I first discovered the art of Robin Hiers as I was walking downstairs to the beachfront gem, The Deck. Enjoying my handsome date, and the picturesque sea scene that enveloped us, Robin’s signature beach babes, all decked out in the happiest hue of pink, caught my eye. It was at that moment that I found her on Instagram and we’ve been virtual friends ever since.
Robin’s art is always a cheerful interlude in my feed, and although I had never met her in person, I felt like I could sense the positivity and playfulness of her personality through her images. When I finally met her, my instincts were right. She showed up to our interview in typical California beach girl fashion: a breezy cover-up, comfortable flip-flops, and an enviable tan that she earned right here on the shores of Laguna Beach.
Having grown up in Laguna Beach, it’s no wonder Robin draws on this laid-back vibe for inspiration. “I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was 8 years old. My parents had an art gallery, ‘The Pink Palette’, and they started the annual festival Art-A-Fair, so I’ve been surrounded by art. I knew I wanted to do it – I just wasn’t sure how I’d get there!”
Diving into art full time after raising her 3 children in Boulder, Colorado, Robin has spent the last 20 years refining her style and her art. Reminiscing about her path as a career artist, she mentioned an ex-boyfriend who nudged her to return to California. “He thought my art would do really well here, but I was nervous about coming back; things had changed. But I always had my passion and talent and I feel like I am doing what I was born to do. I am at the happiest point in my life.”And happy is just how she wants you to feel when looking at her art. “When people see my art, I want them to close their eyes and sense how I grew up. My mom always lived near the ocean, and she’d have samba music or Billie Holiday playing. She was a character! On Sundays, we’d have champagne brunch and go to flea markets – a very non-traditional mom! It was a shabby chic champagne lifestyle; not a snobby or fancy champagne lifestyle. I want you to sense what’s cool, the sensual music, with a sense of taste.” Surrounded by her mother’s art, unique treasures, and furniture crafted by her mother’s artist friends, Robin still draws on those happy memories of her childhood to infuse her art.
Hearing Robin talk, I got the chills as I remembered the painting that captured my attention over a year ago at The Deck – a beach babe donning a bikini made out of Tab soda labels. Memories of my grandmother sipping on Tab by the pool flooded my mind, as happy tears welled in my eyes.
When I asked Robin what else inspires her art, she motioned to the exuberant scene behind us at The Deck. “This place is my idea of perfection. I mean look at the ocean – it even looks better with the orange umbrellas!” I had to agree. This Laguna Beach hotspot has all of the makings for a perfect afternoon – a gorgeous view, tasty libations, and of course, Robin’s art lining the walls.It’s also a short walk from many of the galleries and museums that Robin frequents, including the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, which showcases her work along with established and emerging artists.“Laguna is an art community. Besides the galleries, we have amazing festivals, like the Sawdust Festival which showcases local Laguna Beach artists, the Festival of Arts, and Pageant of the Masters.” Between these festivals, including the Art-A-Fair that her family started over 50 years ago, formal art institutions like the Laguna Art Museum, and numerous galleries which line PCH, Laguna Beach is an art-lover’s paradise.
As Robin shared more about her career path, I was intrigued and inspired by her infectious enthusiasm. “I actually went to college with the intent of study advertising and doing logos, but my professors kept pushing me towards illustration. I loved looking at the old ads from LIFE magazines from the 50’s and 60’s. And I remember my dad telling me when I was about 7 years old, ‘You could put your style on anything, Robin’, and so I did! He was a huge influence on me. I looked at my mom’s seascapes and thought ‘these aren’t happy enough!’. So I often drew sexy women having fun – maybe that was my lifelong goal,” she giggled as she tossed her hair aside.
What’s next for this quintessential California girl? Robin’s art is now being shown at a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, Artspace Warehouse , and she plans to take her art to an international audience in 2019. As we sipped on our colorful concoctions(my favorite being the Desert Pear Vojito) and chatted about some of our favorite international beach destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the French Riviera, and Barcelona, I felt like Robin and I were meant to be travel buddies.
But her heart and soul will always be here in Laguna Beach. “I can be myself here – 100%! There’s a lot of happy people here and we have live music every night of the week, with a beach chic vibe that I love. My inspiration is here. It’s coming to The Deck. I’m friends with a lot of artists here in Laguna Beach and it’s so fun to see each other and trade techniques. I get inspiration from living a fun life and my bikini girls are just that – sexy, confident, and fun!”
I smiled and said, “That’s me in three words!” as I leaned back and inhaled the fresh, ocean air. And just like Robin’s art, I felt happy.
Want to see more of Robin’s art and the scene in Laguna Beach? Contact me!
This Brazilian Art Immersion starts in São Paulo at the Bienal, the second oldest biennial after Venice and continues at Inhotim, a work of art that spans over 5,000 acres and houses a multitude of exhibits that will transform you.
Far beyond an “art trip”, this unique experience will provide you with exposure to art directors, collectors, curators and artists, above all, exclusive access that would not be possible without the fine-tuned itinerary compiled by two Brazil travel experts.
