Friday, July 27, 2012

Name That City!

     I don't get it.  Over the last few years I have become a person who enjoys exploring big cities. I would never have predicted that twenty years ago.  Nowadays, I find big cities to be full of energy, fascinating people, impressive architecture and artworks,  and just packed with cool things to see.  I am not compelled to experience the nightlife, although I am more than willing to go listen to music or see a movie or play.  I don't want to live in a big city; I simply want to spend a few days exploring it.  I go with an open mind, an adventurous attitude, and a lightness that makes all days good, no matter what.

    One of my favorite activities is to photograph everything.  CIties have their unique essence but they also can blend together.  Just for  fun, I am presenting you with the following photographs.  They were taken in Washington DC, New York City, Honolulu, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, and Los Angeles.  It seems to me that any of these photos could have been taken in any of the cities - they are mostly about art, architecture, and visual interest.  There are two photos per city.  See if you can match the photos with the city.


   Now the photos are repeated with the identities below each photo.  How did you do?  Any surprises for you?

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
in Washington DC

Bricks on the ground at Monticello (T Jefferson's home)
near Washington DC

Artwork in San Francisco

A well hidden walking path on Telegraph HIll in San Francisco.
If you ever saw the awesome documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph HIll
then you saw this walking path.

Blend of new and old

Reflections in Boston


Honolulu from Diamond Head

Store window in Portland

Colors in Portland

Union Station in Los Angeles

Sculpture in Los Angles

Reflections in NYC

Alternative view of the Empire State Building
New York City

                         This was fun!  Might have to do it again someday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Don't you feel off balance just
looking at the photo?

       One of the sillier highlights of my recent SoCal trip included a ride on the ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier.  Somehow I got it in my head that there was ferris wheel there and, despite (or maybe because of) my discomfort with heights, I wanted to ride that thing.  More about that in a moment.


View from the top of the Ferris Wheel
    About that fear of heights.... Acrophobia is the technical word for it and, according to Wikipedia, between 2 and 5 percent of the general population suffer from acrophobia.  Frankly, I am not an acrophobic person.  I am not truly frightened of heights so much as they make me feel unsteady and unsafe. I don't experience panic attacks and can make my way down from high places without needing assistance.  I suspect this discomfort with heights is common in most people and is likely to be an evolutionary adaptation of sorts.  After all, it would be smart for humans to avoid high places where falls and danger might lurk.

    What I do know is that, when I put myself in high places but on steady ground (that is to say not in an airplane), I can get jittery, and adrenaline runs in high quantities and  at full speed through all parts of my body.  I can feel the tingles and change in breathing even as I am ascending.  Scary! There are several times that immediately come to mind when I have put myself there.  I went to the top of the Empire State Building at 1:30 in the morning and freaked myself out mightily.  I had though perhaps darkness would cover some of that discomfort but, if darkness covered it, the wind up there uncovered it.  I could so easily imagine the wind breaking the protective see through shield and sending me blowing across the skies of NYC. I wanted to get away from the edge so fast.

View from the top of the Gettysburg structure.  Gulp
   On a trip to Gettysburg a couple of years ago, I traipsed to the top of a five plus story viewing strcuture along with about 35 brave 8th graders.  That was scary because the structure was made of metal poles and you could see below you in every step you took.   I wanted to do it because it scared me.  I told the kids I was scared but I was going to do it anyway.  Good strategy for life, heh?

   I long ago decided I never needed to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge again.  I really don't need to see between the cracks where the blocks of asphalt and concrete meet.  I don't need to imagine my foot slipping through that crack and my body going on its last grand adventure into the sea.  I am well aware of the 500+ people who have chosen to leap off that bridge.  Is it possible that I could somehow be lifted off the bridge?  I can drive across but even then I am most comfortable with my eyes on the road or on the impressive bridge towers.

   So why the desire to ride the Ferris Wheel in Santa Monica?  Heck if I know but I was so excited.  Poor Matthew.  He had to put up with my "We are going to get to the pier and ride the ferris wheel?' questions every day until we made it happen.  He chose to calmly ride with me and teased me a bit because I told him that a certain other brother (someone you know, Noel) used to rock the cart on the ferris wheel that came every year to town and scare me to tears.

