The weather has been so delightful lately, that I realized it was time to invite people to visit Southern California before it’s too late and we are either roasting alive or dying of thirst, LOL! These are my insider’s tips on visiting La-La land: the only five places you will need to know to party like a native. ;-)
New York is the place to visit in autumn, as I wrote last year. Spring is the time to visit LA. When I was reflecting on Los Angeles, and trying to summarize what it is about LA that is so attractive to people — apart from endless sunshine, that is, natch — the word seductive came to mind.
A few years ago, I read this book about France and the French character. It is worth reading just to see how differently the French look at everyday life, relationships, food, tourists, Americans etc. Not to say that they are right or wrong, necessarily but truly it is a culture apart. France is seductive.
Los Angeles is like that. Someone should write a book about it (note to self). Unlike NYC that instantly triggers love or hate, Los Angeles sidles up to you and lures you in with that sultry come hither environment that allows everyone to be utterly, nakedly themselves. And that is no mere metaphor. You have permission to be as uninhibited and as outrageously ‘you’, as you want here — and that is what I love most about this city, its welcoming diversity.
There are three urban hubs that you need to hit if you want to understand California. In some ways it should be two or three states. San Francisco and San Diego are distinctive megalopolises with their own sphere of influence and mindsets. You won’t get to know or understand all three, by just visiting one of them.
People everywhere are drawn to Los Angeles, but not for the beaches, because, honestly, there are others far more beautiful. If you are looking for the ideal beach environment, go to Cape Cod, Monterey, the Northeastern coast of Brazil or the Caribbean. Don’t come to LA for that.
People love Los Angeles because of its gigantic entertainment industry and the allure of being close to the stars. If you are a wannabe, the magnetism of LA is powerful and rightly so. But, I think the true main attraction of LA is that, you can park philosophies and ideologies at the threshold when you land at LAX and step into a completely welcoming, accepting culture that signals immediately: anything goes. Relax, have a great time. Not a Hawaii-lie-around-the-pool great time. A get-out-there-and-have-a-ball. Mingle, go to barbecues, hit the club scene, do a night on the town. Be free to enjoy yourself, however you like. Angelenos are incredibly outgoing and friendly, right away. They don’t need time to warm up to you. For a transplanted NYer it was palpable immediately. Smiles and welcomes, sincere ones, not papier-mâché politeness, characterizes the citizenry.
Last week, my cousin was in Los Angeles on an assignment. She always stays at the London West Hollywood. Claire and I chatted in her sleek ultra-modern suite and then went up to the roof patio for dinner. It was a beautiful clear day looking out over LA on the top floor of the hotel in late afternoon. As we were sitting there gabbing, afloat over the city, evening fell, draping everything with its violet shawl. All around us was a crystal view of the sprawl that is the LA metropolis, its lights flickering on and the stars popping out overhead. Some miles to the east, Downtown appeared as a cluster of glittering stacks that huddled together like intimate giants sharing a secret. Farther along Wilshire, Century City was gazing across the concourse toward Westwood. It was pure magic.
Come to Los Angeles between April and July. Summers here are too brutal now, the autumn is unremarkable and the winters, well, they can be misty and dull.
Here is where I would start. Stay at one of the newly restored more affordable hotels Downtown or on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. There is a lot to do at night on this stretch of the Strip. If you like off-off-off Broadway entertainment, lol, the Strip is the place to go. Start at the Whiskey. You can walk to it from the London WH, and frankly, that is where I would stay. Rooms average about US$350, reasonable by LA standards. The other advantage you would have is being able to get to Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, the Melrose restaurant row very easily, even using LA’s notoriously limited public transportation. I have ridden the Metro bus and train system locally and they are clean, air conditioned, safe and comfortable. Not like London, Paris or NY, not efficient, fast and ubitquitous, but good. You can even get to Downtown and Pasadena using public transportation, from a central hub of West Hollywood. Hollywood itself is also east on Sunset, so you couldn’t ask for a better place as home base.
Not to oversell this location, you can also take Sunset to Santa Monica, Brentwood and Venice Beach. Although, as I will explain in a minute, I would suggest the South Bay or Beach Cities instead. They are far more exemplary of what Angelenos consider beach living, while Santa Monica and Venice are for tourists.
From the hub you choose, I would visit the following places, depending on how much time you have:
- Downtown, LA
- West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose
- South Bay beach cities: Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach
- Beverly Hills/Westwood
As you plan your visit, just remember the LA Golden rule:
Everything is always 45 minutes away from everything else …
Downtown, as I have said previously somewhere on this blog, is really hopping now. If there is a happening place in LA, DT is it. It is packed with restaurants, clubs, bars, loft-hotels and entertainment. The Disney Concert Hall, the Chandler Pavillion complex and other similar venues for traditional theater- and concert-going are at the north end. There are museums and cathedrals as well as the very trendy and cool Grand Central Market that is worth an afternoon of eating and coffee in itself.
There is also a fab Art Walk that takes you around to galleries and the hidden creative underground/grunge that makes LA appealing for millennials right now, from burning men to urban hipsters. The Natural History Museum and the Staples Center are at the bottom of DT LA and both are worth the trip. Just walk up and down the north/south artery of Figueroa and you will see a history of architecture from the 18th through the 21st centuries, rising on either side of you. While you are doing that, make sure to stop at Fig&7th to have a snack or a drink and get in a bit of shopping. Just a block or two north and you can eat at the famous, original Pantry, continuously open since 1924. Or take Wilshire from DT, via the Metros, all the way West to the beach, and watch the progress of the city the automobile built, materialize as you go.
