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Digital Diversity: New Orleans Gets Technical

New Orleans isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word: technology. Competing with other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, this southern city has rightfully earned its place among these technology centers. Forbes calls it the “#1 Brainpower City in the U.S.A.” and SmartAsset ranks it #1 for growth in tech jobs in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the Collision team chose NOLA as its home again this year.

I first heard of Collision through their expansive outreach effort to recruit more women to their annual technology conference. I’m not a techie myself. The most tech savvy things I do are this website and my Instagram account. But I took at look at their agenda, the speakers, and the sponsors and was intrigued.  Where else could I meet the first astronaut to tweet from space, a world-renowned DJ, and an Olympic medalist swimmer, all while learning about the latest developments with virtual reality, green-tech, and the latest shopping app?

All of this and more was under the same roof at the New Orleans Convention Center in May. A three-day conference sandwiched in between Jazz Fest, Collision Conference is the place to be to learn about cutting-edge technology that is changing the way we think about our relationships with those devices we all cling to – and upgrade every 18 months!

When deciding where to stay, my choice was easy – Windsor Court. Rated “Top Business Hotel” by Forbes, Windsor Court has every amenity a business traveler could want. And the accolades don’t stop there. In 2017, U.S. News declared Windsor Court one of the Best Hotels in the U.S.A., Best Hotel in New Orleans, and Best Louisiana Hotel, while Travel + Leisure readers named the property one of the Top 50 Large City Hotels in the U.S. and Canada.

Well, if its ideal location in the Central Business District isn’t enough, you’re also nearby the French Quarter and iconic Bourbon Street with its lively jazz clubs, Royal Street’s antique shops and art galleries, and steps away from NOLA’s emerging Arts District. But once inside their lush, green courtyard that leads you up to their lobby, you’ll feel a world away from the colorful scene of the city. Fresh roses, stunning artwork, and live piano music coming from the lobby bar all provide a warm southern welcome to Windsor Court.

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Arriving in my room, a premium suite with a desk ready for all of my chargers, cameras, and electronic devices, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the panoramic views of the Mississippi River below. Recharging in my plush surroundings, I made some adjustments to my schedule, courtesy of the user-friendly Collision app, and headed out the door to the first event.

So you may not think tech when you hear New Orleans, but you definitely think music. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. The Collison party at the Blue Nile with the Brassaholics had the crowd jumping, myself included. My colleague and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’re staying for Jazz Fest next year.”

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You should, too. During our mid-day break at the pool, fellow guests shared stories of the different acts they saw, while I shared some of the latest and greatest apps that people from all over the world were showcasing at Collision. One of my favorites: what I’ll call Shazam for bird sounds. I told the founders how I desperately needed this during my trip to Iguaçu Falls in March where I was amongst wildlife and nature in a way that was truly magical. I would have loved to learn more about these little creatures that sang to me at every turn!

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One of the highlights at Collision was meeting Olympic medalist, Allison Wagner. Cheated out of her opportunity to win a gold medal, Allison shared her experience in a raw and revealing on-stage interview about her life after the Olympics, the resulting depression she suffered, and her current efforts to prevent doping in sports.

“I’m choosing to speak up about it and because of my accomplishments, I’m in a position of leadership.” Her accomplishments are many: besides her silver at the Olympics in 1996, Allison was named American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, gold medalist at the FINA Short Course World Championships, and held the world record for over 14 years for the 200 IM short course meters during those same years surrounding her disappointing experience at the Olympics.

During my interview with Allison, we talked more about her ordeal after the Olympics, and we agreed that in sports, as in technology, there needs to be more diversity and attention to gender issues to combat doping. “With swimming, the definition of what makes you successful is your race time. I’ve competed with men and I felt like I was proving myself in a different way; it was a satisfying accomplishment. Doping could be viewed as a gender issue because women tend to be doped more often in systematic doping regimes as compared to men.”

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Of course, being at a tech conference, we chatted about the next phase for the intersection of sports and tech. “When it comes to tech, we need more advanced testing internationally, and doping regulations and violations enforced. There are great options, but we need better ones. Another interesting aspect of sport is that of intuition which is often not talked about, and in sports, especially in swimming, an athlete is continually adapting to their environment. If you’re stuck on old data, you’re potentially limiting yourself.”

Flashing back to her competing days, which were before the advent of social media and live feeds, Allison feels that she might have been able to gain back those gold medals that she lost. “Connectivity would have been helpful on a variety of levels. I might have talked and shared on social media when my scholarships were taken away. There’s more accountability today for people who dope and for abuses of power.”

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Shifting gears, Allison talked about her other passion – art. She’s a founding member of the International Olympic organization called Art of the Olympians, and as a painter, she hopes that the organization can help return the Olympics to its original intentions. “An Olympian is someone who is pursuing excellence with integrity. Not just in sports, but in a variety of arenas. Valuing art as much as we value sports in our community is vital.”

So what’s next for this Renaissance woman? Her focus right now is on being an advocate for anti-doping around the world. “I’m speaking up as a catalyst for change. I’m not elected or affiliated with any organization, but I want to play some role that is helpful for current athletes who are willing to be active on this topic. Many of them are nervous about the ramifications of being vocal. But the ramifications of cheating are far worse. We need leaders who talk about their commitment to integrity and ethics, and governing bodies of sport need to stop limiting athletes’ voices.”Collision17

Her voice is poised to be a powerful one in the years to come. Agreeing that women’s voices need to be heard in all sectors, not just tech, Allison imparted, “As women, we have so much ability, and a natural inclination to be resilient. Advocating for each other is important.”

And one of the most powerful advocates was the team at Collision who made an effort to improve diversity numbers at this groundbreaking conference. Vibing off of the amazing accomplishments of so many female entrepreneurs, I worked with the team at Windsor Court to host a women’s networking event at their Polo Club Lounge.

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Spacious, yet private, the Polo Club lounge was the perfect setting for our Women in Tech mixer. The newly remodeled space features European antiques and period reproductions from the 17th and 18th century, all accented with saddle-tan wood, marble details, and of course an impressive bar menu with more than 600 labels, and one of the largest Cognac collections in New Orleans! Networking with enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world in this decadent, yet inviting setting, was a great way to end another night at Collision.

After a quick breakfast of the quintessential beignets, it was back to the conference for another day of tech awesomeness. The highlight for today – hearing Natalie Monbiot of SVP Futures talking about experiential advertising and the role of Virtual Reality in Marketing. Her most valuable piece of advice: brands need to think about who they are when there’s no screen to hide behind. In an era of fake news, bots, and impersonal transactions, her advice couldn’t be more timely.

Between mixers, interviews, and seminars, I managed to squeeze in a dinner at Compère Lapin. The stellar concierge team at Windsor Court was able to get us a coveted reservation at this top-ranked restaurant. Although I have no pictures to prove it, my meal started with the most divine buttermilk biscuits. It’s no wonder they disappeared so quickly!

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Compère Lapin’s philosophy of “the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors” was evident in every bite of our meal. A starter of Hamachi tuna dressed in “leche de tigre” was followed by delectable Wagyu short ribs, so soft and tender. Chef Nina Compton’s playful menu draws inspiration from a childhood Carribean folktale about a rabbit named Compère Lapin. But her menu is no child’s play – come hungry to experience indigenous Caribbean ingredients blended with the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans. And of course save room for dessert – the most unique presentation of strawberry shortcake I’ve ever seen! A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

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Back at the hotel, I was able to indulge in some more of the hotel amenities that Windsor Court offers its lucky guests. An art lover, I knew the walking tour of the hotel’s gallery would be a favorite. Listening to the audio tour on my phone, I viewed their museum-worthy collection, with pieces displayed throughout the property. Many of the artworks are of British origin with an emphasis on works that depict the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. Valued at more than $8 million, the Windsor Court collection includes original works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Huysman. Among my favorite pieces were the hand-finished chromolithographs of Windsor Castle’s private and State apartments by Sir Joseph Nash which were commissioned by Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century. So much history along these walls!

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Although my visit to Windsor Court was short, I did manage to squeeze in a spa treatment. Voted #1 by USA Today 10 Best Spas in New Orleans, this top ranked spa earned its place in my book. My back facial (yes, they have these here!) included a soothing foot massage, and was followed by a difficult choice of cucumber water, green wheatgrass juice, or champagne. Lounging in the relaxation area, I somehow managed to indulge in all three! The only thing to tear me away from this oasis of relaxation was a hungry belly. Luckily the afternoon tea service at Windsor Court was still being offered in the Club Lounge, an added amenity which offers true VIP service to its guests.

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My last event of this busy day was a Stanford alumni mixer, hosted in the Polo Club Lounge. Right in line with Collision’s mission of diversity and inclusion, our group had quite the international mix, every racial background was represented, and a wide range of industries including venture capitalists, pro football players, and of course, someone launching the latest, greatest app were all there to mix and mingle, sharing highlights from the conference. Trying to choose just one highlight was difficult, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Collision Conference and seeing where technology takes us next!

To book your stay at Windsor Court for next year’s conference, contact me today!

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Mama Teresa

While waiting to check in at my new hotel, Mama Shelter, I overheard the receptionist telling the story of the lobby’s colorful artwork. “Designed to incorporate the art of a local Indian tribe, the theme here is inclusivity. Mama Shelter wants to include everyone; we welcome everyone here”.IMG_1949

This new boutique hotel in Rio de Janeiro is a welcome addition to the funky art neighborhood known as Santa Teresa. Sitting at the top of a windy maze of intertwining roads, Santa Teresa is home to top restaurants like Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro, as well as stylish boutiques such as Baoba, which sources their textiles from Angola and Mozambique. And just across from Mama Shelter is the Centro Cultural, an old villa which hosts art exhibitions and live music performances for the local community.

But you won’t have to go far to hear great music. Mama Shelter has a great rotation of jazz musicians and hip-hop deejays that add even more vibrancy to their hotel. There’s no better way to start a Sunday than by sitting in their open-air restaurant and enjoying a bountiful brunch with a bottle of rosé and those funky beats in the background.

Speaking of funky beats, during my visit to Rio I had the lucky fortune of sitting with DJ Vivi Seixas and hearing about her career, and the evolving path that it’s taken over the years. Born into a family of Brazilian music royalty, Vivi grew up being surrounded by music. “I listened to good music from an early age. As a teenager, I had my doubts and everyone expected me to be a singer or guitar player, like my father.”

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That stifling comparison made her nervous and so like any teenager forging their own path, she went abroad at age 18. “At that time, everyone went to the U.S. to study, but I wanted something different so I went to Australia.” A pioneer in many ways, it was here that she discovered the music that moved her: electronic music. Her eyes glittered with happy memories as she recounted those days, “After a visit to a festival, I met a deejay, DJ Tati Sanchez, who took me to some parties and showed me the scene there in Australia.”

This was just the beginning of her musical career. Back home in Brazil, she recalled telling an old boyfriend about a dream that she was playing music for a crowd of people. He nudged her to pursue this craft citing her innate rhythm and good taste, so she took classes, practiced at home, and started playing for her friends. Inspired by everything from Leonard Cohen to Brazilian forro, Vivi explored the full range of electronic music, playing lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop.

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But Vivi felt she wanted to make people move and dance instead of chill out. “I had to find music that I liked. Back then I didn’t have much reference of what was techno, what was house, what was trance. I had a friend who said, ‘Here’s my music, you can drag whatever you like to your files’. I explored his whole library and he said, ‘Everything you dragged to your folder is house music’.”

Like any true house deejay, Vivi had to cut her musical chops on vinyl. In 2006, she went to San Francisco to do a music production course and it was here that she really honed her craft with all mediums of house music, learning from Chicago house greats like Mike Frugaletti, Mark Farina, Chris Carrier, and Hector Moralez. “It was there that somebody told me, ‘If you want to play house music, you have to learn how to play vinyl’.”

