Category California

Velveteria Los Angeles

Welcome to Velveteria. Formally, the Velveteria Epicenter of Art Fighting Cultural Deprivation, but just plain Velveteria is fine. Though there’s nothing plain about this place, as is evident immediately. 

I was able to ascertain that a tour was in progress when I arrived, so I settled in the lobby and had a look around. “Welcome, come in for a life changing experience without walking on hot coals.” read a hand-written sign. “Admission $10.” Another, located on a tray of souvenir lapel buttons reads “Flair. $2. Choose responsibly.” I did, selecting a tiny button featuring a teacup chihuahua relaxing inside a teacup with its elbow resting jauntily on the edge, a golden halo around its head. 

The lobby’s walls were filled floor to ceiling with paintings of varied technical ability and subject matter. There’s the larger version of that teacup dog. Danny Trejo brandishes a machete that has three tacos carefully balanced atop. Dame Edna in a “The Scream” themed dress, her pose mimicking that of the screamer(s). Beneath them all is a worn light pink velvet couch, strewn with personal items: a tablet, sunglasses, mail, and a “Velveteria” branded pink ball cap. On one wall hung an obscuring bright pink crushed velvet curtain, behind which the museum officially began. 

Eventually, Velveteria owner Carl Baldwin joined me in the lobby to take my money and teach me the finer points of velvet artistry and show me the highlights of his collection. After swiping my card, Carl’s eyes narrowed and he looked at me quizically. “Have we met before?” Sadly, no, I just have one of those generic, vaguely familiar, distinctly Midwestern faces. He treated me like a friend regardless, led me through the velvet curtain, and gave me the grand tour. 

When you hear the term “velvet painting”, no doubt your mind immediately turns to images of sad clowns and Elvises (Elvii?). And undoubtedly, a lot of those exist. Elvis even has his own tiny wing of Velveteria, crooning and pouting around an Elvis tiki statue. Although that style of velvet painting became popularized in the United States in the 1950s, primarily via tourism to Mexico, painting on black velvet has a recorded practice as long ago as the late 1200s, when Marco Polo reported having seen black velvet paintings in India–but surely the practice is older, as it likely didn’t burst into existence for the Marco Polo tourism market. Many countries have a history of including plush fabric in their art, notably, Japan, where artists would shave down the pile to give their paintings a three dimensional quality. Carl proudly showed me one such piece in his collection. The detail is painstaking.

The quality of the art behind the curtain also varies in technical ability, but some appear to have been nigh-equally painstakingly executed. Black velvet tricks the eye: because it’s so pure black, it absorbs the light that strikes it. Paint on it with pure white, and you have a full dynamic range in between to play with. A little dry brush action and suddenly there’s a range of greys. In black velvet painting, you paint on the light and as a result, the subjects can appear luminous, whether they’re Yoda, Batboy, or especially Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and James Dean, racing across the sky on a trio of matched flying unicorns.

Velveteria has around 450 paintings on display from a collection greater than 3,000, and many of these paintings have a story. There are vintage works, there are commissioned works, there are pieces left behind from the black velvet painting classes at the shop. Many are for sale, but not all: the true rarities remain part of Velveteria’s permanent collection, such as the paintings that incorporate cutouts that are lit from behind with lamp bulbs. As in the lobby, every inch of wall real estate is accounted for, floor to ceiling, including the hallways and the restroom, where a devilish Anthony Bourdain smokes a cigarette and perches on the porcelain throne, while Oprah looms overhead with a sign proclaiming this room “Oprah’s Think Tank”. Another room is dedicated to black light paintings. Yet another is wholly cheesecake velvet, tantalizing behind a gauzy curtain which acts as a filmy négligée for the subjects within. 

You’ve likely heard more than a few jokes about velvet art being the lowest art form–if you’re in LA, swing by the Velveteria and challenge that notion.

Happy Place Los Angeles

In early December, someone shared a link on Facebook to the new Los Angeles pop-up museum, Happy Place. It was one of those made-for-Insta places where the whole point of the thing was to get whimsical photos to share on social media, with the tagline “find your happy place” and for some reason, it sucked me right in. Jason had been encouraging me to take some trips on my own, and this is the sort of thing he would more tolerate than enjoy, so it seemed like a good opportunity to dip my toes into the water of solo travel. I bought a ticket for one of the only dates in January on which they had a ticket available, found a cheap flight for a day trip to LA, and prepared to find my happy place. 

