Saturday, March 28, 2015

Galifornia, Part III: A Mission, A Castro, An L.A. Woman

I'm gonna narrate this one in photo form...enjoy!

My last day in San Francisco brought us to the Mission. We began with a breakfast at Boogaloos, a neighborhood staple since 1994. This brunch joint is decorated with album covers all featuring some variation on the phrase 'boogaloo.' Over polenta with eggs and french toast, we discussed gentrification in the neighborhood. You can learn more about that here. The Make-Out Room, above, is a club and concert venue in the area.

Walking through the Mission, there's a host of wonderful independently owned businesses like secondhand bookstores, traditional bakeries of all ethnicities, and an old-school coffee joint or two. There are also those tell-tale signs the aforementioned gentrification--overly minimalist coffee houses serving $5 cups, farm-to-table bistros serving $5 slices of pie (really? come on, guys...), and juice bars. Just like the East Village in New York became the playground of one too many yuppie types who have little to no regard for its punk roots, the Mission is feeling the beginning of a similar heat. Residents regularly speak out against the changes through a variety of community efforts, sometimes even through murals on the neighborhood's main streets. A number of murals like these also appear down Balmy Alley (photos below), where residents have created artwork depicting their dissatisfaction (to say the least) with the skyrocketing rents and loss of community and history.

After visiting Balmy Alley's bright and powerful murals, we went to Dolores Park to meet up with SC, who I hadn't seen since high school. He invited us to join a crew of his hanging out there that day. Dolores Park is the San Francisco equivalent of Sheep's Meadow in Central Park, where it feels like every 20-something within a five mile radius has set up camp for the afternoon. People sit on blankets, drink beer, hang out with their dogs, listen to music, get really stoned after both taking a hit of the biggest joint they've ever seen and eating half a weed chocolate truffle. You know, the usual. I'm told this is a very San Francisco experience, especially when you follow it up with giant burritos from the classic Taqueria El Farolito as we did. 

Making our way home, we ended up caught in a giant crowd watching--but mostly just shoving their way through to get elsewhere--the Chinese New Year Parade. AS and I tried to hold on to each other tightly, but we got separated at some point after my shoulder popped in and out of its socket (don't worry, this happens to me relatively often because my joints are crazy). Eventually, we found each other at the end of what seemed like a tunnel of people and found our way inside. We had a pretty sweet view of the parade from up above, like this dragon!

We relaxed for a bit and then found our way to meet up with the incredible JH in the Castro, San Francisco's gayborhood. On the way there, JH texted me to ask if I would like to be greeted in heels or light-up sneakers. I thought he was joking, but when I arrived he pulled his four-or-five inch heels out of his bag. Long and lean, he and his fabulous legs towered over us, a smash of blue eyeshadow on his face and a Virgin Mary tank top over his chest. Stick a fork in me, I thought, because I am DONE. I had just deliciously died and gone to heaven and JH was at the Pearly Gates to let me in. But then we took the dance floor--nay, JH took the dance floor and made it his bitch, swirling his luscious legs as we danced to Kylie, Madonna, Beyonce, Britney and of course Mother RuPaul herself. I doubt I will ever see anyone drop it and pick it up like that ever again in my lifetime.

We briefly visited the sex toy store next door, called Does Your Mother Know, where we had intellectual discussions about the safety of glass dildos and what color bandanas we should wear in our back pockets (AS and I decided we should wear lavender in our back left pockets because we like drag queens).

The next day I was off to Los Angeles, but not before we took a brief trip to the rather hilariously named Ocean Beach for view-having and milkshakes. 


Arriving in L.A. the wonderful GD picked me up from the fucking crazy airport at LAX. Fun fact--there are no taxi lines and all the cabs fight with each other and with regular traffic to find customers. It is quite literally a shitshow. There was no way I was letting her take me back there for my return flight to New York. 

Before heading to GD's home we dined at the lovely Black Cat. Veggie tapas and gossip were the order of the day. Both tasted delicious, especially the burrata with haricot verts. It's really lovely to catch up with GD in person and hear about all of the amazing stuff she's doing in Los Angeles. You should check her out too (here and here). We've now been friends for nearly 11 years and now that she lives far away I value the time I get to spend with her even more.

Post Black Cat, we hang out with a grey cat, the love of GD's life, her cat Alabama Worley (so named, of course, after Patricia Arquette's character in the Tarantino classic True Romance) and watch the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix.

