A Cultural Experience

I promised to share with you my inspirations & I just discovered a gem:
Not your average travel publication.

Neil Schwartz, the Editor and Founder says it best on Pology.com:
"In a time where representations of the world are fed to us through polarized lenses, traveling has become of supreme importance. Traveling can remind us that in any situation there are multiple and often conflicting truths. Traveling can humble us, and remind us of how little we know. Immersion in a new culture can force us to see a beauty in the world that all too easily gets lost in the routine of the mundane."
Schwartz has created an online publication fed by international submissions that open the viewer's eyes to cultures and people spanning the globe. Through beautiful photo essays and eloquent, rhythmic speech, the submissions on pology.com resonate within me and I feel as if I can visit these places I've longed to go without leaving my apartment. And he has pioneered the entire effort since 2005 with no money exchanged, just the goal of opening the readers' eyes to the humbling truth of total immersion.

Gone in the Morning: Newton Faulkner


...And now it's 2011

Any time you live and work in a place, you get to know its rhythm and people quite well. Knowing this, I have come to the conclusion that Berkeley is really like no other place on earth. The civility, kindness and liberal nature of its inhabitants, most of which are educated at one of the top universities in the world, is astounding.

Their civility is evident in the way they hesitate thoughtfully at the line of trash cans in any eatery. The way they take the extra moment to ensure that the paper, plastic, compost, glass, etc. is properly sorted. They have an unspoken understanding of the impact of this small gesture.

Their kindness is in this beautiful box of apples left for hungry passersby with "take-away" bags nailed to the fence above for easy transport. A cardboard sign indicates the variety (Anders) and welcomes anyone tall enough to reach to help themselves to more.

It is hard to believe that I've lived for over a year now in Berkeley. That I've walked to my office in the picturesque little 1900's home each day for 18 months.
But I can feel a change. I am certain that this year 2011 will bring some changes: a move, a job, a less-cluttered existence. Brilliant.

City and Colour: The Girl



My last post marks the beginning of my job search. This was the job search in which I spent every waking minute applying, calling, interviewing, re-interviewing, flying & driving to San Francisco. And I hadn't been fired or even laid off, I chose to leave. I had to leave the demoralizing corporate world and the sweltering suburbs of LA. And now I am living in the small, charismatic town of Berkeley. I walk to my non-profit job each day & I don't drive a car. I walk the residential streets any chance I get to pick up people's discarded dressers & chairs, just for a new project. The Berkelinos (maybe it'll work?) have taken recycling to a whole new level; I find that nothing is considered trash here, instead there is a person with a use for every insignificant thing.
Inspiration is on every corner.


Bike Riding as a Remedy for the Everyday

I went to school in Santa Barbara and we used to ride our bikes everywhere. There was something so relaxing, even comforting about riding with the moist beach air streaming through my hair, I would ride without hands and stretch my arms out on either side, feeling as weightless as possible. I have never (until then or even since then) felt like I have had so much opportunity and so much of an unobscured future to explore. Thinking now about this feeling of limitless possibility that soaked my college years makes me feel both privileged and oppressed. Privileged to have felt that way at one time in my life (which is more than most of the world's population can say) and oppressed by the daily grind of the corporate environment I have found myself in since entering the workforce.
There a heartlessness and an inhuman approach to the operations of the corporations of today and it's amazing how quickly the "powerful" have gotten to work chiseling away at my grand dreams and ideas for my future. It's almost a full time job working to keep myself positive.

So I have taken to spending my days off as far away from the negativity and criticism as possible. Last chance I could, I took the day to head down to Santa Monica. We rented beach cruisers and rode and rode and rode and before we knew it, we were in Venice, we stopped for a slice of pizza before heading back up the coast. A small element of freedom and weightlessness returned to me while I rode along the ocean that day and I continue to cling to the moments that bring those feelings back. From this, I have learned that maybe I should focus my energies on searching for a way to bring these feelings of limitless opportunity to the rest of the world. In the meantime, may I suggest riding bikes?

The Coral Sea: In This Moment's Time


Urb& Goal #3

While curmudgeonly driving home today with LA's Sunday drivers, I found myself riding behind a car with a bumper sticker that read: 
"Think less, Breathe more." 
I'm not generally a bumper sticker kinda girl, but this one really got me thinking..... and breathing I guess. 
Since graduating (UCSB), I've moved home (the San Fernando Valley) and started a corporate job (hoteling) in a failing economy. I've attempted to keep myself balanced and calm in a world of things that are out of my hands by reading about Zen Buddhism. And while applying the core philosophies to my own life, I have managed to alter my outlook and improve my perception of the the here and now....... with the help of my blog, of course. I've missed you since Thursday!
The first Zen book I picked up (at the library) was Brad Warner's second book about Zen Buddhism, since then I have read his other two as well. (He's a truly rockin' author for anyone looking to learn a little bit about Zen or punk rock or plain old life.) He presents the philosophy of Zen and the teachings of Zazen meditation in a hugely palatable and applicable way. One of his teachings that has most impacted me is in his second book, Sit Down and Shut Up in a chapter called, Kill Your Anger. It's about letting go of thoughts (as they ruminate and swell until they erupt into pangs of anger and resentment) and clearing your head of future and past to allow your actions to maintain the unimportance and impermanence of the here and now. The act of breathing and sitting without thinking (essentially Zazen practice) is his way of keeping his balance and staying as far away from anger as possible. 

