Say Goodnight

A head full of sermons and a mouth full of spiders

 

12th December 2010

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We first stirred around 2am thinking it was time to wake and start our Sunday routine. We were glad that our body clocks were all messed up because at 6am we woke up to the sky on fire with the intense colour of a breathtaking sunrise.

It was so beautiful that I had to get up and find my camera. I took several photographs before realising that I was stood in the window naked. All of a sudden I felt exposed and stepped away from public view.

I don't think any one could have seen me though. When I looked across to the Andaz hotel the sunrise was reflected off its windows. You certainly couldn't see inside any of the rooms.

Luckily we managed to get back to sleep for another few hours.

When we finally woke up it was a lovely sunny day in Los Angeles. I again stood at the window but this time fully robed and took in the wonderful view over the city.

It was a surprisingly green landscape. I didn't expect to see a carpet of trees between us and Downtown LA.

I wondered if it was a coordinate effort to combat the smog by introducing more plant life to the city. It appeared to be working as there certainly wasn't any smog to be seen today, it was a beautiful clear day.

We didn't order breakfast at the hotel this morning because we had already made a reservation for brunch. It wasn't any ordinary brunch either, we had tickets to the Gospel Sunday Brunch at the House of Blues.

What made it even better was that it was next door to the Mondrian Hotel.

We could see the rusty tin shack below us. We could literally have fallen out of bed and into it. Although we probably wouldn't have survived the 50m fall.

The doors opened at 10am so at five to the hour we went down to the House of Blues to collect our tickets. We were once again pleased that we were staying right next door because we needed proof of id. I ended up having to run back to our hotel room to get my passport before they would hand the tickets over.

Before going in we moseyed on around outside. The corrugated iron shell was apparently dismantled from its original location on the crossroads of highway 61 and 49 in the town of Clarksdale Mississippi a location enshrined in blues legend. The story is told of delta blues singer Robert Johnson standing at the crossroads where he sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical talent.

I found it quite funny that we were about to listen to some good ol' gospel music (praise the lord) in a shack that was so closely associated to a legendary satanic act. But first .... the brunch.

We spent the next hour grazing on the vast buffet on offer. We showed admirable portion control as we didn't over-fill our plates. We just did several smaller visits. Julie had a few slices of turkey and sautéed potatoes which she enjoyed so much she went back for second helpings.

I began my brunch with waffle and maple syrup, which was then followed by scrambled eggs and sautéed potatoes, followed by a plate of mac & cheese, some hoummus with crispbread and a new experience for me, some cheesy grits. It was a delicious and comforting thick cheesy sauce.

Julie couldn't believe that I would have room for pudding but I managed a stodgy portion of Banana Bread & Butter Pudding.

I was saved from my own gluttony at 11am when the stage filled with the performers. The lead singer was dressed flamboyantly like she'd just arrived from the New Orleans Mardi Gras, all in virtuous white complete with oversized hat with a cascade of feathers.

She was supported by five backing singers one male four females and behind them was a full band of musicians.

They rolled through a great set of Gospel, R&B and Motown classics.

It was a wonderful high energy performance, their enthusiasm was contagious as both Julie and were caught up in the moment joining in with the crowd twirling our napkins and dancing in the aisle when directed.

There was plenty of "Hallelujah Praise the Lord" and all that stuff in between songs but they didn't labour the point too much as they moved on to the next. It wasn't their love of God that was infectious but their obvious joy at singing. They couldn't stop smiling and as consequence neither could we.

In the middle of one song the backing singers began holding their palms up to heaven as if they were trying to pick up a celestial broadcast and the happy clappy crowd joined in.

That immediately broke my spell and I immediately withdrew my participation. I wasn't going to do that, I wasn't going to make myself look stupid. I turned to look at Julie and she was gone, solid gone, with both hands in the air waving to God. She noticed that I wasn't joining in which made her feel self-concious."Oh my God, what was I doing?" We burst into fits of laughter.

In the next song they asked "Who amongst us today are celebrating, any birthdays, anniversaries?"

I came close to putting my hand because twenty five years ago to this very day, 12th December 1985 Julie and I began dating. I'm so glad we didn't declare ourselves as it then obliged you to get up on stage to dance along like a moron whilst they sang "Celebration".

I would have died with embarrassment if that would have happened.