So, of course, not long before my trip, I got an email from Happy Place “reminding” me that the museum would be closed on the date on which I’d bought my ticket. What?! I checked my inbox to see if I’d missed any earlier messages: nope. Nice, guys. Thanks for the awesome communication. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY. Later that day, I received another email stating that after “tireless work trying to gain the necessary approvals to get re-opened, it is clear at this time that the needed steps will not be complete until after the holiday season at the earliest.” In other words, they’d been shut down by the city. Great. Great. Evidently their person in charge of the permitting process was just as capable at their job as the one assigned to email. 

Well, I was not about to let some bullshitty “museum” I never should have purchased a ticket for in the first place ruin my day trip, and thus I visited Los Angeles determined to find my own happy place. I did do some preliminary research (I don’t know if I’m capable of full spontaneity) and determined that if I wasn’t going to rent a car, taking the flyaway bus was my best option. While I waited for my bus, a number of other buses and shuttles came and went, including some shabby vans supposedly bound for Disneyland but looked like a one way ride to Murderville. One of them had “Mickey sent me” written on the side, which didn’t so much evoke the warm umbrella of Disney so much as the stranger who pulls up next to your elementary school, rolls down his window, and says your mom sent him to come get you. Nope, not today, buddy. Especially if you don’t have candy OR puppies.

Waiting with me was an elderly woman, who asked me about my plans and told me all about her granddaughter, who she said is first clarinet for the John Williams orchestra, and that he’s a delight to work for. Cool, right? Before I could ask her a million more questions, her bus arrived, and she thanked me for the conversation. No, thank YOU, ma’am. 

My fly away bus finally arrived, and I took the one headed to Hollywood. Not because I particularly wanted to go to Hollywood (I’ve been. A few times.) but because it was the sort-of closest stop that would put me within walking distance of the places I wanted to start my day. So of course immediately after arrival, I put off my other plans and had pie for breakfast at The Pie Hole. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all. 

I had a nitro cold brew and a warm strawberry lavender hand pie. The crust on the hand pie is just meh, but the other flavors were on point, and I was glad to have some food in my belly before I proceeded on foot to my next destination, which was about an hour walk away. I briefly considered hanging around Hollywood until the Museum of Death opened, but since the day was about pleasing myself and not the harsh realities of life, I decided to give it a pass this time. And last time. And maybe I’ll just keep passing even though people keep recommending it to me. Either way, I knew that having a bunch of strawberry goo churning around in my insides while looking at gore wasn’t going to do me any favors. 

While out on my walk, I was stopped by a queen and asked if I had a dollar to spare for breakfast, saying she’d had a rough holiday. I told her I could do better than a dollar and gave her enough for breakfast. She pulled me in for a hug, told me I’d made her day, and that if I ever needed anything and saw her around the neighborhood, her name was Jasmine. 

Here’s some stuff I saw on my walk:

I have to assume that the reason it’s a gym for actors is that there is no gym equipment so one has to be adept at pretending one is getting a good workout.

I finally made it to my first destination: The Never Open Store. This place has notoriously unusual hours and equally notoriously unusual things for sale, but was, when I arrived, not open, with no indication that it would be opening soon, as the hands on the clock on their door were conspicuously missing. I’m not saying I needed an opium jar, but it would’ve been nice to have a look. 

Around the back side of the Never Open Store were a lot of different pieces of street art. I walked around the back of the block and circled around, because there was another place I wanted to visit, directly across the street: Gallery 1988. There were a few prints I was debating online and I was hoping to have an opportunity to look at them in person before I made a decision. Unfortunately, I caught them between shows and they, too, were closed. Siiiiigh. So I was thankful that I knew my next destination, about another mile away, was definitely open.

If there’s not, you’re in the wrong place.

