Thursday, January 18, 2018

Photo Essay: Taking a Break at the Ranch of Repose

It began as a "Ranch of Repose"...

circa 2010

...and what was once known as Rancho del Descanso is now 160 acres of gardens...

...where you can get lost among its flowers and trees...

circa 2010 well as its water features, arbors, and gazebos.

Because they’re all ripe for exploring.

Of course, most people visit Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge for the flowers – camellias bloom for eight months out of the year, from October through May – and even in the dead heat of summer, you can catch roses, summer annuals and perennials, crape myrtle, and cassia.

circa 2010

But this public garden that was once a private estate holds plenty of secrets in its far-reaching corners...

circa 2010

...and to discover them, all you’ve got to do is open the right doors...

...cross the right bridges...

....look up into the trees...

... and take the path less traveled by.

Aside from a few Canadian geese rambling across the Main Lawn or through the Oak Woodland, and perhaps an American crow or two taking a drink from the Mission Fountain, the birdlife of Descanso may not be obvious at first.

Heed the calls of mourning doves, Western scrub jays, house finches and goldfinches – all of which are pretty abundant at the gardens. At lakeside, there’s a Bird Observation Station that was originally dedicated in 1961 at the behest of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society.

There's an ongoing project to revitalize the Bird Observation Station, waterfall, and surrounding area and will reopen in October...

...just in time for the fall migration along the Pacific Flyway.

Or,  follow the sound of a whistle... the Enchanted Railroad...

...a 1/8th-scale model of a diesel train from 1960s/’70s.

The conductor calls “All aboard!”, and then the train chugs along the 7 1/2" gauge rails through the oaks, over a bridge, past the rose garden, and encircling the Promenade and Nature’s Table.

It’s somewhat of a hat tip to what the Rancho del Descanso could have become, since Walt Disney’s representatives had approached Descanso founder Manchester Boddy about developing the real estate while scouting locations for what ultimately became Disneyland.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Descanso Gardens & Trail
Photo Essay: The Boddy House of Rancho del Descanso

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Photo Essay: A Day on the Other Side of the Wall

Isn't it funny that the thing that's brought me to Tijuana all three times now has been art, cuisine, and culture?

Because that's not what most people think of when you tell them you're going to TJ.

Yet four and a half years after my first visit through the border crossing with A+D Museum and Steve Turner Contemporary gallery, I found myself back on a bus to Baja California—this time with the Oceanside Museum of Art.

I wasn't actually planning on writing about the day trip. I just wanted to experience it without worrying about getting good photos or taking notes or memorizing details.

But what I experienced was so interesting that I just decided I had to share it. People have to know what's happening just on the other side of the wall.

Like my first whirlwind trip to Tijuana, we started our day at CECUT, the cultural center of Tijuana that opened in 1982 and has hosted a number of intriguing rotating exhibits, IMAX movie screenings, and even a Beatles laser light show.

I just love the giant sphere that's been plopped down in the middle of the Zona Centro, currently guarded by iron figures courtesy of Spanish sculptor Xavier Mascaró.

Inside the museum, we got a guided tour of the Jaime Ruiz Otis exhibit Inauguración: Intuir el azar, a 19-year survey of the Bajacalifornio's work in mixed media, found object sculpture, and industrial dumpster-diving.

Just as important as the art to me was the opportunity to drink some local wine at lunch, this time a chardonnay from Valle de Guadalupe—two full glasses of it, which cost just over $7 USD.

Uncharacteristically, I felt no time crunch in Tijuana, though we only had one day in town and several stops to make on our tour. I didn't mind that our lunch took two hours when it was only scheduled for one.

As we were still waiting for our spinach and roquefort salads, I told the woman to my left that I refused to worry about it. We would surely get our food... eventually.

I didn't even mind when my filet mignon never came—because as I waited for my entree, I'd been eyeing the atún that had arrived at so many of the placesettings around me. I'd like to think that I'd made the wrong choice from the set menu, and the Universe intervened to set me straight.

