This is a small study into the colors of Los Angeles. When you think of Los Angeles, and Coastal Southern California, you think of a warm mix of yellow, turquoise, purple and blue. And, basically, very little words.
Euphoria signifies a “a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.” This word kept coming back to me as I climbed the Josephine Peak trail this morning, and as I walked down. You will understand me, because this is what the world looked like to me between seven and eleven in the morning.
I am lucky, because the trail leading to Josephine Peak is one of the favorite of Anne-Claire and of her Trail Running Club. Today they went for an 18 miles loop, while I just hiked to the peak and back. For me, it was four miles up and four miles down. I will not elaborate too much on the fact that it took us exactly the same time. Know that I took my time and took 126 photos and sang my heart out on my way up and my way down and played the penny whistle to the hawks before the saddle and the harmonica to the beat of my feet on my way down.
Josephine Peak is a feast for the senses at any season, and it changes month by month. From the sizzling summer to the snowy winter, it’s one of the rare places where you can appreciate Fall within a half-an-hour drive from DTLA.
What’s the most magic about Josephine Peak is how the environments change. As you climb the south face, it’s desert mountain. Agaves, desert brush, lizards and hawks.
As you get to the saddle and cross to the northern side, it’s a totally different wonderland. It’s a forest with pines and oak trees, and the weather gets noticeably cooler as soon as you initiate the final ascension towards the peak.
The peak and the view from the peaks are almost… Lunar. I must have hiked to the trail half a dozen times by now, and every time I can’t help thinking “I’m sitting on top of the world.”
Only one word for this.
All photos were taken with my FUJIFILM X100V, which is the quintessential hiking camera. It’s also the quintessential everything camera, but having such a small object that packs such a big punch lets you use your energy to move around and not to carry stuff around – hence its importance on any situation involving some degree of mobility.
On Sunday morning I was out and about pretty early, and I was to pick up a Polaroid from a friend in Silver Lake at nine, so I decided to make the most out of my trip to Los Angeles and be at the Griffith before sunrise.
In the best movie ever made about Los Angeles, Harry Telemacher (Steve Martin) says these words in one of his many aside: “As far as I’m concerned, there are three mystical places in the world. The desert outside Santa Fe, the tree of life in the Arab emirates of Bahrain, and the restaurant at Sunset and Crescent.”
Watching the Sun rise over Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory is another mystical time and place.
The first thing I learnt is that it’s popular enough not to be scary, but exclusive enough not to feel crowded. I was actually afraid there would be parking restrictions until a certain hour in the morning, but being a popular hiking destination (a gateway to the park itself) there were no restrictions (except for the meters starting at noon on weekdays, and at ten on weekends). Some people were preparing to hike or bike, others were already hiking or biking, some worked out, some did tai chi, some were just there for the view. I must have counted about fifty people around the observatory. Being all there, so early in the morning, on a Sunday, created a beautiful and soft sense of kinship – no matter the purpose.
That’s when I learnt that coyotes are liquid. That’s probably the biggest takeaway. No one was afraid, it’s as if they were part of the Fellowship, too. A few people, me included, warned a lady who was walking a small dog but she didn’t seem much bothered, nor the coyotes did pay much attention to the pooch.
If you’ve ever seen a coyote, you must have noticed this fascinating dissonance: a coyote is a bit like a dog with the presence of a cat. Coyotes don’t walk: they seem to glide on the land. They make no noise with their muffled paws, the only sound you hear is the rustling of the brush they move through. They are liquid, they are little squirts and faintly colored splashes that emerge out of the darkness into a spotlight and melt back into the night they came from.
Overall, there was a big La La Land feeling. Even more than at Sunset, or at night. Because of the glimmers of dawn far away to the East, out of the Sierras and the desert.
The Sun warms the dreams of the nation and the wind blows their scent all the way to the Griffith. The smell of Griffith Park is unique. It smells like a perennial midsummer’s night. Dust, plants, flowers, hopes, a faint whiff of airplane fuel make the olfactory experience almost akin to that of a non-place.
The view… ah, the view from the Griffith, on a clear night giving space to a clear morning, it’s everything you would expect it to be. Different from Kenneth Hahn, different from Baldwin Hills, different from Palos Verdes. One of the reasons might be that you are on top of LA.