I dig this bush a lot, it looks like it moved out of an ocean bed into someone’s front lawn. I’m thinking it’s a foxtail fern

That destination was ScentBar Hollywood. No one could have predicted when I was kid that I would grow up to be a complete and utter perfume hoor, considering I used to get a migraine whenever anyone with heavily-applied scent would walk by. Either I’ve built up a tolerance, or the choking oriental cloud style of the 80s has fallen out of favor, but I haven’t experienced a scent trigger for ages. It’s fun to dabble in scent, and there’s so much to try in the world of niche perfumes and oils. I’ve been buying little samples from LuckyScent for years, because the descriptions almost always suck me in, but I’m not always thrilled by the scents themselves, and who wants to splurge big bucks on a bottle of scent that they don’t like? ScentBar is one of LuckyScent’s physical locations, and I was excited to have this opportunity to go in and sniff ALL the perfumes I’d been intrigued by online and some I’d never considered. ScentBar also offers up to four samples free of charge, so in addition to a small bottle of scent I’d been eyeing for a while, I was able to walk out with four new things to try: Hummingbird (the floralest floral to ever floral), Kismet (recommended to me as an ambery vanilla that doesn’t read too gourmand), Confessions of a Garden Gnome (green and playful), and La Danza Delle Libellule, which is honestly something I never would have reached for based on its notes (apple? fruity? Naaaaaah) but I fell in love with at one sniff, because it smells like a warm secret garden where everything good lives. Which just goes to show me that I don’t always know what I’ll like, so I shouldn’t write things off before trying them.

After ScentBar, it was time for lunch, and there was no place I wanted to eat lunch more than Trejo’s Tacos. I once received a book as a gift that was essentially making fun of actors’ headshots–very “look at how stupid this person is, wanting to be a star”. It was deeply cruel, and I remember seeing Danny Trejo’s photo inside, so literally every time I see him in a movie or a show I am completely stoked for him. I’m also stoked that he was able to take his new fame and turn it into six thriving restaurants. 

When I arrived, I ordered a jackfruit taco, a carnitas taco, the street corn appetizer, and a strawberry lemon agua fresca, and I took a seat outside, because being able to eat outside in January is peak Happy Place. 

The street corn was charred grilled corn with a chipotle cream and popcorn, and it was totally bomb. The popcorn was a surprising element but it worked. The standout, however, was by far the jackfruit taco. I’d heard that cooked jackfruit takes on a texture like pulled pork, and that it soaks up the flavor of everything around it, much like tofu, but I don’t know that I believed it. Well baby, I’m a believer now. The cooked jackfuit was shockingly meatlike. Juicy, flavorful, delicious. I vastly preferred it to the carnitas taco–the pork was a tad dry and had me looking around for salsa or hot sauce. The jackfruit taco needed nothing because it was everything. EVERYTHING.

This was across the street from Trejo’s Tacos, I wonder how many of these pink signs to God there are throughout the city?

After lunch, I made my way to Velveteria, a museum dedicated to black velvet paintings, located in Chinatown. This place deserves its own post, and it’s going to have one later this week. Watch for it! In brief: it’s weird and great and everything I hoped it would be.

From Chinatown, I made my way to Culver City, primarily because I wanted to be closer to the airport as my time grew short. I had fun just walking around, checking out some more street art, peeping in some more shop windows, and eventually ending up at Coolhaus, a super premium ice cream shop. I’d tried one of their frozen ice cream sandwiches from their grocery store line and was really unimpressed, but I also think it’s difficult to translate that fresh ice cream sandwich experience into a prepack, so I wanted to give the original a try. Verdict? Much, much tastier, particularly their ice cream. I tried their brown butter french toast ice cream (aces) and their churro cookie dough (even better), but their cookies leave something to be desired, and overall, I still think The Baked Bear is a better place to get your ice cream sandwich fix. 

I’m certain I saw a piece by the same artist in Iceland!

And then it was time to head back to the airport, where I finished the excellent book I was reading and met an aspiring novelist who bought me a drink and regaled me with the tales of her past twenty-two days in Mazatlan.

There’s no denying that I was pretty ticked off when my reason for purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets was going to be closed, but ultimately, I’m glad, because I’m certain that I had a much better time carving out my own happy place than I would have had there. I also learned that I do well traveling by myself, and that if I have a problem, I can figure it out. I also learned that people talk to me a lot more when I’m alone, which I’m generally down with, because I’m interested in people. Overall, I’m declaring this experiment a success and am looking forward to booking more impulse flights!

A Northern California/Southern Oregon Coast Morning

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The Ship Ashore Resort–their website says the museum and gift shop are “temporarily closed” but it’s been closed since 2013 so don’t hold your breath.