And while you are there, make sure you have afternoon English tea at the Biltmore Hotel. It is an LA institution and I guarantee you will gape at the world’s glitterati parading around you as they stream into DT in droves, snapping up refurbished buildings to re-rent out or install start-ups. It is very reasonably priced at about $200 per night for old world luxury.
When we are DT, we eat at various places. You can always grab a bite at the Grand Central Market, with all its many food stalls. If you are deep in the dough, try the Water Grill for perfect food in a flawless upscale environment. If, like us, you are on a budget, head to the Fisherman’s Outlet. An LA legend is Philippe’s for sandwiches.
West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose I probably don’t need to tell you too much about this part of LA, West of Downtown. This is the hub of the night scene. There is shopping, of course, with a robust array of boutiques and galleries. But clubs and restaurants are the main draw. The Viper Room, Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy Theatre and all sorts of sky bars are strung along Sunset. Just drop your stuff at the hotel and head out in either direction on the Boulevard and you will stumble on them. Whenever I am in this area and I have time, I make my way over to Little Ethiopia for lunch. Not only is it affordable, it is exotic and exquisite food made and served by natives. Try Messob, my fave.
Pasadena may be a bit more staid but for my money, skip the Getty and the LACMA and head straight to the Norton Simon Museum, Gamble House, Asia Pacific Museum and Huntington Library and gardens that stretch from one end of Old Pasadena to the other. There is more shopping and eating in Pasadena, with every kind of food from all over the world, than in any place outside of DT LA. It is a beautiful, pristine, elegant old city that has been updated and now boasts an influx of condo dwellers at an unprecedented rate. Every possible kind of entertainment is available and you can walk to it, from the Metro which has several stations in Old Town. Definitely check out The Pasadena Playhouse for live theater, as well as various cinema complexes up and down the main east-west thoroughfare — especially at The Paseo –, Colorado Boulevard. You can attend free concerts all summer at the Levitt Pavilion or the symphony at the stunning, world class Ambassador Auditorium.
Make sure you stop by the largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vromans and have a homemade sundae at the 100 year old Fairoaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena. Eat dinner at the incomparable El Cholo, for Mexican food, SoCal style.
Southbay/The Beach Cities This may be a bit out of the way, unless you have a car. If so, head west on Sunset to the 405/San Diego Freeway and points south. Get off at Rosecrans and go west to Pacific Coast Highway, turning south again. You will be in Manhattan Beach, the largest of the three. Turn right on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and take it down to the Ocean. There you will find yourself amid the real coupon-clipping laid back millionaires that teem all over this part of LA. These are the Angelenos who never work. Everywhere around you will be bronzed blonds zipping along in Italian convertibles. There are literally dozens of places to eat, in every price range, as well as boutiques and bars. But, of course, as you rise over the crest of the hill on MB Blvd., you will see the Pacific gleaming and winking ahead of you. Bring a towel and beach wear. This is the place to watch the roller-bladers gliding along The Strand in front of the multi-million dollar manses that perch at the sand’s edge. Take your margarita down there and imagine what life would be like if you had nothing to do every day but gaze out at the ocean liners and Catalina, while your help kept you supplied with refreshments.
MBch is the best kept secret in the Southland. Try the ancient Kettle for lunch and Love&Salt for dinner. Farther down PCH pointing south is Hermosa Beach. Like Manhattan, it is for play not work, but trendier, younger, hipper and more bohemian. Finally, a bit farther down is Redondo Beach. It has the Pier and attracts an older, quieter crowd. You can’t go wrong with any of the three. Hermosa has a comedy club that is actually fabulous. You never know who is going to do a gig there, often well known comics, so check before you go and reserve a seat.
Beverly Hills/ Bel Air/ Westwood I typically avoid the first two. By the way, Century City is in this area but it is largely businesses and residential. There is not much there to recommend you spend time in CC when you could be Downtown, in Manhattan Beach, or Pasadena. Beverly Hills needs little introduction. If mansion-crawling is your thing, just go west on Sunset from West Hollywood, and you will be in Bel Air in ten minutes. It is self-explanatory once you see the sign (you can’t miss it). If you find yourself in Bel Air, visit the North side of the UCLA campus, the old part of this 419 acre magnificat. You shouldn’t waste time looking at houses in BH, the main attraction of which is that Sultanic mecca known as Rodeo Drive. By the way, if you want to stay in this part of LA and actually go to the LACMA anyway, you can stay at the iconic Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman). But, it’s pricey.
Don’t bother eating in BH either. Overpriced, overhyped, mediocre food. No celebs will be eating there, just tourists. Eat instead in Westwood, the home village of UCLA, SoCal’s other premiere University (beside CalTech). There are so many fantastic places to eat in Westwood, I would need another post for them. Our favorite is Native Foods.
Ok, ok, I hear you saying, but what if I absolutely must tell people I ate in Beverly Hills and money is no object? Then absolutely, you have to go to Crustacean, if for nothing else, the experience of the place. You won’t be sorry — broke, but happy. If you just need to use a restroom and grab a snack so you won’t faint while shopping, go to Neiman Marcus, located on Wilshire.
Then head over to Westwood, gape at billionaire’s row on Wilshire as you approach the Westwood Village, and rest on the UCLA south campus after all this activity.
By the way, there are three more items you might want to consider: LAX, Burbank Airport and Union Station. If you want to start in the South Bay and see these three beautiful and entertaining beach cities, by all means fly into LAX. They are just 15 minutes south on the 405 Freeway. If you want to start in Pasadena or West Hollywood? Use the very nice, easy, safe Burbank Airport, you will be just minutes away from both. If you plan to start Downtown, consider taking Amtrak to Union Station and see a classic with one of the best restaurants anywhere, Traxx.