Fun fact, I’ve always thought that the cover art of Frank Sinatra and Quincy Jones’ L.A. is My Lady (1984) was a view of DTLA from the I-110, looking north, but it’s actually a perspective similar to the view from the Griffith, just a little bit less elevated and more to the west. Maybe from Runyon Canyon?
Now comes the part where you just stand by the parapet and look at the Sun do their thing. You will be surprised to notice to what extent dawn precedes the actual Sunrise. It was already this bright to the East, but the Sun wasn’t due to appear for another half hour.
The closer the Sun, the rosier the dawn. And you really get what Homer meant and you become rosy-fingered too as every push of the shutter release makes you more of a poet and less of a photographer.
When the Sun finally appears, it’s as if the tip of a hill was suddenly ablaze.
I thought that DTLA gave her best at sunset, as the last rays of our daily star make her glimmer and shine, but now I am not so sure anymore.
And now, ready for another day of Sun.
And to go get that Polaroid, so that we can soon explore the esthetics of intimacy and affection.
Yesterday night that gorgeous sunset drew me and my drone out. I had my safety beacon on so I lingered above my house a little longer, because I could not take my eyes off this. I think Redondo by night has a wonderfully rich vibe. It’s not the unmistakably Californian beach city is it by day. Once the Beach Boys store their surfboards, Redondo dons two completely different souls.
Looking South, it looks more Mediterranean than ever. Almost a busy Greek city, close to Athens, or Crete, with the Palos Verdes Hills adding to the Hellenic flavor.
Looking North, it’s totally different. It’s Urban, it’s Hard Boiled as Redondo fades into the rest of the South Bay and into Los Angeles, further away. It looks like intrigues and nightlife and warm drives in a slow but nervous traffic. A song started playing in my head, B.B. King’s “Into the Night”.
As some of you may know, the song introduces a John Landis’ movie by the same title, and the opening scene is an airplane approaching and touching down at LAX at night, as the song begins.
I’m curious to see what these views inspire in you, what they remind you of, what they make you feel like?
The road after Monterey was new and exciting to me. Every panel and exit sign looked like a page from Steinbeck’s novels. Monterey, Cannery Row, Salinas, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz. The land I drove through was just as literary as agricultural. A city slicker with a fast car and a Western heart, I glided down the California 1 looking to my left and to my right, trying to guess what was the name of the crops grown along the road.
When the fog clears, Moss Landing is a fun sight to behold. It somehow reminded me more of the purpose-driven landings of the Northern Pacific coast than what I usually see in Southern California. Also the fact it’s called Moss Landing and not Moss Marina must be indicative of some difference. If the fog does not clear, you can still hear the clear calls of the sea lions who welcome themselves on the piers and pontoons.
After the busy bypass of Santa Cruz, the solitary wilderness becomes once again the most faithful companion of the California 1.
A few miles north of Santa Cruz I had to quickly pull over for what instantly became my favorite road sign west of the Mississippi. Someone had painted a capital red HAVE FUN on a white wooden board. Maybe I needed the reminder, the explicit injunction to have fun and enjoy the moment. That made me wonder if sometimes we are so absorbed in doing what we like and doing it well to the point that we forsake the importance of having fun.
Had someone asked me, “are you having fun?”, I would have enthusiastically said yes, but it’s also true that the road had not been devoid of overthinking. Primarily about where to stop and whether to stop and what photos to shoot which ones could or should be taken another time maybe a better time what does the future holds I remember when I was a child and this was the kind of trips we’d take with my parents from Portland, OR to San Francisco and where have all the flowers gone long time passing.
That sign cleared my mind as an instant mantra. Make sure you are having fun and quite literally enjoy the ride, and all the rest will come naturally. I smiled and took a deep breath, sat down, rolled down the windows, turned off the radio and put the car in gear.
I knew this was going to happen at some point, because most of the peninsula boasts some impressive mountains, but I did not expect the 1 to climb so abruptly as the gentle shore was replaced by humbling wind-swept cliffs. I stopped frequently, carefully crossing the road and carefully peeking over. I have a mixed relationship with heights but holding a camera usually makes me bolder – probably because of our usually unjustified exchanges of confidence between unrelated domains.
The California 1 descends to kiss the Ocean again at Waddell Beach. It appears to be a pretty cocktail of Ocean spray, wind, sand, and mountains that make the Beach a popular destination for hikers, kite surfers and hand-gliders.
