Weekend in San Diego

NOTE:  Due to my limited WordPress skills, I’m having some issues with the formatting of text next to the photos of the Model Railroad Museum.  I’ll have to revise the post later to address that because I’m headed out for the evening.  If anyone knows how to get the rogue “We” in the sentence that begins “We were headed to the Timken…” to move down with the rest of its verbal friends, I’d be most grateful for any suggestions!

On Thursday the 17th, we went to see Hum, one of my all time favorite bands, at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.  Because I am too old to be out on Thursday night and go to work the next day, I took a personal day on Friday the 18th; we decided that the resulting three-day weekend would be a good opportunity to visit San Diego.

We got a ride from Marlene’s sister to Union Station on Friday morning and rode the train to Santa Fe Depot.

Our hotel, the Bristol, was a 10-minute walk from the train station. We checked in and went across the street to the restaurant in the Sofia Hotel for happy hour.  (Later, I discovered that the Sofia is an “upscale” renovation of the old Pickwick Hotel, which I knew from my college days as it was next to the Greyhound Station at 1st & Broadway.  That bus station has since moved to 13th & National.)  Roasted shishito peppers in aioli dip were the highlight here. We were tired from the night out, so we decided to make it an early night. Unfortunately, an earlier version of this construction scene was underway a half-block from our hotel…

I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.
I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.

…and a jackhammer drill was running much of the night.

We eventually fell asleep, and went out Saturday to visit Balboa Park, which I’d been wanting to visit for awhile because of the ongoing events in celebration of the park’s centennial. Before we went, though, we stopped at Donut Bar on B Street.

Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera

Wow. This place had some tasty donuts. We ordered Funfetti & Creme Brûlée, which are vegan, as well as Pop Tart & Mexican Hot Chocolate.

The Creme Brûlée was tasty, though I’m not sure how much I like the “burnt,” hard topping on a donut. The Funfetti was an unqualified success though, salty & sweet at the same time.  When we got back to San Gabriel, I had a taste of the other donuts; the Mexican Hot Chocolate was delicious, with hints of cinnamon, and the Pop Tart surprised me by not being overly sweet.  (I never liked Pop Tarts, even as a child, because of their saccharine sweetness.)

We took the donuts back to our room, then caught the 7 bus and got off at the stop on Park Blvd at Zoo Pl.  We made the short walk along the grass down to the Desert Garden, and took a stroll through this space before reaching the rose garden.  My grandpa, who worked for the city as his second career after retiring from the Navy in the 1960s, tended this garden. I’m not certain, but we suspect that at least some of the roses he grew at his house were from cuttings taken here.

The scent from the roses is delightful. We sat under the gazebo for a bit and enjoyed the view of flowers and Florida Canyon before moving on across the pedestrian bridge.

A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera.
A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.

We were headed to the Timken, but along the way we stopped at the Casa de Balboa building for a drink of water, and I saw the Model Railroad Museum. I half-persuaded, half-begged Marlene to go in with me. It had been awhile since I’d been there; it will probably not be surprising that this was a favorite place of mine when I was little. It was much as I remembered it, but for the 2015 celebration, the museum has added an outdoor “centennial garden” which includes recreations of Balboa Park buildings.  My favorite was the miniature Botanical Building and Lily Pond. There’s also a recreation of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

We had lunch at the Prado, and then moved on to the Timken, which had a Vermeer painting on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  We had seen Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, on loan from the National Gallery in London, in December.

Unfortunately, I incorrectly assumed that the Vermeer loan would be through the end of year; instead, its last day at the Timken was September 13. However, the museum’s most-celebrated painting, Rembrandt’s “Saint Bartholomew”  – which was in Europe for nearly a year in exchange for the Raphael and the Vermeer – was back on display, which made for a nice consolation to my disappointment at having missed the Vermeer.

This is my favorite painting. I have seen more famous paintings and perhaps more beautiful paintings, but the fact that this piece hangs in a free museum in my native burg puts it at the top of the list. A reproduction can hardly capture the astonishing range of shades Rembrandt captured in this painting of deceptively simple appearance. Even the background seems to have a thousand different shades of dark brown and black; it swirls behind St. Bartholomew with menace and premonition. Add to this range of shades the starkness of the composition: the saint holds the instrument of his martyrdom and, as the Timken website notes, appears to be “contemplating his own demise.”