So that’s what she did. This rite of passage paid off and now DJ Vivi travels all over Brazil. Talking about her love for house music, which she says is so versatile and has varieties that can be played at a beach party, wedding, or club, Vivi does have plans to get back into producing, in addition to finishing her university degree. “Here in Brazil, the scene is changing to provide opportunities to deejays who can also produce. I’m looking for a studio to make that happen – to make that bridge.”

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Her latest bridge? Remixing the Raul Seixas songbook. “I was invited by Warner Music to make a CD with remixes of his songs. It was truly a mashup of dub-reggae, drum & bass, blues, house music. But my dad’s fans are very protective of his music.”

Experiencing criticism and backlash from the die-hard Raul fans, Vivi walked carefully across this musical divide of rock ‘n’ roll and house music. “Although many people have done musical tributes to my father, people think there’s nobody as good as him. So I had to find a way to do it organically, combining electronic music and musicians. I loved the result.”Vivi5

An emotional project that’s been well-received by fans from both camps, the tribute to her father was a reminder of their eternal connection. “I felt like he was there in the studio. I found this piece of him talking on a cassette tape, and I used his words as an intro – ‘Let’s start. I don’t want things from the past. I want something new.’ It was as if he had given me a blessing throughRaulSeixasguitar the music.”

With chills up my spine, I showed her a photo of some art that was made in tribute to her father by a fan – a self-made artist in the favelas of São Paulo. Giddy at the thought of someone using recycled pieces to make such astonishing art, Vivi talked about her community service work in the favelas here in Rio.

“I work with Jardim Gramacho, next to the Lixão, the dump here in Rio, and I teach music. I used to give money, but I felt the need to help people in a different way.” We talked about our work with non-profits and the work I do with young girls and photography back in Los Angeles, and the mothering we do with these at-risk children in our local communities. “Seeing children doing their homework on piles of trash – it makes you value what you have. And be in the moment of gratitude.” Grateful I definitely was. To have this unique opportunity to sit across from such a vibrant and talented woman, who is forging her path and helping others along the way.

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Walking back to Mama Shelter, I became entranced with all of the street art – everything from murals to mosaics, all lending an artistic flair to the streets of Santa Teresa. One of the best features of Mama Shelter is that it is part of the Accor Hotels family, an extensive network of boutique and luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for me, their sister property Hotel Santa Teresa is right up the street and I was able to purchase a day pass to their pool. No need to trek all the way to the beaches now! I had a tranquil, secluded setting to enjoy.

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Sitting back in my lounge, I thought about my interview with DJ Vivi Seixas and her fortitude to her craft. How great to meet someone so passionate about their work, and then to pass that knowledge on to the youth in her community through service. My work with Las Fotos Project gives me that same satisfaction. Seeing young girls express themselves through photography and writing makes me feel like a proud mama! Having just wrapped our annual fundraiser prior to my Brazil trip, I thought about one of my favorite quotes about mothers: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s words couldn’t be truer for the work that both Vivi and I do with children in need.

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Surrounded by a green garden full of art, flowers, and of course that marine-colored pool, I drifted off into a dreamy trance, lulled to sleep by the soft sound of Marisa Monte playing in the background. What finally woke me up was hunger pangs!

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Tearing myself away from the pool was my hardest task of the aftmama-teresaernoon, but a dinner reservation at Térèze was all the motivation I needed! This top rated restaurant sits atop the neighborhood with a twinkling view of Rio’s seductive sunsets below.

But the real reason to come here is for the food. Like all Accor Hotel properties, the menus have a French influence. Which is a good thing since the French are known for excelling in all things gastronomy. Let’s start with the bread plate. Uttering a soft, “oh my God” when my waiter set it down, I didn’t know which piece to choose. A sampling of butters, cheeses, and savory marmalades accompanied my choices, making my decisions a bit more delectable. Then a salmon pave dish that was so artfully prepared, I felt a bit guilty taking my first bite. Crispy fresh vegetables, coconut-parsley sauce, and a hibiscus-infused foam danced around baroa quenelles. What is a baroa quenelle you ask? It’s the perfect fusion of Brazilian ingredients and French technique. The baroa is a bright, yellow vegetable known as the “carrot-potato” to Brazilians. And a quenelle is a beautifully shaped scoop, usually used for sorbets and ice creams, but in this case, it decorated my dinner plate just perfectly.

Back in the embrace of Mama Shelter, I sat on the colorful terrace and caught up on some emails, Instagram, and all of those technological advances that allow us modern humans to connect while traveling. But what I loved most about this visit to Santa Teresa was connecting with a new neighborhood, giving me more reasons to love Rio!

Contact me to plan your visit to Rio de Janeiro today…

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Swimwear: Lenny Niemeyer

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure & Pedicure: Granado Pharmácias

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Rio By Design

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Botafogo was the first Rio neighborhood that I discovered over 15 years ago during my life-changing trip to Brazil. I immediately fell in love with its local, bohemian vibe and have always stayed in this central part of town – my home base for exploring the rest of Rio’s charms.

To make this hip neighborhood even more intriguing is the addition of new design hotel, Yoo2. Equidistant from the famed beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and in the other direction, bustling Centro where you’ll find Rio’s museums and historical sites, Yoo2 is poised to be the hotel choice when visiting Brazil’s favorite tourist destination.

Stepping into my suite, it was hard to break away from the expansive windows which offered sweeping views of Rio’s most visited landmarks: Sugar Loaf Mountain and the omnipresent Cristo Redentor sitting atop Corcovado. The views that inspired so many seductive songs…

What’s even more seductive is the view from the rooftop pool and lounge at Yoo2. With an eclectic mix of music that plays everything from Seu Jorge’s bouncing beats to those aforementioned songs by bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto, you’ll find yourself tapping your toes to the tunes floating in the background.

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Lenny Niemeyer’s Winter 2017 collection, Maori maillot, paired with bracelets by Marzio Fiorini

When speaking of design, especially in the world of Brazilian swimsuits and resort wear, nobody does it better than Lenny Niemeyer. Her enviable ensembles of silk, cotton, and other sensual materials are always a favorite of my personal shopping clients. In her recent collection, a stunning array of maillots, the designs are inspired by the art of Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, bright koi fish swimming amongst geometric patterns, and my personal favorite – a cream colored backless maillot wirio-by-designth the Maori fish design.

Always a curious soul, I sat poolside and read more about the Maori fishing tradition. What fascinated me most was learning that the Maori fishermen would offer prayers to Tangaroa before their expeditions, since this ancient activity was considered religious. Using special stones in green flaxen nets to attract certain fish, they would return the first catch to the sea as an offering to Tangaroa, god of the sea. Despite being surrounded by plenty of fresh fish, the fishermen were not allowed to eat on these fishing trips and had to hold out for the promise of delicious seafood at the end of the excursion. I don’t think I would have fared well on this type of trip.

Luckily for guests at Yoo2, there is plenty of delicious food at the nearby rooftop bar. And in Lenny’s artful designs, you can easily go from poolside to the restaurant by slipping on some pants, a sarong, or a skirt to complete your look. Her boutiques are all over Rio, so your swimwear shopping is not far away…

During my stay at Yoo2, I ate at the rooftop bar as much as I could. Where else would you want to dine with this sunlit backdrop inviting you at every hour of the day? I had the bruschetta twice, and my hamburger disappeared too quickly to be photographed! Juicy and delicious, it’s right up there with other top Botafogo burger joints like Comuna and Hell’s Burguer. My Carioca friends who joined me for dinner one night definitely agreed.

It’s not your imagination that the food is the perfect compliment to this beautiful bay view. Chef Marcelo Shambeck changes the menu seasonally to match Rio’s local offerings, bringing only the best to Yoo2. Whether you’re dining poolside at one of the cabanas, in the open-air bar, or at their first floor Cariocally Restaurant, you can taste the freshness and local flair that Chef Shambeck adds to each dish. One of his signatures: 12-hour slow-roasted barbecue ribs. Wash them down with housemade pineapple juice infused with mint – you’ll need nothing else.

Another design expert is Rio-native Marzio Fiorini. Marzio, whose signature material is used to craft unique jewelry, home accessories, and most recently a line of biodegradable fragranced candles for Inspire, creates stunning pieces that pair perfectly with any outfit. The waterproof material is ideal for coordinating with your summer attire and looks great for warm-weather fêtes. Perfect for a pool party maven like myself!

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Lenny Niemeyer Koi maillot with Marzio Fiorini bracelets

I had the opportunity to meet this talented man at his Joá showroom in the cliffside abode that he calls La Suite. Sitting on the veranda overlooking a crystalline sea, Marzio and I talked about his start as a designer, his inspiration, and our meditation practices. “I get my inspiration from my farm retreat in Minas Gerais – to be away and think, I need it! I have it in my mind first – and then I just design.”

And his designs are stunning. So much so that they were captured in the Rio Olympics last year. An array of headdresses worn by the Africa parade during the marvelous opening ceremony showcased his creations to the world. Next up for his world tour? His vernissage that debuted in Rio last month will go to Paris, Capri, and Zurich this summer.

With the scent of Inspire’s dama da noite candle slowly wafting through Marzio’s gallery, it was hard to resist purchasing everything in sight. But I ended up choosing a gold-tone necklace outlining the shape of Brazil – the perfect souvenir from my visit to this amazing country. Upon leaving Marzio’s enchanting space, he gave a preview of the pieces in his exhibition named “O Rio que me inspira…Eu expiro!”. Inspiring it was, and I hope to see more of his creativity around the world!

Back in the comfort of my suite at Yoo2, I enjoyed some of the design details and special amenities that have all been curated to provide a true Rio experience. They definitely live up to their slogan “Be Cariocally” with coffee table books featuring Rio artist Vik Muniz, Globo, the ubiquitous biscuits sold on Rio’s beaches, and my favorite – tropical-smelling toiletries by Granado Pharmácias.

My visit to Granado’s headquarters started like any other corporate tour; the necessary check-in with security, a quick tour of the showroom, and a preview of their latest product line. But within minutes, I had the honor of speaking with Granado company president, Mr. Christopher Freeman, who walked me through this burgeoning beauty brand’s history.

Started in 1870 by a family of Portuguese immigrants, Granado Pharmácias has a product offering of fragranced soaps, perfumes, baby skin care, and my favorite – a line of cruelty-free, moisturizing nail polish. Talking about the company’s financial history, Mr. Freeman reminisced about the volatile economic conditions and his risky business move almost 14 years ago. “It was a period of hyperinflation here in Brazil. Everyday prices were going up; it was an inflation mindset. I found the money on June 17, 1994 – weeks before the Brazilian real was created.”

His risky investment paid off. Today under his leadership, Granado has no debt and is partnering with a Spanish private equity firm to bring the company’s offerings to the rest of the world, as well as an expansion plan within Brazil. Already in shops in Europe, like Le Bon Marché in Paris and Pau Brasil in Lisbon, Granado’s products will bring a bit of Brazil’s unique scents like Amazonian Breeze and Carioca to a global audience. My friends and family are always the lucky recipients of Granado’s soaps, an easy souvenir to pack in my carry-on!

Wrapping up my interview with Mr. Freeman, we chatted about his favorite places to travel – London and Paris, the renovation of Saúde which is the home of their new headquarters, and our shared loved of American football. A boyish grin accompanied the signed photo of his favorite team, the New England Patriots.

Eager to see the rest of Saude’s neighborhood and the new light rail that Mr. Freeman boasted he’d be taking to the airport, I walked along the back of the building and was greeted by bright, urban art and a rail stop that would lead me back to Botafogo.

