Entering into Pacific Grove Life for 3 Days

I was driving home from the grocery store and I spied this garden as I drove by. I parked nearby and walked back to take some photos. The homeowner was at the mailbox so I asked permission to take photos. Cindy invited me to get a closer look.

I used to live in Pacific Grove in the mid-80s. A lot has changed since then, and at the same time it is still a delightfully “normal” place to visit. The neighborhoods and downtown on Lighthouse Avenue are charming. It is bounded by Ocean View Avenue with a rugged and beautiful coastline. I prefer to stay here over any other part of the Monterey Peninsula.

Cindy and her family moved here in 1987 and incrementally created this garden over the years. They don’t have a backyard, but we agreed that we typically only use one or the other. This is better allocation. 

In the past I have stayed at motels and hotels. This visit I am with my daughter and her family so we rented a home. We looked on VRBO and Airbnb and we found the 2 bedroom 2 bath home we are renting on Airbnb. It has been more comfortable than 2 hotel rooms and about the same price.

  • We can cook meals.
  • There is a living room where Calvin can make play with his toys (and make a mess).
  • We can play dominoes at the dining table and laugh without worrying about waking up a sleeping toddler.
Cindy even invited me to come in to the house to see her paintings. I shared some of my favorite artists on Instagram. We had a great conversation.

There is a debate raging about the phenomenon of vacation rentals and how it is changing the neighborhoods and city finances of Pacific Grove (PG). My daughter saw a sign for Measure M. I did some research and learned that Monterey and Carmel have tight restrictions on the vacation rental market and PG does not. Also residents have been complaining about over-concentrations of homes for short-term rent for over 3 years and the city council had not taken any action. I had noticed that many of the motels and hotels had vacancy signs, which is uncommon in my memory. There is usually some kind of conference going on at Asilomar or tourism that keeps them near full.

We were walking on Asilomar Beach with Calvin and a dog and then another 2 year old and her dad joined us. We did the usual back and forth about the kids and then he asked where we were staying. We admitted that we were staying in a home nearby. He shared his frustration with the vacation rental situation. “They aren’t paying the taxes they owe the city.” He also alluded to the partying and recently moving from Nashville, which was a party town, he was hoping to escape that scene. Sarah and I weren’t quite sure what his point was as we haven’t witnessed anything but deer roaming the streets and senior citizens power walking in the neighborhood. I mentioned that my neighbor has dedicated his investment property (across the street from me in Midtown Sacramento) for AirBnB rental. People are coming and going during the week and weekends. They typically empty a lot of “bottles” into the recycling, but to be fair, they have yet to disturb anyone.

Not all people in Pacific Grove are this friendly, nevertheless if you stay open, you are more likely to have a great experience and possibly meet a kindred spirit.

As a consumer of temporary housing when I travel, I appreciate the range of choice available today. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the challenges it creates, especially in housing markets where rentals are already scarce and prices are rising. I also remember the signs posted in Venice, Italy protesting Airbnb and the perceived effect that it was pricing “real Venetians” out of Venice.

As we walked back to the car, Sarah and I discussed our conversation with the local who is going to vote to limit vacation rentals to the coastal zone (1 mile from coastline) and the business district. He wasn’t unfriendly, just frustrated. We wondered if we shouldn’t have rented the home we are staying in, and decided that we were unaware of the controversy, we are in the coastal zone, and it isn’t illegal. We’d like to come every year, so we’ll have to think through our options next year. Also, does Airbnb pay the local transient occupancy tax or expect hosts to do so?

IMG_5238When I lived here in the 80s, the prices were climbing well beyond the ability of people mostly working service jobs to afford to buy. Then the problem was that some of the supply was taken off the market by people who could afford to buy a second or third home on the Peninsula. They only spent a few weeks a year in Carmel or Pebble Beach and this had a ripple effect in the entire housing market. The Airbnb phenomenon makes it possible for upper middle class people to buy a vacation home and afford it thanks to additional rents.

It is complicated. When Airbnb started I thought it was restricted to host-occupied residences. It was both the attraction and the turn-off. I prefer a hotel to a Bed & Breakfast because I prefer to be left alone. Now it has become a platform for entrepreneurs with enough cash to invest in a dedicated vacation property. I use ride sharing services and appreciate the greater availability of cars where I am, the app’s easy way to pay, but it has not been so great for taxis. A lot of these apps disrupt the existing order of things and create new opportunities for consumers and the industrious. Hopefully Pacific Grove will find the right balance.

Meet the Artist Nedret Andre

Nedret Andre with the Book that inspired her work focused on sea grass: World Atlas of Seagrasses.

On Sundays the SoWa Art + Design District in South End Boston hosts an Open Market. I didn’t know what to expect, so I followed my muse. There are food stalls but we had just eaten a great brunch at Worden Hall. Instead I headed to the tents where makers were selling their creations. I paused at one of the stalls with art by Nedret Andre, the colors and abstractions really spoke to me. Her assistant encouraged me to meet the artist at her studio on the 4th floor of 450 Harrison Street.


