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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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90038, Hollywood

Lunch at Street

Dear ——–,

Bryan and I spent one of the most perfect Saturdays ever. We started off with a leisurely lunch at Street, where we enjoyed sweet-salty Kaya toast, a succulent pulled pork banh mi and Vietnamese corn with a kick of spice. The iced chrysanthemum tea was so tasty it made me think, “Why hasn’t anyone else done this?” (We had to try Susan Feniger’s restaurant after she charmed us on Top Chef Masters.) We headed over to Exposition Park afterward and took a stroll through the rose garden, where we saw an older couple taking wedding pictures and lots of signs saying “no soccer.” We took a moment to smell the proverbial roses. Then we filed inside to see “Hubble 3D” at the California Science Center. It was really amazing to fly inside the nest stars and gas making up Orion’s belt and watch astronauts making repairs on the space telescope. I wish there were some more shots of the galaxy in 3-D, but I guess you can’t go back and make famous Hubble shots (like the Eagle Nebula) into true 3-D after the fact. In a happy daze, we made our way home.


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90028, Hollywood

Studio 1 at East West Studios

Dear ——–,

On Monday, My-Thuan and I met up at Animal for a completely artery-clogging dinner. The bacon gravy that came with the seared foie gras and biscuit had crack in it; the pork belly and slaw sliders slipped down my throat. We were thinking of getting the bacon chocolate crunch bar for dessert, but I confessed to My-Thuan, “I’m a little porked out.” We had a velvety panna cotta instead. Afterward, I met up with Erika to see Bryan at East West Studios, the former United/Western Recorders where Frank Sinatra recorded “My Way.” Bryan was recording some raucous rock songs for Halos in the mod Studio 1. He was working a Neve console that was designed special for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” session. Mike gave us a tour of the Philippe Starck-redesigned lounges and kitchen. The drippy white chandelier and oversize horse lamp gave the rooms, as Bryan said, a kind of modern “Alice in Wonderland” vibe. Everyone was super busy, so Erika and I headed back to the house, had a chat and tucked ourselves into bed. It was a school night, after all.


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90028, Hollywood

Josh Ritter playing the Henry Fonda Music Box

Dear ——–,

Gretchen invited us to see singer-songerwriter Josh Ritter at the Henry Fonda Music Box on Wednesday and now I know what all the fuss is about. He opened with “Change of Time,” which I now can’t stop listening to. He sings with an honest voice somewhere between Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, with songs that sound lush and a little vintage. Before the show, I had heard half an interview with him on NPR where he said he really loved Flannery O’Connor. I figured that was a good sign. It’s been a while since I’ve walked fairly blind into a show and really loved what I heard. (I walked in blind to a lot of bands at South by Southwest and didn’t encounter very many I liked at all.) So I’m really glad Gretchen suggested this. The opener turned out to be interesting, too: the Carolina Chocolate Drops are a black string band with one member who plays the bones and dances almost as if he had glow sticks in his hand. I associate banjo and bluegrass with white Appalachia, so I guess I learned something new.


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92262, Palm Springs

Lunch at Cheeky's

Dear ——–,

Sue did her restaurant research and directed us to Cheeky’s in Palm Springs, after reading about it in the Washington Post. How can you go wrong with a place that offers a flight of bacon that includes applewood-smoked, thick-cut and jalapeno varieties? My heirloom tomato sandwich — which came with egg, arugula and bacon — disappeared quickly. I washed it down with a perfect watermelon mint aqua fresca. We had a good time introducing Bryan’s parents to a couple of new tastes on their trip: they spread pungent aioli on their sandwiches for the first time at Cheeky’s and tried their first crisp, savory carnitas at El Mirasol. We celebrated his parents’ anniversary at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, where we each had our own petite fillet drizzled with butter. A waiter came over to wish them happy anniversary. He asked in disbelief: “Forty years? To the same person?!”


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92253, La Quinta

Arnold Palmer golf course in La Quinta

Dear ——–,

For their annual vacation, Bryan’s parents rented a beautiful house at the Mountain View Country Club in La Quinta, near Palm Springs. (They got access to the house because Bryan’s dad works for Toll Brothers.) The dry, 100-plus-degree heat made sitting outside like baking in a sauna, but it actually made me feel very loose-limbed. As Bryan played two rounds of golf with his dad for a discounted greens fee, I read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and cleaned up some work e-mails. Bryan’s mom also treated us to an hour at Mirela’s Spa du Jour. Sue’s facial was on par with the best she’s ever had and I was in a sweet daze after my attentive ylang-ylang aromatherapy massage. We wondered where all the water was coming from to prop up all this development (Northern California?), but clearly green sprouts where there’s green … We were happy that Karen and Jason were able to join us for one night. The boys grilled ribs in the backyard with a stunning view of the Santa Rosa Mountains and Bryan’s dad got to meet his grand daughter for the first time.


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80333, Munich

Taking an afternoon stroll in the Englischer Garten

Dear ——–,

Once all the meetings were finally over, I headed to the Alte Pinakothek, one of the best collections of work by Europe’s Old Masters. Taking my time in the high-ceilinged galleries, I admired the dynamic, muscular movement in the Rubens works and the composure of the earliest known Da Vinci painting. I saw a quirky canvas by Hieronymous Bosch for the first time and decided I should look into his stuff. I bumped into Dave admiring the Rembrandts and found out we were both headed over to the Englischer Garten. We stumbled upon hundreds of people sprawled out over the vast lawns. A handful (mostly older men) were sunbathing nude. There were also a lot of people splashing around with their friends in the tree-lined streams to cool themselves off from the 90-degree heat. It was so social, so … bucolic. The scene reminded me of Renoir’s Bathers and I started to understand why Impressionists painted these kinds of visions. At the end of the 19th century, they were dealing with increasing urbanization and industrialization, and here, by contrast, was something spontaneous and natural. It was time to take a breath.