Inside my love for Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn DavisOf the movies released in 2013 that I have seen, there are so far three that I can say I loved and have either watched multiple times already or will likely watch again soon. Those three movies are World War Z, All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis.

I loved World War Z because it was suspenseful, action-packed, well-paced and contained a small dose of terror. I believe All is Lost, starring Robert Redford (and only Robert Redford) will go down in history as one of the best one-man films of all time and is certainly my pick for the best castaway, lost-at-sea movie. In case you didn’t know, there are only about a dozen words spoken during the entire film.

Inside Llewyn Davis, the Cohen brothers’ Grand Prix winner at the Festival de Cannes, is described generally as, “a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.”

I loved it for a variety of reasons:

  • The music, obviously. There was so much great folk music including an original and quirky tune, Please Mr. Kennedy, which earned a Golden Globe nomination. Fare Thee Well was also a stand out song for me because of the faceless voice in the duet, Marcus Mumford, husband of Carey Mulligan, who also stars in the movie. (Listen in the trailer below.) I also loved that the songs were played in the movie in their entirety and all but one were recorded live.
  • The supporting role played by Stark Sands was innocent and enjoyable and his performance was beautiful. Little do most viewers of the movie probably know that he was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Kinky Boots on Broadway.
  • Oscar Isaac’s hair.
  • Cameos by Adam and Ray, from Girls.
  • I have great respect for casting a cat in a movie because they are not obedient and can’t really be given much direction. I read that it complicated filming and that multiple cats had to be used. I loved the story of the cat and I don’t even like cats.
  • This was by far my favorite movie appearance from Justin Timberlake. He belongs in movies that center around music.
  • It ends when it should and doesn’t drag. I love a 100 minute movie.

I enjoyed this movie so much I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to it, which doesn’t happen always. So, go see it! And tell me what you think.

Treasures of the Sunset

I’m not shy when discussing the joy associated with my living situation. In addition to having a great apartment and great roommate, I embrace my neighborhood and take advantage of its riches frequently. There are many things to love about San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood.

I love brisk after-work urban hikes to the top of Grand View Park and Strawberry Hill (in Golden Gate Park). I love the delicious cheap dinner spots like Lime Tree, King of Noodles and Crepevine, and its classier joints like Pasión and Nopalito. I even love Donut World, open 24 hours a day.

Grand View Park, Sunset, San Francisco

My roommate (Austin) and me at the top of Grand View Park, one of my very favorite vantage points from high above the Inner Sunset. Along your urban hike up to the park, be sure to stop at Moraga and 16th Avenue and discover one of the two nearby sets of mosaic tile staircases. (Photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

The Inner Sunset has a hot dog joint, comic book store, and shoe repair shop that’s been open since 1900. From its streets you can look in various directions and lay your eyes on Sutro Tower, the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park, an oasis where you can run on trails, run on a track inside a former NFL stadium, run a half marathon, hike, paddle boat, golf, frisbee golf, cycle laps, geocache, play baseball, soccer, kickball, attend a music festival and more. Our glorious park is home to a world-class science museum and art museum, Japanese Tea Garden, carousel and bison paddock.

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There is never a shortage of things to do and see in Golden Gate Park. Starting clockwise from top left: a butterfly inside the Academy of Sciences, ducklings and their parents at Stow Lake, a Burning Man tent set-up dress rehearsal with Brian, and a geocache discovery with Austin.

In celebration of my adoration for my neighborhood I recently contributed to my dear friend Andi’s travel, food and France blog, Misadventures with Andi. As part of her new series on SF neighborhood profiles from locals, I share more of my favorite Sunset neighborhood gems including a worker-owned bakery and a magnificent cheese shop. Check out my Sunset profile here.

Up Up and Away: Big Rock Ridge

If you asked me a week ago what the second highest point in Marin County was, I would have wrinkled my nose, raised an eyebrow and looked perplexed. Ask me today and I’ll inform you that at 1,895 feet, the summit of Big Rock Ridge sits lower only than Mt. Tamalpais (2,572 feet).

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Hiking Big Rock Ridge is not a stroll in the park. This trail is all about going up. You’ll gain more than 2,500 feet in elevation over the course of 9 out and back miles. Yet, if you seek big views and a cardio and gluteus maximus workout, it’s one of best day hikes in the Bay Area. (It’s also great if you don’t mind fire roads and sharing the trail with mountain bikers.)

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The hike covers area in and out of the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve. There are a few different trail heads to choose from including one off Lucas Valley Road just outside of San Rafael, and another past the “big rock” that the ridge is named after. We started at a trail head at Queenstone Dr. off Miller Creek Rd. in San Rafael (and it is one of the most convenient trail heads in all of Marin.)

Follow the fire road for 4.5 miles and soak up the crazy beautiful views of Lucas Valley and Marin County. When you get close to the top of Big Rock Ridge you’ll see Petaluma to the north and the San Francisco skyline in the distance to the south. You’ll be standing high above Skywalker Ranch which you can spy on with binoculars.

