…another place I haven’t been to in a while (other than posting here) is Italy, so given the opportunity, along with facing my (ahem) five-oh-ieth, I decided to carpe-diem my way to St. Peter’s to make it a jubilee.  And in the true spirit of a pilgrimage, we made it a journey:   starting in Venice, through Florence, Siena, and capping it off, literally, in Rome.  What a treat!  I can’t think of a better way to take on a birthday that marks the season of “middle-age” than contemplating the Renaissance.

Ave Marisa!


That’s me!  I’m channeling Kurt Cobain and playing the power chords to Teen Spirit.  I’m at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle thanks to John’s conference there.  The evening also included a trip up the Space Needle too.

I loved Seattle.  It’s my favorite (American) city yet.  It’s walkable, I relished the daylight to well after 9 p.m. (summer solstice), Pike Place Market gives it a lively focal point, it possesses a wealth of beautiful old buildings (visit the Seattle Architecture Foundation for guided and self-guided tours), and I LOVE their library by Koolhaas (much to my dismay).  AND we were treated to amazingly bright, comfortable, summery weather.  It was the “perfect storm” that left me sufficiently entertained.

I’m definitely going back.

Hawaii.  Business or pleasure?  Because it was business for John, I horned in on the gig to cover the hotel expense and made it my vacation.  And despite being extensively mosquito bitten, sun rashed, and chilled to the bone on a catamaran cruise, it was my pleasure.

His first conference was on Oahu and accommodations were in Waikiki.  A beautiful beach but the resort there is a bit over-packaged and crowded (a.k.a. touristy – beautiful beaches surrounded by a density of highrises just doesn’t take you “there”).  I was eager to explore the island and so when the conference was over, we rented a car and drove all over the place.  Highlights, thanks to the valued advice from my comrade from Oahu, include Manoa Falls and the Diamond Head farmers market where we grabbed lunch:  kalua pork sliders (OMG!  BFF!) – juicy kalua pork with cabbage on a taro roll.  Unforgettable.  I wish I (porked out) ate 2 more, but we got to the market late and they were closing down. From there, we were (fortunately) thwarted from taking a hike of Diamond Head (parking was full) and so headed out to Manoa Falls (as it turns out, a significant upgrade of plans).

The trek to Manoa Falls is a muddy, slippery climb – even before the light rain shower we later experienced – through lush tropical forest that terminates at a waterfall.  If you ever get the chance to take this hike, be prepared to be dabbled with mud and mosquito bites (although John didn’t get any…?) and be thankful you’re not one of the number of bozos you cross paths with who think flip-flops will serve the trek sufficiently.

On to the island of Kauai where I horned in on the accommodations of a second conference.  I planned my visit to maximize the time on Kauai because I suspected it would be less crowded.  When I got there, it seemed desolate.  Our resort was 5 minutes away from the airport and there were chickens at the airport, along the roadside and at the resort.  I wondered and worried just what I had signed up for and what I would do for the next few days.  I felt cut off.  So while John attended his conference, I was determined to find the best beach.  I took to our rented PT Cruiser (white and super-fun to drive in Kauai) and Kauai’s 2-lane highway that belts around the island driving through charming towns with their roadside chickens, and through side roads to find just the right beach:  not rocky, not scraggly with seaweed, with clear water and warm, soft waves.

Meanwhile, my beach shopping was interrupted by one of John’s elective conference activities:  a catamaran cruise up the Na Pali coast.  It was the first time I’ve been out on the ocean and I delighted in the sun and its reflection off the water, the “desert” surround of the ocean and its waves and the bounce and splash of the boat as we raced up the coast.  We even caught up with a herd of spinning dolphins and everyone amazed at their presence and their spinning jumps and dancing swim.  But on Kauai it rains, somewhere, everyday.  And that’s where we were headed.  My clothes got damp from the splash of the waves but then, as we headed under grey clouds, I became soaked from the rain and then chilled from the winds.  I stayed on deck, despite the chilling cold, to take in the amazing scenery:  shock-scale, storybook cliffs draped high by gray, gossamer clouds and skirted low, by diminutive, but powerful ocean waves.  When we were past the mesmerizing scenery, the “cruise” became interminable.  I was shivering, John became seasick, and all I could focus on in those moments is that not only would the cruise have to end (in the then-distant future) but I would even be back home in LA at some point (sigh).  But even now, here, from the comfort of my home I can tell you:  although the cruise offered some worthy vistas, it was still too long.