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After a solid continental breakfast, I continued to follow 101 up Oregon’s coastline. It was a gorgeous morning, overcast, the cloudiness and slight fog perfectly complementing the waves smashing into the rocky shore. As it was yet early, I was able to pull over and watch a whole family of elk grazing on the side of the road–thankfully, these ones were not as well versed in the art of setting traps as their other Oregon brethren. I don’t know if it was the time of day or the time of year, but the winding roads were almost deserted, which made for perfect driving conditions, one of those drives where I can just set the cruise control, pump up the jams, and make time, pulling over every once in a while to take in the view. It was just what I needed after the total shitshow that was the previous afternoon/evening.  It was only a scant two hour drive to the day’s first destination: Prehistoric Gardens. That’s right, strap in, because on Wednesday, we’re going to see even more dinosaurs.

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I left my hopes in San Francisco

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The primary reason I wanted to take highway 101 home rather than I-5 was that I wanted to see the giant redwoods of northern California. Those ancient conifers, those towering monoliths that you can sometimes drive your car through for an additional fee. It’s the reason we busted ass out of the hotel that morning, the reason lunch was a sandwich crammed down our faces in the car. All my planning and ass-busting, however, couldn’t compensate for the soul crushing traffic leading into and through and out of San Francisco. I watched the sun slip by overhead as we sat and sat and sat and knew that with it, our chances of seeing the redwoods were similarly slipping away. Sure enough, the last of the sunlight disappeared before we got into redwood country. Crap in a basket. We spent the rest of the drive pointing at shadows saying “Is that a redwood? I think that might be a redwood. Or an elk.” as a thick fog swirled around the car, making it difficult to see the road even three feet ahead. Between road construction, traffic, and fog, we didn’t check into our hotel until around 11pm. The next morning, the sunrise revealed a giant billboard pointing back the way we came, enticing us to check out the “trees of mystery”. Damn it. Damn it all.

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The Cambria Scarecrow Festival

 

 

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For the past eight years, the town of Cambria, California has been filling their streets with scarecrows for the month of October. They claim to have hundreds, a number to which I cannot personally attest as I didn’t get to check out every nook and cranny of Cambria and the neighboring San Simeon, which also participates. After gassing up, I stretched my legs walking Cambria’s downtown checking out their scarecrow offerings. I also checked out the French Corner Bakery to buy more coffee. Considering the pastry revelation that was Bob’s Well Bread earlier that morning, I wasn’t ready to try any other pastries, but on a whim, I ordered a torta, figuring that good bread was fully half the battle when it comes to getting a good sandwich. And daaaaaaaaamn, was that sandwich ever good! Fresh bread stuffed with juicy pork, thick slices of avocado, and pickled onions and jalapenos. YASSS. At least, that’s how I felt about the two bites I got while Jason wolfed the rest down. I’ve never seen a sandwich disappear that fast. We were still talking about how good the sandwich was as we passed by a place named “Hidden Valley Ranch”–was this, in fact, the birthplace of ranch dressing, AKA “America Sauce”? I don’t know, I was too busy talking about that sandwich to investigate.  Even now, fully a month later, we fondly reference that sandwich in conversation. Even now, when I should be talking about scarecrows, I’m talking about the sandwich.

Mmmm, sandwich.

Morro Bay

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Somehow I managed to tear myself away from the suite at the Victorian Mansion, casting it longing glances all the way down the street to Bob’s Well Bread Bakery for some morning fuel. It pains me to say it, but Bob’s pastries blow my favorite local bakery out of the water. His ham and cheese croissant was warm, flaky perfection. His kougin amann were crisp and caramelized with just the right amount of chewy, yeasty bread inside. And, as a total hog, I also got a house-made english muffin spread with butter and plum strawberry jam with rosemary and lavender. Hngggg. I’ve never had a fresh english muffin before, and it may have completely ruined me for the bagged bread aisle kind forever. I’m not mad, Bob. I just wish you were closer.

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We took our bags of treats and coffee and headed up the coast a bit toward Morro Bay, home of Morro rock, the volcanic plug from which the town gets its name. It was still early enough in the morning that we had the beach to ourselves, so we hung out, ate our pastries, and watched the birds. The most exciting part for me by far was seeing monarch butterflies flitting around everywhere. I didn’t think we’d see any as it was a bit too early in the season for them to reach their overwintering spots, so to see a good number of them doing their thing was definitely an unexpected treat.

