Palms

DSC00475-001When I first moved to L.A. I did not want to live in Palms. Aside from its central location and proximity to the 10 and 405 freeways, it presents nothing extraordinary. It’s a small neighborhood East of Santa Monica and West of Beverly Hills. It sits on the outskirts of many desirable neighborhoods but fails to be one itself. Unless you live here, there really is no reason to come to Palms. When I moved to L.A. I wanted to live East. I wanted to live near the hipsters and the Bohemians and the artists. I wanted to live in an up-and-coming neighborhood where things were happening. That didn’t happen though. I ended up West and I ended up in Palms, a neighborhood that I deemed very un-romantic, and as far as I could tell was not up-and-coming.

I am not going to tell you how over the last three years I’ve discovered how romantic Palms is, or how it has surprisingly stolen my heart. Palms is still what it is, and that’s OK. I do enjoy many things about this neighborhood though and because of the time I’ve spent here it will go down as a very important place in my life. Like anything that you spend time with, and that is good to you, affection grows.

The first few weeks here in Palms I set out on my walks to explore the neighborhood. I took in the sights and sounds: Apartment buildings and more apartment buildings, trees, kids playing basketball in the park, people walking their dogs, restaurants, a laundry mat, shops and convenient stores. A very typical neighborhood. A few things though that are not so typical are the French high school across the street and the Muslim cultural center directly behind my apartment. I like to think these two things give my neighborhood an “international” feel. I know, it’s starting to sound romantic. I can’t help it – that’s what I do. To take it down a notch I will mention the huge storage facility across the street next to the school. This is actually very comforting to me. It’s nice knowing that if I have to store my belongings in an emergency it will be easy to get my stuff over there.

For me, one of the best things about Palms is the block of shops and restaurants near the intersection of National Blvd. and Motor Ave. I like to think of this as our village square. There is an Asian import market which doubles as a cafe where they’ve recently installed a big screen TV and free wireless. I spend many hot summer afternoons there, drinking mango smoothies to escape my stuffy apartment. There is also a delicious Indonesian restaurant that serves a dish called Nasi Bunkus that I am completely addicted to. When I think about moving my first thought is always, “oh no, what about Nasi Bunkus?” In this plaza there is also National Nails where I get my nails done, a dry cleaners where I get my cleaning done and a bar called Boardwalk 11 that is known for its karaoke night. Across from this plaza is a vegan restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and a great pizza place called Mamma’s. I would also regret not mentioning Palms Market down the street that serves perfect homemade guacamole, refried beans, and pico de gallo in their deli. Aside from the many food options there is also an antique store, a painting studio, a computer repair shop, a car repair/ body shop and a strange looking spa boasting something called the “Elizabeth Taylor Aquatic Center.” I am directly around the corner from all of this and as such the little square has become very dear to me. If for some reason the rest of L.A. disappeared or became unavailable, I would have everything I need right here.

Compared to other neighborhoods in L.A. Palms may be unexceptional but the longer I stay the more good continues to find it’s way here. We recently welcomed a gastro pub and a farmers market. I know, it sounds hip, but somehow it’s not and I actually kind of like that. The weekends are very quiet here as there are not a lot of  reasons to come to Palms. I suppose if anything makes it extraordinary, it is this: it quietly remains itself amidst a city where so many people and places are trying to “be something.” It’s humble in its offerings and it seems comfortable with who it is. I’ve always dreamed of living in a small country village were life is quiet, convenient and charmingly simple. Strange that I would find myself in one of the only neighborhoods in L.A. that I can say that about. As much as I wanted to be in an area where things were supposedly “happening” I’m glad I ended up here. I know I said I wouldn’t get romantic but I guess I did. Palms, for everything that it is and everything that it isn’t, is home.

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I didn't mention Hu's because I've never been there... and I probably never will.

I didn’t mention Hu’s because I’ve never been there… and I probably never will.