Back to the beaches.  John was done with the conference and I could almost surgical-strike our idyllic beach hang out – I just needed to inventory a couple more spots on the north shore one of which was Ke’e – that was still too rocky and crowded – although we found an ocean cave there to check out.  Our prize beach was between Black Pot and Ke’e.  And so I changed into my swimwear, took to the waves – pausing to wait for a school of silvery, minnow-sized fish to swim by – and let the warm, turquoise waves envelope me.

Growing up in the boonies (in the foothills past the last dirt road) of Albuquerque I longed for the city.  And now that I’m in the big city, I’m enamored with Kauai because it reminds me of the back road to Santa Fe and it’s small old towns remind me of Madrid (that’s ‘MAD-rid, NM; mah-‘DRID is in Spain) along the way to Santa Fe.  In Kauai that age-old question becomes a koan:  why did the chicken cross the road?  to remind you you’re on vacation.

jin_chocolate…chocolate, NM wine, NM green chile: a trifecta of ‘yum’; add to that a David Byrne concert in Santa Fe and a visit with family and relatives and it makes for one fine month.

For my birthday, at the start of the month, I got an awesome birthday treat at the office: “Inspiration”: a salted caramel, dark chocolate, ganache/cake/chocolate grenade (say-no-more) from Jin Patisserie – just up the street – along with a stirring choral performance of “Happy Birthday” and lunch out too. Viva la ‘Risa! Many thanks comrades!

d_byrneMid-month, John and I flew into New Mexico and drove up to Santa Fe for the David Byrne concert at the Lensic. I had a BLAST! The Lensic is an older, smaller theater off the plaza with Spanish Baroque-deco detailing; pretty dazzling. It took a while for the audience to getup, standup – for their right to dance – as we were advised to be considerate of our fellow audience members (and not block the view). I worried the band wasn’t getting their due feedback of energy and I certainly was feeling the urge to “stir-the-punch” (so to speak). davidbyrnercFinally, the swell hit and the audience was on their feet – phew! The music was fantastic. So were the dancers. We were treated to several encores – the second (or third?) of which delivered the Talking Heads classic: Burning Down the House (pictured). WOW. The possibility, would he? YES! Stirring the audience to the climatic frenzy for the evening he then closed, with tantric erudition, with “Everything that Happens” – a lullabye energy to send the audience off in a released-and-then-calmed afterglow. Eno, Byrne, musicians, singers, dancers (choreographer): fabulous synchronicity.

@ Overland Sheepskin Co., Taos, NM

@ Overland Sheepskin Co., Taos, NM

Back to Albuquerque the next day to visit with family. Not only to visit with my awesome mom, but got to see my wonderful uncle, aunt, and cousin too, not to mention my near-and-dear bro., sista-in-law Mary, nephew and niece. Bro., cousin, and I headed up to Taos the next day. The trip was great: the visit along the drive, the sky, the landscape, the food (breakfast burrito smothered in green chile at Joann’s in Española). I managed to score John’s new “briefcase” at Overland Sheepskin Company there in Taos after a few phonecalls and cellphone photos. He likes it in person too.

On the way back we ducked into the Vivac Winery tasting room. I bought the Tempranillo with its complex layering of rich flavors and a box of their artisanal chocolates, and regret (and still think about) not getting a bottle of the tart, “old world,” rose´.

