Ooh la LA

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. ;-)

Rooftop Bar, Hotel The Standard, Downtown L.A., Los Angeles, California, USA

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. Downtown, LA
  2. West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose
  3. Pasadena
  4. South Bay beach cities: Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach
  5. Beverly Hills/Westwood

As you plan your visit, just remember the LA Golden rule:

Everything is always 45 minutes away from everything else …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Mental floss

Funny how the mind works. When I opened up my brand new User’s Manual for the Nikon D610, I fully expected the first words to be something like “You have just gotten the best camera in the world, you brilliant creature you!”.  Imagine my surprise when it just began with a list of FAQs because we are all such predictable people, Nikon already knows what we want to learn first. Like what? Well, like how to display a grid on the monitor so we can rectify our shots before we take them. Vital stuff like that. No matter. I am totally smitten. :-D

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As I promised last week, I am back with the very first shots I took with the D610 and two of my new lenses: the 50 mm and the 24-85.

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I have been watching YouTube videos so I would get a feel for the camera, easily, and stumbled on one guy who absolutely raved about the 50 mm I got, especially when used on the D610.  He says they are made for each other and that this particular prime lens is a steal for such a robust and flawless lens.  I think he is right.  I like the 50 mm shots I took better than the others.

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What are we viewing here. Well, the most willing and easily available subjects, especially at a time when I am slammed with work, were my two children.  Psyche would not sit still for the camera at all, so I put her in her room to take these.

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Don’t pay too much attention to the setting.  The picture itself is what I hope will convey an improvement over my previous Nikon (which is still a great camera, and has wonderful lenses, so I am definitely keeping it.)

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My Lab, Ricky, was also a rather unwilling model.  At first he jumped around too much, trying to lick me and the camera. Then Geoff suggested I hold a treat up high above his head so he would sit. That worked but it forced me to shoot one-handed, so the quality of these shots is a bit off.

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I haven’t taken many pictures of the yard and gardens lately, so that was next. It is so ridiculously hot here that we are lucky there are any flowers left at all.  Just some roses in the back near the pool.

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There is one shot from the wall in our interior atrium. Unfortunately, I took it after Geoffrey cleaned the gutters overhead so it is a bit messy. Whatever, it was a great subject.

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Lastly, we had a command performance at an InFirm party, held at one of the SIL’s family homes overlooking the Pacific and so I tried taking some pictures there on the down low, so I wouldn’t have to produce a whole album and circulate it later.  Not easy to do with this camera, meaning, it is pretty easy to spot.

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So, I ended up taking a lot of pictures of the party that I now have to process for them. Here are only a couple that were passible, of non-party scenes.  The sun was wicked that day and there was a ton of glare.  I admit, I kept my Revos on the whole time so I could see, but my photographs may be a bit weird as a result.

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OK, but back to the intellectual workout I am getting. The Manual is really forcing me to use my scant math skills.  There is a lot to using a camera with all the capabilities that this one has, and most of it involves understanding geometry, physics and ratios. Math is not my strong suit (although I have always aced geometry and forced myself through four semesters of advanced statistics).

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Not only that, but even in terms of esthetics, color balance, white balance, bokeh, depth of field, exposures, and all kinds of special effects, you need to know what you are doing. And that means, avoiding autofocus and doing things manually.

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I finished reading one of the books Geoffrey got me, a very basic but thorough beginner’s guide to digital photography about two years into the game, LOL. Now I am on to the Manual. I also just got David Busch’s Nikon D610 Guide to Digital SLR Photography based on a recommendation by my friend Linda who I met on Flickr.  I have my work cut out for me.

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It will probably take me the rest of my life to nail all this down.  What is supposed to be a lightweight weekend hobby has virtually turned into a course of study. So much so that I think I actually have to go take classes somewhere so I know what I am doing, instead of just operating on instinct.  This is one place where painting has it all over photography. There it is just my eye for beauty and a steady hand that matter. Here I need those things and so much more. At least my mind is getting a workout! (Btw, did you see that they now think Alzheimer’s is related to cumulative pollution exposure? Yikes.)

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We have a couple of new destinations planned that will be the focus of the new camera, plus my upcoming trip to a destination wedding.  They should give me plenty of new material and I hope the shots I capture then (September and October) will demonstrate what this amazing little magician can do (the camera, I am just its roadie).

