Archive | July 2014

A Visit to the Getty

This past weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. Be warned: this is a long post with lots of photos!

I devoted most of Saturday to visiting the Getty Center. Allow me to tell you how we got there. The Getty’s website will tell the intrepid public transportation user to take the 761, which will drop you off right in front of the entrance. However, I didn’t really know where to catch the 761 (nowhere particularly close to where we live), and it would cost money (though the fare is admittedly cheap). On the other hand, we have passes for the Big Blue Bus, and I saw that we could catch the 14 practically on our doorstep and ride it to the end of the line, which seemed to be just a few blocks south of the Getty entrance. So we rode the 14 to the end of the line and began walking north on Sepulveda Blvd, only to discover that the sidewalk ended almost immediately. Beyond, Sepulveda looked more like a highway, running alongside the 405. There was no sidewalk on the other side of the street, only the dirt embankment of the freeway.

Silly me for assuming Los Angeles would be designed for pedestrians. But no matter! If we went one block eastward and struck out north, we might find a way back to Sepulveda at a point where it had a sidewalk again. The streets weren’t quite grid-like, but as long as we kept track of the cardinal directions, we would be fine. We found ourselves wandering through the quiet and very exclusive-feeling streets of Bel Air. We hopefully followed a long, meandering lane whose through-ness was ambiguously labeled and reached a dead end. Hopes dashed, we doubled back to the last outlet onto Sepulveda, at which point it became clear we would have to walk on the sidewalk-less curb or retrace our steps by quite a ways to find a 761 bus stop. We chose to go forward.

Happily, after a short stretch of Sepulveda in which we had to push past shrubs, an asphalt path, narrower than a sidewalk, appeared, and we were able to walk on that until the sidewalk returned. The moral of the story: you can’t really take the 14 to the Getty.

Once through the entrance, we rode the tram up the hill to the Getty Center itself. The Getty has gardens, multiple pavilions of art, and panoramic views of Los Angeles, and apparently the architecture of the place itself is impressive, though I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to it. I’d heard the Getty had illuminated manuscripts and some famous Impressionist paintings, so seeing those was my priority.

The illuminated manuscripts currently on display are all part of an exhibit called Chivalry in the Middle Ages. This is a page from Tristan and Isolde (or Yseult, or whatever your favorite spelling is). The manuscript is in French, and I was surprised how much I could read and understand of this and of the copy of the Roman de la Rose. The chief impediment to understanding was the script, not the actual words.

Tristan and Isolde

I liked this plate (which might be…Italian?) for the ship in the center. It was only when looking at the photo at home that I noticed the musical instruments around the edge.


This is apparently Orpheus, even though I always picture him with a lyre. On the left side of this vase is a depiction of the prophet Elisha, who, in an episode I do not recall from 2 Kings, had some sort of mystical experience provoked by the sound of a stringed instrument.


You can probably guess why I took a picture of this portrait.

Pink Lady

If you squint at her music, it almost looks like a shape note tunebook!

Music Book

We left this pavilion and took in the view from the hilltop. We could see mountains in the distance, but also the smudgy air settled over the city. We spotted UCLA, which includes the reddish Romanesque buildings in the middleground of this photo.

Getty View

Next, we looked at some more recent art. These goats in J. M. W. Turner’s Modern Rome–Campo Vaccino are so cute!


And Monet’s Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning is really lovely.


The Getty also has Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, which was beautiful.

From the museum, we moved on to the main garden, which is basically a bowl with a fountain/azalea maze at its center. It was pretty enough, and there were some interesting plants, including a huge, tree-like Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia), a pomegranate tree (California is so exotic!), and a vine with unusually-shaped purple flowers that made me think “sweet pea,” though I could be totally wrong. Weirdest of all was the black petunia below; I overheard a woman talking about it and had to go find it.

Black Petunia

By the end of the day, we were exhausted, but our trip to the Getty was well worth it. Oh, and on our way home, we caught the 761 directly in front of the entrance.

