28 January 2017

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Happy Chinese New Year! This is the year of the Rooster, and 2017 is Fire Rooster year. Element-sign combinations occur every 60 years, and the Chinese believe they affect ones personality and destiny. Fire Roosters are said to be trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work. According to the Chinese zodiac I am an Earth Pig, no surprises there then! Approximately a fifth of the worlds population celebrate Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival.

The lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance performed on big occasions, such as  Chinese New Year, for good luck, as it is believed that the lion is an auspicious animal. Performed in a lion costume, accompanied by the music of beating drums, clashing cymbals, and gongs, lion dances imitate a lion’s various movements or demonstrate martial arts agility, depending on the style.  I have seen a lot of lion dances over the past couple of weeks, they tend to leap about on podiums set at different heights, very acrobatic and skilled, because one forgets that it’s actually two people, I think is rather impressive.

The Dragon is also an important part of Chinese culture and symbolises wisdom, power and wealth, they are believed to bring good luck to people. Unlike the Lions, who are made up of 2 people wearing the costume, Dragons are held up by bamboo poles. They have odd numbers of  joints, this is regarded as auspicious, so they are usually nine, eleven or thirteen jointed. Happy New Year!

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20 January 2017

I am in Malaysia. I flew here on the 9 January, with Malaysia airlines, one of the best flights I’ve had. Malaysia has a population of around 31 million, with approximately 50% Malay, 22% Chinese, 12% Orang Asli, 7% Indian and 9% other nationalities. Add tourists and expatriates from across the world, and the country provides a huge diversity of nationalities and cultures to live amongst, I like this.

The weather is unpredictable, it can be scorchingly hot and turn to torrential rain in moments. There have been some spectacular thunder storms here too.

I’m staying in a small independent hotel, in the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur.   I spent the first week here recovering from hideous  jet lag and a virus I got in the UK. Back to feeling human again I have now done a bit of exploring.

Arriving here at this time of the year I find myself in the lead up to the Chinese New Year celebrations. The Chinese New Year starts on the 28 January and every where is decorated in red and gold, with masses of artificial pink cherry blossom. The Chinese lantern is popular and is displayed on everything, from homes, street facades, shopping malls and in restaurants. The celebrations also include dragon and lion dances, either inside or just outside shopping malls.

The mall is popular and being air conditioned, they are respite from the heat and humidity here.  Aside from the usual consumer options, they provide an extensive choice of food, from restaurants, fast food, bakeries, and street food.  Most of the bigger malls  also have a programme of displays as part of New Year celebrations, including dragon and lion dances, traditional musical instruments and dancing, and drum playing.

 

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Lion heads, in a shopping mall, waiting for their owners to perform.

 

There are a few street food stalls just a few minutes walk from my hotel, offering a range of options, from fish, fruits, dim sum and meats.

I went to the Central Market, which has been operating in some form since 1888. The art deco building it is now housed in was built in 1930s .  It was very quiet when I went, it didn’t inspire me very much, but I’m not a fan of the market.

 

16 December

I went to the California Science Centre, and while I was there I visited the Pixar exhibition, where they had models of two of my favourite characters from movies, WALL-E and Sully. The exhibition showed how Pixar make the movies and  all the characters start off being hand drawn before they are computerised. Lighting is as technical on an animated movie as it is on a human movie.

The Science Centre is in Exposition Park which also where the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is located. The Coliseum opened in 1923 and was the first stadium in history to host the Olympic Games twice, in 1932 and 1984. Primarily a sports stadium, it hosted Nelson Mandela’s 1990 return to the United States, and the first-ever Papal Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1987. The Coliseum was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984.

This is my last week in LA, I’m going to the UK for Christmas and not coming back.  I have been in love with this place for years and I’ve fallen slightly out of love with it during my stay here, which is quite sad because it is a strange, wonderful, beautiful place.  I will have fond memories of my time here and the friends I have made. It’s time to move on.

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9 December

 

I took a trip to Santa Barbara on the Coast Starlight train, which, as its name suggests, travels right along the west coast of California.  The first hour or so of the journey was a bit boring with just the urban landscape of LA to look at. Once the train moved to the coast the view was much better.  The train has two levels, with a viewing lounge  on the upper level.

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It can get quite close to the sea.

The station at Santa Barbara was built in 1902 and is Spanish Mission Revival Style.

Sterns Wharf, which is actually a pier, is a five minute walk from the station and provides great views of Santa Barbara. I had lunch in one of the restaurants on the Wharf, and from my table I saw  dolphins and sea lions.

