The Happiest Place On Earth

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland.

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

Is Disneyland the happiest place on earth? For some people, maybe it’s simply the place of the world’s longest lines, or the priciest churro you’ll ever eat. But for most people, myself included, Disneyland truly is the most magical place on earth.

Why? Why does everyone—from toddlers to adults—love Disneyland so much? I’m sure psychologists can offer technical explanations about escapism or childhood nostalgia, but loving Disneyland isn’t part of some diagnosis. Yes, it offers an escape from an often-cumbersome reality, and it takes us back to our happy childhood memories. But it’s not cheap amusement park trick. Walt Disney didn’t design Disneyland, or any of his films, to trick us, but rather to transport us.

All of Disneyland is designed to transport you. It’s dug into the ground to block out the noise of the highways nearby. There is absolutely no trash on the ground. The employees are unusually perky. The girls playing princesses are freakishly in character. The buildings along Main Street lean inward to appear taller. It’s details like these that make the Disney experience. Perhaps there is no greater attention to detail in all the world than at Disneyland. Even as an adult you feel like you’re meeting Cinderella. You feel like you’re with Mr. Toad on his wild ride. You feel like there is no world beyond Disneyland.

Me at Snow White's Wishing Well.

Me at Snow White’s Wishing Well.

So maybe that does sound a little escapist. But we all need to escape reality sometimes. Walt Disney recognized this, and it’s why his movies and theme parks are so successful. He knew that we—children and adults—wanted to go somewhere else for a day, somewhere where magic is possible and every ending is happy.

As someone who loves to read and write, I also love the stories that go along with the rides, especially the rides in Fantasy Land. The attention to detail in these rides is amazing too. It’s also adorable to see all the little girls running around in their princess costumes. And I do love the churros. But mostly, I love being transported for a day to a land of fairy stories and magic and fun. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because you leave all the unhappiness at the gate. Then you’re free to laugh and smile and be a prince or princess for a day.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.

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Soho Santa Barbara

photo 1Soho is without a doubt one of the coolest places in Santa Barbara. Named for the cultural district in New York City, Soho is a small restaurant venue that allows its audience to drink and dine while enjoying first class music in the perfect atmosphere.

For Christmas I took my dad to see Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek and Fiction Family fame) at Soho. It was both of our first times. We got to sit front row and everything about the night seemed to go perfectly. The ambiance was great—brick walls, lights stringing across the ceiling, light turns down low. We enjoyed a delicious dinner before hand, and had world-class gelato in between the opening act and Sean Watkins. It was a great time to enjoy the scene before enjoying the music.

The opening act for Sean Watkin’s solo tour was Lauren Shera. I had never heard of her before that night, but I was blown away by the strength of her voice. A modern mix of Joan Baez and Emmylou Harris, her voice never wavered. Her songs had a folk feel to them while still remaining relevant, and she played the guitar and banjo very well. I bought her newest album after the concert and I’ve been listening to it nonstop in my car. She’s on her way to becoming one of my favorite artists and I only just heard her music. Listening to her is an amazing experience. It makes you feel like you’re back in the 1970s.

Sean Watkins

Sean Watkins

I had seen Sean Watkins perform once before when I saw Nickel Creek during their reunion tour. He is an amazing guitarist, songwriter, and singer. I love how all of his songs are so different. Some are happy and funny, others are sad and nostalgic, and some are bitter and angry. He taps into all of his different emotions for his songs, and his guitar picking is amazing. I could have listened to him all night.

The cherry on top of the cake, especially for my dad, was that Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket) was in attendance that night. He lives in Santa Barbara and performs often at Soho. He also happens to be good friends with Sean Watkins, who invited him up on stage for several songs. (My dad was also ecstatic that he got to talk to Glen after the show, just hanging out like a couple of regular guys.) Glen and Sean jammed with their other musicians, performing songs from Sean’s new solo album, a couple of Nickel Creek songs, and some great covers. The music was absolutely amazing, every song an incredible listening experience.