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I can’t believe it took me eight years to discover Big Rock Ridge. I will definitely revisit this trail with friends or visitors from out of town who seek panoramic vistas, maybe with a dog or maybe even on a mountain bike. This is a tough and inspiring hike that will leave you feeling accomplished.

Holiday chill

One of my favorite memories from Coachella 2013 was closing Saturday night in the Gobi Tent with Berlin house duo, Booka Shade. We danced and grooved as the desert came alive amidst glowing palm trees and neon lights.

Booka Shade at Coachella

Booka Shade at Coachella

Last month, Booka Shade released Eve, a new album named after the Manchester studio where it was conceived and produced. Rolling Stone describes the tracks on Eve as atmospheric, jazzy, imaginatively structured and brilliantly built. I would describe this album as the perfect soundtrack for a chill holiday, full of funky synth goodness.

My favorite tracks are Many Rivers, Love Inc. and Crossing Borders. Check out Eve on Spotify:

History & a Hike: Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a large outdoor recreation area (a.k.a. park), located just south of San Francisco. It is sandwiched between the sleepy and often foggy, ocean-side town of Pacifica and the less adjective-friendly Peninsula city of San Bruno. Home to the San Francisco Bay Discovery SiteSweeney Ridge is where European explorers, as part of the Portolá Expedition, first laid eyes on San Francisco Bay. There are several trails and trailheads scattered around the ridge, that lead hikers to this historic destination.

To celebrate the survival of another Thanksgiving holiday, my roommate Austin and I spent Black Friday hiking up Mori Ridge Trail, the trailhead nearest to Pacifica (near Shelldance Nursery).

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Alternative trails start from Skyline College and Sneath Lane in San Bruno. These routes are equal in climb and distance, and offer different views and landscape. Our hike had the Pacific Ocean at our backs on the way up, and then front and center on the way down. (See the official park map for more details on the other trails.)

From the Mori Ridge Trailhead, it’s about 1.3 steep miles up to an abandoned Nike Missile Control Site left over from the Cold War days. If you’ve hiked in the Marin Headlands you’ve likely encountered one of these sites, which used to house nuclear warhead missiles pointed at Russia — crazy and interesting. The one at Sweeney Ridge is plastered with wall-to-wall graffiti.  Colorful, impressive, and – it turns out –photo-friendly.

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From the missile site, it’s about another mile to the actual discovery site, where you’ll find a commemorative stone marker. It’s a fun place to pause and daydream about what that day must have been like as the explorers bush-whacked their way up the ridge and laid eyes on the beautiful Bay for the first time. From the top, on a clear(ish) day you can see all the notable and impressive peaks around the Bay including Tamalpais, Diablo and Hamilton. 

It’s a quick trip back down, with beautiful views of the ocean the entire way. If it’s clear you’ll likely be able to see the Farralon Islands and Point Reyes.

Another noteworthy aspect of Sweeney Ridge is that it’s situated just a few miles from San Francisco International airport. This makes for busy air space above you as you hike, with lots of planes taking off and landing. You may find this a nuisance or, like we did, or a point of fantasy. Seeing jumbo jets taking off, heading straight out over the Pacific Ocean, fueled our imagination about where they were going and what they were hauling.

I recommend this hike to anyone looking for a quick and solid workout or who wants a 2-hour hike that’s easy to get to from San Francisco (only 20 minutes drive south). The history is a fantastic added bonus, as are the amazing views of the Pacific, and the opportunities for exploring at the missile site.

Quick easy wall art with some personality

I was doing some online holiday shopping last week and while searching on Etsy, a print of a cocktail on a page from an old dictionary, appeared in my results. I didn’t have this sort of item in mind when I initiated the search, and it caught my eye.

It was not for anyone for a holiday gift. My roommate and I have an apartment that blesses us with a lot of wall space. We don’t hang art just for the sake of hanging something. For me, it’s more important to be inspired by what I put up. So the print caught my eye… I like cocktails. My roommate does too. I also like recycled things. And who doesn’t like to support small business? For only $10, why not?

etsy surprise

The print arrived today. I had no intention of doing anything with it immediately. As I unpacked my work bag tonight when I got home, I pulled it out and thought, “hmm… I wonder if I have a frame that would fit?” Sure enough, I went to our back room and found an old frame in need of a makeover.

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So I swapped out the old photo and replaced it with the new beverage print. I knew immediately we had an open spot in the entry with a hook all ready to go. I hung it far ahead of my anticipated schedule and it’s a pretty great fit.

the glass isn't dirty, it's the reflection from the other wall...

Check out other prints from the Etsy store I purchased from, Vintage Dictionary Art. Also, I know the creator behind Z & D Designs and he does some fun prints worth checking out like meme cats, Office Space and philosoraptor.

Gimme 5: Peru

Peru 5It’s been 2 months since I returned from Peru. While I have archived my photos on Flickr, and now have a digital album filled with memories, I have struggled to find a way to chronicle my Peruvian vacation, simply and appropriately here. When it comes to blogging it’s common to over-think. I decided to pick five standout takeaways from the trip and build from there.

