La La Land

The plane touched down and excitement filled the air. This was my first trip to Los Angeles, a place that existed in my dreams and was about to become a reality. The fast pace of the freeways, the palm trees – everywhere, just like the movies. My first experiences there were fun – but underwhelming. The excessive time in traffic really brought me down. I am the type of person who’s really a sucker for human connection, so to be in a place where people basically don’t utilize sidewalks unless they’re getting to their car or from the car to a building, was really jarring. Not only that, but where were all the celebrities that allegedly lived here? I mean, if people are constantly in their cars, how do you ever see them? 

My friend, who was married to a paparazzo suggested that he’d take me on a tour to show me all the houses, where all the celebs lived. Off we went, and I got to see wall after wall, gate after gate, door after door, and still, no celebrities. And no houses either. It was the most disheartening process. My dreams were being crushed. Even the paparazzi chase after James Marsden I got to witness seemed boring. Where was Julia Roberts when you needed her? 

And then, there was the nightlife, or should I say, there wasn’t. A place where clubs are required by law to close at 2a.m.? Seems excessive, but it’s the truth. I was simply not having any of it. Granted, during the day, the parks, the mountains, the beaches, all wonderful, really – the quality of life, I imagined, top of the line. If you disregard the gray fog of pollution that covers the city, of course. But all good, isn’t there pollution everywhere? Who knows, you tell yourself the fattest lies when you want to believe in certain things.

I had not given up, I was certain that LA had to be that magical place from the movies, with all the cheap glamour and phenomenal black-tie parties, packed with celebrities pretending to have a good time. That’s the place I longed for, a place of make belief.

On the following year, I was invited to attend an Oscar party, perhaps the most sought after invitation of awards season. This was a private affair, at the house of a major pop icon, no press (or cameras and social media) were allowed and the guest list was tight, only 200 of the biggest and hottest talent in the world were invited, along with some key Hollywood players. I could not believe that I was in, this was an honor. I felt as if my opportunity had finally arrived, to truly experience LA at its best, on its most important night of the year, Oscar night.

The city buzzed, all along Sunset Boulevard and wherever else there was a key party taking place, traffic was intense. None of it mattered, because the party I was attending would only really get packed after everyone was done posing for pictures at Elton John’s or Vanity Fair, this was the party where they came to throw their hair back and really have fun.

Fun was had. Oprah Winfrey grabbed me by the arm on a twirl, most likely thinking I was someone else, and very quickly moved on to pay attention to Tom Cruise. Sharon Stone, probably the most magnificent creature I had ever laid eyes on seemed bored at the music, until Puff Daddy took over the pick ups. In an attempt to actually socialize, I bummed a cigarette from Penelope Cruz, who’s dress was all ripped to shreds at this point, from all the dancing that was taking place. More than half of the women were trotting around barefooted, without a care in the world. We were all sweaty and we were all having the time of our lives. A momentary bond was created between me and Renee Zellweger, who kept trying to hit on my friend, but with no luck – he was engaged to be married. That would not be a problem, Renee and I still had the dance floor. The bathroom line was dispersed by a housekeeper who informed us the toilet was clogged. So it was true, celebrities are just like everyone else, they even clog toilets the same way.

The follow up to this brilliant night was a brunch at the iconic Fred Segal, where me and my friends would rehash stories from the night before. Sitting next to me on the curb, waiting for a table just like everybody else, was J.Lo with her BFF Leah Remini. And there it was, the moment I had been waiting for all along, the LA of my dreams had concretized.

I did not stop going back to LA ever since, two or three times every year at the very least, and I just keep on falling in love with it more and more. Over time I learned to love waking up early in the morning for a walk on the hills of Hollywood, by the iconic Hollywood sign, all the way to the stunning Griffith Observatory. Sometimes if I’m feeling adventurous, I will get in my car and go to Runyon Canyon, probably the most popular of the hikes in town. There, the occasional celebrity sighting is inevitable, my favorite being a fresh faced Kathy Griffin walking her dog up and down the rocky pathways.

With time I also learned to get over my traffic resentment. I now zip all around the city in my little rental cars. It was in LA where I had my first car crash, not in New York, the place famously known for its horrid traffic and crazy drivers. As I was parking for brunch at Laurel’s Hardware, one of the hottest brunch spots in town, a bus took half of my car along with it. Of course, this being West Hollywood, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian arrived just as I was giving my statement to the police. A very glitzy car crash indeed!