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How could it get any better than this, right? The day was just beginning.

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A Night at the Victorian Mansion

I’ve never stayed at a bed and breakfast before. I’ve always been a little leery of them, as I’ve been under the impression that it’s generally all the awkwardness of sex at Grandma’s house plus forced socialization with a bunch of strangers who are also trying to have awkward sex at Grandma’s house. That they are doilied wallpapered oversized dollhouse behemoths with a bunch of weird rules, weird smells (which turns out to be potpourri stuffed in every drawer), and a weird breakfast when all you want to do is just leave. So it would be safe to conclude that it would take an extraordinary bed and breakfast to get me to break my no B&Bs rule.

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And I found one.

The Victorian Mansion was built in 1864 and moved thirty miles down the coast to its current location in Los Alamos in 1980. From there, it took nearly 200 artists/craftsmen almost ten years to create the six themed suites inside. The current owner had fond memories of staying there and dreams of operating his own B&B based on this one, so when he discovered that the original owner had died and the person who had purchased it had let it fall into a state of disrepair, he bought it in 2007 to restore it to its former glory. It took another full year to make it as grand as he remembered it to be, and he has plans to turn a yawl he has out back into another suite and perhaps even to add a treehouse suite.

This isn’t to say that they don’t have at least one weird rule–their latest check in time is 6pm, and past 6:30pm, your reservation is canceled. When I made my reservation, I indicated that we would be there before 6 but not much before as we were on a road trip and had stops to make and traffic considerations. Even with that note on file, they called when we were having lunch at 4 to make sure we were still coming, which is why I didn’t feel comfortable lingering long in Solvang, lest I linger my ass out of accommodations for the night.

When we arrived, all of my (slight) bitterness about not being able to wander around little Denmark for a while longer disappeared. The staff member greeted us at the gate, told us about the history of the place, and was happy to give us food and entertainment suggestions in the area. victorian-mansion-2-of-27

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She also gave us a tiny tour of some of the unoccupied rooms which made me even more hyped for my room. Here’s the 50s room, where you sleep in a converted Cadillac at a drive-in, dine at a snack bar, and do your makeup at a starlet’s dream vanity.

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When I booked my room, I agonized between the pirate suite and the Egyptian suite, finally settling on the Egyptian. I’m sure I would have been well-pleased with any of the rooms in the house, but after the staff member showed me all of the various room amenities, I was even more thrilled I’d gone with this room. First off, the door is made of solid stone (1500 pounds worth!) to let you know they mean business.

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When you enter the room, there’s a cool seating area with poufs, an elaborate couch, and beautiful windows to look out over your kingdom and/or make sure you didn’t leave your car’s lights on. I can tell you from experience that anything eaten while sprawled on that couch makes one feel pretty damn royal. I first tried a date, which was both delicious and theme appropriate, but to really put this theory to the test, I also ate a pop tart. That shitty, dry pastry was somehow transformed in this setting to the food of the gods. All I needed was someone to fan me and the experience would be complete.

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There were a number of hidden panels on the wall, one for breakfast delivery (which we were not partaking in, owing to another early start), one that contained the TV, a large one for a closet with robes and storage for your things,  and another with the AV equipment–theme appropriate DVDs (plus Sideways, which is in all the rooms because it was filmed in the area), a themed game (backgammon) and a mood music cd which is playing when you enter the room. Also on this wall is a gas fireplace and a pillowed reading nook, in case you get tired of this room of luxury and need some escapism into whatever trendy dystopian world the young adults are reading about these days.

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The bed is an elaborate four post uplit affair on a raised platform with stairs, which is super cool and fun right up until the point where you forget about the stairs and try to get off the bed at the foot or stumble down them in the middle of the night, which is why my bed at home remains stairless. Also, my ceilings aren’t high enough. At least until I move into a haunted victorian mansion of my very own.

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The room also has a hot tub in the corner, which is perfect in this setting (unlike, say, The Love Bunker) because you could choose whether or not to avail yourself of it as there was a proper enclosed shower in the bathroom. They also included a glass decanter of Dr Teal’s foaming bath milk, which thrilled me not only because of its theme appropriateness but also because it’s one of my favorite at home bath additives.  Speaking of the bathroom, it’s hidden behind a golden sarcophagus–to gain entrance to the room, pull on the beard to pull it away from the wall.