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The Irish Times Pub

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The Indonesian restaurant and the nail salon

The Indonesian restaurant and the nail salon

Nasi Bunkus - it comes wrapped in a banana leaf

Nasi Bunkus – it comes wrapped in a banana leaf

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"Elizabeth Taylor's Aquatic Center"

“Elizabeth Taylor’s Aquatic Center”

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From Melrose with Love

For many years now I have been lamenting the dying art of postcard writing. Think about it, when was the last time you sent a postcard? Or received one for that matter? If you travel often then perhaps you still partake in this global ritual. Like smiling, it’s another thing we all seem to agree upon. Which is why it saddens me to see it happening less and less. The hand written letter is, for the most part, a thing of the past. No more letters written in pink, watermelon scented pens and covered with sparkly unicorn stickers from your cousin who lives far away. No more letters from your boyfriend while on his family summer vacation. No more sending letters to your boyfriend splashed with some of your perfume (yes, I did that). Now we have blogs or use Facebook to communicate our comings and goings. I appreciate technology but there is something special about holding a hand written letter or postcard in your hand. I think about the miles it has come, the hands it has passed through, the many languages it has heard and the simple fact that this small little piece of paper made it all the way around the world and ended up in the right place. Amazing.

Years ago it was fashionable to have a postcard book to keep all of your postcards in. Much like a photo album. Every time someone sent you a card you would put it in your book. I, of course, have one of these. If you send me a postcard I will save it forever and ever. My grandchildren will be able to look though my postcards and piece together life during my time with sentences like, “It’s absolutely amazing here!” and “All we’ve eaten is bread and pasta.” I hope they enjoy the legacy I am leaving for them.

Not everyone’s postcard collection stays within the family however. Often times these collections get sold at estate sales or simply given away to be sold at flea markets to vintage junkies such as myself. The best postcard collection I have come across is at the Melrose Flea market at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax every Sunday. Mark, the owner of this collection, not only sells old postcards but has an incredible collection of photographs. For this he has lovingly become known as “the found photo guy of Melrose.” Mark has amassed quite an inventory over his seventeen years of selling. When I first stumbled upon his stall I was with my sister and we thought, “oh how neat, old photos, lets stop for a minute and look.” An hour later we were both exhausted from thoroughly mining the overflowing bins. Digging through the photos and postcards is oddly addicting. Like gambling, the minute you hit the jackpot with an incredible handwritten postcard sent all the way from India in 1902, you have to keep digging for more. I always have to drag myself away or remember to breathe before I go faint. The best postcards I have were found here, and it was well worth the dig.

Mark purposely leaves the cards and photos in unorganized piles, inviting one to partake in the enjoyable treasure hunting ritual. I can imagine that filing and categorizing everything would be a daunting task. Marks says he prefers the haphazard aesthetic of the cards and I would have to agree. I have been to other card sellers who have everything nicely wrapped and labeled and it’s not as fun. At Mark’s stall you get to feel like you found the hidden gem first. His stall is very popular and he caters to a variety of buyers; artists looking for mixed media material, interior decorators looking for something unique for a client, collectors, crafters, tourists and the rest of us simply looking for a bit of scavenging fun.

Mark recently told me a story of a man who was looking through his bins and came across a photo of himself. It was a photo taken of another person but this man saw himself walking past in the background. What are the odds that this man would find this picture amongst all the others and then notice himself in the backdrop of another person’s photo? How often do any of us show up in other people’s photo albums? I love hearing stories like this. It highlights what I believe to be at the heart of the fascination with these photos and postcards. Aside from their aesthetic appeal, they invoke our interconnectedness and fascination with each other. A genuine curiosity with other people and their stories. Despite the fact that we may not write letters or pick up the phone as much today, the need to connect and know each other remains. The desire to find yourself in someone else’s story, to relate, to share, to communicate, to share our worlds with each other is the essence of who we are. I may not know the people in the photos and post cards that I’ve bought from Mark’s shop but I love them for the stories they have all lived, and the stories I imagined they have lived, and I like knowing that in some small way it has not been lost.

Below are some of my favorite finds and pictures from Mark’s stall at The Melrose Trading Post.

