My Year in California
By Ingrid Hart
Commerce Printing; 146 pages
I had a high school English teacher who wrote an inspirational phrase on the blackboard each week. The slogans ranged from Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman to the poster of the movie "Braveheart" ("Every man dies; not every man really lives"). For that matter, our school newspaper was titled Carpe Diem — Latin for "seize the day" — so I graduated well enlightened.
During those heady teenage years, I saw the world as a playground of possibility. Now that I am older and wiser, I perceive the limitations more. Even a denizen of Walden Pond needs to earn a living; Ferris Bueller must eventually return to school and finish the work he missed. As one who once planned a vacation by drawing a quarter from a bag and visiting the state on the back of it, I have my bouts of wanderlust, but I know that wherever I go, I must obey the speed limit.
This sense of balance runs throughout Ingrid Hart's "My Year in California," a memoir of a journey the author took living in 12 California cities, one per month. Hart, a Costa Mesa resident, begins the story on the verge of turning 48, facing an empty nest and feeling restless. With a professional healer's encouragement and savings at her disposal, the author spends the year living in one picturesque setting after another — a cottage in Carmel, a casita in Palm Springs — and, to quote the title of a similar travel book, eating, praying and loving.
The subtitle of Hart's book is "A Journey Toward Midlife Renewal," and that last word enters the text repeatedly throughout. What kind of renewal is she looking for, exactly? During the first half of "My Year in California," the author's trek often feels aimless; for every moment that points to heightened self-awareness (a visit to the site of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp), there's another that implies pure self-indulgence (at one point, she feels a thrill at stealing a shot glass while on a date with a stranger).
As it turns out, though, Hart is aware of her desultory path, and the book achieves its greatest emotional weight when it deals with the notion of boundaries. In Palm Springs, she finds herself depressed and bored with her trip, finally yearning for a sense of home and purpose. The realization that she comes to by the book's end isn't particularly surprising, but at least it brings a sense of closure.
"My Year in California" resonates most when it stays grounded; the author's self-deprecation saves it from being a mere travelogue. When Hart tries to work magical realism into her prose — describing moments when divine forces, or even a giant redwood tree, impart wisdom to her — it feels cloying. There are moments, too, when her scenic descriptions ("Laid-back and relaxed, Carmel offers visitors an endless variety of activities") veer into Frommer's territory.
Of course, every city only fits the guidebook description at a distance. In the book's epilogue, Hart returns to Costa Mesa — a city labeled by its tourist bureau as "a unique Southern California getaway" — to help care for her ailing mother. That's the melancholy truth that this "Year" ultimately reveals: One traveler's gleaming destination is another's dutiful homecoming.
By Dan Krikorian
Self-released, 10-track LP
If Matt Costa is Huntington Beach's folk music icon, then Dan Krikorian is the equivalent for Costa Mesa.
They're both natives to their respective cities, and both have the ability to produce great folk-pop music that's easy on the ears.
Krikorian's latest LP, "Bloom," just about matches Costa's recent album punch for punch. The 10-track self-released CD (more like nine, since the last song is a 35-second instrumental outro) offers some of the most easygoing songs I've heard all year.
I consider "Bloom" to be a concept album where Krikorian takes you on a journey through the evolution of a relationship. He sings about the ups of being in one, but also wanders through its downsides.
The first song, "Sweet Face," is a simple and quick two-minute piece about reuniting with a long-lost love. Krikorian sings about the struggles of reaching your destination, either physically or mentally, and the reward at the end of that journey.
The combination of Krikorian's gentle voice, the beautiful harmonics from the backup singers and the presence of a single accordion chord being softly played throughout the song makes you envision picturesque mountains and valleys. And if there's a special someone you haven't seen for a while, this song will make you think of them.
"The Frame" is the second track on the album and equally as relaxing. I consider it to be a continuation of "Sweet Face," as Krikorian sings about being with that other person, but questioning if he's still relevant in that other person's life.
It carries about the same tempo and calm atmosphere as the previous track, but with more drums, guitar and the addition of a violin.
The hopefulness of the first set of tracks suddenly disappears when you approach the song "Georgia Reign."
The title of the piece takes on different meanings, depending on how you interpret the lyrics. It could be the name of a woman, her control over a person or a play on words about the rainfall in the Peach State.
Regardless of its meaning, the song revolves around the hardships people face in a relationship. Sometimes these issues lead to breakups and regret, which is what I interpret when Krikorian sings the lyrics "I let good thing go, and God, it's on my mind."
"Wedding Day" is the light at the end of the gloomy tunnel that is "Georgia Reign." The song expresses what can happen when a couple persevere through differences and see the brighter side of life.
The album makes an uplifting turn with "Afternoon." It lulls you into a melancholy state as Krikorian sings about dark clouds and driving through a depressing town. But as you pass the halfway point of the track, the tempo quickens and gives you a sense of hope, especially when he sings the lyrics "I'm leaving from the small town, so my hands remain whole."
There are two ways Krikorian could have ended "Bloom." He could have gone the sad route and ended the album with a depressing piece with the message that sometimes relationships don't work out in the end.
Instead, he leaves listeners with the track "Long Days," a song that conveys the positive sentiment that patience and understanding can unite two people despite the odds.
After listening to Krikorian's album several times now, I'm convinced that the Costa Mesa native has the potential to challenge Costa for Best Folk artist in next year's OC Music Awards. And if fans of music and the OC Music Awards Academy don't at least recognize him, they're making a mistake.
—Anthony Clark Carpio