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Images: BB/Nikon D610 FX camera with Nikkor 50mm and 24-85mm (Click to enlarge them) 

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Nikonography

This will be a bit different. A two-parter, I am going to talk about my cameras today and next week, come back with some pictures taken with my newest one as an update to this post. I am clearly in the thrall of this hobby, which I suddenly realized gives me something to do in the summer when it is too hot for gardening or knitting, much less baking — my other passions. If you are creative, photography is an elegant way to be artistic — no paints, no mess and a vast array of processing software that makes it easy to produce magical effects.

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Awhile back I talked about wanting a full frame camera. I already had a Canon T3i with a bunch of lenses. Then I talked about wanting a better camera and the photography expert at Adorama in NY, told me not to get another Canon. He persuaded both Geoffrey and me that until you get up to the Canon 1D, Nikons are better equipment.  I bought a D5200 from Adorama and then one by one purchased three expensive lenses (I’ve blogged about this already). I started reading and watching YouTube videos from Ken Rockwell, whose objective, no-nonsense reviews are perfect for sifting through all the noise and data and coming to wise purchasing decisions, as well as instructions on how to actually get the best performance out of a camera.

But then I realized I would only be happy when I got a full frame camera along the lines of what professionals use. When I do something, I like to do it well. I reasoned that I could always sell the ones I bought along the way, even though I am not one to sell anything.  I gave the Canon to Geoffrey for work and then took it back because no one was taking care of it.  I am definitely a control freak, LOL.

At first I got a Nikon D600, but then found out that even though it could accept my lenses from the D5200 I bought two years ago, a smaller Digital Single Lens Reflect camera, it will crop the images and defeat the purpose of upgrading to the full frame.

Nikon D610 USA version box end

So, my patient significant other returned the D600 and came back with a D800, a full frame top of the line camera for amateurs and hobbyists like me. It wasn’t cheap, but I reasoned, it wasn’t like a professional Leica running into the tens of thousands either.

But, it is big and heavy and the photographer at Samy’s said it will be very slow downloading and working with its enormous files, which will eat up gigabytes of space on my Passport and OneBook, too. To make matters worse, it has sat in the box week after week after week because, I couldn’t bring myself to buy the super-duper lenses it deserved.  It is still sitting in the box!

On my birthday, after showering me with gifts, Geoffrey surprised me with a Nikon D610, brand new, from Samy’s in Pasadena.  I almost fainted.  The D610 was one I had been thinking about and feeling guilty for it, too. Not given to excess, the fact that he realized I was not using my Christmas camera prompted him to look for a compromise.

Well, let me tell you I LOVE the D610.  So much so, that I ran back to Samy’s and bought three FX lenses for it: a 50 mm, a 24-85 and a 28-300. It’s smaller than the D800 and much more ergonomic for my small hands. It is heavier than my other two cameras but it doesn’t matter, as it is really well designed and has all the controls in just the right places.

To back up a bit, let me reiterate my belief that it is the photographer, not the camera, that influences the quality of a photograph.  I have seen incredible, flawless work that are pure artistry and genius from people using low megapixel, ordinary cameras.

Nikon manual focus Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 AI-S

It is also my belief that the less skilled you are, the more you need the help that a good camera gives you.  There has to be a balance, naturally, between quality and effort. I still have a lot to learn about perfecting my shots before I get home to process them. And, everyone, including me, is on a budget. Otherwise, I would be tempted to get up to the level that the pros operate in and would have to put our house up for sale to do it!

This D610 will be my go-to camera for a good long time.  I may keep or sell the D800, I haven’t decided. One thing I know for sure, I love Nikons and will never switch now.  I think that people often choose a camera based, not on research, but on what they saw someone else using successfully. I got my Pentax Spotmatic way back when because my boyfriend at the time was a camera buff and that’s what he had. I got the Canon T3i because that’s what Al and Deanna used to take incredible pictures of Annabelle.  Now I realize for myself, that simply buying things blindly that other people recommend is lazy.

 

That said, I have spent a lot of time looking at what the experts say — as well as carefully studying the work of other people on Flickr — and still conclude the Nikon on the whole comes out ahead, when comparing comparable equipment. I especially like Ken Rockwell, because he sizes up strengths and weaknesses. B&H has a great feature that enables you to compare two cameras side by side, before you make your decision and offers a long list of points on which to do it.

I like research, evidence, and thoroughness, so this goes along with my obsessive personality any way. Along with the new D610, Geoffrey picked up some photography books. There is also the Nikon D610 manual that is almost a coffee table book, it is so thick. I do like to read (alright, skim) instruction manuals.

