I’m spending a month in LA this month (October), a month that includes my birthday. I was hesitant to spend my birthday here, as I usually like to do something “very special” for that day. I worried LA might not have the “right” or “special-enough” thing to qualify for a birthday visit. But, I wanted to be here for a month, and this is the month when all the atoms in the universe coalesced to place me here. So, I will spend my birthday in LA. (I am pretty sure many people actually come to LA just so they can spend their birthdays here…)
I trust it will be exactly what it needs to be…
I’m really enjoying my month so far, much more than I was expecting, actually. I spent a week in Venice back in July, and I was kind of traumatized by it. I love Venice. But it is a very complex place. Weird, fun, edgy, hip, grimey, crimey, beachy, artsy. It’s so many things. Including noisy and chaotic…at least where I was in Venice. This time, I’m up in Beverly Glen, a canyon neighborhood just above Beverly Hills and Westwood (UCLA area). It is turning out to be a wonderful spot for me. The neighborhood is quiet and peaceful and even borders a nature preserve (Stone Canyon Reservoir). I actually found a “secret” (well, maybe…) hiking trail within walking distance of my house. It was such a treasure to discover!! It may not truly be “secret”, but I wasn’t expecting it, so it was a secret to me. I celebrated with an internal “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “YES!” with each new turn, as I wove my way through the bushes and along the ridge that opened up to wonderful views of Beverly Glen Canyon on one side and the reservoir on the other.
(Surprise hiking trail with wonderful sunset-mountain light show…)
(Stone Canyon Reservoir)
(Hiking along the ridge–canyon on the left, reservoir on the right)
“Exploring” (in nature) has always been one of my favorite pastimes. As a child I used to love to ride my bike to semi-wild areas in my town (those reachable by bike, anyway) in south Georgia and wade up streams and through forests, looking for especially cool or beautiful spots, interesting plants, old oak trees (because they were the best for climbing), animal bones, or anything else that would captivate… I remembered this about myself while I was up on the ridge poking around. It made me smile….
One of the fun discoveries I made on this little exploring trip was a labyrinth! Someone had apparently constructed it some time ago, as many of the rocks had washed away or been removed. But plant debris in the shape of the labyrinth pattern indicated it had been there a while. I replaced a few of the missing rocks but ended up getting side-tracked by an idea I had to construct a stone “girl friend” for my own amusement. I was thinking, “What a nice labyrinth, and what a nice spot. I wish I had someone to share it with…” And…Viola! I made a friend. Literally. Out of rocks. It was super fun.
Gave me an even bigger smile!
I love creating things!
My strong passion for art is definitely one of the reasons I was/am drawn to LA. I love the dynamism here. Creativity is palpable to me in this city–more than just about any other place I’ve ever experienced. I’m not sure why that is exactly, as I know there are many artists and brilliant, creative people in every city. And I usually seek them out. But, I guess there just must be some kind of relatively harmonious “frequency match” for my particular style of creative expression here in LA. (We are dealing with merging of energies, after all…) Or maybe there’s something especially attractive (to me) about the combination of creative + social + various other elements here…
I do have a kind of glamorous side to my personality.
That’s possibly what does it.
And the warmth. I love the beachy, sunshiney, palm tree, convertible vibe of LA. Glamorous, warm, hip, creative, eclectic, hopping. It is a lot of things. There is so much energy here. When I have passed through on shorter visits I tended to be completely fascinated and totally overwhelmed. I am very sensitive to energy. A lot of chaos does me in. So, generally speaking, I don’t really love cities–as they all are a bit inherently chaotic. But I do like them. I probably am coming to realize that I may be someone who’s most at home in nature but who enjoys visiting the city … perhaps even regularly…
There is a lot to like about LA, actually. And definitely plenty to not like so much, also. Everyone knows the traffic is horrendous. It really is. I find that you can only go out between 12 and 3 on weekdays. Maybe 11-3. This is very limiting, especially if you are a night owl, like I am. If you miss this window, you will have traffic. Just expect it.
