Seeing Red, Los Angeles

The Santa Clarita brush fire, blazing over 4,050 hectares, has shrouded L.A. county in a dull haze. The sun appears red, the bruised clouds are tinged pink. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that midday’s 32 C heat has now dropped by five degrees. Whether the cool break is helping the firefighters with their massive undertaking, I don’t know. I hope so.

The latest news from CBS states:

10% containment

1,500 home evacuated

1 structure destroyed.

These photos were taken near Santa Monica, located 53 kilometers south of Santa Clarita, at 4.30 in the afternoon. When I returned to the same spot an hour later, the red sun had disappeared.

The word "apocalypse" is being overused so frequently today, it's in danger of turning into a cliche.

The word “apocalypse” has been used so much today, it’s in danger of becoming a cliche.

Firs against bruised skies.

Firs against bruised skies.

The streets are quiet.

The streets are quiet.

Going it solo.

Going it solo.

A patch of blue sky over Beverly Hills.

A patch of blue sky over Beverly Hills.

Groggy clouds.

Groggy clouds.

A Cliched Spring Day, Los Angeles

I took an hour-long sabbatical from my desk to stop and smell spring’s roses. Why save it for a rainy day?

NB: All pictures taken with my not-so-flashy phone camera.

Make Lemonade

Make LemonadePushing Up DaisiesFloral carpet

Between A Rock and A Hard Place

agaveSilver Lining

Palm fringed horizonMade In The Shade

In the shadow of palmsOn Middle Ground

Racing stripeSturdy As A Fir Tree

real firDon’t Gild The Lily

cala lilyKarma Camellia Carma Camelia

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose

roses are redHow Green Was My Alley

how green is this alleyA Place In The Sun

Modern Home

 

 

Los Angeles After the Rain, CA

The Santa Monica Mountains are flush with wildflowers and new grass thanks to long-overdue rainfall in the lead up to spring. Even the freeways look beautiful from up here.

Getty Center, a fantastic museum with free admission, and the 405 freeway

Getty Center, a fantastic museum with free admission, and the 405 freeway

Matchbox cars on the 405 freeway

Matchbox cars on the 405 freeway

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

The Getty View trail

The Getty View trail

Looks like lavender

Looks like lavender

Across the dividing canyon

Across the dividing canyon

Los Angeles' sunlight brings everything to life

Los Angeles’ sunlight brings everything to life

Views of the Getty Center on Casiano Road, heading back to the 405.

Views of the Getty Center on Casiano Road, heading back to the 405.

 

Summer in Australia, 2016

I found myself in Sydney at the height of summer for a very special occasion: my sister’s wedding. That Sunday was absolutely beautiful — rain showers had given way to a sunny day, which led to a stunning evening celebration that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

In between wedding preparations, I fit in travel around Sydney, Byron Bay, and Melbourne.  Australia thrives; it bursts with talent and pulsates with energy. Those side trips delivered in spades.

Back in LA, feeling a tad homesick, I’ve jotted my top experiences to relive those happy days. I’m here to assist with specific information or tips if you’re planning a trip Down Under. Just ask in the comments section:

MY TOP 5 AUSSIE MOMENTS

  1. ABORIGINAL HERITAGE TOUR, SYDNEY

Ever since the Sydney Olympics of 2000, Australia has amplified its reconciliation efforts with the Aboriginal people. An interesting way to understand their heritage is on the Royal Botanic Garden’s Aboriginal Heritage Tour, during which I learned more in 90 minutes than I did in history class at high school.

Reading about the tour  in a pamphletby chance, I signed up for a Friday visit before my flight back home (tours run a few times a week). That morning, our small group was led by guide/actor Leon Burchill (he starred in Wyrmwood), who shared his knowledge about Aboriginal life, specifically in relation to the Cadigal people, who’d lived on the land we were treading. On a walk through the Cadi Jam Ora portion of the Garden, Leon told us that Aboriginals have a strong attachment to Mother Earth and don’t take any more than is needed from nature. Here, he pointed out lemon myrtle, used to relieve headaches; bottle brush leaves, to flavour food; casuarina trees, to make canoes; and lomandra grass, to make bags. The best part? When Leon played the didgeridoo.