In the evening, dinner at Soho House among the likes of Al Pacino or Madeleine Stowe seems like a great choice, followed by drinks at the historic Chateau Marmont, location picked for the movie ‘Somewhere’ by Sofia Coppola and of many incredible parties, like the night where many gathered around the pool to celebrate Valentino on his last collection as the designer of his own label. And speaking of parties, it was at LACMA – Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, where Rodarte threw their pre-Oscar bash a few years back. Now, I am not saying that’s the reason why you should visit, but it is definitely a place to be seen. Their art collection is exquisite and the place itself is definitely not to be missed, much like the Ghery designed Disney Auditorium, with it’s incredible architecture. Speaking of art, a visit to Prism Gallery is also essential. This gallery co-owned by the brothers xxxx is one of the hottest in the country, continually launching new talent into the top echelons of the art world. Next door is the restaurant Eveleigh, one of LA’s trendy spots where top models Carolyn Murphy, Irina Shayk and Gisele Bundchen can be seen dining alongside Mario Testino, Adam Levine or Leonardo DiCaprio.

One of my favorite places for dinner though is Pace, on Laurel Canyon – not only for its delicious menu but for the history that’s present in that area. A few doors down from the restaurant is the house that used to belong to Jim Morrison, and that street was what he used to call “love street” – made famous by the song of same name. From the balcony of his house, Jim used to watch his girlfriend coming home from work every day. The country store next door to the restaurant is where Jim, and many of his rock star friends used to go for their groceries. The basement of this store served as Mama Cass’s first apartment when she arrived, broke, in Los Angeles. What Morrison and Cass didn’t know, is that they had gone to school together, years prior to that and had never met until then. That store is “the place where creatures meet” that Jim mentions in his song because of this accidental high-school reunion. After this walk down memory lane, a trip up to Mulholland Drive is mandatory. Its winding roads took the lives of xxx and were made globally famous by David Lynch’s homonymous film. Make sure to stop at one of the overlooks to take some of the most stunning night shots of the City of Angels.

Rodeo Drive, once made famous by Julia Roberts is just another shopping spot like any other in any large metropolis, and if that’s the focal point of your trip, then you won’t be disappointed as luxury is not spared here. Don’t forget to make a stop for lunch at Ceconi’s to recharge the batteries or later on at the cafe at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where the pretty woman and Richard Gere were staying in, in that movie. This is a magical city, infinite opportunities for entertainment, from the Walk of Fame to the seedy Venice Beach where Arnold Schwarzenegger was once made Mr. World to the Santa Monica Pier, with its traditional funnel cake and amusement park – days can be spent discovering new things in Los Angeles and the more I discover, the more I want to return. You will too.

From Grit to Glam

Not that long ago the Meatpacking District, a web of cobble stoned streets, was the sole source of meat products for New York businesses – whole skinned cows and other animals literally hung from hooks on the streets.  Fueled by crack, in the evening the area became a lurid labyrinth of pathways and hiding places for transsexual prostitutes seeking an extra buck or two.  The merchandise of the morning wasn’t that different from what was available in the evening; meat in large quantities for a low rate.   Around that same time West Chelsea, a sea of empty warehouses and abandoned industrial businesses, had little but the Roxy, a drug-fueled gay disco, and dirty streets.  Then came the art galleries and real estate developers.  Then came Films, fashion shoots and TV shows, like Sex and the City, which made a walk through hookers and junkies to get to a lofty apartment seem rather glamorous.  Once again, fashion and film forge the founding of the latest hot neighborhoods.  

Since the early development of the High Line, the now famous park that occupies abandoned railroad tracks and that cuts through these two now visually striking neighborhoods, these   Summoning the expertise of the word-famous designers and architects; fancy hotels, galleries, residences and restaurants sprouted deep roots in the area. One after the other, block-by-block, cleaning up what was once a secluded and blighted area – a true real estate metamorphosis has occurred.    

