Tuesday, September 28, 2010

[Out there] At Baja's End: Las Ventanas al Paraiso (Los Feliz Ledger)

Las Ventanas: View towards the Sea of Cortez

 A Treat for the Spirit and the Senses

CABO SAN LUCAS–A lizard skittered across the pebbly path just outside my room. I considered the movement a farewell after four grand days at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The fact that I took notice of the reptilian salute explains much about my visit to this resort so well located in the desert landscape that one becomes steeped in connectedness (and reconnecting with oneself). I was so relaxed and happy that I relished the details of every last moment: the azure sea, the frigate bird circling above, the lizard crossing my path and the goodbye wave from the staff lined up at the resort’s entryway as we drove away along the date palm tree-lined drive.

Land's End: Cabo San Lucas
 Los Cabos has a well-earned reputation as a touristy party spot. The once remote fishing village has been remade into a string of fashionable resorts, condominiums, and shopping areas—the two cabos being Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. But at Las Ventanas, on the resort corridor, you’re removed from the tequila-infused mayhem and honky-tonk of downtown Cabo San Lucas. One of the nicest resorts I’ve ever been invited to, Las Ventanas was designed to take full advantage of its stepped-down hillside location: the resort is set into the hill, with a hidden system of passageways underneath for staff.  You’ll never see a maid’s or room service cart; nothing ordinary spoils your views of the sea and brilliant white clouds, save for the edge of the resort’s infinity pool that melds right into the sea.

In early summer, the humidity had not set in, so although it was warm, a dip in the pool took the heat off.  Each pair of low-rise lounges has their own umbrella—a pool butler will quickly adjust the slant to keep the sun at bay.  Oh yes, they are pool butlers as well a friendly chap who’ll clean your sunglasses so they are transparent. If you’ve visited Mexico, you’ll know that service can be very friendly and welcoming, at Las Ventanas, they’ve made an art of it, which quite frankly makes for a very pleasant experience when everyone you deal with has a genuine smile on their face.

Sunset at Las Ventanas
Remarkable attention to detail extends to every corner of the property whether it is the raked coarse sand that edges walkways and grounds planted with native cactus and agaves or the raked beach and small thatched huts that shade hammocks or the small gifts at turndown like a mini straw doll magnet. 

Lovely but wild Sea of Cortez
Contrasting with the resort’s cocooned environment is the natural wildness of the location:  the rough waters out front means that ocean swimming requires a short walk to a nearby cove while rays and sharks are easily spotted offshore. Swells mean a pleasant boat ride to a snorkel spot may engender seasickness (I’m a firm believer in Dramamine) or an encounter with a stinging jellyfish. The same trip yields underwater views of the Sea of Cortez’s vibrant eco-system:  I snorkeled amongst a multitudinous school of amberjack following a current. And the sun is brutally direct—sunscreen is a must and sunburns a common souvenir.

Tibetan bowls are part of a meditative spa ritual
Of special note: the compact spa at Las Ventanas which has an outdoor shower (a wonderful treat), an intricately tiled steam room and in-ground soaking pools (one hot, another cool).  I took part in a unique meditation ritual: Tibetan bowls are played musically (the sound is unmistakably restful), sage is burned and ancient chants and lute music fills the air.  I felt incredibly relaxed as I lay under the latilla (thatched roof), isolating each sense before a restorative massage.

And that’s what you’ll find: clean, windswept ocean breezes, the brilliant sun, the warm waters, the kicky margaritas (made with fresh lime juice with Centanario reposado tequila), the rooms flawlessly decorated in artisan-made furniture, and the ocean-to-table Baja-Mex cuisine, all combine to entice and re-awaken the senses.

Las Ventanas' executive chef Fabrice Guisset
Baja-Mex cuisine reinterprets Mediterranean dishes, like ratatouille, with indigenous Mexican ingredients such as Serrano chili. I spent a pleasant morning watching Fabrice Guisset, the resort’s classically trained executive chef, demonstrate and serve several of the resort’s signature dishes in the open-air demonstration kitchen, set in the green herb garden. Guisset does his best to make the most of the Baja peninsula’s produce and exquisite seafood, as well as the talents and traditional recipes of his Mexican-born staff.

