Monday, January 30, 2012

Long Beach via Greystone

I had another one of those days where I began by intending to do one thing and ended up doing something else.  This time, I had it in mind to spend some time at the Greystone Mansion estate, a city park in Beverly Hills.  A former residence of the Doheny family, the city of Beverly Hills purchased the property in 1965, and it eventually became a city park.  Like the Getty Villa adventure, I thought it would be nice to wander around the grounds of another posh estate, especially since it's free.  I also wanted to be outdoors where I could take advantage of this ideal climate we've been having.
However, when I arrived at Greystone Mansion, I found the mansion covered in scaffolding and much of the grounds cordoned off due to some event or possibly filming going on.  (I read that the property is super popular as a movie/tv set.) 
There's scaffolding on the lower part of the mansion.
I had high hopes for Greystone, plus I had driven far to visit it, so I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't see most of the estate, especially since what little I saw was lovely.
Greystone Mansion
Greystone Mansion
Needless to say, I didn't stay at the park for long.  I soon left and headed towards the Golden Triangle--the swanky section of Beverly Hills which has Rodeo Drive at its center--to hunt down some lunch.  However, I grew more and more annoyed as I was stuck in traffic around Little Santa Monica Blvd.  Then the thought of finding parking and hunting for a worthy eatery likewise annoyed me.  All this vexation led me to abruptly change my mind and to decide to drive over to the Long Beach Museum of Art.
In fact, the Long Beach Museum of Art had been a contender for this week's excursion but had lost out over the fact that I hadn't wanted to do another indoor activity after the Museum of the Holocaust visit last week.  However, since Greystone Mansion was a bust, I settled on the sole runner-up, especially since its onsite restaurant, Claire's Cafe, had a reputation for tasty cuisine in a beautiful setting. 
view of ocean from Claire's Cafe patio
Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting at a table on the patio of Claire's Cafe, indulging in a glass of pinot grigio and marveling at the gorgeous view of the beach.  The weather was perfect--sunny but not hot at all.  I was so pleased that I decided to have lunch by the beach instead of in Beverly Hills.
After a leisurely meal, I walked over to the adjacent building where the museum proper is housed.  Their current exhibition is Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999, "a retrospective selection of the significant international video works and artists who were part of the historic video art program at the Long Beach Museum of Art."
Exchange and Evolution video exhibition
The exhibition was interesting.  I didn't understand a lot of what I saw, but some pieces were viscerally evocative.  My favorite video was called Kiyoko's Dilemma, a short film about a Japanese woman's struggle to balance her artistic drive with familial obligations.
I have no idea what this installation is about.
Long Beach Museum of Art is not large so the exhibition was likewise not particularly extensive.  Other than the short film, I didn't linger much at each video installation so my time at the museum was relatively short.  I should mention that besides the video exhibition, the museum has a children's art section downstairs which the docents didn't mention but which I discovered en route to the restroom.
artwork from Mary McLeod Bethune Transitional Center for Homeless Students
From the museum, I walked towards the beach.  I didn't make it down to the beach itself but was content to sit on the embankment and people-watch.  I can't describe how nice it was just relaxing there, gazing at the water and at the people milling about enjoying the spring-like temperature.  I probably sat there for a solid forty-five minutes to an hour.  It was great.
view from my perch
a lovely day
Overall, I had a very good day.  It didn't start off well, but I am ultimately glad that Greystone Mansion didn't work out because Long Beach turned out to be a stellar alternative.  I couldn't ask for better weather, and I enjoyed chillaxing by the beach and just watching the lively goings-on of people (and of dogs) who were likewise reveling in the great SoCal climate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dark and the Light