They ended their set with "Happy Days" which was great fun to sing-a-long with despite not knowing the words. "Oh Happy Day (oh happy day) when Jesus washed, (na na na na) my sins away (doobie doobie day) "

As we left the House of Blues it felt like we were leaving church as the singers stood by the door like preachers whose sermons we'd been listening to. They shook the hand of each and every one of us. It was a nice touch.

After a quick visit to our room to skype Hannah back home we walked downhill to Santa Monica Boulevard. It's strange how every time we said "Santa Monica Boulevard" we both hummed the Sheryl Crow song "All We Want To Do is Have Some Fun ..... 'til the sun goes down over Santa Monica Boulevard. "

I hadn't realised before but Santa Monica Boulevard (hum along if you like) formed the final part of the historical Route 66, the mother road that stretched from Chicago all the way to the pacific ocean.

At the crossroads with La Cienega we waited at a bus stop for the Rapid service to Santa Monica. A pair of elderly ladies struck up a conversation with us and with thick East European accents they asked us "Where are you from?"

We explained that we were from Wales. "Oh, my sister married a man from Wales" one of them said "She doesn't like it. The people there don't accept her. I told her to come to Los Angeles. "

"Yes, absolutely. I couldn't agree more" I replied almost conceding that the reputation for narrow minded unwelcoming communities is unfortunately sad but true. Thankfully before we got into anything too controversial the 704 red bus arrived. They were both adorable and gracious and wished us a good stay in LA.

The public transport in Los Angeles is reasonably priced at $1.5o per journey but the only caveat is that they don't give you change and with the smallest denomination in our pocket being $5 we just had to hand it over. Even though we overpaid it was still a reasonable price for the nine mile journey to the coast.

We got off at Broadway and 4th and walked back towards Santa Monica Boulevard.

Walking the last part of route 66 was unexpectedly exciting. Seeing for the first time an ocean that covered around a third of the world's surface was quite thrilling.

We crossed Highway 1 and stood for a while just looking at the great expanse of water. What we saw was no different to what we would see at home looking out to Irish Sea but our excitement had captured our mind. Just knowing that this was the great Pacific Ocean was enough for our jaws to drop.

We walked along the front for a while passing the famous entrance sign to Santa Monica Pier.

Built in 1909 the statement for a "Yacht Harbor" with "Sport Fishing and Boating" facilities is outdated today but it's such an iconic Californian landmark.

It will still be here in another hundred years when people won't even know what "fishing" means.

Anyway, we turned down towards the beach and joined the Ocean Front Walk where most people either jog, cycle or roller-blade. We chose the quaint old fashioned past time of walking..

We didn't get too far before we sat down.

It wasn't because we were tired, we stopped because were mesmerised by this young girl in pink swinging through the air like a monkey. She was on this large play frame for adults which had a series of eight gymnastic rings in a row. She flew from one hoop to another, all the way to the end and back again, making it look very easy.

Next up this muscular guy dressed in black strutted up to the swinging challenge but his confidence didn't last long. Reaching out for ring number six he made a right pig's ear of it and it slipped through his fingers leaving him dangling pathetically on ring five. He made it look quite difficult.

We continued down Ocean Walk where even the dogs didn't walk, they either got carried or pushed along in strollers! There were also some joggers propelling themselves forward with assistance from futuristic blades attached to their legs. They looked really odd as they bounced along.

Other than the passing curiosity there wasn't much of interest to see along the path so we took off our shoes and walked across the beach.

It was great to feel the sand between our toes and the warmth of the sun on our faces.

Despite being mid-December it was a beautiful warm day. Certainly nicer than any summer's day we had in the UK last year.

It was plenty warm enough for people to get into the water. Although when I dipped my toe in the Pacific I found it to be bloody cold.

Those in the surf were being kept a very close eye on by the lifeguards watching from those iconic huts. Even though I was a little too young to watch Baywatch these pale blue wooden lifeguard towers are such a classic Californian image.

Apparently there are 28 of them still being used stretching the entire length of the Santa Monica State Beach, each one numbered.

We sat down for while on the sand.

It felt so uplifting to just sit and watch the waves roll in. It was so peaceful, almost meditative. Other people thought so too but they were taking it far more seriously sitting crossed legged holding index finger and thumb together in a circle and staring at the sun with their third eye.

Further down the shore we weren't too sure if we had reached Venice Beach yet so we decided to head back to the promenade.

We ended up in an area that had been churned up by heavy plant machinery. The deep tracks made it very difficult to walk across, it was more of a ploughed field than a beach. We noticed it had been cordoned off. "I hope it's not a minefield" joked Julie.