   I suppose I  wanted to get the rush of adrenaline that goes with doing something that is scary but safe.  Before being a parent, I was open to all sorts of risks and experiences.  I think, once parenthood got ahold of me, I became so much more risk aversive and cautious.  Perhaps since I am no longer in the care taking role, I can allow myself to feel more safe fears again.  I can go out on more limbs and let the body feel things to its core.  I sure know I am alive when every sense is tuned in.  I like that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who's New?

    One of the pleasures in travel for me is striking up conversations with people along the way.  These people that you meet in faraway places have no knowledge of you, no idea who this goofy person is.  You can be anyone you want to be in that moment.  Mostly I choose to be just me but I can relax into the conversation because, in all probability, I will never see this person again.  Allow me to introduce you to some of the people I met along the way when visiting in SoCal last week.

    William was a barista in a little coffee joint in downtown Los Angeles.  Matt and I had been wandering about the old downtown on a Sunday morning and Matt was looking for coffee.  We finally located a place that was open on a Sunday (remember, this is the civic center area - not a lot of work day traffic on a Sunday).  William was downright friendly - perhaps we were entertainment for him on an otherwise slow morning? When he realized we were tourists staying out in Santa Monica, he urged us to try the Metro (the underground).  He not only gave us clear directions and things to note along the way, he also slipped us a bag of cookies for "sustenance on the way home".  Yay, William!

     Let's call this man Gabriel.  Gabriel was the security guy on the Metro bus line (which we picked up when we got to the end of the underground line).  While waiting for the bus, we had been approached by a couple of guys (decked out in the SureƱo blue colors) asking if we were wanted to buy a bong - only $200!  And why, I asked, did they think I would want a bong.  "You wear aviators,"  the 20ish year old man replied.  The two guys got on the bus with us and I noticed that our security guy came and stood right by where Matt and I were.  Matt engaged him in conversation after a bit and, despite the mean look, Gabriel was pleasant and friendly to us.  I was glad he was there.

    Later, on that same expedition, we needed to
change buses.  While waiting on the corner, we were approached by Farid.  He had questions about the bus which we tried to answer, letting him know right off that we really didn't know what we were doing.  While we waited together, I discovered that Farid was a 27 year old PhD student at a mid western university.  His homeland is Egypt and we had a wonderful conversation about the contemporary Egyptian culture and the values of the Muslim religion.  We continued that conversation once the bus arrived and, when we had to part ways, we exchanged emails.  Farid and I are now email pen pals!

    We met Myron on the pier in Redondo Beach.  He observed me taking photos of everything and he asked me if I would like him to take a photo of me!  Frankly?  No thanks but it didn't take much persuasion for Myron to tell me about his life.  He was born in the Ukraine, was an engineer on the nuclear sub Trident construction, had a beautiful home in Connecticut which he and his wife sold when they came out to California to be closer to their two sons.  He and his wife live in the Salvation Army Senior Residence, less than two blocks from the pier. He considers himself a lucky man.  From our conversation, I would agree.

 Mariella wouldn't smile for my camera but just a couple of minutes before dad picked her up, she had been toddling around the church, all smiles.  There were several of these little tiny girls, all dressed in white with proud family members surrounding them.  They are too young for First Communion and maybe seem too old for Baptism (but maybe not?).  Matt wondered if maybe wearing fancy white dresses to church was part of the Sunday culture among the Latino families in that area.  I don't know but it was fun to watch the children and parents together!

                                                                                                                                                                             Spike was quite the character.  We spotted him while walking to dinner one evening.  He was set up with a whole fighting ring in the little grassy strip that runs between the sidewalk and the curb.  Go, Spike!

        And then there was Porter!  I met Porter on the grass near the pier in Santa Monica.  Matt and I were just chillin' for a while when Porter and his peeps showed up.  The lovely couple who had brought him to the park were very busy with intimate attentions of their own but the man kept tossing out a ball for Porter to chase -- and he ran after it every time and returned the ball to dad - never once barking!   I kept trying to get Porter to play with me (without interrupting or intruding upon his peeps) and, finally, as we were about to leave, Porter gave me some attention.  Which meant, I could do the same back.  He was super soft and so playful.  His peeps turned out to be very friendly and I discovered that he was a poodle terrier mix.  Never thought I would ever yearn for a poodle but, let me tell you, his cousin might come to live at our house one day.