The vibrant art is one of my favorite design elements at Yoo2, especially the elevator mural by urban artist Marcelo Ment. A Rio native, Ment is one of the pioneer’s of Rio’s graffiti scene, with his work now featured in major publications and art exhibitions around the world including Los Angeles, Boston, and most recently, New York for International Hip Hop Day. Ment shares his inspiration, “The works and stories I have been building are based on experiences and situations from day to day. I see art, above all, as a form of communication and a search for evolution in every way.” This evolution is definitely evident in Botafogo at Yoo2 hotel. Plan your trip and see for yourself.

Contact me to book your stay at this new design hotel in Rio!

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Photography: Arthur Martins

Swimwear: Lenny Niemeyer

Jewelry: Marzio Fiorini

Shoes: Melissa

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure & Pedicure: Granado Pharmácias

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Palácio Tangará: São Paulo’s Urban Gem

A lush, palatial retreat isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of the vast metropolis that is São Paulo. But with the new addition of luxury hotel Palácio Tangará, that’s about to change.

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Set inside Burle Marx Park, which boasts over 26 acres of artfully landscaped gardens, lagoons, and pathways, Palácio Tangará is Oetker Collection’s newest masterpiece hotel offering. “Masterpiece hotel” isn’t just a description of the luxury that you’ll experience; it’s the pledge of this worldwide brand that uses a pearl to signify their “commitment to provide service of the highest quality, every hour of every day”.

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Oh, what a pearl it is! This gleaming white palace is nestled in the green gem designed by famed Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx’s urban oasis features his trademark curvilinear shapes and use of exotic plants, resulting in asymmetrical, natural art that is a welcome respite here in São Paulo.

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As Latin America’s economic capital, São Paulo is home to over 250 art galleries and museums, 171 concert halls and theaters, and 112 unique shopping experiences. It also boasts the largest fleet of helicopters in the world! During my recent stay, I had the opportunity to visit Sala São Paulo and hear a glorious Haydn performance, dine at three different Michelin-starred restaurants, and attend SP-Arte, Latin America’s largest and most internationally-renowned art and design fair.

But a highlight was attending São Paulo Fashion Week, one of the top fashion weeks around the globe, which showcases almost forty Brazilian brands twice a year. Here at SPFW, I had the great fortune of meeting Alexandra Fructuoso, head designer at Maison Alexandrine. I’ll never forget my introduction to this exquisite businesswoman who was wearing a striking ensemble of pearly silk, and a smile just as stunning. Alexandra is equal parts regal, beautiful, and inviting. And that’s exactly how you’ll feel in her couture designs. Whether it’s a long flowing gown for a gala, or a short, chic number straight off the runway, the designs from Maison Alexandrine fit perfectly amid the decor of Palácio Tangará.

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Satin and grosgrain ensemble by Maison Alexandrine

While visiting the showroom at Maison Alexandrine, I got a peek inside their bridal suite, complete with all of the picture perfect backdrops to make a bride swoon. At every turn, there’s gilded decor and sparkling sconces to please the eye. But what’s most pleasing is Alexandra’s artistic

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influence, which is evident throughout Maison Alexandrine.

While choosing my gowns to wear at Palácio Tangará, Alexandra imparted some of her design philosophy and the story of Maison Alexandrine’s origins. “The brand name was born out of a tribute to Madame Pompadour’s only daughter, Alexandrine. And like Madame Pompadour, my brand brings together the work of both new and established artists and designers, showcasing their work, and this luxury craftsmanship, to the world.”

And you’ll feel the craftsmanship at first touch. Slipping into every gown was a sensual experience, one that every woman should have. My personal favorite was a white tulle skirt and bodysuit – a possible contender for my future wedding dress!

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Black silk chemise gown by Maison Alexandrine paired with a bone and ivory cuff bracelet from Patricia MB Gotthilf

Speaking of weddings, Palácio Tangará already has 12 brides-to-be who were lucky enough to secure a date on its enviable social calendar. Tangará’s ballroom is the perfect setting for saying “I do.” The stunning space, which holds over 500 people, sits atop the famed park and has terraces that allow guests to take in the verdant views. And if you ever tire of these sweeping vistas, you can retreat to your suite and sink into the sumptuous bed, while still bathing in the natural light from your terrace.

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Silk tulle gown by Maison Alexandrine

While sitting in this impressive suite designed by interior design firm Bick Simonato, I read more about the hotel and how it got its name. Keeping with the theme of its natural surroundings, Palácio Tangará is named after an Amazonian bird, the rainbow-hued songbird, Tangara Chilensis. You’ll see this marine-colored mascot on Palácio Tangará’s hotel stationery and decor, a charming reminder of Brazil’s connection to many natural wonders.

Preparing for a visit to Tangará’s signature restaurant, I chose some jewels to coordinate with my gowns. The designs from jeweler Patricia MB Gotthilf are a flawless choice, and her design philosophy fits perfectly with Tangará’s aesthetic. With many international awards to her name, Patricia draws upon the rich flora and fauna of Brazil for inspiration, “I love nature. My collections are inspired by man’s connection to the land.” Her design process includes photographing natural elements as a guide to transform precious stones, gold, silver, precious wood, seeds, and roots, but without changing the details and staying true to the material.

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Jewels of rose and aquamarine tourmaline from Patricia MB Gotthilf’s “Candy Collection”

Hearing Patricia share her philosophy reminded me of Burle Marx’s same enthusiasm and advocacy for the biological phenomena he saw here in Brazil. But it was actually during a visit to Berlin, Germany where Burle Marx first developed his passion for his native country’s wealth of natural wonders. Upon returning home, he became an activist and ecologist, one of the first to call for the preservation of the Brazilian rainforests and rare plant species.

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Quartz and gold cuff by Patricia MB Gotthilf in Burle Bar

Glancing down at Patricia’s rare gems, I eyed my favorite: a bracelet from her “Cactus Collection” with delicate gold studs set inside a smoky green quartz. So many captivating options! And with a boutique inside of Palácio Tangará, Patricia’s designs will lure you in even further. Whether it’s the aquamarine stones in her Rock collection or the tourmalines and opals from her Laços da Natureza line, they’ll all look beautiful against the backdrop of Tangará’s alluring interiors.

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Even while you’re inside, there’s always a reference to the sylvan setting outside. Dining at Palácio Tangará is a feast for all of your senses. Mirrored panels reflecting the green gardens and stone-colored china are the perfect setting for Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s creations. Chef Vongerichten, who oversees 30 restaurants worldwide including New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong, is bringing his exceptional culinary talent to his first Latin American venture. São Paulo is fortunate to host this talented restaurateur here at Palácio Tangará, whose signature dishes include a delectable crispy salmon sushi.

Restaurant_2107Chef Vongerichten’s plated specialties are works of art, but so is the dining room whose walls are lined with art by esteemed Brazilian artists. Neutral ceramic pieces by Heloísa Galvão line one wall, while a Hugo França wall sculpture adorns the private room that hosts the Chef’s Table.

Walking back over to the Burle Bar that features beautiful pieces of trees and natural images, I thought of Chef Vongerichten’s excitement about the opening of this new luxury property in São Paulo. “The Brazilian heritage, culture and cheerful lifestyle, the huge variety of local produce combined with the spectacular hotel architecture and design in Burle Marx Park make this project very special.”

It definitely feels special. With each room carefully curated, you feel like you are experiencing this “masterpiece hotel” philosophy that is a trademark of Oetker properties. In Burle Bar, the decor integrates the park’s ambiance using colors, shapes, and works of art to bring in the verdant vibe in the absence of natural light. And just down the way, Laura Vinci’s sculptural homage to Brazil’s mining culture in Papéis Avulsos, with light gold leaves mimicking the park’s soft swaying of the trees just outside. Art is evident at every turn.

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A shower of gold leaves by Laura Vinci

 

Stepping out onto my terrace, I marveled at nature’s art and this biological wonder that surrounded me. I thought of a quote by Burle Marx, predestined for this setting at Palácio Tangará:  “The plant is, to a landscape artist, not only a plant – rare, unusual, ordinary or doomed to its disappearance – but it is also a color, a shape, a volume, or an arabesque in itself.” And this beautiful hotel is all of that! Come and see for yourself.

Contact me to book your stay at Palácio Tangará today!

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Photography: Katiuska Sales

Styling: Marco Barboza

Wardrobe: Maison Alexandrine

Jewelry: Patricia MB Gotthilf

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure: Granado Pharmácias

 

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English Lit

My first toy was a dictionary, so it only made sense for me to pay a visit to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s home-turned-museum in London. Dr. Johnson, publisher of the first printed English dictionary, was born into his fate, as I learned on the candlelit tour, since he has been born in a bookstore. Wordies, linguists, and English teachers will all be mused, and inspired, by the quips and quotes from Dr. Johnson, all on display throughout the house. Pictures of important friends and family hang beside replicas of the first English dictionary, while the museum staff enthusiastically shares intimate details of Dr. Johnson’s life.

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As the tour continued, I learned about Elizabeth Carter, a pioneering woman who studied the Classics back when women weren’t exposed to such scandalous texts. Lauded by Dr. Johnson as a good cook, and even better conversationalist, Elizabeth Carter helped him edit texts, while also expanding his social circles. The other memorable highlight was the story of Francis Barber, Dr. Johnson’s manservant and friend, who eventually became Dr. Johnson’s heir. As a man who loved a debate, Dr. Johnson strongly opposed slavery and bequeathed much of his small estate to someone who came into Dr. Johnson’s life shortly after his wife had passed.

Listening to our guide reveal more details of Dr. Johnson’s remarkable life, I was inspired by this man who seemed to be a pioneer in his own right. Flipping through his detailed dictionary, I thought about the enjoyment I used to get from mine, coercing childhood friends to play word games, after which they eventually tired, saying it reminded them of school.

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I certainly didn’t think I’d be eating tacos in London. But lucky for my strong sense of smell, I was led along the cobbled streets of Soho by the trace of hickory smoke to an underground haven called Temper. Unbeknownst to those walking by, it has a modest front, and you’d never know that this culinary gem lies below. Looking around, trying to figure out where the luscious smell was coming from, I saw blocks of firewood through the glass, my first clue that I had found the source.

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Do not come to Temper if you are a vegetarian or vegan. The sight of lamb shanks, beef loins, and a pig’s head roasting over crackling fires might deter you. It only lured me in further. I took a seat at the bar-the perfect spot to watch the Temper team make fresh tortillas, prepare cuts of meat, and toss eggplant onto the coals. When my plate finally came, it was hard to decide where to start. The fresh burrata drizzled with lime and jalapeno oil, or the soft cuts of pork gently set atop fire-grilled tortillas? Life should always be filled with such decisions! With portions small enough to sample a few options, I began my fireside feast.

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In the era of smartphones, it seems as though there’s a social media channel to suit everyone’s fancy. I love Instagram, so it was only natural that I pay a visit to Saatchi Gallery, “the world’s number one museum on social media” as they say on their site. And rightly so. With tastefully, yet provocatively, curated exhibits, Saatchi Gallery is a must-see while you’re in London – whether or not you have a smartphone.

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I planned to see the opening of Saatchi Gallery’s SALON featuring Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s paintings, and was pleasantly surprised. A longtime fan of Maekawa’s work, I learned a bit more about his art and the Gutai Art Association, Japan’s post-war avant-garde art collective. The word gutai means “concrete”, and was an intentional choice by the collective’s founder “to express the idea that art constitutes the embodied, material manifestation of human spiritual freedom.”

Walking among the rest of Maekawa’s work, and Saatchi Gallery, I thought about my own spiritual path, what “freedom” really means, and the profound and distinct impact that art has on all of us.

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Leaving Saatchi Gallery, I enjoyed an uncharacteristically sunny day in London and walked up to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Friends who recommended I visit warned me that the museum was large, but I had no idea what to expect upon arriving. Holding over 2.3 million objects, I figured I should tackle only two exhibits and save the rest for my next trip to London.