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

My photography dalliance has become a full blown affair.  As luck would have it, right at my birthday I got a huge, complicated month-long project so my new computer and camera and lenses have been sitting, waiting, calling to me while I take care of this important job for a good, long-time client.

But, my future plans include a 105mm lens, and a new fisheye to complete the set.  I cannot imagine what else I might need.  I like hand-held photography, but a monopod is on the list. I also love strobism, so a simple stand-alone light for that is also in my future.

Buy expensive lenses and they will last a long, long time. In fact, you can usually sell them for what you paid for them. Rockwell says the alternative to the D610 full frame camera is the D7200 DX, not a full frame but an excellent camera that will do much of what the D600-D700-D800 series will do, with a little magic of the right lenses. Here is one more thing. If you have already bought, as I have, some expensive lenses for your DX camera, you can sell them and buy the equivalents for the FX, but keep your DX body. The FX lenses can be used on your DX camera, as well. Yes, the DX lenses can be used on your full frame camera but the pictures will be cropped. However, since there is cropping anyway on a DX, the FX lenses will operate as if they were for the smaller camera. Is this confusing?

If I had it to do all over again, here is what I would do.  First, study and read and research before buying a single piece of equipment. Second, buy everything I could locally at a place like Samy’s, which is a chain like Adorama and B&H, so I could use the considerable resources they have — including photography classes — and have them help me build my collection intelligently. Samy’s has a lending program that allows you to borrow/rent a camera and lens so you can try it before you buy it. That would have been smart.  I won’t tell you how much money I have spent, experimenting. It could have been more wisely allocated, had I done all the right things from the beginning.

One more important thing, if you buy a Nikon, make sure it has the big (U) on the back of the box, next to the model number, above the bar code (see the picture above). If it doesn’t have that (U) it is a gray market item and Nikon will not touch it for repairs or cleaning, no matter what. If you stick to all authorized Nikon original market equipment meant for the USA, they bend over backward to fix things for next to nothing. Well worth checking. That is one reason to avoid buying on eBay — and there are other things, like mold in the lenses.  You have to open the aperture wide, and hold the lens (mounted on the camera) up to a bright window, and autofocus to see if there are fine, fern-like threads around the periphery of the scene. If so, there is vegetative growth and that means professional cleaning.  Better to get equipment from someone you can go back to, but also trust in the first place.

Also, Rockwell advises that we replace our straps with better ones, that don’t scream Nikon or Canon or whatever.  I already have a small, discreet camera bag but Mike at Samy’s said to get a small black “purse”, saddle-bag or postman’s style, that can go across the chest/over the shoulder and use that instead. No one need know that I am carrying an expensive camera and lenses that way. Geoffrey got me a beauty — I will take a photo of it and post the real one here.

Vintage BALLY genuine black leather kelly ado sport style shoulder bag purse with gold tone hardware and logo charm.

That’s it! New computer, new camera, new lenses, new case, new books — this time, all based on thorough study and wise selection.  Eventually, you can tell me if you see the difference in my photographs here and on Flickr.

To be continued …

Images: BB, Nikon, Momentum Corp., Ken Rockwell, Photography Life

Ghirlwind!

Where do I start? It has been a crazy couple of weeks.  We have had the annual influx of summer visitors, and Deanna and Annabelle in particular.  Deanna brought a bevy of colleagues with her, so we had to get creative with all the regular beds, the two sofabeds in the Christmas room and Aerobeds in the solarium and my office.  I was lucky if I had a minute to work on my laptop, much less get into the main computers. But we had such a blast.

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First off, of course, we were running to the airport every couple of days.  People arriving then leaving, then Deanna and her group rushing off to their conference.  But we girls had multiple days to hit all the prime shopping areas, including, of course Pasadena, the Americana, our mall here in Valencia and a trip to the biggie, South Coast Plaza.  Lots of driving, lots of take-out, and a ton of buying.

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I have a fancy five day wedding to attend in Carpinteria next month and decided to get all new outfits, all on a color theme, matching each other, jewelry (of course) and new shoes for each. Deanna and I are deadly together as she is just as much a clothes horse as I am. She had to buy an extra suitcase to haul everything back home.

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We also made sure we took several trips to the beach in nearby Ventura, only 40 minutes away.  I will be posting about Ventura soon as it is one of my favorite places now especially since it is loaded with tribal eateries that appeal to a veteran foodie like me. Each time we went, we came home with bags of Indian or Sicilian or Ethiopian feasts. Luckily there was so much activity, I felt I could afford to pig out a little.