One thing struck me since the very first miles past Santa Cruz: the extremely young age of the people I would run into. Now, I’m not that old myself but I am way past the age of college. At most gas stations, state beaches, parking lots, all I would see was college kids going surfing and enjoying the beach driving old Ford Explorers. I was not surprised, given the number of Universities scattered around the Bay Area, but it was amusing to feel as if I was really tapping into the cliché.
Such thoughts was I musing on when I saw another road-sign. “Slow for pie”, it said, in a neat cursive writing. That was not as good as “HAVE FUN”, but it was a refreshing change from the usual moralizing panels instructing drivers to slow down for kids, pets, cattle, trucks, pedestrians, bikers, horses, deers, bears and more horses. I slowed down indeed, I pondered it in my mind for ten seconds, I made a U-turn, and reverted back to the farm to which the sign belong. It was the Pie Ranch. I’ll keep it short, because if you go there, it’s worth a stop, while if you don’t plan on going there, I will only make you envious. The Pie Ranch is an educational farm south of Pescadero on the California 1. Among many wonderful things that they do, they bake pies out of amazing ingredients that are virtually all seasonal, local, and organic. I drove off with a blackberry peach streusel pie that gave us two wonderful breakfasts in San Francisco.
More miles. My eyes were on the road, my mind was on the load (the newly adopted pie). More beauty made me stop. The part of the road between Santa Cruz and Pescadero is overall astonishing and I’ve made many mental notes to come back and dedicate more time to each place.
Pescadero is incredibly magic. You’ll find some big rocks jotting out into the ocean, beaten by the wind and the waves.
Notwithstanding the gusty winds, the shore was too gorgeous not to attempt to frame it from above. I had one more full battery in my drone, and it quickly took off. It’s always interesting to notice how those little guys handle the wind far better than we think they would.
Look at the second jetty, if I can call it this way. There are two tiny black spots: those are people, and this should let you figure out the impressive magnitude of this natural work of art. My flight didn’t last long, because a flock of seagulls quickly caught eye of something braving the wind as well as them, and quickly moved over to have a closer look (and repel the aggressor). Out of respect and out of fear, I don’t take chances with probing birds. I landed right away – and a few seagulls followed way too close for comfort until the very touchdown.
At this point… my plan changed a bit. My original idea was to follow the California 1 all the way to San Francisco, park at the Golden Gate lookout, look out at the Golden Gate, and then meet Anne-Claire at the hotel. Truth be told, I had been on the road for more than eleven hours and I was feeling a little tired. I drove through San Gregorio, Half Moon Bay, and fancy Pacifica (I finally understood why the Chrisler car was called this way). In Half Moon Bay, a street, Ruisseau Français Avenue – literally meaning French Creek Avenue – caught my attention and I promised to enquire during my next trip. Why French creek? Did some French explorer come and baptize the place “French River” and his colleague said “Jean, let’s be realistic, this is more like a French Creek”? Maybe. We will never know. Or we will.
Anyway this was my intellectual level when, close to Daly City, I saw the sign for San Francisco via the Interstate 280 and I said “Alright, let’s bring her home”. I feel a little bad, because I cheated myself out of my original plan for a handful of miles, but they might have prolonged my trip by one full hour easily – and I knew I didn’t want to cross urban San Francisco from North West to South East at rush hour with twelve hours of driving on my back. I was happy to find out though, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Interstate 280 is “referred to as one of the most scenic urban freeways in America”. It was scenic indeed, and the elevated winding road got me away with a few nice captures of San Francisco during my final approach.
There I was, tired and happy. More than 450 miles, twelve hours and twenty minutes and two meals after leaving Los Angeles International Airport. This had been a mighty trip, a day to remember. A day of slow driving and windy roads, a day of fun and pie ranches and elephant seals and foggy mountains. A day of blue highways.
I meant to dedicate the following day to taking photographs of San Francisco, but unlike the day of my arrival the air was hazy with local fog and smoke carried from distant fires.
The only worthy image I could capture is this skyline of San Francisco from Treasure Island, monochrome for obvious reasons. You can go on my Instagram and see a detailed version of the same panorama in ten photos.
As a teenager, I loved travel literature. I was an eclectic reader, enjoying everything from the philosophy of travel that Bruce Chatwin would sketch in his Moleskine notebooks, to the hilarious adventures told by Bill Bryson (à la mode of the National Lampoons), without omitting Gerald Durrell’s naturalistic journeys, and many many more.