There is something so freeing, so cleansing about taking deep breaths. And before I knew it, I was home and I had thought of my next goal for Urban Ampersand:
Goal #3: To share the soundtrack of my life, 
I've always wished I had one & now is as good a time as any.

Today: Emiliana Torrini, Big Jumps. 



There's a children's book called "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," I'm sure you've heard of it, but it's about a mischievous little mouse who convinces a young boy of a whole string of things that he needs to go with the cookie the boy was kind enough to share. His list of requests goes from milk to a mirror to a trim of his hair to a box of crayons to draw with. 

I get this way when I find a new book... 

Once I find the next book to lose myself in, I will need a quirky, independent cafe with a comfy chair and good music to sit at while I read. I will also need to have an extra hot cappuccino in hand and a couple snacks to munch on (a variety of salty and sweet is preferred). I will need a sharp pencil for marking off good quotes, interesting facts and well-composed sentences. It's also helpful to have a friend or two convinced to read the same book (for people to discuss with of course). 

So it's probably no surprise that I have a list of my favorite independent cafes and coffeeshops...

  • Northstar Cafe :: State St. Santa Barbara 
  • Java Jones :: State St. Santa Barbara
  • Coffee Cat :: Anacapa St. Santa Barbara
  • Muddy Waters :: E. Haley. Santa Barbara
  • Aroma Cafe :: Tujunga. Studio City
  • Beanscene :: Lindero. Thousand Oaks
  • Doan's Bakery :: Ventura Blvd. Woodland Hills
  • Muddhouse Coffee :: Roscoe. San Fernando Valley  
  • Les Artisans :: Avenue Daumesnil. Paris
  • Les Arts :: Rue Mouffetard. Paris
.....A work in progress


Books Books & Books

On the topic of books.... I love them. Since I was a kid, my parents have teased me for always having my nose buried in a new book. We would road trip for hours and I would have no concept of where we were or where we had been.
I still read a lot now (although not while driving of course). In fact, it is not only the act of reading that I enjoy, but the hunt for the books themselves.
I find that buying books is just another excuse to get out and hunt for inspiration & life in the world around me.
There is a certain smell to a used bookstore that doesn't quite compare to Barnes & Noble or Borders. A smell that is inviting, nostalgic & timeless. Have you ever closely smelled the pages of a used book? It carries with it the memories and reactions of its past life. To think that the book you buy from a second hand shop could have changed its last owner's outlook; there could be tears staining its pages, laughter soaked in its binding.
I came across the (in)famous bookstore,
Shakespeare & Co.
when I was in Paris. The bookstore pictured below is not at its original location because it was closed during World War II, but both locations have a reputation for housing young ambitious authors in exchange for a few hours work each day. It was visited by many greats over the years such as Hemingway & Gertrude Stein & F. Scott Fitzgerald. They have a carefully selected collection of new books inside and a smattering of used books in crates outside the shop. I took to the used books outside and by the end of my trip I had bought so many books that I had to ship them home on their own.

There is a bookstore in Studio City called
Portrait of a Bookstore
which is similar in its handpicked selection of titles and authors, but the history just isn't there, the struggles and adversity that makes the Paris bookshop such an impressive enterprise don't exist.
....Still the place in Studio City is always busy with intellectuals and artists which I find satisfies a certain yearning in me while I am in the here and now.


Omnivore's Dilemma

This idea of shopping locally has grown in popularity in recent years. Honestly, I hadn't given it much thought until I began reading a book called: 
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 
which has drastically changed my perception of the food industry (and all other industries for that matter). Pollan is a journalist who dives head first into the muck that is our food/oil/corn industry. He writes with unbiased and well-researched prose that reveals the dark side of our food production.

I walk through Farmer's Markets all over the world just to savor the flavors & the colors, the juicy, drippy deliciousness of fresh, ripe produce. So much work goes into producing fruits & vegetable the way they should grow, in small batches on self-sustaining farms. And there is something so real & so vibrant about these farmers and their crates of creations. There is something so diverse and varied about their products, even their way of life, this fascinates me and leaves me stuck between their way and the utter sameness of that which surrounds me.

Chrissy Bee

I came across a clothing boutique in San Francisco last June, 
it was glorious. 
The young woman who owned the shop was glowing, she seemed as if there was nowhere in the world she would rather be. She handpicked the merchandise & the selection itself was to die for. She had dainty, handmade jewelry made of pounded silver and charms. She had dresses that seemed to float in on the breeze from an era long forgotten. She traveled across the country to gather her handmade wares and she displayed them with pride. She hosted art galleries in her small space and it became a hub for local artists who wanted a relaxed atmosphere to share their art.

She asked if I wanted to be added to the mailing list and I poured over the e-mails she sent for the mere beauty of her selections. 

I learned in an e-mail just after Christmas that, with sadness, she would be closing her shop. I can only imagine it's due to the state of the economy; at the bottom of her e-mail she bid all an insightful reminder to "shop locally."

Urb& Goal #2

I guess my first goal brings me easily to my second...

Goal #2: 
To share the most memorable & invigorating of those moments with you, in hopes that someone else looking for inspiration will find it here.