Charmed in Playa del Carmen

When I arrived in Playa del Carmen, America and Pauloko greeted me at the local bus station right on 5th avenue. We swung by America’s apartment to drop off my things before heading toward a hostel to help prep for the birthday celebration of one of America’s friends. So much familiarity, yet so much change. Playa del Carmen is currently ranked as THE fastest growing city in the world…

Fortunately, the coastal charm of a smaller seaside village continues to thrive in Playa. The highway that runs along the coast of the Riviera Maya slices through Playa nearer to the shore. Most of the city’s growth extends out from the other side of the highway… away from the sea. Thus, the highway helps preserve the more intimate nucleus of the city. Walk just about a dozen blocks from sea and you’ve already reached the highway.

The infamous 5th avenue, which marks the second block from the coast, is lined with cafes, gelaterias, boutiques, art galleries and quaint hotels. I popped out of the hostel just one block up from 5th avenue to indulge in one of my favorite treats – a fresh fruit and veggie smoothie!

Soon the techno house music led us on highs and lows that reflected the rhythm of the waves at sea. Party-goers began to arrive and drink chelas (beer) at the rooftop bar and dip into the rooftop pool. I began to slip back into a familiar bliss. I socialized with friends, but so easily I would lose myself in the music, my heart and soul turned toward the sea, completely mesmerized by her opal, turquoise, azure and sapphire hues. And my precious moon began to emerge, shining bright and bold… as dusk turned to darkness. When night fell I escaped, padding my way down the cobbled road toward the water’s edge. Stepping out of my clothes I slipped right into the cool, dark waters. Home.

I quickly fell into my old morning routine greeting the day with a morning run along the shore and cooling down with a leisurely swim. I would playfully roll around in the soft waves then drift on my back… utterly content… just me and the sea.

By 8:30 I was sitting upright and erect, ready for an energizing Vinyasa flow yoga class with Ellen at Yoga By the Way

At One

aerialplmBy Laura Rico

I am at one with the energy here
my spirit opens
my soul sings
the silent trance calms me…

beneath the quiet
a glorious celestial choir
bursting forth from love…

the wind tickles my skin
the tropical air warm and moist
fluttering fronds of a palm
sweetly caressing my face
shivers of ecstasy course through my being
oh joy!

I am so elated to feel “me” again!

The Power of Yoga

One of the best things I’ve done for myself here in LA is delve into my yoga practice.

My experience with yoga, until now, has been quite sporadic. As I traveled and moved from place to place, occasionally I would pick up a few classes here and there when I could: Barcelona, La Antigua, Chihuahua, Playa del Carmen.

Now, I go to YogaWorks – a chain here in LA – at least five times a week. In just one month, I’ve gone from having to warm up just to touch my toes to being able to bend in half, wrapping my fingers around my heels and pulling my nose close to my knees. And much more…

My anxiety about LA has calmed since I began yoga. Through the yoga practice I’ve been learning to better manage my emotions and observe them; choosing how to react to them instead of just blindly acting out from them. The benefits of yoga run deep on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.

Just how far can the benefits go? This last week, I learned that one of my yoga instructors is living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I had no idea. What a powerful example he is for all of us! Here’s a short video about Garth McLean‘s personal story:

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fotofatál: Jeff Simmons

My life is enriched to have a friend like Jeff. Now, we are all enriched to have photos of Jeff… lol. I’ve only just begun to tinker with the photos from his shoot, but here are a few samples:

fotofatál Wedding: Rand Courtney + Nikki Pittam

The BIG news: I’m opening a photo studio in LA with my new business partner Ben Blair. I was going to wait until we we were completely dialed in with all the details… but I just can’t wait!! So “unofficially” introducing our new photography company… fotofatál! I take credit for that phenomenal name… lol… but Ben gets all the credit for taking the concept and making it graphically perfect. Drop the “e” and add a red flair accent… perfect! We work well as a team…

Details to come…

In the meantime, please enjoy these images from our first wedding shoot. Congratulations to Rand Courtney and Nikki Pittam!

Ufff… I haven’t even gotten to the actual ceremony yet and I’ve posted too many photos. If I get some good feedback perhaps I’ll post more. In the meantime, these should suffice!