It didn't feel like we should have been there and we were right, as we came to the Ocean Walk path there was a sign saying 'Restricted Area Unauthorized Persons KEEP OUT". We looked around quickly but thankfully nobody seemed to notice our trespass.

We returned to the "boardwalk" and we knew we had arrived in Venice Beach when we came across street performers and market stalls selling some wacky stuff.

In the sixties this area had a reputation for its bohemian lifestyle, creative artistic intellectual types were drawn here for a slice of utopia.

A young UCLA film school graduate called Jim Morrison was one such bohemian. He met another film school student called Ray Manzarek but instead of making movies they made music and the rest is history as they say.

This is where they began playing local bars before graduating up to the Whisky-a-go-go on Sunset Boulevard and then on to conquer the world before dying in a bath tub in Paris.

Needless to say that I was wearing my Doors t-shirt today!

There was still a wonderful Bohemian atmosphere here, a wonderful laid back vibe. There was also a distinctive Bohemian smell that facilitated the mellow mood.

Last month there was a motion to legalise cannabis in California but it didn't secure enough votes not that it seemed to matter to anyone here.

It wasn't long before we got the munchies and had to find something to eat. We had plenty of choices.

Standing out from the crowd on the corner of Westminster Avenue and Ocean Front Walk was this great looking little Burger Bar. It was brightly decorated with stripes, checks and a surplus of slogans. There was so much going I couldn't tell you what it was called, its name lost amongst the busy design.

We weren't in the mood for burger nor rootbeer floats so we carried on, walking past a pipe shop, a tattoo parlour, a falafel bar and a doctor who could prescribe marijuana for purely medicinal purposes. The arty vibe continued.

At the corner of Horizon Avenue we came to the Sidewalk Cafe. It was so popular people were even queuing to get in! "They must be doing something right" we thought. We joined the back of the line and within minutes we were seated under their canopy enjoying a cold beer and strawberry margarita browsing the menu.

I was spoilt for vegetarian choices and after some deliberation chose the burger, a large portobello mushroom with a slice of cheese slipped between a warm bap, .... most delicious. The health conscious Julie went for the "Jane Fonda" salad of lean grilled chicken breast served with cottage cheese and fruits like melon and grapes .... most good for you.

Whilst we were eating Julie discreetly whispered "Don't turn around but is that Gok Wan?"

As the eyes in the back of my head hadn't quite evolved yet I couldn't tell but I did have a cunning plan. I asked Julie to take a photo of me but just a little off centre.

"That really does look like him" I said zooming in on the image.

Our mild excitement at being in the company of a minor British Celeb was short-lived. When he stood up to leave we could hardly see him over the top of other seated diners. He was a disappointing 5' 2'' impostor, just a short-arse look-a-like (the real Gok tops 6ft.)

The Sidewalk cafe as it name suggests was right on Ocean Front Walk and was a great location to watch the world go by.

Once our non-celeb left our attention was then drawn by the colourful characters of Venice Beach. At times it was like a circus procession of jugglers, clowns and men on stilts.

We couldn't see any tumbling dwarves, fire breathers nor sword swallowers but I'm sure if we had stayed here long enough we would have seen some.

There was such a vibrant atmosphere here with an almost anything goes philosophy. We wouldn't have been surprised to have seen an elephant stroll merrily down the promenade.

The sun was now rapidly dropping from the sky and I was itching to get out there. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to take a few photographs of the famous Californian sunset.

After an impatient wait to pay the bill I quick marched us towards the beach to catch the last of the sun. We got there just in time to see the thinnest slither of orange fade away.

I needn't have been disappointed however as the best was yet to come.

Despite having sunk beneath the horizon the sun had an even greater effect on the colour of the sky changing hue with every passing moment.

Looking inland Venice was bathed in a glorious purple glow. I had never seen a sky that shade before; it had an amazing otherworldly beauty.

I was half expecting three moons rising.

I'm sure some residents have indeed seen three moons rising and an elephant fly such is the intoxicating effect of this magical place.

As we walked along the beach towards Santa Monica we were being drawn towards this large gathering on the sands, a crowd of a hundred lost in an infectious banging drum beat.

The mob had an exciting tribal quality as the revellers danced wildly, others jumped up and down as if they were in the Omo Valley and some just gently swayed. They had obviously peaked too early and were ready to find somewhere to lie down.