There is one single book, though, to which my understanding of travel is most indebted: Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon. The book is a detailed chronicle of the author’s journey, in 1978, as he drove through the United States in a van, steering away from the cities and freeways, taking the time to discover and understand the people and places lining the Country’s smaller and less traveled roads – drawn in blue in the Rand McNally atlas – while obviously understanding himself and his own identity.
This is the kind of travel that I enjoy. What’s a lucky man? A lucky man is one who does as an adult the things he would read about as a kid (unless he really loved to read horror novels).
Freeways and Interstates are a godsend, but on the Freeway, you are going somewhere. You’re actually traveling to some place. As soon as you exit and venture on a State or County road, that’s where the real travel begins. You’re traveling, period.
Last week Anne-Claire had to go to San Francisco for work. I carefully kept the weekend free from work so that I could go with her. Or rather, my plan was to accompany her to LAX at five in the morning, and then drive to San Francisco through the 101 and then the iconic California 1.
I got to Santa Barbara a little before daybreak, and I bypassed the coastal portion of the 101 that goes to Gaviota to climb the Highway 154 instead, the Chumash highway that winds through the Santa Ynez wine region.
The first wonder I saw was the fog lifting from Lake Chumash in the grey light that precedes dawn. If that was the most beautiful sight I was going to see that day, well the trip would have already been a success.
I was getting hungry for breakfast at that point, and I tried my luck in different towns for an appealing eatery. Most places were still closed.
Los Olivos, as the fog cleared, was my last hapless stop. My eyes were satisfied with every turn of the road, but my stomach begged to differ, so I drove further North, to the charming town of Arroyo Grande – where both my sight and my hunger eventually found solace.
Fortified by eggs, pancakes and a side of hash-brown, I hit the road again. In San Louis Obispo I exited the 101 to finally explore the many marvels of the California 1.
By the time the fog cleared completely, I had reached San Simeon – the beauty of the beach greeted me, together with a low fly-by of a devilish Turkey Vulture.
A few miles north, I was in for a treat. I pulled over at the Elephant Seal Vista Point. I was expecting the “usual” seals basking in the sunlight, but a legitimate National Geographic moment unfolded before the observers’ eyes (and lenses): several males wrestled in the shallow water – to the complete indifference of several unimpressed females.
I stopped several times along the road in Big Sur. As in the case of Sedona, photography has a hard time giving justice to the whole area. Big Sur is more than a beautiful sight: it’s a symphony of visions where each glimpse adds meaning to what you just saw and foreshadows what you are about to see. I am far from claiming that my work is done there, but relying on the aerial camera (the drone) allowed me to paint some slightly more comprehensive images of the cliffs and shores among which the CA-1 winds and climbs.
I spent a few hours in Big Sur, but no matter how much time you spend there… it always feels as if you would need a lifetime to understand what you see, let alone report the beauty you are witnessing.
If you plan on rejoining the 101 after Big Sur, you may feel as if your journey to the Bay Area is almost over. But if you intend to continue through Monterey, Santa Cruz, and drive the 1 all the way up till you reach San Francisco from the Western coast of the Peninsula, then you know there are many hours and many stops before you reach your destination. Big Sur was as wonderful as ever in a rare clear summer day, and it took quite bit of esthetic resolve to resume the drive North. Nevertheless, the landscapes I was to encounter in the next couple hundred miles were going to prove a clear reward for my decision not to linger further but to drive on.
To be continued and concluded in Part 2.
I biked to my Friday breakfast burrito at Joe’s, so I could detour by the Pier on my way home. It’s not a heroic feat, but it did take a little motivation to ride my bike at 5:50 instead of just slipping into the Mustang whose engine would have hummed a smoother transition from sleep to wake.
(The recommended soundtrack to these images is Chet Atkin’s album Sails).
The motivation paid off, I think. I love the Pier at any time of the day, but especially in the early morning when it’s all half asleep and pink and light blue.
Californian sunrises are definitely underrated.
I played a bit with the break wall, too.
Then I was happy and went home.
The endless skyway has been a constant source of inspiration in the past few weeks. The Western monsoon clouds, flying my drone in Arizona and Utah, yesterday’s serendipitous encounter with the flight to Seoul… and this morning I took my drone up here at home, in Redondo Beach.