A profusion of rosemary plants heat up in the sun, scenting the air as I learn how to make guacamole properly and a lighter-than-air snapper with gremolatta. Much of the fresh fish served at Las Ventanas is line caught and brought in by local fisherman.  Red snapper, Wahoo, and striped sea bass are so fresh—you can often see the fishing boats just offshore—that their pure flavors hardly resemble stateside versions. A simple fish taco is delight because the fish not only just out-of-the-sea but it’s also expertly cooked over a wood fire at the resort’s Sea Grill. (For more on Las Ventanas' cuisine and chef's garden as well as a delicious guacamole recipe, check out my post "A Chef's Garden at Land's End" for GardensToTables.com).

Lamp lighting at day's end.
On the last day of my visit, I took a yoga class on the beach. We looked out to the cerulean blue sea to center ourselves, our instructor taught the class in four languages: charmingly blending her instructions in Spanish, Hindi, French and English. As the class lay on mats in the sand for our last moments of meditation, small songbirds chirped sweetly, as if on cue.  And why wouldn’t they? Even the birds and lizards must realize they’ve found paradise.

Excerpted from the Los Feliz Ledger desktop edition 9/1/10.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Resnick Pavillion at Los Angeles County Museum of Art opens soon

Resnick Pavilion designed by Renzo Piano

Opening to the public on October 2, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art's (LACMA) ultra-contemporary $53 million, 45,000 square foot Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion was unveiled to Los Angeles' media today.

An Olmec basalt rock monument

Three exhibitions fill the space. Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico features monumental prehistoric stone sculptures as well as smaller objects from Mexico's earliest civilization.

An Olmec Colossal Head 1200-900 BC

Fashioning Fashion is a rare chance to look into history's closet and has nearly 160 exquisitely made examples of  clothing and accessories from intricately embroidered silk and muslin dresses to tailored waistcoats to a rather sexy c. 1900 leather corset accessorized with fetish boots.

18th Century-style fashionistas

Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection has more than 100 fine pieces of furniture, sculpture and decorative art (such as a pair of Art Deco lamps made from bronze cobras) that span centuries and reflect the couple's eclectic taste. The building's numerous skylights face north, so the entire space is flooded with natural light. The palm garden and surrounding landscaping is by Robert Irwin who also designed the Getty Center's landscaping. Check out the impressive new space, BCAM and LACMA's vast holdings for free during the inaugural weekend of October 2-3. Ticket info here.

LACMA's new Resnick Pavilion

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Los Angeles' Natural History Museum 1913 Building restored

Restored facade at L.A.'s Natural History Museum: the Eagle sculpture soars again

I've been to L.A.'s Natural History Museum many times: the 1913 Building was the home of the infamous Discovery Room--a creepy crawly extravaganza known as the bug room at my house.  $100 million dollars later, it's now been redone and houses the new interactive and very modern Age of Mammals exhibition which manages to encompass 65 million years of history in one room.

Age of Mammals at the Natural History Museum
As I wrote in September 2010's Los Feliz Ledger: Among the highlights of the restoration is the return of a picturesque terra cotta eagle sculpture, with 7-foot wingspan, that is dramatically perched above the building’s oft-photographed facade. Guided by 24 pages of original drawings, the architecture and engineering team brought back architectural details, such as the 30 arched windows and glass roof in the wing that holds the Age of Mammals.  The restored windows remarkably brighten the space, giving it a very contemporary feel. Newly opened within the historic structure, the perennially popular Age of Mammals was re-designed, with up-close displays behind glass panels that give visitors a way to connect with the deep past. The room that has numerous interactive touch screens, 38 mammal skeletons and digital shorts that illustrate concepts like planetary geology and human evolution, all designed to make science accessible. More than 130 specimens came from the La Brea Tar pits; the suspended whale skeleton above helps put human size in perspective.

Art glass by Judson Studios tops the domed ceiling of the 1913 Building   

Look up to see the original, stunning art glass ceiling, now brilliant and luminescent once again. Created by Highland Park’s Judson Studios, the restoration of the rotunda’s domed opalescent art glass ceiling was overseen by David Judson, great-grandson of the initial artist.

And there's still more to come at the museum: new landscaping and entrance will face Exposition Boulevard and a new Age of Dinosaurs Hall. All scheduled to be redone by museum's 100th anniversary in 2013.