Other things I did this weekend:

  • My roommate went on a field trip to West Hollywood with her Russian class and brought back pastries, candy, and a bottle of kvas. We split the pastries, which included a poppy seed roll and a croissant filled with cheese (almost like cream cheese frosting) and raisins.
Russian Candy

What is with Russian candy and squirrels?

  • I finally got myself to the local English country dance group’s Sunday afternoon dance. It was fun, and there was a decent amount of overlap with the contra and shape note communities. It was also open band day, so there were twenty or so musicians playing an eclectic assortment of instruments. Have you ever done English country dance to tuba?

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately, at a rate of almost a book a day, which is probably not helping my summer research any, or the book I’m supposed to be writing. Then again, it is summer, and it’s not Tolstoy novels I’m gulping down daily.

Yesterday, I finished Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, which is most definitely a snow book. It’s also a modern fairy tale, a retelling of “The Snow Queen,” and it’s deeply rooted in Minneapolis, which I loved, because sometimes it’s nice to encounter a setting in a book that you don’t need to imagine because it already exists in your memory. From Linden Hills to the chain of lakes, it was all familiar and real to me. Even Joe Mauer, though goodness knows I don’t care about the Twins.

Even though the central story echoes “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs weaves in other fairy tales, especially those of Hans Christian Andersen, like “The Red Shoes” and “The Little Match Girl” (hmm, I suppose it’s not a coincidence the heroine’s name is Hazel Anderson?). Growing up, I had a Hans Christian Andersen collection, a big, old book with a worn spine and a drab cover and lovely illustrations. I think “The Snow Queen” was the very first story in that collection, and it was my favorite. I particularly remember the robber girl and her knife. There is no robber girl in Breadcrumbs.

In addition to the intermingling of fairy tales, there are references to the literary magical worlds that come alive for Hazel and her friend Jack. Hogwarts, Narnia, the planets in A Wrinkle in Time. I liked the strong conflation of the Snow Queen with the White Witch Jadis from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and was amused when, after Jack climbs into her white sleigh, she asks, “Would you like some Turkish delight?” and he says, “Huh?” and she says, “Just a little joke.” (But surely he got it, after a moment?)

The most thrilling moment, though, was when Hazel is reading a library book on the school bus:

“The girl in it was reading A Wrinkle in Time. She was best friends with a boy who lived in the apartment below. And then one day the boy stopped talking to her. Hazel closed the book.”

I thought, Aha! I know that book. It had to be When You Reach Me, the 2010 winner of the Newbery Medal. It was one of those gleeful Lemony Snicket I-caught-your-reference moments, but also, I was blown away by When You Reach Me, and there is a strong affinity between the two books.

I read another book set in Minnesota recently: Sex & Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian, who, like Anne Ursu, is a Minnesota author. Sex & Violence takes place on a fictional lake in a fictional county of Minnesota, so I didn’t recognize landmarks the same way I did in Breadcrumbs, but it still captured that atmosphere of being “up at the lake”. (Well, my family doesn’t have a lake cabin, so I don’t have tons of experience being “up at the lake,” but it felt right nonetheless.) Sex & Violence was a 2014 finalist for the Morris Award, which honors a debut YA novel. I’d heard lots of good things about it, so I plucked it right off the shelf when I spotted it at the library. It absolutely lived up to its reputation. And all I can say is I wish I knew of an island on a lake with an old mansion on it whose library and other rooms I could explore. That sounds fantastic.

I also read another 2014 Morris Award finalist, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. It’s set in San Diego in 1918, against the backdrop of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. The strong-willed, scientifically-minded heroine arrives in southern California to stay with her aunt after her father is arrested for helping men avoid the draft in Portland, Oregon. There she finds herself hounded by a spiritualist photographer, the brutish brother of the boy she loves, who is in the trenches in France. I really enjoyed the historical details, in part because the setting of Sparkers, while fantastic, is modeled on this era, in terms of the level of technology. The book also illuminated for me the full impact of the flu and the level of panic it created. I knew the pandemic happened, but I didn’t realize that practically everyone was going around wearing gauze masks, that schools were closed, that people ate onions and carried around garlic in hopes of warding off the flu, that wagons of dead bodies rolled through the streets, and that people hung color-coded flags representing the dead from their houses. At least as depicted in the book, it was like the Black Death transported into the 20th century. This sense of impending doom brought on by a plague also made me reflect on Sparkers.