Meet Your Travel Experts
About Flavia Liz: Considered an Urban Legend by Condé Nast Traveller U.K.’s “The Experts” series, Flavia Liz Di Paolo is an expert on São Paulo in the luxury segment, and offers unique work as a personal guide, catering to clients from all over the world in six languages. Her experiential tourism has garnered coverage in Delta magazine, Italian Vogue, Fortune, Travel Weekly, and plenty of Brazilian publications. With her MBA in Luxury Hotel Management, Flavia Liz is well-versed in places that very few have access, while also being a pioneer in graffiti and favela tours, which will soon be highlighted in a short documentary produced by Sant’anna Miranda Films. www.flavializ.com
About Sarah: Having lived, worked, and traveled throughout Brazil for the past 17 years, Sarah Taylor has the unique advantage of understanding Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective and using that to help her clients have the trip of their dreams. At her firm, All Set Concierge, she provides travel services to individuals who want a unique experience. As a member of the luxury network, Virtuoso, she curates travel excursions that fit your personality and travel dreams. Her adventures throughout Brazil’s magnificent destinations can be seen here https://allsetconcierge.com/blog/
São Paulo – Brazil’s Urban Gem
About the 2018 Bienal: Considered one of the most important contemporary art events in the world, the São Paulo Bienal’s title for this year is Affective Affinities – inspired by the novel Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and by the thesis “On the Affective Nature of Forms in The Work of Art” by Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa. The 33rd Bienal, curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, shifts the conventional model of contemporary art projects and promotes the individual experience of the visitor with the works, instead of a predetermined curatorial narrative. The artists selected for the 33rd Bienal represent important aspects of art in the 1990s, a transformational moment for Latin America. “This was the first Latin American generation to create art free from the oppression of totalitarian regimes of the previous decades.” explains Pérez-Barreiro.
Meet your Bienal guide: João Correia is an art advisor and art historian, who graduated from the Open University in London, where he also studied at the Sandler Institute and Sotheby’s Institute. As a speaker, he has presented at Yale University, University of São Paulo, and Itau Unibanco Private Bank. In addition to presenting his art expertise, João has collaborated with publications such as BBC, NBC, and CBN. He lives and works in São Paulo where he runs the art advisory company, Collezionista.
Your Tailored Itinerary Starts in São Paulo
Day 1 (September 13): Welcome cocktail reception and dinner at Hotel Unique. Unique is a top-ranked luxury hotel in São Paulo, the #1 hotel in South America by Conde Nast Traveller in 2016. Its inventive design, drawing on architectural greats like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, leaves you in awe.
Day 2 (September 14): Breakfast at Unique followed by departure to Bienal. Your guides, João and Flavia Liz, will walk you through the highlights of this groundbreaking install of art from around the world. Included in the day’s programming is a lunch at Dalva e Dito, one of São Paulo’s Michelin star restaurants that features traditional Brazilian cuisine with an inventive twist. Conclude with an evening tour of Galeria Millan, which represents Brazilian Tunga, the first contemporary artist in the world to have a show at the Louvre. Galeria Millan recently participated in the Pacific Standard Time LA art event sponsored by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with past participation at Documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale.
Day 3 (September 15): Continue your art immersion of São Paulo as Flavia Liz guides you on an exclusive tour of the city’s art and architectural highlights. We’ll break for lunch at Tuju, which was just awarded its second Michelin star, and is the restaurant creation of chef Ivan Ralston, who worked at two of Spain’s Michelin starred gems, El Celler de Can Rocca and Mugaritz. Our day concludes with a visit to Galeria Nara Roesler, one of the most important galleries in São Paulo, with branches in New York and Rio de Janeiro, representing seminal Brazilian artists who emerged in the 1950s, as well as current artists that dialogue with their foundation.
Day 4 (September 16): Back to the Bienal for a closer look at the 12 individual projects selected by Gabriel Pérez Barreiro. Included in today’s events is a cocktail reception and dinner at Bossa Restaurant in the lively Jardins neighborhood. With accolades from GQ, Harpers Bazaar, and numerous Brazilian publications, Bossa is top ranked in São Paulo for dishes that are tasteful both in presentation and to the palate. The evening closes at Galeria Vermelho, designed by Brazilian Pritzker prize winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, with over 10,000 square feet dedicated to art production by both emerging and established artists.
Day 5 (September 17): Museum day at your leisure! Participants will be given a list to choose from the city’s best including: Estação Pinacoteca, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu Afro Brasil, and Instituto Tomie Ohtake. After your museum visit, participants will be driven to a gallery event with Flavia Liz for a private tour of Galeria Luciana Brito. This beautiful gallery was designed by esteemed Brazilian architect Rino Levi with gardens by famed landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Our dining adventures continue at Michelin star restaurant, Maní, where we’ll witness the culinary masterpieces of Helena Rizzo, awarded the World’s Best Female Chef. Her creative contemporary cuisine puts her São Paulo restaurant in the top 50 in Latin America.
Day 6 (September 18): Our final day in São Paulo allows for an exclusive tour of one of São Paulo’s private collections that will prepare you for Inhotim. After this private tour, Flavia Liz will guide us to some of the city’s finest art houses including: Apto 61, a beautiful house specializing in modern Brazilian design, and Passado Composto Século XX, a modern antique shop with the best in Brazilian design. In the evening, we’ll toast a farewell to São Paulo for a closing reception at Unique Hotel including cocktails and dinner.
And Continues at Inhotim…
Day 7 (September 19): Check out and departure to Belo Horizonte. Once in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Brazil’s farming state, Minas Gerais, we’ll settle in to the city’s best hotel, Ouro Minas, for a welcome dinner. It’s luxurious but with the character of the Minas Gerais countryside and will be our resting point while we explore this state’s artistic gem, Museo Inhotim.
Day 8 (September 20): After a ride through the Brazilian countryside, we’ll arrive at an artistic masterpiece set over 5,000 acres. This museum, known to locals simply as “Inhotim”, is like none other in the world, and is a must see for art lovers and enthusiasts. A lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Tamborim, featuring local Minas cuisine is included, as well as private transportation and a guide throughout the museum. We’ll ride back to BH for a night of well needed rest after a long day at Inhotim.
Day 9 (September 21): Because Inhotim is so expansive, one day is not enough! We’ll finish our tour of this outdoor museum – lunch included of course – with plenty of time to see all of the exhibits that you missed on day one. On our ride back to BH, we’ll stop at the city’s best spot for all things pão de queijo, the cheese bread that’s famous all over Brazil and will leave your taste buds wanting to book another trip to South America.
Day 10 (September 22): Departure to Belo Horizonte airport, where we will depart back to São Paulo for transfers back home or to your next Brazilian destination.
Reserve Your Space on the Bienal São Paulo Trip!
