Sunday, August 13, 2017

Downtown Los Angeles (Skyspace, Arts District and The Broad)

Last year, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease so my wife, Tori, and I went up to Los Angeles to help Susan while she attended her Self-Realization Fellowship Convocation. The annual event is held downtown in the Westin Bonaventure so we drove up and checked into the hotel on Sunday. The receptionist helped us out and made sure we received two adjoining rooms with an internal connecting door. Even though she had been attending the convocation at this hotel for many, many years, Susan's condition made her easily confused in the six story lobby that resembles the interior of a space station. During the week while Susan was attending the daily meditations and classes with Tori or her close friend, Robin, I would head off to explore Downtown LA.

While Tori and her mom went down to the California Ballroom to attend the first class, I walked over to the nearby US Bank Tower to watch the sunset from the OUE Skyspace observation deck at the top. Until this year, the skyscraper was the tallest building west of the Mississippi at 1,018 feet. My ears were popping during the two elevator rides it took to reach the top. Leaving the second elevator on the 70th floor, my first sight was the entrance to the Skyslide, an exterior glass slide that drops down to the outdoor observation deck on the 69th floor. I felt butterflies in my stomach just looking at the glass structure hanging out over the street far below. Since I wanted to try it with Tori later in the week, I skipped it for now and took the stairs down instead.  Instead of metal railings, the outdoor decks have thick glass panels that allow you to stand a foot from the edge and look straight down. Woah! The Los Angeles skyline was a little hazy but I could still see the skyscrapers of Century City in the distance. On the west side was the Wilshire Grand Center that was completed in June 2017. The tip of its spire is 82 feet taller but since the US Bank Tower sits on Bunker Hill, I was looking down at the top floors of the newer building. After the sun set over the Hollywood Hills, I waited for the city lights to come on as the sky darkened before heading back down.

Monday - After lunch with Tori and Susan, I walked across downtown to reach the Arts District near the Los Angeles River on the far side. (One whole block of 4th Street seemed dedicated to shops selling glass bongs wholesale.) Once I passed Alameda Street, I started seeing the district's colorful murals popping up on many of the old industrial buildings that artists started taking over in the 1970's. In recent years, an influx of hip restaurants, cafes, and breweries have entered the area as well.

Heading down Mateo Street, I took a loop around the movie sets of Willow Studios along Palmetto Street and ended up in front of Blue Bottle Coffee. I recognized the exterior of the cafe from the show, "Comedians in Cars getting Coffee". After walking for an hour in the hot sun, I wasn't in the mood for coffee but I was happy to cool off inside with a lemonade.

While Violet Street is considered the Southern border of the Arts District, I turned around a couple blocks early at 7th Street after taking a detour through Jesse and Imperial Streets. There appeared to be a lot of filming in the district since so many buildings were advertising as shooting locations. I would like to come back again next year with Tori to try out one of the eateries.

While walking back through the Arts District, I took a detour out on to the 4th Street Bridge for a better view of the the Los Angeles River. In the middle of the span, I could see down the long concrete channel lined with several rows of train tracks on either side of the sloped walls. In the 1930's, the Army Corps of Engineers built the channels to control the frequent flooding. Instead of walking back across the city in the hot sun, I took the metro back from the Little Tokyo station. After switching from Yellow to the Red line at Union Station, I exited at the 7th Street station right at the base of the 1,100 foot Wilshire Grand Center. The glare bouncing off the flowing skylight at the base was blinding, but it illuminated the busy street in a magical way. The sloping roof of the new skyscraper was designed to resemble Half Dome in Yosemite while the skylight below represents the Merced River.

Tuesday - Since Susan went on a half-day pilgrimage with a friend to the SRF Mother Center, Tori was free to explore the city with me. Our first stop was Eggslut for breakfast in the Grand Central Market. Last time we visited the market, the line was too long for us so we were happy to find it short this time. Tori ordered the Slut, their signature dish of coddled egg poached in a jar with puréed potatoes. She thought it was delicious while I had the yummy Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich. Across the street from the market was Angels Flight, the short funicular railway to the top of Bunker Hill. The train cars were going up and down the track but the mechanic told us he was only testing them in preparation for the re-opening on Labor Day. It has been closed since a minor derailment in 2013.

Since we didn't have advance tickets for The Broad museum, we arrived an hour early to get in the standby line at 10am. Thankfully, the attendants handed out umbrellas to shelter us from the bright sun. We were near the front of the line so we were able to enter 15 minutes after the museum opened at 11. The white honeycomb-like exterior of The Broad is a 36 million pound concrete Veil that diffuses the bright sunlight entering the museum. Once inside we had a view of the Vault, the grey concrete storage area flowing over the lobby and encasing the second floor that holds the remaining art collection not on display. After signing up for a time to visit the Infinity Mirrored Room, we took the long escalator that tunnels up through the vault to the main Exhibition Space on the Third Floor.