After I enjoyed the Rembrandt, we crossed the Cabrillo Bridge (dedicated by then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1914) and spent a bit of time at Marlene’s favorite spot in the park: the Nate’s Point off-leash dog park.  We sat on the bridge and watched the dogs play for about an hour before heading back through the park to catch the 7 bus back to the Bristol.

Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera

After resting for a bit in our hotel room, we decided to go to Old Town for dinner. Admittedly, Old Town is touristy, but – as with Olvera Street – we enjoy visiting. We browsed the Fiesta de Reyes, where I bought some chile pepper seeds and Marlene got a couple of books for our nephew at Gepetto’s Toys, and then had a relaxing dinner at El Patio de Old Town.

It was not as good as El Patio in El Monte, but then again, what is? I had a light meal of tortilla soup and caesar salad, which was good if not memorable, and shared some of Marlene’s rice and tortillas. The tortillas were handmade and quite good, the hotter of the two salsas was delicious, and the staff were friendly.

Sunday morning, I tried to get more donuts, but the line was out the door almost to the corner, so I had to settle for a tasty bottle of cold brew from Westbean Coffee Roasters on Broadway.  We walked the few blocks back to Santa Fe Depot and were on our way back to Los Angeles aboard the train.

A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train
A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train

New Year’s in San Diego

Marlene & I paid a visit to my hometown in time for the beginning of the Centennial Celebration for Balboa Park.

I hadn’t been to San Diego since last Christmas, and I was excited to cross the county line at Camp Pendleton.  We arrived on Tuesday and went to the San Diego Museum of Art for their exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century art from Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery.  I was especially interested in seeing the exhibit’s Van Gogh, “The Old Mill,” which was lovely.  (I went back to look it at three times.)  We also went to the Timken Museum to see Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks,” on loan from the National Gallery in London.  I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is the first time a Raphael painting has been in San Diego.

Unfortunately, another unique San Diego painting is gone for the duration of the Raphael loan; the Timken sent Rembrandt’s St. Bartholomew to London in exchange.  Later in 2015, the Rembrandt will return to the Netherlands in an exchange for a Rijksmuseum Vermeer.

On New Year’s Eve, we paid a visit to the new Central Library, which was many years in the making.  When I was in community college, there was talk of building the new library next to the Santa Fe Depot.  A little over a year ago, the library opened on the opposite end of downtown, next to Petco Park.

While the library is inarguably beautiful, I have mixed feelings about our visit there.  To get there, we drove through and parked in the middle of a row of tents belonging to people without homes.  It was a jarring LA Bank District-next-to-Skid Row-esque mix of affluence and desperation.

The context of this photo tells the story.  From the 4th floor, facing east, there is this lovely view of Mt. Miguel.

IMG_1360 IMG_1359

However, what the photos don’t show is that if you look down from the same window, you see the tents of people without homes aligned on Park Boulevard.

The views from the 9th floor were even more stunning, with Tijuana in the distance.


As we left and returned to our car, an SUV was parked behind us with an open driver’s side door. Two women were sitting in the front seats and a man was standing by the driver’s side.  I was focused on unlocking the doors of our car, but Marlene noticed what was going on:  the driver and passengers were there to pick up a family member from the San Diego skid row.  The family member, clearly intoxicated, staggered over and introduced his friend, who also appeared to be high or drunk.

We left the library and headed to Balboa Park after this for the event that I had most wanted to attend, the official kickoff to the Centennial, a concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavillon.


By San Diego standards, the temperatures were out of a Jack London fiction, dipping below 40 at one point. The concert was beautiful, though.  It started with a parade of two Scottish bands, with drummers and bagpipers; they entered the pavilion and played several tunes.  The organ’s new pipes were then unveiled:


and the civic organist, Carol Williams, played a fanfare specifically written for the occasion.  After that, the high point of the concert for Marlene and me came, when the organist played “Highland Cathedral” with the Scottish bands.