The Brazil Art Immersion Package price: $5,289.00, with 50% deposit due by June 29, 2018. Space is limited to 12 travelers. To reserve a space, fill out this form to begin the reservation process.
Please plan to arrive in São Paulo on September 13th. All Set Concierge can help you arrange flights to/from Brazil. Your flight within Brazil to/from Belo Horizonte(with 1 piece of checked luggage) is included in the package price.
You will need a tourist visa to travel to/from Brazil. If you don’t already have one, All Set Concierge can refer you to a trusted agency or you can secure a tourist visa at your local Brazilian consulate.
Private ground transportation within Brazil is included in the package price. Transportation to/from your departure city airport is not included.
Daily breakfast is included, as well as all meals listed. Travelers are welcome to purchase additional meals & other incidentals on their own accounts.
Travel insurance is not included. If you’re interested in rates, All Set Concierge can provide a quote.
For a full list of terms & conditions, click here.
One thing I love about what I do is uncovering hidden gems and unique experiences around the globe, whether it’s Rio de Janeiro or London. But my favorite resource for discovering the latest happenings in the art world is right here in my hometown of Los Angeles. Started over 3 years ago by Shelley Holcomb, Curate LA is one of my favorite apps – I use it weekly! Thrilled to meet the genius behind this handy tool, I had the lucky chance to sit down with Shelley at Hauser & Wirth, one of my favorite art spaces in the city and hear about the evolution of Curate LA, Shelley’s top picks on where to see art in L.A., and why this city is experiencing its artistic rebirth.
Tell me how you got the idea for Curate LA?
After living in L.A. for a while, I found that it was hard to find one central resource for art spaces. I met my co-founder, tech developer Alex Benzer who had this handy map of tech events all over L.A. and I thought, “We need something like this for the art world!” And so it happened. Los Angeles is such a sprawling city – it was nice to see all of the data aggregated in one place.
The iOS app came from people using the site and giving their feedback, expressing a need for it. Ultimately though, one of the main reasons I wanted to develop Curate LA was I found that the artists and spaces I frequented weren’t being represented in any art publications or resource for the public. I wanted to create a platform to promote artist-run spaces and marginalized artists who aren’t typically represented at the larger institutions – level the playing the field in a way. It’s been a long journey, but the success of the app has shown that other people are interested in diversity in the art world as well.
A native of L.A., I pretty much grew up at LACMA and love art! What was your introduction to the art world?
The women in my family are artists, so I’ve always been encouraged to be an artist. Growing up in Mississippi though, I wasn’t exposed to it in a way that you are in a city; the nearest museum was 2 hours away. My defining moment for becoming an artist was in high school. I had a mentor that taught me how to paint like Rembrandt, I won awards, traveled all over the U.S. and eventually got a full scholarship to art school. Art school was my way out of Mississippi. I think I’ve been trying to play catch up ever since and expose myself to as much art as possible, hence starting Curate LA.
So you mentioned earlier that you’ve been here 9 1/2 years, and after all this hard work with Curate LA, what are some of your top picks on where to see art in Los Angeles?
1. Underground Museum: “This is the one place I always send people. The story behind the museum is inspiring, they are really doing the best job at community outreach, and their shows are always well curated.” Founded by the late Noah Davis, a painter and installation artist, the Underground Museum is now run by Davis’ wife, Karon, also an artist, with the focus of bringing art into a community where there typically were no high-end galleries or art institutions.
The Underground Museum
The Underground Museum
The Underground Museum
2. PAM: “This is a small space in Highland Park run by Brian Getnick, who is a talented performance artist, choreographer, and sculptor. Brian invites artists to use his space for a month, doing workshops and then at the end they do the weekend performance with interactive art. He has very active programming and there really isn’t any other space in L.A. doing anything like it.”
3. Abode Gallery: “Katie Bode, who is also a writer, runs the gallery out of her home in East LA. It’s always beautifully curated and I love that her programming features women artists, and a very personal curation with the intent to foster community & conversation.”
4. Arturo Bandini: “Artists Michael Dopp & Isaac Resnikoff have created a gallery out of a shed they built in the parking lot of their studio; it’s such a unique design. They text their invites and don’t advertise their shows, and if they do, it’s occasionally through Curate LA. For the openings, Nick Fisher, another artist, makes his own drinks, mixers, and beer. It’s always a good time.”
5. Night Gallery: “They started in a small space in a strip mall in Lincoln Heights next to a taco joint. Their walls were black and just like it sounds, they were only open at night from 10pm-2am. Their current show High Hell featuring Mira Dancy is awesome – go see it. It’s been amazing to watch their evolution as a gallery!”
6. HILDE: “Run by Hilde Helphenstein, who is such a smart, thoughtful curator, HILDE is almost a year old and she just opened another space up in Oakland. She’s always thinking about the conversation between the artists and the art. She weaves something together with another piece across the room that you would have never thought of. It’s magic.”
Grant Falardeau at HILDE
Grant Falardeau at HILDE
7. 24 Hour Charlie’s: “It’s not even really a space. It’s more of a project by artists Andrea Marie-Breiling and Charlie Michenberg and their concept is a roving exhibit that’s open for a full 24 hours and that’s it. Once it was at a house in Malibu, and then their own house, and it’s more of a party environment with an artist community vibe. What I love is that they invite guest curators who are typically artists themselves.”
8. Elevator Mondays: “Don Edler definitely takes risks with his programming. The space is an old elevator shaft in his studio. It’s an interesting format because it’s very constrained. It’s a specific type space and although it is very small, he does a lot of performance type shows and installation. This unique space is a jumping-off point for connections, relationships and dialogues that continue outside of the gallery.”
You mentioned the importance of curation with many of your top picks. What makes a good curator?
Diversity is important. Having and thinking about what story you’re trying to tell your viewer, design, layout, and the conversation that the artists are having with each other and with you. Thinking about the exhibition as a whole and also how the artists will work together. It’s so important.