Glen Phillips and Sean Watkins

Glen Phillips and Sean Watkins

I would go see just about anybody at Soho. It is the perfect environment for music, but there is something special about seeing your favorite musicians live. It’s different than listening to the album in the car or on your iPod. There’s so much rawness and ambiance to a live performance. And a life performance at Soho is just that much more amazing. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. If you are in Santa Barbara, go to Soho! It doesn’t have to be your favorite musician performing, or even a musician you’ve heard of. Go for the food and the setting and the fun. The music is bound to be amazing no matter what.

The Windy City

Emily and I in front of the Bean.

Emily and I in front of the Bean.

One of the things Emily and I like to do most is travel. Part of this is encouraged by the fact that we live on opposite sides of the country, so travel is necessary if we want to see each other in person. As it happened, we both had time off from work around the holidays, so we decided that instead of one of us traveling across the country, we would meet somewhere in the middle. We decided on Chicago. It seemed like a fun city with a lot to see and do, even if the temperature was supposed to linger around zero degrees the whole time.

Between the two of us, Emily and I have been to a lot of cities—New York, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Paris, etc. After traveling to so many cities, we have established a sort of standard for the activities we do and the places we visit. We always find good places to eat, fun parks to walk around, cool museums to visit, and neat bookstores to explore. These are four things that we have found are almost all worth looking into in new cities, though each city ranks differently in those four categories.

Eduardo's Enoteca.

Eduardo’s Enoteca.

Chicago had a lot of fun places to eat. For New Year’s Eve, we went to a very small Italian place called Eduardo’s Enoteca. The place was lit by twinkly lights and seated only about ten parties. It was small and quiet, but the food was delicious, authentic Italian food with a vast selection of wines and homemade pastas. It was so good, we ended up going back for our last dinner in the city. We also sampled some donuts from Firecake Donuts, ate at the local Shake Shack (my favorite burger place ever), had some authentic Cajun food at Heaven on Seven, and tried deep-dish pizza from two different restaurants. If food is your thing, Chicago is definitely a city you should visit.

When we travel, Emily and I play quite a bit of tourist, so of course we went to Millennium Park to see the Bean. For something that is a simple reflective statue, the Bean (or Cloud Gate) is really fun. There was also ice skating below that was playing fun music. We went during the day and at night to see the city’s reflection in the curved surface of the Bean. Though Millennium Park was not as big as I though it would be, it is only one of many parks in Chicago that I’m sure are a bit more beautiful when it isn’t the dead of winter and the grass and leaves are green.

An elderly couple admiring La Grande Jatte.

An elderly couple admiring La Grande Jatte.

The first thing Emily and I did in Chicago (besides order in deep-dish pizza from our hotel room) was visit the Art Institute of Chicago. You know, the museum from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. After visiting the Louvre, the Met, the British National Gallery, and the National Gallery, and the Getty Museum, you think we would have had enough of art, but that is simply not possible. The Art Institute had some amazing pieces, including numerous pieces by famous Impressionist painters, Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”, and “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat. If I had to pick one museum to see in Chicago, this was would be it.

Walt Disney's recreated office from the Disney studios in Burbank, CA.

Walt Disney’s recreated office from the Disney studios in Burbank, CA.

But we also visited the Museum of Science and Industry because they were having an exhibit on Walt Disney, who was born in Chicago. The other exhibits in the museum were probably more fascinating for children, the apparent targeted audience of the museum, but the exhibit on Walt Disney was great. There were drawings and concept art from his early work, like Oswald the Rabbit, to his classic films, like Snow White and Cinderella. The exhibit also had a recreation of his animator’s desk and his office in the Burbank studio. There were costumes from modern Disney films like Enchanted and Maleficient, Walt Disney’s numerous awards, and props used for animation, such as the storybooks from Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. And at the end, visitors could sit through a short animation academy and learn how to draw a Disney character. Emily and I drew Minnie Mouse.

The bookstores of Chicago were probably the most disappointing part of the trip. We went to the Myopic Bookstore, which was fun but very small, and Powell’s, which felt very much like a chain bookstore. But perhaps Emily and I are spoiled after bookstores like The Strand in New York City. Still, I walked away with cool old paperback copies of Lloyd Alexander’s Pyridian books.