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Geoffrey surprised me with a brand new computer with all the latest bells and whistles for the office — just for photography and graphics — for my birthday this week and we had a big party. I love Windows 10 and am now totally addicted to Office 2013.  I have my latest Lightroom and PhotoShop on it already as well as all my Topaz programs. We got a new router and a new modem.  I should really complain about the modem because it was not by choice.

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One day, in the middle of an email to a client, a window popped up informing me that Time Warner had simply hijacked my process, cut off my internet access, and demanded a phone call or visit. Why? Because my modem was allegedly out of date. What the …? Can you imagine? But Geoffrey called them and saved the day,  rushing over and picking up the new one after work. Meanwhile they reconnected me on my old one so I could finish my work day.  I will not tell you what I wanted to say to them, but refrained since they control the levers, clearly! It was just luck that they did upgrade us, because the new computer wouldn’t have worked as fast with the old setup.

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There was so much pandemonium here that I have only begun to discover all its sexy new features. I love Cortana, Siri’s cousin, my very own synth!  She and I chat vocally, and she has learned my voice already, acting as my personal assistant, talking to me in mellifluous, Ooma-like tones.  What a hoot.

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As for Anna. Well, she was really feeling her oats this time.  We got her some new games and books, a few new dresses and mostly played with her in our pool.  It was ungodly hot the whole time, so the pool and the beach featured more heavily than the park this year.  There was a lot of ice cream consumption and I found out that one of the best new flavors at Ben and Jerry’s is Blondie Ambition — I don’t want to admit how much I had.  Anna’s choice this year was Strawberry Cheesecake.  She has patrician tastes like the rest of us too, so we hit Cheesecake Factory and Anthropologie multiple times.  There are a slew of new restaurants around, so the ones we didn’t cover we are saving for Christmas.

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We enjoyed the fact that, while the sun was glaring down full force in Valencia, LAX, each time we went, was socked in with its signature fog.  So was Ventura.  Nothing is more relaxing than sitting in beach chairs on the sand, watching the ships in the distance, bathing in the cool breezes that washed over us from the Pacific, glasses of Passion Fruit ice tea in hand.  We collected shells, seaweed and examined a few little sand creatures.  Anna had the time of her life, trying to slowly approach the gulls that land at the water’s edge looking for tidbits.

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Geoffrey, God bless him, has had his surfeit of estrogen and is now recovering nicely — one more week and he would have been living at his office downtown.  He ran around and did everything for us, acting as chauffeur, swim coach, bellhop, chef, and travel agent.  I have to figure out something special for him as a reward.

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Now I face a month working on a huge new project on personality disorders.  It will be intense but extremely interesting.  Meanwhile, I have a ton of photographs to develop, edit and share so there will be midnight oil burning here.047

More to come! Stay tuned for my continuing series on the Central California coast and two more towns I love.

(Stay cool — over 100F here right now. TG we fixed our AC in time for this heat wave. And, we are counting the days until the monster El Niño arrives as promised this year.  I think I may put on a bathing suit and just lie outside in it.)

 Images: BB/LAX, Ventura, Glendale, Valencia and more

 

Trumped up

My cousin Deanna and Ivanka Trump were friends growing up in Manhattan. Just a few weeks apart in age, both attended the Swiss, Dalcroze School of Music after school, where they met and immediately bonded.  Deanna went to the Waldorf school on 79th and 5th and Ivanka went to Chapin several blocks away. They had a lot in common being affluent kids in Manhattan, attending private schools and Ivy League college-bound.

I learned a lot about the Trumps from Ivanka. For one thing, Ivanka was a lovely, kind, sweet girl.  Not a bit spoiled or uppity at all.  Whereas Deanna’s mom drove her to Dalcroze in her older model Mercedes, Ivanka arrived with her Czech nanny in a stretch limo that idled for the two hours outside the Dalcroze townhouse.  Ivanka was very complimentary of Deanna’s clothes and accessories.  She never once made Deanna feel there was anything different about them.  On the other hand, whereas Deanna’s middle class parents contributed to the upkeep of Dalcroze, run by aging Swiss maestros on a shoe-string, the Trumps apparently did not.

So, you might find it surprising that I am not a big Trump detractor.  For one thing, I think everything that comes out of his mouth is spontaneous and sincere.  I take him at his word that the political positions he is espousing right now are either what he truly believes (America can be great again) or what he feels the American people believe (rightly or wrongly).