I worked my way through the market checking out the whimsical art of Mitra Farmand then admiring the print works of Goosefish Press. Finally I beat a retreat to the air conditioned multi-story building of art studios. I took the elevator to the 4th level and sought out studio 415.

Nedret Andre was in her studio. She stood amidst the large canvases beautifully filled with paint and imagination. Her work is all based on the abstraction of sea grass. And before you roll your eyes, appreciate how much she has learned about the ecological importance of sea grass in the New England seashore ecosystem. Nedret’s paintings reveal a world we don’t think much about and hopes to spark our curiosity to learn more about our interdependence with the ocean.

IMG_4662We had a fun conversation with another Julie who stepped into the studio at the same time as me about the menacing green crabs–an invader from Europe who roots up the sea grass. Should we celebrate the intrinsic beauty of the green crabs even though they are destroying the ecosystem for lack of predators?

Nedret has shown her work at many galleries and often collaborates with scientists to give them an opportunity to share their expanding knowledge at the art show openings. You can also learn more on her blog at http://www.nedretandre.com. Or follow her on instagram @nedretandre.


When a Pencil Becomes a Destination

IMG_3707I love using pencils of all kinds. Pencils graded and numbered for drawing. Did you know that Henry David Thoreau created our numbering system for hardness/softness (i.e. light/dark)?  Mechanical pencils for notes at meetings. The classic No. 2 yellow pencil for nostalgia. Finding a pencil sharpener these days is as hard as finding a phone booth. But they make all these cool small sharpeners that fit in your pocket. The eraser on the end never seems to last as long as the lead. Maybe I make more mistakes than most, but it gives me an excuse to buy separate erasers.

So it may not surprise you that when I was in New York City I twisted my cousin’s arm to go with me to CW Pencil Enterprise in Chinatown. It was also meant to be a lesson in using the subway. She uses an app to find the best routes and honestly it was like watching someone who is really good at using Word or Excel show you a shortcut. It all happened so fast that I didn’t learn much except the subway seems well used and looks antique.

IMG_3709I digress. Pencils! So many in one place. A store dedicated to the humble pencil. It is a delight and seems like an “only in New York City” kind of thing. I could have fondled the pencils all afternoon. Alas, we were also going to a Broadway performance later. So I bought a lot of pencils, stickers, journals and children’s books. Oh and some erasers. The whole experience made me happy!


Do you know what also made me happy? This video that my bff Harriet shared on Facebook. If it doesn’t make you smile then maybe you need to spend some time getting reacquainted with the humble yet mighty pencil.

Stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen

IMG_1223 (1)It did seem odd that the name of the most visited art museum in Denmark is called the Louisiana MOMA. It is actually named for the villa that looks like a Louisiana plantation house and it was named after Alexander Brun’s three wives who were all named Louise. It has been transformed over the years into an exquisite sculpture garden and gallery all hugging the shores of Oresund Sound in Humlebaek.

IMG_1215 (1)The train takes you to within a 10 minute walk of the Museum. The museum has a permanent collection both indoor and out, plus 2 special exhibits. When I visited I was able to view the retrospective for Danish artist Tal R and a fascinating exhibit of South African artist William Kentridge. I was disappointed because the Marina Abramovic exhibit was due to open the following Saturday, but then I’d have missed Kentridge. (I know, first world problems.)

IMG_1235 (1)
Four powerful paintings by Danish artist Tal R

I wandered the grounds looking at the sculpture and then stopped at the cafe to eat lunch. I’d been told by a fellow plane passenger that the smorresbrod at the Louisiana Cafe was delicious. I can confirm that the salt-cured ham, North Sea cheese from Thise, mustard mayonnaise, and pickled cucumbers are yummy over bread. I ate on the patio and enjoyed conversation with the people around me. One woman overhead me say I was from California and she and her husband came over to introduce themselves. I bumped into them a few more times in the galleries and we compared thoughts and they encouraged me to see some things that I had considered passing by due to time.

I enjoyed my afternoon at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art so much that when I return to Copenhagen I will make time to go again. I also wondered if we have anything quite as spacious and beautiful for sculpture in the USA. My art dad Jim says that there is something like it in New York on the Hudson. I will have to explore!

The William Kentridge show made a big impact on me.


The Giant’s House Finally!

I have visited Akaroa three times and finally I was able to see The Giant’s House. It seems it is more famous with foreign visitors than with Kiwis. None of my friends from New Zealand–even those who love Akaroa–had heard of it. This sculpture garden is an eccentric treasure.

I admire people with vision who develop the skills to execute it so masterfully. I am such a gadfly in my interests, I cannot imagine sticking with a project 17 years, let alone staying with it still. Josie Martin combines her love of horticulture with her artistic expression through painting and mosaic sculptures to create a truly original garden on the hill.

