Sometimes the answer to all of your problems is a staycation. What’s a staycation? It’s the vacation where you stay close to home, you don’t have to get on a plane(because who loves TSA lines?!?), and you need to escape your own life for about 48 hours.
One of my most memorable staycations happened when an old boyfriend broke up with me on my birthday. I thought we’d be spending it together poolside, enjoying the warm July weather that washes away the June gloom, signaling that summer is finally here. But instead, it appeared he had made “other plans”. When I hadn’t heard from him a few days prior, I messaged…
“It’s my birthday tomorrow so I thought we’d be spending it together.”
“No, I have other plans.”
“Yeah. You didn’t think we were exclusive, did you?”
Shocked, I don’t even remember how I responded, but I remember sitting in my car sobbing as the gas pump clicked, signaling me to move on – literally and figuratively. With my gas tank full, I picked myself up off the proverbial floor, and drove home stunned. What would I do now with a free weekend, no beau, and no birthday plan in place? I called my best friends to tell them what had happened and they suggested the perfect solace: a staycation.
My staycation proved to be just that – a quick salve for my broken heart. Surrounded by friends, laughs, and my favorite part about L.A. summers – great pool parties! – my short visit to the W Hotel was exactly what I needed. Soaking in the sun, I felt my sadness melting away. This quick getaway was just what I needed!
Slipping away from the bouncy beats at the pool, I wandered away from the crowd. Peeking at me through the bushes was a little figurine meditating in lotus pose. I took this as a serendipitous sign to do the same.
I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.
I first heard this mantra when I was at a Buddhist temple in Seoul last year. During an evening recitation of the 108 mantras, this one stayed with me as I reflected on different exes. As much as I suffered at the moment, I learned the lessons I needed to learn from that relationship. No bitterness. No regret. Just resolve.
A friend wandered down the same path, wondering about my whereabouts. “We miss you – come back to the pool!” With the pure love and support of my friends, I knew I’d be okay. This particular birthday was a rebirth of sorts; a painful release of the old, and an uncertain step into the new.
Looking back at this photo, I realize how much I’ve grown since then. Not in spite of my suffering, but because of it. And because of my daily meditation practice that pushes me into a more positive space.
I originally posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: Love is a gift of one’s inner most soul to another so both can be whole. – Buddha. Here’s to a future of fearless gift giving.
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!
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!
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.