The next day I hang out with GD at her office at Buzzfeed Studios. The company converted an old grocery store into an entire soundstage with several sets and prop storage. Most of the Buzzfeed sketches you see online are filmed here. Below is their bar set and one portion of their costume/prop area.

Visiting an office is fun, but after a while, of course, you just don't want to be in the way. So I was happy, as I had planned to make a visit to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The building takes up space on a campus that's just as sprawling as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, if not more so. The museum was built in 1965, so much of the architecture reflects that sort of space-age 1960s vibe. While the exterior and its sculptures were in themselves rewarding enough to make the whole museum trip worth it,they also have a rad modern art collection and when I was there there was an entire exhibition dedicated to German Expressionism in film. I was happy to get my art nerd on and take a ton of photos.

I should note that to and from the museum, I took my very first Lyft rides. Lyft allows qualified people to sign up to drive their cars around L.A. (there's Lyft here in New York, too, of course) as if they were cabs. They're very safe, and if you're lucky like me, your Lyft drivers will be very attractive, kind, sweet men who chitchat with you about L.A. on your rides to and from the museum. Lyft also gives you $20 free when you sign up (it amounts to about $5 off each trip you take until you use it up) and it's way less expensive then a cab. In New York it's a bit trickier because the pricing can be about the same if you don't get any money off or get any free rides. But I highly recommend it in L.A., especially since public transportation and walking are not really a thing there.

My biggest goal in coming to L.A. was really to spend time with GD. I knew I didn't have too much time there, so I wasn't going to explode if I didn't really get to explore the city, especially since I had been there before and I didn't have a car to get around. But luckily, I got to spend time with some other amazing, rad people like the very awesome SV (check out her film, Fort Tilden, which will soon be in theatres all over the country!) at Sage in Echo Park for rad vegan food and perhaps the most extensive vegan menu I've ever seen.

I also got to see the newly implemented Los Angeleno SB and his friends for wine at a very informative (if you tell them what flavors you like, they'll bring you several bottles and do a taste before you make your selection!) and cute wine bar in West Hollywood called V Wine Room. Actually the building itself looks like a 1930s Hollywood cottage, so I was instantly smitten. Our waiter threw all kinds of adorable sass and shade when hearing I came from New York, which I found amusing! Actually, in L.A., and not at all in San Francisco, I found New York getting flack left and right. But to me, New York's still the greatest city in the world so they're welcome to do as they please :) Post V, we went on to laugh loudly and smoke cigarettes and drink drinks that were way stronger than I thought they would be (seriously, if you ever need a really strong gin & tonic head to Trunks in West Hollywood!)

I was happy to see the sun the next day on a trip to Santa Monica Beach with CD. It was a bit cloudy, but I was honestly so psyched to be on the beach I didn't care. I knew once I went back to New York (which, when I left, I narrowly missed a snowstorm) it would be months before I would see sand again, so I was happy to take whatever I could get. We received a visit from MK, too, who was in Los Angeles doing some shows for a few weeks. He was squinty so I gave him my sunglasses to wear.

I'm grateful for everyone who took the time to hang out with me, drive me places, and take care of me while I was in L.A and San Francisco. Especially since I was mostly there during the week, when everyone has less free time. Even so, I felt I was really able to see the city through the eyes of the people who live there, which is always the goal. It may be a long time until my next big vacation, but the experiences from this time around will last me awhile, to say the least.

When I came back to New York, I shot the new Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall. Arriving there, I was bundled up in a leather jacket, a knit hat, and cowboy boots. I probably should have been wearing gloves, but I wasn't, as usual. It was a far cry from the 90-degree Los Angeles weather I had been in not too long before. But I saw this show, I saw the Rockettes dancing in all of their sparkly, leggy glory; I saw an animatronic Statue of Liberty; I saw dance reenactments of all of New York's sports teams; I saw clips from a ton of movies made in the city. It was cheesy and glittery and obviously meant for a certain kind of audience. But what I loved most was how much it made me love New York over again--maybe not the New York they shared, which was a very touristy one, but the New York I created for myself. There are sometimes when I wonder if I just came here too quickly, if I didn't spend enough time checking out other cities to live in, if I could live a better or a different life somewhere else. But the show finished and I left Radio City and I walked down 50th Street, past Rockefeller Center, past St. Patrick's Cathedral, past Saks Fifth Avenue, past the Waldorf-Astoria. I stared up at the skyscrapers, I felt the chill in the air stinging my nose, and I thought to myself, this. This is where I belong.

