Geoff and I were up by about 6:30 this morning: Geoff to do a bit of work with his computer down in the lobby I sit in right now; me to find repose in the comfie armchair in our room - where I opened the curtain just enough for a sliver of light to illuminate the pages in my hand. It was a most relaxing start to the day, and as Matthew finally began to stir at about 8:15, I was reading the last page of Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Doctor. It was a delightful book, BTW; it reminded me of the old James Herriott books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc), except that it was about a medical doctor immersed in country practice rather than a veterinary doctor.
After a morning swim, we drove to an old LA landmark that I'd wanted to see - the 65-year-old LA Farmers' Market. As I mentioned yesterday, I love people watching and the market was certainly a great place to do that. We were amused to see people bundled up in Ugg boots, down vests and scarves; certainly the air was a bit wind-cooled compared to yesterday but winter boots and hats?? There must be a definition of cold that I'm not aware of - by contrast, I was wearing capri pants, sandles, a t-shirt, and an open hoodie, and I was quite comfortable...warm even.
After a late brunch at a restaurant by the fun name of Marmalade, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the various open-air shops and walkways, exploring the nooks and crannies of the place: a store whose only products were hundreds (thousands?) of types of hot sauces from all over the world; a zillion little coffee and food and fresh veggie stalls (picture Granville Island multiplied manyfold in size and scope); the biggest and best kitchen store I've ever been in (which included a full-size teaching kitchen where a whole bunch of pint-sized, chef-hat-bedecked kids were learning how to make lettuce wraps); and, of course, all of the typical retail stores such as Banana Republic, Nike, and so on. The outdoor market centered around a huge plaza, the centerpiece of which was the biggest, most elaborately decorated Christmas tree I've ever seen...including an airborne Santa and his reindeer floating high above our heads.
While enjoying the ambiance of the plaza and the tree, I suddenly heard a small whirring sound beside me. I turned to look and saw a man walking backwards beside me, taking rapid-fire photos with the large telephoto lens attached to his camera. Then I took in the woman who was just about to pass by me; less than an arm's length away walked Rihanna...known to most, I'm sure, as a famous R&B artist who was recently assaulted by her boyfriend in a very public scandal that left her doing interviews for abused women. In front, behind, and beside her walked burly men talking into their wrists - she looked unperturbed by it all and just walked slowly by us, wearing no sunglasses to hide who she was. She was very beautiful, I must say. By the time I had turned my camera on, she'd just passed by and my photo captures only her backside! Though I'm neither a celebrity watcher nor particularly a Rihanna fan, my attention was captured at least enough to want to try for a shot of her face. It wasn't hard to find her, since a few seconds after I saw her, she surrounded by other people who's also recognized her. Alas, she went into the Nike store and, within seconds, her security crew had cleared the store of all occupants and barred anyone else from entering. Not caring enough to hang around any longer, I walked away - my last image was of her security team holding back the throngs of people that, by then, completely enveloped the storefront and the wide walkway in front of it. I have a slightly better appreciation now for the word 'entourage' and why it might be necessary.
The highlight of our visit to the market was centered around a perusal of an amazing display and variety of candy-encrusted caramel apples. We told Matthew that he could choose one that we would all share later. While he was ogling the various coatings (smarties, oreo cookie crumbs, marshmallows, nuts, etc etc), a man waiting there engaged us in conversation and found out that we were visiting from Canada. He was very friendly and, having grown up in the area, was happy to tell us some of the best things to see at the market. He and Matthew struck up a conversation about the various apples (not much Matthew likes better to do than talk about candy!) and he helped Matthew finally decide on the apple that was covered in caramel, graham cracker chunks, mini marshmallows, and, finally, milk chocolate. The thing was half the size of Matthew’s head - Matthew was wide-eyed (and mouthed) with pleasure. We were just about to hand over the cash for the apple (a whopping $6.95) when the man we'd been talking to handed us a bag, and wished us a Merry Christmas and a great visit to LA. Inside was the gargantuan apple that Matthew had selected. We were blown away by the man's kindness and generosity towards perfect strangers; we decided that it was an LA moment that would accompany our every memory of this vacation.
From the Farmers' Market we headed west to Long Beach, where we spent the rest of the afternoon at The Aquarium of the Pacific, a great spot to: see all manner of sea life, from baby jellyfish to sea lions to lobsters and many things in between; stroke sting rays and small sharks; and play on the splash pads. The best part of it for all three of us, though, was spending time in the 5,000 square foot aviary that housed dozens (hundreds?) of larikeets (colourful little birds the size of a small crow but more resembling a parrot than anything else I can think of). We were told that the birds would bite us if we tried to stroke them, but that they loved the nectar that was sold in tiny containers for $3.00. That money was well spent because the birds wasted no time in hopping or flying on to our arms to lick the nectar with their surprisingly-long black tongues; long after the container was empty, the lingering scent attracted them to us; as a result, all three of us had ample time to enjoy the little birds as they hopped on to our hands and arms. I was nipped more than once by those sharp little beaks (though I'd made no attempt to pet them) but found it amusing that they seemed to like walking up my arm onto my shoulder or to the back of my neck, where they thrust their beaks into my hair and seemed to enjoy pulling hairs out strand by strand...which was more painful than the nips!
When we left the Aquarium, it was getting dark and we walked around the spectacular yacht-encircles marina towards the restaurant we'd been encouraged to try by Aquarium staff when we'd asked aboiut a recommendation for a good Mexican restaurant. The food wasn't actually that great (except for the tortilla soup), but we enjoyed the ambiance of sitting out on the deck overlooking the marina.
Geoff and I concluded towards the end of the day that it feels like we've been gone much longer than we have actually been away. It's a great feeling, knowing that we're nowhere near done our vacation and are already relaxed and relishing the experience.