A photography enthusiast, I caught the last days of The Camera Exposed, a small exhibit that featured black and white photography, with each photograph capturing the camera, either in the hands of the photographer, or angled to attempt antiquated selfies. Studying each image, some dating as far back as the 1850s, I was reminded of my days in the dark room back in college.

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My last stop at this immense place was the Lockwood Kipling exhibit. Up until early April, this exhibit details some British history, not only of the V&A Museum and its beginnings as the South Kensington Museum, but Kipling’s contributions to the arts and crafts in the Punjab region of British India.

An illustrator, designer, curator, and teacher, Kipling, along his wife Alice, made much of his life, and artistic contributions, in India. Intricate watercolors from artisans in Calcutta are displayed next to Kipling’s earthenware plates that depict these artisans, each piece telling a different story. As I stepped out of the exhibit in the expansive halls filled with art from around the world, I thought of the quote hung on the wall at Dr. Johnson’s home, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. I definitely wasn’t tired – just on to the next part of my journey.

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Bespoke London

It was in 2014 that I had the pleasure of meeting bespoke tailor Joshua Kane. I had seen a larger than life image of him skateboarding at an exhibit hosted by the Somerset House, eventually making my way to his showroom to purchase one of his signature necklaces called “The Shear”. Since then, I’ve followed the daring designer’s career, as he moved from his old showroom to the new Fitzrovia location, launched a women’s line of bespoke suits, and most recently, breaking records at London’s Fashion Week with his well-attended show “Journey” at the iconic London Palladium.

Joshua Kane’s journey weaves design schooling at Kingston University, where he graduated with Honours, formal fashion experience at varied design houses like Burberry, Jaeger, and Paul Smith, and an entrepreneurial spirit that had him designing bespoke suits out of his small flat not long ago. Fully enveloping the motto, “Blood, Sweat, and Shears”, Joshua’s path is his ethos. His undying passion is evident as he shares what “bespoke” means to him. “Bespoke comes from Latin, ‘to speak for’, and that’s what we’re doing here. Each conversation, as well as each product, needs to be personal to our clients.”

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As with all serendipitous journeys, Joshua’s recent Autumn/Winter show broke fashion week records, showcasing a joint men’s and women’s collection. The show entranced the audience with an opening fit for the opera house. As a pair of ballet dancers twirled and swayed across the stage, a string quartet playing Adagio for Strings enveloped the crowd. Drawn in by the duo’s symphonic energy, Joshua’s show began and his perfectly tailored looks were shown to all. It was a show like no other. It wasn’t just a catwalk of the latest fashions; it was an absolute sensory journey.bespoke7
His bespoke fittings follow suit. “After the client walks away from showroom, I want them to love it because of the experience they’ve had”, the designer imparted. As we moved through his showroom, I asked Joshua what inspires him. “Skateboarding, because when you think about it, the movement, it’s quite like a dance, really.” Just like the dance that closed the show at Fashion Week – inspiring to all of us who sat there in awe.

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One of my favorite things about traveling is partaking in local customs and learning a bit about the culture in the process. The art of afternoon tea is definitely one of those British customs you’ll have to enjoy while in London. But don’t settle for just any tea service. The high tea at The Berkeley is high fashion and a nod to tailor-made design.
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The Berkeley’s “Prêt-a-Portea” experience changes seasons, just like the fashions on the runway. Executive Pastry Chef Mourad Khiat draws upon the latest season’s designs to inspire his menu of bakes and biscuits. Baking expertise runs in Khiat’s family, where he learned this difficult art from his father, also a pastry chef. Eventually honing his skills at culinary school and abroad, Chef Khiat finally brought his eye for delicious and delicate detail to The Berkeley.

Having just celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2016, The Berkeley compiled a cookbook featuring Khiat’s signature recipes. The perfect souvenir for any baker, confectioner, or aspiring pastry chef, this recipe book is filled with encouraging quotes from Khiat, “Showcase your icing and styling skills with this chocolate butterfly fascinator”, exquisite photos, and of course, templates for you to attempt these beauties at home.

Browsing through the book, I sampled on sumptuous tea sandwiches, a bite size spinach and feta muffin, and my favorite – scorched tuna in a horseradish beurre blanc. Absolutely mouthwatering! Sitting in a room flooded with natural light, I perused the selection of teas that would accompany my sweets still yet to come.
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Before heading to London, I came across the beautiful and beguiling Instagram of Luna Mae London. Luckily, I secured an appointment with founder and bespoke lingerie designer Claudia Lambeth, given that her calendar was full with Valentine’s Day and Fashion Week related deadlines. Claudia’s infectious energy was a pleasant surprise as I arrived at her showroom. Eager to share the story behind her exclusive brand, Claudia welcomed me to her Mayfair location, where she conducts private bespoke fittings.

While catching up on all things underpinnings, Claudia shared a bit of her design philosophy. “At Luna Mae London, ‘Bespoke’ means two things. Firstly, we pride ourselves on the fact that each Bespoke piece is made to measure and handcrafted in Britain, supporting British craftsmanship. Secondly, alongside the beautifully made bespoke garments we create a truly bespoke customer service, whereby a client is guided through each step of the bespoke process and their unique needs and desires are catered to.”

It’s evident from first touch that her pieces are not only unique, but crafted from the highest quality material. Her silk, a triple A grade satin silk, is sourced from Como, Italy, while the Italian macramé embroidering and beaded detailing is exclusively designed for Luna Mae London. No detail is left to chance: solid eighteen carat gold fittings are individually hand-cast in London’s Hatton Garden and beautiful monogramming is applied to each bespoke piece. As she showed me some of her bespoke lingerie, which has over 40 structured pieces, as compared to the average 5 that a mass-produced bra entails, Claudia talked about her artistic muses. “Alexander McQueen is a major inspiration to me. I am also greatly inspired by beautiful photography. In particular, I admire the work of Helmut Newton and Sam Haskins.”

Both being women who travel quite a bit, we compared notes on what’s always in our carry-on. Whether it’s to visit international clients or to promote the Luna Mae London brand, Claudia always takes her Luna Mae London loungewear: a silk slip, kimono, and eye mask. “The eye mask in particular is a lovely essential that I always use on the flight,” she added as I mentioned my nagging jet lag. As I wrapped up my appointment, Claudia and I talked about changing trends in lingerie, some of our favorite hosiery brands, and what else to see in London.
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Leaving the Luna Mae studio, I made my way to the pop-up shop for Fine Cell Work. This London-based organization offers rehabilitation programs to prisoners, who are trained in the art of fine needlepoint and embroidery. Marveling at the elaborate designs, I learned a bit about the organization’s origins from Dr. Katy Emck, Fine Cell Work’s Founding Director. “Our founder, Lady Anne Tree, the daughter of the former owner of Colefax & Fowler, Nancy Lancaster, was a regular visitor to HMP Holloway women’s prison in the 1960s, and our first needlework commissions were sewn for the Colefaxes in the 1970s, by life-serving prisoners at that prison. These were two large intricate needlepoint carpets, drawn up by the Royal School of Needlework and sold for £10,000 apiece.”

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Surrounded by everything from lavender sachets, decorative pillows, and holiday ornaments, Dr. Emck continued with the founder’s story. “Early on, Lady Anne had the idea that prisoners would make beautiful things at the highest level they could be truly proud of, and have the chance to earn and save a nest egg for their release, so they could escape the cycle of poverty and crime.” As with most worthwhile ventures, there was a bit of a challenge to this model since prisoners weren’t legally able to be paid for work which they were completing in their cells. But Lady Anne persisted, lobbied, and eventually the law changed, and in 1995 Fine Cell Work was officially registered as a charity.

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As I walked through the shop, at Pimlico Road until early July, I thought about the fine tailoring of Joshua’s bespoke suits, Claudia’s intricate stitching on her bespoke lingerie, and was grateful that this organization gave citizens a chance to contribute their own handmadbespoke-londone pieces of art. When I asked Dr. Emck how she defined “bespoke”, her response seemed to embody what is truly special about commissioned pieces. “Hand stitching is inherently unique, as each item differs from the other slightly depending on the stitcher. Many, often hundreds, of hours of work have gone into the pieces. The pleasure of understanding the provenance of the piece, as well the joy of knowing it was made especially for you, and only one exists in time, is endless.”

Purchasing a few souvenirs for friends and family back home, I looked at the special designs and bespoke pieces on the shelves. Thinking about this calming past-time, I wondered how many of the prisoners transferred this skill to life outside. Dr. Emck enlightened me, sharing some of the success stories and recent commissions by the V&A Museum, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens. “The sense of pride in hand-crafting a stunning piece of work, which you then get paid for and that somebody wants to buy and put in their home is a significant achievement for our stitchers. It gives them work skills and it gives them experience of success. It also enables them to be part of a community that is not about crime.”

Upon parting, Dr. Emck and I traded stories of our experiences on boards for non-profits, the value of helping those in your local community, and the trend in pop-up shops. Grateful for such a meaningful visit, I wandered up the street, feeling lucky for the freedom to experience the multi-faceted city that is London.

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A Belmond Journey

While you’re in London, the last question you’ll ask yourself is “why leave?”. With iconic music landmarks, bespoke fashion, and provocative museums at every turn, it’s no wonder that this metropolis is one of the most visited cities in the world.

But an excursion that you absolutely must put on your itinerary is a luxury train journey with the Belmond British Pullman. These train cars have many a tale to tell, having hosted notable guests like Sophia Loren, President and Madame Vincent Auriol of France, and Sir Laurence Olivier. Rich in history, these cars were used in some of the famous rail services of Britain including the Brighton Belle and the Queen of Scots. The British Pullmans, all of which have been refurbished and restored to lavish, yet comfortable grandeur, are named after American George Mortimer Pullman, who designed these trains to be “palaces on wheels”.

And it definitely felt like a palace from the moment I first stepped foot on the train. Greeted by friendly staff eager to help me settle in to my plush chair, I sipped on my peach bellini while taking in the art nouveau decor and delicate vintage details. Waiting for other guests to board, I read up on these luxury rail cars like the Minerva, Audrey, and my car Perseus, which was Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train car in 1965.

 

Before long, our journey started as we pulled away from Victoria Station and headed towards the English countryside. While enjoying the most sumptuous brunch of Scottish smoked salmon, caviar, and a warm buttered crumpet, all served on the British Pullman’s signature china, I quickly became friends with the travelers across the aisle. Well-versed in the British legal system, my neighbors shared some of the nuances of their system and recommended I visit the Royal Courts of Justice when back in London. What I loved most about our conversation was the personal, cross-cultural exchanges that can only happen while you’re traveling. We discussed the differences between the British and American systems, the U.S. constitution and its cultural grip on gun laws, and what it means to rehabilitate a citizen in the justice system.

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Looking out the window, I drifted off into a pleasant state of daydream as our journey wove through farmlands edging out of a winter frost. Grazing sheep and fields of pheasants dotted green pastures, while the gray clouds broke up as the sun beckoned. It was already turning out to be a beautiful day.

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As we arrived in Bath, our destination for the day’s journey, we were guided through the ancient town on a short bus tour that showed us the highlights. Our guide pointed out Jane Austen’s old haunts, the distinctive architecture of the city, and where to wander at our leisure, all while slipping in some interesting anecdotes.

 

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Exiting the bus, our guide whisked us past the long weekend lines to visit the Roman Baths. Once inside, it was like a flashback to my AP Latin courses from high school. Statues of Roman politicians like Julius Caesar and Vespasian lined the open terrace that overlooked these historic waters. As I sat under a blue sky with these statuesque stone figures above, I reminisced on my school days as president of the Latin Club, where we attended annual conventions that held everything from chariot races to spelling bees, all eventually ending in a nightly toga party.