California is lovely to visit, and thank you so much to GD and AS for hosting me. But it's no New York ;)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Galifornia, Part II: Suburban Mouse and City Mouse

Our calves were indeed laughing at us the next day, but thankfully we would be spending our time (read: hobbling about) in the suburbs of Palo Alto, where AS lives, because she had to work in the evening. You'd think that coming all this way across the country I'd be disappointed by *gasp* a day in the suburbs, what people mostly move to big cities to escape, but I wasn't at all; I've learned that you have to make adventures in your own backyard first and foremost (I think this blog is nothing if not that!), so I was quite looking forward to the suburban experience that I often missed living in New York. A big part of our Palo Alto Day, as it became known was, strange as it may be, going to Target. This is nearly impossible to get to here in the city, even less so if you imagine yourself schlepping more than a bag or two (which I often do). I submitted my formal request for Target, and it was happily accepted by the powers that be (read: AS herself). I don't know just what it is about Target that I love so much, but I think it mostly relates to how my best friend and I used to go there on weekend afternoons and buy crazy, cheap stuff when we were in high school and had nothing else to do. Before Target, however, we took a trip on over to Stanford University.

Stanford. Go Cardinal!
Ever the nerd, I love a good campus walk-through; especially if it's a campus I didn't apply to and thereby didn't get rejected from. Having graduated college quite a few years ago now, it's nice to be in a place where so much learning is happening and all the people are young and stupid enough to make me feel better about my place in the world. After a jaunt through campus and the college bookstore to snag some Stanford swag, AS took me for my first In-N-Out Burger experience.

 An East Coaster all my life, I had never had one of these burgers before, but they had been raised to practically mythical proportions by everyone I knew who tried them. I was interested to see what all the fuss was about. We had cheeseburgers and fries 'Animal style' from the 'secret menu' and...they were quite tasty! I liked that nothing was frozen and over-processed like it is at other chains, and that was a difference you could taste. At the very least I can now say I've had an In-N-Out burger! Do I sound like such a New Yorker when I say that? You can take the girl out of the city...

Our Target experience was next where I got not only a cute dress, but some leggings I had been needing for a while, hand lotion, and some juice. Where else can one do such a thing? Target is really one of the few things I miss about the spread-out, driving-heavy lifestyle. Don't get me started on SuperTarget.

Evening came and AS went off to work, which left me to nap (praise RuPaul!), write, grab some food, and then meet up with our friend SB. We went off to the lovely little Guild theatre--it shows just one movie at a time!!-- in Menlo Park, a short drive away, to see What We Do In The Shadows, the new vampire mockumentary. Not too bad for a day in the 'burbs, eh?


The following day took us back into San Francisco proper, specifically to The Haight. We took a nice long walk there from Union Square (about three miles), then lunched at a restaurant a woman told us about on the bus two days earlier, called Cha Cha Cha. Taking suggestions from strangers is one of my favorite pastimes, so it seemed like a natural fit. We dove into no-frills Mexican tapas in this joint decorated with shiny polyester fabrics and plastic beads, quenching our three-mile-walk-induced thirst with a giant pitcher of sangria.

Then we made a stop at a vintage store I had read about called Static. It was, by New York standards where a vintage concert t-shirt will easily cost you upwards of $50, reasonably priced. I found AS a stunning maxi dress printed with brightly colored fans that looked like it was made for her, and I walked out with a 1988 Michael Jackson BAD tour t-shirt, very, very happy and still a little drunk from the sangria. SF folks, if you like Static on Facebook you get 10% off your purchase!

Personalized ice cream at Smitten
Our long walk back of course took us to the famous Haight-Ashbury corner, which I was dismayed to find was, on one corner, occupied by a Ben and Jerry's, of all things. But I learned that the hippies had moved away long ago (on another corner was a RVCA), and the area read now a little like St. Mark's here in New York, full of people capitalizing on what it used to be. Not too long after, we rewarded ourselves with a stop for ice cream at Smitten, recommended to me by SD and SW. Smitten was founded by ice cream lover Robyn Sue Fisher and will prepare a personal scoop of ice cream for you on the premises by using liquid nitrogen alongside all-natural ingredients. I had brown sugar ice cream with cinnamon cookie crumble, strawberry prosecco syrup and homemade whipped cream. I forgot how many miles we walked almost instantly. That's not true, I had a blood blister and fiery calves that made me remember pretty quickly, but it was still really, obscenely creamy and excellent.

