Monday, March 28, 2011

Cue the Twilight Zone Melody

A few weeks before we left Paris we were having a coffee at Café Danton at Odéon when a man sitting at the next table struck up a conversation.  He was American, spent a lot of time in Paris and lived the rest of the time in Los Angeles.  He was just the slightest bit creepy and we didn't linger.

Last week I was sitting in our rental car in a parking lot in LA, waiting for Gene to get back from somewhere when I happened to glance at the man getting in the car next to me.  Yup, you guessed it.  It was Mr. Slightly Creepy.  And how creepy is that?

He didn't see me. I didn't say hello.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

LaLa Land

We left a storm-tossed Bay Area to visit Los Angeles for the weekend and the storm followed.  We've had a couple of weeks of rain with rare breaks and had been hoping for a bit of Southern California sunshine, but it was not to be.

We decided to stay in downtown LA this time rather than on the West Side where we usually do because I'd heard about how hip and interesting downtown had become. Someone had recommended  the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which functions as a hotel as well, and we stayed there.  Beautifully decorated in men's club style, huge rooms, free breakfast and use of the three floors of gyms, courts and swimming pool made it a real bargain.  (So I didn't use the gym; who are you to judge?)

And how hip is downtown?  Our first stop was for lunch at Bottegha Louie, a hanger size restaurant and patisserie a block from the hotel.  The take-out boxes reminded me of Ladurée in their pastel prettiness, and the pastries looked almost as good. 

The place was jammed with well-dressed and good-looking customers, a far cry from the derelict wanderers I recalled from my early years in LA decades ago.

Sated with poached salmon and prosecco, we wandered a bit ourselves, stopping to visit the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (Disney and concerts don't fit comfortably in the same phrase in my mind, but it's a cool building), and moving on to the MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I was pleased to find a very good permanent collection.  I hadn't been here in many years and liked it a lot.

The next day, after an excellent Italian dinner the previous evening at Drago Centro, also within easy walking distance of our hotel, we drove to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-Wilshire district.  I grew up not far from here and had been visiting this museum since it was first established.  I had even applied for a curatorial job here shortly after I graduated from school but I hadn't been back in years.  This time I barely recognized it.  It's huge! 

We spent a couple of hours in the galleries, took a short docent tour of some Abstract Expressionist pieces, and had a strange lunch in the brand-new Ray's and Stark Bar, part of Joachim Splichal's Patina Group.  People who think Parisian waiters are rude need to be served by the young woman at Stark Bar.  Brrrr....

But the nice young manager at Ray's next door made up for it.

That night we drove into the Warehouse District, through what looked like rain-saturated homeless encampments to dinner at Lazy Ox Canteen, a non-Japanese outpost in Little Tokyo.  The rain-slicked  streets were deserted but the tenements had been replaced by lofts and parking places were hard to find.  When we opened the not-very-well-marked door to the Ox we were greeted by a blast of music and conversation and convivial service and the food was good too.  Not your father's downtown LA.

The rain continued to follow us the next morning when we checked out and headed for Beverly Hills, thinking we'd kill some time in one of the shopping malls before leaving for the airport.  The closer we got to BH, the sunnier it got.  Maybe it's true that money counts.  Can one pay off the weather gods?
Our last meal in LA was on a patio on Beverly Drive, in full sun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blossoms, Dearie?

A drive through San Francisco recently on the way to Golden Gate Park offered these views from the back seat of a friend's car.  In case you're wondering where you are, the sign on the window above will tell you.  Did that help?

Speaking of windows, there are lots of them in these downtown high rises, allowing workers in them to watch others working too.  They can't shout greetings to each other though, as few of the windows actually open. The bay windows of the classic Edwardians on the flank of Nob Hill do open and I have to think it's a lot more pleasant, even if what they open to is the noise and exhaust fumes of the cars working their way uphill. 

The buildings are not more than ten minutes drive from each other and similarly hued but more than a century separates them.

We were going to Golden Gate Park after a dim sum lunch downtown to visit "Bouquets to Art" at the DeYoung Museum, an annual fundraising event for which entrants design floral arrangements "inspired" by the art at the museum.