Relaxing into the inevitable helps…(with traffic, and all things…)
The chaos, noise, grime, and crime are definitely other less desirables of note for me. Miles and miles of random kind of junky, strange stores in Hollywood and central LA are also not my favorite. But, it’s a city. A range of ambience is not really a surprise… Plus, I like to focus on the positive…
One of my favorite things about LA is the feeling I speak of in the title of this post. It is always “about to happen”. And I don’t mean that “it’s about to but never does “. No. “Always ready to go” is what I mean. Just waiting for you. Me? Yes, you! Kind of like “just add water” pancake mix. LA is “just add yourself” or maybe “just add yourself and a few hundred (or thousand) other people”. There is always a buzz, always a flutter, always the option to go down to … wherever … and find the feeling of being a part of something that is greater than you. And while the vibe on the highway is definitely kind of “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself”, I find a much more friendly, interactive vibe in the individual neighborhoods of the city. People will speak to you at a coffee shop (usually), especially if you smile or say hello. Or at a park. Even if you speak to no one, there is definitely a sense of being swept up in the action…of being a part of the whole dance that is being collectively danced. Your individuality contributes, but the force of the whole is definitely much greater. I really, really love feeling this. It is invigorating and beautiful.
It is so nice to belong. I think it is very human to enjoy that feeling.
So…this month…I am enjoying belonging. To the human race. To the city of LA.
And, to life itself.
Now…Switching gears a bit… I want to talk a little more about what I’ve seen and done in LA (the “travelogue” part of my post). I’m only 1/2 way through my time here. And, I’ve done most of the very “LA things” on previous visits (Hollywood, Santa Monica, and, as I mentioned, Venice). So, this month I’m focusing on parts of LA that I don’t know as well–Silverlake, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Topanga. Plus any surprise others that come up. The real (overt) purpose of this visit (and of my whole sabbatical journey) is to find my next home. I’m considering LA, so I need to get a sense of what it would be like to live and work here–not just sight-see.
Westwood, the home of UCLA, is quite close to Beverly Glen. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover I could drive to and from the UCLA campus in about 8-10 minutes, each way, even during high-traffic times. It is a beautiful, peaceful little enclave nestled up against the Bel Air hills. I had no idea it would be so scenic or serene. Lots of trees and green. I actually had a job offer (to do my psychiatry residency training) at UCLA a number of years ago, but I declined because I thought it would be too stressful for me (at the time) to live in LA. When I now see UCLA (for the first time), I am kind of shocked. It’s not stressful at all! I am still happy I did my residency at the U of Arizona. It was the right place for me for many reasons, but UCLA is not “LA”. It is a little bubble of pleasant university “spirit” and relative peace and tranquility.
(An original Rodin sculpture in the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA. I remember learning about this piece in a college art history class at Duke.)
(The beautiful main campus)
(More sculpture garden)
I really enjoyed UCLA.
I’m a little bit fond of glamour, so I like Beverly Hills. I know, I know. It’s overly manicured and superficial. But it’s also peaceful and pretty. Beverly Hills is not my personal version of Dreamland or anything. But if I was to say I don’t like it a bit, I would be lying. I do like it a bit. I like the tree-lined streets with very little traffic. I like the pretty gardens. I like the views of the hills in the distance. The palm trees that sway in the breeze. I like the feeling of safety that is there. In and of itself, Beverly Hills would probably be boring to me, but as a neighborhood in the middle of LA, I find it kind of refreshing. I know that’s probably uncool to admit. But I’m just being honest. To me (and my experience of it is admittedly minimal) it is calm, almost soothing…a little micro-oasis. I’ve noticed myself pleasantly sighing when I arrive back there (after a day out in the “real world” rest of LA) on my way home to Beverly Glen.
(In Glam Girl mode on Rodeo Drive–the residential portion of the street. It’s wide, quiet, and lined with beautiful, mature trees.)
Central Los Angeles.
