Nice to Meet You, New York

New York City, and pretty much the entire East Coast, is currently being besieged by a brutal winter storm dubbed a “bomb cyclone,” so I suppose there’s no better time than now to look back on (or look forward to, if you’d prefer,) warmer, happier times: my first-ever trip to NYC during a sublime spring week last May.

Whether I’d like New York — the Emerald City of digital media, a place I’d for years been told I’d inevitably have to try at some point in my life — always seemed like something of a crap shoot. On the one hand, I was enamored by the energy of cities; it’s the reason I’ve found Los Angeles such a hard habit to kick. On the other, even the thought of an East Coast winter sent a shiver down my spine, and the logistics of life in New York City – unreliable public transportation! A cutthroat competitive atmosphere! Housing so expensive and elusive I’d have to shell out a year’s worth of rent in Los Angeles just to find it! – always seemed daunting to me. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for New York City. But maybe no one really is, not until they’re actually there. 36423062253_bebb2abd7b_o

There’s something about the nature of this place that seems to hyper-charge your ability to adapt; kickstarts resourcefulness, sharpens survival skills. I was visiting for a week for work, but was mostly solo in my hours off the clock, outside of visits with a couple of close college friends. Almost instantly, from touching down at JFK and being mistaken for a local by my Uber driver to learning to navigate the Subway the next morning, a city that had always seemed so out-of-reach on paper, so foreign in photos and movies, a world belonging to everyone other than myself, became as familiar a place as I’d ever been. The streets became my own daily routes, the parks my hidden spots, cafes my usual haunts. I quickly came to understand that New York is as user-friendly as you make it to be, it is a city that beckons you to experience it, in its entirety.

There is so much of New York that reminds me of Europe, specifically London, a home I’d loved with all my heart. The streets, the parks, the markets, the sidewalk cafes. The hum of daily life. The unspoken assurance that we all, dearly beloved and strangers alike, are gathered here today for the express purpose of living. This is both the end and the beginning, the very center of the universe as we know it.

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Stumbling out from a sterile office into the late-spring twilight of a city I’d known for less than 24 hours, somehow it felt as if my feet knew just where to take me. I forewent the Subway for a brisk walk through the balmy evening, with no particular destination in mind. From Union Square, the city’s pulsing digital publishing heart, south toward Washington Square Park, where people were gathered in couplets and groups to revel in the good luck of such glorious weather.

A golden glow was burnishing the park, crowning rooftops and skylines and seeping through tree branches. So much life, and everyone around me a stranger. But something about it felt so familiar. The college students calling to one another as they trekked from classes at NYU, the couples locked in embraces on sunkissed benches drenched in warmth, the children tottering around as their parents followed. I had been them once, and I would be them again. New York City is hardly shy about its central thesis; that life is a full circle, that everything and everyone is connected somehow.

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While a powder-blue night fell around me, I pushed further south, past my hotel in TriBeCa, all the way down to One World Trade Center. I had seen its spire rising above the city skyline, beckoning me to see this piece of history for myself.

I have no doubt that its reverence is not lost during the daytime, but there was something about seeing the World Trade Center Site illuminated at night that quite literally took my breath away. I was seven years old when 9/11 happened; like many in my generation, it’s the first news event I have any memory of, towers falling on a TV screen, and it quite literally changed the world I grew up in.

What was once Ground Zero is now a sunken pool ringed with golden light, the depths of which seem endless, as if you are standing at the edge of a portal to the very center of the Earth, or perhaps to another world. Maybe Heaven, maybe an alternate version of this life where such tragedies never occur, but certainly an existence that is not this one, a place that is beyond the pain and suffering of here. And yet, for somewhere quite literally built upon sadness and grief, I was not overcome with a sense of despair, the likes of which I’d felt visiting Holocaust museums and war memorials in Europe. Rather, I was enveloped by a calm like I’d never felt, a sense of peace bathed in this blue and gold half-light that fell after the darkest day of so many peoples’ lives, at this shrine to those who were once a part of this resilient city, and would now live on in it forever more.