There is something else about Trump that gets people all pumped up: he’s lively, glib and smart.  A lot of these politicians are either energyless, tongue-tied or dull.  I find listening to him to be entertaining, enjoyable and frankly, educational as to the power of positivity.  We should all be so quick on our feet.

Is he a multi-billionaire? Who knows. He doesn’t need to be in my book.  He has perfected the art of self-promotion and that is something all of us could learn from, whether we want to bluster and brag or simply be sufficiently confident to achieve our goals by persuading others that we are the best person for whatever role to which we aspire.

Do I think Trump has shaded or twisted or tweaked the truth here and there? Yes. Has he verged on outright bigotry? Absolutely. Has he got deep experience governing? No! Clearly not. Does he really understand the plight of the average man and woman in the average middle-class household in America? Probably not. But, in all that regard he is no worse than every other conservative on those two stages right now.

I think the key to understanding Trump’s appeal is, as someone said on the news tonight, that it is not his message that is unique, it is the messenger.  There is no one else like him. And, you Conservatives need not fear — if Trump is President, the Republican power brokerage will dictate the policies.  Just like the Democratic machine dictates what Obama is doing.  Each President merely enacts the dictates of their overlords, who operate behind the scenes and adapt to the desires of the times, on each side.

The one place where Donald Trump is absolutely dominating everyone else is in his ability to get people juiced and inspire those who have almost nothing to believe they can achieve the American Dream.  In this regard, being a Debbie-downer (and telling the truth, which is, it is virtually impossible to rise out of your slot any more, given the gross policy errors that have been committed, post WWII) isn’t working.  People are living a declining lifestyle and they know it, swallowed up sometimes by despair. I probably disagree with Trump and many Republicans about how we got into this sorry mess, but we all agree things are not wonderful for the majority of Americans right now.

I have often compared Geoffrey and my lifestyle to that of my two successful, upper middle class parents. They had two new luxury vehicles in the driveway every year. My dad got every gimcrack and gizmo and shiny new tech toy he wanted any time he fancied one, including state of the art sound systems, pro golf clubs, an enormous farm-level tractor to ride (even though he had gardeners and a landscaping service).  They had a housekeeper/maid who came in five days a week.  They took vacations at the drop of a hat. They belonged to one of the best country clubs in New Jersey. They had a co-op in Manhattan. I never heard either of them lament about a bill. Oh, and my dad bought each of their homes, cash, yup, that’s right, cash — no mortgages ever.  They each had one credit card: AmEx and paid it off each month. My mom along with my dad, as a professional woman, had her clothing custom made for her, and bought all her other accessories at Lord & Taylor, Bonwits, Saks and Bergdorfs.  I was able to shop at Bendels to my heart’s content.  They funded trips for me all over the world. They sent me through eight years of private Ivy League universities for my undergrad and grad work. I got my first Volvo my freshman year at Cornell and two more down the road. All on modest, middle class incomes. Geoffrey and I can’t do half of that today.

People love Donald Trump because they want to be the Donald.  They want to wake up every day, next to sloe-eyed Melania of the long golden tresses; they want to walk out into their marble-clad apartment with the gilt appointments and rococo Italianate 17th century furnishings (I was in their apartment briefly once); they want to be ushered to their lush 5th Avenue penthouse in a private elevator that has seating and drinks; they want to descend to 57th street and the waiting stretch limo each morning, with its big screen tv, bath, and kitchenette; they want to work while looking out over Manhattan in every direction from river to shining river and take long slow epicurean repasts at any of the City’s private dining clubs, for Knickerbockers only; they want to ski in Gstaad and golf in Scotland.  The American people would die to be Donald Trump.

That is his appeal.  No one else on any stage during this election cycle can even come close. Trump has it all, in the eyes of the American people. Make no mistake, no matter what happens on that stage in a few hours, on Fox Noise, Trump climbs into his silken sheets at the close of his day, knowing that he is an absolute, utter winner. Every single day, all his life. That is why people are clamoring for him. The shine of his gilt, whether it is fool’s gold or not, has blinded the public to every thing else. And you know what? Other than John Kasich, there is no Republican I would rather have for President.  To my mind, Trump is the NYer to end all NYers. Growing up as he did just a few blocks from where my folks in did in Queens, I get this guy.  I can deal with him, because I see past the dazzle to the ingenious mind that always gets what it wants and I would be just fine if we put that confidence to work for America right now.

Let me be clear: I will not be voting for Trump if he is a nominee.  I am a Hillary supporter because I want a no-nonsense, hard-working woman in that chair for once in history.

But, I could live with John Kasich, and believe it or not, Donald Trump.

