Magic In The Air

There are days when I wake up and my first thought is: the beach. And that pretty much settles it. Sometime before dark, I’ll be walking the sand. Feet in the water. Looking for rocks. The rhythmic crash of the surf in my ears. Warm sun and a cool breeze on my face. The only decision to be made is which beach to hit.

Well, it’s all just one endless beach, really. From border to border: Mexico to Canada. But each stretch of LA sand has its own vibe, creatures and scenery. There’s Dockweiler State Beach which spreads out under the end of the LAX runways (here’s an earlier post on Dockweiler)… or Venice Beach with its skaters, tourists and muscle boys + girls (Just Add Water)… there’s Santa Monica with its pier and a ribbon of concrete “boardwalk” winding through the sand, past the beach volleyball courts (where that game was invented)… and there’s Malibu, which is fun to do when friends visit: lunch on the seaside deck at the Malibu Beach Inn, and then a stroll along the platinum sands of Carbon Beach. Massive postcode envy.

Yesterday, it was Santa Monica. I was aiming for Will Rogers State Beach (see Essential Ingredients), on the northern end of SaMo – but I was daydreaming and missed the turnoff for that parking area. Continuing on PCH, I pulled in to one of the next lots, at the Annenberg Beach House (–which needs its own future post). As I stepped onto the sand, I saw a sign celebrating the Beach House’s 5th anniversary. Fun was being had. There were colorful flags and banners flapping in the constant sea breeze.


And then, I looked up.



Wow! KITES! But not just any old kites. These were amazingly creative… unique… and huge! They formed an airborne armada, flying in formation above the Beach House, the boardwalk and the beach volleyball courts. I started snapping pictures wildly, but a bit blindly. It was one of those days with bright sunshine behind me, with high wispy clouds overhead, when trying to see the camera screen through my (non-prescription) sunglasses is a constant struggle. So all I’ve got to share here are some not-so-great photos of these truly great kites.

I put more distance between myself and the kites, trying to capture the spectacle of all these ghosts and birds and ribbons and animals in the sky… and eventually I was drawn away, down the beach, by the gravitational pull of the water.

A couple of hours later I made my way back to the Beach House. There was a sudden lull in the onshore breeze, like a power failure. And the kites began losing altitude, especially the bigger ones.


That was the first time I realized that people weren’t flying these kites – each one was tethered to a heavy sand bag on the beach. A giant insect was falling out of the sky right in front of me, so I did what I haven’t done in a very, very long time: I grabbed the kite’s string and pulled on it until it had regained some loft. And let me tell you: a kite’s string is a time machine that takes you straight back to your childhood!

I was doing pretty well with it, too. But then the giant insect got tangled up with a giant something else, and they crashed to the sand. I tried freeing the kites from this indignity, but they were too big for one person to maneuver. I wondered, Who do these kites belong to, and where are they?! The answer to my question appeared in the form of a woman with a great gray scarf tied around her neck, who let me know in the nicest way that while she appreciated my help–she would not mind at all if I stepped away from her kites.

I struck up a conversation with the kite lady, who is Melanie Walker from Colorado. She and her partner-in-kites, George Peters, made many of the flying artworks gracing the skies of Santa Monica yesterday. (I think it was an ‘invitational regatta’ as part of the Beach House’s 5th anniversary celebration.) While we were talking, some kids came up and asked if they could fly some kites. Melanie let them down easy. Honestly, I had completely forgotten the kids-and-kites link. It’s powerful. Anyhoo… turns out that Melanie and George are artists of some renown and partners in Airworks Studio – which creates sculpture, architecture and other public art installations in addition to these spectacular kites. I learned all of this only after I got home and Googled “Melanie Walker”. I borrowed their photo of the kites against the blue sky (above), because I wasn’t able to get a very good shot of ‘the whole enchilada’. (A click on that photo will take you to the Airworks Studio website.)

Here are the snaps I shot of these kites. Melanie told me a few of the names… others I found on the website… and the ones marked with an asterisk I just made up.

KatMan.DotMan.UnknownMan^ Top-to-bottom: Kat Man, Grinning Man* and Dot Man


^ Kat Man


^ Dot Man.
Or, as Melanie referred to him in yesterday’s failing winds, Crash Man.


^ Sky Birds and Bee*


^ Dress Kite – High Fashion
Melanie Walker’s creation and the loveliest kite in the sky.

^ Sea Turtle* and Eel*


^ Sky Birds soaring with High Fashion


^ And here’s Bug Man*, who fell to earth on my watch – but he introduced me to Melanie. To give you an idea of scale, those people on the volleyball court at lower right are not far away. And my photos only hint at the vibrant colors and absolute magic of these kites!


^ Kites flying in formation above these banners in the sand
– part of a colorful, fluttering installation that is aptly called Wind Garden.

What a great afternoon. I left the beach and took the Incline, which gets you from the sea-level PCH up to Santa Monica at the top of the Palisades. As I waited for the light to change at the top, I glanced in my side mirror and was reminded for the millionth time that day what I love about living here.

mirror image

The End (so far)

[082] Essential Ingredients

We are not as complicated as we make ourselves out to be.

The recipe for a successful day has few essential ingredients:

(serves 2)

Sun. Sky. Sand. Sea.

Throw in a siesta.

And finish with a celebratory cocktail.

Repeat as often as necessary possible.



fine line



Eileen expertly demonstrates the beach siesta…



…and the celebratory cocktail.


(She had help.)

Day 082 #100happydays


[081] Just Add Water

Today I watched three refugees from winter begin to thaw. It was beautiful.


Mario, Jim & Eileen on the Venice Beach boardwalk.


Los hermosos… patrolling the sand.


Just as we’ve long suspected:
She walks on water.


Mario & Eileen, deep in reflection.

Jim… footloose and fancy-free.

Sun, sand, water + friends.

Day 081 #100happydays

[053] Hockney’s California

A wet, gray winter’s day in LA is a great time for a mini-survey of David Hockney’s California paintings. The openly queer British artist found his way to Los Angeles in 1964 – part of the cultural Invasion more famously associated with the Beatles – and lived here on and off for thirty years. His houses in Nichols Canyon and Malibu became the settings for some of his best-known works (including above, “Mulholland Drive – The Road to the Studio, 1980”). Hockney’s vibrant colors celebrate the landscapes and lifestyles of Southern California. Enjoy!

Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool, 1964

Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool, 1964

Peter Getting Out Of Nick's Pool, 1966

Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool, 1966

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1971

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1971

Nichols Canyon, 1980

Nichols Canyon, 1980

Seascape, 1989

Seascape, 1989

Small Santa Monica - The Bay From The Mountains, 1990

Small Santa Monica – The Bay From The Mountains, 1990

David Hockney makes me happy. (If my use of these images makes Mr Hockney or his representatives unhappy, I will take them down, unhappily.) Day 053 #100happydays

Update: Here’s a wonderful interview with David Hockney, by Martin Gayford in The Spectator.

And: Here’s the link to Artsy’s Hockney page.

[009] I bought a scarf

It was just last month, early December. I went for a stroll through the neighborhood one evening. Sunset Plaza was all done up in its signature holiday style, with tiny multi-color lights strung along the retail and restaurant facades. Makes for a festive, yet understated, holiday streetscape. (I also love that they tear it all down the day after xmas.)

I stopped into a shop and, though I wasn’t really looking for anything, left with a new scarf. I thought, this’ll get me through the coming LA winter, which can be wet but is never really cold. A lightweight coat and scarf is all you’ll need. For about three weeks.

2014-01-15_12-51-49Or not. The temps have been in the 70s and 80s ever since I bought that damn scarf. You didn’t really think I was writing a #100happydays post about a scarf, did you?

No. I just thought it might be hateful to lead off with the real theme of this post, which is:

Walking the beach… in January… barefoot… makes me happy.

Oh god. I know. But you’ve come this far, you might as well enjoy the ride.

I live 9 miles from the beach. Two blocks down the hill, turn right on Sunset Blvd, and nine lovely, curvy miles later I’m at the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It’s a left to Santa Monica or a right to Malibu. Today, I samo.montana stepsheaded to Santa Monica. I wound my way back up to Ocean Ave, which runs along the top of the palisades facing the ocean, and found a parking space right by the Montana Ave steps.

There are only three pedestrian bridges across PCH in Santa Monica. Very convenient, but it does involve 100-foot change in elevation from atop the palisades to the sand. And back.

The steps by Montana Ave are the oldest, I think, as they are built entirely of wood. The two-by-fours and railroad ties are so charmingly yesteryear… notably in their utter disregard for anything approaching level. I nearly broke my ankle, several times, as I gazed out across the sea to Malibu’s Point Dume or watched the transpacific jets launching from LAX. Once I learned to look down at samo.view toward pac palisadesmy feet, it was much smoother sailing. And then, I was on the sand. Tranquility Base.

It’s a w-i-d-e beach, at least 100 yards to the surf. I’m always amazed at the people who stop and plant themselves on the hot, dry sand. For me, paydirt is the zone of flat wet sand where the surf can wash over your ankles. It’s easier walking on that wet sand – and isn’t walking what a beach is really for? And for picking up stones. That was also part of my mission today (but that’s another post).

It was a glorious afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica. And so many of you will feel such joy as I tell you it took nearly two hours in rush hour traffic to cover those nine miles home. Bumper-to-bumper. But I wasn’t in a hurry. And you know, there’s something about begin forced to a crawl along Sunset Blvd on a beautiful winter’s day. Windows down. Music up. Meandering through leafy Brentwood, along the UCLA campus in Westwood, past the gates of Bel Air and then winding through the Hills of Beverly… not so bad, after all. Sure, it screwed up my evening swim. But I did scamper back up those steps from the beach. That counts for something.

The beach in winter makes me happy.
Day 009 #100happydays

Snow on the Sand

One of the prerogatives of life in Southern California is being able to torment friends in northern climes with sunny beach photos in winter. It is especially gratifying for those of us who originally hail from those arctic latitudes. Pictorial nyah-nyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah. Call it Schadenfroid.

I just got a merry email from my friend Maria, who is spending this xmas with her sister’s family in Connecticut. She attached several pics from a wintry walk they took around the beach at Tod’s Point. It’s cold. The pale sun hangs low in the gray sky. There’s snow on the sand.

It’s 72 and sunny here in Los Angeles this Christmas. But if I were going to take a walk on the beach today, I’d choose somewhere warm and cozy… like a cold, snowy beach in Old Greenwich.


Shadow Palm


Y… Y Not