In a city seeped with such history, both celebratory and sad, one of the newer attractions New York has to offer is the High Line, less than a decade old and completed just a few years ago. It’s a sort of urban boardwalk flanked by greenery and stunning skyline views, and from here, one can see straight down avenues for miles in one direction, and the Statue of Liberty towering out in the harbor in another. Cotton candy sunsets are truly spectacular in New York, and I could hardly drag myself away from the twilight down to the Chelsea Market just below, though it’s really a can’t-miss. There are dozens of food vendors offering up just about every cuisine imaginable, as well as delectable desserts, beer and wine, and shops filled with trendy trinkets and souvenirs. It reminded me again of one of my favorite parts of London — the markets — and offers this communal space through which tourists and locals, friends and strangers alike can call this city their own.

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I found it rather remarkable how, within the span of a week, I’d gone from being ambivalent about New York City to falling head over heels in love, becoming hopelessly entangled in its glimmering, golden embrace. I had these wild thoughts of dropping everything on the West Coast and fulfilling my millennial destiny, doing the damn thing and trying my hand at New York. I saw the entire course of my life shifting, ran through scenarios of just how I might make it work. Was I prepared for a cross-country move, for East Coast winters, for starting all over, again? I fretted and frantically attempted to recharter the rest of my life in a hotel room, until over drinks with a friend, I received just the talking-down I needed to soothe my mind. “New York will always be here,” she assured me.

And now, I know when the time comes that I’ll be ready for it.

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A Love Letter to Los Angeles

So listen, I realize it’s pretty readily apparent that I’m fairly enamored of Los Angeles, but my beloved city and I will be entering into a long-distance relationship fairly soon, so hear me out. (I also wanted one last LA post to show a little love for some of my recent photos from around East Los Angeles.)

See, I suppose it’s telling, the way a place affects you even when you’re away. How you don’t just miss it, but you feel like you’re missing something when you’re not there. Missing out, missing a part of yourself, even. I’ve only ever felt that way about one place, Los Angeles, like a little bit of me has always been here, and always will be, no matter how far I go. My first flight was to Los Angeles, and I swear I’ll remember that summer more fondly, more vividly than most other things in my life. Swimming in the hotel pool at night, watching lightning tear across the sky, staring up at the towering palms in wonder and feeling so small and yet so incredibly alive and ready for the world. I recall leaving and feeling, even then, that I would be back, someday, somehow.

A winter sunset in East LA

As a teen, I found myself drawn to music, books, photos, films in and around and about Los Angeles. It was a siren song, this promised land. This place of endless summer and golden sunsets, of air that never turned cold and skies that never went gray, of creativity and possibility coursing up and down the coast. A world awash in gemstone hues and that certain slant of the sun that made me ache for so much more. I hated living in the rain, hated my small town life, the mundanity, the repetition, the sameness. I was an angsty, emotional teen, never without my earbuds and forever lost in my own mind, a walking cliche. And the Los Angeles they told me of, it was all cliches, too; everyone’s crazy, flaky, shallow, the city is seedy, it’ll steal your soul and eat you alive. But I didn’t listen, I couldn’t listen, I didn’t have the option of remaining where I was. Anywhere was better than here, and if I could make it there…

I’ve lived here for two and a half years, and the only cliches I see are the ones that have drawn people here for decades. A palm tree always in sight, rarely a chill in the air, never a dull moment. Freeways always coursing, city lights sparkling, low slung hills burning purple like the dying embers of a bonfire along the warm sands kissing the Pacific. It’s kinetic, it’s magical, it’s always in motion. There’s something in the air, in the water, in the slant of the sun and feeling that absolutely anything could happen. And yet, contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles has its quieter moments, too. In golden Sunday afternoons, in picnics in the park, in twilight drives to clear your head.