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The city itself is fairly low rise with pretty, tree lined, streets.

I had time to watch the sunset, from the Wharf, before I got the train back to LA.

 

 

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3 December

The person whose house I am living in is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and one of the benefits of this, for me, has been accompanying her to screenings of movies, some of them ahead of their public screening times. Some of these screenings have questions with the cast, writer, director after the movie. Some of the more interesting Q&A have been:

Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck talked about how the writer/director Kenneth Lonergan was very precise about his script and wanted it word for word.

Bleed For This: is a movie is based on a true story and we were told how the clothing  of the characters in the movie had to be toned down because they were worried that it could be seen as racial stereotyping Italian Americans,  if they had dressed the actors as the actual people had dressed.

Lion: this is another movie based on a true story, alongside all the lead adult cast members, the guy who the story is about was also present and it was interesting to get his perspective on the movie about his life.

Rules Don’t Apply: written, produced and directed  by Warren Beatty, who also has a part in the movie. Warren did the casting of the main characters himself, which in one actors case involved having lunch at intervals over a period of about five years. There was also a drinks reception after the Q&A, which was held at the Fox Studios, I enjoyed the movie and the glass of fizzy afterwards.

I’ve mentioned before Downtown LA has some really good examples of architecture and here are some photos of buildings I liked as I have been walking around.

There is rather a nice area outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a large sculpture with fountains.

The Natural History Museum has a huge amount of stuffed animals, and as expected some large skeletons.  They have a working laboratory in the museum and one can see exhibits being worked on.  I quite liked this piece, which is rather old!

I also really liked a slide show of how LA had increased in size over the years.

The Grove is all dressed up for Christmas now. When I came out of Starbucks the local mounted police were having a coffee break.

The fountains are lit in Christmas colours and every day at 7pm, it snows.

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19 November

I was back at Grand Park this week as there was a different art exhibition. This one is called ‘We are Los Angeles’ and the sculptures represent the collective diversity and strength of the city. These were my favourites.

I went to a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dvorak & Sibelius, quite beautiful. I didn’t get to see the actual theatre when I did a tour of the building a couple of weeks ago, it’s rather splendid.

More art on the subway and seeing this still makes me chuckle as I think of the wild west when I see ‘sheriff’.

The Bradbury building is the oldest commercial building remaining in the central city and one of Los Angeles’ unique treasures. Behind its modest, rather dull, Romanesque exterior lies a magical light-filled Victorian court that rises almost fifty feet with open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings.

The identity of the building’s final architect is a subject of debate. Lewis Bradbury, a mining and real estate millionaire, commissioned Sumner Hunt to create a spectacular office building. Hunt turned in completed designs but was replaced soon after by George H. Wyman, who supervised construction. The building has operated as offices for most of its life, and was designated a national historic landmark in 1977. Tourists are only allowed up on to the first flight of stairs hence the lack of photos from the higher floors.

I went to Pasadena this week to watch the 39th Doo Dah Parade, an eclectic mix of  people of all ages, getting dressed up in what ever takes their fancy, to join in the fun. There were some interesting sights. One of the parade traditions is to throw tortillas at the parade entrants who then throw them back at the crowd.

While I was waiting to catch the train after the parade I was surprised to see traffic actually moving on the freeway, it looks dull because it was raining.

I keep forgetting to write about the brussel sprout. In the UK the sprout is a winter vegetable and tends to appear in supermarkets etc. around October. They are part of a traditional Christmas lunch,  it wouldn’t be a Christmas lunch if the sprout did not make an appearance on the plate.  However, here the sprout is a regular on restaurant menus, as a starter, usually pan fried or roasted; or in salads, shredded or chopped.

 

 

 

12 November

The big news story of the past week is about Mr Alf, who lives with my sister. Poor Mr Alf has an infected paw and he had to have the dressing changed every day, one day he had tractors on his bandage and the next he had chickens. Here he is modelling said decorative bandages.  The news from the humans who live in his house to care for him is that he is getting better. Oh and there was also an election here!

Although America doesn’t have buildings as old as those in the UK, it has wonderful examples of Art Deco, and Union Station is one of them. Union Station opened in May 1939 and was partially designed by John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson, assisted by a group of supporting architects, including Jan van der Linden. The structure combines Art Deco, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne style.