As an LA native, it’s nice to see a resource like this in my city. Do you consider LA an art destination?
Absolutely! L.A. is an artist driven city. Now more than ever artists are taking agency over the current here, the art market, and the art landscape. A lot of artists that are being picked up by larger galleries are because they’re seeing them at smaller artist-run spaces. Artists are pushing each other right now in L.A. – it’s amazing to see! The city is hard to navigate because it’s so spread out, but what’s special about L.A. – there’s so much space! And the app is a great way to discover all of the art in this sprawling metropolis.
What’s next for Curate LA?
We’re growing it here, and my vision is to grow it outside of L.A., but we’re working on getting funding. For L.A. specifically, we are expanding the team and looking to produce more content about L.A. with video content. It’s all about artists in L.A. and how the city influences them and their practice. Honestly, I had no idea it would come to be what it is now, so we’ll see what happens!
Having lived, worked, and vacationed in Brazil for many years, it’s kind of shocking that I hadn’t really explored its largest city. São Paulo was always just a layover on the way to the gorgeous beaches of the northeast or the sexy city of Rio. But with an itinerary carefully crafted by my colleagues at the São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was in for a surprise.
Walking into my hotel, I was immediately struck by the unique design of the lobby and quickly understood how it earned its name. Hotel Unique is the architectural gem by Ruy Ohtake, one of Brazil’s architect legends. Drawing inspiration from Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and of course, his mother, famed Brazilian artist, Tomie Ohtake, Ruy’s lunar shaped luxury hotel is a sight to behold.
Sitting down to check-in, I noticed the Conde Nast 2016 awards for “Best South American Hotel” and Hotel Unique’s enviable position at #8 on the list of “Top 50 Hotels in the World”. Sipping on a glass of welcome champagne, I was curious to learn how this hotel had earned its accolades.
Eager to rest, I drew a bath in my suite, all the while intrigued by the edgy design. The contrast of curves and corners set against a backdrop of soothing white decor had me entranced.
But why the awards? There are many hotels that boast cutting-edge design and invest in their interiors, but what makes Hotel Unique stand out is their service. Every one of my requests, odd as they were, was met with a warm smile that made me feel like I was at an old friend’s home. Read any of the TripAdvisor reviews, and it’s no wonder Hotel Unique is ranked as their top São Paulo recommendation. And it’s also worth mentioning that I was greeted with a glass of champagne wherever I went – it was as if they had a secret champagne nymph following me around the hotel!
In a city as large as São Paulo, it’s sometimes hard to uncover hidden gems. But with the help of my expert guide, Flazia Liz Di Paolo, every corner beckons with glittering finds. Two of her unique fashion recs: Japonique Boutique and Léia Sgro Jewelry.
Japonique is trendy, but tastefully curated. I picked up a pair of Melissa shoes for a client, browsed through chic room decor, but my favorite discovery was the COMAS clothing line. Lucky enough to meet with the director of COMAS, she shared some of their eco-friendly design philosophy with me. “It’s upcycling. We take men’s shirts and rework them into wearable designs for women.” Emphasis on wearable. Luckily I bought my sustainable, yet stylish items early in my trip and wore them all over Brazil(see below!), since they hardly wrinkle, and looked great with wedges, tennis shoes, and the ubiquitous Havaianas.
Flavia Liz’s other hidden gem? The handmade jewelry of Léia Sgro. Walking into Léia’s studio, there’s a definite shift in your energy. Calming and centering, her delicate pieces float on branches hung throughout her gallery, coaxing you to take a second look. My favorites – a pendant and earring set made from the skeleton leaves in her garden.
Léia’s talents don’t end with jewelry making. She is also one of only three people outside of Japan trained and skilled at the art of Chabako. Léia explained that a chabako is a box once used to store kimonos, as well as tea implements, made popular in the Sen no Rikyu era for use in outdoor tea ceremonies. With her special touch, they make the perfect addition to any room.
As Léia showed me some of her upcoming pieces, which will be shown in Rome in 2018, she talked about how her designs are inspired by her travels and nature, “especially the forms I see in nature”, she smiled. With her degree from Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and international stints in London, Vienna, Boston, Madrid, and Rome, Léia has plenty of inspiration to infuse her modern designs.
As we drove to our next stop, Flavia Liz shared some of the history of Japanese culture here in São Paulo. “With a large influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, São Paulo is now home to over 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. And its influence is seen in the art, gastronomy, design, and culture throughout this huge metropolis.”
A near perfect example of this influence is the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. Mother to famed architects, Ruy and Ricardo, Tomie Ohtake was part of that Japanese immigration wave and reinvented herself as an artist at age 40. The embodiment of the phrase, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been”, Tomie went on to hold over 120 solo exhibitions in Brazil, and around the world in Milan, Miami, Tokyo, New York, and Havana.
Her institute hosts debates, research, and of course exhibitions that promote an understanding of national and international contemporary art, architecture, and design. Luckily, I was able to see the shocking and socially engaging exhibit of Yoko Ono, The Sky Is Still Blue, You Know. Known for her provocative and political art, Yoko’s works held true to her artistic signature of engaging with the spectators and seducing us to participate in the exhibit.
As I walked through the exhibit, some of it was joyful and fun, like writing my wishes on the large tree in foyer, while others like the video of Yoko’s infamous and iconic 1964 Carnegie Hall performance, which allowed spectators to snip strips of her clothing, had me puzzled and pondering present-day power struggles.
But that is what great art is supposed to do, and it’s no wonder that Instituto Tomie Ohtake has staged shows of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, all previously unheard of in Brazil. Tomie’s eponymous design landmark is definitely a must-see while in São Paulo.
Next stop? A dining adventure at Ícone GastroRock in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. Two tips for a visit to Ícone GastroRock: make reservations and come open-minded. With a tasting menu that changes weekly, you’ll want to book your seat at the table well in advance where you can watch the mastery of Chefs Roberto Satoru and Alexandre Ortigoso up close.