This week, I visited Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.  Not to be confused with Museum of Tolerance (the educational unit of the Simon Wiesenthal Center located in West L.A.), Museum of the Holocaust is situated within Pan Pacific Park in the mid-city area of L.A.  It is reportedly the oldest Holocaust museum in the United States, yet I was clueless to the museum's existence, as well as that of Pan Pacific Park, prior to a couple weeks ago.
I arranged to meet my friend, RHS, at the museum, and we arrived as it opened.  The staff are courteous and offered us (without charge) the use of iPod Touch audio guides with accompanying headsets, necessary since all recorded presentations throughout the museum--including at the pc stations where one can listen to personal accounts from Holocaust survivors--are only audible via headsets.
The iPod guide also has a layout of the museum, which is planned to methodically guide the visitor through the historical timelines detailed in the exhibition. 
As we made our way through the hall, we were presented with historical excerpts, photos, and many authentic artifacts from Holocaust victims.  There are also Nazi artifacts on display.
Among the more interesting fixtures are the American newspaper imprints from the 1930s and 1940s which highlight reports hinting at the growing Nazi movement in Europe and the ever increasing social injustices towards certain classes of German citizens.  They are chilling portents of the greater atrocities to come.
The museum is not large, but it's very informative.  We took our time examining each informational panel, listening to different voices narrate passages and provide background to the images.  The photographs are moving and evocative and in many cases, frank and raw in their uncensored testimony.
The museum exterior is also impressive.  At the rear of the building, tall stone pillars commemorate the Holocaust.  Each pillar is marked by a key year and a short synopsis of that date's significance. 
Additionally, there are inscriptions etched into concrete walls, walkways, plaques, and benches which commemorate people and places of significance from the Holocaust.  Most noteworthy are inscriptions remembering and honoring victims on the exterior museum walls.
wall of remembrance
In total, we spent close to two hours at the museum.  We both found the museum's message to be very well presented.  The entire museum complex is a thoughtful, evocative monument to the Holocaust, and the exhibition and the museum layout create an unhurried, private experience for the visitor.

When we finally departed the museum, we drove over to West Hollywood for lunch.  My guidebook directed us to a couple of prospects on Melrose Avenue, and we finally settled for M Cafe de Chaya, an eatery that specializes in "contemporary macrobiotic cuisine."  The food was exceptionally good, fresh and flavorful and much better than I expected.  The cafe is a great find.
hummus&falafel wrap w/ side of kickass kale salad, sweet potato fries, and chopped salad
After lunch, I commented to RHS that we needed to end our day with something frivolous to counter the seriousness of the morning's excursion, so without telling her where we were headed, I made my way over to Whimsic Alley, the shop for all your wizardly needs.
RHS was surprised and delighted when she saw the theme of the store.  It was also my first time visiting Whimsic Alley, though I'd heard about it years ago and always meant to check it out.  I'm tickled I did--it's a pretty awesome place. 
RHS w/ quidditch player & Hermione
I banged my muggle head a few times trying to run thru the wall.
RHS and I are Harry Potter fans so it was fun to walk through the store and check out the cool merchandise.  The entire store is modeled after Diagon Alley, and the interior is sectioned off to mimic the shops in the fictional neighborhood, e.g. a broomstick store, a witch's accessory store, a wand store, etc.
potion store
Every witch must accessorize!
Which wand will choose me?
There is also a party room at the back of the store which one can rent.  There was a birthday party in full swing when we visited so we heard shrieking kids, and I spotted a Harry Potter lookalike roaming the place.  The atmosphere was very festive.  I was very amused.
We hung out at Whimsic Alley for about a half hour and then left to get back to Pan Pacific Park where RHS had parked her car.  Thankfully, I am not a hoarder of memorabilia so I was able to leave the store without purchasing anything.  RHS likewise didn't purchase anything, but no doubt she was planning out future birthday and Christmas presents for certain relatives.

It was an interesting day.  I'm glad to have discovered and visited Museum of the Holocaust.  I am curious to know how it differs or compares to Museum of Tolerance which I visited as a young student but about which I have no clear memory beyond that of the Holocaust survivor my class and I met that day who spoke hauntingly about her experience.  I'll be sure to visit Museum of Tolerance in the near future so that I can find out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Villa and Shrine

I spent a lovely Saturday with a couple of friends visiting the area of L.A. "where the mountain meets the sea," aka Pacific Palisades.  I'd only visited Pacific Palisades a couple times in my life, on both occasions as school field trips to Getty Villa museum when I was a teenager.  So here I was again on a field trip to Getty Villa.