Making my way up to the exit, I passed my self-assigned patron goddess Minerva, and marveled at the interior baths and stone architecture of this ancient site. With a few hours to roam the city of Bath at my leisure, I headed up towards the hill that led to Royal Victoria Park.

The best part of this Belmond journey is that there is something for everyone in Bath. You can meander through antique stores, catch a rugby match at a local pub, or if the weather is nice, sit outside in one of the parks and observe the greenery lined with intricate cathedrals, buildings, and monuments.belmond4

Always a purveyor of art galleries and museums, I wandered up Broad Street towards the Fashion Museum. Along the way I found Magalleria, a little shop that merged two of my favorite things: art and magazines. Named one of Bath’s best shops in 2016, Magalleria specializes in curating rare, provocative, and artistically designed publications. If you’re in need of a gift or a souvenir, browse their “gallery”. You’re sure to find something that is a smart alternative to a coffee-table book, and won’t weigh a ton in your luggage. After talking with Susan, Magalleria’s owner about the changing landscape in print publications and how artistic magazines are making a comeback, I made a mental note to connect her with a few publishing contacts back home.

Passing quite a few enticing bars and cafes, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about choosing a place to eat, as I would be treated to a delicious dinner on the British Pullman after departing Bath. All the more time to wander these quaint streets!

My final stop in Bath was to the Fashion Museum, which seemed fitting as it was Fashion Week back in London. I started with the newly opened exhibit, Lace in Fashion, that displayed intricate designs, dresses, and decor dating from the 1500s. Walking past gowns by Balmain, Dior, and a beaded dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor during her controversial trip behind the “Iron Curtain” to Moscow, I thought about my recent visit to the Luna Mae showroom, where dreams of bespoke lace lingerie come to life. Seeing this craftsmanship behind glass gave me a new appreciation for this elegant material.

As the British Pullman rolled out of the station, I thought about the Romans’ contributions to transportation, the developments since that era, and how much we depend on these various modes today. Watching the sun set, I savored each bite of the most delicious cauliflower soup, a perfect starter to the freshly made seasonal menu served for this trip’s dinner.train

Over a few more courses which included a delectable daube of beef, dauphinoise potatoes, and a cheese plate sampling regional cheeses from the British Isles, I caught up with my neighbors about what they saw on their afternoon in Bath. As it turns out, we all carved different paths throughout the town, each of us highlighting a favorite experience.

Winding our way back to London, I was already thinking about when I could travel on another Belmond journey. Luckily there are many options to choose from! The newly launched Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury touring train, glides through rugged countryside, winding along the striking scenery of Ireland’s northern coast. Or choose the highly anticipated Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper service, where you can see the spellbinding curves and natural crevices of Peru.

Regardless of your destination with the Belmond Trains, one thing is for certain – you’ll definitely have the trip of a lifetime. My journey on the luxurious British Pullman is something I hope everyone can experience on their trip to England. The superior service and world-class gastronomic fare provided by the British Pullman team, the intimate and daring conversations with your travel companions, and of course, the postcard scenery along the way all add up to create a unique journey for each of us. And really, that’s what travel is all about – the journey.

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Wine Country: Take Two

My first visit to the wine country was for a weekend of corporate planning, goal setting, team building; a typical work retreat with my first job out of college. What I

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remember most from that trip was the team building – a bike ride through sun-soaked vineyards, with frequent stops for tasting the region’s top export. There’s nothing like a little wine to help timid office mates connect. As my fellow coworkers and I rode along, our adventure took an interesting turn when my boss realized that none of us were fit to ride back to the hotel. Sensing the frustration and fatigue of her troops, she called a few cabs to safely return us to the welcoming embrace of our blush-hued resort, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.

Since then, my occasional trips to the wine country have been just as memorable. My cousin’s wedding, a dinner at French Laundry with a friend who lost a bet, and most recently my visit to the Napa Valley Film Festival.

The film festival, now in its sixth year, is the brainchild of a dynamic duo, Marc and Brenda Lhormer. Beyond bringing their extensive experience in event planning to the festival, the Lhormers produced Bottle Shock, a film about the Judgement of Paris, a controversial wine competition that put Napa Valley on the map. When I spoke with Marc about how their movie production background informs the energy and focus of this festival, he replied, “we have tremendous empathy for the filmmakers who come through every year. We know what it’s like in the trenches and what they go through – we are supportive of the producers.”

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Dev Patel reflects on the movie Lion

And what is produced every year here in Napa Valley is not just a film festival. It is a feast for your senses. The calendar is filled with events and tastings featuring award-winning restaurants and vineyards from the region. “What makes Napa Valley Film Festival unique is that it’s epicurean, it’s sensual. You’re not just seeing great films – you’re eating and drinking the best stuff! We really weave that into the experience.” I’d definitekollarchocoly have to agree with Marc’s words. At the opening night party, we were treated to an epic feast hosted by Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. His delectable bites floated among wines from Quixote Winery, an array of sweets from Kollar Chocolates, and late-night nibbles, my favorite being the mozzarella bar: two words that should always be together.

One thing’s for sure when traveling through the wine country: you will have the opportunity to taste delicious wine and food at every turn. I was reminded of this when I returned to my hotel, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, only to be greeted by turn-down service that included champagne and truffles. Sinking into my jacuzzi bathtub, I thought back to the first time I visited this resort during the aforementioned team building weekend and how much had changed in my life since.

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Still digesting the powerful and heart wrenching scenes from the film festival premier of Lion, I sat back amidst the bubbles and thought about Saroo’s quest for his identity, his past, and a piece of his genetic history that would complete him. Amongst many memorable scenes, I replayed the scene where Saroo tears up the maps, the guide, and the outline in his frustration. Only after doing this does his quest open up to divine guidance – literally. Then I thought about my own quest and how I’ve tossed the map aside many times, only to be guided by a special energy leading me along.

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Fairmont Sonoma’s Master Suite

There’s not many things that will lead me out of bed early in the morning, but a short walk to the spa was well worth it. Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa, which was recently awarded “Best Hot Springs” by Wellness Travel, is a sanctuary unto itself. I started my day with a restorative yoga session surrounded by large windows that looked out at wispy shoots of green bamboo. After realigning my spine, chakras, and perspective, I thought, why not more of this, and took in the water yoga class at the Watsu pool below.water-yoga

Luckily for my body, and my skin, the resort is one of the few luxury spas in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water, which is found in all of the pools at Fairmont Sonoma. As I slid into the warm water, our instructor shared some of the minerals that were present: manganese, potassium, zinc, calcium, and copper, just to name a few. Dipping my head back into the water for savasana pose, I was led to even further relaxation with the sounds of soft pipe music melting my muscles into the water. When wrapped up in a blissful state such as this, it’s hard to leave the oasis of Willow Stream Spa. But when your afternoon agenda includes a visit to an award-winning vineyard, it’s just the push you need.

Tucked in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, Ceja Vineyards is a family run vineyard, where I instantly felt at home as I was greeted by Dalia Ceja, who shared a little of the vineyard’s history. “This land, which used to have horses, rams, and sheep roaming freely, is my childhood home. The house, which is surrounded by 15 acres of pinot noir, was built by my father in 1985. It is here where I first learned about the labors of wine-making.”

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Vista from Ceja Vineyards

Since then Dalia has gone on to earn her MBA in wine business, perfecting the knowledge that she learned in the fields with her father and siblings. Leading me through the front part of the property, which is surrounded by the fields growing their chardonnay grapes, we were joined by Amelia Ceja, founder of the vineyard and former California “Woman of the Year”, an honor she earned for breaking glass ceilings in a very competitive industry. Hearing Amelia, who is a living encyclopedia, share the history of this region is reason enough to visit the vineyard. “The indigenous Guapo Indians used to live on these lands, so when building our vineyard, we consulted with experts who understood the history and the topography of these lands. We are in the southernmost part of Napa Valley with the Napa River running throughout and creating this fluvial soil due to the River. If you’re a grape, this is Eden.”

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Amelia, who recently gave a guest lecture at Stanford’s Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, guided our tour toward the “capilla”, the small chapel that sits at the edge of the vines. As Dalia and Amelia highlighted the custom artwork and stained glass windows that adorned the walls of the capilla, it was clear that I had been led to a special place. “There is nothing like this in the wine country. We want to be inclusive of all religions, we want everyone to feel welcome here. There’s a sense of spiritual energy that’s welcoming. Nuestra casa es su casa”, said Dalia with a warm smile that can put anyone at ease.

cejachapelI could definitely feel the embrace of this place as I looked up at colorful glass images of Moses, Buddha, the Black Madonna, and of course the Virgen de Guadalupe. Walking around the back of the capilla, which has a private dining area perfect for an intimate tasting or team meeting, Amelia provided some more background on the decor. “A gift from the foundry, this bell at the top of the tower is a genuine El Camino Real bell like the ones you’ll see at the missions and along the side of the road. It’s the same technology that was used many years ago to design these historical bells.” Acknowledging the controversial history of the missions, Amelia gave me a short lesson about the land, talked about the art that they had commissioned for this space, and walked us around to their symbolic cemetery. “Nobody is buried here. But everything that should be dead is buried here: bigotry, discrimination, sexism.”

muraldetailcejaAs this regal mother and daughter duo wandered back to the tasting room, I stayed behind to take in the meditative energy of this space. What a beautiful homage to everything that had come before: the indigenous that had lived off of these lands centuries before, the farmers that had plowed and picked the fields of the wine country, and the contributions of Latino artists to the diverse fabric of California’s landscape. cejamag

Catching up with Dalia at the edge of the bocce ball courts that her father, Pedro built, I learned a bit more about the Ceja family. “Here we have Bacchus and Dionysus battling each other, with the color of the balls representing our pinot noir and chardonnay. We want people to have fun – it’s an experience here at Ceja!”

To continue my experience, I began my tasting of Ceja’s prized wines while the aroma of fresh chiles came wafting from the kitchen. Listening intently to Dalia describe the fermentation process, the climate differences between Napa, Sonoma, and Calistoga, and other nuances of the wine region, I decided that my favorite was their vintage Sauvignon Blanc. “This wine is grown at our Sonoma Coast adobe vineyard about 45 minutes west of this tasting room. We use French oak judiciously, and this one has some grapefruit and guava characteristics.” With each sip, I began to understand more of Dalia’s explanation and made a mental note to take home a bottle.

As I finished my tasting, Amelia graciously served me quesadillas with arugula and Spanish chorizo, piled high with her salsa made fresh from those chiles I had inhaled only a bit ago. This impromptu feast was paired with their award-winning Cabernet that was also served during the Napa Valley Film Fest Saturday gala. Savoring each bite of this sumptuous meal, Amelia and I chatted about everything from social media, to the challenges of being a Latino business owner, to our shared love of author Isabel Allende. Recounting the details of one of our favorite books, Daughter of Fortune, I thought about how fortunate I was to have been led here to sit with this inspiring businesswoman who has started a legacy for her family and the region of Napa Valley.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetThere was nothing more comforting than wrapping up a day of delicious wines and home cooked food than falling back onto the cozy couch in my suite, warmed by a crackling fire. Easing into its embrace, I looked at the calendar for the film festival and began to plan the next day. How to choose among so many enticing options? I thought back to my interview with Marc when he discussed how they chose films for their festival. “We like to show films that people would really relate to; we’re representative of the audience. The films are less edgy and more positive, with upbeat, amazing documentaries.” Scanning the list, I decided to see Crossing Rachmaninoff, a feature documentary that beautifully blended the story line of pianist Flavio Villani’s personal and professional quests.