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Inside, the room is muraled to within an inch of its life, with every little detail done to perfection from the golden taps to the raised hieroglyphs in the shower to the asp lights. This was it, right? It couldn’t get any better from here, right?

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WRONG. There’s another hidden panel wall that opens to reveal the room’s private balcony. AAAAAH. I was in love. To recap: cool furniture, hot tub, fireplace, fun lighting, and TWO SECRET ROOMS. It’s enough to make a girl want to carve out another hidden panel to hide herself and move in permanently.

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Feed These Bad Boys!

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On the trip back from southern California, I decided to take the slightly less direct but vastly more scenic pacific coast highway. It was an opportunity to see different sights, try different things, and even though it would make the trip longer, it would feel shorter and that’s the important thing. Because as much as I love road trips, those long repeated stretches of sameness can really weigh on me, make me feel more anxious, less patient…all those qualities I don’t want to draw out on a long drive. So the pacific coast highway it was, and what an excellent choice it turned out to be.

My first stop was in the adorable town of Solvang, which has been built to evoke the feeling of a tiny trip to Denmark, with its half-timbered architecture, windmills, and even a replica of the Copenhagen Little Mermaid statue. The four sided brass clock standing on the corner of Atterdag road is an antique Ansonia, and the only one of its kind in the world. Sadly, I didn’t get much more than a quick peep at the town and a late lunch at the Fresco Valley Cafe–I sat outside to better soak up the sun, and it seemed like every fly in the greater Solvang area paid me and my sandwich a visit. I have since read that the flies in the area are a huge problem August through October, so if I were to go back, it’d be in the off season while the flies are vacationing elsewhere, because if I’m going to have to twirl my arms around my head every few seconds, I’d better be on ecstasy and at a rave, not trying to eat a fecal matter free sandwich.

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The most important stop of the day beckoned from the roadside between Solvang and our destination, a bright green sign reading “Ostrichland USA FEED THIS BAD BOY!” What? A new opportunity a mere 733 miles from my last ostrich-based disappointment spotted in the same week? This wasn’t merely opportunity or even ostrich-tunity: this was destiny.

OSTRICH. DESTINY.

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They do charge an admission fee, but the first bowl of food is free with two adult admissions. When the employee asked how many additional bowls of food we wanted, I told him that the free one would probably suffice.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Up close, ostriches resemble nothing so much as giant deranged muppets, with their long bendy necks, their exaggeratedly large eyelashes, and their beaks hanging agape in anticipation of food. It makes them look half cute and half vacantly stupid. There was simply no way for me to anticipate the utter violence with which they eat. Even the signs that say that ostriches enjoy biting, the feeding instructions that indicate to hang on to the dustpan handle with both hands, and the slogan “feed these bad boys” only gave me an inkling of the pellet-based devastation that was about to occur. They absolutely slam their heads over the fence and into the bowl, the feed inside disappearing in seconds, some attempting to even rip the bowl away from the feeder.

Obviously, we needed to buy more pans of food, at least two. They were hungry, they were bad, and they required no fewer than two more pans. They told me this with their pleading gazes and also with their threats of violence if their demands were not met. I was quick to comply.

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They also had emus at ostrichland, which are smaller but almost equally imposing as they are able to get their heads out from between the fence slats, the better to glare with their dinosaur eyes and vocalize their eerie, rumbling groans.

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Owing to fence placement, it’s hard to get a photo of an entire ostrich–either you get the disembodied head or the beheaded body but not both. There were large rectangular gaps in the fence, presumably for the feeding of the animals, and I found one with no ostriches nearby so I could peep my head inside and maybe get a full body shot or two. Which, owing to the violence I just witnessed, was indeed incredibly stupid, a point which was hammered home when not ten seconds later Jason warned me about an ostrich that was silently creeping up on me, not doubt to bite at will with all the pleasure it could muster, with maybe a kick or two for good measure. And I absolutely would have deserved it.

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And once I thought I had grasped just how terrifying an ostrich could be (they’ll now be known as “the silent killer” in my house), they started showing off their creepy second eyelids in my photos, like they’re telepathically communicating with a hellish underworld that has issued a literal pecking order for my murder. Specifically my murder.