Twinkly lights near the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue.

Twinkly lights near the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue.

But there were worse things than the bookstore misadventure. Emily and I got lost several times trying to navigate Chicago’s public transportation system, both busses and the ‘L’. Still, there were some lovely surprises on the trip. The hotel, which was right on the river and had a view of the city and Lake Michigan, upgraded our room so that we ended up having a perfect view of the New Year’s fireworks. There were twinkly lights everywhere. All of the Magnificent Mile (the shopping strip of Michigan Avenue) was lit up by lights. So even though it was very cold, it was still magical.

While I enjoyed wearing my coat and scarves and getting to see a bit of snow, I might recommend visiting Chicago during a warmer time of year. But Chicago is worth visiting any time of year. There is a lot to do and see and a lot of good food to try. Even though it was cold, the trip was totally worth it.

Year in Review: 2014

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

I can’t believe another year has passed already. I’m starting to feel old, and I’m only 22 (almost 23!). Last year around this time I posted a short review of my year—exciting stuff that happened (I graduated!), books I loved, movies I saw. I thought I’d do the same thing this year because, even though nothing as exciting as graduating from college happened, I did read some amazing books and see some amazing movies.

lovelyphotoI’ll start with books. One unconventional book that I absolutely adored was Lovely: Ladies of Animation, a collaborative art book featuring personal work by Lorelay Bove, Brittney Lee, Claire Keane, Helen Cheng, Lisa Keene, and Victoria Ying. I went to their exhibit in Burbank at the Center Stage Gallery and it was amazing. I love their artwork, and anyone into art, animation, or Disney should check it out.

sinnerNovels I loved include Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys, a story about a hard working girl from the French District in New Orleans. The writing was wonderful and the characters colorful. Another colorful book was Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, an “Arabian nights” type story set in India. Both those books are full of very different cultures, vibrant and interesting. Another book full of culture is Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. The culture in this book is fictional, but heavily based upon Roman and Greek culture. I am incredibly excited for the next book, The Winner’s Crime. And speaking of waiting, I waited so long for Maggie Stiefvater’s Sinner, a stand alone companion novel to her Wolves of Mercy Falls series. If any of you like Maggie Stiefvater or werewolves or hot OTP couples, definitely check out this book. All of these books are incredible, and if you haven’t read them, put them on your “to read” list.

The-Theory-of-EverythingAs far as movies go, I enjoyed the adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which was not only a moving story set in World War II, but also incredibly close to the book. I also liked The Theory of Everything, the movie about Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. The acting was amazing. And I know this is not a movie, but I also loved watching ABC’s Once Upon A Time. It was a fun, fairytale adventure with lots of twists and turns and villains. I can’t wait for the next season to come to Netflix.

Me under a tunnel of books.

Me under a tunnel of books.

It is difficult, nigh impossible, to top the traveling Emily and I did last year, going to London, Oxford, and Paris. This year was not as exciting, but we did get around. We went to Boston, walked the Freedom Trail, tasted the marvels of Little Italy. On the West Coast, I also visited The Last Bookstore, one of the most famous bookstores in Los Angeles, and it was quite the experience. Emily and I are closing off the year in Chicago together, so more adventures are yet to be had!

I can’t wait to wrap up 2014 watching Lord of the Rings in Chicago with my best friend, but I’m also looking forward to 2015. Hopefully it will be an exciting year and bring about some changes. I’m still thinking about what my resolutions should be, but hopefully they are big and exciting! I hope your new year is the same.