The brainchild of Chef Roberto and Chef Alexandre, Ícone GastroRock’s menu fuses the ever-present Japanese influence into artfully prepared plates – all ready for that perfect Instagram shot! Roberto was a gastronomy pioneer here in São Paulo, opening one of the first temakerias and launching a food trend across the city, while Alexandre brings his own gastronomy chops with a strong background in all things ale and spirits.
I’m glad that I came hungry! My first dish was a colorful array of vegetables placed atop a hummus made with red lentils, but it soon disappeared and was promptly followed by the most sumptuous seared scallop set atop a bed of seaweed salad – OMG! Next on the list – a beautiful arranged tuna tartare with Asian pear, quail egg, and a delicate ponzu sauce. My favorite(and not pictured because I gobbled it down!) was a braised lamb paired with the most divine burrata I have ever tasted. I forgot how strong the Italian influence was in Brazilian cuisine until I tasted this dish – perfection!
Back in the comforts of Hotel Unique, I marveled at the contemporary design by João Armentano and sunk into one of the chairs off the lobby’s extensive library, adjacent to their secret indoor pool. Intrigued by the vast collection, I was debating whether to stay here and get lost in a book, or head up to the rooftop marvel that is Skye Restaurant & Bar.
“I can read on the plane”, I thought, and with that I headed up to the panoramic views of São Paulo that awaited at the top of Hotel Unique. After my bartender tested my Portuguese, he crafted a cocktail that was the perfect accompaniment to this sweeping view. Quickly perusing the menu, I decided to have lunch here the following day so that I could enjoy the creations of award-winning Chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, consistently ranked among the world’s best. Sipping on my drink, I was already looking forward to my next stay at one of the world’s best hotels, right here in São Paulo.
Welcome to Los Angeles – where there’s never a “low season”. Gorgeous weather year-round attracts travelers from tough climates, while the entertainment capital of the world draws in jet-setting stars and adoring fans from all over the world for a steady rotation of awards shows, premieres, and film festivals. The perfect location for this flurry of star-studded activity? SLS Beverly Hills.
The list of accolades is long: Condé Nast Traveller “Hot List Hotel”, Travel & Leisure “It List”, Fodor’s “Best Design Hotel. And I haven’t even started on the long list of awards held by Chef José Andrés. But more on him later…
Entering SLS Beverly Hills is unique to say the least. A red carpet welcoming you to the whimsical world of Philippe Starck is one small detail that lets you know you’ve arrived to a destination that is one of the gems of a glittering collection of Starwood Luxury Properties around the globe. True to the hotel brand’s mission, SLS Beverly Hills is an “expression of its location; a portal to the destination’s indigenous charms and treasures” that befit each Luxury Property.
Glittering beneath some of SLS Beverly Hills’ collection of over 77 bespoke chandeliers, Tres lounge is the genius antidote to the hotel lobby experience. Leather lounges, captivating bookshelves, and cozy fireplaces make you feel as if you’ve stepped into your own living room. At either end of this unique design space are two private rooms; The Black Room and the White Room. Each flanks the opposite end of Tres to provide VIP guests an even more luxurious way to dine and entertain.
What to wear in this town? The edgy, yet sophisticated looks from Thomas Wylde. Founded in 2006, this global ready-to-wear and accessories luxury brand is perfect for the L.A. woman out on the town. While its headquarters are here in Los Angeles, Thomas Wylde has developed a loyal international following through brand awareness in Vogue, L’Officiel, and WWD, in addition to runway shows in New York and Milan.
When I went to the showroom to pick up my pieces, I had the great fortune of sitting with Creative Director Jene Park. “The Thomas Wylde brand is strong yet elegant. And a rock ‘n’ roll influence is in our DNA”. Walking among enviable pieces of silk, leather, and other sumptuous fabrics, I learned more about the Thomas Wylde aesthetic. “Our fashions are wearable; it’s not just for the runway.”
I have to agree. While waltzing through the SLS in these varied looks, I felt like I was ready for a night on the town. Comfortable, classy, sexy, quality – all elements that I look for when shopping for myself and my clients are here at Thomas Wylde. And it’s why they have such a large and diverse fan base that includes Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Heidi Klum, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez, Dita Von Teese, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Paradis, and Li Bingbing.
Learning a bit more about Jene’s illustrious background, I was even more impressed to hear that she’d won the sought-after scholarship from Maison Lesage and had spent the early days in her career at the fashion houses of Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Chanel. As she chose my pieces, Jene imparted with a wink, “there’s romantic movement in our pieces. But it’s still edgy.”
The obvious complement to Thomas Wylde’s edgy and glamorous styles? Jewelry from Ara Vartanian. I discovered Ara’s signature style on a press trip to Brazil earlier this spring when my luxury guide, Flavia Liz Di Paolo took me on a private tour of his São Paulo atelier where I witnessed his artistry firsthand. Sitting with Luna and Val, the motivated women behind the brand, I learned the story of his signature hook earring. “It was his wife who inspired him to make this style. He had observed her wearing larger pieces, and found a way to make it comfortable, yet just as striking.”
When your wife and exquisite gemstones are your muses, it has to be a success! Another one of Ara’s muses is Kate Moss. She recently helped launch his London showroom, bringing the Brazilian designer’s jewels to a new audience. Luckily, I can find Ara’s designs closer to home here in Los Angeles at Broken English Jewelry. A wide array of his two and three finger rings, hook earrings, cuffs, and chokers, all featuring the unique inverted diamond setting are waiting at their Westside boutique to adorn the L.A. woman.
“No two stones are the same so each piece of jewelry I design becomes unique by this mere fact. These characteristics may be the key to understanding a sentence I often repeat when I finish creating a piece of jewelry: ‘The stone always chooses the right person’,” Ara states. And it is this mantra that has made each of his pieces a work of art.