The focal point of the area is the The Standard.  From the top of this sleek and sexy hotel, New York City looks like a playground.  You can sip drinks among Marc Jacobs, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lorenzo Martone and Anna Wintour, while gazing down at Diane Von Furstenberg’s glass-encased loft apartment – one that has become a New York landmark, much like the designer has become a fashion legend.  Rumor has it that in the morning you can spot Ms. Furstenberg having breakfast while still in her nightgown, sitting in her dining room, which stands underneath an impressive diamond shaped glass dome.   The Standard however, is not only famous for it’s penthouse bar, but also for its pool parties, which are now a second club, known as Le Bain.  There, you can simply undress and enjoy the evening while sipping drinks in the pool in the company of local luminaires like Terry Richardson and Paz de la Huerta.  

The seductive nightlife of the big apple is not complete however without two of the most popular nightclubs in town: Avenue and 1 Oak.  It was at Avenue that Lindsay Lohan allegedly got in a fight with the blonde Tiffanny Mitchell over The Wanted’s Max George. The brawl resulted in yet another arrest for Lindsay, who once again denied everything.  Lohan somehow managed to get herself back in that club even after being banned after some indiscreet tweets about Justin Timberlake.  At 1 Oak, the scene is less dramatic, but never less flashy.  Rihanna has been known to celebrate a couple of her album launches at the spot alongside fellow musicians like Jay-Z. It was also at 1 Oak that Donald Trump held a bash to celebrate his modeling agency’s fashion week success.  

With the rich and famous, fashion comes hand in hand, and the area does not disappoint.  From the Meatpacking District all the way up among the galleries, a cadre of some of the most exclusive designers in the world have set up shop in the vicinity. 

Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons, Alexander McQueen, Yigal Azrouel, Moschino, Helmuth Lang, Tory Burch, Christian Louboutin, Maison Martin Margiela and Carlos Miele are only a few of the shops worth visiting. For a unique experience, why not try the department store Jeffrey’s, which has one of the most renowned shoe departments in town.  Stop by a Scoop sale for fancy jeans and hip t-shirts.  After all, a good designer bargain is never a bad idea!  

Since most of the shopping is done by foot, a stop to refuel the energies seems more than called for.  Whether it’s for a lunch, a mid-day snack or a celebratory dinner, some of New York’s most celebrated restaurants are in the area; the menus here no doubt indulge any palate.  From a good steak at the biergarten of The Standard Grill to the innovative Thai Cuisine of Sea you can find it all.  At Pastis you can have French and at Buddakan you can have Chinese.  But if the mood is for some American contemporary all you got to do is take a walk up 10th Avenue to try the tasteful delights of The Cookshop. If a simple slice of pizza is what’s called for, don’t you worry, because Artichoke Pizza is right around the corner with its award winning pies.    

The most important part of this area remain – sometimes secreted – within the giant warehouse spaces, which once used to host heavy machinery, grains and pieces of meat and now have given room for multi-million dollar pieces of art.   The art galleries of the area remain the heart of the cultural trading life in this city. The Gagosian Gallery, David Zwirner and Pace Gallery are among some of the most important outposts for art in the world.  Representing artists like Jeff
Koons, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, Julian Schnabel, Roe Ethridge, Dan Flavin, Chuck Close, Willem De Kooning, Pablo Picasso and Ed Ruscha, these galleries are an international force.  Put on your walking boots and allow yourself to go from door to door in every block between 9th and 11th avenues from 19th street all the way up to 27th and experience contemporary art, free of charge, like nowhere else.    

Even though this may not be the most celebrated neighborhood for its residences, some of the most famous people you know now reside here.  Whether it’s in the classic London Terrace or in the ultra modern glass buildings by Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel or Shigeru Ban; a fascinating residential occupation took place over the last decade. This neighborhood currently hosts names like Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde and Katie Holmes, all of which can be seen calmly strolling around at any given time during the day or the night.  

The most remarkable and breathtaking feature this area still holds true – the Hudson River, which bathes the west side of Manhattan in full splendor.  To sit at a bench on the Highline and watch the sunset from above is one of the most rewarding and relaxing activities one can choose to do at the end of a day.  And believe me, many New Yorkers do, why don’t you give it a try too?

A Bite off the Big Apple

New York is a glamorous and gritty maze of dichotomy: from the Chanel-suit-wearing ladies of Park Avenue to the leather-wearing divas of downtown, there is huge gap.  The cultural (and financial) divide between the creative caldron that resides in Brooklyn and the refined and established richness of the West Village is increasingly apparent.  From Harlem to the Upper West Side, the distance is not long, but the differences are vast.  