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Watching Flavio’s gifted hands dance across the keys, I was grateful that he decided to hone his gift and forgo his “safe” career as an IT professional. Thinking back to the film, Lion, I realized there were a lot of similarities between Saroo and Flavio. As they tossed aside the map that had been laid out before them, their true destiny began to open up. And witnessing Flavio’s destiny to become a world-class musician unfold on screen brought joyful tears to my eyes. Tears that seemed to ebb and flow to the melody of Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece concerto.

Leaving the screening, I headed over to Bar Terra, a gastronomic gem tucked behind St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema. Knowing that it was quite difficult to get a reservation, I lucked out and found space at the bar, eagebisteeyar to chat about all things film, food, and wine with the other patrons. Not hungry enough for their full tasting menu, I opted for the most perfect bowl of polenta soup, another masterful dish created by Michelin Star Chef, Hiro Sone. Making sure to save room for dessert, I originally had my eye on the goat cheese cake, but went with the apple and almond bisteeya, a recommendation from my bartender, Stephen. Always take a dessert recommendation from a man who makes his own grenadine. Each bite of the light and flaky bisteeya melted in my mouth, with soft flavors of cinnamon and wild flower honey easing it along.

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One of my favorite past times is visiting museums and art galleries, so when the Fairmont concierge recommended that I visit Imagery Estate Winery, a winery that also has a gallery on-site, I knew I had to pay a visit. Once inside, my wine guide and impromptu docent, Lilly, led me through their space. “What’s unique about Imagery is our labels, with each piece being commissioned to incorporate the Parthenon logo in a creative interpretation by each artist.” Originals of past labels hang beside Imagery’s top-sellers and wines reserved for club members, encouraging visitors to not only broaden their palate for wine, but their appreciation for art. Upon leaving, I passed a piece called Lion, a watercolor by Laura Ball that will be used for a future wine label. I told Lilly about how I now knew why I was led to this winery; Lion was a feature film at the festival, and my dad was a Leo, two reminders to always trust my path.

Stopping back by the Fairmont for a quick bite before heading back to the festival, I indulged in a juicy hamburger at 38º North. This wasn’t just any hamburger; it needed no fixings or extras. Using Mindful Meats, a local company that produces 100% organic, non-GMO, grass-fed beef, this delectable burger is layered with smoked fiscalini cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, and pimentón aioli. Mouthwatering to say the least!

The great thing about 3bisque8º North is that it is led by Chef de Cuisine, Andrew Cain, who also orchestrates the menu at Santé, Fairmont’s Michelin-rated restaurant and one of Elite Traveler’s top 100 restaurants in the world . Chef Cain’s inspiration for the menu comes from “the change of season, what is available at the farm, a conversation with another chef, or a memory.” And memorable it was. Having already tried their lobster bisque and charcuterie after the hotel’s nightly wine tasting, I made a note to come back and try Chef Cain’s favorite: “a Venison entrée that comes from a 55,000 acre ranch in Wyoming that raises the animals in a natural free range environment. We are serving it with petit vegetables grown locally, as well as a sauce prepared with wild huckleberries harvested from the coast.”

My last film of the festival was Pisco Punch, a lively documentary that traced piscothe history of one of Peru’s most spirited exports. The film weaves anecdotes from Peruvian distillery owners, mixology tips from renowned bartenders, and haunting images from Peru’s troubled past. Now experiencing a revival, Peru is luring travelers to its diverse culture with a dynamic food scene, and of course pisco. Watching the artfully prepared cocktails and cuisine flash by on screen, I instinctively felt that Peru may have to be my next destination.

At the wrap party, I compared my favorite films, and of course favorite eats, with other festival goers’ top picks. During the party, I bumped into pianist Flavio Villani, excitedly telling him that I had gone back a second time to see his film after hearing that he was going to perform live for the film festival audience. We chatted about some of our other favorite classical pieces, his family recipes highlighted in the film, and the challenges of being an artist. Looking around the party at my fellow artists, and the filmmakers who had conquered insurmountable situations to create their films, I was reminded of the words from Flavio’s brother featured in the film: “Having faith in yourself is the biggest obstacle that you have to overcome.”

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Homecoming 2.0

I’ll never forget waiting for the mailman that spring. Looking in the mailbox and seeing a large envelope meant only one thing: I had gotten in. Envelope in hand, I whirled about in a screaming frenzy throughout my living room, accidentally tearing the letter welcoming me into the Stanford family. What I did know is that I’d be joining the ranks of students from all over the world seeking out an educational experience beyond their wildest dreams. What I didn’t know is that I would be thrust into a Cardinal-colored ecosystem of all things that defined change and revolution.

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“Relic” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View

On a recent visit to Stanford, and the surrounding area that is now known as Silicon Valley, I’m reminded of a story that highlights the transformative nature of this time in my life, and in the rest of the world. During my freshman year, one of my fellow dorm mates burst into our study room, only to surprise a few of us sleep-deprived students cramming for exams, and dramatically informed us, “There’s this thing called the ‘world wide web’… the ‘information superhighway’…and it’s gonna change the world!” He went on to explain on a little about what he meant, while most of us just brushed him off, thinking he was probably more sleep-deprived than the rest of us.

Whatever the impetus for his technological manifesto, he was right. And who knows, he may have gone on to create one of the hundreds of companies founded by Stanford alumni. Back on campus, which recently appeared at the top of Travel & Leisure’s Most Beautiful College Campuses list, I slowly wandered through the picture-perfect arches and architecture, dodging students on bikes and awestruck tourists.

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Hoover Tower at dusk

After making my way through the Quad, I had the opportunity to meet with our alumni president, Howard Wolf. Sitting in his office, which is adorned with Stanford memorabilia and inspirational books, we talked about some of our unforgettable travel moments, our favorite Palo Alto eateries, and of course, what makes Stanford special. “To truly understand what makes Stanford unique, you have to go back to the beginning. At its core, it has that pioneer stock. It’s in the DNA and mindset of the University,” shared Howard.

As I listened to Howard talk about the foundation of this “University of the West”, I thought about my alumni network of friends and colleagues, all who exemplify this pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it’s starting their own award-winning interior design firm, founding a fitness boot camp for children, or launching a non-profit designed to bring American democracy to life through jazz music, Stanford alumni pave the way for the world around them.

“One of Jane Stanford’s directives for the Stanford community was to yield ‘useful people’. There was an institutional emphasis on utility and action. And this spirit is alive in the student body and alumni today,” he revealed. “Stanford students want to change the world. Impact it and create a new way of thinking.” Of course, the world is now familiar with famous Stanford duos who founded companies like Google, Yahoo, Instagram, and one of the forefathers, Hewlett Packard. There’s no doubt that these companies impacted the world and created a new way of thinking, communicating, and living.

But beyond the impact on modern enterprise and the fabric of Silicon Valley, Howard and I agreed that what makes Stanford unique is that “zany and quirky spirit” best exemplified by Stanford traditions such as the Wacky Walk at graduation, the student-driven moniker, “Nerd Nation”, and really any performance by the Stanford Band.

As we chatted, Howard reminisced on Italy, one of his favorite travel destinations after studying abroad at Stanford’s campus, once known as Villa il Salviatino. And of course, no conversation with an alumni president would be complete without a nudge to volunteer for my upcoming reunion. But as with all of my past volunteer work for Stanford, I am looking forward to connecting with my fellow pioneers, and exchanging stories of challenge, growth, and success since our days on the Farm.

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Walking by the Class of ’97 time capsule

Leaving Howard’s office, I charted my course through the rest of campus. Eager to see the Bing Wing of Green Library that was closed while I was an undergrad, I met up with Associate Director for Development of the Stanford Libraries, Sonia Lee. I first met Sonia while volunteering with the Saroyan Prize for Writing a few years ago, and was thrilled as she offered some insight into campus’ largest library. As she led me through Green’s hallways, lined with mementos of student life from Stanford’s 125 year history, she talked about the current exhibition Stanford Stories, which is an effort to capture alumni anecdotes for the University archives. There will be several exhibits on display, one being at the Arrillaga Alumni Center beginning homecoming weekend through January 2017.

Touring the endless series of throwbacks, the highlight of my library visit was the David Rumsey Map Center. Just the walk up the stairwell was a sight to see, the walls lined with massive maps, one of my favorites being a 1666 depiction of “California as an Island”. A tech-savvy space, the Rumsey Map center holds original cartographic materials, some fact, some fiction, including “The Land of Make Believe”, which is used in teaching Professor Grant Parker’s course Memorials, Museums, and Memory. I could have stayed in there for hours and was thankful that my visitor pass was good for seven more days.

We ended at the Bender Room, which encases what Sonia calls the “greatest hits of literature”. This room, filled with loads of natural light, looks over a fountain below, and beyond to the Quad. The room’s renovation, made possible by the generous donation of Peter and Helen Bing, included framed prints of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Walking along this wall, I thought back to my tour of the National Library in Rio de Janeiro, and added a few new places to my travel bucket list.

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Cooling off near Shumway Fountain

Sitting in front of a nearby fountain, I decided to head down to the Computer History Museum. A visit to Silicon Valley is not complete without a trip to this Mountain View multimedia experience, whose Revolution exhibit spans from early computing with an abacus to modern day smartphones. A word of caution: plan to spend at least two hours at the museum. You’ll want to absorb the wonder of our technical advances as a human race. And if you’re a not a computer science major, you’ll want(need) to reread some of the dense information posted around the exhibits.

For me, the highlights of this multimedia exhibition were reading about the life of Ada Lovelace, who is said to have written the first computer program, seeing the live demo of the IBM 1401, which transformed data processing and changed the world, and seeing my childhood toys like Speak & Spell and Gameboy behind museum glass. Talk about a flashback!

Pacing slowly through the museum and seeing how far we’ve come with computing, even in my own lifetime, I wondered what was next. Some people warn of becoming too dependent on technology, but after visiting the Computer History Museum, I wondered if it has always been that way. Maybe what we consider a “computer” today will be just another exhibit at the museum a few decades from now.

Eager for my dinner at Evvia Estiatorio, I headed back to Palo Alto. Talking with Panos Gogonas, the restaurant’s general manager who’s been with Evvia since the beginning, I learned a little more about this neighborhood gem. “There’s a word in Greek – filoxenia – and it means ‘to make a stranger your friend’. That’s what we do here at Evvia; it’s the essence of our restaurant.”

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Eagerly anticipating my meal, Panos shared what’s contributed to their success over the years, making it difficult to get a last minute reservation. “The experience at Evvia really touches the five senses, not just taste. And of course, we have all of the things that make any restaurant successful: great food, good service, and consistency. But among our staff, we have low turnover. It’s like a family here. And when we have that love within, we want to share it with our guests.”

Ah yes, the five senses. From the amber-glow that envelops you when you walk in, to the aroma of herbs like thyme, dill, and oregano mingling with succulent cuts of meat, your senses will definitely feel the love from Evvia. This sensory symphony is led by Executive Chef, Mario Ortega, who came to the Palo Alto restaurant after a breadth of experience that includes Executive Chef at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley managed by Bernardus Lodge, Scala’s in San Francisco, in addition to orchestrating the annual Greek Independence Day dinner at the White House with his boss and Chef Partner, Erik Cosselmon of Kokkari in San Francisco.

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While sharing some of the steps to one of his favorite dishes, youvetsi katsiki, Mario talked about the restaurant’s menu. “Many of these recipes are family recipes from the restaurant’s founders. Through my technique, I am paying respect to their traditions. It’s an homage to the Greek culture.” Mario starts the stew, featuring goat that is sourced from Don Watson in Napa Valley, and braises the tender meat with lamb stock, eventually baking it with a medley of orzo, green beans, scallions, baby heirloom tomatoes, and Spanish pimentón. Dutifully enjoying my lamb chops, one of Evvia’s signature dishes, I was already thinking about when I could return for a taste of this sumptuous stew.