The Emerald Tablet
The evening brought a change of shoes, a purchase of Bengay from the Walgreens across the street, and a swipe of red lipstick for an evening out in North Beach. We met up with AS's friend who took us to a gallery opening at a space called The Emerald Tablet. This particular event featured not only artwork, though, but a 7-9 piece (depending on the whim of the musicians) band playing salsa, cumbia, and merengue tunes. A little old woman with bright cherry curls and a matching top shook her whole body joyfully offbeat while I attempted my best cumbia with one of the other girls in our gathering. Young men danced with old men danced with young women in front of tall vibrant paintings and we worked up a sweat. This kind of thing, after all, is what I really love to do when I travel--to see a place through the eyes of the people who live there. And if those eyes happen to be on a dance floor and surrounded by vibrant paintings, then I'm all in, baby. When we left, the vintage neon signs of North Beach lit our way back.

Green Street in North Beach

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Galifornia, Part I: Bitches Be Hiking

Shortly after AS left New York for Palo Alto, California I realized I hadn't taken a proper vacation--i.e., not traveling for work, not traveling for a wedding, not traveling home--in two years. I love what I do for a living, but sometimes the nature of it means that I just don't stop doing it for an extended period of time. I love traveling, I love to see someplace new, and frankly, after two years, I had earned it. At the end of December, I booked my travel plans to San Francisco from New York, from San Francisco to Los Angeles (to visit GD), and from Los Angeles back to New York. On Tuesday, my California--nay, GALifornia--adventure began.

The nearly seven hour flight passed fairly quickly, only the last hour making me shake my legs in anticipation. Getting of the plane into the car, I was mesmerized not to see snow on the ground, shouting "CALIFORNIA! WOOOO! YEAH MAN!" repeatedly to AS's boyfriend, IH, when he picked me up from the airport. I had been in California not even twenty minutes before I started adding "man' to the end of all of my sentences. Arriving back to their apartment, delightfully and hilariously named 'Cohabitation Nation,' I was treated to a tour and a glass of wine on their terrace, where the three of us would later sit outside eating sushi. Yes, New Yorkers, sitting OUTSIDE. Do you remember what that's like? That's okay, I didn't either.

The Fabulous Baker Beach
(see what I did there? Ha.)
I did not find the cold in New York particularly oppressive this year, just lengthy--and as I write this from a couch in Palo Alto, I'm told it has snowed yet again in a big way. Needless to say, I'm happier with the prospect of only wearing a leather jacket atop my clothing. The sun, too, had eluded me, as it had everyone else in the Northeast. Because you can only stay in it for so long after you just can't feel your hands anymore. But yesterday, AS and I spent the morning and afternoon basking in it as we hiked about seven and a half miles across San Francisco. And it was phenomenal.

I made no specific plans when arriving, and only knew a few things I wanted to see in town. Mostly because I wanted to spend time with my dear friend who had recently moved across the country, and mostly because when I travel I really just like to pick a neighborhood and get lost in it. The night I landed, AS and I thought about what to do, and the idea of a hike along part of the coast presented itself. Always game for a new adventure, I welcomed the thought of seeing a new city in a way that wasn't typical for me.

Bluffs on the Coastal Trail
Miss M is a big ol' tourist.
Our day began with a scenic drive into San Francisco from Palo Alto. We parked at the extraordinarily beautiful Baker Beach and proceeded to hike part of the California Coastal Trail. This part of the trail, near the Presidio area of the city, winds its way through San Francisco's coastal bluffs and connects to the Golden Gate Bridge (one of the items on my list to see, in all my touristy glory._ The air was slightly chilly, slightly salty. The sky was pure, cloudless blue and the foamy sea washed up onto the light brown sand and got into our shoes but we didn't care. In the distance we saw the famed reddish-orange bridge, we watched people play with their dogs in the surf and inhaled that incredible sea air. Winding our way through the bluffs, up and down steep staircases, the air soon felt less chilly. After about 2.7 miles, which didn't really feel too long, we arrived at the bridge so I could have my tourist moment. It really is a sight and a feat, especially since each cable on the bridge is made up of 27, 572 other, small cables. Whoa.

