and food.
Here is Greg’s Blog of recipes! http://www.gjbrecipes.blogspot.com/
Saturday, we woke up to a rainy day. It rained all day, except for a few bright patches of sunlight in the late afternoon. As a result, we took it really easy. I caught up on all my computer work in the morning, while everyone else was catching up on sleep. The guys went out to pick up sandwiches for lunch, and afterwards Cindy and I spent a couple of hours working with her tablet (and Photoshop on her Mac) and then her fancy printer. We didn’t have much luck with either one – especially me since I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. A quiet, delicious dinner at home thanks to Chez Greg, and an evening of talk in front of the fireplace. Naturally, I got animated on my feminist topics.
Tomorrow we head to Las Vegas and Death Valley.