The nearer you got to the epicentre the thicker the air became with the pungent smell of weed.

It could not have been any stronger if at the heart of the revelry was a camp fire fuelled exclusively by cannabis.

It was such an thrilling place to be caught up in the moment but we didn't let ourselves get carried away. We remained reserved and British, and observed.

By the time we left the party it was getting quite dark so we returned towards the well lit Ocean Walk promenade. The last rays of the sun were the most dramatic with the faint glow of the sunset struggling against the descending night sky. It was absolutely captivating.

We stopped at a bar called Venice Bistro mostly to use their toilets but we felt obliged to buy a drink each to register ourselves as customers.

It's a scientific fact that once you've broken the seal then you loosen your control over your bladder and so it was.

Fifteen minutes later we had to stop again to relieve ourselves. Thankfully this time we didn't have to buy another drink perpetuating the vicious circle, this time we found a public convenience. Unfortunately it wasn't a particularly pleasant experience. They were no better than 3 day old festival toilets with an overpowering smell of piss.

We stayed together looking out for each other just in case we bumped into George Michael or someone. There were a couple of kids with their skateboards hanging around but nothing to worry about. Relieved we continued our long walk back.

The illuminated Santa Monica pier was getting closer and closer.

The pier looked fantastic especially the big wheel with it's light show . It appeared to be spinning like a catherine wheel, then slowing down and spinning in reverse. The illusion it created was impressive.

In no time we had reached the pier.

We took our time at the entrance of Santa Monica Pier to decide to walk along the to the end and back in case we miss something.

We walked inside the first building to find a traditional carousel. The lights were on but there was nobody home which was a shame. We would have loved a ride.

It brought back memories of Ffair Bont, or the Menai Bridge Fair which rolled into town once a year with its fairground attractions. We both have fond memories of riding the horses of the merry-go-round from our own childhood and also with Hannah as a child. (It wasn't long before she grew up and preferred to ride the wall of death instead!)

It was the steam powered musical accompaniment that stuck in the mind the most. It's interesting how music can do that, trigger a memory. The moment you here those steam pipes toot a tune it all comes flooding back.

A little further along as we walked along the creaky wooden floorboards a lady tarot reader called out "Would you ladies like a reading?"

Well, I couldn't stop laughing. "How the hell can she tell my fortune if she can even tell if I'm male or female!" Priceless -
celebs spotted 0 celeb lookalikes 2 mistaken for a woman 3.

Mid-way down we came to the entrance of Pacific Park, the amusement park right on the pier. It apparently had 12 rides including the Pacific Wheel (Ferris wheel) and the West Coaster (rollercoaster).

It was free to enter and you could pay-as-you-ride, $5 each for the premium rides. We opted out of going inside, Julie's not a huge fan of amusement park rides at the best of times and the thought of hurtling around in a small carriage in the dark wasn't her idea of fun. Moving on down we reached the end of the pier.

We sat on some steps to listen to a busker sing a few songs. His performance of the Beatles song "Across The Universe" was absolutely flawless.

He had a delicate voice that complimented that song perfectly. His subtle delivery reminded me of Angus Stone, one half of an Australian duo with his sister Julia.

He was very good and we could have stayed here all night but for the cold. It had turned surprisingly chilly sitting still on the steps so once he started the next song we moved on but not before dropping a dollar into this collection bucket.

As we walked away he stopped singing and said "Nice tat man" about my Led Zeppelin tattoo. I was too far to reply so I gave him the peace sign instead. As soon as I did it I felt a right knob!

"Why did you do that?" asked Julie.

"Oh, I don't know!? " I confessed "I know it was such a prat thing to do."

It would have been more British of me to have given him the thumbs up but I must have been caught up in the moment and wanted to fit in with the cool artistic crowd.

We walked back past the tarot reader who didn't even see us this time and past the carousel which was still lit up but still not turning. We left the pier behind and walked to the corner of Ocean and Santa Monica Boulevard to catch the bus home.

If we were two minutes earlier we would have been sitting on the bus instead of watching it pull away without us. The next bus wasn't due for another twenty minutes.

It could have been worse.

This elderly gentleman struck up a conversation. He was a tour guide with Starlines and he told us that the timetables had changed today. The next bus (a direct express up Santa Monica Blvd) was the last one out of here. Now that would have been traumatic. I'm sure we would have found our way eventually with a sequence of localised buses but we were glad that we didn't have to.