Feeling mouse-like at
Palace of Fine Arts
The next portion of our hike took us from the Golden Gate Bridge to Crissy Field, a flat stretch of beach and grass in the Presidio that was once a U.S. Army airfield. From Crissy Field we went over to the Marina District, to the absolutely opulent Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace of Fine Arts is an enormous, Greco-Roman inspired structure that was originally built in 1915 to exhibit artwork in the Panama-Pacific Exposition, which was kind of like a World's Fair. It was rebuilt in 1965 to be more stable. It makes one feel wonderfully dwarfed, like a teeny mouse entering a palatial mansion. We stood craning our necks at the intricate columns before becoming hungry.

Palace of Fine Arts
 For lunch, I requested, and I quote, "freaky-ass vegan food." The real deal, that earthy-crunchy San Francisco stereotype of organic, gluten-free, dairy free goodness/craziness that you can only get to a certain extent in New York before people start raising an eyebrow at you for being a "goddamn hippie." The kind of vegan that Andrew Zimmern would have (and actually has had) on Bizarre Foods America when he visits California. And we found it, mere minutes away from Crissy Field, at a joint called Seed + Salt. With its painted white walls, napkins, utensils, and containers of recycled materials, and long wooden tables, Seed + Salt, as it says, is "chef-driven cuisine done clean – plant-based, organic, ethically & locally sourced, plus free of things that aren’t always good for you like gluten, dairy, refined sugar, trans fats and GMOs." Meaning fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and delicious clean things like the eggplant BLT that AS had (featuring bacon made of eggplant!) and the cauliflower couscous (interspersed with raisins and pepitas) that I had with black bean tempeh. It was served with raw seed crackers, which may have appeared to the outsider as flattened bird seed. "That looks like something I used to make in Girl Scouts," AS said. Maybe she was right. Either way, it was nutty and crunchy and fun to eat with my couscous. After hiking at that point what was maybe three or four miles, it was lovely to have a healthy meal, freaky-ass as it may have been. Plus, Tony Kanal, bassist for No Doubt, sat at the end of our table with friends so that was pretty rad, too.

Post-vegan, we began our trek to our ultimate destination, the City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.
If you aren't familiar with City Lights, it is the independent bookstore and press that was founded in 1953 by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It became a haven for similarly minded individuals, and remains such today. To get there, though, we walked up Lombard Street. AS couldn't remember exactly why Lombard Street was significant, and had suggested we walk up it simply because the street we had been walking, Chestnut Street, was purely residential and Lombard might have more to offer visually. She was not wrong. We soon found that Lombard Street is known for its rather steep hills and got a fantastic glute workout climbing to the top. On the way, huffing and puffing (or maybe that was just me?) we passed people going about their regular lives, like a woman walking her dog. "Look at her, this is just her life!" AS said in minor disbelief. And I looked at that fluffy little dog, and I said, Man, if that thing can do it I can! And I continued up the hill. We concluded that everyone in San Francisco must have amazing calves and butts because DAYUM THESE HILLS, SON. Lombard Street itself, AS remembered as we got to the top, is known for its crazy, twisty turny portion down a 27-degree incline. Apparently it's also a tourist attraction, and we did take some pictures, though for us it was more of a means to an end.

Pilgrimage completed.
And end we did on Columbus Avenue, walking past the area's many Italian cafes and restaurants to finally arrive at City Lights. We ambled throughout the store, marveling at its rich selection of fiction and poetry, but also its sections for anarchism, praxis, muckracking, green politics, and a section called people's history. Truth be told, when reading about the Beats I had always hoped to one day find myself at City Lights, but was never truly sure it would happen. California always seemed so far away, too far away for me to get to, but as we walked into the store I was able to not only cross something off my trip bucket list, but my life bucket list. We celebrated with a slice of homemade tiramisu at the Brioche bakery not too far away and began our trek back home. We knew our calves would be laughing at us tomorrow, but the day was too fantastic for us to care.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

NYFW Fall/Winter 2015: Backstage Beauty

The insanity of New York Fashion Week has subsided and in its wake, as usual, I am left with a barrage of images from the week. Here are some of my favorites from backstage and beyond.

If you'd like to check out some of my dispatches from the week, you can check them out on Her here and here, and on The Jewish Daily Forward here.