   Enough for today.  What these conversations tell me is that most people are much the same all over the world.  For the most part, we all want the same things:  a safe place to live, someone to love and someone by whom to be loved, enough financial resources to take care of yourself and your family, a little fun, and a friendly world in which to live.  I sure found SoCal to be home to lots of good people.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Imagine That

   Yesterday I wrote about the first part of my recent travel adventures.  Visiting with my sister Laura and her husband Doug was a relatively minor blip on the "out of your comfort zone" radar. The day after I got back into town from visiting at Laura's, I took off for places south with my brother Matthew. This second trip was more than a blip on that comfort zone radar and yet I enjoyed every moment of it. Imagine that.

    My siblings and I were raised about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley.  During the 1970's my entire family relocated to northern California, though not as a group.  Some of us went away to college, and some (including our parents) moved north because they wanted to leave the smog and congestion of SoCal.  Matthew is doing book research and when he tossed out the idea of the two of us going to Santa Monica for a few days, I got very excited.  There are both cultural and environmental attractions that I have always heard about but never had the chance to visit.  I was out of SoCal by the time I was 19 and have seldom returned and then only for a specific reason.  Matt knows this area and going with him would give me a guide to the sights and a guide for maneuvering on unknown freeways.  I jumped on board the plan.

     Over the next few days, I hope to write several posts featuring this adventure.  Today I want to toss out some general impressions.  I feel compelled to add this caveat:  my comments are in no way meant to offend; they are simply my observations.  I add that caveat because, despite the pockets of pretty found in SoCal, I strongly prefer what my senses experience in Northern California.  Frankly, I was taken with what I saw as the lack of color and interest in the SoCal landscape.  Again, this doesn't mean there weren't pockets of pretty but I saw largely concrete gray on the roads and in the sky.  The terrain is primarily flat and dull.  True, the San Gabriel mountains are visible from Pasadena (in fact, they are right in front of you) but even the mountains are granite gray with tinges of brown and flecks of dark green.  Rolling back into Sonoma County on the way back, I appreciated our hills that are mostly green with golden brown highlights.  I focused on the oak and eucalyptus trees and was delighted to feast my eyes on a few puffy white clouds sailing in the  clear blue skies.  Refreshing is the word that comes to mind.

   The SoCal beaches were, at first glance, literally thrilling for me to behold.  I was stoked at the broad span of sand and water, the sweet grassy park like area adjacent to the sand.  I soaked in lovely tropical breeze ruffling the air and practiced breathing.  But, what I noticed after a bit, was that the broad expanse was beautiful but not as interesting to me as the more rocky, more sand dune sparkled beaches of home.  Again, not a slam to SoCal; just a personal preference.  The So Cal beaches were also all about people bathing in the sun and actually swimming in the water!  That is not a common sight on Nor Cal beaches.  Most people in their right minds do not venture into the water off Sonoma or Mendocino Counties unless they are wearing a wet suit.  Just different.

   The beach areas did bring the familiar ocean scent which tops my list of favorite fragrances.  I love the sound of the ocean waves too and, yes, you could hear that lovely rhythm.  Traveling on the freeways and in the congested traffic had the same traffic sounds and smells you will encounter in traffic anywhere.  Can't fault SoCal for that!

    The pockets of pretty were feasts.  I had to stop and look carefully at flowers everywhere.  They were bright and abundant in the coastal and upscale areas we visited.  Flowers were not so obvious in the hard scrabble parts of town but I suppose that is the same in many large cities. We visited the Getty Museum in Malibu and the Huntington Library in San Marino and both of these fabulous cultural banks provided us with  luscious eye candy.   Our bike rides along the beaches were difficult to sustain as I was constantly distracted by the beautiful blues of the sea and the very inviting scenes of coastal living.


     In addition to pockets of pretty to see, Matt and I enjoyed wonderfully tasty yet simple dining.  Matt knows good food and he was instrumental in selecting restaurants that included well made food, and an ambiance conducive to relaxing conversation while enjoying our meals.  One night we happened to end up in nosier sort of place but the food was outstanding.  We also ended up engaging fellow diners in conversation and that was fun!

   I have so many impressions and will continue this series tomorrow.  What I know is that, even though I must slip out of my comfort zone to do it, travel seems to be agreeing with me more and more as I get older.  I am especially drawn now to places that shake, rattle, and roll with energy.  I can't get enough of being in the dynamic world.  I want to take in all the sights and I want to ask all the people who they are and why they are there. Travel makes me know that I am alive.