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Buckingham Palace Guards

Buckingham Palace Guards

Two lovers

Two lovers

The original Mad Men

The original Mad Men

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September, 1946

September, 1946

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Tintern Abbey, 1902

Tintern Abbey, 1902

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Roma

Roma

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Bombay India, 1910

Bombay India, 1910

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Mark with his post cards

Mark with his collection

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Lake Hollywood

I am always surprised when I meet people living in Los Angeles who have not been to the Hollywood Reservoir. Not only have they not been, most of them have not even heard of it. When I heard there was a lake under the Hollywood sign, I got out there as fast as I could. Primarily because it seemed impossible; how could there be a lake under the Hollywood sign? When you look up at the hills it doesn’t look like it could possibly fit there, but it does, there is indeed a lake under the Hollywood sign. There is also a very convenient paved walking path and plenty of parking which is always an added bonus. I have been out here a number of times now and I am always amazed at how quiet it is. Unlike the hike at Runyon Canyon (which is a crowded spectacle akin to the Walk of Stars itself) the reservoir is much less trafficked. Just today I finally realized why it’s so quiet; there are no dogs allowed. I would imagine this deters most people, making it a surprising nature retreat in the heart of the city.

The reservoir is held by the Mulholland Dam which was built in 1924. There is something very noir about walking on the dam. The deco architecture invokes an earlier L.A. It’s Chinatown meets L.A. Confidential. You just know some scandalous things have happened out there. Today there is a towering fence around the perimeter to keep out any trouble makers.

Surrounding the dam are gorgeous upscale homes. I spend most of my walk deciding how I would decorate the white, mid-century modern home perched quietly on the hillside. It’s tough because I’m not much for modern décor but I love all of those wall to wall windows. I can’t see the house very well from the path below but I can see just enough to get a good fantasy going. The first time I passed it I heard the gentle sound of wind chimes floating down the hillside. It was one of those magical moments that I try to re-capture every time I’m there. I stand below the house, looking up at the tall palms swaying in the breeze while the chimes ting softly. It’s become my little reservoir ritual. I stand there, trying to be as peaceful and Zen-like as possible and then I start imagining myself on a lounge chair at the pool having those chimes all to myself, all day long.

I often forget how important being in nature is; hearing her soothing sounds and smelling the many scents. The recent rain brought everything to life; the scent of fresh pine was in the air and the sound of trickling water and croaking frogs accompanied me while I walked. I saw squirrels, lizards, hawks, a deer and I even heard an owl. Despite being just above Hollywood, the city disappears quickly in a place like this

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Keith at Security

I was happy the day Keith switched from graveyard to the morning shift at our building’s security desk. The previous security officer who covered the morning desk had a way of making me feel uncomfortable and I often dreaded passing through the lobby. The day Keith’s quiet and trusting presence arrived was truly a relief. Until my current job, I had never worked in a building that required around the clock security. When I first started I immediately thought, “Oh, it’s like Die Hard!” I thought of Die Hard first because our building is big and fancy and we have a beautiful tree in the lobby at Christmas. Ok, it’s not as fancy as the Die Hard building but you get the picture.

I would imagine Keith has worked in much fancier buildings over his thirty years on and off as a security officer. He worked Downtown at a few of the large banks for a number of years there. He says he has always worked the graveyard shift and loves doing it. I was surprised by this but I could tell he really did like it. Working graveyard has simply worked well for Keith over the years. For the last thirteen years he has spent his afternoons working at an after-school program for grade school children. Keith absolutely lit up when he talked about the kids. He said it’s been great to see them grow over the years and watch many of them make it off to college. He originally didn’t want to take the morning shift at our building because it would cut into his hours at the school but he was generous enough to cover it and I know the rest of us are glad he did.

Keith says that he really loves our building because everyone here is so nice. This apparently is not always the case. He says that often security is overlooked and people can be less than kind, but our building has been different. He says he very is grateful to be in such a friendly spot. Although one might think a security officer’s duty is to simply watch the building, it is much more than that. Keith is very busy orchestrating the comings and goings of everyone in this building. During the time Keith and I were chatting he was called away every few minutes to attend to something. Everyone depends on Keith to get to where they need to go: delivery people, vendors, meeting attendees and myself! Most of our floors are locked so you need to pass through Keith to get to where you are going. I can’t tell you how many times he has had to escort me to my floor because I forgot my key card. I know Keith handles much more than I am even mentioning and I know that this place would simply be a mess if not for what he does every day.

Keith doesn’t always say a lot but his kind and generous spirit shines through everything he does. For a girl just trying to make it in the big city having someone you trust guarding the gates of the tower you spend most of your time in makes a huge difference.