Saturday included a visit to Old Town (Albuquerque) w/ Mary and niece and nephew. I was worried visiting in late June it would be hot and glarey (NM is prone to brief, solstice heatwaves) but the air felt great and the light was wonderful: late afternoon with marginally monsoon weather – a light breeze, spritz of rain, and diffuse daylight through gently moody clouds to make it cool and softly bright. There was a wedding on the plaza too to add a dash of ceremony and festivity. I regret not having my camera.

Sunday I was out and about with mom and sent off with a batch of green chile to take home to LA (thanks Mary!). I went through it so fast and selfishly I already have my pre-order in for a modest 5 lb. delivery in August (Berridge Farms). I prefer mild summers and absorbing the heat through NM chile. I’ll let you know if it’s worth it’s season. June was.



You may ask yourself-well…how did I get here? I had a free ticket from Southwest Airlines and wanted to maximize the value – so, from LA, we weren’t squandering it on a trip to San Francisco. I was thinking more along the scale of Boston, Manhattan, or Washington D.C. But a recurring thought was I really wanted to see the Kimbell Museum designed by Louis Kahn. So off to Fort Worth we went for a long weekend. I wondered what else we would do to fill the rest of our weekend over and beyond seeing the Kimbell and half-heartedly shook out a few more leads. It turns out we had a great visit.

We stayed at a B&B called Azalea Plantation. It’s such a treat not to be an anonymous ghost in some cookie-cutter institutional building of a hotel. We really enjoyed our breakfast visits (and the great, home-cooked breakfasts too) with our hosts / “innkeepers” Martha and Richard and other guests as well. It was a chance to learn some Texas history, get leads on where to dine, hear about a local quirk – the customary blue-bonnet flower photo-ops., and tornado stories

kimbell_outsidegroveGot to the Kimbell. The outside of the building, formally, was a little lackluster for me – a bit coffin-like. But beautifully scaled down with a water feature and grove of trees at its upper-level entry. This is the same grove of trees Kahn intended for the courtyard of the Salkkimbell_daylight Institute (good thing Barragan’s response at the Salk won out – see October 21 post). Given the Kimbell’s scale and context, the grove idea works here and creates an inviting outdoor room with cooling shade and draws the visitor into the museum. The Kimbell’s interior is the soft underbelly to its otherwise stalwart exterior. The building was designed in section to bounce and spread daylight into its galleries and so its interior is graciously daylighted – not only casting the artwork into a true-color reading, but rendering the concrete of the building itself into soft, subtle colors of skyblue, rose, and amber – which means Kahn is not just a great architect, but a great Kahn-crete salesman too. I’ve never seen concrete cast this warm and colorful – except at the Salk. As for that radiant daylight though, the effect is radiant thermal warmth too. I wondered what kind of demand the daylighting puts on the cooling requirements in the summer.

(Digression: also worth mentioning, the film “My Architect” is a great documentary film by Louis Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, about his journey to learn about his architect-father. It’s a “must see.”)

mod_riffThen came The Modern. The Kimbell is an appetizer-size museum so when we ducked out of its lower-level gallery, we were presented by the main course: the Modern Art Museum. What a gem! Designed by Tadao Ando, the building riffs off the rhythms of concrete galleries that comprise the Kimbell, scales it up to 2- stories and organizes it around a reflecting pool contiguous with the floor of the museum itself. Much like the MOMA mod_contredesign in New York, also by Ando, the visitor gets a sense of procession and progress through the building with long views that connect back into distant galleries or out of the building – providing a sense of phrasing to the galleries and rest for the visitors’ eyes from the constant close-ups. The exhibits presented some refreshing surprises too: drawing studies by DeKooning illustrating his process of abstraction, and, a personal fave, one of Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic. I’ve managed to see a handful so far. This was one of the sharper renditions. Also among artists’ series: a Serra sculpture punctuates one of the building’s corners outside – a daunting vertical mode of his oeuvre. mod_dineAdditionally, the cafe there was one of the better museum cafes I’ve been to – good food, and hospitable staff. We went back a second day just for lunch (day one was just a wine & cheese pick-me-up).