That’s it. If you just hit those five key spots, you will be immersed in LA and totally ‘get it’ ever after.
Images: Beth Byrnes, The London West Hollywood and The Examiner
In my previous post I mentioned that I plan to illustrate my new focus for this next year, both here and on Flickr, on living a beautiful life and the beauty of California, in a few posts and photos. It is such a vast topic, that I may not cover every angle, just some aspects of my theory that the universe evolves toward beauty as a direct outgrowth of moving toward order in all things (interjections of periodic chaos aside). This is a start (although I have talked about some of this in earlier posts).
The response I have gotten from all of you has been overwhelming and we have welcomed many new friends here as a result of this simple re-orientation. Clearly people are longing for beauty and happiness. And health, which is one of my obsessions. So many of this community are revolutionizing their diets and feeling better and better. My good friend Robin often posts healthy tips that I learn from. Many others of you have too, so please remind me and let me know if I may include a link to your blog or post here.
This past weekend we went down to celebrate Father’s Day with Geoffrey’s family at the beach. It was pleasant enough weather there, almost 20 degrees cooler than at our place, even though it is less than an hour away. As usual, they served what they believe to be great food — this SIL has every cookbook, tool and technique on earth in her huge kitchen — and happily announced that they also made a feast for us, the two pesky vegans, by serving raw vegetables and “side dishes”. Well, they tried and I know it is hard for those who build a meal around meat to understand what a delicious vegan meal consists of.
Luckily, we always eat before we go. They served barbecued spare ribs, sugar-sprinkled corn fritters, bottled sauces, and three pale raw salads made from various vegetables and grains — all cold, all marinated. Dessert was two cakes and a towering bowl of fresh whipped cream. There was the usual round of drinks and we sat convivially out on a patio under an enormous fruit tree. Ocean breezes brought the scents of flowers. A lovely setting and good intentions.
Staring at those sticky strips of fatty pig flesh and bone, I was reminded once again of why I love being a non-animal eater. Food should be beautiful, vivid and exquisitely tasty. Now, what does that really mean? There is an ancient theory, based on the wisdom of the prior ages, that things we are meant to embrace will signal their appropriate character by attracting us in elegant ways: lovely colors, scents, pleasing shapes, soothing textures, soul-satisfying settings, etc. One of the people who took this up and created a popular line of ‘remedies’ was Edward Bach, the renowned English homeopath of the last century whose products are still sold in every health emporium all over the world.
Dr. Bach was not the only healer who spoke of this — it was and is an entire movement. For those of us who are artists, the idea has a natural appeal with no further explanation needed. When I do something, I always try to incorporate beauty. Meals are no exception.
There are other arenas in which this is true. Take music, for example. The classical genre was built on harmony and the identification of chords that blend to create sounds that beautify the mind and imagination. Just listen to someone like J. S. Bach or Pachelbel, Sibelius, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Handel, Vivaldi, Saint-Saens, Paganini, Schumann, Fauré to name a few. My favorite music is of the 15th and 16th centuries. When you listen to the earliest music, often meant for the lute and other modal instruments (precursors to the modern stringed orchestral versions), you will find a simple, direct, penetrating but subtle vibrance that is all but lost in more contemporary pedestrian genres, like rock (a lot of which I love, by the way), pop, hip-hop and rap.
It still lingers in the earliest form of country music, which we call in the US, Traditional or Mountain music. You find a wonderful version in the environs of Appalachia, which we know as Fiddle Tunes. Jazz, some of the best from the pre-1950s era that saw its rise and proliferation, also exhibits these qualities. Irish Celtic music from over 1000 years ago, has this same quality. As does Bulgarian and Albanian a capella choral folk music. It is all delicate, immediately accessible, haunting, calming, energizing. These last two qualities are what all our surroundings should supply: calm and energy. They are not opposites, they work together and produce health at all levels, physical, emotional, mental, and social.
These things are beautiful. We recognize that feature in them immediately. This is not an intellectual knowledge, it is visceral and inchoate.
Back to the meal on Sunday. It is exactly what people eat who, in my opinion, have little idea of either health or harmony. There is nothing beautiful about the flesh of an animal on a plate. What people have done to make it palatable, is to mask its true nature in a variety of ways. Every single thing that can be done to animal flesh, can be done to other more health-giving foods. If you have ever seen a raw and bleeding wound on any living creature, that is what you are eating. It is naturally repulsive in its original state. By the time it has been re-conceived and re-presented and re-branded with euphemisms and ends up on your plate, it has lost some of the natural signals that it once possessed to alert you that it isn’t a good idea to consume this. It wasn’t pretty, much less beautiful. You can set aside for the moment the fact of the sentient being and how it met its end, so it could land on your plate — we can talk about that sometime as I have a library full of information on that particular topic. I am now talking about health and the vibrant qualities our food should have.
But, of course, human beings have been doing this for a very long time. That is a deceptive but compelling argument if you haven’t studied anthropology thoroughly, and it has emerged lately as the Viking or Paleo diet. Our earliest ancestors were largely vegans (there was no dairy) and opportunistic feeders. When they happened upon kills, they only consumed the leftovers from real carnivores (we are designed like herbivores). This was usually singed bone that was easily cracked to get the tender and fatty marrow it contained or the occasional roasted internal organ. It was in very small quantities and sporadic, not habitual. Not three times or more a day. Not processed. Not from an animal penned for life. If we look to the natural diet of the great apes in the wild today, we will have a picture of very early man’s diet as well.