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As I finished my meal, Mario and I talked about some of the menu’s changing dishes, like the rotisserie chicken, pork chops, and ravioli. Satisfied with my choices of the lamb chops and pesto ricotta ravioli, I made a mental note to order the lavraki, Evvia’s signature grilled sea bass on my next visit. Listening to the crackling embers beneath the lamb roasting behind us, I scooped up the last of my meal, down to the last drop of flavorful broth from my ravioli. Sitting back, I watched other patrons and staff play a part in this symphony of sensory delight, all of which bring the Greek cuisine, with a Mediterranean influence, to Palo Alto.

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Library lobby at Rosewood Sand Hill

The perfect end to a busy day in the Silicon Valley is settling into the picturesque surroundings at Rosewood Sand Hill. Nestled behind the Stanford Hills with sweeping views of the lush Santa Cruz Mountains, this luxury hotel is a welcome retreat. The only Forbes Five Star hotel on the peninsula, Rosewood Sand Hill enfolds guests in California Ranch style rooms, all which open to terraces where you can soak in those evergreen vistas.

But don’t stay tucked away in your suite for too long. There’s the Sense Spa, where you can indulge in the Gold Rush Renewal body treatment, while 24 karat gold infused scrubs nourish and revitalize your skin, leaving you literally glowing from head to toe. Adorn yourself with artfully repurposed jewelry from Verve, sold in the spa’s boutique, or head up to the bar, adjacent to award-winning restaurant Madera, where plenty of business people meet, hoping to strike gold with their latest ventures.

Speaking of latest ventures, Rosewood Sand Hill recently welcomed Colin Cowie, celebrity party planner, to his new event studio which sits right off of the hotel’s impressive, yet rustic lobby. Bringing his keen eye for all things style and fashion, Colin will help guests tailor a unique Silicon Valley soiree, ensuring that it’s more than “just a party.” Back in my room, I sank into my bed and soaked in the stunning views, while nibbling on my bonbons, part of Rosewood’s signature turn down service, knowing I’d be working them off the next morning at the Dish.

In addition to Hoover Tower and Memorial Church, the Dish is one of those campus landmarks that signal Stanford territory. During my visit, I had the incredible opportunity to do an exercise session at the Dish with friend and fellow alumna, Shauna Harrison, Ph.D. A brand ambassador for Under Armour and the creator of Instagram community #SweatADay, Shauna is a fitness maven and health expert who embodies that entrepreneurial Stanford spirit with everything she does.

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Shauna shooting straight to the top

“Social media by itself is such an incredible means of getting messages out. My goal going into the public health field is that I wanted to help people make better decisions – healthier decisions.” And that she definitely has. Her Instagram community, homegrown through her #sweataday challenge, is proof that her doctorate in Public Health wasn’t just another degree to add to her accomplishments. “As I was posting on Instagram, I realized that I was one, educating people, and two, getting the message across. I never imagined it would become a community where people were supporting each other. At one point, I thought ‘I am doing Public Health’. It’s just in a very different way than I had imagined.”

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And her thousands of followers are glad she did. When traveling, I often turn to Shauna’s Instagram for a quick supplement to my hotel room workouts, revved up by her awesome choice of music and clear instructional videos. But as fate would have it, we were able to meet to do a workout session overlooking the Stanford campus, where no filters are needed. dishpanorama

As we walked in between push-ups, planks, and grueling lunges, we talked about some of our cherished Stanford memories, and the sacrifices we made to achieve our academic dreams. “I knew I wanted to go to Stanford from an early age. My mom tells the story of how I saw someone wearing a Stanford sweatshirt on TV, and asked about the school. Then I basically did everything I had to do to get in.” She went on to tell me about how, ironically enough, she was doing poorly in her physical fitness class, which was based on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, and worked hard to complete a bunch of extra credit to bring her grade to an ‘A’. A testament to her dedication, and possibly a turning point for her career path.pushups

A double major in Latin American Studies and Spanish, Shauna had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica, doing research on women, health, and body image, which informs much of what she does today. “The beauty of my posts comes from the movement. It’s not just aesthetics; it’s about being healthy.” When I asked what she does to stay healthy while traveling with her busy schedule, she exclaimed running, saying “it’s a great way to learn about a new place.”

Exhausted, but exhilarated from my session with Shauna, I headed back towards campus to the Cantor Arts Center. As I strolled through sun-soaked Rodin sculptures, I was reminded of a photo that my dad and I took in front of The Thinker when it used to sit near Meyer Library. Sitting there waiting for the self-timer to take our picture, a student sped by on his bike, stopped, and shouted, “Are you Steve Jobs?” Laughing, we continued along our walk through campus, talking about what it must be like to be Mr. Jobs.

Entering the exhibit, California: The Art of Water, whose pieces are set against a somber shade of slate blue, I walked along images reminding me of the scarcity of one of our most precious resources. Eventually drawn to a video titled Tilapia Jetty, showing dead fish flopping in a polluted pool of runoff, I watching the scene unfold as a solemn soundtrack hummed in the background. It was then that the emotion that had welled up inside of me came streaming down my cheeks. Sad for the loss of my father only a month before, sad for the way we’ve destroyed our earth, sad for the water situation in places like Flint, São Paulo, and Kenya, I felt like my tears could make up for all the water we’ve collectively wasted.

Wiping my face, I walked through the rest of the moving exhibit that illuminated California history and thought back to the map of “California as an Island” that I had seen at Green Library. Grateful for the gift of museums that provide lifelong learning opportunities, I headed next door to the Anderson Collection. The collection, built by the Andersons over the last 50 years, houses modern and contemporary art, strengthening Stanford’s support of the arts.

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Sitting in a room surrounded by Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, I marveled at his use of movement and color, thoroughly enjoying the behind the scenes footage showing how his pieces were made. While watching a video of two figures masked with abacus faces, I thought of the abacus behind glass at the Computer History Museum: our earliest form of computing. As I observed these figures, fighting and fidgeting with themselves, it made me think of our relationship with technology. So dependent on it. For seeing each other. Seeing ourselves.

Walking back towards campus, I sat in front the building where I spent much of my time as a psychology major and research assistant, thinking about all of the hours I logged watching research subjects behind two-way mirrors. It’s no wonder that I missed much of the magnificence and marvel around campus. But luckily I have my reunion as an excuse to come back and visit Stanford. Which is a good thing. Because it always feels like home.

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Summer in the City

In a city that can claim summertime weather year round, Los Angeles still has a few markers that signal to its citizens and visitors alike that it is officially summer. One of the most anticipated events, in a city whose temperature can quickly go from blistering to breezy, is the Hollywood Bowl.

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The Bowl, nestled in Cahuenga Pass and just a short distance behind Hollywood’s tourist traps, has called this location home since 1919. Over the years, this L.A. landmark has hosted performances from almost every genre, and much of this music history can been seen at the on-site museum, an ideal place to idle away the time while you wait for a performance. Arrive at the Bowl early, beat the traffic, and take a minute to view what the Bowl calls a “living laboratory for experimentation and discovery of L.A.’s music history.”

Walking through the museum, I thought back to when I visited the Bowl as a child with my aunt, an envied season-ticket holder. I recall summers sitting under the starlit sky, soaking in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and then looking up wide-eyed at fireworks while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture stomped and saluted our nation’s independence, puzzled by the choice of a Russian composition to honor an American holiday.

Now as an adult, I’m able to appreciate the diversity that the Hollywood Bowl calendar has to offer its patrons. Throughout the years, I have been lucky enough to see remarkable performances by Brazilian artists Bebel Gilberto and Seu Jorge, Jamaican icon Grace Jones, English songstress Sade, and classic rock legend Santana. In a day and age when people throw around the word “epic” at every turn, my definition involves swaying to Jones’ sultry hits under the full moon.

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The Hollywood Bowl is not to be missed. Voted as one of the “Top Outdoor Music Venues” countless times by Fodor’s, Rolling Stone, and Architectural Digest, just to name a few, holding that honor is quite noteworthy in a city that can claim much of its activity outdoors. And outdoor dining is half the fun at the Bowl; to call it “picnicking” is an understatement. In fact, one of my favorite cookbooks in a collection that has some strong competition, is my copy of Picnics Under the Stars, a gift given to me by my aunt many moons ago. Besides featuring recipes from famous conductors like Itzhak Perlman and Christopher Hogwood, this cookbook has two features that I love: an index outlined by ingredient(helpful for those with food allergies) and tips for picnicking outdoors, which is something you’ll definitely be doing if you spend any time in Los Angeles.

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Speaking of outdoor dining, there’s no formal designation of “Most Rooftop Bars Per Capita”, but Los Angeles can definitely stake its claim at the top of this imagined list. Adding to that list is the rooftop at quirky and colorful hotel, Mama Shelter. Accor Group’s recent investment in the boutique hotel brand brings the U.S. its first Mama Shelter, situated in the heart of Hollywood. A welcome addition to one of the few walking neighborhoods in this expansive metropolis, Mama Shelter adds some flair and fun that leads all the way up to its rooftop with 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills, downtown L.A. skyline, and the Pacific Coast in the distance.

There’s no shortage of spectacular views from Mama Shelter’s rooftop bar. And this pulsating panorama sets the perfect backdrop for their “Sunday Sunsets” yoga series and their weekly “Screenings Under the Stars”, where guests can enjoy Hollywood classics while taking in the sweeping summer sky. But after you’ve snapped some enviable shots of those vibrant vistas of the Hollywood Hills and beyond, dive into Chef Gerard Sampson’s Mediterranean menu that is sure to send your taste buds on a trip of their own.

Where to begin with this tempting menu? Start with a sampler of Mama’s dips: the cauliflower hummus and roasted carrot hummus are my favorites. Add in the Turkish beet hummus and you have an Instagram-worthy food photo. There’s no shortage of flavor with the rooftop menu. After you’ve finished noshing on your food porn platter, taste the lamb or scallop brochettes, and don’t skip over the vegan friendly options like the Tokyo turnip and brussel sprouts. The refreshing cocktail to pair with this spicy feast: Mama’s Mediterranean Mule that blends rhubarb-infused vodka, ginger beer, and a bit of lime juice for just the right mix of sweet and sour.

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Once you’re back downstairs in the rooms designed by Thierry Gaugain, a Philippe Starck protégé, there’s no shortage of kitschy toys to catch your eye. From the flirty costume masks encouraging guests to role play to suggestive sayings adorning their toiletries that you can use to clean up afterwards, Mama Shelter’s adult-friendly vibe fits right in with its Hollywood surroundings. Gaugain’s first U.S. design project is nothing short of playful, yet provocative.

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When you’ve recovered from any raucous play that you can record from your room, wander down to Mama’s lobby to see the footage. If you’ve built up an appetite, indulge in Chef Sampson’s take on American diner food in their communal restaurant or sip on one of their signature drinks, all with maternal monikers inspired by Hollywood films. My personal favorite is the “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, a spicy margarita with just the right amount of almond syrup drizzle to tempt your tongue for more.

Sipping on my seductively sweet cocktail, I can see how the design evocatively elicits what hotel founder Benjamin Trigano calls an urban kibbutz. “Guests are encouraged to engage not only with the space and the neighborhood, but with each other, too.” To achieve this, Mama’s ceiling is full of scrawlings and sayings that are good conversation starters for that stranger seated at the next stool. Or test your mental agility with games at the nearby tables, and then dance to a rotation of DJs that play throughout the week. There’s no end to the clever cues coaxing hotel patrons to get the full Hollywood experience.

And to truly do that, one must seek out some music while in Hollywood. Whether you’re looking for the big club bumping electronic dance music from internationally renowned DJs or seeking out those bands that have yet to make it on the big stage, Hollywood is a destination for music lovers.

