Dancing Flowers in Carlsbad

There is a slight breeze in the air as my aunt, her family, and me step inside the grounds of the Carlsbad Flower Fields. I fumble with my DSLR for a few minutes while we look at a small spread of flowers. Why am I holding back? Guess I’m rusty. I remember the promise I intend to keep: practice and publish your photography! We proceed to climb onto an orange wagon for a loop around the blooms. Out of the 50 acres of flowers, 30 are in bloom today. The tour satisfies me, but not nearly enough. With the rumbling of the tractor, my shots are blurry and the composition is mediocre.

The first stop we make I beeline for the exit and jump down onto the dusty dirt road. Pictures don’t take themselves, I think and follow my aunt’s sister to the rows of orange, pink, white, red, yellow and purple dahlias. I happen to really like dahlias, and these have fragile, but small vibrant petals. The last dahlia I touched at Orange County Wholesale Flowers was a purple and robust, quarter-inch thick specimen. I reminisce on the weeks I spent last quarter reporting a longform story at the Santa Ana warehouse. Who knew that I would end up with a growing respect and admiration for flowers and the people who help make them beautiful?

I’m snapped out of my reverie as my aunt pulls up in a wagon once she’s done with the loop of the fields. We stroll down the long row of flowers together and look for photo ops. I’m lucky because she loves taking photos on outings and has such a fun personality. I insist that we pose for photos along the walk, and that being silly is a good thing. Not only is my aunt a fantastic conversationalist, but her perspective on life encourages me to be a kinder, more thoughtful person.

We end up joining the rest of the group and wander the rose garden, sweet pea maze, poinsettia greenhouse and a greenhouse full of Cymbidium orchids, which are very popular in California. They are huge plants, but I wanted to see other varieties of orchids too. Maybe someday when I return they will have more plants.

As we head back to Orange County, my mind replays the moments of quiet introspection back at the fields. I think flowers are my new addiction.

Beauty Lies Among the Ruins

Originally published here
Located in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California, the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano are a gem to behold. The 7th of 21 California missions, it was one of the best known Alta California missions. Father Junipero Serra founded the mission on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1776. Father Serra’s Chapel, built in 1778, is the oldest building in California still in use. Inside the peaceful room, people celebrate mass every morning at 7.

A tiny flower sits on the lip of the fountain in the Sacred Garden, a splash of color in the shadows. Trickling water is the only sound you can hear in the late afternoon.

The Great Stone Church is one of the major draws for sightseers. Construction began in 1797 and took nine years to complete. On December 8, 1812 an earthquake caused the walls and bell tower to collapse during mass. It is fascinating to imagine the grandness of the original structure, as it nearly swallows you up the closer you get to the high ceiling.

Adjacent to the old church sits the Bell Wall. Four bells, two small and two large, tolled at mealtimes and at the passing of San Juan Capistrano residents. The large bells are recast from the bells that were lost during the 1812 earthquake while the small bells date to 1804.

Inside the Central Courtyard, the Mission’s men and women would occupy their time with activities like spinning, weaving and leather crafts. Today it is a resting place for visitors to enjoy the flora and architecture, as well as the koi in the pond.

Esther Williams is a California Impressionist artist who has been painting the Mission for eight years. For 40 years she has been perfecting her craft, and finds the Mission an attractive subject because of its spirituality, historical value, and beauty.

Williams likes to paint the koi at the Moore style Fountain of the Four Evangelists, though she finds it a challenge to capture the light on the canvas with evening approaching. She dips her brush into the white paint to add highlights to the fish and the ripples in her painting before leaving.

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Parisian Getaway

As I sit here listening to jazz, I’m content to reminisce on my two-day trip to Paris this week. It all went by so fast, but my friend Sangeeta and I made the most of it. Our goal was to see the main sights, try a few pastries and get an introduction to one of the most famous cities in the world all within our budget. Did we succeed? I think we did.

While Paris is a lively hub and has beautiful architecture, to me it is too large to love it all. The Louvre and the occasional street corner are special, but in general there are too many tourists and shopping districts. Also, it seems like most of the large buildings (hotels and apartments) try to outdo each other and don’t succeed, as they look similar and thus lose their magnificence. Since spring has just begun, the flowers are sparse and the trees are still dead. If I came later in the year, my impression of Paris would probably be different.

The Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie, Eiffel Tower and the many delicious desserts were my favorites. Each site has a unique feel to it: the Louvre is stately and very well composed; I loved the endless rooms and its warmth, Monet’s waterlilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie mesmerized me and I noted the individual, muted brushstrokes and how they contributed to the vitality of the entire composition. The Eiffel Tower was grand and close to what I expected–the walk from the Metro to the tower itself was suspenseful, because it took five minutes to get there and it seemed like we should have been there already. Though we caught glimpses of the tower during the day, seeing it at night and going all the way to the top was a treat. It was worth the wait. Finally, the food: I tried the chocolate-filled beignet, glacé and the Nutella and banana-filled crepe. If I could study gastronomy in Paris, I would!

As for the French, I was continually surprised by their hospitality and kindness. We talked to two nice people who helped us navigate the Metro and around the Palais du Luxembourg. Out of the four restaurants we went to, only one owner was truly nasty to us. (We sat down for a moment to consult our Metro map and the owner kicked us out of our outdoor table when all the other tables were empty).  Overall, though, I found myself saying more “mercis” and “bonjours” than I thought I would.

The next time I visit Paris I plan to sit in one of the many gardens for a few hours and enjoy the sun. I will spend time walking around St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, two places I’d want to see more in-depth. I’d want to do day trips out of Paris, and have a picnic (maybe do a hike?) I also wouldn’t mind buying inexpensive gifts for friends, drinking chocolate, eating pain au chocolat and a huge baguette, and window shopping for fancy clothes and shoes. I’d like to make the effort to learn a few French phrases and pronounce the words right, too. Someday I’ll make it happen.

I won't forget the smell of those crepes.
I won’t forget the smell of those crepes.
The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience. — in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower. The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience.
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid — in Paris, France.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries — in Paris, France.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Louvre
The Louvre
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

I’ll leave you with some other photos of the trip. There are so many things to see in Paris, and if you go I recommend staying for more than two days. Take time to enjoy the city and indulge your senses.

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An Evening With St. Vincent

Silver hair. Black boots. Miniskirt. Mile-long legs. She is fashion herself. Elegant. Graceful. Shoulders back, head up, she faces the Dubliners in front of her. She is ready to do more than an album or an MP3 can do. Create, visualize, dance, deliver a performance that sways the audience into the inner workings of her mind. This is St. Vincent.

From the moment St. Vincent strides onto the Olympia Theatre stage, the energy changes in the room. It is February 21st, Saturday night. The audience is a combination of younger and middle-aged people sipping their beer. They fall under her spell. They’ve waited so long to go to one of her shows, this feels a bit unreal.

“I bet I have something in common with you,” she confides. “When you were young you built a fort out of tin foil…it was perfect. When you were a child you walked down the street and wondered what people looked like as babies.” And one of her best lines goes like this: “When you walk down the street without your contacts or glasses on, sometimes you superimpose people’s heads with the heads of Irish rock stars!” She plays the role of artist and comedian, with unhurried, articulate speech.

Annie Clark, the face of St. Vincent, incorporates a series of gestures and dance moves while she plays. It looks so effortless as she moves around the stage and on her giant pink staircase in her heeled boots. She packs in several guitar solos  with her slender hands as well, which proves she is not as dainty as she looks. At one point she positively slithers from the top step of the staircase down to the floor, the strobe lights flashing wildly.

The repertoire covers her new self-titled album, which will be out February 24th in the UK and in the US a day later, along with the old hits from Strange Mercy (2011) and Actor (2009). Her audience loves ‘Cheerleader’, ‘Surgeon’, ‘Birth In Reverse’ and ‘Prince Johnny’. She addresses love, sex, conformity and belonging in her music.

Right when it seems that the show is over at 10:33, St. Vincent comes back onstage after the crowd gives her a standing ovation; she proceeds to play three more songs to wrap up the night.

By the time the audience trickles out of the theatre, they learn something else about her: St. Vincent is fearless, and this girl can rock.

*TOM WOLFE, a literary journalist, inspired the style of this review. I’ve waited to try my hand at something like this. One article I love of his is “Girl of the Year”. As always, thanks for reading.

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Slow Skies, based in Dublin, opens for St. Vincent
The rocker in performance mode
The rocker in performance mode