Even beyond the richly-rendered setting and the omnipresent fear of the flu, In the Shadow of Blackbirds impressed me. It was genuinely surprising: many of the characters had a complexity and ambiguity that made it impossible for me to predict the roles they would play in advance, and I never saw the identity of the ultimate villain coming. Maybe another reader would’ve guessed, but I didn’t. Also, the climax was truly horrifying and terrifying. Finally—and this might be spoilery so if you care about that sort of thing, maybe don’t read on—I have this rule that has generally served me well that says you never believe a character is really dead unless you see the body. The protagonist may think they’re dead, but if you don’t see the body, they’re probably not and will likely return before the end of the book. So, in this book, someone died, and there was even a funeral, but we never actually saw the body, so I was pretty convinced for a long time that he would turn up, safe and sound, by the end. Maybe the fact that he was appearing as a ghost to the protagonist should have tipped me off to his actually being dead, but I held out hope (and confidence in my rule) for quite a while. But no. He was really dead. He didn’t come back. And thus Cat Winters subverted my expectations, and I was pleased. Because I always feel vindicated when a purportedly dead character resurfaces, but it’s also a little disappointing to be able to see it coming from the beginning, so I appreciated being proven wrong.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. Next up is Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy.

In Pursuit of Omusubi

Some months ago, I came across an article online about an omusubi shop in Santa Monica. It sounded so enticing I decided I had to go someday. Now that it’s summer, it’s the perfect time to go on foodie adventures, so last weekend my roommate and I went to check it out. The place is called Sunny Blue, and it mainly serves omusubi. Omusubi is apparently another word for onigiri, a word I was at least somewhat familiar with (though I think I’d only eaten onigiri once in my life before this past weekend). Omusubi/onigiri are rice balls (though in my experience they tend to be sort of triangular) with a savory filling, wrapped in a sheet of nori (seaweed).

Sunny Blue is on Main Street in Santa Monica. It’s tiny. You order at the counter from the cashier, while to her right three other staff members are busily making the omusubi before your eyes. There are maybe four or five stools to sit on, so it’s not really a sit-down place. They have many different omusubi to choose from, with meat, seafood, and vegetarian fillings. There are also some other side dishes to order, like edamame or Japanese potato salad. And there’s frozen yogurt! I ordered a miso beef and a Sunny Blue (chicken) curry, as well as chocolate frozen yogurt.


Omusubi: Miso Beef (left) and Sunny Blue Curry (right)

We carried our lunch to the weirdly sculpted and manicured Ocean View Park, where we had a view of a vast parking lot, the beach, and, yes, the ocean. The omusubi were so tasty! Perfect, slightly sticky rice, delicious fillings, and sprinklings of I don’t even know what savory garnishes… I would go back to Sunny Blue in a heartbeat.

After eating, we walked down to the beach, and I went wading for a bit. Then we wandered up Main Street, which has quite a respectable number of ice cream shops. We came upon the California Heritage Museum, which is located in this very handsome historic house. That giant bust on the left is of Senator John Percival Jones, one of the founders of Santa Monica.

IMG_1638Traffic in Santa Monica on the weekends, especially near the ocean, is pretty terrible, and we wound up waiting half an hour for our bus home. While we languished at the bus stop, I took a picture of this palm tree growing through a hedge. Despite somewhat unreliable public transportation, the omusubi made our expedition completely worth it.


Independence Day

First, a quick reminder that you can still enter to win an advance copy of Sparkers. I’m closing entries tonight at midnight, Pacific time.