And our ancestors moved a great deal more than we do. In fact, they trotted most of the time. And they stood or squatted, rarely sitting. They were largely foragers, gatherers far longer than they were hunters, and then quickly evolved to farming. And the amount of roughage ingested along with the scant animal proteins was cleansing to the long, winding, dark, narrow intestinal tract that we share with other hominoids (like primates), in stark contrast to the short, large intestines of carnivores.
We can argue about the necessity of animal product consumption to the development of homo sapiens and the brain as an historic fact, scientifically verified. I would contend, if this were a more analytical and scholarly piece here, that other factors (bipedalism, standing upright to navigate, seed-eating with our prehensile grip, and others) — no longer present in modern society — were just as instrumental in producing man today.
But this is clear. We don’t eat like our great-grandparents and grandparents did. Post industrial revolution food production has drastically changed western diets. Exponentially so, post WWII. We are now eating many times the amount of unhealthy fats, refined sugars and toxic salts in processed, packaged items than we were designed to handle efficiently and safely. It has been pushed on us by lobbyists. Our food “experts” have been bought off and the unwitting public has been thoroughly brainwashed. Con Agra anyone? And, I can say with confidence, that our meats while tender are tasteless. If you have ever eaten beef or chicken in countries where farm animals spend their lives walking in fresh air and feeding naturally, you know what I mean (Switzerland, Holland, Brazil are among many examples).
The average under-40 American looks and usually feels pretty good. But by 50, most are overweight (if not obese), tired, stressed, anxious, depressed, with multiple illnesses and loosening teeth. If you were to open the usual medicine cabinet of 95% of American homes, you would see a small pharmacy that attests to this point. The first 40 years of poor dietary and physical practices is largely responsible for the second 40 years of increasing woes. It catches up with us eventually. Not only physically, but in every way.
Do people believe they love the meat and dairy laden meals they are eating? Oh, yes! And there is a medical term for this: dysgeusia (taste perversion). It is the result of habit, reinforced by other emotional factors associated with eating, meals, and a full stomach starting when we are born.
Eating cooked flesh of any creature is not beautiful, nor is it necessary for modern Westerners.
Fruits and vegetables are like flowers: they are beautiful to behold and exquisitely nourishing on all levels. They are environmentally safe to cultivate and just the savings in efficient land use alone would solve this planet’s hunger cheaply, effectively, and humanely.
They are like good music: immediately appealing when properly prepared and created, and they are enduring in that same way. I can listen to the same dozen or so composers and artists for a lifetime, and each time I do, I derive more pleasure, strength, happiness, understanding, and healing.
Food should and can be the same.
Images: 123rf.com, thefoodalmanac.com, foodrepublic.com, features.peta.org, wallpaperuniversity.com, inalu.eu, eathealthytip.com, hobbyfarms.com, taste.com.au, goodhousekeeping.com, masalazone.com, en.wikipedia.org, tripadvisor.com
Here are some other posts on this topic that are relevant and interesting, from members of this community:
Paul wrote about this, and his success with losing weight, this morning! What a great post.
Another friend I follow is eliminating sugar, which has always been my biggest weakness. I admire her!
Here are some wonderful changes my good friend Vera has made in her life, illustrating the step-wise approach we can take to improving. It doesn’t have to be cold-tofurky, in other words, LOL.
Look at what Kellie is doing — gorgeous! I am doing this for July 4th. Thank you Kellie!
Just this morning, a cherished member of this community, JM, posted this and it is worth a read. We always forget that there are people in this world who would be thrilled to eat even 1300 calories per day, much less, per meal. I need to remember this whenever I feel sorry that I must work on weight control more and more, the older I get. Thank you for your entire blog, JM, dedicated to fitness, inside and out.
You have probably had your June quota of ‘heavy’ already. So, I thought this week, I would update a few of the personal threads that have been running through this blog from the beginning. Some of you know the characters and issues, others of you who have joined my community of friends here more recently will catch up quickly as this is all rather soft news. But, there are some issues here where, as strong as I usually am about dealing with curve balls, I would love to have help, as you will see!
As you knew, my Aunt Kate is one of the main players in my perils-of-Pauline life drama. She is actually my dad’s aunt, pushing 90, sharp as a tack, fiercely independent, robust even though wiry and slim. But, in the past eighteen months all sorts of twilight-of-life issues have surfaced. Like? Kate’s short-term memory is beginning to deteriorate. Not as severely as my husband’s mother, who is far, far younger, but noticeably.
A retired professional, well-off, and living in NYC in her own co-op penthouse, Kate has just found out that she needs ongoing medical treatment for what could be a serious condition that is being expertly managed by a team of doctors. Luckily, she has what one of my cousins calls, the Cadillac of supplemental insurance. For the privilege, this formerly perfectly healthy woman, is paying $900 per month, beyond Medicare. How many elderly people could foot that bill?
Last year I mentioned that she was begging me to come live with her (not Geoffrey, just me!). Naturally, I delicately eased my way out of those discussions by, frankly, just kicking them down the road. While that was going on, as I wrote in some previous posts, a group of family members systematically helped themselves to the contents of her beautiful apartment. Most of these people are my generation, but a few are my cousins’ kids and their new spouses. So, there sits Aunt Kate in an emptyish flat with only a view and some clothing to her name.
One of said individuals slyly moved in to the apartment, lock stock and barrel, having wailed to A. Kate a major sob story. Without going into all the seamy details, every manner of generational and lifestyle conflicts are now plaguing my poor Aunt as she tries to adjust to life without her own belongings, with strangers coming and going, and a health crisis that at her age probably seems like a death knell (even though her doctors say she will be around a good long time, like her centenarian brother).