The Last Bookstore

photo 1After hitting the Lovely: Ladies of Animation exhibit at the Center Stage Gallery, my brother and I continued our trek from Burbank to downtown L.A. to see what he had promised me was THE bookstore. This was a bold claim since I had spent three years in New York featuring The Strand. But I had seen L.A.’s most famous bookstore, The Last Bookstore, on several Pinterest and Tumblr lists about must-see bookstores. So we paid the outrageous L.A. parking fees and entered the bookstore.

photo 2I was not disappointed. The Last Bookstore was an incredible place. You walk into this huge open room with big, white columns stretching from the floor to the ceiling. It almost has a warehouse feel—one big open room with bookshelves scattered about. The building must have been a bank or a hotel back in the day because several doors resemble that of old-fashioned elevator or bank vault doors. As the largest used bookstore in California, The Last Bookstore contains hundreds and hundreds of books, some new and others used. There are classics, new releases, and everything in between. Several fixtures, such as a paneling overhead and the checkout counter are even made of books. And if one travels upstairs, there are even more surprises in store—including a rather large mammoth head!

Upstairs there are books organized by color, a tunnel made of books, but also small studios where artists work, sell their artwork, and interact with bookstore customers. There are sculptures made out of books and modern abstract paintings. You can also find old vinyl records and comic books. There are truly many treasures waiting to be found at The Last Bookstore. It is an exciting destination for any bookworm. But I think the real charm about the store is not just the books, but the atmosphere.

Me under a tunnel of books.

Me under a tunnel of books.

The Last Bookstore truly has an “L.A.” feel—from the open warehouse building to the eclectic art upstairs. The building itself is an odd mixture of a classic, old-fashioned era long since gone, and modernity. The modern takes nest in the old, not overturning it, but turning it into something new and hip, much like the city itself. The records and art give the store a unique, hipster feel. But in the end, I’m not sure if you can really put a finger on what makes The Last Bookstore so L.A. It just is. Like the city it calls it’s home, The Last Bookstore is an metropolitan enigma full of promise.

Les Deux Magots

ImageThe highlight of my senior year of college had nothing to do with college, though graduating was rather exciting. But the most incredible thing I did that year was travel to Europe for the first time. Emily and I stayed in London for over a week, taking day trips to Oxford and Paris. When we decided to go to Paris, we knew we had to eat in a quintessential Parisian café in order to get the true Parisian experience. And being the literature nerds that we are, we knew we wanted to find a café with literary significance. After all, almost every old café in Paris can boast that it has hosted more than one famous writer, both European and American. After diligent research—which is Emily’s gift—we decided that for our whirlwind day in Paris we would eat in a little café known as Les Deux Magots.

Les Deux Magots is a small café located in Saint-Germain. And before you begin to wonder, the name does not translate to “two maggots”, which would be a terrible name for a place that serves food. Rather, Les Deux Magots means the two Chinese figurine dolls, a name derived from a novelty shop that occupied the space before the café. Since it was founded in 1812, Les Deux Magots has served many famous authors, artists, and notable people, but I will mention two.

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This plaque stands on the street corner where the cafe is located.

Ever the classicist, Emily insisted that we find a café where Ernest Hemingway had frequented while he lived in Paris in the 1920s. Les Deux Magots is one of those cafes, and it was very excited for both of us to eat in a place where that hosted this great American writer. More exciting for me and less exciting for Emily, Simone de Beauvoir also ate at Les Deux Magots. A notable French existentialist, writer, and feminist, de Beauvoir is most famous for her book The Second Sex and her relationship with existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. While I wrote my senior thesis that year—you can read part of my musings on the heroine in British literature—I read The Second Sex and was duly impressed by de Beauvoir’s intelligence and talent in writing. Though as a disclaimer I should say that I disagree with her on many, many points, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way de Beavoir tied feminism into philosophy, psychology, and politics. Anyway, Emily humored my Simone de Beauvoir phase as she handles all my odd phases, and we went to the café of Ernest Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir.

But besides the historical and literary significance of Les Deux Magots, there is also the cultural atmosphere of a French café—a Parisian café. Emily and I sat at our small little table and ate our delicious sandwiches, soaking in the moment, pretending we were great writers ourselves. It was a wonderful experience; a required experience if you ever plan on visiting Paris. There are many cafés to choose from, and I’m sure they all serve delicious food and wonderful ambience, but Emily and I can personally recommend Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

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A shelf in the famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company that honors Simone de Beauvoir and her book The Second Sex.