The smell of LA

When I moved to LA last year it was as though all the moisture got sucked out of my skin. My friends and I all marvelled at how dry our skin had become, seemingly overnight, and the enduring nature of it was more than could be blamed on a 14 hour flight over the Pacific.

I wandered down to my local CVS Pharmacy on Glendale Boulevard and spent a really long time looking at all the beauty products, most especially moisturisers. I still remember comparing all the different brands, the prices (calculating currency conversions in my head) and features until finally deciding on Alba Botanical natural very emollient body lotion. It had a pump pack which I thought was a bit different.

After bathing myself in the moisturiser for more than a week, I managed to bring back my skin’s normal smooth appearance.

I loved it so much I made sure I brought some back to Australia and now every time I apply it to my arms and legs I am taken back to LA, to our cool apartment in Silverlake and to the vivid feeling of excitement I had while living there. I love that certain smells can instantly transport you to another place and another time and am glad I have a strong association to take me back to my memory of LA.

Do you have a special scent that takes you somewhere else? What is it and where does it take you?

How to stand out in Medellin

As soon as I left the hostel this morning, I got my first comment.

A dirty man sifting through rubbish followed me with a barrage of comments on my looks and appearance.  That set the tone for the rest of the day as I constantly had people staring at me and dishing out comments. That is the thing I hate the most about Latin America.

By the time I got to the Metro station, I realised the errors of my ways. I was the only female with bare legs. While I was wearing denim shorts, the rest of the girls were wearing jeans two sizes too small. This latina condition is what my roommate at the hostel calls “chicken bus jeans” – they pack as much into there as possible and as long as they can close the door most of the way, all is good.

So for the rest of the day, I copped a stack of (unwanted) male attention. This is one of the reasons I´ve decided to head back to Bogota. At least it´s too cold to wear denim shorts there, and I seemed to be able to roam the streets without the looks and stares.

Best foot forward

I got the hell out of Dodge and drove 350 miles to Kansas City where I was catching up with Hiker Buddy Brian who I met in Utah.

Arriving in the pretty city that was surprisingly devoid of people, I found what I’d been looking for – a nail salon.

After several weeks of travelling my feet were desperate for a pedicure. My heels were cracked and flaky skin formed a ring around my feet like a chalk outline on the footpath.

It turns out everyone in Kansas City was in the nail salon. All the Midwest bridal parties were having their nails done in preparation for “the big day” and engagement and wedding rings adorned the hands of almost all the women in there. After a short wait I sank back in the massage chair and had my feet primped and preened and my back and shoulders pummelled.

I felt like a million dollars when I walked out the door and into the surprisingly sultry weather. It was the perfect start to my city break and my feet sang with excitement.

Birthday mail & celebrations already

Birthday cards
Early well wishing birthday cards

I was so excited to find birthday mail even though it’s still a week away.

Given that not many people back home actually have my address, it was so lovely to receive a card from my aunt. That at least balanced out the two birthday postcards I have received from companies I’m a customer of being New Look Skin Center and Farmers Insurance Group. At least the New Look Skin Center included a $10 discount voucher.

I was also extremely surprised when J and I went around to Ricardo, Astra and Jolena’s place for dinner and all of a sudden Jolena turned all the lights out and then Astra came out of the kitchen with a cake and candles. The fact that the fan blew the candles out before it made it to the table and there was a short break in the proceedings as the fan was turned off and they were relit didn’t take anything away from that magical moment.

I can’t remember the last time I sat in a darkened room with just the candles on the cake in front of me for light and having soft lit shining faces sing happy birthday to me. That was really special and I was so touched by the gesture from these lovely new friends of mine in LA. That and the chocolate caked baked especially for me by Jolena was the perfect birthday gift to a person who continually escapes her birthday celebrations.

A kitchen isn’t complete without an apron

Being hostess
Vintage apron, dress and necklace. Brand new pavlova.

Entertaining at Easter was the perfect excuse to get about in my new vintage apron.

J and I had decided to put on a lunch for a bunch of friends and given that she is vegetarian, I said I’d cook the roast while she prepared the vegetables.

Roast lambRoast lamb in the oven

Going to Gelson’s, there were only two sizes to choose from, a half leg and then a full leg. The full leg weighed 7.55lb (which is about 3.5kg). I have never cooked a leg of lamb on the bone before so I was a little nervous to attack such a big piece, but I did a lot of research on the net as to how long I should cook it for and at what temperature. Converting weight and temperature is not my favourite thing, but eventually I figured that I should cook it at 325°F for 2 and a half hours. I think the winning element was resting it for around 20 minutes. It came out perfectly. Tender, easy to carve (also something I’d also never done before was carve off the bone) and totally delicious.

