Saturday, January 14, 2012

Los Angeles, California

Mann Chinese Theater
For some reason the thought of visiting Los Angeles always reminds me of the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote from his 1997 commencement address at MIT, "Live in New York once, but leave before it makes you hard; Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft." I recognize that Los Angeles is not in fact in NORTHERN California but LA makes me think of it all the same.
Because let's face it, he was right, wasn't he. When you add in not just Los Angeles, but also the diverse communities that surround it as well; places like Anaheim, Long Beach, Malibu, and so many other must-see places, there is just too much to take in for a tourist. A person kind of has to live there for a while to really take it all in, which is why I say that LA is probably a better place to live than it is a place to visit. But that's not to say that it isn't worth it as a tourist destination too. It is a far better thing to see it and know how much you've left undone, than to never have seen any of it at all.

The Sites

I would encourage anyone to see the local museum in every city that they visit on principle alone, but some museums deserve some special recognition, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is one such place. Located in Hancock Park, which is also the site of the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Though I must admit that the tar pits themselves were rather underwhelming, their contents on display at the Page Museum are facinating.
"Five Car Stud"
The Page Museum is right next to the art museum campus which was huge; consisting of no less than 9 buildings and took us quite a while to get all the way through. Of all the pieces in LACMA's vast collection of modern art and sculpture, the one that stood out the most was a tableau by Edward Kienholz called "Five Car Stud" which was a shocking, potent and powerful piece depicting the hatred that many whites felt towards minorities and interracial relationships in the not so distant past. The life sized sculptures of 6 masked figures holding down and castrating a black man while his white girlfriend is forced to watch is a graphic and shocking reminder of our culture's dark history, and I will carry that image with me forever.
I was also impressed by the LACAM's Pavillion for Japanese Art which was a beautiful piece of architecture, which, inside, had a pathway that snaked through the building from painting to painting, to give the viewer the feel of walking through a peaceful Japanese garden. It was a wonderful setup.

Helena Bonham Carter

Bill Maher
There is nothing that screams LA as much as a trek to Hollywood. Ursa and I got a wonderful opportunity to go on a ride-along tour with actual paparazzi, Rick Mendoza. Coincidentally, Rick was the paparazzo involved in an incident in 2007 when Britney Spears drove over and broke his foot with her car. Mr. Mendoza has since recovered, and we had a wonderful tour through both Beverly Hills and Hollywood with Rick telling us about the sites as we drove from photo-op to photo-op.
One of our first stops was at the house in Beverly Hills which was formerly the mansion where "The Osbournes" was filmed. Currently the home is owned by Christina Aguilera. We waited for a bit to see if we could get a glimpse of Christina heading out and got a lesson from Rick in paparazzi 101. After a while, we saw a stylist going into the house with his bags so we knew that it would be a while before Christina came out for the night so we moved on.
Warren Beatty and Annette Bening
We eventually made our way to Hollywood Boulevard, where, at Chateau Marmont we found an after-party for the Golden Globe Awards that was being held. It was an exciting chance to get some red carpet pics of a great list of stars. Celebrities like Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Maher, Juliette Lewis, and Gavin Rossdale among others. I was surprised not by the paparazzi so much, but by the conduct of the autograph seekers who were present. I expected the photographers to be insistent but the autograph hounds were the ones who were like a pack of jackals! They were pushy, obsessive and rude. One called Gavin Rossdale a prick for not signing whatever piece of memorabilia he was brandishing. Which Rick used as an example to help give the lie to some of the reputation of the "stalkerazzi", in that most of the time, the paparazzo let the autograph hounds do the stalking for them.  

Malibu sunset

From Anahime's theme parks to the Hollywood sign, there is a lot of city exploring to be done in Los Angeles, but in all the bustling about, don't forget to take some time to breathe in some ocean air from one of the many area beaches.
During our trip to California last January, we took a very nice dinner cruise on the ocean from Newport Beach, up the coast and back again. We also witnessed a breathtaking sunset on Zuma Beach in Malibu. But during our most recent holiday in LA last month, we wanted to go do some people watching at the famous Venice Beach. Unfortunately, while being out on a beach in December when the weather is in the high 60's might seem very reasonable to a couple of Alaskans on vacation, it is apparently pure anathema to the Los Angelenos because the beach was completely empty! Miles and miles of pristine sand with nobody on it. C'est la vie, at least we had a very nice stroll through the sand and got a good look at the neighborhood and the canal for which the beach was named. At any rate, take my advice and make a point to enjoy the beaches, a trip to southern California just wouldn't be the same without it.