But, two factions have formed in the family. One wants to know what’s in the will to protect her from the others, who seem to be commandeering her finances as well as her life. Both these camps have attempted to persuade me to their side and so I have spent literally hours of time over the past two months engaged in conference calls and Google Hangouts that are emotionally charged and draining. Some of them have been so transparent about their intentions that A. Kate is now fiercely defending her mind, her body, and her bank accounts. But, had already handed over power of attorney and other keys to the kingdom to several stalwart individuals who are being — there is no other way to put this — anal about their rights and responsibilities, in the extreme.
Geoffrey sits “off camera”, while our dinners grow cold and stale, listening to the histrionics and thinking, I am sure, his tea partying family are diplomats and philanthropists by comparison. One thing I will give them, they never shout. Not so the fighting Irish on my side. Sigh!
On the home front, as I have written recently, we are attempting to transform our front yard into a xerigraphic ecosystem, reducing water-sucking lawn, and replacing it with drought-tolerant, sun-loving, pollinator-attracting gorgeous flowering yard-cover. Lots of it is working. We now have a huge section that is a butterfly pavillion, stocked mostly with Milkweed to provide an oasis for Monarchs, along with Lantana, Butterfly Bush and Lavenders of various types. So far so good.
We also planted new roses that are thriving, so we will be putting more in, in the fall. But! We also decided to start replacing lawn with Gazanias. They seemed to be spreading so nicely that every morning, we would be greeted by new little scalloped red and yellow heads, sunning themselves all over the beds we made for them to call home.
Sunning. Therein lies the problem. After having one of the warmest winters ever, we have had one of the coldest, cloudiest springs. It has not rained sufficiently to end the drought or curtail the severe water rationing, but enough to spit all over the cars each morning and entice powdery mildew to take up residence on our rear yard roses, almost killing half a dozen of them. That same quirk of nature spread a blight that hit pear trees and Photinias all over Southern California, including ours, a twenty year old tree that forms part of the living screen along one of our high stone walls that separate us from a neighbor. Witnessing that blight spread, almost in one week, to the whole tree before our arborist told us what it was and what to do, was like watching a friend die. We will not know if it can survive until next spring. Meanwhile, our neighbor is now able to peer over the wall (doing so, he thinks, ever so indetectably) at last to view us in the pool or around the decks. Hmm.
As for the Gazanias, they are being beheaded!
At first I thought it was the teenagers that live in the neighborhood, hanging out in front of our house because we have (apparently) secluded sitting areas in the front that enable them to do whatever (mj, is my guess) away from prying parental eyes. But then I thought, they would nip off all of them if they were pranking us, instead of just a few. Next, rodents were in my sights and so we bought a way too expensive natural granular deterrent made with things they consider nasty, like mint, rosemary, lime oil. But, alas, after a week of that treatment, more sad little dead floral crania are lying outside. The infuriating thing, too, they keep on opening in the sun, bodyless, until they shrivel and roll out onto the walk, recriminatingly. Snails? Too much water? A beetle? Not enough sun (ironically)? The garden center suggested it could be rabbits or squirrels, but they haven’t hit larger patches of Gazanias in other yards.
Wouldn’t you know, just as we decide to make a high desert garden to replace Little New Jersey here, the sun decides to take an intermittent holiday? And I just glanced at the Accuweather report for this week: more clouds ahead. If only it would pour, it might make this easier to tolerate!
Our arborist will be coming by for a diagnosis, so I will keep you posted.
Life with a Labrador. We have now had two. Prior to that we had Snowflake, a Westie. Ollie (now with Snowy, in heaven) was such an easy dog to raise. Beautiful, almost pure white, a thoroughbred descended from champions (as Snowy was), he refused to bark at anyone. As far as Ollie was concerned, anyone who came to the door was a friend. We thought Labs are just that way and shrugged, making sure we had better gates and locks. Then Leif came into our lives. From the same breeder, and a related sire/dam but he and Ollie couldn’t be more different.
Leif is as nervous and excitable as Ollie was calm and serene. If a shoe drops the next town over, he hears it and has to assess the situation. So, for the past seven years (six since Ollie left us) we have all had to readjust the house and our nerves to a true watchdog. So much so, that we finally broke down this week and got him a ThunderShirt. I was totally skeptical but this thing really works. Ricky (our nickname for his formal title: Leif Ericson) is a transformed individual. Very early this morning, he found a way out of his crate (and when I say early, I mean 3 am, because we get up at 4) and calmly padded into the kitchen, grabbed his toy bone and was waiting for us when we came down the stairs and screamed (well, one of us anyway) when we saw the kitchen door open and heard noises inside. This is a 95 pound dog, all muscle and energy, turned into a Harbor Seal. If you have an excitable dog, I urge you to try it. What a transformation! We’ll see if it lasts and I will update you.
Little visitors. Yes! It is that time of year again already. Anna is coming to town. She and Deanna will be with us shortly, then Deanna is off to a conference and we will have our little dynamo all to ourselves. I am busy getting new books and surprises for her room. I was told gowns and costumes are her standard daytime attire and may take her right through bedtime (she refuses to change clothes, no matter the activity). One way we plan to entice her out of her glam rags is with major pool time, as Anna is already a swimmer. There will be dancing, picture-taking, bookstores, toy stores, garden trawling and, yes! Ice cream. Stay tuned for more.
That’s it! That was relatively benign for a change, dontcha think?
