Purple jacarandas

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May is a beautiful month in Los Angeles. The weather begins to get warmer, the air becomes to clear up, and the purple jacaranda trees begin to bloom. All these other seasons, these trees were there, just there. Standing high, with their branches facing the prussian blue sky. Yet, they are noticed only when they bloom and those lightly fragrant, trumpet shaped purple jacarandas cover the path you walk everyday to work or to buy groceries.

56 hours in SoCal

So my husband unexpectedly got a holiday from his workaholic boss for a long weekend and since this was the first holiday he is getting in 1.5 years, we decided to make full use of it by making a quick weekend getaway away from Los Angeles. As we only had limited time and did not want to spend most of it on the road, we decided to head to Santa Barbara and the quaint Danish town of Solvang.

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The day dawned bright and sunny. Our destination was 1.45 hours away and we left around 10. The drive was scenic, along the PCH. The ocean glistened under the summer sun, a Pacific Blue. We listened to the Doors and the Beach Boys. It was a beautiful day to spend outside.

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Our first pitstop was Sambo’s on the beach (216 W. Cabrillo Blvd Santa Barbara CA 93101) around 12.30 p.m. Located on the beach Sambo’s serves breakfast all day long, making it an ideal place for brunch. My husband and I are vegetarians and this place serves burgers and fries making it an ideal place for us to find something to eat, moreover he loves places overlooking the ocean. We downed the food with their jumbo mimosas which Sambo’s is famous for. Sambo’s is located on the East beach and we walked around a bit before heading to Solvang.

We decided to stay in Solvang away from the crowd and the noise. Also, my husband had been yearning to be out in the nature for a very long time and Meadowlark Inn looked just the right place. It was a couple of miles away from Solvang. After checking in, we decided to head over to Lake Cachuma (California 154 Santa Barbara, CA). Dinner was going to be light since most places are breakfast & brunch kind of places in Solvang. We decided to play it by the ear and explore the Solvang downtown in order to find a decent place to get a bite.

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We started the next day early by going to the famous Paula’s Pancakes (1531 Mission Drive Solvang, CA 93463) for breakfast. On weekends, Paula’s is crowded and the wait extends to 45 minutes. On a Friday morning we got lucky and found a place to sit quite easily. Paula’s is known for it’s Danish waffles and pancakes. paulas-pancake

After gorging and walking around a bit so as to avoid feeling bloated, we headed out to the Blackjack Ranch and winery (2205 Alamo Pintado Road Solvang, CA 93463) a winery made famous by Jack and Miles of the 2004 Fox pictures movie ‘Sideways’. The wine tasting room here opens from 11.00-4.30 p.m. We followed this by another round of wine tasting at Beckman Vineyards (2670 Ontiveros Los Olivos, CA 93441).

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After the eventful morning at the wineries we set out to Santa Barbara to have a late lunch at Alchemy Arts Café (35 West Haley Street Santa Barbara, CA 93101). The Arts café is part of the Alchemy Arts center and it is known for it’s wholesome and healthy meals. After the late lunch, we decided to have some secluded beach time at the butterfly beach near Montecito at a far corner of East beach.

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After the secluded beach time, we decided to try our hand at some Poker at the Chumash casino (3400 East Highway 246 Santa Ynez, CA 93460). Both of us are huge Texas Hold’em fans and we didn’t mind trying our hand at a poker game. It was like finding Vegas in the Santa Ynez valley!

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The next day, we set out back to LA. Our first stop was the Nojoqui Falls (3200 south alisal road, Solvang, California). The nature trail leading upto the Falls is beautiful and very green.

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On our way back, we did the weekend ritual of stopping by at Dukes, Malibu for brunch before reaching West Hollywood, aka home.

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On public transportation

I boarded the bus, not conscious of the milieu inside. I tapped the metro pass and found a place to stand at the far back corner. I tried reading ‘Love and Garbage’; it was too crowded to concentrate. I closed the book, held its soul in my hand for a while and put it back into my bag. Random thoughts flooded in, my concerns about apartment hunting, conferences, cats, money, bills, and home. Then it dawned, everybody around me would be thinking of comparable things. What is the probability that there is at least one other person in the bus who is thinking of the same thing as me right now, wondering what everyone else is thinking about! 

For many people, the fact that I commute in Los Angeles using public transportation is unfathomable. An American colleague of mine who has lived in LA for a good six years asked me quite innocently the other day, "how much are the bus tickets now, $2.50 or $3", without having any clue about it as she has never boarded a bus or a train in LA. Angelenos are very comfortable in their cars, oh, and the number of cars increase by the minute. Households have three to four cars on average (read: a car per head). But really, let's pause for a second and ask ourselves, what is the big humbug about "driving"?