Aren’t we all sick of being discouraged?

The parallels between Ivanka and Deanna continue to amaze me.  They both married brilliant Jewish men and both had little girls with remarkably similar names: Arabella and Annabelle, even though they are no longer in touch.

I cannot wait to see the outcome of this election.  No matter who wins, it has been the most entertaining run-up of my lifetime.  And who knows, maybe Deanna can wangle an invite to the WH if King Donald and Queen Melania become the next POTUS and FLOTUS. What a gas that would be.

Images: DailyMail.uk

Domicile, not dominion

Domination is the vocabulary of the weak and powerless.

As human beings, we were gifted by the divine with the highest powers of understanding and reasoning on the planet. And we were given a guidebook in the form of the New Testament, a manual for the modern age that began two thousand years ago, the Piscean age whose symbol is Christ, as to how to treat all life on earth. We were to give it domicile, not subject it to dominion. We were to use our powers to tame and foster, not destroy. We know how to do this, and have refined these means to the place they are today.  If we choose to employ the lesser life forms on the earth in the hopes of maximizing all the world has to offer, we are to do no harm and strive to do good — to them and to each other.

For a time, we needed to control those forms in such a way as to ensure our own survival and evolution as a species.  But that was hundreds of thousands of years ago.  From the 1st century CE, human beings have had other means to feed and shelter, advanced, sophisticated and humane means, in the form of scientific and intelligent farming, as well as gathering and exchanging food and other products for enjoyment, perpetuation of our kind, and development of the earth’s resources.

One holdover from our more chaotic, bewildering and unconscious past is the tendency to resort to violence and weaponry when we are too lax or confused or misled to use other, more elegant means.  Part of this is the indiscriminate use of firearms.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much this weekend as I am in the midst of hosting my visitors, and I did not post this on a Friday morning, as year three of this blog is dedicated to exploring beauty in our lives and all around me here in this abundant and progressive place called California. The very word conjures up cheer, happiness, sharing, progress, enlightenment, success.

But I have to comment on the wanton murder of a beloved lion this weekend.  A lion who was treasured by his countryman, one of a dwindling number of his kind in the wild. A magnificent creature cut down, painfully, by an ignorant, violent, cowardly American, I am desolate to admit.

When you hand a toy weapon to a child, this is the logical outcome.  When you organize shooting parties of fox or deer or antelope or pheasants or any other living creature, this is the logical result.  Some day down the road, a depraved individual will shoot an endangered species for no other reason than they can.  They have the ability to fly to the area.  They have the money to pay a poor resident of that nation so he will take them to where the animals live, many of them protected, loved, befriended and therefore trusting of human beings.  They have the most sophisticated rifles with instrumentation that enable zeroing in on the innocent, unsuspecting target and killing it brutally. For what? To eat lion meat? To take the skin or head or tusk or tail or teeth back as macabre trophies for an equally benighted audience?

What is the reason you hunt? It is no sport.  There is nothing in it any more that gives man any real disadvantage.  It is even more despicable than two men pommeling each other until they bleed, and eventually lose their minds and die young, simply because they are poor and the masses want to see them hurt each other for a craven entertainment.

I would as soon shoot a baby as I would an animal.  I know there are people who think this heresy and that human beings are in a different category altogether.  Really? Those are often the very same people who condemn abortion in America (a practice I consider murder, as well) but who think nothing of drones or bombs killing thousands of Iraqi babies and children.   People who are now lobbying for war against Iran so we can kill thousands of Iranian babies.

And they think of hunting as brave and masculine and entertaining and natural.

Don’t fool yourselves.  You just don’t understand killing.  If you did, you would not keep pets and then look the other way when weak, disempowered, mindless people who don’t know what else to do with their money and time, of a truly magnificent and productive nature, practice marksmanship in the best case, and release their pent up frustrations and misery by inflicting it on others, especially helpless animals.

I base this analysis on 40 years of thinking about this topic, and studying the issues and facts related to it.  This is not something I say just because I am an East Coast Progressive with a soft heart.

If you still can’t grasp the dimension and gravity of this crime, just imagine what you would think if you were to go to the zoo with your children and see someone with a crossbow or a rifle shooting animals in their cages.  I see no difference whatsoever between that and what this deeply selfish, unconscious, ignorant man did to Cecil.

You would never pick up a gun if you had studied and analyzed and thought about this as I have, because you would recognize where this action ultimately leads and you would be too ashamed.

Image: freeimages.imagestocks.in

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