Thursday, 31 January 2019

January 2019 (USA Adventures vol II)

Okay, settle in guys, this is gonna be a long one. (But fun? I hope?)

It's 2019, and after a 2018 that was equal parts joyous and frenetic, I decided I wanted to, uhh, keep that mood going, I guess?

Nothing like immediately getting the date wrong to start the new year off though, eh...

I hate the cold but I *do* like layering, so silver linings.

The joke is not old yet, but winter sure as hell is.

Me and Alex and Justin and Dav went for a day out to Calderdale industrial museum and let me tell you, we had a FUN TIME (for reals)

Nothing like an 8-mile walk in the fog to tire away the travel anxieties...

Because yeah. Time to go back to the USA. I visited for the first time properly last year, and I fell in love with LA. I was only there for 6 days, and knew I needed to get back for longer if I possibly could. I've been working incredibly hard ever since then to save up enough money to return, and had always hoped I'd be able to do it in the depths of Yorkshire winter when I needed a bit of sun and adventure the most, and... I made it happen. Somehow. And suddenly, it's time to go.

Here's an awful man I overhead at the airport.

And here are all the films I watched on the 11-hour flight. (I never normally watch films, I don't think I'd even sat through anything new in over a year, so to watch four in one sitting was kind of weird and intense and now I probably won't watch another film for another year or more.)

And... I'm back. And LA is the most beautiful place in the world to me. I spent much of my drawing time this trip frustrated by my complete inability to do it justice in any way. Through a combination of skill but also energy levels for drawing after busy days, despite a deep longing to constantly create. I normally strictly limit myself to one drawing a day (which most days is enough!) but on my last US trip, and this one too, I wanted to give myself the chance to fully express everything to the best of my abilities. I don't know, maybe limiting myself would have meant better quality instead of quantity, but I think it was a good thing to try and capture different aspects of each day in different drawings (does make for a longer blog tho, sorry not sorry...)

One of the things I love most about LA is the FOOD. Anything I want is at my fingertips, and things I couldn't even have imagined. I have had the most joyous eating adventures.

And people are SO NICE. Like, literally not a day would pass where I wouldn't have at least one, or two, or three, or five, or ten people (depending on what outfit I'd chosen) just... say a nice thing. Not a creepy nice thing or a leery nice thing or a crazy nice thing... just a nice thing. You're rockin' it. Amazing skirt. You look great. Love your hair.

It's W I L D. Storing them all up in my memory bank for next time I need an ego boost.

Being in LA is like being with a lover. I get the same butterflies, the same tingles, the same passion, the same intensity of feeling. Every little detail, every moment. Being there is a kind of magic, I've never felt quite this way about another place before.

But then it started raining, and I was UNIMPRESSED. I did my research before leaving, and the typical LA January climate was between 15 – 20 degrees, maybe three or four days of rain over the whole month, but distributed, and light rain.

But ESPECIALLY FOR ME, LA cracked out a big long three day heavy rain fest that left locals shaking their heads and saying 'But this never happens?!'

It begun on this morning, the morning when I decided to go and explore nearby Silverlake. The beautiful (and wealthy) community is situated across steep hills, with winding streets connected by a network of historic staircases, and if there's one thing I was missing from Yorkshire, it was climbing hundreds of steep stairs in the rain. (!)

(It is such an incredibly beautiful neighbourhood)

It's probably fairly obvious to anyone who's been reading this blog for long that there's been a thing for a while here. A wonderful, kindness-filled, sweet adventure of a thing. (A thing which, to confirm, is not a secret or being hidden from anyone, but which I guess I have felt is sufficiently personal to maybe not talk about openly here all that much, and still maybe do, but... it's been well over a year now, so... There it is, I guess.)

Alfred lives in LA, and has a million life and family and work commitments, but was able to find a wonderful amount of time to take me out for food and adventures and music and treats. This trip certainly wasn't to see him especially — my love for LA is mostly unrelated to his presence in it — but it's a nice extra joy to have a trusted companion in a big city, to help me navigate my way to some of the better parts than I could have found alone.

Including some lovely blips and bloops courtesy of Modular On The Spot, an event which normally involves amateur modular synth players bringing all their equipment to a park and playing mini sets for the afternoon, but because of aforementioned rain, was relocated to trendy secret gallery space Chewing Foil, complete with wall of glowing old-fashioned CRT monitors. Suuper fun

At the weekend I climbed up to the Griffith Observatory — a beautiful building atop the hills which is home to a number of fancy telescopes and a museum about space, as well as the most incredible views out across the city. And guys — I felt some feelings. Something I rarely do about views. Growing up in an incredibly beautiful rural area of North Wales (that I was entirely indifferent to, and was delighted to finally get out of), I've been pretty numbed to scenic views of the countryside my whole life, and struggle to summon more than a 'meh' at even the finest vista. But cities, cities have my heart, and LA is the most striking, sprawling, incredible, beautiful mass of humanity laid out before me in the (temporary) glorious sunshine. My heart soars for it, it's almost too much to bear in its perfect imperfection. The bittersweet knowledge that I have to leave plays over me, even as I feel the elation of viewing it from here.