This complex labyrinth of opposites actually propels the machinery of the city and is in fact, what makes New York City great.  New Yorkers remain creative, independent and powerful as always, continuously imbibed with the alchemy generated from its diverse population. This population, unlike any other I’ve seen, exudes camaraderie, compassion and colossal creativity.   Most New Yorkers have their favorite neighborhood and mine is SoHo. From my abode I can observe all the greatness of this cosmic collection of counter culture.

Thousands of tourists walk these streets daily, searching for bargains on products not found in their native land.  Locals, who vie for sidewalk space, have learned to live in the midst of chaos.  Adding to the mix, are street vendors, paparazzi and hundreds of celebrities who aim to remain incognito.   Before moving here, I always thought SoHo was an unbearably messy and pretentious neighborhood.  Over time, I began to realize the charm hidden in its cobblestone streets and the historic cast iron buildings, which once were the homes and studios of virtuosos like Keith Haring, Maripol, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Basquiat. These same buildings have evolved into something a little more mainstream and now house every major fashion brand. Prada, Chanel, Alexander Wang and Catherine Malandrino are only some of fashion giants that make of this neighborhood an economic gem of the fashion world.

Over time I have learned to navigate the side streets, away from the crowds, and to discover hidden treasures of the locals.  From restaurants to spas, from local brands to obscure cafes, everything here has a special feel and a unique story to tell.  Once again, opposites sit side by side, smiling – the tiny, family-owned Italian café is around the corner from the home of $1800 shoes and $6000 handbags.  I prefer the café – espresso anyone?  

Sadly, but no less exciting, my neighbors are no longer famous modern artists (most of whom are no longer with us), but young models, actors and singers.  Claire Danes, Justin Timberlake, Tyra Banks and Adam Sandler are just some of the people with whom I share my favorite spots.  At Café Café I make my daily stops in the morning to grab some iced tea.  At Ground Support I can’t pass on a grilled ham & cheese and a soy latte made to perfection.  At night, a stop by Butter or Indochine for a meal remains a sure bet.  There, an encounter with Anna Wintour, Madonna or Fran Leibovitz is a strong possibility.  

A recent addition to the neighborhood is the beauty clinic Erno Laszlo, named after the legendary dermatologist who is known for his miraculous lotions and potions. Dr. Laszlo had royal treatment during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – for it was in that time that he looked after the beauty of the queens of Hollywood’s silver screen.  Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner and Katherine Hepburn were part of a very select group to receive his attention.  For each of them he developed individual and secret formulas.  After nearly twenty years away from the public eye, the same team responsible for the celebrated Molton Brown has acquired the Erno Laszlo brand.  Inspired by Laszlo’s principles, this team hopes to restore the brand to what it used to be, a place in which its clients can expect the most exclusive treatment available anywhere, just like Marilyn did.  

Perhaps one of the most talked about and sought after shops in the area is Treasure & Bond, part of the portfolio of Nordstrom. The appeal is its luxury items available for affordable prices in two gigantic floors.  Selling furniture, housewares, books and clothes for all ages, this store reserves all its profit for charity.  To make sure the wealth is distributed equally to those who in need, the charities change every six months  

A stop for lunch is a must.  Along with 100 Acres and others, The Dutch is another new arrival and its American Cuisine doesn’t disappoint.  Starting with its freshly baked corn bread and onto fried chicken, every bite here feels like a little piece of heaven.   SoHo is also home to one of the cities most renowned and successful Japanese restaurants.  After more than twenty years, Blue Ribbon Sushi remains a favorite.  The absolute freshest fish make this highbrow restaurant one of the best.  Don’t be fooled by its discreet setting however, its permanence in this city is proof that the food is impeccable.  

From dusk till dawn, breakfast to dinner, SoHo is imbued with so many magical qualities.  I have grown to adore this neighborhood.  Everything I need is only a few steps away and the word “subway” has vanished from my vocabulary.  SoHo proves to be one of the most perfectly evolved areas in town, maintaining its original character and charm, even as masses of tourists and wealthy developers make their way through the historic cobblestone streets.    

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Parochi Magazine, in Brazil.