Another highlight was the Fort Worth Water Gardens (designed by Phillip Johnson). Every city should have one of these. The “Bilbao effect” has nothing on this.

Finally. Got away for the weekend. John and I took Friday off for a long weekend to explore San Diego and hang out in La Jolla to see the the Salk Institute. It couldn’t have been a better day. I think I’ll forever be biased by my first impression/experience of this place on an exquisitely cloudy day. The moody, gray-blue, palpable sky cast the architecture and its materials into its warmth and its blush – when everything is neutral or grey, the subtleties of color blossom. And no contrasty/distracty shadows either. The diffuse light of a cloudy day illuminated the building and courtyard into a clear rendering of its form which lent a better feel for its scale and proportion and connection to the ocean-scape. Much like the architecture of classical Greece and of the Renaissance – those eras in which (hu)-man is the measure – you feel that balance and connection with a larger pattern; that harmony.

Our architectural nightcap (literally) was our stay at The Bed & Breakfast Inn at La Jolla. Another architectural thrill as it was once the George Kautz House designed by Irving Gill -one of California’s prescient (early modernist) architects. I happen to know this especially because I have the book by Marvin Rand on Irving J. Gill: a compilation of Rand’s exquisite photography of the architect’s buildings; prefaced and edited by his wife Mary Ann Danin and, just to brag, signed by the both of them.

(Click here to get your own copy of the book)

Semi-dome, Transit Plaza @ Union Station

I had gobs to do this past weekend especially since I would be leaving for New Mexico on Tuesday. Despite that, John and I had a hankering to take on one of our favorite day trips through Pasadena. We drive downtown and park at Transit Plaza at Union Station, get a day pass and duck in and out of the stops along the Metro Gold Line on the way to old town Pasadena and oftentimes cap the day with dinner at Traxx (consistently a great meal and in a great space: Union Station). In the past we’ve discovered the Museum of the Southwest (at the Metro stop by the same name), Margarita Jones for a memorable chicken mole enchilada and blue cadillac margarita (at the Fillmore stop), exquisitely junkie antique shops (at the Mission stop), and we’ve trekked to the Norton Simon (from the Memorial Park stop). I’m pretty sure the Norton Simon is, architecturally, my favorite art museum very narrowly beating the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art.

As I readied for a day of walking in the bright sun, I chose a breezy skirt, sleeveless shirt and my new blast-from-the-past Jesus sandals. These were sandals popular in the 70’s that I spotted and immediately acquired (“made in Italy” usually closes a shoe deal for me). I was aware there was no insole cushioning, but I figured I wasn’t hiking La Luz trail up to Sandia Peak (for instance), I’d be fine.

We only made 2 stops: the Mission station to hit the antique shops and then to Memorial Park. From there we walked – back-tracking to near the Del Mar stop to try a restaurant nearby and walked back again into Old Town Pasadena and then Metro’d back to Union Station. When we got back on the Metro, I could feel a burning sensation on the soles of my feet. I figured the train ride would lend enough time to rest my feet. And so at the end of the Gold Line and the day, we didn’t go straight for our car, we headed for Olvera Street. It was the weekend before cinco de Mayo and we both knew we had to duck in on the scene. I scarfed a churro against the expected backdrop of mariachi music and we enjoyed the cool breeze and the slant of light at sunset along with the music. I LOVE mariachi music! How can anyone not love mariachi music???

So after a dose of fiesta we headed back for our car and as I walked, the effect of the sandals kicked in. My left pinky toe had just about enough of the strap that harnessed it for hours and I felt an electrical-shock type pain that affected my walk. I tried adjusting my shoe so many times as I slowly walked back to the car clinging to John.

My feet were fine when I got home and out of the sandals and I’ve since put the sandals on sabbatical for my feet to recuperate – couple more days I’ll get back to wearing them a lot (but not for day tripping).

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