Like any city, like any place that has ever existed, it has its flaws, its wounds and scars. But I truly believe that the people who call this place home are some of the hardest-working, most good-hearted that I have ever met, anywhere, and have a love for this city of which I could only scratch the surface, people who would, and are, giving everything they have to help this place reach its full potential. Because Los Angeles is a place that always been home to people who love deeply, hope wildly, believe fiercely, it is a city fraught with emotion, soaked with naivety, forlorn with things not seen to fruition, yet built upon countless dreams come true.

After a little December rain

And around every corner I look, in every moment I live here, in every breath I take, I catch glimpses of what feels like the life I was always meant to have. I am completely and wholly at peace here, like for once in my life I’m not looking for a way to leave. There is a whole world that I’m meant to see, but I don’t drift here. My soul does not feel restless, my mind does not feel aimless. I feel this city in my blood and my bones, breathe it in my lungs, smell it in my hair. I am grounded here, in the dust and the desert, in the curvature of the horizon around the ocean, in the palm trees dotting the skyline and the sliver of a crescent moon hanging above the city.

This week, I drove north on the 101 and watched the mountains rise up and the skyscrapers disappear as I left Los Angeles, and I won’t be back for at least six months, although it will likely be longer. Though I am thrilled beyond words to leave the continent for a while to begin a new chapter in my life, to find another part of myself somewhere else, I can already feel a hole that looks a little like Los Angeles opening up in my heart. This feels like the place I’m meant to be, so truly and so deeply, if only for now, but now is enough.

For as much of my life as I can remember, I’ve had instances of deja vu, and it’s only intensified as I’ve gotten older; the feeling that I’ve been somewhere, seen something, experienced all of this before. And in no place I’ve ever visited or lived have I encountered this more than in Los Angeles. In the places I go, the people I meet, the decisions I make, there are little shifts in my soul that feel like things falling into place. There are these almost daily confirmations that I am on the right path, that I have done this all before in the best way possible, and that, finally, I am right where I’m supposed to be. Even though I’ll be stepping away from this city for a bit, I know that I’ll be able to return in a new year, and for perhaps the first time in my life, return to a place with open arms, with more hopes than reservations, and know that it is home.

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Looking toward Downtown from Boyle Heights, East LA

If you’re interested, please check out my Flickr for more of recent snapshots of life in the City of Angels. Also stay tuned for at least a couple more California posts before my blog becomes a little more Anglo!

LA Lately

September was a birthday and back-to-school month well-spent (with plenty of brunch) getting newly acquainted with undiscovered parts of LA. Or, at least, undiscovered by me. Before I had a car, most of my travels around Los Angeles involved specific destinations, always having an endpoint and game plan in mind. And before I was 21, it’s safe to say that most of what the City of Angels had to offer after-dark was off-limits, or at least not quite as fun.

Now that those dark days are behind me, and a new school year, and year of life, were just waiting to be celebrated, I was more than ready to finally see for myself some of the mythical LA landmarks and buzzed-about destinations I still hadn’t had the chance to get to, and to stumble upon a few hidden gems I’d never even heard of at all.

From brunch and books to high-art and my beloved LA street art, September was a cultured month to say the least. Here are a few of my favorite finds and sights from a city that is nothing if not interesting:

