Monday, January 24, 2011

Finishing Up with a Month in LA

It's always tough to come to the end of a trip, but we had a great finish to this one, a full month living in Santa Monica close to Louise's son Brian, wife Ardy and our newest grandchild Cedro.

Cedro arrived in LA four months ahead of us, and used the time well, perfecting a smile to win anyone's heart.  We saw him most days and in a variety of settings, sometimes at his home or on a visit to our rental apartment, sometimes for strolls or shopping.  He was a happy little guy who rarely fussed when meeting someone new.  To say we had fun with Cedro is a serious understatement.

Santa Monica is a city of 85,000 that is really just an extension of Los Angeles.  It butts up to West LA near Westwood, home of UCLA, but is a notch or two up the economic scale, with homes rarely available for under $1 million except on the edges near LA and Venice, and rarely under $2 million when you get close to the beach or into the Santa Monica hills on the northwest edge of town.

With all that wealth it is very well kept-up, as these street views perhaps display.  We can identify the palm trees OK, but we never did figure out what species of trees the second photo shows, so we called them "broccoli trees" since they look an awful lot like stalks of broccoli standing on edge.  Well, they did to us, anyway . . .

We found a comfortable 1 BR apartment online through  It was a mile from the beach and from the outstanding public library, where we signed up for and heavily used our library cards, and 3 miles by bus or bike from the family.  Getting around without a car was no problem as the bus service was quite frequent and exceptionally cheap, especially for us seniors -- anyone 62 or over under their rules -- at 50 cents for a Santa Monica bus system ride, 55 cents or 25 cents on an LA Metro bus depending on whether it was peak fare or off-peak.  While we saw the family more often than not, we also had some walking and cycling days on our own, and several times explored the bluffs and beaches -- here's a shot looking south along Santa Monica Beach past the Santa Monica Pier, with LAX off in the distance about a third of the way from left to right, and the Palos Verdes peninsula behind the pier. 

We also did some exploring in the Santa Monica Hills and the mansion-filled canyons that stretch out from them to the ocean.  The next three shots were taken in Will Rogers State Park, an area given to the state by his widow.  The "cowboy philosopher" became famous twirling ropes, then decided to add something extra to the act by "philosophizing" during his act.  Pretty soon he was more famous for his clever sayings than his extraordinary rope skills.  The small museum at the park had a video which left no doubts about the latter, and introduced us to some of his sayings, such as "A fool and his money are soon elected;" "Never miss a good chance to shut up;" "Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects;" and "Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans." 

Well, we are agreed that the next photo is of a house where the pavement ends and the Santa Monica Hills take over, followed by a shot of downtown Santa Monica with some fog along the beach 750 vertical feet below us, followed by us at the top of the hill and downtown Los Angeles not quite 20 miles away in the distance.


While the LA area is not really that good for cycling, there is one bike trip well worth taking, the South Bay Bike Trail.  It runs along the Pacific from the far end of Santa Monica through Venice, past LAX, and on to several beach communities south of downtown, ending at Torrance Beach 22 miles from the start.  It's greatness is its location, however, not the quality of the trail, which is occasionally covered with patches of sand enough to warrant caution, and sometimes a tad narrow.  But we took it all the way once, most of the way another time, and on a third ride explored a trail that runs off it, the Ballona Creek Bike Trail.  Yes, that concrete sluiceway is "Ballona Creek," looking pretty much like all the rivers in the LA area that bear only the faintest of resemblance to actual rivers and creeks, at least until there's a downpour.


We also managed to visit two great museums.  On a previous trip to LA we saw a third one, the Getty, and will probably return there next time down.  But this year we focused on LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Huntington Library.  Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, the National Gallery of Art in DC, and the Art Institute in Chicago, it tries to cover all the bases in art, and largely does though never quite on the scale of those other three.  Still, it was a worthwhile place to spend a good part of a day.  We concentrated on the American collection, and quite admired this Childe Hassam from 1918 entitled Avenue of the Allies: Brazil, Belgium, showing Fifth Avenue NY at its patriotic best during WW I, and George Bellows well-known The Cliff Dwellers, a classic painting from the so-called "Ashcan School" of urban realism done in 1913.  We're not sure to what extent it was by chance or by intent, but the museum owns two works entitled Cotton Pickers, the first an oil by Winslow Homer done in 1876, the second a crayon and gouache by John Biggers in 1947, two very different approaches to the same topic.


Every Sunday they have a free concert at the museum, and we heard a great program of Elgar and Mozart, including the incomparable Clarinet Quintet performed by clarinetist Stuart Clark and the Capitol Ensemble.

The Huntington Library is part botanical garden, part research library, part art museum.  We met up there with Karen, a friend Louise has had since they met at the University of Michigan 48 years ago, and Karen's husband Fred.  We had no research to do at the Huntington but did take a nice tour of the gardens led by this knowledgeable docent, here showing us the cactus garden.  She also took us past this bottle tree, explaining that it is a true succulent, i.e. a plant that stores water to get it through dry spells, just as a cactus does, then to the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, even taking our photo with Karen and Fred in the latter.