I got a driving license in India when I was 18. I could draw an H without toppling over a single beam, and all this on the first attempt of trying to clear the driving test. I managed to drive in India without ever killing anybody or running over a cow. After having moved to America, 4 years ago, I just haven't felt the need to get a license. Why? Obvious reason, a car is extra expense. Very often you hear people equating car with convenience, not often with expense, right? Let me explain. 

A bus/train ride in LA costs me $1.50. Unlike India, public transportation here works on a flat rate basis. I can board the bus at the first stop and get off at the last stop, or get off at the very next stop all for the same price. On the contrary, getting a car is expensive, not to mention the hassle of "finding" a decent car. Gas is expensive, and most of all, insurance is expensive. Now that I've harped enough about expenses, let me talk about the pros of public transportation. 

Rewind back to the first paragraph. That was written in a bus two years ago, on the note app that iphone has. Now, can you do imagine doing something like that while driving? Disastrous, right? Public transportation allows you to let your mind wander. As a writer, I like this. I can afford to think up ideas, ruminate on thoughts, meditate. I don't have to worry about the traffic signal, whether someone is going to hit me while I'm trying to make a left turn, or, not look at my phone's note taking app simply because I need to concentrate on the road. 

Public transportation also lets you observe. You meet weird, strange, interesting people on the bus/train. I've had people come up and talk to me. You strike exciting conversations. You talk about culture, about issues, or something as trivial as the weather. It is a shared public space where everybody is equal. There are no watertight distinctions on a bus. You are who you are, and so is everyone else. Imagine, on the contrary, sitting in a car solitary, dreaming that you are the emperor of your own self created universe. Any more ego boost needed, people? There is no time to let your mind aloof (of course unless you are sitting in traffic on the US 101), nobody to observe, no shared experience. Just solitude. 

Today, while taking the bus back from work, I met a disabled guy. He was on crutches and he only had one leg. He was waiting for the bus with me at the bus stop. This above all, public transportation, lets you realize nothing is impossible. It bridges boundaries, connects people from all walks of life. I meet chefs, restaurant workers, servers, plumbers, accountants, professors, doctors, nurses, students, homeless people, all under one roof. We travel together for that brief moment, in complete anonymity, as one whole being. This experience liberates oneself, in a way driving to work in your own car cannot. I love public transportation, not just in LA, in any other foreign country that I travel to. You can feel the soul and pulse of the city in its public transportation, not in its millions of solitary drivers. 

on discipline

“The hills are alive with the sound of music...”

The Hollywood Bowl, situated in the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles is truly iconic. Being the largest amphitheater in the United States with a seating capacity of 18,000, the Bowl has witnessed many stellar performances ever since its inception in 1922. The area around the Bowl hosts picnic spots where music enthusiasts can bring wine and food and dine and make merry. I love going to the Bowl for a variety of reasons but today I am going to focus on discipline.

In India we have a screwed up sense of discipline. It’s fashionable to be late. If you walk in to an appointment half an hour later, you are considered to be an important person. In America, you can’t afford to be late. It might cost you a job, security, and most of all, credibility.

I am always amazed at the discipline exhibited at the Bowl. The outdoor summer concerts begin at 8 p.m and you can fix your watch on the basis of this because rest assured they would begin exactly at 8. The people are seated in their designated seats. At the last classical concert I went to, there were two rows of seats empty before me. In India, people would scamper up from the seats behind and move forward. Here no one does that. People sat huddled together in their seats, without an inch of space to move or croon their neck but this did not cause them to move ahead.

Every concert begins with the US national anthem. You will witness 18,000 people rising on their feet with great patriotism looking ahead eagerly at the American flag. I remember, in India, we had to be told “please stand up for the national anthem” before you got at least 50% of the crowd to stand up. The rest 50% just didn’t care.

The Bowl concerts are great fun because they let you bring in drinks and food. Unlike in India, however, people hardly litter or cause disturbance to their neighbors while eating. People don’t talk; their phones are silenced or switched off. People in big groups are mindful of the neighbors. When the concert begins, there is silence that prevails.

The kids need a special mention. Here, I’ve seen 4-5 year olds attentively listening to Dudamel conduct Tchaikovsky, without complaining or being bored. The West inculcates in children an aptitude for art, music, and the real good things in life. My mother used to attend a lot of Carnatic music concerts while I was growing up. I remember the tantrums I threw to escape being pulled along for a concert!