J cooked some traditional American Easter recipes from her grandmother which were fab and went down a treat. She made baked beans, scalloped corn and cornbread. Yum, and a little touch of the US in what was a mostly Australian affair.

Chocolate Ripple Cake
Chocolate Ripple Cake

We also introduced our two American guests to the delights of pavlova and chocolate ripple cake which was courtesy of the chocolate ripple biscuits sent in my care package.

Since Jolena was over, J organised an Easter egg hunt in the “backyard”. Now I’m not sure our backyard can really be called anything but a carpark, but still, it had some great hiding spots and she had fun finding them (as did I).

Easter hostesses
Me and J celebrating a great day

It was a lovely Easter with old friends and new, and J and I had so much fun entertaining.

Twinkling tootsies

New pedicures
Our toes in the freebie thongs to keep the finish smooth. It’s great fashionable footwear, perfect for everyday use.

A treat was what our feet deserved after trampling all over Los Angeles in search of sights, sounds and male attention.

In the dying hours of Movie Lass’s visit, we popped into Harmony Nail Spa down the road for a bit of pampering. We were lucky to find two of the big massage chairs with foot baths next to each other and sat down to have a manicure and pedicure. As soon as I felt the massaging back of the chair start kneading my back and the warm water on my feet, I was blissed out.

Two ladies worked on us at a time, one on the hands and one at our feet buffing and polishing. What made it even better was that our legs, feet, arms, necks and hands got a relaxing massage.

It was perfect for Movie Lass before her 15 hour flight back to Australia. And it was the icing on the cake of our LA adventure with a girly outing.

A deserted Beverly Center

With the Aussie dollar at such a great exchange rate, Movie Lass had to go shopping, so we went to the Beverly Center.

It’s a large shopping centre in LA with both a Bloomingdale’s and a Macy’s along with a stack of other shops. I was astounded by a few things there.

  1. Unlike shopping centres in Australia, there were barely any seats in the concourse. I was weary and needed to take a seat, but it wasn’t until we were out in front of all the luxury brands like Prada were there any seats.
  2. Again, unlike shopping centres at home, there weren’t really any mall furnishings like potted plants and bins. It felt like an empty warehouse.
  3. Adding to the empty warehouse feel was that there were hardly any shoppers. The concourses were virtually deserted. I think it is a telltale sign of the economy that on a weekday evening during the spring break there was hardly anyone there. And those that were there were clearly tourists like ourselves.
  4. Whilst in Bebe, an entourage of people descended upon the store and started asking questions about products, what was selling, pointing out bits and pieces that they loved. There was a clear leader and all the rest were here followers. Movie Lass asked a sales assistant who they were and apparently she is the visual designer for the store, so it must be going to have a makeover soon.

I am being very good at not getting caught up in the spending frenzy, trying to watch my pennies and not succumb to temptation. I did buy a bag, dress and skirt that I am going to need, but I spent less than $70 so that was okay.

At the Grove

At the Grove
This is a shopping centre?

Movie Lass is keen to take advantage of the amazing exchange rate where one Aussie dollar buys $1.05 US dollars so we headed off on a shopping spree.

We ended up at the Grove, which I hadn’t been to before. I also hadn’t realised that it isn’t a typical shopping centre, more a faux shopping strip with alfresco dining, a little lake with water features, outdoor stalls in an “I wanna be European” kind of way and a tram (or they call it a trolley) that runs down the cobbled pedestrian street.

I must admit that it is pretty cool. We wandered through a few shops: Gap; Abercrombie & Fitch which was like  walking into a nightclub and had lots of hot guys working there; Swarovski; MAC; Nordstrom where we eyed off some designer shoes and Victoria’s Secret. I’d never been to Victoria’s Secret before, yet I had heard all the hype about it. I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations. It was much more reasonably priced than I had thought, given the supermodels they have spawned in their campaigns, but at the same time it had a small bit of trashy about it with some of the pieces which must have been fantasy items.

Walking past The Cheesecake Factory, Movie Lass and I needed no further encouragement for a little break from the shopping. For a chain restaurant, this was pretty swish. There was a concierge who greeted us and directed us up the escalator. At the top we were given a table for two and led through a maze of low-lit booths in swathed in ornate fittings and with murals on the ceilings. Totally over the top.

When the menu arrived, it was thick, contained more than just cakes and sweet things and was overwhelming. It took ages to make up my mind as I couldn’t concentrate on the menu there were too many items listed and no photos. In the end I went for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake with chocolate and caramel and a glass of raspberry lemonade. It was delicious (I am so into the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at the moment) and just like whenever I get cake from the Pizza Cafe at home, I couldn’t eat it all.

Reese's Cheesecake
A slice of awesome. It tasted like a Snickers bar in a cake.

