Years ago, when I traveled the globe with a wildlife photographer, I spent hours in the field (from Africa to the Arctic) wielding a video camera and taking photography notes. When people see my snapshots of these wonderful adventures, they automatically assume that each moment was an all out adrenaline-rush.
The truth is, besides filming behind-the-scenes footage and organizing rolls of film (this was before digital cameras), most of my hours were spent simply waiting (along with the rest of the crew). If we weren’t waiting for the perfect light, then maybe we were waiting for an animal to appear. I personally remember always waiting for meal times, but mostly I was just waiting for something (anything) to happen. Be it the open plains of East Africa or an epic ice floe in the Arctic, I learned to devise a few tricks-of-the-mind to stay alert. That next shot could be the award-winning image my boss was always after, so there was no letting my guard down on the job.
Back then (1992-1994) I didn’t have an iPhone or a portable dvd player to entertain myself, but I did keep a walk-man tucked away in my gear. Batteries were a precious commodity in the field, so I restricted myself to just a few moments of music (usually Bowie) each day. Books were on hand of course, but I’d quickly burn through those and find myself again… waiting.
On safari in Tanzania, we spent a week watching cheetahs in the beautiful Serengeti. The first couple of days were great, but then I started isolating myself away from my boss and the fellow photographers. While we all sat waiting in our Landrover, I would just “check out” and focus on something apart from the WAITING. Sometimes I would look at a kopje (the rock formations) and spend the entire day “building” my dream home from start to finish. Compartmentalizing turned out to be a gift that I tapped into on a daily basis.
Searching for polar bears near the Arctic Circle was one of the more grueling trips for me. The tiny metal boats were uncomfortable, and we would spend hours and hours searching Wager Bay for swimming bears, especially hard-to-find cubs. The boats were open and I was well-protected from the freezing cold, but endless hours of bumping on the icy water were downright painful.
My job was to video-tape my boss photographing the bears, but when he wasn’t snapping pictures I would hunker down and compartmentalize myself into a fetal position. There was no way I could sleep in the bouncing boat, and one shout from the captain (“BEAR!”) had me up and ready with camera in hand. One of my favorite “surviving the boredom” games on this particular trip was to recreate entire musicals, from start to finish in my head. I’m sure everyone thought I was a nut, but that’s how I dealt with it.
I’ve used this coping skill in some restaurants and bars as well. Not to say I completely zoned out, crawled on the floor and sang “Funny Girl” to myself, but on several occasions I have had to BLOCK out one part of the experience to enjoy another. At times it’s the noise, or maybe the service was terrible. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t enjoy the food at all, so I focused on something else… like the cocktails or even the decor. I didn’t write about those experiences, because that’s not what I normally do.
A recent dinner at Davinci restaurant in Beverly Hills had me excited, but also a bit bewildered. Here, was this amazing chef bringing plate after plate of his exquisite spring menu to our table, but it was sort of like the food didn’t match the atmosphere. For the first hour or so, the background music was nice (a bit of bossa nova, which I love). But when I heard an unidentifiable disco track blaring through the dining room, just as I bit into a velvety Foie Gras Terrine I thought, “well okay, I’m just going to block out the jarring music… and focus on the food.”
The regulars seemed to really enjoy the festive music scene though. It was Saturday night after all, and as our meal progressed, the room became louder with patrons laughing, clapping and even dancing in the dining room. There’s nothing wrong with a rowdy night out with friends, but the raucous scene playing against the seductively, elegant food was pretty much a study in contrasts.
While writing this post, Peter reminded me of the “peach and Heath Bar” incident when we were first dating. After having dinner with a friend in Brentwood, we decided to get some frozen yogurt nearby. Since I couldn’t decide on what to get, Peter went first and asked for peach frozen yogurt with Heath bar candy (toffee & chocolate) crumbles on top. I thought it was just disgusting and for years after that, whenever I thought something didn’t go together, I would just say, “that is SO peach and Heath bar.” Mind you, I love peaches AND I love Heath bars… just not at the same time.
Executive Chef Jason Fullilove was most recently the chef de cuisine for Top Chef winner Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals. Having only tasted appetizers from when The Gorbals served at various events, we weren’t sure what to expect at Davinci. I did see a post by blogger “Food She Thought” that piqued my interest though (link below), so I knew we were in for some good grub.
The food far surpassed our expectations and Chef Fullilove was so welcoming, even sitting down with us a few times to discuss the courses. Our server, Alina, was super attentive as well and we loved our cozy booth in the corner near the stairs (ask for it if you make a reservation).
Eventually, Chef Fullilove said he’d like to open a “fun gastropub environment with cutting edge cuisine.” If the food we tasted is an indication of what the future holds, then I’ll be focusing on Fullilove for many years to come.
Desserts: I’m not a fan of desserts, but luckily our friends Phil & Kat had stopped by and joined us for the finish. I did have one bite of each and my favorite was the Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet and the Panna Cotta with Butter Cookie Crumbs (below).
9737 Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills 90210
My former boss and (long-time friend!), photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen
Sila Lodge, Wager Bay (Polar Bear Viewing)
Note: Peter and I rarely attend sponsored meals, so we were confused when no bill came at the end of our dinner. We sat arguing with the servers and I even went in the kitchen to speak to the chef, but they insisted on comping the dinner. I felt very uncomfortable doing this though (especially because I could tell there was so much work put into the evening), so I sat there until we were allowed to leave a HEFTY credit card tip to cover part of the meal. If we had brought cash, this wouldn’t have been an issue. As I wrote earlier, Peter and I both really like Chef Fullilove, so we’ll be treating him out to a fun dinner in the near future!