(But just in case this lull is too soporific, I do feel a major post about healthy diets coming on, so … enjoy this bland Bethism while it lasts!) :-D
Images: BB/Santa Paula
Word Press is constantly changing. So is Flickr. Some of these tweaks are improvements and others have just been silly and annoying. This week, WP tells me that you, my treasured community, like it best when I post on Fridays at 9 am Pacific time. OK! I hear you and your wish is my command. Given that a better post might materialize if I put it up whenever the spirit moves me instead of a preset time, I hope you will all indulge me when these blatherings are rather rough and spontaneous, as this one will likely be. This will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else. :-D
I could have titled this post: Forward to the past. I might have already used that in an earlier essay here — I don’t recall.
For almost two years I have thought about defining a so-called “Progressive“. For those of you in the US, this will be a familiar term. Elsewhere, you all have differing names or titles for this sociopolitical approach and will have to translate it to local terms. Personally, as I have stated somewhere along the way, I don’t like labels, categories, pigeon-holes of any kind. There are 7 billion+ people on earth and each of us is unique.
But, as a behavioral scientist, I have learned to take qualitative data and quantitate it so I can be temporarily comfortable suspending my philosophy here and considering the idea of progressivism for the purposes of an intellectual exercise. And, I hope I don’t become abstruse and abstract in the process.
Let me start off by saying, first and foremost, I do not want to be lied to by the media and its talking heads, any politician or public figure, or anyone from our governments, at any level, and I will not allow myself to be influenced by dissembling and misrepresentations. To me truth with all its warts is the foundation for progressive doctrines.
Each week’s news brings examples of the future society in which we will all live, so all I need do is cover one seven-day sample and that will define progressive tenets along with what I believe is ahead for all of us.
Yesterday, a Presidential candidate gave a ground-breaking speech on voting rights at Texas Southern University. They named each governor, many of whom are now Presidential hopefuls, who has enacted severe voting restrictions aimed at limiting the citizens’ ability to cast a vote. The very fact that in the 21st century we have to debate the issue of allowing every adult in this country to vote is appalling to me. In the future, it will be one person one vote, just the way it is in the overwhelming majority of civilized democracies. Oregon has pioneered the motor/voter law that was originated in DC. Every citizen over the age of 18 is automatically registered to vote at the local DMV. The premise is that the government has a role to play in facilitating the vote in a healthy democracy. There was a true democracy in our country just 50 years ago. So, we know what it looks like. Progress is returning to that notion and enfranchising everyone. The diabolical traps and tricks that some states have slipped into the election process are backward and bigoted. Too bad if a handful of billionaires and corporations are afraid of giving each citizen a powerful stake in our own lives. Your plutocratic days are numbered.
California is finally cracking down on agricultural water consumption. It is not that farmers, who supply the world with the Golden State’s bounty, should be punished or unfairly limited, it is that big agribusiness companies should not be given a free pass on necessary curtailment of wasted water. Similarly, we should not be allowing unrestricted access to ground water and subterranean aquifers, simply because we have always done so. Doesn’t anyone remember the Dust Bowl? That had to be corrected and it was. We need to go back to that policy, nation-wide and particularly in drought-stricken regions. We know it can be done. The future means prudent husbandry of limited resources so they are not squandered in the name of unreasonable profit.
Retraining our “peace force” to engage in the community they serve, wear body cameras, resist the reflex to reach for a firearm, and develop a direct relationship with all the people they are to protect is on the horizon again, along with increased funds to make this possible. Police driving around town in military-style SWAT gear, patrolling behind dark windows of armored vehicles is not the way to do this. If we look to Britain for example, we see a country with a far lower arrest and incarceration rate than ours along with far less violent crime. It can be done. It is not a new idea, it is an old one that has been successful through all kinds of demographic changes in other civilized nations. Our grandparents knew the ‘cop on the beat‘. Our prison-industrial complex and cost of maintaining millions of people in these airless concrete vaults is backward and dysfunctional. As is the practice of state-sponsored capital punishment. In the not too distant future, we will rid this country of for-profit private prisons, paid for with our taxpayers dollars. Humane incarceration and abolishing the death penalty is on the horizon, even in such conservative states as Nebraska, poised to pass an astonishing law banning the latter.
A broad understanding and general acceptance of gender diversity is an idea whose time has come, at last, in America. I say, let’s let people style themselves as they wish and be respected for it. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition will be drawing back the curtain on what it really means to be female in our country even today. It isn’t easy! And anyone who has experimented with switching roles, knows that women are treated differently from birth. While it is nice to enjoy the creativity and artistry that can come with being feminine (and something I personally celebrate every single day), there is a downside to being objectified through appearance, to feeling vulnerable to power manipulation that male physical strength advantages impart, to having one’s ideas and analyses ignored, and being paid three-quarters of what our counterparts are paid for the same productivity. But gender equality is also the future here.
The camps are further dividing in this country on the settled issue of climate change and planetary warming. As all of you who read this blog know, I am staunchly in the camp of the peer-reviewed, highly respected, thoroughly trained, ethically responsible scientific community that states unequivocally — and backs these declarations with sound empirical research — the climate is warming, globally, and it is now overwhelmingly caused by human activities. If man broke it, s/he can fix it. But first we have to own it. This goes back to my ongoing discussions here and on other social media sites, about philosophy vs fact. I have no problem with the intricate mental embellishments of ideological pondering. The adventure that ensues when creative minds get together in thought journeys is appealing on many levels. But, when the coasts are being swallowed by oceans, cities flooded by rivers, sea creatures cooking in acidic hot waters, dirty volatile fossil fuels seeping into our aquifers and exploding on the doorsteps of nuclear missile silos, I can’t condone sitting around playing mind games. We have to act.