This music mecca has long been a city known for bringing the best acts to the public. It was here in Hollywood where I saw Gary Clark Jr. perform in the back lot of Jimmy Kimmel, and where my mom reminisces of seeing Led Zeppelin on their first U.S. tour back in 1969. That Led Zeppelin debut at the Whisky A Go-Go launched a generation of boomers that would lead the way for rock and roll fans for generations to come. Walking along Sunset Boulevard, I have to admit I’m a little envious of my parents and the musical acts that they saw perform here on the Sunset Strip.

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Although some of these musical greats are no longer with us, their memories live on in sounds and images for those of us that are left behind. Further down Sunset Blvd., I wandered into Mr. Musichead, a gallery featuring a diverse selection of photographs of music legends like David Bowie, Prince, and Tupac. Mr. Musichead, “L.A.’s first gallery devoted exclusively to Art by and about the world’s greatest musicians”, opened in 1998 by Detroit native, Sam Milgrom.

Looking at each of the photos, I thought about how music is tied to so many of my memories. And I’m not alone. It’s a central part of our existence, dating back to the beginning of time when our ancestors made music from their natural surroundings – definitely one of the oldest art forms. I eventually stopped at a photo of Jim Morrison, a genius gone too soon, and thought about a story my dad told me about his visits to the Sunset Strip back in the 1960s.

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“Back in high school, your mother and I used to cruise the strip and one thing that always stood out to me was this billboard that was completely covered with a tan cloth. Each week, there was a pair of hands that would gradually pull away some of the cloth, slowly revealing what the billboard was displaying. It was the album cover of a new band, The Doors and the album was ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’, their debut from 1967.”

Beginning with a bossa nova beat, it’s no wonder that this is one of my favorite Doors songs, and I’m hoping that my dad will some day bequeath that album to me. Thinking about musical influences and how the great artists always drew on what came before, I wandered through the rest of the Mr. Musichead gallery, wanting to take home half of the pieces and adorn my walls with these inspiring and incredible images.

Amoeba interior

Maybe you aren’t a photography enthusiast, and would rather call your record collection a piece of art. If so, Amoeba Music should be on your itinerary. In the center of Hollywood, right off of this famed Sunset Blvd, you can spend hours browsing the expansive collection of music, truly leaving no stone unturned to find that rare, obscure record. Amoeba, staking its claim as the “world’s largest independent record store”, houses endless rows of hard-to-find vinyl, DVDs, CDs, 45s, and other memorabilia, making it the perfect destination for the music collector. Stick around for their live events that happen nearly every night of the week and mix it up with other music fans in the heart of Hollywood’s entertainment district.

If for some strange reason you haven’t found what you’re looking for at Amoeba, the Great Rock and Roll Flea Market is hosted at downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater once a month. Just like it sounds, this monthly bazaar hosts various vendors, mostly selling vinyl, amidst artisans selling eccentric creations, all to the beat of a live DJ spinning sets of funky tunes.

It’s easy to spend hours browsing through records; I know – I’ve done it. But save some time to explore the rest of what downtown Los Angeles has to offer. You can continue your urban adventures, whether it’s a stroll through an art gallery, an evening out at one of the free Grand Performances, or a dip in one of the sexy rooftop pool parties, don’t let summer pass you by spending it completely indoors. You can do that in January, also known as “winter” in Los Angeles.

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Take advantage of these balmy summer nights and enjoy a meal at one of the many al fresco dining options around town. One of my favorites is Pez Cantina, whose decor evokes a nautical mood, with varied hues of turquoise and marine-inspired details throughout the restaurant. This ideally situated restaurant, the first project of husband and wife team Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson-Ramirez, showcases a Mexican seafood-centric menu with influences from Europe and the Middle East, all places where Bret had worked during his tenure with the Patina Group. Lucy tells the story with a gleam in her eye. “We were vacationing on a little island near Loreto, Mexico – it was literally something out of a Corona commercial – and we had just enjoyed some freshly caught fish, with the juicy pico de gallo.” What stood out to Bret was the simplicity, freshness, and high quality of this seaside feast, eventually inspiring them to open Pez Cantina.

As Lucy and I mused over the intricacies of Mexican recipes like mole and chile rellenos, she highlighted the Middle Eastern flavors of pickled vegetables, earthy nuts, and succulent seafood, all of which I could taste in one of their feature mariscos menu items. The simplicity and freshness are married together in this delicious dish that combines grilled octopus with a marinated cauliflower salad, topped with light and crispy chicharron, all dressed with a spicy pomegranate walnut sauce. While savoring every morsel, Lucy pointed out that this dish is infused with muhammara, a Middle Eastern spice that Bret discovered while working in Beirut. This fusion, which Lucy calls “Mexiterranean” clearly brings together the best of Bret’s culinary travels around the world.

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When Bret and Lucy travel, they’re drawn to explore different foodie destinations, leaning on recommendations from fellow travelers to take them to places like Grand Central Market, where you can try a little bit of everything that entices your palate, or they’ll sometimes seek out those trendy hot spots. When speaking of great food destinations, Lucy immediately mentions Mexico. “There’s a movement in the food and wine scene, and it’s nice to see that there is finally some international recognition of this amazing cuisine that is thousands of years old.”

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Continuing with my courses, I enjoyed Pez Cantina’s spicy ahi tuna tostada, a hearty appetizer that gives your taste buds a bit of a kick, and their delicately sweet Hibiscus Berry Margarita. What I love about every dish at Pez Cantina, besides the beautiful presentation, is that each dish is unique and surprises diners with an unexpected take on Mexican cuisine. My main dish, Ahi Tuna wrapped in Smoked Bacon, was a playful mixture of textures and peppery overtones, all on a bed of roasted vegetables and cilantro mashed potatoes.

Both L.A. natives, Lucy and I talked about the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles and how it has become a cultural hub with the myriad of museums like the Broad and MOCA, the nearby arts district, and the musical centers right up the street. Whether or not you make it here in the summer, you’ll definitely find plenty to do with the endless options around every corner.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall, the newest addition to the music venues that line Grand Avenue, has housed the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2003. This architectural and acoustic masterpiece that “embodies the energy, imagination, and creative spirit of the city of Los Angeles” has since welcomed Venezuelan prodigy, Gustavo Dudamel, to a long line of talented conductors. Dudamel and the LA Phil, who won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in 2011, bring vigor and passion to the L.A. community through their orchestral artistry.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of listening to a titillating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor led by celebrated conductor and virtuoso violinist, Itzhak Perlman. At the post-performance reception, I was delighted to learn about Dudamel’s community outreach program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles(YOLA), which aims to develop musicians, and a new appreciation for music, to underserved communities.

DisneyinteriorDuring the summer months, the L.A. Phil’s creative calendar livens up the Hollywood Bowl, until they return to Walt Disney Concert Hall for their 2016/17 season which commences in September. But don’t let that stop you from at least walking by the Concert Hall and standing in awe of Frank Gehry’s carefully crafted curves that look good from every angle.

Luckily for those who want a respite from the heat, what does run throughout the summer are the programs right across the street at the Music Center. Walking through here always brings back childhood memories of seeing musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or my family’s annual trip to the Nutcracker Ballet during the Christmas season.

This year marks the L.A. Opera’s 30 year anniversary, which just wrapped up with a production of La Bohème and will begin the next 30 in September with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s never a shortage of programming at the Music Center. This summer, the American Ballet Theater, along with L.A. area natives Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera, will enchant us with a few performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There’s also outdoor performances on the plaza, with everything from Argentine tango to electronic-fusion to liven up the plaza that overlooks Grand Park and City Hall in the distance.

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Whether you’re enjoying this medley of music on the plaza or visiting the Mark Taper Forum to take in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, the ideal location to enjoy a meal before or after your Music Center escapades is Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar. Located conveniently at street level, Kendall’s offers traditional French brasserie cuisine, all orchestrated by Chef Jean Pierre Bosc, who brings with him a depth of culinary expertise honed in France, London, the Caribbean, and here in Los Angeles.

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Chef Bosc draws on his extensive training with star chefs from all over France, including Jean Paul Lacombe, Yann Jacquot, and Michel Chabran from his home region in the south, as well as his tenure as a restaurateur here in Los Angeles as the former owner of critically acclaimed Mimosa to “remind our guests that eating should first and foremost be a pleasure.”

Salmon

And what a pleasure it is. While I’ve been to Kendall’s many times and thoroughly enjoyed the brasserie classics like moules frites provençal and steak frites, on my most recent visit I took the recommendation of Chef Bosc and tried some of the more experimental dishes that truly highlight his culinary background. After sampling a platter of cheeses that included an aptly named “Saint Angel” brie, I was served the Skuna Bay salmon. Chef Bosc prepares this dish sous vide, a method that ensures each mouthful is marvelous. “I love to use this technique because it controls the temperature and guarantees that your fish will be perfectly cooked every time.” This skillfully prepared salmon dances together with a balanced medley of asparagus, leeks, Meyer lemon confit, piquillo pepper, and Castelvetrano olives, sending your mouth into a state of bliss.

I recommend allowing enough time to enjoy every gastronomic gem that Chef Bosc sends your way. Each and every bite is delectable – and not to be rushed. So if you’re trying to make that evening show, do as my aunt does and book your reservations the minute you buy your show tickets to get those ideal times to savor the entire experience. Or just come and sample their oyster bar during happy hour or partake in their nightly prix fixe menu. Whenever you visit Kendall’s, you’re sure to leave perfectly satiated.

Of course this experience wouldn’t be quite the quintessential French fare without a nod to a culture that sets the bar extremely high for superb, and skillfully prepared, desserts. Scanning the menu, I was pleased to see île flottante amongst the other tempting selections. Having only had it one other time at Bofinger in Paris years ago, it was quite a treat to relish every bite of this delicate meringue floating on a bed of crème anglaise, piled high with caramelized almonds. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.

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Sitting amongst Toulouse-Lautrec inspired images, my family and I reminisced about our favorite performances, with my mother sharing the time when I met the Phantom backstage after a performance, and my shocked expression when meeting him unmasked. As we sat there and mused over our favorite performances, and the ones that we’re looking forward to, I felt so grateful for these memories and the gift of music appreciation that they all instilled in me at a young age.

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Heading out into the breezy summer evening, I made my way to a preview of Los Angeles’ tallest building that has now added an open-air observation deck appropriately called Skyspace. Sitting atop the 70th floor of the U.S. Bank building, this dynamic experience offers 360 degree views of the cityscape far below. Skyspace presents Los Angeles with a modern design with first class vendors for your next event, and of course an unparalleled point of view for your guests. If you’ve got an extreme fear of heights, also known as “acrophobia”, then maybe it’s better to just take in the interactive technology displays on the 54th floor. There’s no windows, so you won’t be reminded how far above ground level you really are when you see the skyline below.

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But if you’re brave enough to head to the top of this building that currently holds the title of “tallest building in the world with a helipad on top”, it’s worth the wait. The highlight of your visit will definitely be the adrenaline-boosting Skyslide, which sends you down a glass slide on the outside, yes outside, of the building. You’re enclosed as you quickly glide down to the 69th floor, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. Just try not to look down as you step inside!

Walking around the perimeter of the lounge, I was careful not to step too close to the edge, worried that it might deter me from actually going down the slide. Staring down at the Biltmore, the Central Library, and nearby Pershing Square, my knees became a little wobbly and I backed up to take in more of this expansive view. You can literally see all of the city: the maze of freeways, the hovering helicopters, the staggering skyscrapers, and sprawling suburbs beyond. As I took it all in, and let my heart rate return to normal, I was glad that I completed this daring 15 second adventure. It’s truly a unique feeling. You feel like you’re on top of the world, when in fact you are.

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