I'm back from my fabulous SoCal vacation. I should've written about it sooner, but I was too busy experiencing it.Day 4: Visiting Grandma; the St. Petersburg Philharmonic
Tuesday, Nydia came over briefly and we all ate a charcuterie lunch with the supplies we bought at Monsieur Marcel the night before: prosciutto-wrapped melon, crusty bread, triple-crème cheese (l'affinois), humbolt fog, and assorted crackers to spread it all on. After that, Dad and I paid a visit to my Grandma Marian.
Grandma just turned 86, and she's my last surviving grandparent. She had a heart attack and water in her lungs a few years ago, and now has a caretaker in her home eight hours a day. She's relatively healthy, but has some memory problems. I'm not always certain Grandma knew who I was while I was talking to her, and she would occasionally repeat herself, but it was nice to talk to her, even as a girlfriend. We talked about crossword puzzles, birds, music, TV and the fun details of what I'm up to these days. I heard a few stories about her growing up during The Depression under the care of her mother and grandmother (a single mother, my great-grandmother Helen).
After visiting Grandma, Dad and I returned home and got ready for our fancy night on the town. Dad had planned on taking us to a great Italian restaurant (Palermo's) in the vibrant Los Feliz area, but it's been closed on Tuesdays since the dawn of time. Instead, we walked down the street and into Figaro Bistrot. It has a classic French menu and dark-boothed, checkered tile decor, beautiful staff of the actress/waitress variety and an assortment of indie rock on the playlist. It's the kind of place where people go to see and be seen on the sidewalk outside. Inside, people of all ages and stripes dine comfortably. I was EXTREMELY impressed with the quality of the food we received for the price advertized. I had scallops on a risoto cake with chargrilled froie gras, and it was the star of the table. We also had the fluffiest, freshest chocolate macaroons ever -- they make all of their beautiful bakery items in-house. Added bonus: we might get be in their restaurant's 360 view on the website, since there was a photographer there shooting the scene. (If you're keeping count ... this is the second night in a row where I had French food, completely by chance this time.)
We got finished with dinner a little too early to go to the concert, so we took a short walking tour of that downtown area. We checked out some of the beautiful architecture around town and took a ride down Angel's Flight, a cablecar that goes up and down a steep hill and has been around for a little over 100 years. You can take a ride on "the world's shortest railway" for $0.25. My mom is practically bewitched by it. I showed the video of our trip (below) to Grandma, who was completely unimpressed. ("I used to ride cable cars all the time. That was just life.")
After our short walking tour, we made our way to the concert hall. If you haven't seen it, I strongly encourage you to click here
and have yourself an eyefull, because it's one of the most stunning places I've ever been to. Dad scored some amazing seats, tucked into a corner right behind the bassists and harpists, in full view of the percussion. The L.A. Times did a good review of the concert, here
I was particularly excited to see the St. Petersburg Philharmonic performing the Russian Easter Overture -- it's easily in my top 10 favorite classical pieces, and after reading reviews of the ensamble and getting an idea for how they play ... well, the pairing couldn't be better. There were some parts of the performance that disappointed me (tempo too slow) but the second half of the overture was rapturous. I'm not sure if their brass is just amazing or the accoustics were just wonderful (or some of both), but I never pay much attention to the brass, and they just killed it. It took all of my self-restraint to not bounce up and down in my seat like a five year-old.
The program contained more than just the overture, of course. Alicia Weilserstein performed Shostokovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, which I was unfamiliar with before this concert. While we couldn't see Weilerstein's face from our seats in the hall, I noted her posture and the way she bent over her instrument, and I like to imagine her grinning like an imp while sawing away at the piece, which has been described as "sarcastic" and is definitely a darker side of Shostakovich than I was familiar with. The ensemble gave us Brahms' Fourth Symphony as well, but to be honest, I just can't get into Brahms (though I enjoyed the vibrant third movement and all of the crazy two-fisted trinagle parts). Overall, I find Brahms florid and lacking in contrasts. I feel like my opinion is pretty stupid and shallow, like a wannabe wine connosieur who avoids all reds, but there's not a lot that can be done to change one's tastes except time and exposure. I'm working on it.Day 5: Aquarium; Grammy Museum; Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder; Little Tokyo Karaoke
On Wednesday, Dad and I had a day with just the two of us. We went to the Aquarium of the Pacific and Dad treated me tons of stories about his spearfishing and diving up and down the California and Central American coastlines. We also fed some lorikeets, who lighted on us two-at-a-time. They don't want to be pet, but it was still lots of fun watching them play with and snuggle each other. I really enjoyed the shark tank, jellies, petting tons of starfish and seeing beautiful, exotic sea birds (especially terns -- adoreable!)
After admiring all the fish, we decided to eat some. We had a nice lunch at Gladstone's, then went back downtown to visit the Grammy Museum. It was pouring rain by that point, and traffic sucked, but we got there with just enough time to enjoy the museum. I was happy to see all the memorobilia, especially John Lennon's hand-written lyrics. Dad had lots of fun playing around with all of the technology: mixers, digital drum kits, samplers, etc., and is probably plotting his return as he reads this. (The techno-music-geekery must be genetic. My grandfather loved it too -- though he wasn't super-musical, he was a decent organist.)