At one time, people understood their environments. Our Native Americans did and had a balanced relationship with nature. People like Rachel Carson sounded the alarm. And further to that notion, you can reach back to Teddy Roosevelt at the beginning of the last century to prove to yourself that cautious conservation of our precious earth is not a new idea. But, it is the future. Without it, we will have no pollinators and thus no fruits and vegetables. We will stop tormenting and torturing sentient beings in the concentration camps that are euphemistically referred to as factory “farms”, hidden out of sight of the ordinary citizen and staffed by impoverished immigrants desperate for work. These inhumane plants of torture should be beneath the dignity of every American. I can say with complete confidence the future is veganism, if the fossil fuel industry doesn’t destroy our farmland first. I have been a vegetarian for over three decades and a vegan for ten years. You will have to take my word for it — I am thriving on and enjoying delicious, healthy, cruelty-free food every single day. I truly use food as medicine and that has saved me a ton of money over many years.
Along these same lines, we will employ biodynamic farming practices nationwide. Is this a new idea? It is over 100 years old and in practice all over the world. It works, it is responsible agriculture and the only people who resist it are the Monsanto/Conagra crowd. And why? Because it is such a bad idea for the 7 billion +? To the contrary, it is to take a few pennies off the trillions of dollars being vacuumed up by irresponsible, runaway corporate greed. Doing away with the “meat” industry, farming without pesticides, returning to family-run agriculture, favoring alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar, will not only save this planet from destruction but will feed the hungry, worldwide. It is easy for comfortable westerners to ignore those starving and doing without clean drinking water. But that is an antediluvian attitude and eventually will be considered as vestigial and depraved as tossing 12th century babies back and forth between buildings. Or bleeding people to cure them. Or burning women at the stake for being clever. Or slavery.
Although I love our Senator from Vermont, there is one point on which he and I strongly disagree. He does not stand up to the NRA. We cannot condone an overly armed populace in the future. That libertarian idea is reckless and retrograde. The world is not the wild frontier it once was. We are crowded and as such, our natural human combativeness and selfishness cannot be litigated at the end of a barrel. There are gun-restricting places with far lower crime rates. I personally see no sport, bravery, or pleasure in shooting anyone, human or otherwise. I love archery and target practice and I see the beauty in old and lovingly made artifacts. But weapons are meant to hurt, and I don’t believe in deliberately hurting for fun. I do understand self-defense. But our Founding Fathers, whose Constitution was a child of its times and has been altered and updated to reflect progress and new conditions (robust and flexible, magnificent instrument that it is), did not mean to have gun-happy renegades parading their ersatz manhood amid our kindergartners in our urban areas. Every reasonable person on earth understands this. I am sorry Rand Paul, but your dad’s false freedom cries are the gasps of an earlier age. Healthy adults do not need to threaten people. They have no place in a civilized future where we need rational limitations on human urges or we cannot be an orderly society. More people, more crowding, fewer resources means more sane rules, less corruption, less fibbing about the facts, less runaway profiteering by manufacturers, more responsible, prudent, cautious, reasoned, behavior is mandatory. Accepting life as it is, not as we wish it to be or long for from an earlier and over-idealized, uber-caricatured mythology has to be the rule. Liberty is not license, it comes with responsibility. And if we as individuals cannot be counted on to control ourselves, we need to have it imposed in a fair and firm way by a system of laws, not vigilantism, upon which we all agree, as thinking and caring beings.
And lastly and perhaps most delicately: progress means not inserting your spiritual ideology into public policy. Anyone molesting a child, sexually or otherwise, is committing a crime and must be processed through the courts, whether juvenile or adult. And as a child psychologist I advocate against any statute of limitations on child abuse. Refusing a marriage certificate to an eligible couple based on your own personal beliefs is wrong and should be illegal. We are a nation of civil laws, first, and must govern according to the Constitution. No individual’s idiosyncratic belief system will be permitted to trump the law in future civilization.
I could probably write an encyclopedia on what it means to be progressive. I don’t need to. It simply boils down to progress. And progress is the outcome of human invention to solve problems so we can all live a happy, peaceful, healthy life, side by side. This includes leveling the playing field so there is true racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic parity. It means providing universal pre-kindergarten education to every eligible child and a living wage for their parents. Scandinavia has been doing these things for decades and now enjoys the highest standard and quality of life on the planet. It was Roosevelt who clearly understood the balance that must exist between the people and the powerful. Lincoln understood it. Eisenhower did too. Somehow this country went off the rails thereafter. But not forever. People will work hard when the system seems fair, but will eventually revolt when the rules are unevenly applied and those at the top get all the breaks.
It matters little to me what political affiliation any of us has. I am for progress. I am for accepting what is and supporting it so I am not holding back anyone. And like most responsible people, I do not sleep easily at night knowing there are others suffering, no matter their species or nationality or circumstances. Resolving just that issue alone would be my “happily ever after“.
To me all of this is the essence of being progressive. I simply chose long ago to face in the direction the horse is traveling.
Images: Beth Byrnes/Santa Paula
If Beverly Hills is Lana Turner, and Pasadena is Grace Kelly, then Santa Paula is Ava Gardner: earthy, lush, mysterious and utterly natural.
As you know, one of my main aims in taking photographs is not only to learn a new medium and get exciting software to satisfy my creative soul, but to learn more about California. As a transplanted New Yorker, it has taken me twenty years to come around to where I can actually say I enjoy being in Los Angeles.