Their babies sure are cute, though.

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And the fat ass dappled squirrels who enjoy a bounty of scattered food aren’t bad, either.

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We had time for one more quick stop before we had to get to the hotel for the night, so we swung into Pea Soup Andersen’s, which is famous for its (you guessed it!) pea soup. You know, as famous as a place can be for something like pea soup, which is not even cronut levels of fame. But I guess as far as pea soup goes, Pea Soup Andersen’s is the Beyoncé of soup. Just ask for a bowl of Peayoncé.

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solvang-28-of-29Their pressed penny machine? Broken. Their soup of the day? MINESTRONE.

solvang-29-of-29For shame.

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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

“Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.” was about the extent of my thoughts when I first heard there was going to be an exhibit of items from Guillermo del Toro’s home, Bleak House, at LACMA. Even though I had just come back from a trip to southern California when the news broke, I knew I’d have to get back down there before the exhibit left. I had to. Truth time: I actually pinned a photo of the interior of del Toro’s home to my “dream house” board on Pinterest before I even knew to whom it belonged. How many times in life are you going to get an opportunity to walk through your dream house? Especially if you’re like me and your tastes are a little, uh, unconventional? So now you see why I found it imperative to get my butt to Los Angeles.

“Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.” was about the extent of my thoughts as I was walking through the exhibit. While there are quite a few things from Guillermo del Toro’s movies on exhibit (after all, it’s really easy to collect one’s own work), this is not a retrospective exhibit in that it mainly focuses on del Toro’s inspirations, making the overall effect one of being able to geek out with one of my favorite directors about his favorite things. And, as it turns out, a lot of my favorite things as well.

Guillermo del Toro loves labyrinthine Victorian mansions and Victoriana? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves monster makeup and the artists who bring it to life? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves the spooky-ass artwork of Stephen Gammell? Me too! In fact, his creepy illustrations for the Scary Stories line of books may well be at the root of my love for all things dark and spooky.

Guillermo del Toro loves fairy tales and folklore? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves weird taxidermy? Me too!

Guillermo del Toro loves rainstorms to the point of engineering a room in which it appears to be raining 24 hours a day? We definitely diverge there, I would do nothing in that rain room but sleep.

And this exhibit? I loved it, too. The show itself is labyrinthine, like the old Victorian home styling del Toro admires.

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I was so stoked to be able to get up close and personal with the costumes from Crimson Peak. Most exhibits put costume work behind glass, the reflections of which make it very difficult to see detail, especially if it’s dimly lit. Here I was able to get up on it, get my face close in and see the stitching and the buttons and everything else that’s moving too fast on screen to truly appreciate.  I was especially enthralled with the “mother ghost” costume, with all of the moths and botanicals worked into the the tulle. My blog photos do it absolutely no justice, it was a stunning piece of work.

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A tableau to Charles Dickens, del Toro’s “Bleak House” is in reference to Dickens. 

del-toro-9-of-68  I want shelves like these for my house. SO BADLY.

del-toro-12-of-68T-B, Portrait of Cousin Eerie, Portrait of Uncle Creepy, Richard Corben

del-toro-13-of-68cw from left: Amelia, Queen of the Sea Monkeys, circa 1879, The Coachman and His Brother, The Strangler, Travis Louie

del-toro-14-of-68Kaiju parasite from Pacific Rim 

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One of del Toro’s sketchbooks , used when planning Pan’s Labyrinth

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del-toro-24-of-68Cronos device from Cronos

del-toro-25-of-68Hey, Night on Bald Mountain was my favorite part of Fantasia, too!

del-toro-26-of-68The Great Ancestors, Mœbius (Jean Giraud)

del-toro-27-of-68Landscapes, Eyvind Earle

The exhibit also had a number of pieces by Eyvind Earle, most noted for his work as a Disney background artist in the 50s. He did all the styling, background art, and color for Sleeping Beauty, which is actually one of my favorite Disney movies on styling alone. His artwork is gorgeous, but more than anything, I couldn’t believe how much the black velvet matting complemented the work, making it stand out in truly extraordinary fashion. I’ve generally been opposed to matting any artwork I buy, for a bunch of reasons–it’ll require a bigger frame which is more expensive, takes more space on the wall, mat board is stupid expensive for what it is, generally I don’t think it puts much on the table given its downsides, but primarily, I just plain hate cutting mat board. My high school art projects always had the shabbiest mat job, cutting straight crisp lines is evidently beyond me. But this black velvet is making me reconsider my mat stance, it’s that striking.