The museum is in two buildings, one the actual mansion that the Huntingtons once lived in -- lived in, that is, for 2-3 months a year, since Mrs. Huntington was much more interested in the East Coast social life than in Pasadena's.
The American collection is in a building put up to be a museum, and included a painting by Jasper Cropsey, a lesser-known Hudson River School painter we've taken a fancy to.  His Pioneer's Home, Eagle Clliff depicts a scene in New Hampshire near Franconia Notch in 1859, not all that close in miles to where we biked earlier this year, but very close in appearance.  The museum has another painting done in Fryeburg Maine, where we spent two nights a few months ago.  Well, not actually a painting but rather a "study," i.e. a sketchy sort of painting done by an artist to work out layout, colors and the like before painting a "real" painting.  In this case the finished painting was never done, so Eastman Johnson's 1865 study for Sugaring Off, i.e. maple syrup making, is all anyone has by him on that topic.
The European collection is in the former mansion, some of which still has the look of a lived-in house -- OK, a lived-in, overly ostentatious mansion -- such as the large library.  But other rooms and many of the hallways are largely art galleries, and one room contains the crown jewels.  Yes, that is Thomas Gainsborough's iconic Blue Boy on the far wall, and again in this close-up.  Across the room from it (out of sight in the shot of the room) is yet another archetypal image of 18th century youth, the Thomas Lawrence painting called Pinkie.  The young woman was painted at the request of her grandmother, who missed her back in Jamaica when she went off to England for her schooling.  Alas, she died there and the grandmother never got to see her again except in this fine painting.  Her surviving brother Edward, by the way, went on to become the father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

OK, enough of other people's kids and grandkids, time for our star Cedro again.  Here's a shot of him and us on the campus of the UCLA Bruins.  Not all of campus is that intimidating.  Here we are strolling past Fowler and Royce Halls, and in a close-up in front of Royce Hall.  The campus architectural style is most generously described as "eclectic," although some of the early buildings like these show an attempt to have some style.  We can't say as much for many of the later buildings, though the campus as a whole was reasonably collegiate in the best sense of that term.

Speaking of style, we headed home with Ardy that day for a dinner prepared by Japanese chef Brian.  The sartorial style du jour leaves something to be desired, but there was nothing wanting in the dishes he prepared!

A week before Christmas we had an added treat -- Brian's sister/Louise's daughter Lisa and her family arrived from Ithaca NY.  It was a chance for the three cousins to get together for a group picture, with 3 1/2-year-old Issei at the top, his 6-year-old sister Elise in the middle, and of course 4-month-old Cedro there at the bottom.
One of our more interesting outings was to Giggles & Hugs, a so-called "children's restaurant.  They have a play area with supervised play, face and arm painting and crafts to keep the kids occupied while the largely female, mostly 30-something adults noshed with their friends on lunch from what was actually a fairly healthy menu.  There was a fee for the play area but the food prices were, although not cheap, at least not out of whack with your typical mall restaurant.  Our grandkids seemed to have a good time there.


A second outing was to Hermosa Beach, some 20 miles from Santa Monica, which we reached on our tandem via the bike trail, and the unlucky rest of the family by car.  It was a few days after Christmas, and we got to see the locals out enjoying some December sledding, LA-style.  We had lunch for the nine of us at a Mexican place looking out over the beach, but apparently there was something in the lunch which led the Ithaca crowd to take more than a mere siesta.  Maybe one too many of the burritos grande?

Well, let's go with just one more side-trip before we head home to Seattle.  Next to Santa Monica is Venice, another community that blends into LA at one end but has its own character, especially as you approach the Pacific.  Along the beach is a "boardwalk" that is actually a paved walkway with all sorts of things for sale, mostly for those who are not, shall we say, up-and-coming executive types.  Another part of town, however, has several blocks of these quirky little "canals," glorified but quite attractive ditches that can barely float a canoe but do make for a very different sort of street-scape. 

And then the month was over.  Although we had to say our goodbyes to Brian, Ardy, Cedro, Lisa, Ray, Elise and Issei, we still had one more adventure to complete before we could say goodbye to this trip and to this blog.  Amtrak.
Brian drove us and our tandem down to lovely Union Station the day before.  After packing up the bike we took a Gold Line light rail train to nearby Pasadena to walk around, feel the pre-Rose Parade and Rose Bowl excitement, and enjoy a Chinese/fusion dinner.  After a night in the Miyako Hotel we walked the half mile to the station and were off on our 34-hour trip up the West Coast.  Quite literally up the coast for many miles, as you can see from these photos from the cozy Pacific Parlour Car -- a lounge car for the sleeper passengers -- of the Channel Islands, one of the beaches we zipped by at 60 or 70 mph, and a gaggle of oil rigs off the coast near Santa Barbara.
Amtrak trains always stop for 20-30 minutes every 3 hours or so to refuel, pick up food for the dining car and onboard snack bar, and sometimes change the train crew.  One of these stops is in San Luis Obispo, where we got this shot of a statue to the Chinese "coolies" who helped build the western railroads, and of the train waiting for the "All Aboard" call.
Louise climbed into the lower bunk in our sleeper compartment about 10 pm but Jeff stayed up 'til midnight, which occurred while we were sitting in the Sacramento station.  Since this was New Year's Eve, he saw and heard fireworks nearby.
Next morning, we woke up to a totally different world.  We were on the shore of Klamath Lake high up in the Oregon Cascades, a frozen wonderland.  For the next few hours, until we descended 4,000' from Cascade Pass down to Eugene in the Willamette Valley, we were in the land of ice and snow, but oh, so cozy inside the Pacific Parlour Car, with our hot coffees and our hot cocoas!
And then it was over.  The train arrived 50 minutes early, and an hour later we were home once again in our condo by the sea.  As you can see, we still have some winter beauty to enjoy from our Puget Sound perch, and some wonderful memories to cherish and photos to look at from time to time from the past 6 1/2 months.
Thank you for joining us as we wandered 3200 miles by tandem bike, 7200 miles on Amtrak, and countless more miles on foot around Ohio, New England, Washington DC, Austin, LA, and points between. 
We'll put the blog to rest for a while, but check back this summer, and who knows, we might just be biking and blogging once again!