1 The Inca Trail is an adventure of a lifetime. Being on the 26 mile trail for 4 days exceeded my expectations in terms of thrill, beauty, serenity, spirituality and joy. By the end of our third day, before even making it to Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed with awe. We began that day with magnificent views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, as seen from just outside our tent door. The day ended at Wiñay Wayna, where we had a stunning and impressive Incan archaeological site all to ourselves to explore, as the sun set on the Urubamba Valley.

Machu Pichu was impressive and there are no experiences I would trade for that moment when we walked through the Sun Gate at sunrise, to see the famous World Wonder waking up for the day amidst blue skies and sunshine. So many memorable moments along the 4 day trek, combined with the most stunning terrain, is what made for an unforgettable vacation (that I will unintentionally compare all future vacations to).

Mt. Salkantay in the distance, from an original stretch of the Inca Trial.

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna.

2 Pisco makes for delicious cocktails and Peruvian cuisine is among the most unique and satisfying in the world. Food from Peru is influenced heavily by what’s been grown there for thousands of years like potatoes, quinoa and corn. Peruvian cuisine is growing in popularity within world-class cities, as covered by Hemispheres Magazine, in a short and snapy piece in its June issue, which I read right before our trip (just in time to build excitement for my taste buds).

What experienced and open-minded foodie doesn’t salivate at the thought of fresh ceviche?

While I’m not raving here about the guinea pig or alpaca ravioli I sampled, I will say that the home-cooked meals our porters artistically created on the Inca Trail, were as enjoyable in their own right, as the items we indulged in on the tasting menu at one of the best restaurants in Lima.

Spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village

A spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village.

One of the chef's staff at Central Restaurante came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

One of the chef’s staff at Central Restaurante in Lima came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

3 Peru has a rich and fascinating history, rooted and influenced by the rise of the mighty and massive Incan Empire. During the weeks leading up to and through our trip, I read Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas, which served up a 500 page dose of Peruvian history, starting with the rise of the Incan Empire beginning in the 1300s, well through the Spanish colonization of the 1600s. The facts I learned in this book came to life during time in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, along the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, as well as deep in the Peruvian Amazon. This book is a comprehensive and well respected history lesson for anyone traveling to the land of the Incas.

The Last Days

In April, The Hollywood Reporter published a story reporting that TV network FX is planning to turn MacQuarrie’s book into a miniseries titled, Conquistadors. THR reported, “The drama tells the story of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, two Spanish Conquistadors who above all odds conquered the Incan empire of 10 million people with just 168 men, and Manco Inca and Cura Occlo, two teenage Incan royal lovers, who led one of the greatest rebellions in history.”

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Inca empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Incan empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America.

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced together stones

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced-together stones.

4 The Amazon (which represented nearly 50 percent of our overall Peruvian adventure) is filled with beauty, music, the elements and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings. Using pictures and audio, which often tell more appropriate stories than words, here is more on that:

Beauty: From delicate flowers and butterlies to playful, noisy scarlet macaws, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Beauty: From the hundreds of varieties of delicate flowers and butteries, to the playful, noisy scarlet macaws and the many species of their parrot friends, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce… listen for yourself with a clip I recorded outside our lodge….


The Elements

The elements: They call it a rainforest for a reason, even in the dry season. We learned this when we got caught out in the rain on an oxbow lake, doing some friendly stalking of some rowdy cowbirds. We must have hiked more than an hour in a heavy down-pour all the way back to the lodge. It took my soggy shoes more than 4 days to dry.

Wildlife: We had some once in a lifetime wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, the impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick, a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across the jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

Wildlife: We had some unique wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, an impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick (as photographed above), a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across a jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodents, capybaras (above).

5 Out Adventures, the travel group that my three travel mates and I went down to Peru with, executed a flawless Inca Trail trek and a magical journey in the jungle. Given that the Peru government requires Inca Trail hikers to go with a permitted group, I figured why the heck not try to find a gay group to go with. It’s not that men attracted to men always need or want to travel in packs, yet gay trekkers are going to be like-minded in many ways. Still, I was a little apprehensive going into the trip, traveling with a large group of  strangers.

Our trip was comprised of an interesting and lovable group of guys. From London to Vancouver, our group was diverse, including a soon-to-be father and the first gay marriage divorcees I’ve met. We shared experiences together in Lima, Cusco and on the Inca Trail that we will never forget. If I found myself in a city where any of my fellow trekkers reside, I would make it a priority to see them… (like I did last week when I saw uber attractive and all-around-nice-couple, Alex and Kevin, in their hometown of NYC).

I look forward to a future Out Adventures trip and I encourage fellow gay adventure seekers to explore their once-in-a-life-time excursions — from Croatia and Turkey to Nepal and Burma… and maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro sometime soon? (hint hint, Robert.)

Urubamba Valley

Machu Pichu

There are many more memories from my trip to Peru that I wish I could capture with words. At the very least, I will always have some of these stories to remind me of my adventure and the more than 600 additional photos on Flickr.