I took a different route back down from the observatory that dropped me in Hollywood, although the incredible signage was far from exclusive to that area. The US has such an incredibly different and wonderful signage style/history to here in the UK, and I find it fascinating. A love of putting things on stilts, running things down the sides of buildings, everything to shout louder, glow brighter, shine better.

Raining STILL. Sucks but most of all because my Airbnb flooded... (Technically the shower and toilet stopped draining and as the shower was a wet room that meant it flooded right out before I'd even really noticed. This was likely all caused by the heavy rain though, which LA's draining system was, in places, ill prepared for)

While I've been kind of calling this a holiday, it was very much a working holiday. I was working my usual 3 days a week for Kings Education, mostly from their wonderful DTLA office (although also a little from their Hollywood school and my Airbnb/other spots on the move). Although not working would have been nice, I certainly couldn't have afforded this trip if I did stop, and I do love my job, so working it from a lovely new exciting place with my super US colleagues was basically a delight!

The way to my heart (is simple)

Still raining and I am FURIOUS. I didn't bring a rain coat with me (optimistically), but it became increasingly apparent I needed one, as rain was forecast for at least another day. I went to the big thrift store near by Airbnb, and because it never rains in LA, there was literally one rain coat in the entire place, this giant pink polkadot affair. I did buy it, because it's actually quite a good quality and actually waterproof coat (something of a rarity), but very not me, and I felt someone undignified in it as it clashed with everything I own and was about 3 sizes too big...

My plans for the evening fell through so I texted my old friend Reggie, who is one of the most generous, kind spirited, fun people I know. True to form, he came right over and took me to a ridiculously LA gallery show opening and it was weird and hilarious and I walked around the room like I was someone while everyone else did the same and it was a magical strange adventure (Reggie is always good for this)

STILL RAINING, I got the 2.5 hour Amtrak train from LA down to San Diego. Being in LA for three weeks, I'd wanted to try and break things up with a bit of an adventure out of the city, and San Diego was a perfect distance away. The train journey is known for its beauty, running right along the coast, but in the uncharacteristic grey pouring rain it felt more akin with my childhood journeys along the North Wales coast than California, which was a strange dissonance. I liked San Diego, but spent most of my first afternoon there hiding in my Airbnb away from the rain, catching up with some freelance work.

Did venture out to get a GIANT BURRITO though — one of my regrets from my last trip to LA had been not getting any authentic Southern Californian Mexican food, and I fully intended to rectify this, particularly while in San Diego which is right on the border with Mexico. I was not disappointed.

The following day the sun finally returned (and stayed for the rest of my trip!) and to make up for lost time, I did ALL THE THINGS.

I got up bright and early and caught the ferry over the water to Coronado (which is a promontary also accessible via circutious road route, or large bridge, but the ferry is the best public transport option, not to mention most scenic. I walked across to the other side (maybe a mile or two), to glorious Coronado beach, home of an architecturally beautiful hotel. I then walked right back over again, and got the boat back in time to meet up with a very well vouched for stranger from the internet for lunch of my FIRST EVER TACOS!

I followed Ben on Twitter a couple of years ago after my friend Cal (who he was colleagues with at Sky in London) kept retweeting his hilarious tweets. I quickly realised he was also friends with Alfred, as they chatted occasionally, and it turns out by pure coincidence they were old school best friends who used to play in bands together in LA growing up. Super weird to have two entirely unrelated connections, and super nice to finally meet him. Something of a taco afficionado, he took me to a fancy 'modern' taco spot and I had just the most beautiful deep fried squash taco and I watched the taco being made and it was utterly wonderful. We had a great chat too, and got along really well — he invited me to come for a ride with him up to Balboa Park, where he was going to check out the current Tim Shaw exhibiton. Neither of us knew anything about it, apart from the fact that his friend had told him it was weird and he should check it out. It was indeed, weird, and I'm glad we checked it out. It included some thoroughly disquieting installation pieces with Tim Shaw's characteristic eerily stuffed, slightly larger than life-size human figures, and a deeply unsettling 15 minute performance piece involving an AI clown. Definitely a fun adventure...