Leon Burchill on the didgeridoo

Leon Burchill on the didgeridoo

Me with the star

Me with the star: Leon Burchill

2. COSMOPOLITAN BONDI, SYDNEY

Yes, Sydney’s most famous beach is beautiful, especially when it is seen from Icebergs’ dining room or the downstairs RSL Club  (both only serve lunch after 12pm, so order a drink while you wait). But, perhaps the most interesting food spots are located a short walk away, on cosmopolitan Gould and Hall streets. We stayed in the recently opened QT Bondi — so hip it sells a beard grooming kit in the mini bar — overlooking Gould, making street access easy (the hotel has no ocean views). The pour-over coffees at Sensory Lab were excellent, as was the coconut cake. Dining at the new Bills on Hall Street was on the agenda (so was dinner at A Tavola), but we missed our reservation as we ran out of time.

Views from Bondi RSL

Views from Bondi RSL

Pour over coffees and cake at Sensory Lab

Pour over coffees and cake at Sensory Lab

3. BYRON BAY, NORTHEAST NSW

Byron Bay is marketed as a mecca of all things hip and artisinal. And it is, when you travel away from its tourist-filled beach, where every accent other than Australian fills the air. I especially loved staying in the Byron hinterland near Newrybar, at Gaia Retreat & Spa (co-owned by Olivia Newton-John), which employs some of the most gifted healers and therapists I’ve met. I highly recommend the Intuition Massage with Gisele Faddoul, as well as the Kahuna massage, best experienced in the outdoor screened treatment room. Meals at the restaurant are fantastic — so fresh and innovative in their presentation and use of superfoods. My favourite meditation spot was on a day bed by the Buddha statue at Samira Lookout. There’s something spiritual about this spot and I hope to return again.

Samira lookout at Gaia Retreat

Samira lookout at Gaia Retreat

Gaia's version of the Caesar Salad

Gaia’s version of the Caesar Salad

Dazzling sunsets at Gaia

Dazzling sunsets at Gaia

4. NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE

Walking to the gallery from our hotel (Ovolo Laneways, located in the middle of Melbourne), we worked up a sweat. Retreating into the gallery from the 40C temperatures made our visit more enjoyable. Jokes aside, the Ai WeiWei and Andy Warhol exhibit is fun and pretty extraordinary. It features 300 works by the artists that find parallel in their production values and methods of social engagement. If you’ve seen Warhol’s Silver Clouds, an interactive balloon exhibit, you’ll like Ai Wei Wei’s Caonima Balloon Bird Balloon of llamas and Twitter birds. Other standout artworks include Ai Wei Wei’s Blossom (2015), composed of thousands of white porcelain flowers, and his political project, With Flowers (2013-15), a collection of photographs taken of the bouquets the artist placed in a bicycle basket outside his studio for every day he wasn’t able to travel without his confiscated passport. The exhibit ends April 24, 2016. Go!!

Melnourne skyline and Yarra River on the way to the gallery

Melbourne skyline and Yarra River, seen along the way to the gallery

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

Ai Wei Wei's

Ai Wei Wei’s interactive balloon exhibit

5. IL BACARO

The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is not dissimilar to the one that plays out between  NYC and LA. Sydney is the flashier of the two, with her beautiful harbour and world-famous beaches, whereas Melbourne feels more cultured, with her European good looks, art-filled alleyways, and excellent Italian food.

My older brother travels a lot for work and recommended Il Bacaro for a modern Italian meal. We walked into the intimate, white-linen dining room and managed to score two seats at the bar. The food was fabulous: Wagyu carpaccio with dill mayonnaise; charred scallops, made into flat spaghetti, with asparagus; rabbit cannelloni; and a dreamy agave nectar cheesecake made with airy ricotta. After my husband toured the kitchen (when the staff learned of his Italian restaurant in California, they took him by the arm), we finished off a memorable dinner with Amaro.

Cheers to Il Bacaro

Cheers to Il Bacaro

And that, dear readers, is a snippet of my time in Australia.