Someone in the village told us that she offered to create mosaic sculptures for the town of Akaroa, but the town council said no. She turned the no into a Yes! Yes! Yes! The hours are limited because she manages it herself. On the day we visited we paid the artist $20 each to visit her garden and gallery. We could stay until closing. We made sure to return and thank Jose for the experience.

One of several ceramic self-portraits of the artist in the gallery.

I am so glad I finally got to see the Giant’s House. Find out more at Trip Advisor. (#1 of 27 things to do in Akaroa.)

Art of the 101st Tour de France

Supporting Greig Leach’s Kickstarter campaign to bring his beautiful drawings together in a book was a no-brainer. I’d seen some of his drawings in the news. We were both following the entire tour. I like how he captured pivotal moments of each day in line drawings with watercolor in his Book du Tour. I received my copy about 2 weeks ago and I have been going through it slowly. It brings back so many great memories.

book du tour

It is also time to sign up for cycling tours at the 2015 Tour de France.  I can personally recommend either Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours.

If you are interested in a spectator tour, then Thomson is the only one offering these. The brilliant Jacinta McHale is returning to lead them.

And on a completely silly note, those of us who traveled with Jacinta in 2014 were thrilled to see Enriique Iglesias’ song Bailando won the Song of the Year at the Latin Grammys.

Ready, Set: Tickets for World of Wearable Art on Sale

WOW red dressTickets for the World of Wearable Art go on sale today. You might have written February 1 on your calendar, but if you are in the US or Europe, New Zealand is a day ahead and should go on-line today for the best selection. One show per evening is scheduled from September 25-October 12 (Monday and Tuesday off) in Wellington. Make it the highlight of your visit to New Zealand.

The World of Wearable Art is an inspiring entertainment event if you are interested in fashion, art, or textiles. If you are a crafter you will marvel at the techniques. If you appreciate beauty you will find yourself saying “Wow!” over and over throughout the evening. I loved it!

There are tickets at a variety of price points from NZ$50-165. Also VIP tables for dinner at stage-side seats are available. A discount is available if you order with your American Express.

Art and a Holiday Weekend in Palm Springs

I remember when I was a kid people talked about “low brow” art and “high brow” art. I thought about this today while in Palm Springs.  First we went to see the 25 foot Marilyn Monroe statue on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon  and N. Palm Canyon streets. There is a continuous line of people waiting to take their picture under Marilyn’s skirt and almost always one pose is looking up Marilyn’s skirt and mugging.

Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson
Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson

The sign for the statue says that Marilyn Monroe was “discovered” by an agent in Palm Springs and loved visiting with her second husband Joe DiMaggio.  She also owned a bungalow in the 1950s in Las Palmas. The sculpture is by Seward Johnson inspired by the famous photo from the film“Seven Year Itch”.

Yes, we can be tourists!
Yes, we can be tourists!

The sculpture was supposed to be temporary and the time in Palm Springs has been extended several times. It is hard to imagine how the Chamber of Commerce can let her go.  Palm Springs already has a walk of fame on the sidewalk with television and film professionals that have a connection to Palm Springs. We also sat beside Lucille Ball’s statue on a bench.  There are also multiple tributes to late-Sonny Bono, entertainer, mayor and congressman.

Then we turned our attention to the Palm Springs Art Museum just a block and a half from Marilyn.  It is a beautiful building tucked up against the mountains. We were keen to see the “George Caitlin’s American Buffalo” exhibition.  It was worth the $12.50 admission price. We were delighted at the anthropological-like precision of the paintings. It was also art–the horses looked afraid as they approached the buffalo in a hunt, and the white wolves looked ghost like.  George Caitlin was born in Pennsylvania and travelled to the prairie states in the late 1800s to capture the Indian way of life before it was destroyed by Europeans. Within about 20 years time, the 30 million buffalo were destroyed and with it the livelihood and spiritual connection for Crow, Blackfoot, and many other tribes.

Bull Buffalo by George Caitlin

As a bonus, we also gazed at the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit, “The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966.” We did not enjoy that as much as the buffalo, yet I could see the influence he must have had on Sacramento-area artists like Wayne Thieibaud and Greg Kondos.

My brother worked for a few years at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum while he was getting his PhD, and I always found this small gem of a museum worth a stop.  Most visitors to Palm Springs probably are not aware that the town settled on lands occupied by the Cahuilla people.  They are known for their bird songs, which are not imitations of birds singing but ancient tales sung during community celebrations.  They still own and lease a lot of the land in Palm Springs and their economic tide has turned since the mid-1900s when they lived impoverished alongside movie stars.  The museum is right in the heart of downtown and a short walk from Marilyn and offers insight into this tribal community.

I enjoy Palm Springs, but I never think of it as a fun vacation destination. It has always been my brother’s neighborhood so I think of visiting my brother first, and then as a resort.  Watching people from the sidewalk table at Peabody’s on the main drag suggests that lots of couples and families enjoy a holiday weekend here.