I would love to regale you with stories of the posh, high end, gourmet restaurants which are aplenty in LA, but the truth is that I have to agree with Anthony Bourdain when he says, "What LA does better than just about anywhere in the country is that low-end, strip mall Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mexican. San Francisco maybe has better midrange; New York has better high end. But LA has it over just about everybody on the low end, and I love that stuff." 
He's totally right, we had some absolutely jaw dropping sushi at this very unassuming, and undecorated place called Orange Sushi, and on another evening, after our visit to the museum, we found a great Indian restaurant with a beautiful ambiance called India's Grill, which was tucked away in the corner of a little plaza. The one place that we DID make a point to go out of our way to eat at was having some of the massive pancakes from The Griddle Cafe. In the past, I have seen news footage of Boy Scout troops trying to cook the world's largest pancake, and so those are of course bigger, but the pancakes at The Griddle were the largest pancakes that I've ACTUALLY seen with my own eyes. And they were not just big in size, or their sheer weight (I promise you that my leftovers had to weigh at least five pounds!) but they were also over the top in the variety of flavors that they offered. I ordered the "Hear Me Roar" which had strawberries and Frosted Flakes mixed into the batter. And yes, they were in fact "GRRRRRRREAT". Ursa got the uber-decadent, "A Time To Love" which was filled with butterscotch chips and caramel. It was for all intents and purposes, diabetes on a plate. . . and it was delicious!

Home Cooking

As I'm going on about pancakes, I figured I'd post on here my special blueberry pancake recipe. I feel bad for not having made this more recently, but I'm kinda trying to eat more sensible breakfasts when at home. Yet, I can rarely resist breaking this recipe out when blueberries are in season back home in Anchorage.

Blueberry Pancakes

2 Cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Cup yogurt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 Cup club soda
2 eggs (beaten)
6 Tablespoons butter
3 Cups blueberries
Confectioner's sugar/maple syrup

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the yogurt and baking soda, and let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. Add the yogurt mixture, club soda, and eggs to the flour mixture and whisk together until we combined. Let stand 10 minutes.

Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add batter, 1/4 cup at a time (spread the batter out with a spoon if necessary). Cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pancake (about 2 minutes). Top with blueberries, use a spoon to press the blueberries into the uncooked batter. Flip and cook until done (about 2 minutes more). Top with confectioner's sugar and maple syrup to taste, and serve hot.


In terms of live entertainment, Los Angeles can compete with any major city in the world and probably come out on top. The clubs along the Sunset Strip like The Whiskey a Go GoThe Roxy, or The Viper Room all hold special places in Rock & Roll lore. They've seen the likes of The Byrds, The Doors, Montley Crue, Guns and Roses, and virtually every major artist in between. 
Joe Satriani shredding at The Orpheum
In January of 2011 while in LA, Ursa and I had the opportunity to see guitar virtuoso, Joe Satriani play at The Orpheum. It was a very cool show, but I've got to say that as a venue, the Orpheum is due for a bit of an upgrade. Like airliners, the theater has tried to maximize it's capacity by having tiny seats, mashed close together. I'm sure they make a little extra profit out it, but it mostly just succeeds in pissing off concertgoers. Apart from that though, the show was really good. And it wasn't just Satch shredding on his guitar that made it good, it was also a well set up stage set that was cool as well. I like it when artists remember the importance of stagecraft, lighting, sound and whatnot. It is a forgotten art all too often.
One place that I have yet to be able to go is to see a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is a stunning building, designed by one of my favorite architects, Frank Gehry. The home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra is reportedly as amazing on the inside as it is on the outside. The next time I'm in the LA area we will surely make a special effort to see it ourselves.

All in all, we have enjoyed ourselves every time we've come to Los Angeles. And we will be back for more. The one drawback about LA is that you have to plan your trip here so much more carefully because of how spread out everything is. It seems like wherever you're going is on the opposite end of town from where you currently are. All the driving bothered Ursa less than me, but I for one was starting to get pretty annoyed by the time we left. Yet, I suppose that if a little bit of traffic tedium is the worst thing to encounter in a city than the trip isn't so bad.
Well, that pretty much wraps up our California road trip, and the travel calender is empty for me until our Mexico trip in March, so for the next month and a half I'll be trying to do some updates and edits to these existing posts. I want to add a "history" section, and maybe a "culture" section as well, so look for those in the coming weeks. Until then, bye!

Ursa and Sonny Ray

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