Category Archives: Los Angeles

Spring Awakening

Bears do it.  So do ground squirrels and marsupials.  Even the western diamondback rattler makes a habit of it.

Hibernating, that is.

And apparently, so do I.

(I, however, was buried in the madness of moving, working, and studying — not the earthy hollow of a winter’s den.)

But now that the Southern California sun seems to have eclipsed the cloudy skies and cold rains, I figured that the arrival of March meant it was high time for me to emerge and pick up my Local Gypsy adventures where I last left them.

And I could think of no more appropriate way to mark this rebirth than by a daytime frolic in the Santa Monica Mountains, with vivacious friends and an abundance of wine.

Did I mention wine?

While Malibu’s wineries may not revel in the international acclaim of Napa Valley or Hollywood’s halo illuminating Santa Barbara (think Sideways), its Los Angeles County terroirs are blessed with microclimate conditions conducive to quality cultivation of this sacred vine.

So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, three lovely ladies who define spectacular — Courtney, Naz and Stephanie — and I piled into my road trip-hungry Subaru Outback.  We headed north up the PCH to take in the sparkling Pacific Ocean and soak up some local sacrament.

Welcome to Malibu

After thirty or so profoundly colorful minutes trading stories of our latest love interests and dating debacles, professional pursuits and international journeys, we made the strategic call to preemptively fill our bellies with something other than sulfites.  We pulled over at Coogie’s Beach Café and ordered a peculiarly random assortment of dishes, including an artichoke and brilliantly crisped sweet potato fries.

And while each of the four of us was equally eager to begin the bacchanalia, trust me when I say that, collectively, we have a magnificent ability to talk…and laugh…and eat…and talk…and laugh…

Before we knew it, 4:45 p.m. had arrived.  And the last tasting at Malibu Wines was scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

We raced out into what was now a much cooler late afternoon, screeched out of the parking lot and wound our way up Kanan Dume Road until we hit Mulholland, and eventually Malibu Wines — just as the sun was sinking behind the harvested hills.

Let the Tasting Begin...

Harvested Hillsides

I was surprised at how spacious the winery’s tasting grounds were, dotted with ample tables, fountains, as well as vintage wagons, cars and a watertower.

Vintage Beauty

And Another...

Shivering as I surveyed the entirely outdoor setting, I vowed to come back another day at an earlier hour to take full advantage of a long lazy and wine-hazy day.

The Wine Well

In the meantime, there was just one way to warm up.

To Life!

My Kind of Menu

Friendly, fetching staff assisted us as we blazed through the eight Saddlerock and Semler selections.

The Man Behind the Bar

Several so-so white and red varietals were followed by three particularly luscious Cabernets, which made us very happy.

Happy Us

Especially Courtney.

Courtney 🙂

And as the sky darkened and the grounds’ lights began to glow, I knew that spring had finally sprung — vibrantly.

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Filed under Food, Life, Los Angeles, Outdoor Adventure

El Sabor de México

For some, it’s the mountainous villages of the Himalayas.  For others, it’s the expansive vineyards of France, or the five star spas that dot the American Southwest.

For me, it’s the colorful spirit of Mexico that keeps me returning time and again — despite my world map being riddled with “to go” pins.

From the turquoise waters of the Yucatan’s Caribbean coast to the desert paradise of Baja California Sur, and from ancient Mayan ceremonies to the bustling urban mercados, Mexico’s people (love you, Claudia!), culture and food occupy a very special place in mi corazón.

There was a spectacular stretch of time when I ate more ceviche than tuna fish, and “hola” rolled off my tongue more naturally than “hello.”

But now, it’s been more than two years since I’ve set foot on Mexican soil.  Despite a potent call to head south, my recent travel time and budget has been dominated by family and friend gatherings in New York, Michigan and other, well, far less Latin destinations.

I’ve been due for a taste of Mexico for quite some time.

But with no imminent plans to cross the border, I looked towards a more proximate alternative to tide me over — a twenty-minute trip downtown to Olvera Street on El Día de los Muertos.

On any given day, Olvera Street — which lies at the heart of the city’s birthplace, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument — ­sparkles with brightly hued textiles, ceramic and leather goods, and the sweet scent of sugary churros and horchata.

Colorful Carts Line Olvera Street

 

Hanging Huaraches

Lucha Libre Masks

But on El Día de los Muertos, the street literally teems with life — and death.

Calaveras de Azúcar

It is far from morbid, however.

Celebrated primarily in Mexico, El Día de los Muertos has its roots in a pre-Hispanic festival dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, Aztec “Lady of the Dead.”  Now associated with the Catholic All Souls’ Day, the holiday — arguably Mexico’s grandest — celebrates and honors the lives of those who have passed beyond this world.

And it offers up a colossal feast for the senses.

Everywhere you look, strings of orange, green, yellow, pink, purple, red and blue papel picado, or paper cut out designs of flowers and birds abound.  The pan flute and mariachi music provide the day’s soundtrack, while Mexican flags and bougainvillea blow in the breeze.

Papel Picado Surrounds an Altar

 

Pre-Columbian Music

The people are no exception.

Men, women and children dress up in “dandy” outfits, and paint on skeleton faces to embody and celebrate the duality of life and death.

La Familia Solano: Ike, Maribel y Juan

La Vida y La Muerte

Altars to those who have died are strewn with photographs, flowers, fruit, blankets, sombreros, bread, and calaveras de azúcar, or sugar skulls.

Life After Death

The Music Lives On

Mexican Marigolds, Pan de Muerto and More

Some are poignant, honoring a young man, for example, whose life was extinguished several decades too early.

Remembering ...

Others are more whimsical, giving a gleeful nod to the deceased’s penchant for popping open a cold one.

This Bud's For You

But no matter which way you turn, one thing’s for certain: El Día de los Muertos on Olvera Street offers up an intense flavor of Mexico — both figuratively and literally.

Chomping on a Churro and Sipping Horchata

Now I think I’ll be able to hold out a little longer — at least until Cinco de Mayo.

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Filed under Cultural, Food, Holidays, Landmarks, Los Angeles