Afterwards, we had a wander round Balboa park itself. I've never been anywhere else quite like it — a large, beautifully landscaped series of gardens, interspersed with a wide range of attractions (most with beautiful architecture), including the art museum, natural history museum, several other museums, a zoo, an artists village, and various other things. It was pretty magic, and I'd never have made it out there off my own back without a ride from Ben, so that was a really nice extra bonus outing I hadn't planned for!

He dropped me back off in the Gaslamp District near my Airbnb and I had MORE TACOS for dinner. Because I love Tacos now.

It was a flying visit to San Diego really, but a fond one, and I caught the train back to LA the following day. This time, sunny, so I could finally enjoy the beach views!

In the evening Alfred took me to a show, but we were both super tired, so we just left and went home to our own seperate beds, and I tell you what, it's super hot to just be like 'Shall we go? Yes. We're tired. We can just LEAVE.'
I love letting go of all pretensions that I have to party to have fun. (I still had fun. I just left very early.)

Sunday rolled around again, more Modular on the Spot — this time rightfully situated outdoors, but at a bike cafe rather than in the park, due to some residual grass dampness likely being pretty incompatible with synthesisers.

This is a very bad drawing of the ECLIPSE! I think the first time in my life I've properly seen one, so it felt quite special. My Airbnb host sweetly came knocking to summon me when it was at its peak, and we ooohed and aaahed at it together. (Like views, I am generally quite unsentimental about celestial phenomena, but I had never seen an eclipse before, and being so far from home it felt quite special. I also, the previous week, got quite excited upon discovering that the crescent moon is at a different angle in this part of the world. That felt kind of magical to discover.)

A terrible drawing of hands but I couldn't even be bothered with that because all my focus is on NAILLLLLLS... Delighted once again to visit the incredible Kelly (@bakenekonails) who created this incredible interpretation of the wonderful artwork from Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail
I love them SO MUCH

Living in the moment as best I can yes, but when you see someone infrequently, it's hard not to have some sense that time is slipping through your fingers so fast. Less than a week left in this beautiful city...

Reggie is the band leader on James Corden's Late Late Show. He asked me if I fancied attending a recording and I mean SURE WHY NOT?! They gave me green room access, which seems ludicrous, I mean, who even am I? But I didn't misbehave at all (no wait, I touched an Emmy. I'm not sure that's allowed)... Also I don't really know who... famous people are? So a lot of it was lost on me. It was a double taping afternoon and I had no idea who any of the people on the earlier show were, but the second one which I was in the audience for, I actually DID know — purely by coincidence though, I ended up watching loads of episodes of Brooklyn 99 on the plane (Chelsea Peretti), and the night before I flew over I stayed with my friend Michael — him and his housemates were binge watching Lemony Snicket, and the other guest was Neil Patrick Harris, who let me tell you, has very lovely legs indeed. (I managed to refrain from seeking him out and telling him this). Anyway, TV is super super weird and fun and magical and I can't quite believe people get to do this for a living. I don't watch enough or have enough of a passion for it as a medium to have ever thought about making a career out of it, but I can certainly see the surreal joy of being involved with creating such a program, day in, day out. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience it like this.

If you watch the show with Neil Patrick Harris and Chelsea Peretti as guests, you will a) see my silly glowy face in the audience, and b) hear Chelsea tell an anecdote about how Reggie took her for a drive in his Tesla (they're old friends), and, without warning her, engaged 'ridiculous mode', and gave her the fright of her life. And LET ME TELL YOU, he did the same thing to me without thinking (just to do an overtake) and FUCKING HELL (sorry for swears), electric cars can go VERY VERY FAST VERY VERY SUDDENLY

Final day in the office (which is located in one of the many beautiful art deco tower blocks in DTLA, and is lined with a frankly inordinate amount of marble)

When I was with Reggie I noticed that he had like 5 brand new hairbrushes, and I was like 'Why do you have so many hairbrushes?' / 'Because I keep losing them I guess, do you want one?' — I mean, yes, I do. I've gone most of my life not even owning a hairbrush and am weirdly grudging about spending money on something so boring, so I'd been using a really cheap one. My hair is now down to my waist and I'd been starting to really struggle with keeping it under control, but hadn't really occured to me that the brush might be the problem. Anyway, Reggie is a man with HAIR, and also fine taste, and this brush is like... next level. I did not know a hair brush could be so good. It has REVOLUTIONISED my relationship with my hair, honestly

The next day Alfred drove me over to Venice beach, and while he ran some errands, I explored the seafront. It has a lot in common with many trashy British seaside resorts, but replace fish and chips with tacos, and add more palm trees and sunshine.

