Panorama Trail

And here I sit in the sun on a wide, smooth, sloping rock.

 

Before me flows the river. Clear and cold, home to fish and smooth stones, inviting sweaty hikers to dip their dusty feet and welcoming me for a quick dip to cool down and clean off.

 

Straight ahead is the forest. Thick and full, green with moss and leaves, trees, grey and brown and red, others dead and bleached paled by the sun.

 

To the left a scramble of stones, piled upon each other and scattered, slowing the water into pools and trickles, the sound is soothing enough for me to nap in the sun for a few minutes.

 

Squirrels creep about in search of food, tiny lizards and frogs enjoy the rocks near the waters edge. Blue feathered birds bounce from tree to tree.

 

To the right beyond the sandy shallows is a small foot bridge, another of the thousands of photo opportunities, It acts as the final gateway for this tranquil water before gravity leads to a violent drop, Nevada Falls. Even in September, during this historic 2014 drought, the water flows.

 

Beyond the falls lay the Yosemite Valley. Hard to absorb in scale and mass, its walls and trees and river and cliffs simply astound those lucky enough to visit.

 

Behind me Liberty Cap blocks my view of Half Dome, other worldly these granite monuments stand, grey and green against the deep blue above.

 

This place, this rock, this experience is special. I hope to return to this rock again one day. And to continue to be astonished by the natural world and it’s beauty.
Alex and Andrea are awake now, so it’s time to hike down the winding granite steps to the shuttle then the car then to campsite 144 for cold beer, a refreshing swim in the river, hearty dinner and wine by the fire.

Book Review – Life Is A Wheel

“What is distance, after all, but experience?”

Life is a Wheel

I recently finished “Life Is A Wheel” by Bruce Weber. It’s is a fairly simple book about a man’s journey as he rides his (very expensive) bike across the United States.

The book chronicles the trip from Oregon to New York with intermittent advice about distance cycling, personal anecdotes, logistical notes and observations of middle America.

I found it to be quick and easy to read, in fact at some points it was hard to put down, however I also found it to be devoid of any deep, compelling sense of adventure or drama. (An exception to this was his recollection of a solo ride in Vietnam.)

Reading about Bruce, his life and his motivations, it’s easy to root for the the author and I wish him well. To me this book seems more like a series of travel blog posts than a compelling adventure story. In that sense, some portions felt like filler. I think “Life Is A Wheel” would most appeal to people in similar situations to Weber. People who are ready to take stock in their own life accomplishments, people unsure about aging and what the future holds.

I do appreciate the honest and open writing style of the book, and at some points it seemed like Weber was using the writing process (and bike riding) as therapy.

“Even when you’re far from home, exhausted, coughing, missing your girlfriend, and grinding uphill in the rain, where you are is where you belong. Never wish away time”

My biggest take away from this book is that it inspires me to ride my bike and to write, which is a good thing.

Elliott Smith Top 4

The cover of 'Figure 8'
The cover of ‘Figure 8’

Many consider Los Angeles, California the Entertainment Capital of the World. It is where people go to chase their dreams, to make it big.

Some stay, some go, some just pass through. Few leave their mark, many more don’t.

On Sunset Boulevard I recently visited a place where one musician has left his mark, even if he doesn’t know it.

You might not know the name Elliott Smith, but you’ve probably heard his music. He was heavily featured on the Soundtrack for “Good Will Hunting”. His style incorporates whisper-soft singing over simple acoustic guitar with lyrics that can be mellow yet haunting. Much of his music is both simple and complex, the sort of music that’s best enjoyed at night and while not distracted. 

The cover of his album Figure 8 is a black and white photo of Elliot standing in front of a mural of curved red and black lines. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, probably one of dozens of other promotional photos taken that day at various places near the music studio.

But like the cover of the Beatles’ Abby Road or Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’, this simple image and place has now become eternally linked with this artist and his music.

The wall is located on the South Side of Sunset Boulevard next to a McDonalds and a Mexican Taqueria, and recently I went to check it out.

2013-11-15 12.46.41The red and black swirling lines were accompanied by a combination of graffiti tags, tributes and lyrics. The wall has been painted, and repainted many times since the albums release in 2000 and become an ever-evolving place of expression for fans and as well as graffiti “artists”.

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Inspired by visiting the wall, I figured I’d put together a list of 4 of his songs I’ve enjoyed most over the years.

Junk Bond Trader – Figure 8

Unlike many of his other songs, this one is best listened to at a high volume.  In this relatively uptempo song the piano and bells drive a strong momentum. The song’s energy peaks towards the end, before seemingly being cut short. The energy is punctuated with this line at about the 2:50 mark:

Now I’m a policeman directing traffic, keeping everything moving, everything static.
I’m the hitchhiker you recognize passing, on your way to some everlasting…

St. Ides Heaven – Self Titled

This song paints a vision of world through a lens smeared by the effects of drugs and alcohol. It’s performed with the honesty of a man dealing with addiction and regret, and his voice and guitar tell the story of a guy walking alone late at night with cloudy vision. Through it you see a blurry vision of the moon above the artist and a darkness within.

High on amphetamines
The moon is a light bulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone

Pitseleh – X/O

A prototypical example of the artist’s style, Pitseleh combines simple acoustic guitar, heartfelt lyrics, and whispering melodic singing. It’s the kind of song that easily melts into his other works, yet can stand up on its own.

The first time I saw you, I knew it would never last
I’m not half what I wish I was

Say Yes – X/O

Say Yes is the kind of song that sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape sitting cross legged on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a suburban home. The short song is full of lyrics which tap into the universal desire to be desired, doubtful optimism, and heartbreak. It’s stripped-down and clean, and the message boils down to a simple yet profound request – “say yes.”

I could be, another fool, or an exception to the rule
you tell me, the morning after.

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Food of the World in Los Angeles: Tokushima, Japan

 

Ramen is often thought of as a quick, cheep food eaten by college students on a budget. But in Japan, where Ramen originated, it’s a complex and delicious dish served in an almost infinite amount of styles.

For a quick lunch I stopped into a Ramen Shop in Little Tokyo, near downtown LA. It’s a great neighborhood to visit for people watching, shopping, and of course eating. There are bakeries and grocery stores, as well as (non-touristy) gift shops and public spaces.

Little Tokyo in Los Angeles

I had a bowl of Tokushima Ramen at Men Oh, a small clean restaurant in a nondescript shopping center. Much like I noticed while traveling in Japan a few years ago, the exterior of the restaurant was dark, plain, and almost uninviting, however the interior was bright and welcoming.

Men Oh Front

Service was fast, and the noodles were warm, hearty and delicious. It wasn’t too salty, and you could customize the style with extras like scallions, chili pepper flakes and more.

Men Oh Interior Men Oh Menu Men Oh Ramen

 

I’m sure there are many other styles of Ramen to find in LA, but Men Oh probably had the best bowl I’ve eaten so far.

For more Food of the World in Los Angeles, check out my posts on LA restaurants serving the food of South AfricaCanada, ShanghaiVietnamEthiopiaSingaporeAustralia and Guangdong.