The tour guide was a very friendly guy and we got talking about Wales and how he has always wanted to visit Swansea (of all places!?) He explained that it was because he was a huge fan of Harry Secombe, the Welsh Goon out of the 1950s radio show "The Goon Show" performing alongside Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine. When we got on the bus he left us in peace. Perhaps he could sense that he was talking too much and we weren't listening to him anymore. I hope not; he was really nice man.

Inside 15 minutes we got off at the corner of La Cienega at the nearest bus stop to our hotel.

Following Santa Monica Boulevard for while we reached Olive Drive but before we began the trek up to base camp Mondrian we noticed a brightly lit bar called Barney's Beanery. It was calling out for us to "have a drink, you know you want to!"

The name was familiar because I was sure that at least one of our guide books recommended it. Confident in our trusted source we decided to see for ourselves. We walk right into a glorious and raucous atmosphere.

The place was bouncing.

There were a few vacant tables in the dinning area but we decided to sit directly at the bar.

We enjoyed a cold beer and a chardonnay whilst watching a football game, of course we're talking American Football not proper football where you only use your feet. Over here they call it soccer for some reason?

I mean it's foot and ball, simple, ball .. foot .. back of the net.

They got it right with Basketball, the name captures the game, basket and ball, simple. American football is more like rugby with padding, played with a ball that doesn't roll and hardly gets kicked.

Perhaps it should have been called Throwball or Fightball.

Anyway bad naming notwithstanding the game itself was exciting and very enjoyable to watch. It was an NFL game between Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys . "Do you remember when I almost joined an American football team when I was 21?" The fledgling club were going to be called Anglesey Hawks but it never took off.

We could have easily settled in for the night but we left Barney's Beanery after finishing our drinks. We had a reservation at the Mondrian's renowned restaurant Asia de Cuba in under an hour.

Back in the room we dipped ourselves under the shower, dowsed ourselves in posh smells and changed into something a little tidier than jeans and t-shirt. Which in my case was jeans and a linen shirt. It's remarkable what difference a shirt makes! Julie went the whole hog and wore a dress and heels. Dressed to impress we rushed back down to the lobby just in time for our reservation.

We were warmly greeted and given the option to dine inside or out. There was absolutely no one dinning inside so we chose the al fresco option.

It wasn't quite out in the open air, this time of year a canopy covered the whole area both of Asia de Cuba and the Skybar.

We were shown to our table which was at the end of a row of gigantic plant pots which filled the restaurant with green green foilage.

It was a lovely romantic setting. We weren't sat at a window but we could still see the fabulous view over the city from our table. It was very subtly lit to the point of being dark which made reading the menu a challenge.

At first glance I thought there wasn't any anything for me but I then spotted the tofu dish.

"Don't worry, it's always better to have one good choice than several poor ones." Julie reassured me.

With plenty of choices herself she asked if she could have the scallops appetiser as a main course which they obliged without batting an eyelid. We also ordered some noodles on the side to share.

The jumbo scallops arrived presented five in a row on a bed of a cauliflower puree topped with a few stalks of watercress. Julie groan with pleasure. "Oh, I wish you could try this," she said "the flavours are just amazing"

I didn't feel at all left out because my tofu dish arrived creatively plated encircled by this beautiful mango sauce.

Each individual element of the dish were delicious and they all complimented each other perfectly. Even the simple noodle side dish was seriously tasty.

With everything of the highest quality I was concerned that perhaps the Californian "champagne" would be a let down but the Domain-Chandon rivalled the real thing.

We took our time savouring each mouthful of our meal. Sadly the it couldn't go on forever and we eventually we cleared our plates. Wanting to extend the experience I ordered a carrot cake for dessert.

When it was brought to the table we both gasped. In fact I think I swore. It was of ridiculous proportions, a mammoth slab of cake. It would have fed an entire kids party. Honestly.

I'm sure that in any normal restaurant it would have served a dozen people but I gave it a valiant attempt working my way through three quarters of it before placing down my spoon in defeat. The piece that I had left over still looked like a large portion!

The temperature had cooled dramatically from this afternoon's high but we were kept nice and cosy by a large patio heater. In fact it was too cosy as I was finding it difficult to stay awake.

We thought about moving on to the Skybar for a nightcap but Julie recognised that I would be asleep within ten minutes. She was right. Thankfully I didn't end up with my head on the table snoring but was tucked up in bed instead.

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