I was meant to be going to another show that night, but since Thursday I'd been suffering with an ongoing headache, low energy and nausea, and my hot walk along the beach just took everything out of me, so I had to stay in and be a bit sad.

The following day I was still feeling pretty rough. I lay in bed all morning wanting to get up but not feeling able to either move or eat, which was pretty miserable. Alfred came round to take me out for lunch, an invitation which I of course accepted, despite not feeling great. He took me to a savory Asian porridge place, which was a foodstuff I've been pretty curious to try for a while, although wasn't sure how my fragile body would deal with it that day precisely. But it was THE BEST THING. Both the best thing for my body there in that moment, and also possibly the best thing I ate the entire trip. Beautifully delicate, with some in common with a light risotto, served with tempura mushrooms and various pickled treats, it was just perfection, I MUST figure out how to recreate it, because it was too good to wait until next time I'm in LA to have again.

Alfred then suggested that we go pottery painting with Wylie (head of one of my favorite labels, Dome of Doom)... I mean, sureee?! I love pottery painting always?! And it wasn't quite as weird/random of a suggestion as it initially seems, as Wylie's lovely partner Mary owns a pottery painting cafe, but still super sweet of them both to come along and do it with me. I had entirely not planned to do pottery painting that day or even that trip, but somehow it was just the perfect soothing activity for my still fragile head, and I always love seeing what other creative folks come up with in this context.

One thing I'd really wanted to do this whole trip was visit the cheap but highly recommended Korean spa, Wi spa. I finally felt well enough to do this the day before leaving, so got the metro over to Macarthur park for an adventure.
So it's worth saying right now — I've never been to a spa before. I think the Korean spa experience is a little different to western spas, and I didn't pay for any of the treatments so I wasn't getting the full experience, but I definitely had a good time.

Firstly, naked?! In the womens area you have to be fully naked, IT'S THE RULES. I don't think I'd been in this kind of communal naked context ever before — I briefly joined a gym in my late teens where other women would get naked in the changing rooms, but, self conscious about my own body, I would always hide myself.

Anyway, it was super liberating to discover that I no longer have a care in the world, and neither does anyone else there, so we're all just hanging out together naked and it's SO CHILL. Women are great. I probably missed out on many of the joys of the place, because I am super squeamish and there is no way in hell I'm getting into a jacuzzi full of other people's body fluids, but I DID try all the weird saunas, (I don't think I like saunas), but most of all enjoyed the unusual sitting down showers to wash my hair with great care and dignity, surrounded by other women at their ablutions. It was a strangely nice bonding experience.

Lots of the weirder saunas are in the communal all-gender areas, for which you have to wear their uniform of incredibly unsexy shorts and t-shirt, so no one has too much of a good time.

I lay on a crackling bed of hot pink himalayan salt. I tumbled around in a pit of hot clay balls (cronch cronch cronch), I watched people do strange yoga while inhaling MINERALS. I stepped into the ultra hot sauna for like one second and then came out with a hard NOPE.

Anyway, it was a fun weird time and only $25 for a whole day (I only stayed for a couple of hours though), so definitely worth checking out if you're ever in LA and don't mind getting naked in front of strangers (try it, it's fun, maybe I'm a nudist now)

For my last night in LA we went to Moby's vegan restaurant (very good although very dimly lit, there's my feedback for you, Moby), and then to Baron Vaughan and Open Mike Eagle's excellent comedy night, with a line up of six comedians who were ALL FUNNY which has literally never happened to me at a comedy night before. What a joy.

And then, over as soon as it started, it feels. Back at LAX (after a great Lyft ride courtesy of former jazz drummer Ray who had some A++ stories, and was about the 5th American who asked me to explain Brexit to them, which apparently I'm getting quite good at now, with the caveat that THERE IS NO EXPLANATION, WE ARE IDIOTS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE A CATASTROPHE).

Anyway, plane time.

When I got on the plane I was sat next to an incredibly obnoxious drunk Belgian man and his friend, but GLORY BE, there were spare seats elsewhere so they moved (they were in the middle), leaving two seats between me and the man on the other side. I then spent much of the flight trying to find a comfortable way to sleep across two seats, and the answer is, there isn't one. (I can't sleep anywhere that isn't a bed anyway, so it was likely an exercise in futility for me regardless)

So... I ended up staying awake for 30 hours straight, and then went to bed at the usual time when I got home, and BOOM, no jetlag whatsoever!


Now I'm home, and everything is cold and strange. Figuring things out. Moving forward. Waiting to see what's next.

Thank you for coming on this adventure with me, if you've made it this far. A big part of my heart is still in LA, and I can't wait to figure out future returns...