I haven’t done that much in Central LA so far, but I did venture to the Grove shopping center—by accident. I was driving through town to get to Silverlake, and I drove past the Grove. I had heard of the Grove (when I lived in Tucson) from someone who’d spent a lot of time in LA. She said it was “a very nice shopping area” (or something to that effect). It didn’t look like much on the outside, so I drove around the block hoping to get a better view. I ended up on a one way street leading directly into the parking garage (with no turn around). Yikes. Okay. I guess I’m going to the Grove. Turns out, I really enjoyed myself!
The Grove is like Disneyland for adults. There is a large fountain, bridge and stream (not “natural” per say but quite nice still), music playing, outdoor cafes, upscale shopping, mature trees, manicured garden areas, sculptures, upscaled bathrooms (with attendants and mints), free (highly organized and efficient) parking, interesting architectural elements, random employees blowing bubbles (for ambience), a trolley, and a general air of “festive”. I walked around for a few minutes, sat on a bench, watched some people, enjoyed the collective feeling of excitement, and then I went back to the car and kept going.
But, for a few minutes there I participated in the “dance” I spoke of earlier. The dance of LA. This dance was specific to “shopping at the Grove”. It was definitely interesting and even quite fun.
Being curious helps me enjoy a wide variety of things.
(“Disney-like” scene at the Grove)
(There’s even a trolley.)
(And huge pinwheels that actually work…)
I also have eaten at the hip and fabulous Cafe Gratitude in Central LA. (There’s one in Venice as well. And Berkeley. And Oakland. Probably some other locations, too.) They have a variety of different (and actually, rather elegant) “veggie bowls” with simple, positive names so when you place your order, you are saying an affirmation. “I Am Whole” is my favorite. I’ve eaten it at three of the Gratitude locations. It has seaweed (dulse, I believe), kim chee, quinoa, kale, sunflower sprouts, and sweet potato with a yummy (possibly tahini-based) sauce. I also really like the Immortality elixir (add cacao) and the 100% organic cacao-mint milkshake with Vitamineral Green super-nutrient powder added. Oh boy! They need bigger straws because the cacao pieces get stuck on the way up. Other than that, it is my favorite milkshake ever! Fresh mint on top. Delicious.
Silverlake is a mello, hipster, artsy neighborhood. It is home to one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever tasted. You can find it at Intelligentsia Cafe on Sunset Blvd. (You can also find a similarly amazing cappuccino at another Intelligentsia in Venice, by the way.)
Silverlake has many funky, charming cafes, shops, vintage stores, restaurants, etc. It is definitely “its own crowd”. Very different from other parts of LA. Somewhat more similar to the vibe in Venice. Artsy and hip, but not as weird. I ate a late lunch at a place called the Casbah Cafe while I was in Silverlake. It is a curious mixture of Parisian + Moroccan + Spanish/Central American foods and decor. My friend chose it, but I actually stopped to photograph it before I realized it was “our spot” because it was so charming.
My friend recommended the Central American-style chicken soup (complete with 1/2 an ear of corn, potatoes, bay leaves, and avocado on top). It was good for sure, but I actually preferred the gluten-free dark chocolate torte I had as an appetizer. (I’m a best-first kind of girl…when I can be…). They had many delicious-looking pastries (the French influence) at this place. Do not go here if on a diet.
Silverlake has many sweet little streets with lovely, quaint homes perched on hillsides. The views are incredible, and the vibe is peaceful. There’s lots of Spanish architecture, which I love. It’s not quite as “hipsterish” up in the neighborhoods as it is on the streets. This was a surprise. But, I liked it.
(Sunset hillside view from one of the residential streets in Silverlake.)
Well…That just about wraps up what I’ve done in LA and what I think about LA … so far…. I still hope to make it to the Arboretuem, The Getty, and Topanga Canyon in the coming weeks. My mid-month evaluation one-liner is I like it. I probably don’t see myself living here full time, though. But, that’s why I’m here…to find out how I fit with LA and how LA fits me with me. To do the dance. And in doing that dance, we may both be a little different for having had the experience. This month has definitely already made a big impact on me. LA, however, may not really notice if I just pass on through. But she might.
After all, I did leave her a friend on the side of the mountain…