Speaking of art, those of you who have been reading my articles for a while know that I always seek out art on my travels. And it’s something I enjoy while here at home in L.A., too! One of my favorite local artists is Clara Berta, whom I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting at an art event last year. We instantly clicked while acknowledging each others’ funky style: Clara was donning a teal dress from Thomas Wylde and I had on some provocative tights from Wolford.
Clara is an artist at heart, not just by trade. Her energy is infectious and she speaks with passion about everything she does, whether it’s her favorite L.A. restaurant Bestia or the latest speakeasy she’s discovered. Clara did her first art show in 2000, while working as an actress at the same time and along her journey, met a costume designer who introduced her to printmaking. “I spent two years studying with her and getting a more formal eduction. I needed to learn structure. I think it’s important for every artist to have a foundation”.
Next in Clara’s evolution was her one-woman show, Sex Is My Specialty, a performance that she found both healing and cathartic. “I found my voice, and saw how healing and moving the show was for other women.” It’s as if this emotional show prepared her for the sudden death of her husband, when she turned to painting. “I remember my first sale because my love and grief were mixed together in that piece.”
This turning point allowed her to grow as an artist and be truly happy doing what she loves. “I’m inspired by people, nature, and the small miracles that happen in daily life. Sometimes I’m even stimulated by a good meal and the energy of my food!”
Like her art, Clara is exciting, vibrant and filled with energy and you’ll experience that at her studio events with guest speakers including neuroscientists, interior designers, and other artists. Next up for Clara? She has her sights set on Biennale, a possible show in Luxembourg, and hosting a retreat for aspiring women artists here in Los Angeles.
Ok, so back to the Bazaar at SLS! This masterpiece dining concept is the brainchild of internationally recognized culinary innovator José Andrés. His accolades require their own article, but a few are Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef”, and President Obama’s “National Humanities Medal”. Wow!
Which is exactly what you’ll say when you step into The Bazaar, where every seductive corner lures you in with a design as diverse as Andrés’ menu. Chef Andrés has created a fanciful array of traditional and pioneering tapas, while the Patisserie features delicate sweets and roaming carts which showcase edible delights that weave their way through glass cases full of art, jewelry, and provocative books.
Sink back into one of the 277 chairs, all selected by Philippe Starck, and sip one of the inventive cocktails that integrate contemporary techniques and tools such as liquid nitrogen, olive and cherry spherifications, herbs, and organic emulsifiers. My waitress recommended their signature caipirinha cart; a welcome suggestion on a hot Los Angeles evening, and the perfect pairing for Andrés’ croquetas de pollo. Ummm! I sat there wondering what gastronomic wonders Chef Andrés will feature at the upcoming opening of Somni…
Hard as it is to break away from the enchanting yet exotic Bazaar, you definitely need to seek out some nightlife when visiting L.A. The best choice? A performance by L.A. native, Anabel Englund. Her vocals infused the international chart-topper “Reverse Skydiving” with a sensual and sultry call to get out on the dance floor, energizing crowds as far away as Brazil and the UK. “Music has always been a part of my life. I was shy, but my whole life has been about challenging myself. If I’m afraid or uncomfortable, that’s a sign for me to go do it. If it’s healthy for me and my spirit, I go for it”.
Hearing Anabel describe what she calls her “moral code”, I can already sense that she is destined for stardom at this early phase in her career. In an industry that is competitive and cutthroat, she’s definitely got her head on straight! “We need to embrace each others’ differences, but we’re all the same. We share the same spirit.” Her spirituality is something that keeps her anchored in a frenzied environment. Anabel’s pre-performance ritual? Prayer. “Even if I don’t have time to be alone, I just say a quick prayer behind the DJ booth and ask God to help inspire me and ignite a fire in someone else.”
And her career is definitely on fire. With an EP due out later this year, Anabel has drawn on her previous collaborative works to produce her recent party series “Gari Safari”, a curated tour of live dance music, an innovative concept that crowds are loving. This L.A. woman is ready for her close-up.
Long before Google had every inch of the globe mapped and scaled online, I was assigned to an exchange program in a small Brazilian town called “Ouro Branco”.
Eager to learn more about my future destination, I entered this foreign city into the search box, only to discover the name translated to “white gold”, and that it was a few hours from Minas Gerais’ state capital, Belo Horizonte. As with all things destined, the mountainside town of Ouro Branco became my anchor for discovering more of Minas.
Brazil’s inland state is just that, a hidden gem. A quick plane ride from its more popular neighbors, Rio and São Paulo, Minas Gerais is a vast countryside full of historical towns, hidden waterfalls and hiking trails, and the best cuisine in all of Brazil – the general consensus among Brazilians.
The most expansive of Minas’ hidden gems is Museo Inhotim. To call it a museum is an understatement. This 5,000 acre masterpiece is a design lover’s dream, a nature lover’s paradise, and of course, an art lover’s epiphany. Sitting about an hour outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city, Inhotim is a full sensory experience. Lush, green trees envelop you from the moment you walk in, wrapping you in a cocoon of natural wonders.
My knowledgeable guide Marcelo Martins led the way, pointing out the natural furniture by famed Brazilian designer Hugo França. These striking pieces from repurposed wood sat amongst the 500 different botanical species at Inhotim. My favorite tree, paxiuba, is known as “the palm that walks”, moving 3 centimeters a year to follow the sun. Stopping at our first exhibit, he asked “What do you see here?” as I gazed up at a large set of chairs and tables surrounded by a manicured garden. Apprehensive about my answer, I wondered if Marcelo would allow me to advance to the next exhibit based on the quality of my response.
Luckily, my answer was suffice and our next stop was the Sonic Pavilion. An ambitious and complex work by Doug Aitken, the pavilion holds a deep well over 600 feet, equipped with microphones that send the wailing frequencies of the earth’s cry up into the room. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the pain and voice of Mother Earth crying out, reverberating through my body and soul.