Inside the building the lower parts of the interior walls are covered in travertine marble; the upper parts have an early form of acoustical tile. The floor in the large rooms is terra cotta  with a central strip of inlaid marble (including travertine, somewhat unusual in floors since it is soft). The ceiling in the waiting room has the appearance of wood, but is actually made of steel. Outside there are peaceful garden areas to sit in, which also provide shade from the heat of the sun.

Across the road from the station is El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, which is near the site of the early Los Angeles pueblo where 44 settlers of Native American, African and European heritage journeyed more than a thousand miles across the desert from Mexico and established a farming community in 1781.  In 1953, this oldest section of the city was designated a state historic park, reflecting the heritage of the people who contributed to the early history of the city, these included, Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Anglo, African American, Chinese, Italian and French.

It’s like a little park area now with a bandstand in the middle, an old photo shows what it was like before this.

I had a guided tour of the area by a delightful woman called Anita. I visited the Italian American, and the Chinese American museums, the Plaza Firehouse, Olvera Street, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, and Avila Adobe, a home built by a prominent ranchero Don Francisco Avila, (he was mayor of LA in 1810), around 1818. It’s the oldest existing house in Los Angeles. There is an original photo of the property, showing what it looked like before it was severely damaged by the 1971 earthquake, the restoration now reflects Mexican ranchero lifestyle of California in the 1840s.

The Siquerious Mural, America Tropical, painted by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siquerious in 1932, was supposed to be about happy men, parrots, and palms with fruit falling into the mouths of people. Siqueiros came to Los Angeles as a political refugee in 1932 and was sponsored by the Plaza Art Center to create a mural.

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However, Sequeiros completely disobeyed the institutional project request and created his own mural, which turned out to be one of the most controversial art pieces in Los Angeles history.  The mural is quite difficult to see as it is outside, and in the process of being restored, as it was covered up with white paint over seventy years ago. The painting depicts a Maya like pyramid with surrounding twisted trees and in the centre was an indigenous person crucified, dead on a double edged cross. On the left side of the pyramid there are two snipers overlooking the imperial American eagle who is on top of the crucified indigenous person and the two Mexican revolutionary snipers look ready to shoot at any time. Now recognised as a part of LA history, a viewing platform has been built and a shade to protect it from further sun damage.

Another example of Art Deco is the Richard J. Riordan Central Library. Comprised of the original 1926 library now called the Goodhue Building, (named after the architect Bertram Goodhue who designed it) and a 1993 addition named after a former mayor Tom Bradley, it ranks with the Bradbury Building (on my list to visit) and Union Station, as a treasure of the city’s historic downtown. The library has been designated a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are many external sculptures and carvings.

The interior of the Goodhue building is a delight, with richly painted murals and decorated ceilings of the rotunda and reading rooms.

I think this contrasts well with the art in the Tom Bradbury wing. Three huge chandeliers, 18 feet in diameter, designed by Therman Statom, dominate the atrium. The first chandelier references nature with a bird, a flower, a ladybug and an egg. The second has eyeglasses, a quarter note, a ceramic jug and a silhouette-like model of a house, to symbolize material things and the culture of the everyday. The third chandelier features an angel, an hourglass, and a heart, symbols of abstraction and spirituality.

When I came out of the library the sun had moved behind a high rise building so I got a couple of photos of the view down the street.

My final destination this week was Barnsdall Park to visit Hollyhock House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Aline Barnsdall commissioned Wright to build the house for her. Built between 1919 and 1921, Aline never lived in it, in 1926 she gave the house and the eleven acres of grounds around it, to the city of LA, for use as a public park in memory of her father. One gets amazing views of the city from the park.

The house takes its name from the hollyhock blossom, the favourite flower of Aline Barnsdall. Wright’s abstracted hollyhock patterns were incorporated into the decoration motif on and in the residence.

The 11 November is Veterans Day here, and is a public holiday. Schools, banks and public agencies are closed, there are celebrations, parades and remembrance events and lots of coffee shops and restaurants offer free food and or drinks to veterans or current members of the armed forces, I think this is lovely. In the UK we have remembrance events, but it’s not a public holiday and I’m not aware of places giving out free stuff.

The clocks went back an hour here last weekend, which I thought was weird as it now gets dark around five o’clock, so for about a week I was seven hours behind the UK and now I’m back to eight.

 

 

 

 

4 November

I have a great view of the sunrise from my bed every morning. The sunsets can be lovely here too. The garden is also a peaceful, pretty place to sit and work when it’s not too hot.