del-toro-28-of-68Clinkity-Clink, Stephen Gammell

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del-toro-33-of-68Dick Smith, father of modern makeup effects. Bust by Kazuhiro Tsuji

del-toro-34-of-68Ray Harryhausen, sculpture by Mike Hill

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del-toro-36-of-68God, I love this cookie-stealing skeleton.   

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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del-toro-48-of-68Dystopia! “Feed my beast with your blood”, Christopher Ulrich

del-toro-49-of-68l-r: The Tourist VIII, H R Giger, Duke Agares Seated atop a Shuffler, Wayne Barlowe

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del-toro-51-of-68On the wall l-r: Pip and Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy by Gail Potocki

del-toro-52-of-68The Evil Eye, Chet Zar

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del-toro-61-of-68Divine Messenger, Craig LaRotonda

del-toro-62-of-68The “rain room”. Droplets of silicone are adhered to the outside of the windows to give them a rain streaked appearance, and a projector and sound system handle the rest of the rain effect.

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del-toro-64-of-68Another of del Toro’s sketchbooks

One of the most impactful statements in the exhibit for me was a quote from del Toro: “As a kid,” the filmmaker recalls, “I dreamed of having a house with secret passages and a room where it rained twenty-four hours a day. The point of being over forty is to fulfill the desires you’ve been harboring since you were seven.”

If that’s what the post-forty life looks like, sign me up. I can’t wait until I get my unicorn.

 

The del Toro exhibit is at LACMA through November 27th, after which it will move to the following cities (dates TBA): Minneapolis, Toronto, Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris, New York City

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Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar

 

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After a day at Disneyland, no matter how much fun you had, you could probably use a drink or two. I definitely could, so I walked down the nigh-endless mall that is Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Hotel, to imbibe a few at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. The place was surprisingly crowded, but luckily a couple of seats opened up at the bar shortly after I arrived–I mean, sure, if you want to drink your drinks poolside, that’s certainly a thing you could do, but if I was going to slurp down a few expensive drinks in novelty glasses, I damn well wanted to do so in an enchanted atmosphere, so the pool would absolutely not do for me.  And hot damn, is the atmosphere inside ever enchanted. The taps have glowing eyes and play different rhythms whenever a beer is poured. Little jokes are plastered all over the walls. And whenever someone orders a novelty drink, the whole bar gets in on the action. Ships sink. Sirens blaze. Volcanoes explode. You may or may not be sitting in a splash zone.

God knows I love me a novelty glass, so my first drink of the evening was the legendary “Uh-Oa!”, which is so large that it must be shared by two or more people. It comes in a large mug with tiki figurines on three sides, the heads of which are all filled with ground cinnamon. The lights go down, the bartender sets some booze soaked sugar cubes atop a lime on fire, and while every patron in the bar chants “uh oa! uh oa! uh oa!”, you grab pinches of cinnamon and fling them into the fire, sending sparks into the air. It was magical, and it’s probably good that I got the playing with fire accomplished before I got hecka drunk, which I was after drinking my half of this drink.  Not that a little thing like being two and three quarters sheets to the wind was going to stop me from ordering another drink, because I had a lot of trunk space with which to fill with novelty glassware. So Jason ordered a krakatoa, setting off the volcano, and I acquired a rum-filled shrunken head, which is kind of funny as I’d think all that rum would cause a head to change sizes in the opposite direction. Or at least feel that way. I also, more wisely, ordered the pu pu platter, which came with sweet and spicy asian wings, glazed portuguese sausage bites, panko crusted chinese long beans, tropical slaw, and a sriracha aioli, all of which made my mouth super happy and my tummy less booze-slosh-y.

After we finished those, we agreed that it was probably for the best if we didn’t imbibe any more Disneyland booze magic, so we wandered back down the Disney mall and made it rain on Star Wars merchandise, namely a Chewbacca print that set my heart aflame with adorableness. Where am I going to hang it? I don’t know, same place I’m going to store all of this novelty glassware, I guess.