I had been under the mistaken impression that it was held at the Legion of Honor Museum and that the flower arrangements were meant to be copies of those found in the paintings.  This might have made sense if it had in fact been at the Legion, where there are more still life paintings than you can shake a flower stalk at.  At the DeYoung however these are far fewer and the collection is heavily weighted to more modern work.

The crowd, and it was an enormous crowd, was heavily weighted toward the elderly and female, and much more interested in the flowers than the art.  Luckily, I'd say, because the art wasn't much enhanced by the flowers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Couple of Days

A short visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last week had me looking outdoors as well as in.  From the glass-walled corridor on the fifth floor linear downtown buildings piled up behind each other and only their tops gave them any individual identities. 

The sculpture court had more rounded shapes, real or shadow.

Another day found me back in downtown Oakland for lunch at Bakesale Betty's, whose wonderful fried chicken and spicy coleslaw I make a point of having whenever we come back home.  You can often see Betty herself in her blue wig with her child on her hip. The wait is never more than a few minutes, despite the length of the line on the street.

Take-out or eat-out; there are no tables in either of her locations, but recycled ironing boards on the sidewalk serve very well if the weather permits.

And finally a couple of shots I couldn't resist, next door to Betty's and across the street.  From the 1930s to the 2010s within a block.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Science of Night Life

My niece asked me out for a date the other night, just us, no spouses or children allowed.  We went to the weekly Thursday night party at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.  It was a blast.

Full of hipsters and dating couples and tourists and families, with bars strategically placed to keep you moving through the various spaces, the Academy makes science fun.  We had dinner at the acclaimed Moss Room, where the silvery guy up above swam through the under-stair aquarium.  The larger aquarium below the main level allows you to walk between and under the tanks.

And the most famous resident of this watery world is the albino alligator (or is it science is deserting me I'm afraid) who moved in from his previous home that this new Academy building replaced.

We saw a show in the planetarium, walked through the room containing dioramas of African animals (I've loved dioramas since my parents took me to see the ones at the New York Museum of Natural History in the Dark Ages) and avoided the snakes (I'm squeamish.)

I'm stretching the French connection here, but the Academy has a Foucault pendulum, not quite as impressive as the one in the Pantheon in Paris, but cool nonetheless.

Docents were stationed here and there demonstrating various things and we stopped by to hear a fellow who was enthusiastically displaying some items on the cart in front of him.  "Hold this" he asked virtually everyone who stopped by, handing them a large bone, sort of like a badly warped baseball bat.  "What do you think it is?"  You know where this is going, don't you, dear reader?

It was a display of penises; the bat had once been the treasured member of a long dead walrus.

On that note, we went home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paris When You're Far Away

We're halfway through our stay in the States and I'm looking in both directions, like Janus.
This video by Luke Shepard, a student at the American University in Paris, has been making the internet rounds.  Called Le Flâneur, it's an incredible collage of still photos formed into a video tour of a deserted Paris. It calls me back.

I apologize for not being able to upload it directly here, but either my non-existent coding skills or a block by Blogger won't let me embed a Vimeo video.

Clicking on "Le Flâneur" in the highlighted hyperlink above will get you there.  Don't miss it!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Signs of Other Times

 I had parked my car recently in front of a rather nondescript building across from the university campus when I saw this sign on the building's wall.  I was aware that the United Nations Charter had been signed in San Francisco; I hadn't realized that Berkeley had played a role as well.  History is made in the most unexpected places.

Berkeley's streets hold many surprises, some unpleasant, some wonderful.  Among the latter are the poems have been embedded in the sidewalk along a downtown street, some on metal plaques, some on multi-colored tiles.  One could spend quite a bit time reading them and have more to show for it than merely a stiff neck.

Other sidewalk tiles recall important events in the history of the city.  Berkeley's reputation for leftist politics is not recently acquired.

 Nor are the non-native trees covering the hillsides.

And the '60s refuse to be forgotten.