There’s not much to say when you leave an experience like that. I walked along in silence with Marcelo until we reached our next stop when he said, “The earth was extra loud today. She must have known you were coming.” This prompted our discussion of meditation, as I told Marcelo that I’m glad I had a daily practice which truly prepared me for Inhotim. The spiritual and physical work that I’d been doing allowed me to fully absorb every somatic stroke of this magnificent place.
Speaking of preparation, nothing truly prepared me for the next exhibit by Mathew Barney. Weaving the conflict of Ogum, god of iron, war, and technology with Ossanha, the god of plants and nature, Barney’s massive work draws inspiration from Bahian Candomble to highlight the tension between our natural and man-made worlds. In a word, this was disturbing. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do, right?
Less disturbing, but just as provocative was the gallery featuring work by famed Brazilian contemporary artist Cildo Meireles. Awash in varied hues of red, it was a playful, yet evolving exhibit as the strong color came to signify violence and blood as I moved from room to room.
Heading to lunch, Marcelo shared the history of Inhotim and its gardens, “Roberto Burle Marx visited this place, and being a close friend to Bernardo Paz, the museum’s founder, he advised Bernardo on what plant species to use, the colors, and even the layout.”
Over a delicious lunch of fresh fish and endless salads and local fruits, Marcelo reminisced on his early days at Inhotim. “When I first started working here, I thought 2 days was enough time for a visit, but now I recommend 4 days. You really want time to experience Inhotim. To really absorb it.”
During our decadent meal, Yara Castanheira, who heads the education department at Inhotim, joined us. “Here at Inhotim, we connect art and nature. We blur those boundaries.” And it’s evident at every turn. Exhibits are hidden behind towering trees, obscured by winding vines and orchids, and discovered at the end of trails overflowing with the flora and fauna that is unique to Brazil.
“Our collections, all with a theme, provide a new perspective. But we’re mediating and guiding – not giving answers.” During my visit, Inhotim’s theme was gender and water, chosen in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. “We’re looking at contemporary challenges, and through researching this theme, we discovered that in places where there was enough water for the community, the women were also having that basic need of education met. Without water in the community, women and girls have to collect it and forgo the chance at an education. It’s a powerful discovery.”
Thinking about how grateful I was to have an education, we talked about Inhotim’s international partnerships with schools around the world. “In such an expansive place you can feel small. But yet each of us has a big impact. With the foreboding climate change and global warming, you think about the impact of your trash and plastic on our environment.” Yara’s words never rang truer as I thought about the political debates on global warming back home in the States.
Leaving lunch, Marcelo took me to an unexpected artwork – a pool. If you know me, or follow my Instagram, you know that I love a good pool party! In the balmy weather, I was tempted to dive right in, held back by the absence of a bikini. I’ll remember to pack it next time! Like every work at Inhotim, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina encourages the viewer to particpate with the art. Macchi’s work is a large scale recreation of his paper drawing, which fused an address book and a swimming pool, two items that are rarely seen together. Sitting there with my feet dangling above black granite letters, I wished that I could come back for another day at Inhotim. One day was definitely not enough!
My tour through Inhotim unfortunately came to an end, but as Marcelo carefully orchestrated every turn, we ended at the symphonic “Forty Part Motet” – a surround-sound exhibit blasting a choral work that was written for Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday in 1575. Talk about a grand finale! I didn’t know what else to do besides stop and take it all in, letting my body harmonize with the chorus.
You know a place is good when you eat there twice in 24 hours. Because you want to. This is obviously the case at Pão de Queijaria, an ideally situated gastropub in Belo Horizonte where I ate the night before I left for Inhotim. And when I returned! Quickly gaining fame in a city full of foodies after its opening in January 2014, Pão de Queijaria won coveted “Best Of” awards from Veja Magazine, all hanging on their wall among funky artwork.
At first bite, you’ll think that “white gold” I mentioned earlier refers to the toasted puffs of bread, or maybe it’s the creamy canastra cheese that accompanies your pão de queijo. Either way, your tastebuds will be thanking you. Sitting down with Lucas, one of Pão de Queijaria’s founders, I learned a bit more about this precious canastra and its importance in their menu. “We source from local farms here in Minas, where we know the cows by name. And the aging process is very particular – producing only the best cheese – usually over the course of 20 to 30 days. We like to call it our ‘black label’,” he said with a wink.
And the quality is evident in every bite. Tearing me away from my sandwich, a perfectly marinated short rib garnished with fresh tomato, Lucas showed me a bit of their “behind the scenes” operations, and wow was it fragrant! Seeing what goes into this craft of making something seemingly simple as cheese bread made me appreciate it even more. This snack that I first learned of during my days in Ouro Branco had a new elevated status thanks to Lucas’ insight.
Drawing inspiration from star Chef Jaime Solares, who owns a nearby restaurant, Lucas and his partner Mario have asked Chef Jaime to give an unofficial nod of approval to their menu. “We just changed our menu, adding the short rib you just had, a fried chicken sandwich, and we made some changes to the hamburger, calling it Hamburger 2.0”. I’m just glad that they left the polenta bites and caprese sandwich on the menu – two of my faves. But now I have another reason to come back!
Sitting there with my friends, we were already deciding what to eat on our next visit. I told them that I would definitely be back – I had to follow Marcelo’s advice and do three more days at Inhotim!
Contact me to book your visit to Minas Gerais, Brazil!
I’m sure the title fooled you. Trust me – when my colleagues in São Paulo showed me the itinerary for my recent VIP trip, I was a bit confused when I saw the words “fondue, wine, fur, chocolate, and winter festival” sprinkled throughout my schedule. It’s not the usual word association one has when you hear “Brazil”.
Set 111 miles outside of the sprawling metropolis that is São Paulo, Campos do Jordão is a lovely weekend getaway perfect for couples, honeymooners, or really anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
But the train ride up the hill to Campos do Jordão is half the fun. Starting in the quaint town of Pindamonhangaba, our group enjoyed a relaxing tour through the countryside. I marveled at the stretches of rice fields and farmland, spotted with cows, horses, and other livestock, thinking back to my train ride on the British Pullman outside of London earlier this year.
