Rare Invader Exhibit in Downtown Los Angeles

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I ventured out to Los Angeles downtown arts district to see the new Over The Influence Gallery. The space is currently hosting a rare Invader exhibit. Invader is a french street artist who plasters fun, playful and unique 8-bit mosaics on buildings in cities all over the world. I’ve been obsessed with finding invader mosaics in cities i go to. Tthere’s an app where you log all the ones you find and score points. I’ve found them in Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Hong kong, Tokyo and Daejon, Korea. This exhibit is a greatest hits of some of Invader’s finest work and is a reminder that art can be fun.

February 6, 2019 in Travel | Permalink

Taking A Left-Turn: Driving from Arizona to West Texas

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Heading east on the Interstate 10 in Arizona (Photo by me)

In recent years, I’ve taken advantage of the long, end-of-year holiday break to head out of the country to far-away spots in Asia. It felt freeing to pick a place remote and be completely immersed in a foreign culture to get a break from the L.A. hustle.

For the most recent break, however, I opted to stay in America and find a travel challenge closer to home. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 20 years now and I’ve come to the realization that there are so many places in America that I haven’t seen yet. I have traveled to all major cities but I haven’t wandered off the beaten path and seen parts of this country that make it so unique.

Following a trip to Phoenix back in November, I decided I wanted to go back there to explore. I picked to head to Sedona for a couple of days to explore its many trails and vistas. From there, I planned to roadtrip all the way down to West Texas to Marfa – an outpost of artists, writers and other bohemians. I’ve read about Marfa over the years and I figured it would be the perfect place to check out and see a part of America that’s off the grid and pretty much a perfect place to get a break from Los Angeles.

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Courthouse Butte: Majestic Beauty (Photo by me)

Sedona was absolutely gorgeous. I think there are over a hundred hiking trails to pick from to explore the Verde Valley and Coconino Forest. I was particularly interested in checking out some of the vortexes that allegedly hold a healing power. There are four main centers of spiritual energy in the Sedona area. I went to check out the vortexes at Mesa airport and Bell Rock. To be frank, I didn’t feel anything while in the presence of these special centers of energy but honestly I may have been too much in “hiking mode” to stop and really absorb what may have been radiating.

The Courthouse Butte hike right south of Sedona was my favorite hike while out there. It’s a hefty 3 hour hike that is mostly flat and very quiet. I really enjoyed this.

I took a full day to travel from Sedona, AZ to Marfa, TX. It’s a 700 mile drive that crosses New Mexico, and is a good mixture of state highways and an interstate. It was a beautiful drive. I enjoyed every second of it. I took very little breaks – only to get gas. I listened to music and podcasts while enjoying the changing landscapes that was at times absolutely breathtaking. The part through the Tonto national forest ending up at the site of Theodore Roosevelt Lake was an incredible sight

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Roosevelt Lake: Wow (taken at Cholla Recreation Site (Photo by me)

also truly enjoyed driving through many little towns, including Fort Apache Reservation and San Carlos Reservation. There are so many small settlements in these vast, expansive stretches of land in the American West and it’s absolutely humbling to see people go about their day there living the best life they know how to live. This experience left me with a lasting impression that was a highlight of the trip.

I was hoping that I would get on roads where there was no other car in sight to give me that feeling of really being off-the-grid and on vacation. Boy, I got plenty of what I wished for. I ended up so often solo on the road driving through remote areas with 3G cell phone reception at best. This is America, too.

Slightly off-topic but I loved listening to Brandi Carlisle and The Rider soundtrack (by Nathan Halpern). It really helped amplify the views of rugged landscapes outdoors while on the road.

Following passing places like Globe, AZ and Duncan, AZ , I crossed into New Mexico. It felt I was making good progress. As soon as I hit Las Cruces on the Interstate 10, El Paso and then Marfa came into close reach. The sun was about to set and my goal was to limit my driving in the dark to make sure I could see where I was driving.

Then I hit El Paso. Wow. This is a very large metropolitan area. I had no idea. It looks absolutely massive and it’s like driving the Interstate 10 in East LA where the city appears to never stop. A local told me later that El Paso looks so big from the road because it borders Ciuadad Juarez in Mexico. It’s one big metro area but only half of it’s in the U.S.

Following El Paso, I was close to the final stretch. Sun was setting to a beautiful, rose colored sky. On the Interstate 10 between El Paso and Van Horn, there was a surprising mandatory stop. The interstate was routed through a make-shift Border Patrol station filled with cameras and immigration agents. It had me confused as I had not crossed in and out of the U.S. After a short wait in line with other cars, I opened my car window to greet the border agent. He was friendly and respectful, and asked where I was heading. I explained I was on my way to Marfa from Arizona. He thanked me and wished me a happy holiday. Border security miles away from the border is proof that the authorities take monitoring the border very seriously – with or without a wall.

It was full dark now and at Van Horn on Interstate 10, I took a turn on Texas state route 90 to head to Marfa – my final destination. I took about another hour or so when I arrived around 8 p.m. I was exhausted from the drive but I was so incredibly happy I did it. It was an experience I will not soon forget. I have seen part of America that I’d never imagined seeing and my understanding of the U.S. is better because of it.

February 4, 2019 in Left-Turns, Travel | Permalink

My West Texas Adventures: Blue Origin

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Note: I have been missing blogging so much. There are so many ideas and observations I want to share. I intended on archiving this blog and just let it be. Meanwhile, I've tried Medium, Tumblr and, yes, even Wordpress as a potential new home to share my writing. But there is so much to proud of here. I started this TypePad blog in 2002 and this is where I belong. The blog design is terribly out of date and nobody may even check this URL anymore, but the point really is to get that craving to write out of my system once a while. It may not be about music, but I will likely be about my travel, books, interests and causes I care about. Anyways, this is the place where I will put pen to paper and share my random musings with you.