Some folks on our tour thought we should leave early and skip dessert to make the next appointment, but since I'm a completionist, I can't even imagine ending our lunch without the plantain tart and vanilla ice cream.

And it all worked out in the end anyway. Our visit to studio we were supposed to be at while we were still waiting for our salads got bumped to later, and we arrived right on time to the subsequent stop, at Calle Hermenegildo Galeana and Avenida Melchor Ocampo.

That's where we met Alida Cervantes, a Saatchi-affiliated border artist with an MFA from UC San Diego. Born in San Diego but raised in Tijuana, she now paints in her Tijuana studio and lives in San Diego—as she says, crossing the border every night to go to bed.

Alida's studio was, in contrast to our next destination, decidedly "inner city."

We later visited partners in life and art Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragan way up in the winding roads of the hills above Central Tijuana the gated community in Lomasdoctores, past at least two security guard shacks and surely under the watchful eye of more.

If you're going to live in your studio where you paint, collage, and sculpt fabric, this is the place to do it.

Although their home currently acts as a gallery space for their work (all of which is "available," as they say), I found it far more interesting to head downstairs and examine their materials...

...their tools and instruments...

...and their equipment.

For me, the art is very much in the process.

Of course, by this time, we were running about two hours behind schedule—and it was already dark when we arrived at La Caja Galleria for what was promised to be a "sensory experience."

Certainly our eyes were dazzled upon our arrival by a mix of murals jumping out at us from the walls facing out on De Las Moras.

And we both smelled and tasted what we found wrapped inside a customized greeting that clarified that a burro painted with black stripes is not a zebra, but a donkey, and that our burrito contained no actual tiny donkeys, but a mixture of seafood (including dungeness crab). We washed it down with sips of mezcal and sake served inside a cored-out pepper.

I'm a fan of neither mezcal nor sake, but when in Mexico...

The finale of our night featured what I would describe as an immersive theatrical experience, followed by glasses of red wine and bowls of soup made from beans out of the gallery's own garden, fertilized by the gallery's own compost, both located in a converted parking lot.

It was a new experience to me, though perhaps Tijuana's art scene may seem derivative or even outdated to someone better-versed in the evolution of contemporary or modern art. But while Mexico has a lot of catching up to do, it's catching up pretty fast—something that's particularly impressive considering the fact that there is, in fact, no art "scene" in Tijuana, despite the multitude of talented and creative artists that may live and work there.

But they haven't figured out how to form a community yet. As Mely Barragan put it, "We don't talk to each other."

They most certainly will figure that out sooner rather than later. And when they do, the "scene" that emerges may seem as though it's exploded into the sky like the fireworks that sent us on our way, proclaiming into the sky and celebrating the victory of Tijuana's first soccer team, the Xolos.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Bussing It to Baja
Photo Essay: A Culinary Tour of Tijuana
Photo Essay: The Terroir of Baja Wine Country
Photo Essay: Baja for Foodies
Crossing the Border (Cruzando la Frontera)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Underground Secrets and Australia's 9News

I used to be on TV all the time.

But it's been a while.

When we were hosting a crew for an Australian news team in the underground tunnels and former speakeasies of LA, I didn't even plan to be on camera. After all, I was just there to help out.

I didn't even bother to put my contacts in or put on any extra makeup. I was not what I would consider "camera-ready."

Screenshot via 9News

But then again, I'm kind of always ready for a camera. My mother would tell you I was born ready.

So, after descending into one of the stinkier basements I've ever experienced (at a location I'm not allowed to divulge), I found myself threading a microphone cord up my shirt and affixing a battery pack to my belt.

I knew what I had to say. Talking is never an issue for me. Still, my interviewer felt the need to try to script me. But I pity the fool who tries to put words into my mouth.

So, I said what I had to say—and in my own way. The sound-bite that made it in to the final piece was all mine, right down to the very last giggle.

And now I'm plotting my next TV appearance, back here in the States—but not in a tunn

For someone who gets a little panicky in dark, enclosed spaces, I sure have been spending a lot of time underground lately.