Climbing the mountains, I learned that this railway was the only one in the world that goes to such a high altitude without any cables or extra machinery. Normally trains like this chug along at a 3% incline. Not this one! We were going at 11% according to the conductor. Besides Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon, I think that Brazil needs to add another natural wonder to its list!
High up where the air cooled and the humidity subsided, we stopped at the depot for a welcome snack of homemade grape juice and the most divine cod-fish fritters, known as bolinho de bacalhau. On our way through sprawling hills, I learned more about Brazil’s ecosystem and some of its unique fauna and flora, all visible from my train window. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music and could almost hear the refrain “The hills are alive…”
Speaking of music, Campos do Jordão is the host of an orchestral showcase known as “Festival de Inverno” which takes place every July. This winter music festival, the biggest classical music festival in Latin America, has found the perfect home in this beautiful town.
Before you even enter the Cláudio Santoro Auditorium, the dedicated place for this magnificent display of opus upon classical opus is the Felícia Leirner Museum. With striking art sprawled across green hills, I stopped to take it all in. The clean, crisp air, the stark white statues standing tall with the trees, and small strips of poetry by Vinicius de Moraes clinging to a nearby bush. A perfect respite!
My knowledgeable guide told me a bit about this talented artist, and I became even more impressed with the history of this place. Felícia emigrated to Brazil from Poland in the late 1920s and began to study sculpture in her mid-forties under the tutelage of renowned sculptor, Victor Brecheret. Her late start in her art career reminded me of a quote that my life coach once told me when I changed careers: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Always timely advice!
Here my hosts from Campos do Jordão Visitors Bureau welcomed me and guided me to the next portion of my tour. Wishing that I could return in July to hear music played in this serene setting, our group headed to dinner at Ludwig, the most picturesque restaurant to enjoy a post-symphony meal.
An enchanting place, Ludwig is the award-winning culinary enterprise of Fausto and Zezé, a warm and lively couple who welcomed me like family. Sipping on the most delicious wine and enjoying a cheese plate that included housemade jam and local cheeses, Fausto and Zezé shared their love story, which led to a round table of everyone divulging dating stories, divorce woes, and everything in between! All of this before our first course!
Looking out over their green garden, also used as the occasional event space, I told Fausto that I had seen the opera Faust with my dad many years ago – my first opera – which led to some tearful reminiscing. But there’s nothing like gourmet food to put a smile on my face, and my Instagram-worthy plate was just the thing!
When Zezé originally asked me to choose my dish, I told her “I eat everything!”. She smiled and said, “Okay, we’ll give you the local specialty” and came back with a handful of nuts called pinhão, which would be ground to make a puree accompaniment for my truta, a fish local to the Campos do Jordão region. My mouth was already watering, but seeing it presented – wow!
The perfect place to retire at the end of a long journey – Campos do Jordão’s Grande Hotel. Nestled in greenery along the hills, you’ll want to take advantage of the trails around this luxury property that lives up to its name. There are beginner level trails to enjoy throughout the day, as well as tennis courts, a pool, a spa and pretty much every amenity you could imagine – even an in room foot spa with a robust menu of soaps and creams that were a soothing way to end a long day.
As I sat on my terrace looking out at the full moon, tired toes soaking, I read more about Felícia Leirner and her sculptures. Awarded the Best Sculptor Award at the 1963 São Paulo Bienal, Felícia’s work was featured in Paris, the Tate in London, and of course, in nearby São Paulo. But it was her personal life which intrigued me even more. She situated herself here in Campos do Jordão after the early death of her husband, creating an impressive portfolio of works. Her story reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists, and how she retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. I wondered, would I suffer the same fate and retire to some beautiful countryside and create meaningful art? But I’d have to get married first! First things first…
If you follow my Instagram, you know I’m a bit of a chef groupie, so a breakfast meeting and tour with Chef Mauro was all the motivation I needed to get out of bed early the next morning. Chef Mauro is what you’d call a prodigy. He leads a team of kitchen staff, most of whom are twice his age, to produce an award-winning menu at Grande Hotel’s premier restaurant, Araucária. Leading me through the kitchen, Chef Mauro explained the techniques used at Grande Hotel since this was a training facility for hospitality professionals. It definitely showed! Every detail of my bountiful breakfast was perfect, but it was the service with a friendly demeanor from every staff member that really made this place a luxury property.
The best place to walk off this yummy brunch was through Campos do Jordão’s downtown shopping district. My favorite place, which I didn’t even expect to find in Brazil, was Puro Cacau, a boutique that specializes in furs, with a license from the Brazilian government to ensure no harm was done to the animals. The perfect place to wear these beauties? Right across the street at the new Ice Bar, which provides gloves and other special features so you can enjoy your drinks literally “on ice”. Continuing along, we saw chocolate shops, souvenir boutiqes, and plenty of German bars. I learned that Campos do Jordão is also a vacation destination for one of Brazil’s most celebrated holidays, Oktoberfest. With a strong German influence in Brazil, this holiday rivals Carnaval as Brazil’s biggest party.
A fan of classical music, I was already trying to figure out when I could come back for this annual Festival de Inverno. With my 2017 already full of travel, I guess I’d have to put it on the list for 2018!
To book your visit to Campos do Jordão, contact me today!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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 definitely 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
I 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.”
As 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.
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.
There 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.
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, eager 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.
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 38º 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 the 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Sails of Service
Love at every corner
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.
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.
Green Library entrance
Poster from 1969
A view of student life
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.
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.
The abacus & early computing
1623 calculator replica
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!
Gameboy game system, 1989
The IBM 1401
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sense Spa lounge
Pieces from Verve Jewelry
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Kente cloth, Ghana
My Spencer Finch creation
Thiebaud’s Lunch Table
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.
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.