The rest of the concert was lovely; unfortunately, we had to leave a bit before the end to make our dinner reservations at Kous Kous Moroccan.  The food at Kous Kous made up for that minor disappointment, however:  a vegetarian appetizer plate with eggplant spread on bread, endives with beans and lentils, and ratatouille “sliders”; a delicious vegetable tagine; and a custard dessert.

On New Year’s Day, we headed home, but we stopped a couple of times on the way.

First, we stopped at the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in north San Diego County.  I came here in my young adulthood, after I got my first car and started exploring my native county on my own, but hadn’t been back since.  Unfortunately, the museum and gardens were closed, but we were able to spend some time in other parts of the grounds that were open.


One such section of the grounds is a little courtyard that faces the Mission’s famous pepper tree, apparently the oldest pepper tree in California.


The cemetery was also open.  I was especially struck by the headstones for members of the Gomez family:   a young man who died in World War I in 1918, and his mother’s grave next to his; she died in the 1940s.  I’m reading Alastair Horne’s The Price of Glory, an account of the Battle of Verdun, and the book is full of horrifying statistics:  thousands upon thousands killed in the battles that led up to Verdun, in which countless thousands more were killed.  It’s difficult for my mind to grasp this:  as the quote says, one death is a tragedy; one hundred thousand deaths is a statistic.  I should be more upset by the deaths of millions than the death of one, of course, but the fact that this young man died and his mother outlived him by 20 years is haunting.  I can understand this and feel sorrow for this in a way that is not quite possible when I read about 10,000 dead in a battle; the idea is too abstract.

I wonder if we would have fewer wars if we required ourselves to learn the life stories of the war dead.

On a happier note, we stopped in San Juan Capistrano for lunch, and then went over to the Los Rios Historical District, where we saw this beautiful butterfly “sanctuary” in front of the historic Martinez Adobe.


Super Six Sunday: Europe Edition

I stopped blogging for a bit because I went on a two-week trip to France, Belgium, and Luxembourg with teachers and French club students from my school.   I wanted to write a longer post about the trip, but haven’t had time this week because I needed to finish the first draft of an essay about Gay’s Lion Farm for the East of East reader on El Monte history that my friends from the South El Monte Arts Posse are putting together – so I decided to do an S6S with photos from the trip.

My wife Marlene, who is the photographer in the family, picked 10 of her favorite photos from the trip, and I’ve chosen the six that I most wanted to write about.


On our first full day in Paris (that is, the first day we woke up in Paris; we arrived in Paris at 10 am the day before in a bit of a daze after our overnight transoceanic flight), we went to the Arc de Triomphe.  Marlene and I had gone here on our first trip to Paris, in 2012, but hadn’t gone to the top.  After we recovered from the sudden ascent of about 17,000 stairs, we were rewarded with the view above:  Champs-Elysées to the right, Montmartre in the distance to the left.


We visited Versailles and fell in love with the bit of gardens that we were able to explore.  This little garden near the apartments was my favorite:  full of flowers and insects and even a snail!


Sacré Coeur was extremely popular:  it seemed that the entire population of Paris was there on Saturday afternoon.  We climbed the stairs and from there we walked through the streets of Montmartre.  As beautiful and famous as the church is, the clouds are my favorite part of this picture.


On our last night in Paris, we took a Seine cruise.  As we were waiting to board the next boat, the Eiffel Tower shone like diamonds.


The trip leader was French teacher Anne, who is Belgian on her mother’s side; my favorite day of the trip was probably our visit to her family’s tiny village.  Anne’s mother also lives in the U.S., but the family has kept the house that her grandmother and about a half-dozen generations lived in, and we had lunch there (Anne’s mother and friends put together a wonderful spread for us, with delicious regional beers for the adults) before taking a walk around the village and environs. 

We visited the cemetery where Anne’s grandmother rests.  I was deeply moved by one of the gravestones, which, rather than noting the deceased’s years of birth and death, instead reads “Résistante, 1940 – 1944.”  I don’t know a lot about the resistance to the Nazi occupation in France and Belgium, but I’d like to read more about this era and the people who fought the Nazi occupation.


We visited Luxembourg City, where Marlene captured this whimiscal scene not far from the main plaza.