Last Friday was the first 4th of July I celebrated away from home in a long time. At home, my Independence Day traditions (parade in the morning, multi-family picnic at midday, fireworks in the evening) are so set in stone that each year the photos I take are practically identical to the ones I took the previous year. I wanted to observe as many of my traditions as I could in California this year, as well as introduce my Singaporean roommate to the trappings of the American national holiday. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to any fireworks, but otherwise I think we did pretty well.

First thing in the morning, we headed out to watch the Santa Monica 4th of July parade, which was inexplicably Star Wars-themed. There were antique cars and local politicians and the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra playing–what else?–the music from Star Wars on a flatbed truck. But it didn’t measure up to my hometown parade; there were no bagpipers or Morris dancers.

After the parade, we went grocery shopping because we finally had a functional fridge in our new apartment. It would’ve been very sad if that fridge hadn’t arrived in time for the 4th because then I wouldn’t have been able to make most of my planned dishes. Luckily, it did, but it meant we did all our shopping on the holiday itself. As it turns out, the 4th of July isn’t the best day to try to buy hotdog buns.

The crowning culinary achievement of the day was this flag cake. It was surprisingly tasty. I made a simple yellow cake using a recipe I’d never tried before, and I didn’t have particularly high expectations since I’m not much of a sheet cake person, but it was quite a good cake.

Flag Cake

American flag cake

Before eating cake, we had a dinner of bratwurst, potato salad, watermelon, and corn on the cob. Since it was very hot in our apartment, we picnicked on our little balcony overlooking the alley. We laid out sheets of the Opelika Observer, a local Alabama newspaper the previous tenant subscribed to, to sit on. If you look closely at the text under the bratwurst in the picture below, you can read a rather amusing paragraph from someone’s column: “Lard. I grew up with lard. My grandmother bought in in buckets and fried everything fryable in it–from chicken to peach pies.” Well, then.

4th of July Meal

4th of July dinner

Sparkers ARC Giveaway #2

Sparkers comes out exactly three months from this past Monday, and in anticipation I’m giving away another ARC!


The little fig tree is not included.

To enter to win this advance copy, please leave a comment on this post mentioning one of the following:

1) A favorite childhood book of yours; or

2) A book you think is underrated; or

3) A book you’re excited to read but haven’t gotten around to yet

I’ll accept entries until next Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 at midnight Pacific Daylight Time. Once the entry period has ended, I’ll randomly choose one winner. If you win, I’ll contact you by e-mail to arrange for delivery. The giveaway is open internationally; if I can mail you the ARC, you can enter.

And now, I’ll answer all three of my own questions and even cheat by naming more than one book for each! A favorite childhood series would be The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I was half-indignant when I found out they were Christian allegory (according to some) since I’d taken them completely at face value. I also had no idea what Turkish delight was; I think I pictured it as something like caramels. Also, I just finished reading The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman, which are billed as adult Harry Potter. However, they feature a fantasy world from a children’s book series that turns out to be real, and the children’s books and the world itself are unmistakably inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia and Narnia, respectively. Where Narnia has Aslan, Fillory has a pair of rams.

For underrated books, I pick Murkmere and its companion Ambergate by British author Patricia Elliott. I have never seen these books mentioned anywhere, nor have I met anyone else who’s read them, but I found them at the library a year or two ago and checked them out. They’re utterly unique and wonderful. Very atmospheric. They’re set in, as far as I can tell, an alternate Cromwellian England, and there are strange touches of magic.

Finally, there are two middle grade books I’m dying to read. The Glass Sentence, by S. E. Grove, is set in an alternate world in which the Great Disruption of 1799 has thrown different regions of the world into different times. A mapmaker’s niece sets out to find her kidnapped uncle amidst political turmoil. Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell, features a girl who was found as a baby in a cello case floating in the English Channel after a shipwreck, so really, how could I not read it? Coincidentally, the protagonist of The Glass Sentence is named Sophia and that of Rooftoppers Sophie.

Please enter the giveaway, and feel free to spread the word! Good luck to all!