I went to ‘La Brea Tar Pits and Museum’ this week, when I first saw this I thought it was an odd name for an attraction, however it is a ‘tar pit’ in an area called La Brea. It houses the worlds largest Ice Age fossil collection, five million fossils from the past 55,000 years, 600 species of plants and animals, making this the worlds most important Ice Age fossil dig and research site.

Natural asphalt  (also called bitumen, pitch or tar—brea in Spanish) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. Eventually the asphalt would form a deposit thick enough to trap animals, the surface would be covered with layers of water, dust, or leaves, the animals would wander in, become trapped, and eventually die. Predators would enter to eat the trapped animals and also become stuck. As the bones of dead animals sink into the asphalt, it soaks into them, turning them a dark-brown or black colour, preserving them.

Fossils of large mammals, such as the Columbian mammoth, have been extricated from the tar, but the asphalt also preserves  microfossils: wood and plant remnants, rodent bones, insects, molluscs, dust, seeds, leaves, and even pollen grains.

Approximately 90% of the 60 plus species of mammals excavated at La Brea are carnivores, the most common being, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats and coyotes. In the centre of the Museum is a Fossil Lab, a glass-walled paleontological laboratory where one can watch specimens being cleaned, studied and prepared for exhibit.

Outside the museum  at the lake pit, bubbles  of methane gas and hydrogen sulphide surface all over the lake. One can also see the work being done at one of the tar pits.

I visited Grand Park to see a display of art and altars celebrating ‘Dia de los Muertos’, day of the dead, the park also has a large fountain display.

 

I visited the Walt Disney Concert Hall, had a guided tour. The Hall is the home of the LA Philharmonic, LA Opera, the Center Theatre group and LA Master Chorale. Designed by Frank Gehry the building really stands out on the street against the more standard architecture of its neighbours.

The gardens on level three of the building were unexpectedly beautiful and offer a calm, restful place to sit. Gehry designed the rose, water foundation as a tribute to Lillian Disney.

I haven’t mentioned the Metro (subway/underground) yet. I’ve used it quite a bit now and it’s very good. Really easy to understand, clean and air conditioned, it cost $1.75 for any single journey. I was waiting for a train this week when I noticed this ‘art’ on the ceiling, lots of human figures looking  as if they are falling from the sky.

 

 

31 October

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This post is a Halloween special. Regular readers may recall I mentioned in an earlier post that I expected to see the odd pumpkin out here. Well I found rather a lot of pumpkins at this house, the mayor lives here, there was a light show in the evening too.

Inflatables are big here, and they light up at night.

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The avenue I live in closed the road for a party which attracted families from all over the district. I am not a fan of the child and large quantities of them, dressed in costumes and screaming for sweets, (candy), ensured I stayed just long enough to get a couple of photos of the best bits, before I left. Everyone dresses up here, including the dogs. There was some interesting stuff hanging from trees, a fortune telling tent, I didn’t venture near the bouncy type things.

These are my favourites of the properties I walk past going to my favourite coffee shop. Some of them are completed in a day and others are added to over days, like the large spider web, when I took the first photo it only had one spider on, every time I walked past they had added another spider.

Last weekend I went to one of the many Halloween parties they hold here, such fun.

Tonight I am going to another street party, be rude not to. Happy Halloween, ‘have a good one!’

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15 October

This week I went to the Los Angles County Museum of Art, LACMA, it has over a 100,000 pieces in its collection. These are some of my favourites.

In the grounds of the museum there is an area of Rodin sculptures, Rodin is one of my favourite artists.

From the fourth floor of the museum one gets great views of the LA hills and the museum grounds.

We  went to see the movie ‘Eye in the Sky’, which had a Q & A session with Helen Mirren afterwards.  The movie is excellent.  While we were waiting to get into the theatre which is on Sunset Strip, the setting sun provided rather pretty pink clouds.

On Saturday I went to the Fall Festival at the Farmers Market, and The Grove. I have never seen All-Alaskan Pig racing before, it was very funny watching the little pigs run around the track, and on one of the races they had to jump over little fences.

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Pumpkins were in decorative displays everywhere, and there was some really good live music, from The SideWynders, The Walking Phoenixes, San Fernando Valley Banjo Band and Have More Fun Strings Band.

There was pumpkin carving, lassoing and a range of other crafts and a pie eating contest, contestants were not allowed to use their hands, they weren’t told this until just before the start. The Grove has a tram, which transports people from one end of the grove to the other, roughly a five minute walk, and dancing fountains.