The Language of Dance

I’m totally having an attitude adjustment about LA. I realize now that my experience was being contaminated by a toxic friendship. Someone I had believed to be generous and enchanting turned out to be manipulative and ill-spirited. But, now that I’ve removed that person from my life and I’ve let go of problems and injustices associated with her, life is really starting to blossom here in this “labirinto di pazzia” – as the Italian-American and I fondly refer to this city. And, I have other amazing friends to thank for guiding me through the negativity and helping me embrace what Los Angeles does have to offer. Clara Berta, the “Italian-American” and my longtime friend Dustin are true blessings in my life here. I’m meeting more everyday, like my new biz partner (more about that soon!), Kristelle and David, a young gentleman Dustin introduced me to who has a stunning, Frank Sinatra-era voice. (David helped co-found Artful Edutainment though is no longer working with the non-profit.)

So, as I sit here at Coupa Cafe, a delightful little Beverly Hills oasis I just discovered today, I share my latest LA adventure:

Last night was an absolute trip. I gotta hand it to LA for being the epicenter of all things “hot and happening.” One finds themselves stumbling into all kinds of surreal experiences. So After playing phone tag for a few days with another quality friend I’ve met here, we finally connected yesterday evening on the phone as I was jamming out to David Guetta, walking home from an evening yoga class.

“I’m headed to a bar for a friends birthday in NOHO, want to join?” he offered.

“You know, I’ve been so focused on work… I do need to get out,” I reasoned. “I’d love to come. Just gimme a couple hours to get there since I gotta do the whole bus thang. Cool?”

All I knew was that I’d be going to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks… by the time I arrived I got wind of the plan to work our way into the private party located on the second floor of the new, hip NOHO joint The Federal. I’m not one to get too worked up about “getting in” to the “exclusive” events of LA but I’m not opposed to giving it a shot either. Apparently my friend had been working the relations with the bouncer before I even got there and we wound up strolling right on up. The buzz was that the event was full of professional dancers…

Now THAT is probably the closest thing I could get to becoming starstruck in LA. I LOVE to dance. As a child, I begged my mom to sign me up for dance lessons. We even bought a little dance outfit and I had a studio photo shoot in that little outfit. But, I never got to take lessons! I don’t blame my mom. I wanted the dance lessons on top of the rec soccer, select soccer, basketball, volleyball, track and traveling singing group I was already involved with. I didn’t want to give up any of the other activities, so dance (and music lessons for that matter) never happened. (I still cringe about missing out on both though.) So yeah, the whole “me always trying to literally do everything at once” is definitely a syndrome I was born with… lol. Despite the lack of dance lessons, I’ve managed to pick up a fair amount of salsa and I love to simply get down in the club. Inhibition is for the birds. I could care less of how it might look, my spirit is simply lit with joy when let loose and dance. But, feedback has suggested that I’m not so much the disaster on the dance floor… great to know I’m not the crazy dance floor freak at least. 😉

Right, back to The Federal. Turns out some of the nation’s best dancers were there, all celebrating the birthday of Roman Vasquez. Here’s a quick bio of this badass:

Coming from Phoenix, Arizona, Roman began his career as a hip-hop dancer. As his desire for dance grew, he received his technical training in his hometown and progressed while attending dance conventions and performing locally. Moving to Las Vegas he performed in EFX with David Cassidy at the MGM Grand Hotel, Splash at the Rivera and became a member of the Culture Shock Hip-hop Dance Troupe. Now residing in Los Angeles, Roman has had the opportunity to work with artists such as Eva Longoria, Roselyn Sanchez, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, Anastacia, just to name a few. Other television and video credits include Dance with Jerry Springer, Pepsi, Sprite, EL Pollo Loco, Days of Our Lives and Tina Landons Instructional video.

Awesome. So yeah, many of these kings and queens of dance began busting out their impromptu moves in the dance circle. Couple this with the fact that I haven’t gotten out to dance in months and I was on a complete natural, dance high. Watching these pros bust their moves made me long to be one of them. Okay, amidst all these amazing professionals, I was starting to feel a bit inhibited. Nonetheless, I let it all out once the dance circle dissolved. Then the best compliment of the night: one of these pros, Sid from Australia, started dancing with me.

“I like your style,” he acknowledged.

“I’ve got no style,” I laughed back.

“Nah, you’ve definitely got your own style.” After busting some moves together, I clued him in to how thrilled I was to see all this talent right here, in my face.

“But you’re a dancer right?” He asked. I laughed again.

“I’ve never had a dance lesson in my life,” I confessed. “But, I LOVE to dance. I just go with what I feel.” (I have had a few salsa lessons… but no hip hop, jazz, etc…)

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he prompted. “Are you serious??” I nodded sheepishly and admitted, “I don’t really know what I’m doing, but the moves just come. I would love to learn.”

