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Last Monday, I made a trip to visit the Cartier store on Rodeo Drive which was opening a jewelry exhibit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French company.

We arrived around 11 am but the upstairs portion of the exhibit was still not ready. We looked around for a few minutes on the ground floor which had regular merchandise on display and plus some of the remarkable jewels designed in the past century and which had been gathered for the special show. I started asking questions but the sales lady did not know enough so she got a docent to give us a guided tour. For over half an hour we were treated to a dazzling display accompanied by information on the advances in techniques in design of jewelry, watches and other luxury items that Cartier so famously produces.

The most impressive piece of the show was a wreath of diamonds that held together a cascade of diamonds and deep green emerald drops. This brooch was designed for Marjorie Merriweather Post and it was accompanied by a picture of her wearing it in the Roaring 20s. Pinned near the shoulder of her dress, the cascade of glittering stones almost reached her waist.

Another celebrated jewel collector, Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor, was represented by no less than three displays. Her diamond and ruby suite was in the street window. Upstairs, her fabled engraved and heart-shaped Taj Mahal diamond that Shah Jehan bestowed on his wife Mumtaz centuries ago, hung from a ruby-studded gold rope designed by Cartier to replace the original silk cord. Nearby was her pearl and ruby necklace, featuring the enormous La Peregrina, a teardrop pearl once worn by Mary Tudor and generations of Spanish queen consorts. Next to the necklace was the design sketch on which Ms. Taylor scribbled a request to change the setting from gold to platinum. Richard Burton was a remarkable husband to lavish so many magnificent jewels on his wife.

Although we were clearly not high-rollers, I appreciated the courtesy that the store extended to us by giving the private tour. That is what I call great customer service. I was so dazzled by the display I did not take any video of the store’s exterior. Sadly yet understandably, I was not permitted to photograph the displays inside. It was a great marketing effort featuring skilled craftsmanship, rare gems, celebrity and romance.

After browsing the windows of other fabled jewelers such as Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Garrard,Tiffany, Buccellati and Bulgari, we stopped for a late lunch at McCormick and Schmick’s. Our booth overlooked Wilshire Boulevard and the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Great spot to count the Rolls Royces and Bentleys on the street. Food and service was very good. We enjoyed a salad of arugula with goat cheese, seafood in a flavorful lobster broth, and a moist thick slab of shark with grilled vegetables. Dessert was a trio of sorbets and a dainty key lime pie. A tad too dainty for my hearty appetite. After all, every jeweled bracelet we saw that morning had larger diameters than the pie!

The produce in France is quite different from what we get in California. For example, organic (biologique in French) produce is relatively rare and expensive, and for some reason, white asparagus seems much more popular with the French than the green.

White asparagus at farmer's market on Boulevard de Strasbourg, Toulouse

White asparagus at farmer's market on Boulevard de Strasbourg, Toulouse

Toulouse, one of France’s smaller but vibrant cities has several farmer’s markets which are fun to visit when traveling. On Tuesdays, the city’s elegant main square, Place du Capitole, is the venue for a market that does offer organic produce. When I was there last year, a bakery demonstrated their artisanal breadmaking. Also on Tuesday mornings, a mile or so away on the Boulevard de Strasbourg where it passes Place Jeanne d’Arc, a smaller market lines one side of the block.

If you are staying at a hotel and have no cooking facilities to make a meal out of market produce, then stop for lunch at L’Os à Moëlle, at 14 Rue  Roquelaine, just around the corner from the Boulevard de Strasbourg market . At L’Os, you can create your own first course from the buffet cart, charmingly called the chariot. This salad buffet is laden with typical items like shredded carrots, beets, potato salad, hard-boiled eggs, cold seafood including pickled herring, and olives. For the main course, the chef offers regional specialties like cassoulet with confit of duck. You can’t go wrong if you pick the region’s famous red wine, Madiran, to sip with your meal.

Such a long name for a patch of forest! As in all of the surviving forested preserves in the San Francisco Bay Area, the majority of the redwoods here are second growth. Douglas firs are abundant too in this part of the Santa Cruz mountain range. In many parts of the Purisima Creek Preserve, you will encounter classic Mediterranean chaparral vegetation such as sagebrush, manzanita and madrone. The drive to the trailhead on Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) itself is quite scenic, as is the road that continues twisting down to Woodside. At the junction with La Honda (Highway 84) , the fabled Alice’s Restaurant is the favorite pit stop for motorcylists and other travelers. It was extremely crowded this Sunday so I did not stop to sample the fare.

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Turning onto La Honda heading West towards the coast takes you through more beautiful rolling hills, past farms and the picturesque, ramshackle white Victorian stagecoach stop at San Gregorio, before arriving at Highway 1 at San Gregorio Beach.

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

This is the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival at Japantown that continues next weekend. When I got there this afternoon, sunshine and a strong breeze which kept the the sky of clear of clouds provided fine Spring conditions for the event. My first stop was at the Peace Plaza to watch a few minutes of the martial arts demonstrations.

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Then I went indoors into the Hotel Kabuki where meeting rooms were used for various demonstrations and exhibits: swords, traditional music, origami, paper dolls, and Ikebana. The Ikebana floral designs were breathtakingly beautiful and some were very unusual.

Ikebana floral design

Ikebana floral design

After an hour of flower arrangements, clever origami dinosaurs and spaceships, I came back out into the sunshine and made a beeline for the outdoor food stand featuring the chefs of the hotel’s O Izakaya Restaurant, who offered rather exotic grilled meats including duck hearts and tsukune (chicken meatballs). Unfortunately, the group ahead of me in line bought all those kebabs and I had to make do with walu. The skewer costing $4 held 3 cubes of the rich, moist and tender white fish alternating with 2 cubes of sweet, warm pineapple. A delicious combo.

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Still hungry, I tried Okinawan soba noodles at the Festival’s Food Bazaar. The noodles were thick and surprisingly yellow. I guess I am used to brown buckwheat. A shaker of chili flakes was at the counter. It jazzed up the light noodle soup. This snack was tasty too, but in a different way. Rustic. Next week, I’ll try to return for a taste of the duck hearts and tsukune! As an extra incentive to return, next Sunday’s schedule includes a parade featuring actor George Takei as Parade Grand Marshal. I wonder if he will stop in at the origami room to see the Star Trek Enterprise spaceship made of paper.

August 2017
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