All this suggests a great sense of discipline among the Bowl goers. People stand in queues, they are mindful of other people, they respect each other and they are all here for a collective cause- to listen to some great music. Discipline need not always be seen as conformity, obeying the rules. In the case of the Bowl, discipline can be seen as respect for the higher form of music, the music being the end all of everything, even greater than the musician itself. Respect the music because that’s what you are truly there for.

Summer in California

Every summer, I hibernate. It's a ritual I religiously follow, especially after I moved to Los Angeles, a way of putting down the weight of all that goes by in Fall and Spring. Summer offers me two wonderful months of just being with myself. It provides a way to reenergize, restore calmness, and re-find myself. This summer was not much different. I hibernated and ruminated. Mulling over a couple of things while making a meal or two can be exhilaratingly liberating. It's a liberty I don't often find in my otherwise busy PhD routine. During summer, there is no real need to socialize. This frees up my mind to wander sporadically, which is otherwise cluttered with conversations and useless, troublesome worries.

Summer is also the perfect time to enjoy some good Californian and Italian wine. This summer is dedicated to Bella Sera. She is a beauty! The Bella Sera Pinot Grigio floats down your throat with ease. The grapes come from the Veneto region of Northeast Italy. The wine is crisp and refreshing with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe apple and pear. So flavorful and pairs well with pastas, fresh vegetables, and chicken. Moreover, I never thought there was something called budget wine, till I met Bella. It’s definitely the best under $10 wine you can pick!

Traveling is an essential part of summer, especially the Californian summer! This summer I did a road trip with a couple of friends. We decided to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco with pit stops in Solvang, Carmel, and Monterey.

Solvang is a quaint Danish town in Santa Barbara county. The drive to Solvang is beautiful on a perfect summer day. The white cumulous nimbus clouds hang over the brownish green dunes and hills. Cows graze along the fields and the bright sun looks over the horizon shining in all its glory. This is where you want to lose yourself. As a dear friend of mine would say, go lie down on the green fields, read a book, and take a nap under the vastness of the universe. To commune with nature as the Pantheists so delightfully wrote about in their Romantic verses is bliss. In todays busy world not many of us are lucky enough to take time off for such a rediscovery.

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After reenergizing ourselves with some pancakes and sleep, we left for the longest leg of our journey- from Solvang to Carmel through San Louis Obispo country and Big Sur. The beauty of the Pacific cannot be described in words. The California 1 a.k.a the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is one of the most scenic routes to travel upon. For countless miles, you drive along the PCH overlooking the majestic Pacific. She lies in all her azure elegance. Yet another way of ruminating and rediscovering myself.

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After hours of driving, we finally reached Big Sur. The 90 miles of Central California coastline known as Big Sur, midway between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, extending inland to the abruptly rising Santa Lucia Mountains, has inspired writings by Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, photographs by Ansel Adams and music from sources as varied as John Adams and the Beach Boys. The magnificence of this place moves you. We got caught in a traffic jam induced by an accident and therefore had all the time to soak in the true brilliance. When we finally reached Carmel, it was evening.

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Carmel is a small beach town in Central California. We hogged on some Mediterranean food and then drove to our destination for the night, Pacific Grove. The next day morning, we got ourselves some bikes and we biked along the PCH- from Pacific Grove to Asilomar state beach. The weather was exquisite. To bike along the water and truly take in the fresh air was truly breathtaking.

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The road trip ended with our final leg to San Francisco where the highlight was kite flying! On our way back, all of us though tired felt a sense of rediscovery. To truly feel alive, you need to go out and breathe the air, feel one with nature.

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Summer has almost come to an end, but I’m now geared up for the next school season. Fall and Spring will feel much lighter now that the batteries have been recharged. Though of course,  I can’t help wait for the next summer already ;)

The drive

The warmth of the air rubbing against their pain-stricken faces did not stop them from speeding down the freeway carefree, like furtive lovers away to a hideout. She looked at him longingly. Age did not show on his face, yet there was something about him so distant as if he had lived 200 years and he continued to tell the tradition. He was a careful driver, forever cautious at the wheel. She could see the strained muscles at the nape of his neck, the tight clench of his fists at the steering wheel. She paused for a moment before she turned to gaze out of the window. There are moments and when they are lost you wait for them to come back much alike waiting for cherry blossoms to bloom. Cranberries played at the backdrop, it was one of the CDs they kept listening to. They hummed along. It would take them another hour to reach their destination. In that one hour they would travel time, travel the boundaries mediated by time and space, go beyond words, traverse finite feelings and myriad beings. There would be moments when he would become her and she would become him and both of them become no more.