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The Book Lady

There is a woman in my office building who reads everyday. Riding in the elevator, she reads. Taking her smoke break, she reads. Walking back into the building from her smoke break, she reads. We don’t work for the same company so I don’t know if she reads at her desk but I have to assume she reads there as well. Simply put, she is always reading. I haven’t been able to ascertain what types of books. My guess is fiction, possibly thrillers. They are usually mass market paperbacks which is why I’m thinking thriller or some other type of page-turner. I’ve been too shy to ask. She is usually engrossed in her book and doesn’t look like she wants to be disturbed but I will ask next time I see her. I’m dying to know.

She is always wearing the most comfortable looking black tennis shoes. I envy her for her footwear. I would love to be able to wear tennis shoes to work everyday. Being young and fashionable in the city is overrated. I don’t think of myself as fashionable but it feels as though I’m supposed to make an attempt or people might throw stones at me. The Book Lady, which is what I like to call her, reminds me that I’d take the tennis shoes over the pumps any day. She also reminds me that sometimes it’s ok to just read a book. I read but it’s rarely for pleasure. I’m usually reading something that is supposed to help “fix” me. Clearly, I’m being way too hard on myself. Maybe wearing comfortable shoes and being captivated by a new book every week is actually ok. Maybe it’s ok to just be unapologetic about it all.

Sometimes when I get in the elevator with her it smells slightly of perfume, cigarettes, and I like to imagine, books. There is something soothing about the combination of those smells. It’s comforting. I am not a smoker nor did I grow up in a smoker’s home but the smell oddly makes me happy. Maybe it’s because while traveling the smell of perfume and cigarettes seemed to be everywhere. Sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome, wondering what Keats heard from his apartment window above in 1821, while sweet-smelling women passed by and Italian men smoked beside me. Standing outside a pub across the street from Westminster Abby at night, seeing it for the first time, feeling awe-struck while business men in their nice smelling suites smoked outside the pub. The list goes on and on; Paris, Prague, Vienna. The most Romantic experiences of my life were infused with the smell of a cigarette.

There was a time when I would have thought The Book Lady very un-Romantic. I assume she’s been at the same job for years, riding the elevator up and down day after day to read her book and smoke her cigarette. Now that I’ve been riding the elevator up and down day after day, sometimes with her, I realize there is a certain intimacy that develops. A quiet relationship with the people and things around you creeps up on you without you noticing. It’s awe-inspiring in a subtler way when you realize you will miss the finicky elevator button, the faded green carpet and the quiet darkness of the office before everyone else gets in. These small things and these brief moments are Romantic in their own way and I’m grateful to The Book Lady for helping me see that.

Sleep Lines

I sometimes wake to find a giant sleep line on the left side of my face. It starts somewhere in my hairline, runs alongside my eye and straight through the center of my cheek. It lightens up a bit after taking a hot shower but I can still see it as I apply my make-up. I glance at it as I’m leaving for the day, asking myself, “should I be embarrassed that there is a big line running down the side of my face?” I’m never quite sure how to answer that question.

Two weeks away from my 35th birthday, I wake to find the same sleep line running down my face. This morning though it makes me smile because it occurs to me that I’m still young enough to distinguish a sleep line from a wrinkle. It has no competition. When I am old and grey will I be able to tell the two apart? This morning, I look in the mirror and see myself as a little girl; hair soft and tangled, the signs of a deep restful sleep imprinted on my warm, round face. I’m transported back to the days when getting a full night’s sleep was a regular occurrence and waking up with a sense of peace was typical; knowing all I had to do was get out of bed and see what the day had in store. My whole life ahead of me, never in a hurry to do much of anything – except grow up.

Most mornings now I get out of bed and notice the darkening circles under my eyes, my complexion a little less rosy, my hair not as thick and hips that are sore getting out of bed. I think about my future, my finances and the messy apartment that I know I will not clean today (that part is still the same I suppose). Today however, I feel at peace and young again, no need for make-up; the sleep line like an angel’s kiss on the side of my cheek, a sweet hello from the little girl who knew it would all be ok.

Old Town Pasadena

Beautiful, clear, chilly November day in old town Pasadena. Gorgeous architecture, old buildings and shopping wonders. I couldn’t help but pull out my camera. I was totally enchanted and didn’t want to go home; it was such a retreat from the frenzy of the city.