Then, Dad dropped me off at Linda's workplace, and the two of us went to meet our longtime friend Heejin for dinner at Church & State, a trendy small-plates French restaurant (yes, this makes French restaurant #3). I hadn't seen Heejin since 2003 or so, and it was really nice to catch up with her. I'm glad she's doing so well. The three of us shared a bunch of small plates and a bottle of wine. I got a wild hair and tried the absinthe, which came to me along with a tall decanter with a spigot, which dripped ice water over the sugar cube. It's not the first time I've had absinthe (I'm guessing the stuff in London on my honeymoon was a little more authentic), but I do enjoy it, theatrics aside.
After dinner, we went to a carry-out across the street and bought some Lotto tickets. None of us ever do this sort of thing, but Linda's luck has been so shitty lately that we figure she's due a big turnaround. We got some drinks for karaoke too, and bade goodbye to Heejin before heading out to Little Tokyo.
We met up with my sister and the three of us rented a private karaoke room at Max's, which has just about every song you could ever want to sing at karaoke. We had an awesome time just being goofballs. Linda is an amazing R&B and music theatre vocalist, and Alicia's always been as musical (but far less obsessive) than I have. The three of us have slightly different tastes, so while Linda banged out the R&B, musical numbers and old school hip-hop, I tried my hand at all eras of rock, and Alicia had alternative and pop well-covered. We sang all we felt like singing, I thrashed my voice doing B.Y.O.B., and we all returned home at about 3 a.m.Day 6: A day of rest
Thursday was my low-key day of the vacation. The original plan was to lay down some vocal tracks for my dad and then go have lunch with Grandma, but my vocal chords were pretty sore from karaoke the night before and Grandma's heater broke, so she had to wait in her home for the repair guy. Instead, Dad and I had lunch before visiting Grandma in her home.
Once the repairman was finished, we decided to go out for coffee instead, along with Grandma's caretaker Lou, and silmultaneously get caffineated and get Grandma her daily exercise. We met up with my mom at coffee and had a nice long conversation. Then, I accompanied my mom to lunch (none for me) and returned home to get ready for a night on the town with my sister.
My mom's friend Brenda stopped by. Brenda is one of those people who is naturally disarming, and will make even the grumpiest stranger feel immediately at home. I haven't seen her since my sister's graduation party a few years ago, and she's a little saucier than I remember! I didn't know this, but her daughter, my sister's childhood friend, writes hyperlocal stories for Patch.com -- definitely a viable career option for me post-graduation. Dad cooked us a pork chop dinner and we sat around and gabbed pleasantly. After Brenda left, I watched some movies with my mom and knit while dad worked on a bluegrass cover of Rebecca Black's "Friday."
I thought my sister would get off work earlier, but her store is incredibly short-staffed, and she wasn't able to get away until nearly 10 p.m. She called me and said she was exhausted, so I thought we wouldn't be able to go out. Instead, when she got home, we turned around and flew out the door to drive to Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar in Universal City.
It was college night at Howl, but the place was packed with L.A. preppies drinking Miller Lite (seriously, the stuff must have been on special, because I can't think of any other reason to drink the stuff). No one was singing along, and though the band was great, they were playing mostly very new songs that I couldn't sing along to, either. This, I think, defeats the purpose of a dueling piano bar. And can you believe NO JOURNEY? This is a travesty. We had a good time anyway, pitching in where we could, but I'd say 80% of that good time was because I was with my sister, who has a quirky sense of humor and fun that can only be described as a Brown family tradition.Day 7: A good United flight does exist!
On Friday (Friday, Friday-Friday), I got up at dawn after far too little sleep (thank goodness my drinks were watered down) and ate an early breakfast with the whole family. Now, when's the last time you sat down at a table with your entire immediate family for breakfast? That, in itself, is a pretty special occasion. After breakfast, Dad and Mom accompanied me to the airport and we exchanged cheerful goodbyes.
The flight to Chicago was excellent. The plane was not overbooked for once, and no one was sitting in any of the middle seats. My seatmate was super quiet, and I spent most of my time reading and listening to music with very little discomfort. We got into Chicago about half an hour early, and I spent about two hours just hanging out in O'Hare and wolfing down (sorry, could not resist) some Puck pizza. The flight to Dayton was nice too -- I sat at the front of a tiny commuter plane, so I was the only person in my one-seat row.
The parking schuttle dropped me off right at my car -- a welcome gesture, since it was literally freezing and I was still in my California clothes. I drove home and made it there by 11 p.m., just in time to catch Sam still awake.
I had a lovely trip. I really feel like my family pulled out all of the stops for me. I got to do everything I wanted to and visit lots of friends. But I'm also happy to be home. I think my vacation was just long enough, and I like the extra few days or so before I have to go back to school on Tuesday. Hopefully, this quarter will be less demanding than the last.