  • Between catching up with friends and loading up on carbs after a night of birthday festivities, brunch was a favorite September past time. The Larchmont Bungalow is a perennial favorite for both savory and sweet fare, as well as satisfyingly strong coffee and perfectly sour lemonade. Some new discoveries also included The Hart and the Hunter, an adorably, vintage-vibed restaurant hidden away in the Palihotel on Melrose, which I tracked down specifically for its fried green tomatoes (and where I spotted, and restrained myself from fan-girling over, Aziz Ansari out to brunch, as well.) I also paid a vist to BLD, where the smoked salmon eggs Benedict, homestyle potatoes and fresh coffee, delivered to the table with French Press and all, definitely hit the spot.
  • For my incessant sweet tooth, the decadent waffles, milkshakes and coffees at Syrup Desserts downtown (where USC students seem to hang out in droves but I’d somehow never been) were certainly a treat, though one which should definitely be indulged in sparingly. Other after-dinner detours included margaritas at the Yxta Cocina Mexicana (great food, too) and the rooftop bar at The Standard (pricey, but you may just make back the money you spend on a cover and drinks if some guy pays you $100 to give up your lounge chair.)
  • Another LA bucket list location that I’d had yet to visit was The Last Bookstore, a hipster-y, steampunk-y, book lover’s paradise, two entire floors chock full of books old and new, vintage vinyl records, and even art galleries. I didn’t buy anything because I, admittedly, don’t have much spare time to do recreational reading, and even more shamefully, when I do read, it’s typically an e-book. But the atmosphere was cozy and a bit quirky, and I’m sure if I’d had a little more time to poke around, I probably would’ve walked out with am armful of books, and probably from the Horror, Crime, Law & Weirdness section which especially caught my eye. Oh, and LACMA; that was a first this month, too: I’m more into street art than museum art, but I usually take in at least a museum or two in every city I visit, so I figured it was about time. And as an added bonus, LA residents (including students) get in for free!
  • I also had the chance to poke around a part of Downtown Los Angeles that is rapidly gentrifying, and in particular a tiny little street called Winston, tucked in between San Pedro and Main and spanning just two blocks, where a small little vintage shop with no signage out front, called More Thanne, is bringing a really cool new sense of style, and community, to the area. I wrote about it for Neon Tommy, and I had such a great time photographing the shop too; the shop has such a cool aesthetic!
  • Speaking of writing, I put together a few pieces for the inaugural issue of LA Downtowner, a new monthly circulation which aims to highlight the places, people and events which are revitalizing Downtown Los Angeles. The piece I wrote on the Historic LA Flower Market was featured in the September issue, and it was really cool to see my writing hanging around some of my favorite downtown spots like Urth Cafe, Bottega Louie and Ozero Tea and Desserts.

All in all, September was a memorable month full of good energy and new discoveries, and though autumn in Los Angeles doesn’t quite offer the same atmosphere as fall in the Pacific Northwest, even if the weather seems to stay the same, there’s always something new to discover in LA.

All photos taken with Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Summer Solstice at Griffith

IMG_20140621_194648As this is my first full summer in Los Angeles, I’m making a point to do all of the quintessential LA summer activities, no matter how tired or touristy. To be honest, I consider myself to be something of perpetual tourist; no matter how long I’ve lived somewhere, I still love trying to find new adventures, and I take pictures pretty much everywhere I go. So when the summer solstice rolled around, and I had a friend visiting from out of state that same weekend, I knew we had to head up to Griffith Observatory to take in the longest day of the year.

Sure, I knew everyone else in the city would probably have the same idea, and parking would be an absolute nightmare (and it pretty much was,) but I’d never been to Griffith at sunset, and I’ll do anything for photo opportunity (and believe me, this was a photo opportunity!)

After trekking roughly a mile uphill from our parking spot, we arrived at the Observatory right at Golden Hour. It was crowded, but there was still plenty of room to move around on the lawn and take in the view from the patio and the upper decks, and the museum was open and free (as always.) The only noticeable delay was the rather long line to peek through the telescope so we decided to skip that.

DSC_1073But the view from the platform deck offered a stunning panorama for literally hours as the sun set. Everywhere we looked–from the Hollywood sign, back lit with the fiery, summer solstice sun, to the glittering Downtown skyline, from the cotton-candy clouds to the endless miles of crawling boulevards that seemed to stretch straight into the sky–it seemed as though all of LA was celebrating the solstice, too.

The evening was, without a doubt, memorable, and served as a reminder not to listen to people who have fallen out of love with this City of Angels. Despite the traffic, the taxes, the tourists and the smog, Los Angeles more than makes up for its flaws with a wealth of riches, with stunning sunsets and beaches, palm trees and truly warm, diverse, interesting people, with good vibes in the air and adventure around every corner. And at this time in my life, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.