Before our arrival there, however, we stopped off at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple, a self-described "spiritual sanctuary" located only a mile and a half from the museum. 
I'm all about maximizing the potential of my trips, so the proximity to Getty Villa, added to the fact that it was free admission, drew me to the Lake Shrine.  I am not spiritual in any way, but I was also curious about the place, especially when I learned that some of Gandhi's ashes are interred here.
Gandhi shrine
Our plan was to explore the Lake Shrine for about a half hour or so and then head over to Getty Villa.  However, traffic was better than expected so we arrived at our first destination early, with an hour and a half to kill before our museum reservation.  As it turned out, it was very pleasant at the Lake Shrine. 
view of the lake
We walked around the man-made lake and looked at the various shrines ensconced in the foliage.  The lake itself and the landscape around it are very serene and beautifully maintained.  Water birds, including a couple of swans, meandered on the lake, and koi fish were visible beneath the murky surface.  We didn't go into the temple structure that overlooks the lake.
resident swans
The Lake Shrine's philosophy promotes all religions, claiming that every spiritual path leads to the same god.  To that idea, there were meditation areas for the major religions as well placards with pithy quotations from various spiritual teachings throughout the grounds.  However, the foremost emphasis of the Lake Shrine seems to be meditation and self-reflection, and not necessarily through the vessel of an established religion.
The windmill in the distant right is a meditation chapel.
We encountered people meditating in the several sanctuaries around the lake.  Understandably, silence is requested in all areas of the Lake Shrine grounds.  The three of us found a deserted bench at the edge of the lake where we relaxed and chatted and admired the view until we left for Getty Villa.
another meditation spot
Once at the museum, I tried to discern any obvious physical differences in the grounds and structures since I'd last seen them.  However, I couldn't remember enough from my previous visits to comment on the general improvements resulting from the decade-long renovation that took place during the late 1990s/early 2000s. 
What I do remember is that Getty Villa was wholly magnificent then, and it is still so today.  With views of the ocean in the distance, the entire property is ideally situated, and the landscape is green and lush and meticulously beautiful.
view overlooking peristyle
another view of peristyle
After walking around the grounds where we admired the architecture and the landscaping, we went inside to view the art collection, comprised mostly classical pieces. 
Marbury Hall Zeus
ancient Greek artifacts
There were two exhibitions of note:  one featuring ancient glass works; and the other entitled Modern Antiquity, a major exhibit focusing on four 20th century masters (Picasso, de Chirico, Leger, and Picabia) whose works were directly influenced by classical themes.  We especially liked the latter exhibit.  I was impressed with the quantity of Picasso pieces included in the exhibition and became acquainted with a couple of artists about whom I hadn't known prior to this occasion. 
Modern Antiquity exhibition
After almost two hours of exploring the villa and the art, we went to lunch.  Though the museum has an on-site cafe with a substantial menu, we opted for Getty Villa's "Tea by the Sea," an afternoon tea service that's only available twice a week by reservation.  I was famished by the time we sat down in the tea room, and so I devoured half of my delicious meal before I remembered to take photos.  There was a selection of generic teas and tisanes upon request, but the main tea served is the museum's own blend of fragrant black tea infused with lavender which I loved.
I drank many cups of tea with my delicious meal.
As an epilogue to our afternoon tea, Getty Villa offered a docent-led tour of the gardens that, in theory, influenced the meal that we'd just had.  I think this claim is seasonal, since our meal, though good, didn't feature much of the herbs, fruit, and vegetation of which the docent spoke.  Still, I liked the tour.  Our docent is an elegant woman who was eloquent and well-educated in her knowledge of the villa and of ancient Roman culture.
tour of the Getty gardens
Our time at Getty Villa concluded with the tour, and we finally headed home.  Including the tea, we spent close to five hours at Getty Villa.  That plus the hour and a half at the Lake Shrine added up to a very full day.  The weather perfectly suited outdoor strolling.  I had a great time, and my friends said the same. 
view of the ocean from Getty Villa
The Lake Shrine is a pleasant discovery, a welcome getaway for spiritual contemplation or at the least, a quiet respite from the buzz of daily life.  My friends especially became inspired by the Lake Shrine and plan on returning to take a meditation class in the near future.