I have already lived in the East Bay up north and absolutely adored every minute there. If I had my way, Northern California would be its own state and I would work for the tourist board. At some point soon, I will give you my insider’s tips on what to see and where to go there.
Meanwhile, my husband’s work and life are anchored to SoCal, and so I have made it my mission to explore the areas that are a bit off the beaten path and make them come to life, both for me and for anyone reading my blog or viewing my photos in the various places where I post them.
Clearly the Golden State has been blessed with diversity and abundance. There is every kind of climate, terrain, population, resource, beauty and advantage that are found anywhere else on earth with few exceptions. If we don’t destroy it by allowing an imbalance of power between profits and people, we can continue to develop the most admirable economy on earth and provide a magnificent lifestyle in the process.
I have been reading about and studying Teddy Roosevelt and will probably write a post in the future about the three remarkable Roosevelts from New York who changed the course of this country and the world. In a strange and almost perverse way, Roosevelt, an avid and reckless hunter in his youth, became this country’s first environmental President, as he matured and realized the treasures that we might squander.
Earlier this week, I heard one of our Democratic candidates say that we must not let the fossil fuel industry destroy this planet, so we can leave it better than we found it for future generations. I couldn’t agree more, and this state is committed to conservation, despite some notable setbacks like the egregious breach just this week of a pipeline that should never have been laid by what is an incompetent and flagrantly disrespectful oil company into one of the most valuable natural ecosystems on this planet: Santa Barbara and a previously pristine coastline. I am attending a wedding in Carpinteria in September and will bring back pictures of this stunning shoreline community, if you are not familiar with it firsthand.
One of the things I have absolutely reveled in for the past month, is my newly set up Lightroom 6/Creative Cloud program and am now doing all my processing work in it. It allows me to open any plugin from any external processing software I buy (and some I have acquired free from the classes I have purchased from Creative Live) in one place, seamlessly, effortlessly and rapidly. LR CC is lightning fast. I can jump into Photo Shop CC and jump back and create a smooth, multi-step work flow in a fraction of the time it used to take me, when I carted my photos from program to program. I can now loop the process to get the exact effect I want, for as many rounds as I care to, staying in Lightroom the whole time. Simple.
On Flickr, because I was looking for Santa Paula groups, I stumbled upon a photographer who lives in Santa Clarita and does some of the most stunning work I have ever seen, with two affordable cameras (Nikon D300 and D5200) and one prime lens: 35 mm. I have said before and must emphasize, it is not the camera, it is the skill of the photographer who must not only be a scientist and technician, but an artist. Every one of her shots is gorgeous –they glow with a special light effect I haven’t seen elsewhere — and I am going to try to learn how she achieves with those simple tools, work that spending $10K on equipment would not guarantee. She has so inspired me that I am going to devote an entire future set to her kind of photography. Now I wonder if I should have even bothered buying a full frame, very costly camera! We’ll return to this some day.
For the present, I want to share here just a few of the pictures I took in one of my unexpected, serendipities: Santa Paula in Ventura County. This town, whose earliest monument at the Portola Mission campsite reads 1769 — not old by European or even Yankee standards, but ancient for SoCal — is a sparkling jewel and so close to Valencia, but with a completely different climate, that it is hard to believe the two counties are right next to one another.
Santa Paula is not only a tribute to turn of the last century architecture and history, with museums and living structures that transport you back in time in a way few places do, it is also the city that oil and water built.
At around the time when the industrial revolution discovered the many uses of light sweet crude, it was discovered that Ventura County, especially the area that is now Filmore to Santa Paula, was riddled with seeps that oozed a viscous molasses-like oil into surface pools. A rush ensued and derricks rose, human-power pumps and a sophisticated operation was in place virtually overnight, putting the two towns on the map. Add the temperate, moist climate, a twenty-foot layer of deep, fertile soil, a festival of sunshine and mild sea breezes (Santa Paula is just minutes from the coast and the modern day town of Ventura), and the booming rail industry, and you now had an agricultural paradise that drew the wealthy from all over the United States. Oil revolutionized America and put the riches blessing Santa Paula on the map.
From the end of the 19th century to the second World War, Santa Paula, a delicate little town of colorful Victorian gingerbread adorned houses and hillside vistas overlooking neatly tilled fields of fruit basket crops, flourished. Union Oil, Unocal, and even Howard Hughes gave their solid brass imprimatur to Santa Paula and it burnishes that legacy to this day.
We were so excited when we realized that not only did Santa Paula have this deep history and a still thriving fruit and vegetable economy that rivals the more northerly central valley of California around Fresno and San Francisco, that we decided to consider it for our future permanent retirement location. On a hillside that holds the McKevett neighborhood, are some of the most beautiful homes and surroundings I have ever seen. It truly looks like Capri in California — just as lovely as Montecito and a lot more affordable. It is the hidden secret that only promises to gain more and more attention as people pour out of Los Angeles’s overpriced enclaves in search of a better climate, rain, rivers of produce, and an old fashioned, gracious, social life. Santa Paula is home to dozens of cultural venues, holds a stunning hot air balloon festival every few years and boasts an agricultural parade on Labor Day, complete with the prettiest tractors and threshing vehicles any farmer could dream of.
This is only an introduction to this local paradise — just 30 minutes west of us and as different from Valencia and points east (the high desert) as Monaco is from Santa Fe. All in a radius of less than an hour from us and a stone’s throw from the country’s second largest metropolis.
Stay tuned! More pictures ahead …
Images: Beth Byrnes, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Ventura County California