You can watch my Australian TV debut here.

Related Posts:
The End of the Line at the Subway Terminal Building, Underground
Photo Essay: Into the Abyss of Kiev, A City of Hills
Believe It Or Not I Was the Audience Favorite

Monday, January 8, 2018

Photo Essay: Farming at the LA County Fairgrounds

I'd been to the LA County Fair in Pomona a couple of times early in my history of living in California, but over the years, I've learned that there's more to the so-called "Fairplex" than meets the eye.

Sure, the fairgrounds have been home to the LA County Fair since 1922, and they host a number of other large-scale, special events throughout the year. The present-day footprint of the fairgrounds also, however, includes the former site of the Pomona Assembly Center, a detention camp for Japanese-Californians during the first few months of World War II in 1942.

And, as I've learned relatively recently, there's also the former office of artist Millard Sheets (director of the Fair’s fine arts exhibit for 25 years, and the nephew of the fair's first president), a train museum, and a garden railroad there.

And while most county fairs will have you bring your farm to it—for any number of agricultural displays and demonstrations of horticulture and animal husbandry—Fairplex has got its own farm, which is open all year, not just during the county fair.

Of course, the grounds for that first fair were built on top of a beet and barley field smack-dab in the Pomona Valley's middle of nowhere, surrounded by orchards with the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance.

Now, Fairplex can count among its neighbors an airport, an amusement park, a Sheraton hotel, a university, and a hospital. It's like its own microcosm.

The Farm at Fairplex dates back to the 1940s and 50s, when it was more of a "farm attraction" of the fair—with various living history demonstrations to teach kids and families what life on a farm had historically been like.

And much of that "old farm" flavor is still there, though the new-and-improved farm facility is far more focused on sustainable living...

...actually raising animals, growing crops, and teaching kids where food comes from (other than a drive-thru) and how to eat healthy.

Thanks to a grant awarded in 2012, what began as a half-acre farm has expanded with an additional three acres—though, given the surrounding development, the Farm at Fairplex is more of an "urban farm" than a recreation of a rural environment.

That's not to say that there aren't plenty of traditional farms in California. The state that most people associate with cities—San Francisco, LA, Sacramento—actually produces nearly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S. And some of them are only grown in California. How's that for "heartland"?!

Each year, the Farm at Fairplex grows an average of ~150 specialty crops, all of which are organic...

...whether they're fruits and tree nuts, herbs and spices (like Ocimum basilicum, a form of sweet basil that smells like cinnamon)...

...or vegetables like squashes...

...and nightshades like the turkish or Ethiopian eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum)...

...the "Fairy Tale" eggplant (Solanum melongena)...

...or any other varieties of aubergines...

...or teeny tiny tomatoes.

The LA County Fair is big business now, just as it was from the start. Just three years in, attendance had already jumped into the six figures—not bad for a five-day event in September, the hottest month of the year.

Even during the Depression, when the surrounding counties couldn't afford to put on their own fairs, the LA County Fairgrounds served as home base for the "Tri-County Harvest Festival," also encompassing Orange and Riverside Counties from 1932 to 1937.

From 1942 to 1947 during World War II, the military had taken over the fairgrounds—not just for the Japanese war relocation effort but also to house German and Italian prisoners of war and to train soldiers to fight in desert conditions. And when the fair reopened in 1948, it was more popular than ever—so popular that its attendance surpassed the one-million mark for the first time.

No matter how many carnival attractions or grandstand performances have been added over the years, the LA County Fair has always paid tribute to and welcomed young farmers. And while the farm area of the fairgrounds has expanded dramatically beyond the "Storybook Farm" that opened in 1962 (now known as California's Heritage Square) and the FairView Farms livestock area at the beginning of this millennium, so too have the fairgrounds themselves—from 43 acres in 1922 to 543 acres today.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Tiny Villages at the LA County Fairgrounds
Photo Essay: A Hike Through California Coffee & Exotic Fruit
Photo Essay: Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Photo Essay: Wine Dinner in the Garden