Dream On: Cirque’s KURIOS show at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

While much of America tuned into the Republican debate last night, I was watching curiosities of a different kind at KURIOS – Cabinet des Curiosités created by the enigmatic Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. This show may not tour as long as the run for presidency (it ends in Los Angeles on February 7, 2016 before visiting Atlanta, Boston, NY, and DC), but it is a wonderful way to get lost in theatrical alchemy: acrobatics, steam punk fashion, otherwordly creatures, and soaring vocals by the brilliant Greek singer, Erini Tornesaki.

As soon as you enter the Cirque’s big top tent, or the Grand Chapiteau, you give yourself over to Kurios‘ fantastical world of the late 19th century, an era of steam power and engineering that influenced a whole subgenre of science fiction (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, HG Wells’ Time Machine) and steam punk culture.

Our Kurios scientist is the inventor of a machine that transcends time and space. When the clock freezes at 11.11 — wishing hour — we’re introduced to the main characters in his cabinet of curiosities. There’s an accordion-shaped man; a telegraph named Klara in a hoop skirt that transmits messages; and Mr Microcosmos, the embodiment of the technological process, whose subconscious takes the form of a tiny lady named Mini Lili that lives in his boiler-as-potbelly.

I love Cirque for its contortionists, acrobats, and balancing acts, and in this show, they’re  as amazing as ever. A quartet of bendy ladies dressed as sea creatures effortlessly twist into unreal poses atop a giant mechanical hand. Twin aerialists display muscular strength while arm balancing on a set of rings. Rebounding off of an Acro Net, artists jump, flip, and glide through the air like swimmers in the sea. And just when you thought you’d seen it all, a chair balance taking place at a dinner party is interrupted by a second party happening above, upside down, on the ceiling. Suddenly, two sets of chairs  are being stacked towards each other from opposite directions. Teetering on the brink, they finally touch.

Perhaps the most unexpected act of the show is the finger puppetry, where one hand, costumed in sneakers and a baseball cap, dances to hip hop, swims, and performs skateboard moves on a mini theatre stage — all filmed with live video that’s projected onto a giant screen — before taking off in a hot air balloon. The act ends as a love story (there’s a second set of fingers involved) on top of an audience member’s head. It shouldn’t make sense, but it does – a perfect example of success in bizarre experimentation.

That’s the thing about Cirque du Soleil. It asks us to embrace the unexpected and stretch beyond our imaginations. I’m always compelled to write more, dream bigger, and read fiction after a show (I’m about to watch Oz the Great and Powerful actually). In Kurios, an invisible theatre act forces you to fill the void of the unseen characters whose presence is only made apparent by the consequences of their movements. Sound strange? It is, but it can be as crazy as you imagine it.

Other acts include the gripping Rola Bola that involves an aviator balancing atop a stack of tubes on a swing; a yo-yo extraordinaire (he lends a retro air); an aerial cyclist; and acrobats performing mesmerising synchronised sequences.

The whirlwind two-hour performance comes to an end when the Kurios clock flips to 11.12. As we filed out, I dared the performance to inhabit my dreams.

Photos Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca

Changing San Francisco, CA

I can be annoying to travel with.  I’m usually the first to shower and get dressed because I’m itching to go, walk, and explore.

But, when something slows me down, I’m probably also reaching for the camera.

This happened on a recent October morning in San Francisco, when the view from the hotel room pulled me away from the door. See the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Alcatraz? Now, imagine watching them rouse as the light changes from grey to pink to white.

Seeing San Francisco from this point of view gave me a whole new appreciation for the city. It also reminded me to stay in the moment.

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 40 floors up

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 43 floors up

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

Cafe Cubano in Little Havana, Miami

Cubans like their coffee short and sweet.

It’s called cafe Cubano, that shot of coffee covered with a rich layer of crema, created when beating in sugar renders the liquid smooth and syrupy. And yes, it packs a punch. A shy, young girl on our culinary tour had a headache, but after a couple of shots from the local ventanita on Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s “Main Street”), she was fluttering like a social butterfly. Coffee does that to you. Or maybe Little Havana was rubbing off on her. All I know is that I’d like to return for an empanada.

On the main street, Calle Ocho

On the main street, Calle Ocho

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with crema

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with sweet crema

A picadillo-filled empanada

A picadillo-filled empanada

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, about 10 minutes away from downtown

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, located about 10 minutes from downtown