The entrance to the old Public Library

Adorable old brick buildings

The historic Castle Green

Stats of Pasadena – the most insane Christmas store I’ve ever seen.

The Mommy Way

Recently, while at a family gathering, my five-year old nephew asked me to slice an apple for him to eat. “Of course,” I said “which apple would you like?” He handed me the one he wanted and followed me into the kitchen to watch me cut it. Apparently it was necessary for him to be involved. Dragging one of the dining room chairs over to the wooden cutting board which rested on the counter, he propped himself up on his little knees to make sure I was going to do it right. “Do it the mommy way,” he said in a sweet yet commanding tone. I interpreted this as, “if you don’t cut it the way my mom cuts it, I’m not going to eat it.” Already sensing his complete lack of faith in me, I proceeded insecurely. Now that he was five the simplicity of my presence was no longer enough to win his love and affection. Hugs were no longer free. I had to do something cool.

Forgetting that I was a competent and worldly young woman, all of my self-worth was suddenly lost to an apple. Holding the knife hesitantly in my hand, I asked him, “so how does your mom cut it?” “um, well, she” but before he could finish my hand began to move and I started cutting. I sliced the apple in half, then sliced each of those in half, then sliced each of those in half making six slices altogether. Finally I carved out the seeds and core from all six pieces. “yeah, that’s it!” he said with such delight and surprise. He looked at me mystified, almost skeptical, that I knew how to cut it the exact way his mom did.

Of course I knew how to cut it the way his mother did, we both learned how from our own mother, his grandmother. Forgetting this when he first asked me, instinctively I soon realized that there could be no other way his mom would have cut an apple. When I was growing up the way my mother cut fruit was everything; there was no other way and it was the best way. From my kid perspective my mother did everything perfectly, like cutting apples and peeling oranges. The grace and skill with which she wielded the knife was mesmerizing and I loved watching her just as my nephew watched me. She had special powers that I came to trust and depend on. These skills were a promise of safety against an unknown world; they were as comforting as being tucked in at night.

As I got older I came to realize that everyone has their own way of cutting fruit. Everyone learned how to do it from someone else and some of their ways were even better. I never liked realizing this though; It always had a way of breaking the spell. The spell of safety created by knowing exactly how to do something.  Year after year the world keeps opening wide and showing me that there are infinite ways of doing everything. I’m getting more comfortable with this now and even enjoying it but sometimes I long for the simplicity and surety of my mother’s way. This is what growing up is I guess; peeling back the layers and discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. You keep one way of doing something that you like and discard another that despite being passed down to you with great care and love, no longer works.

I put the apple slices in a bowl for my nephew and he ran off with them smiling and looking pleased. I could see in his face that it was so much more than just the apples he was happy about. I smiled and savored those sure-footed feelings with him.

Ben and Grandma in the Kitchen.

Downtown

“There is no solitude in the world like that of the big city.” – Kathleen Norris 1931

You can find yourself in the city surrounded by millions, utterly alone. And yet, a moment later you can find yourself at one with all the world; connected to the thrilling pulse of life, connected to everything and everyone. The solitude and anonymity that the city offers can be both liberating and maddening.

Downtown Los Angeles one afternoon I was struck by the enormity of the buildings. Their glass facades gleaning and glistening in the sunlight. They seemed to undulate in the sky as I looked up at them. I imagined myself at the bottom of the ocean, looking up at the towering columns of kelp, illuminated by the bright blue ocean all around. These buildings make you feel small and yet they are oddly comforting; so large and silent, almost Zen like, watching and protecting like gods. There is something ancient about them as they silently and peacefully peer down at the madness below. Amidst the constantly changing street scene they are stable, solid and enduring. A calm washes over me as I gaze up. I try to imagine what they will look like two thousand years from now. Will travelers come from far and wide to speculate about what we did here? What were these giant monuments used for? Why were they built? Will they walk slowly around the crumbling frames, snapping photos, the way we walk around Stonehenge or the Colosseum? Or perhaps they will come with a small chisel as the Romantics did in the 18th century to break off a little piece of the crumbling shrine to take home with them. Will they know who we were and what these buildings were built for or will they imagine them to be a part of some ancient time telling system or grand burial site?

These are some of my photos from this Spring afternoon Downtown.