Friday, May 4, 2012

Back to LA

For a second time we decided to spend the end of the year in Santa Monica, a city of 90,000 that adjoins the western edge of Los Angeles.  Thanks to the wonders of the International Date Line, we landed in LA earlier on the same day we left China, November 18, and started our visit with a view back toward China, now 6,500 miles (10,500 km) west of us.  We have many memories from our six weeks there, and now another six weeks in one place to start writing up the blog entries that you perhaps have read by now.  Yes, it's currently May 2012 as we write this entry and we have at last finished catching up with our blog, for those six weeks in LA were spent not only writing the blog but also getting out for walks and, most importantly, catching up with family. 
We had family waiting for us.  Louise's son Brian and his wife and son relocated to LA two years ago from New York City, and Louise's daughter Lisa chose LA as the place to spend her sabbatical year after getting tenure recently at Cornell, in part to collaborate with colleagues in her field at UCLA and USC, in part for the chance for her and her family to spend time with big brother Brian and his.  Then the chance to be involved in Chinglish came up for Brian, and he took off with wife Ardy and son Cedro for Chicago just weeks before Lisa and family arrived in LA.  No sooner did the play end its blockbuster 7 weeks in Chicago when they were all packing up for NYC as the play went to Broadway.  In short, it was Lisa's family, not Brian's, that welcomed us to LA, and we had many visits to the playground a few blocks from their apartment to celebrate being with our charming and energetic grandkids Elise and Issei and their parents.

Ardy did have a chance to visit LA for a few days in early December while Brian did his understudy gig on Broadway, standing by as spare equipment if any of three actors got ill or truly broke a leg (none did, as it turned out).  Seeing the boys, Issei above and his cousin Cedro below, 4½ and 1½ years old respectively, isn't it amazing how quickly kids go from crawling to standing to running to leaping off things!

When we weren't playing with grandkids, writing our blog or enjoying books and dvds from the Santa Monica Public Library, we went off exploring.  One of the most interesting sites was the La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park.  It sits next door to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, seen in the distance behind the pond in the photo below.  The pond is a modern artifact due to the pooling of water where there was an excavation a century ago, but at the east end the city has installed a statue group showing a mastodon family getting into deep trouble in what would likely have been a smaller patch of tar, possibly covered with a coating of dust and leaves.  And, like quicksand, there was usually no getting out once you got in.  The bubbles, by the way, are methane being burped up by bacteria as they gorge themselves on petroleum seeping up from a large underground reserve.  At various places around the park you can see tar seepages still, like this one a volunteer docent is describing to Louise.  Watch your step!

Over one million bones from 231 species of vertebrates and 234 species of invertebrates have been excavated, and they're still digging.  There is one active excavation pit, plus 23 bedroom-sized boxes of material scooped out when LACMA started to build a new garage and hit a new mother lode, now slowly being picked apart.  The Page Museum in the park tells the story, and shows you what a lump of tar looks like with bones and then with the tar removed.  We don't recommend the museum for impressionable kids dealing with monster dreams, though, as the entrance takes you past a dimly lit room where the light comes on for a few seconds showing a sabre-toothed tiger skeleton, scary enough until the skeleton disappears and the tiger itself comes to life around where the skeleton just was.

A more sedate venue for a hike was the Hollywood Hills.  We took 2 buses to reach Grauman's Chinese Theater, famous for the Hollywood Walk of Fame and all those handprints in the sidewalk.  And, these days, for superhero and bad guy wannabees hanging out in front.   Think sabre-toothed tigers and Darth Vader are scary?  Try spending a night sleeping in a house like this one nearby, knowing that it's only a few miles from the San Andreas Fault!  We headed for the hills ourselves, into the scenic Hollywood Hills of course, past many less insomnia-inducing homes and occasionaly to expansive vistas.  And that tower?  It's a private elevator connecting folks up in the hills with their garages down below, so they don't have to do stairclimbs like the ones we photographed (and hiked).

Another urban hike took us around Culver City past several large movie studios, but our focus was on the quaint streets, the Ballona Creek Trail (yes, that cement monolith is LA's version of a "creek"!), and a climb up into the Blair Hills on a boardwalk that resembled an alpine stage of the Tour de France for pedestrians.  Well, maybe not thousands of feet up on that climb, but a good view at the end over toward Century City (far right) and UCLA (far left).

As the end of December approached we had the Challenge of the Christmas Tree at Lisa's.  No live trees allowed in her apartment building, and it seemed way too extravagant to buy an artificial one to use only once.  Grandma and Grandpa to the rescue!  We bought a large piece of green felt and a book of Christmas stickers for almost nothing, Lisa found some ribbon the kids could make into chains with scissors and glue, and presto magico, a Christmas tree we all took part in creating!

The day after Christmas, Jeff's son Matt arrived with wife Akiko and son Tyler, seen here asking if this present is for him.  Soon they were joined by Jeff's daughter Becky with her husband Sean and stepkids Zoe and Ivy.  Since Matt lives in Tokyo (when not on assignment for Citibank in Saigon or Dalian China, as he has been for the past year and a half), and Becky lives in Austin Texas, this is actually the first time both entire families had gotten together!  We celebrated with a bike ride, of course, except for Sean and Zoe who did a driving tour of LA and beyond.

Santa Monica has a terrific beach, and we all enjoyed it though perhaps none as demonstrably as Matt and Tyler!

We ended our family gathering with a New Years Eve dinner at an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica, preceded by a short visit to the Santa Monica Pier.  For a century it has had amusement rides, and each kid got to choose two.  Ivy and Zoe chose to play big sisters for Elise on one of those whip-the-whip rides, and they all seem to be having a great time! 

It has indeed been a great visit to LA, capping a great trip to China, so we'll take one more bow to the west and distant China from the Santa Monica Pier, and say goodbye to 2011.

Come join us in the summer of 2012 as we unload the tandem from Amtrak in Boston, point it north, and explore the coast of Maine all the way up to Acadia National Park, then zigzag our way across New England to New York City, where we have an apartment rented for the month of September.  Look for the first blog entries in late June.  Happy Trails to all 'til then!

No comments: