Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
On Wednesday morning, we left the comfort of cousin Bonny's hospitality and became tourists again. We needed to get to the coast at Santa Monica, but that involved a couple meals and a pair of touristy stops.
Breakfast was typical road luck: not bad but too pricey. After that, we headed west to destination #1: The Autry Museum of the American West. I think we picked this destination because it was on the way. Another typical travel choice.
Well, "The Autry" was interesting enough, but overrun by kids pouring out of school buses. Student management did not always meet Marianne's standards and, besides, in times of Covid, being inside with crowds of possible virus vectors makes us uncomfortable. We did a quick walk around and called it quits.
Pictures, of course:
The next stop on our tour was Griffith Park. At 4,200 acres, the park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country and is the home of the LA Zoo, the outdoor Greek Theater, a transportation museum, and, our goal, the Griffith Observatory.
We found convenient parking right in front of the observatory, worth the $10-per-hour charge. We had passed cheaper options, but those required more climbing than we wanted. On top, the observatory was closed (only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and the air was hazy. We took the standard pictures of the HOLLYWOOD sign in the distance and admired the outside of the Art Deco observatory building. We need to come back sometime.
Marianne had driving duty and she was treated to challenging Los Angeles traffic as we descended from Griffith Park, across LA neighborhoods, and into Santa Monica. Picking the right freeway lanes and exits was baffling to both Carla's GPS and John, the navigator. I suppose this would get easier with practice. I just don't think we want to put in the time!
In Santa Monica, we wandered the downtown mall, looking at shops one could find in any mall anywhere. Almost. Some of the folks were definitely LA. (Check the person photo-bombing the shot of Marianne at lunch.) Lunch was salad-in-a-plastic-box, tasty enough and the sidewalk table provided a front row for the entertainment.
By now, it was time to check in to "Tranquility", our AirBnB room in a hillside home in Pacific Palisades. The room was clean and comfortable, all we needed. And the yard outside the room was guarded by Fred, a threatening tortoise. Pretty cute. The view from the upstairs deck was as advertised. Nice.
On Thursday morning, we were up early, for breakfast and a charge. The nearest Tesla Supercharger was in a nice shopping mall in Pacific Palisades and I decided that topping up now would avoid any hint of "range anxiety". Mostly, we just don't want to let charging interfere with things we would normally do, so while Carla nibbled on electrons, we had a pleasant outdoor meal at "edo bites". Chilly, but still OK.
From breakfast, it was about a half-hour drive up Sunset Boulevard and "The 405" to the Getty Center parking garage. The Center is uber-organized and all visitors are ushered into the 7-level underground garage, passed through ticket and security checks, and loaded on a Disneyesque tram for the ride up the hill.
Off the tram, we headed in among the half-dozen large museum buildings, trying to get oriented. I'm not sure we ever knew where we were going and the hazy sky didn't help getting us pointed in the right direction.
The buildings sprawl, and interiors do not lend themselves to simple understanding of where to go next, but individual rooms are thankfully not too large and we ended up successful, just wandering.
In the East, West, South, and North buildings, paintings are found on the top floor to allow skylights to brighten the rooms. Buildings themselves are organized chronologically, from the 14th through the 19th Century. Our preference is for newer art, so we kind of zoomed passed the array of old works.
The mid level of the directional buildings held rooms filled with decorative art. Not our style, but impressive nonetheless in both artistry and craftsmanship. I did note that for many of the French 18th Century pieces, the original owners lost their heads over such extravagance.
Two special exhibitions caught our eye: "Flesh and Bones", showing how human anatomy was made a subject of art in the 16th through 20th Century and a retrospective by the photographer Imogen Cunningham.
I only show the least gruesome of the flesh and bones collection
Cunningham had a wide range of subject matter, including amazing creativity and detail of ordinary household and garden subjects. As a busy mother of three, she photographed when she could, where she could. Later, she did portraits to earn her living, but always with imagination.
We broke up our tour with a 12:30 lunch at "The Restaurant". This is a $$$ establishment, but was worth the need to schedule a reservation and the cost. Our shared first course of a pair of scallops was perfect in presentation and taste. Marianne's flank stake was also done right. Unfortunately, we did not see any famous people we could write home about. Maybe elsewhere.
Housing lunch and all the exhibits is a remarkable collection of marble-sheathed buildings, interspersed with fountains and pools and surrounded by gardens. We passed on a tour of the architecture and gardens because we had run out of steam. Instead, our picture-tour was self-guided, including the tram down.:
Overall impression of The Getty Center? Well organized. Worth the time. An amazing classical collection, but you need to be a fan of such art to not hit a wall after a couple or four hours.
I was glad when we made it back to Tranquility Street and our view of Topanga Beach.
For Friday breakfast, we found ourselves back in downtown Pacific Palisades. We find that, when we travel, we often get hung up on one location for meals and Pacific Palisades was a good hang up, quiet, comfy, and offering a chance view of a Hollywood star. We chose Cafe Vida, a small up-scale chain, and looked for celebrities. No luck, although we did see some crusty older gentlemen who we speculated could have been from "back offices". Our story, anyway.
Today's goal was the Getty Villa, closer to our AirBnB than even Cafe Vida. As the crow flies, it was probably just a few hundred yards, but cars needed to drive down to the Pacific Coast Highway, up the PCH for a half-mile, and then up on Getty Drive. (Our place is on Tranquility, in the lower right of the Google map. The Villa, on the left side, is obvious.)
Parking costs $20 at each Getty, but admission is free. (This seems to be common with foundation attractions, probably a tax deal.)
J.P. Getty built the Villa at his Malibu home to recreate the Roman "Villa dei Papiri", a grand country residence on the Bay of Naples that was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. His concept was that one could visit Pompeii and Herculaneum to see how the ruins look today, but to Malibu to see how the villa would have looked back in the day. As it turns out, he never saw the completed villa, spending the last 25 years of his life in London, where he ran his oil empires in California and Saudi Arabia via management teams. This allowed him to avoid airplanes, an aversion throughout his life.
The museum and grounds truly are remarkable, with the inner peristyle holding one of the most photographed pools in America. When we visited, there were six buses of school kids, so the gardens and walkways may not have been as quiet as Roman royalty would have enjoyed, but for us it was all good.
In the gardens, I was distracted by many wonderful flowers, particularly the irises. I'm sure the owners of both the original villa and this reproduction employ(ed) armies of gardeners.
The museum itself holds room after room of antiquities from BC 6000 to AD 400. Everything was unique and impressive, especially in the level of craftsmanship from thousands of years ago. My pictures show only a few percent of what is on display, so if old things are YOUR thing, visit in person.
Several docent-guided tours are available, but we limited ourselves to a short introduction to the temporary Persia exhibit. Admittedly too brief, this tour would not be a recommendation, but the collection of Persian artifacts were certainly worth examining.
After three or four hours, we had seen enough antiquities and school kids. We descended down to the PCH and drove north through Malibu, still looking for celebrities. Again, we had no luck, although we are certain that we saw many homes that only fancy and rich people could own. At one point in our drive, we simply parked, looked out over the beach, enjoyed the sounds of the surf, and caught up on quiet time.
For dinner, we followed form and returned to Cafe Vida in Pacific Palisades. Marianne's salad was spectacular, worthy of a picture. My turkey burger was tasty, but not photogenic. And, despite our sidewalk table, we still saw no recognizable folks. Maybe next time.
This was our last night in Tranquility (Avenue), so stay tuned as we continue our Southern California road trip from much closer to downtown LA.
John and Marianne