Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Summer Dress

Mimi has been wearing this Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti slip dress all summer.  It is made of silk.  Simple.  Luxurious.  Cool.  The perfect summer dress.

And when the fog rolls back in, she will throw on her new Free People sweater coat and be set for fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Along Jalama Road

The road to Jalama Beach is a scenic drive winding through farms, ranches and vineyards.  If you are really lucky  (like we were last week) you will see a herd of wild horses grazing on the hillside above.  These rescued horses now live at the Return to Freedom Sanctuary.  This is a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect and preserve the wild horses of America.  In 1971 Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, setting aside 53 million acres of public land for these magnificent animals.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was designated to manage them but over the years they have taken the land away from  the horses and given it to cattle.  Needless to say, the horses have not fared well in the resulting roundups.    Many have died of starvation and neglect.   Return to Freedom offers educational tours of their plight. To see these horses up close, especially the Choctaw Ponies, is a fun experience.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if someday, tourists from all over the world would come to America to see the mass migration of horses like they do the wildebeests and zebras in Africa?  Progress is being made, but it's definitely an uphill battle.

Mimi is silhouetted against the ocean and the railroad tracks at the road's end.
Save the Wild Horses!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jalama Beach

Of all the beaches in Santa Barbara County, this is the wild one.  On any given day you are guaranteed high winds and a rough surf, making it a hot spot for advanced surfers and windsurfers.  It is located  14 miles off Highway 1, south of Lompoc.

The Jalama Creek runs into the ocean here.This area used to be a Chumash Indian settlement because it was so rich in fish and plant life.  Today it is a wonderful place to bird watch and collect rocks.  On a side note, ask any surfer up and down the coast where you can get a good burger and without hesitation they will say, "Jalama Beach."

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Jim Thompson Story

Mimi and I love everything about silk.  The way it feels.  The way it drapes.  Everything.  So, of course, when I was in Bangkok I had to visit Jim Thompson's home.  After World War II, he helped revitalize the dying cottage industry of handwoven silk in Thailand.  Thai silk is exceptionally beautiful because of its jewel-tones and luster, but people were only weaving it for themselves to be worn for special occasions. The weavers could not compete with the low prices of machine-made textiles from factories in Europe and Japan.

Jim Thompson was a Renaissance man.  He was born in Delaware in 1906, and as a young man studied architecture and moved to New York City to work.  He joined the army during the war and was assigned to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  He traveled to North Africa and Asia on missions and then remained in Bangkok after the war, having fallen in love with the country.  He took several pieces of Thai silk to New York City to see if he could market it and history was made.  Demand for the beautiful fabric exploded.

His home is a "must see" for anyone who loves architecture and antiques.  The one-half acre compound really consists of six traditional Thai-style houses, all purchased from various parts of the country.  Each teak house is filled with Asian antiques, artwork, and tropical flowers.

However, the Jim Thompson story does not end with his life.  His mysterious disappearance is still a topic of many dinner conversations.  During Easter weekend in 1967, he disappeared while hiking in the Cameron Highlands.  There was a massive search, but he was never found.

The Cameron Highlands are located in Malaysia and famous for its tea plantations.  It is called a  "hill station" in the guide books but it is really a fairy-tale forest of emerald green.  The best way to experience its beauty is to walk and walk we did.  I could not help thinking of the many theories surrounding Thompson's death as I trekked along.  Did he slip and fall down a cliff?  Was he eaten by a tiger?  Murdered?  Would I be the one to find his remains?  Mimi and I think it was none of the above.  Surely he would have been found by now.  He was a former spy, after all, and had extensive training during the war in survival skills and espionage.    I think he had been planning his disappearance for years and that he and his lover lived anonymously in the Seychelles to a ripe old age.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga is a bay in the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket in Thailand and the Malay peninsula. Massive limestone cliffs in bizarre shapes jut vertically out of the warm shallow waters.  It is both beautiful and strange.  There are 42 islands all covered with forested wetlands, especially mangrove trees--28 different species of them.  From Phuket, we took a touristy trip to "James Bond Island" (Koh Ping-gan)  along with hundreds of other boats and hundreds of other people. (Behind me in the photographs.)   Big mistake.  In hindsight, I wish I had hired a private boat to take me throughout the bay, behind and around the islands and inside the caves of these magical formations.  I would have had my guide kill the engine to gaze at the view in solitude and silence.  I should have been reluctant to get off the boat.  Not relieved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Buddhas of Thailand

I follow a Buddhist's path through Thailand
and enter the interior of my mind.
Will enlightenment reveal to me its existence?
A glimpse.
It is all I seek.