Standing under the soft white light allowed in by the porous veil, our first encounter in the gallery was Jeff Koon's Tulips.  A giant replica of balloon flowers made of stainless steel polished to a mirror-like finish. Like Rabbit and Balloon Dog (Blue) in the next room, I was entranced by the artist's whimsical recreations of playful objects on a large scale. His porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles and wooden sculpture of Buster Keaton showed Koons was not limited to one medium.

There was also a lot of distinctive art pieces by Roy Lichtenstein. My favorite was Goldfish Bowl. It was weird walking around this 3D piece that gave the illusion of only two dimensions. Our sense of scale was challenged again with Under the Table by Robert Therrien. I wish we could have climbed up in and sat in the giant wooden chairs but the attendants standing under the black table kept a understandably watchful eye out for any touching.

After an hour, we received a text that we could go downstairs for our visit to the Infinity Mirrored Room. The staircase had several cool views into the storage room vault. After checking with the attendant and waiting in the short line, we were each able to spend 45 seconds alone in the mirror-lined chamber created by Yayoi Kusama called The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. Countless LED lights illuminate the darkened room and give the awesome appearance of standing in an endless star field. Leaving the room, we explored the temporary Oracle exhibition on the first floor that will be on display until early September. The theme of the collection is the globalizing forces at work in our contemporary society. One of the thought-producing pieces was a giant photograph of an Amazon warehouse full of products organized by computer algorithms.

Wednesday - While Tori was attending the morning meditation, I walked into the Historic Core of Downtown to visit the Bradbury Building, built in 1893. Inspired by a science-fiction novel, the first time architect of the Bradbury designed this geometrically patterned interior which was then made famous in the movie, Blade Runner. The wrought iron railings and open cage elevators rise five stories under the glass skylight. I wish I could have ridden up one of the elevators but visitors are limited to the bottom floor of the lobby. Across the street on the Victor Clothing Building was the restored Pope of Broadway mural featuring Anthony Quinn. The artist, Eloy Torrez, originally painted it in 1985.

Leaving the Bradbury, I walked a couple blocks to The Last Bookstore inside a former bank. It was easy to tell the building's former purpose by the towering columns and the heavy vault that now houses the used bookstore's horror collection. Next to the vault was the cool Tunnel of Books as well as a display of books flying off a shelf that looked like a scene from Harry Potter. Since I am on a little US History kick at the moment, I bought a new Benjamin Franklin biography to take home and read.

After lunch at the hotel with Tori and Susan, we went out on the grass by the pool to practice our AcroYoga. We attracted quite a few kids and one curious toddler who photobombed our Spider Rolls.

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After we finished our weekly practice at the hotel, we crossed over to the Citigroup Center to take some pictures of our AcroYoga poses beneath the Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero. (Thirteen painted steel beams form the 45 foot high, 25 ton structure.) Ever since we added a strong and stable Side Star to our AcroYoga practice, we have seen a big improvement in our ability to pick up new tricks and washing machines. Jumping into Reverse Star has been our nemesis for awhile but we can finally do it, barely. Transitioning to balance on one leg for Mono Reverse Star is actually much easier for us. Now that my elbows have healed, we have started working on our Low Foot to Hand again. Can't wait till we can move it "High" without needing a spot. Tori and I are also getting very consistent with our Needle shoulder-stand pose. We can now hold it for a good 10 seconds almost every time.

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Shoshone sculpture by the artist Mark di Suvero

Since Susan was attending the evening Convocation classes with her best friend, Robin, my wife was free to join me on my second trip to the top of the US Bank Tower. This time, Tori and I rode the OUE Skyslide between the 70th and 69th floors. I was pretty nervous before going down the glass slide, but it was not too bad. The glare made the glass floor hard to see through and it only took a few seconds to descend to the observation deck below.

After riding the slide, Tori was able to visit the two observation decks and point out the places she knew from when she lived in LA for many years. As we waited for the sunset, we took some fun picture of each other jumping in the air next to the deck's edge. I wish we had thought of performing some quick Acro poses but we may have been worn out from our earlier practice. On our trip up the tower, we had to switch elevators on the 54th transfer floor so Skyspace uses the available space to exhibit interactive displays. My favorite was standing over the glass Infinity Mirror, an abandoned illuminated elevator shaft descending out of site down the center of the skyscraper.