“You know the language,” he asserted. “Now, it’s just about learning the words.” Exactly!!

After that entire exchange I was beyond giddy. A pro dancer thought I had some promise! Absolutely made my night!!

So, as I do commit myself more to LA, I’m making dance class a priority. At 25, I know it’s too late to think of any career out of it. But, that’s not what I want from it. I just want to finesse what my body already can’t help but to express. I just want to DANCE!!

¡¡Que rrrrrriiiccccooo!!

And speaking of surreal LA moments, I will just recap on a few I have yet to mention. They were cool but not nearly as cool as the dance experience…

  1. A wave of hello to/from Adam Sandler… as he filmed on the street I was living on at the time.
  2. Approaching Zoe Dechanel and annoying her with my pitch to get involved with a project… oh well.
  3. Neve Campbell… eating sushi at the next table.

Then, there are the restaurants. The Italian-American has really given me a divine sampling of LA:

The Bazaar

Probably my favorite restaurant I’ve thus encountered… ever. Here’s a bit about it:

The Bazaar is chef José Andrés’s masterpiece. At least so far. With designer Philippe Starck, he has fashioned a vast, shadowy space that includes a swanky bar, a patisserie with acres of sweet-filled glass cases, a chef’s tasting room, a shopping emporium by Moss, the Manhattan design mecca, and two glamorous flanking dining areas where Andrés has poured everything he knows about tapas into a menu that marries regional culinary traditions with his formidable creativity…

There’s an even wider selection of fresh inventions that elevates the honored tradition of bar snacks to new heights. Like: liquefied mozzarella with brussels-sprout leaves and the most intensely sweet cherry tomato you’ve ever popped in your mouth — perfect as the milky cheese flows over your tongue. A Philly cheesesteak made with wagyu beef in “air bread” like a tiny calzone, a crisp crust around a pocket of air and melted cheddar — the coolest-ever sublimation of an American sandwich.

Read more from Esquire

The liquid olives, dry ice caipirinha and the cotton candy margarita are fun too…

Il Pastaio

Just as good as anything I’ve ever enjoyed in Italy…

At Il Pastaio, brothers Celestino and Giacomino Drago spin the sort of culinary magic that’s made their whole family famous in Southern California. Working with the freshest pastas and produce, the chefs prepare antipasti, duck ragout, and penne with swordfish to please even the most discerning palates. Risottos are abundant and always unique, and truffle-cheese fondue is an excellent choice for polishing off the evening.

Read more…

Beverly Hills Farmer’s Market

Midnight Muse

A late night visit turned into an impromptu photo shoot. My new business partner captured these images using a single Chinese ball lantern from Ikea:

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Inspiration in the City of Angels

Excerpts from articles I’ve written about a few of the compelling stories I’ve encountered here in Los Angeles:

‘Gifted’ Musician Rocks ‘Social Harmony’

He boasts a four-octave vocal range and has written more than 300 original songs. In just one year, he has led his band through nearly 60 performances in more than 30 venues. When he holds his15-second falsetto note, one wonders if he just might one day soon rival the long note of soul great Bill Wither in “Lovely Day.” Yet, there is one more reason they call this young musician “gifted.” Twenty-five year-old Scott Siegel lives with autism…

Filmmaker Leads Grassroots Campaign to Bring OCD to the Big Screen

It is a film about extreme paranoia and debilitating fear. It is a story of illusion and immobilizing dread. No, this is not a horror movie. It is a narrative drama meant to illuminate the disturbing realities of the fourth largest mental illness plaguing millions of Americans today. Machine Man, a feature film about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), is a story meant to save lives.

“I didn’t know that it’s so common and that people have these thoughts that are called ‘harming thoughts,’” Kellie Madison said. “They walk around in life worried that they’re going to hurt another human being and the anxiety is so great it debilitates them… it was so heart-breaking learning about what these people are going through. I knew I had to make a movie on it.”

Neighbor Goods Leads the Borrow Lend Movement

Why buy when you can borrow? That’s the idea behind 32-year-old Micki Krimmel’s new project – a website that facilitates lending and sharing within local communities. In an age where neighbors seem more like strangers, NeighborGoods.net encourages people to again borrow and lend as friends. “NeighborGoods is a service that connects friends and neighbors to save money and resources by sharing stuff they already own instead of purchasing new stuff,” Krimmel explained.