     I SO MUCH appreciated Matt's patience on this trip because he was constantly having to wait while I snapped yet another photo or chatted it up with yet another stranger.  He never seemed to mind and would simply appear to enjoy the solitary moments to absorb what was in front of him.  His planning and attention to detail made all the difference in the world.  We both agreed from the get go that this was going to be an adventure and that surely we would encounter unsettling moments but we would be flexible.  We both knew that we need down time, time with nothing on the agenda other than to read or nap.   We built "no stress" time into the days and that paid off.  In short, Matthew was a great travel companion and I hope he lets me go with him on future excursions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Comfortable out of the Comfort Zone

   I've been traveling.  Not huge big time faraway places travel but comfortable, get out of your own ruts kind of travel.  First, I spent several days at my sister's home near Mt Lassen in north central California.  Laura's home is situated in a small community that sits in the far reaching shadows of Mt Shasta and is down the road from the dormant volcano Mt. Lassen. The homes in the neighborhood are set on large lots with more pine needles on the grounds than grass.  It is a quiet, sleepy little neighborhood that smells like the forest.

    My sister and her husband Doug are always so welcoming and always so much fun.  Laura  is employed full time while Doug is retired.  Doug and Laura are also living with the side effects of radiation and chemo that Doug received three years ago when cancer raged through his body.  It was a horrible year of cancer treatments that left Doug at death's door on more than one occasion but he and Laura were a mighty team with which cancer had to reckon.  These days, they are generally living alone as one of their children is married and the other is in college.  It was just the three of us when I was there two weeks ago.

   The weather in their neck of the woods is relatively mild though they are not far from one of California's hot spots.  They live about a forty minute drive from the northern central valley city of Redding.  While we were there, the temperature in Redding kicked around 111 to 115 degrees.  Yikes! At their home, the temp was closer to 90 and it didn't cool off much at night.  These temps are both exciting and uncomfortable for this more coastal dweller.  The excitement comes in the novelty but the novelty of intense heat wears off rapidly and I find myself remembering fondly the foggy mornings about which I complain all the time.

     We spent some of our time bopping around Redding and the nearby college town of Chico and we spent some of our time enjoying neighborhood walks and relaxing at their comfortable  home.  They are lively people with lots of interests.  I enjoy hanging out with them and I love watching the silly interactions the two of them share.  They have delightful senses of humor and I have been known to laugh uncontrollably in their presence.  Ask my sister sometime about the time when the electricity went out while we were fooling with the remote controls on the bed!

   Visiting at my sister's house is like being at my home away from home.  I know where things are, I know she is comfortable when I rustle up my own towel or peanut butter toast, I know our routines when I am there.  We have been visiting at each other's homes for nearly 30 years and she never fails to make me feel as if I am the best thing that happened to her that day.

   This was the first of my two travel adventures in recent weeks.  I drove up there in my little bug Oskar and slipped away from the routines of home and into a different but comfortable setting.  I had time to connect with my sister and her husband.  Laura and I took long walks and drives and tried, as always, to make sense of our lives.  We looked at what is now, what has been in the past, how we are changing, what our hopes and fears are for the future.  It is always a thoughtful time with a companion who has been on life's road with me all her life and all but 7 years of my life.  This kind of travel takes me out of my comfort zone but is, in fact, comfortable in its own way.  On another day, I will tell you about my second travel adventure of the summer.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Curious. That Works.

   Someone I love told me this morning that he was excited about the future.  My first inclination was a twinge of envy.  He's on the beginning side of life so he has much in front of him and lots of doors to open and roads to travel.  I don't have so much excitement about the future.

    But, and here is the revelation embedded in the twinge of envy,  I am interested in the future.  And, let's be specific here.  I am interested in my future.  That is a new direction for me.  It's been a long time since I was interested in the future - possibly as long as 10 or 12 years.  There didn't seem to be much worth being interested about.  My work is important and valuable to me but I don't get excited about it like I might have thirty years ago.  My two children are my number one interest but they are out there making their own choices, building their own lives.  I can watch them but I can't be them. Ditto for all my wonderful nieces and nephews.  Not so exciting.  But interesting.

     Perhaps a stronger word to use in place of interesting would be curious.  Yes.  That works.  I am curious about my future.  I wonder how the trip will unfold.  I don't see any big deals on the horizon.  No job change, no marital status change, no relocation to some place where it is balmy and warm (no relocation period).  Nope.  Ah, but note the use of the words "I don't see any big deals....".  Funny thing about life.  You don't always see the big deals coming.  You often don't even know when a big deal change is in process until the wheels have really started spinning.  Curious.  That works.