"Then you must stop," he ordered.
 "But I cannot."
The world is etched with too many roads.
And the jungle is dense.
"If I stop I will fall asleep."
"Then you must stay awake."
A shaft of sunlight penetrates the canopy
spotlighting my soul.
"Enough," I say.
I am content with this solitary moment of peace.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hitchhiking Across Japan

A Book Review

I bought Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson at a used bookstore recently, and I haven't had so much fun reading a book in a long time.  It was laugh-out-loud funny.  Sometimes wise.  Often sarcastic.

Will sets out from Cape Sata--what he calls "the end of Japan" to follow the cherry blossom blooms all the way to the northern tip, Cape Soya.  He hitches rides from a whole cast of characters and together they travel the back roads of Japan, going to places no American (whoops, sorry, Canadian) ever goes or even knows about.  I went back a second time with a yellow highlighter.  The mini trip I have planned to Tokyo and Kyoto has just lengthened to include Shodo and Sado Islands, the Bridge of Heaven and "an entire stone coast, a miniature mountainside, really, that has been carved into the shapes of Buddist deities and saints."

After teaching in Japan for five years, he could speak Japanese--a big advantage.  He was able to get to know the people in a way few travelers can, and of course, everyone had a story to tell.  He gained entrance into homes, back alley bars and hard to find hostels.  He was often asked, "Can you eat Japanese food?"  In return, the one question he wanted answered was, "Are the Japanese arrogant or insecure?"

We travel writers love to condense a culture into a brilliantly written piece of prose, but in the end, people are just people.  Everywhere.  There is no one nation of "ors", only nations of "ands". The people that make up any country are savory and unsavory, genteel and crass, generous and selfish, good and evil.

However, the one thing Japan does have that other countries don't are those thousands and thousands of cherry trees.  Will Ferguson had me hooked from the very beginning with those darn trees.

"Nowhere on earth does spring arrive as dramatically as it does in Japan.  When the cherry blossoms hit, they hit like a hurricane.  Gnarled cherry trees, ignored for most of the year, burst into bloom like fountains turned suddenly on."

And, of course, I'll be going in April.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is a Japanese American neighborhood located in downtown Los Angeles.  It became a National Historic Landmark District in 1995, and is within walking distance from Union Station.  I spent a wonderful afternoon there this week, going to the Japanese American Museum and need I add--shopping!  Mimi wears the blouse I bought at Ashiya.  I love the graphic design.  Paired with white pants, I will wear it during the remaining weeks of summer, but it will transition into fall perfectly.  I wanted to buy a Hello Kitty, "I Love Nerds" bag, but Mimi's nagging voice stopped me.  "Don't you dare." she said, "Or I'll disown you!"

The Tanabata Festival had just ended and all the trees were covered with these little scraps of paper.  In present day Japan, people write their wishes, often in poetry, on these tiny sheets of paper and then they are burned after the festival.
This monument located next to the Geffen Art Museum, commemorates the nearly 16,000 Japanese American veterans who fought in World War II.   The Japanese American National Museum has many exhibits on this.  The incarceration of our citizens in barracks during the war is an embarrassment to our country, but nevertheless, a part of our history.  The museum traces the immigration of the Japanese to the United States.  In the early part of the 20th century, they filled a labor need in Hawaii and California, but they were met with racism every inch of the way.  The movie "Go For Broke" in 1951 told the story of these heroes and helped to positively change the perception of the Japanese.  Such is the power of movies!

I enjoyed the Stan Sakai drawings of his wonderful comic character, the samurai rabbit, Miyamoto Usagi.  He created a world of animals who live in 17th century feudal Japan.  As Usagi roams the country, he has many adventures, both dramatic and humorous.  There are battles galore, as well as love scenes and encounters with ghosts.  His comics have kept readers entertained for 25 years.   Stan Sakai does all the writing, penciling and coloring himself.  He is a third generation Japanese American who was raised in Hawaii, but now lives in California.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Union Station

Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles is a frequent destination of mine whenever I need a quick travel fix.  I hop on the 9:20 Amtrak at Santa Barbara and I'm there by noon.    The train station is known as the "Last of the Great Railway Stations."  With its travertine and tile interior and streamline moderne and mission revival decor, it never fails to transport me back to the Golden Age of Travel.  It was opened in 1939 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.  It is still the hub of train travel in L.A.

The Traxx restaurant is located at the end of the station and there is seating in the outside garden patio as well as in the lobby.  I always have lunch here before venturing out into the crazy world.  It is a peaceful place amid all the chaos of the station. (And the prawn and avocado salad is delicious!)  At the end of the day before I hop back on the train for home, I stop there a second time for a chilled glass of chardonnay.