As for Getty Villa, I enjoyed the grounds, the architecture, the art, and the afternoon tea.  The staff at the museum are all professional, courteous, friendly, and helpful.  I was also pleased that the museum wasn't terribly packed with visitors.  I think people tend to overlook Getty Villa for its flashier younger sibling, the Getty Center in Brentwood, which is fine by me since I prefer the ambiance of the former over that of the latter.  I hope to visit again soon.
making my mark at Getty Villa

Monday, January 9, 2012

Los Angeles River

In my determination to do more outdoorsy activities to take advantage of this welcome warm spell, I decided this week to get acquainted with the Los Angeles River.  I planned an itinerary that starts from the downstream end of the Glendale Narrows to the Elysian Valley Gateway Park and back to the starting point.
Before I went to the river, I visited the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens located in Cypress Park.
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
The River Center consists of an exhibit hall that charts the history and the role of the river, as well as its continuing future development.  The small hall was interesting and informative, and I spent 10-15 minutes perusing the presentation.
River Center
Afterward, I walked around the grounds which, on this Sunday, were deserted.  Besides being an orientation center for the Los Angeles River, its beautiful mission-styled gardens and buildings also double as an event location, available for rental for conferences and weddings.  The grounds are open daily and free to the public.
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens fountain courtyard
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens
When I was ready to explore the river, I drove a couple miles over to Egret Park, a tiny pocket park that was my designated starting point for the journey.  Egret Park abuts the bike/walking path on the west bank of the river.  As I stepped out of the park onto the path, this was visible on the opposite embankment:
Anza Mural by Frank Romero
From here, I headed northward, tracking the river the entire way.  The course wasn't busy, but bikes passed me regularly, and I also encountered occasional runners and fellow walkers.  Bikers far outnumbered people on foot.
west bank bike path and river
It wasn't a taxing trek.  The path isn't inclined, and the weather couldn't be better--sunny but not hot at all.  I made sure to bring a hat for shade, and I paused often to take photos.  
Though I was tempted, I did not climb down the concrete embankment to inspect the river more closely.  Besides the potential danger of falling into the river, I wasn't sure what the laws were concerning going past the railing.  Also, the cleanliness of the water was questionable, and the litter I saw on the trees and foliage around the river gave pause.  Though the nature aspect of the river is fascinating, the river also seems a magnet for urban detritus.  Quite unpleasant.
view of embankment slope
tons of litter
The walk also presented an acutely contrasting juxtaposition of nature with urban deterioration.  I'd gleaned from my research a mostly romantic expectation about "urban nature," encouraged to only look towards the river and its flora/fauna.  Yet I couldn't ignore the low-income residential and commercial property I passed on the other side of my path.  I also felt self-consciously intrusive at being able to see into private dwelling backyards that are barely separated from the path by flimsy chain-link fences.
barbed wire to keep trespassers out or the captives in?
However, despite the depressing aspects of the area, I nevertheless enjoyed my walk.  It was peaceful, and there were ample bird-watching opportunities on the river.
My northbound journey ended at Elysian Valley Gateway Park (another tiny pocket park), and I headed back south to my starting point.  The round-trip measures 3.4 miles exactly, according to my research, and took me an hour and a half to complete it.
Pocket parks are SUPER tiny.
It was an interesting excursion.  I learned a lot about the river, and I'm glad that I finally got to examine part of it up close and not just in passing as I drive by on the freeway.  I might explore another stretch of it in the future since it's about 50 miles long, and I am curious about the river within different settings.  I'm also very glad that I discovered the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, an unexpected oasis worth visiting again if I'm in the area.