We’d had a big chat with our waiter Gavin, who pronounced Reese’s “ree-cees”. I asked him about it and he said it could be pronounced either “ree-cees” or “ree-sez” and liked it to the “po-tay-toe” – “po-tar-toe” saying. I say “ree-sez” like how I say “po-tay-toe” but I think that “ree-cees” does sound cute, just maybe not on a grown man.

* Celebrity spotted: Mario Lopez (host of Dancing With the Stars) at The Grove in full make-up with two bodyguards after a filming shoot. I wouldn’t have known who he was if Movie Lass hadn’t told me.

Networking by the pool

Poolside outfit
Perfect poolside networking outfit courtesy of Charlie Brown & Nine West.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect at the Advance Global Australians, Global Networks Word of Mouth event, but any opportunity to meet new people is welcome.

I checked out the venue’s website and found that it looked pretty swanky, so I thought I’d best dress accordingly for my first poolside event in LA, in Beverly Hills, no less. I’m so glad I didn’t skimp on the frocks and shoes I brought with me as I definitely have something for all occasions in my wardrobe.

When I arrived, I was glad I’d deliberated over my outfit as I first met one of the organisers, and then the Consul-General. It was a really interesting and diverse crowd ranging from executive types to artist types, to those who are firmly rooted in LA to newbies like me and with quite a number of Americans trying to recreate time they spent in Australia thrown in for good measure.

My first real conversation was with an older woman all glammed up and with her silicon enhancements on display. At first I felt completely gauche beside her and her posh accent, but then I just rolled with it as she told me about her new grandson in Byron Bay, her two ex-husbands from Adelaide, the nightclub she’d once owned with Sean Penn, her career in interior design, real estate and News Corp and her 32 years in LA. While I was a bit intimidated at first, I warmed to the task and let myself be in awe of these people with super interesting tales to tell.

I met Broken Hill’s version of Billy Elliot. Whilst he first introduced himself as a carpenter and builder to me, later in the evening he divulged how he left school to do his apprenticeship as soon as he could. He rode motorcross for Suzuki and took boxing for strength and then a girlfriend introduced him to ballet for balance. He ended up in Adelaide where they said he had the talent to pursue ballet further, and then ended up dancing in the US for 12 years. He also recorded a song with Tania Kernaghan which kicked off his country music career. Wow.

I met a guy with three passports who shared how he met his wife on Contiki and then detailed their courtship. I met an American lawyer who said he left his heart in Australia in 2009, specifically at a restaurant called Crocodile Thai in Kings Cross while on a 2 week holiday. I met a British photographer with a love interest in Melbourne.

And then I met Peter, a meditation teacher. He too, had an interesting story. I guess I’ve always been kind of wary of ‘new age’ stuff, most likely a product of my upbringing, but as I get older I start to open myself more to new concepts outside the structure in which I live. I have a feeling that I met Peter for a reason and that meditation is going to have a role to play in my personal journey.

One thing I discovered this evening was that every Australian in LA has a super interesting story; one that they are not afraid to share in a significant amount of detail with strangers. Which makes me wonder about what my story will be in ten years time. Whatever it is, I’m pretty confident that it’s going to be fascinating.

A comment on the t-shirt

I met my friends Astra and Jolena on Hyperion Avenue for a little catch up and some pizza at this great little place the Tomato Pie where we sat and watched them make the pizzas.

We then stopped by Trader Joe’s where I had to pick up some staples; coffee, sugar, Supreme Brie.

I got really quite excited when the cashier commented on my black Mildura Brewery Pub t-shirt and said “Is that anywhere near here?” Finally, the first comment on one of my three t-shirts from home! The blue Arts Mildura and red Virgin Blue shirts need to pick up their game because the Brewery t-shirt is totally winning the cool stakes.

My excited, yet taken aback response was “No, actually it’s from my home town in Australia. (Beat) They make really good beer.”

And then my excitement stalled as I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment when he asked if I’d been anywhere good in the area. Initially I thought he was asking what beers I like in America and I panicked that I’d gotten myself into a situation where I had intimated that was passionate about microbrews when the truth is that I don’t drink beer and know very little about it. Then when I realised he was asking about places, I panicked again because I couldn’t think of where I’d been out and suddenly I felt really boring and nanna-ish.

He wasn’t even hot.

I don’t know why I panicked. I don’t know why I couldn’t just keep the banter going with “Yeah, I went to the Beer Bar on Sunset a couple of times, but I hear that’s closed now”. Or “Yeah, I’ve just moved to the area, do you have anywhere you’d recommend?” That is what an American would say. That is the chatty conversation they would keep up. That is what a funner version of me should have said.

I’m either taking on a distinctly American neurosis or my social skills are sliding into disrepair. Must do something about this.