Thursday - Another day of exploring with Tori. First, we took the Metro to Chinatown and walked over to the Central Plaza. It was pretty empty with only a few shops open so after buying some almond cookies and a present for the nephews and niece, we went looking for lunch. We decided to go for rice bowls at Chego's in the Far East Plaza. When we first arrived, we were shocked to see a massive line with over 100 people waiting outside. We were relieved to find out the 2 hour line was for Howlin' Rays Nashville Fried Chicken next door. I was tempted by the Kimchi Spam Bowl but we both ordered the Sour Cream Hen House, a chicken rice bowl with fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, toasted sesame and red chillies. It was spicy and delicious, but we probably should have shared just one rice bowl along with our half-order of Ooey Gooey Fries.

Stuffed from our meal, we took the metro to Little Tokyo. We decided to skip the Japanese-American Museum and walk through the Japanese Village guarded by the tall red Watchtower at the entrance. Tori browsed through the Sanrio Hello Kitty shop while I found out about a new character that is extremely popular in Japan. The shop had a large sculpture of Gudetama, a lazy egg yolk resting on a bed of rice. Afterwards, we shopped for treats at Nijiya Market. Outside the Blooming Art Gallery was a Wishing Tree covered in handwritten wishes that are taken to a nearby temple to be burned when the tree is full. Since Little Tokyo was close to the Arts District, I took Tori over a couple blocks to see a few of the murals. We went as far as the Loft location from the FOX TV show, New Girl, on Traction Avenue. We had a cold beer at the Arts District Brewing Company across the street before heading back to the hotel.

After our big lunch, we decided to have only a light dinner at the Bonavista Lounge at the top of the Bonaventure Hotel. It was my first time in a revolving restaurant and it took about an hour and a half for our table to complete the circle. The sun ended up setting behind the Union Bank tower but we still got to enjoy the views of the city illuminated by the golden light as we shared a salad and small flatbread pizza.

Friday - In the morning, I took the Metro up to the Civic Center part of Downtown. Riding the escalator to the surface, I popped out in the middle of Grand Park. Surrounding the park is a hub of federal, state, county and city government buildings with the iconic Los Angeles City Hall rising above them all. Built in 1928, no other building in LA was allowed to be taller than it until 1964. I wanted to visit the observation deck near the top of the tower but I didn't have enough time on my walkabout. Outside of Washington D.C., this area has the largest concentration of government employees in the United States. I walked to the other side of the park where the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain faces the Music Center's opera and theater venues.

On West Temple, I entered the grounds of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a huge Catholic Church built in 2002 to replace the former church damaged in the Northridge Earthquake. The cathedral's bell tower stands separate from the rest of the Cathedral. Inside, the bright sunlight streaming in through the translucent alabaster cross illuminated the huge pipe organ which the organist was playing during my visit. Downstairs, I wandered through the Mausoleum where I found the Gregory Peck's final resting place. Back outside, I could see the distinctive tower from the School of Visual and Performing Arts on the other side of Highway 101. Walking back to the hotel, I stopped at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bradbury Building to pick up a mocha for my wife on our last day in LA. The Cream Cheese Scone with Everything Spice was awesome!!!

Two days before the start of the Convocation, the President of Self-Realization Fellowship, Sri Mrinalini Mata, passed away. I do not belong to SRF like Tori and her mother so I did not attend any of the classes or meditations during the week, but I did attend the Friday Memorial Service since it was open to all. It was a nice service describing the life of the nun who joined the religion as a teenager in 1946 and attended my same high school in Encinitas, CA. She was the last SRF President to be personally trained by the founder, Paramahansa Yogananda, and she had served as the leader since 2011.

Heading back to San Diego on Saturday morning, we left fairly early since I was filling in as a Flying Trapeze Catcher for a 3pm Birthday Party at Trapeze High. Traffic was surprisingly bad and I ended up having just enough time to make it before the party. Due to our long layoffs from catching, Kenny and I split the catching duties. After he started getting nauseous after 6 catches, I climbed up to finish off the remain 10.

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Ten catches used to be no big deal for me, but I have lost some of my endurance and I had forgotten how exhausting it is to catch in the heat. I was worn out after 8 catch locks but luckily Kenny had recovered enough to come up and finish the last two he had skipped earlier. Normally, I don't get dizzy from catching but I think Kenny's reaction got into my head and I soon found myself dry heaving in the bathroom and lying on the floor trying to recover my equilibrium. Luckily, I recovered enough to attend Lindsay's birthday dinner later that evening at the Crack Shack. I was finally able to order The Royale, a high class version of a Sausage McMuffin and it was delicious.