I love rockets. I love space. I love to think that some time in the near future humanity will launch a manned mission to mars. Wow. Just amazing to think we're in reach of making that happen.

During the winter break I ventured out on a road trip to West Texas. Super random, but I wanted to feel off the grid and away from the bubble, and West Texas gave me what I had hoped for. While en route I made a left turn on Interstate 10 at Van Horn, TX coming from Texas Route 54 to head to El Paso. Little did I know that just slightly north of Van Horn, space exploration firm Blue Origin has its launch facility. Slightly bummed I didn’t drive by there to see if any rockets were getting prepared for lift off.

I’ve been reading Lawrence Wright’s excellent God Save Texas, which provides a great overview of the history of Texas and what makes the state so unique (here’s a clue: it’s “rugged individualism”). Wright notes in his book that Jeff Bezos quietly purchased huge amounts of lands in West Texas to accommodate Blue Origin’s launch installation but also build an area that can grown into a hub for space tourism. Because, yes, that’s Bezos’ plan.

Blue Origin has quietly made a lot of progress in its mission and is scheduled to send the first tourists into suborbital space by the end of this year. That’s wild. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket concept is smart. It features a reuseable rocket (that lands vertically following lift-off) with a passenger capsule on top that boasts extra large windows for optimal space viewing. The capsule will be disconnected from the launch rocket and after a quick whirl in space will fall back to earth and land with a parachute.

Blue Origin is planning a launch of the New Sherpard (as pictured above) early 2019 and if the timing works, I may head back to Texas to see it. I have never seen a rocket go up into space and it’s a bucket list item that’s in reach. It feels like we’re on the cusp of commercial space flights becoming real and that is very, very exciting.

(Image courtesy of Blue Origin.)

February 4, 2019 in Left-Turns, Travel | Permalink

Let Love Rule

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Evening falls over Berlin's Kurfürstendamm Square last Saturday. The German capital hosted the famous "Love Parade," the annual techno music parade that drew hundreds of people from all over Europe.

The event has been scaled back after it peaked at almost 2 million visitors in the late nineties. Organizers have struggled to find sponsors after the city stopped considering the party a "political demonstration" and refused to pick up the tab for some of the cleaning and security costs.

A small group of hardcore fans has continued to celebrate the party each year. Last Saturday, the event took place at this famous Berlin square with DJs Westbam and Paul van Dyk who spun the crowd into a frenzy like the good old times. (Thanks to arjanwrites.com reader Frank for sending me this photo).

July 12, 2004 in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Queen for a Day

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If you think Mardi Gras in New Orleans is wild, try Queensday in Amsterdam. It is on the last day of April that the Dutch all flock to their capital, dress up in their national colors and celebrate the birthday of their beloved Queen Beatrix into the wee hours of the morning.

I vividly remember the first time I came to Amsterdam for Queensday a few years after I moved to the US. I was showing around some American co-workers and we took the train to Amsterdam Central Station.

This classy structure is usually the home of backpackers, hookers and other young hustlers, but that day a red, white and blue posse had taken over. As soon as we stepped out of the train, we were greeted by a vibrant mass of color, sound and smiling faces. A cosmopolitan mix of tourists and locals was moving like cattle through the city’s tiny cobblestone streets outside the railroad station.

Rain or shine, people are enjoying this national holiday step-by-step with kids selling lemon juice on the overcrowded pavements, musicians playing their instruments in Vondelpark and merchants on bicycle-carts cooking up fatty festival food all over the city center.

The Dutch not only take their celebrations into the streets, but also onto the water. Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North with its many canals. On Queensday, partygoers cruise the city’s waterways on small pedal bikes and festive boats while getting the best views of the city.

During the annual gay pride in August, the canals are the home of thousands of gay men and women on wildly decorated floats.

Queensday is an exception to the Netherlands’ usual modestly. The Dutch rarely show pride in their rich historical heritage and accepting culture – let alone celebrate the birthday of their Queen.

The country’s sober protestant beginnings are often credited for its humility among other European countries.

Amsterdam has always been a safe haven for free spirits. Ever since the seventeenth century, artists, painters, writers, religious scholars and others fled from oppression in other parts of Europe to join the city’s thriving cultural and social community

No wonder that Amsterdam became a city of queers. The Dutch government has not only given gays and lesbians equal civil rights, but has also enabled gays to celebrate their lifestyle in complete freedom.

The Amsterdam city authority has supported its large gay constituency in many different ways. Wheter it is providing gays the freedom to buy their favorite toys at local sex stores, relax at one of the city’s large bath houses, remember their history at the national gay holocaust memorial or providing tax breaks for the flourishing gay business community.

The Reguliersdwarstraat (www.reguliersdwars.nl) is located smack in the middle of the city’s center. On Queensday this is the pink epicenter of Amsterdam. Some of the capital’s hippest bars are located in this narrow, curving street right behind the daily flower market (Remember that tulips and others flowers are one of the Netherlands' top export products).

During the annual celebration, the usual line-up of muscle boys, drag divas, leather hunks, euro-hip youngsters and a handful of lost foreign tourists take the festivities outside clubs like April, Arc, SoHo and Exit. House music is blasting from the windows, while local singers and performance artists sweep the crowd on a small podium in the middle of the street.

Dutch gays adore Queen Beatrix and many dress up like their own version of the royal diva with wild fashion, fierce make up and of course glittery crowns that can be spotted from miles away.

On Queensday in Amsterdam, everybody can be a queen. No matter what you believe in, what color you are or who you sleep with.

April 30, 2004 in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)