Two sunny mornings in a row? After a very gloomy beginning of summer, this might be the end of the No-Sky July? Waiting to find out, I produced a little video to celebrate the beauty of a summer morning where everything is green, golden and blue.
I brought my 100-400 lens to the beach earlier as Anne-Claire and I ordered pizza from a new truck on the Esplanade. A few minutes ago I was looking at my idle captures, I zoomed in, and I realized I could see it was a Korean Air Boeing 747.
I looked it up among the LAX departures. It was a long haul headed to Seoul. It was more than half an hour late.
I don’t know. If I was to be in the air for thirteen and a half hours, I would be really upset about the delay. Or I would cherish half an hour longer on the ground. Or maybe I would not care.
I developed a strange attachment for this flight. Tomorrow morning I will check what time they landed. Maybe I won’t but right now I like to think that I will.
I am wondering who’s flying. Are they flying home? On a business trip?
Such a long time with a mask on, they must barely have a face when they arrive in Seoul. I barely had a face last time I flew to Italy.
I am not looking forward to any thirteen-hour flight.
But a thirteen hour drive, just give me a sign and I’ll be on my way.
Los Angeles + 13 hours, where would that get us?
Au revoir, à Seoul.
Disclaimer: This blogpost is a review of an art show in images and words. It does not represent nor aims at representing the ideas or the intentions of the artist. It is a philosophical and artistic way to vibe on another philosophical and artistic work.
Daniela Cueva’s show “Obsidian Edge” is on display at the One Trick Pony gallery at 1051 S Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019 until July the 17th.
Most good art deals with Time and Death. This has been the case since the Ancients invented Art. “What about Love?” you might wonder. When art is good, love is a function of time and death. Think of Shakespeare: all of his (their?) dramas about love are ultimately tales about death and time and how the two are joined in a ribbon. Time, timelessness, but also timeliness. Death, mortality, or (the unlikely) lack thereof.
Daniela Cueva’s powerful art show takes these two themes and rides them hard.
There’s an image about Daniela’s art that I cannot shake off, so I might as well share it. Think of Death as a Hot-Wheel car, Time as its track, and the artist as the hand what grabs the small car and pushes it back and forth along the track.
Time and Death are the recipients of Daniela Cueva’s interrogation, but the direction flickers as it emerges from this questioning. Questions about composition, decomposition and recomposition are laid out by the artist, and they are given multiple answers, as many as the traits of pencil that Daniela uses to carve her visions out of rough paper.
Where is time going? Daniela Cueva’s drawings don’t look still at all. They go somewhere and they come from somewhere. Possibly the same place, in a never ending circle, but they are not static. There is a depiction of silent pain (for instance in the three the birds, not alive, with their beaks open), a surgical labor of what is not alive, but which might be dead or about to live (again?). This is how Daniela Cueva plays with Time and Death, preventing the viewer from fully realizing where they stand with respect to the frame.
Daniela’s background includes a degree in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University. This makes her an artist, but also a designer, and most of all an artisan. The scaffolding, the structures that bind the seemingly organic material together in her works do remind, on the one hand, of the pikes and hooked ropes in Hieronymus Bosch’s theological frenzies; on the other hand, it is also a tacking thread. It is something that keeps together mysterious materials as soft and shapeless as ancient textiles. Is she preserving them? Is she slowing their decay? Or is she crafting the sinews and the organs and the vessels of a new creation? What if it’s somehow both, like a metaphysical salvage? Perhaps the bodies are not dead, only sleeping.
The show features a video, sharing the same title. Not only the eye of the artist is involved, but her hands and the rest of her senses do play a crucial role in this installation.
Time and Death are once again like waves crashing on the shore: you can hear them too, as Daniela’s hands dissolve a weird fabric in an even weirder-looking bath. The sense of oddity and displacement is reinforced by the juxtaposition of digital and analogical layers of recording to achieve a liminal monster: not so much in the horror sense, but according to the Latin etymology of “monstrum”, a wonder, something to be warned about (the same root is in the english verb “demonstrate”).
Daniela Cueva’s exploration goes indeed beyond paper and colors, as she has been working on the artistic and communicative potentialities of novel organic materials, such as the discarded coils of bacteria that she grew herself in her studio. Time, and the death of the microorganisms produce a material that the artist – half weaver and half sculptor – may use, until time (again) brings about the death (sic!) of the organic artwork… unless the artist decides to bring about its dissolution/decomposition as part of the performance itself.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10)