Tuesday, July 7, 2009

NEA Expo in the San Diego Convention Centre

Toulouse and I recently attended the NEA Expo in San Diego, California, where my book, The Fiction Writer, was being showcased. It had just been showcased at Book Expo America in New York and was one of the first books to be available through Lightning’s Espresso Book Machine.

Over a hundred exhibitors participated in the NEA expo, attended by over 15,000 delegates from as far away as Georgia and New York. Highlights (for delegates, anyway) were the steel water bottle giveaway by Target, which generated snaking lines all the way to the Starbucks outside the Exhibit Hall and the NEA Expo tote bags, whose line up I unintentionally stumbled into and emerged with a blue bag. I must confess that my very own Fiction Writer pens became a hot item with teachers, eager to take notes with their new green pen that sported the Pixl Alien logo of the Alien Guidebook series.

During the three day drive from Vancouver to San Diego with friend, Margaret, Toulouse and I weathered 105 degree heat and Interstate 5 boredom through frequent Starbuck’s stops (for wireless, sustenance and to cool off), chowing down cool meals at Applebee’s (they are everywhere!) and bedding down at Motel 6s.

In San Diego, we treated ourselves to a stay in the luxurious Sofia Hotel, a Neo Gothic building and one of America’s Historic Hotels, where Margaret’s two teenage kids joined us to sightsee while Toulouse and I attended the Expo. Architect Wilber Peugh designed the downtown hotel and terminal in 1926 with a crenellated roofline and terra cotta and plaster embellishments. Formerly known as the Pickwick Hotel, the Sofia was part of the “Pickwick Stages”, one of the three major stage lines in the United States established by Charles Wesley Grise in 1911 as the “limited San Diego and Imperial Valley Stage.” It later merged with Greyhound in 1929. In 1986 the hotel was refurbished into a boutique-hotel by its new owners with the help of talented interior designer Anjun Razvi and became the Sofia Hotel. The Sofia Hotel was featured prominently in Dashiell Hammett’s popular mystery novel, The Maltese Falcon.

After a great sleep and breakfast in the hotel’s bistro, Toulouse and I wandered to the Convention Centre to attend the NEA Expo. Designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erikson, the San Diego Convention Centre was named one of the top ten convention centres in the world by a panel of respected international architects and covers about six football fields of exhibit space with a 40,000 square foot ballroom.

From angled rooflines to circular elevators, the theme of circle, tube and wave pervade the centre. Blue-green tinted glass and sea-colored carpets blend shape with color to celebrate the aesthetic power of the sea. Circles within triangles, triangles within circles in a symmetry of elegant geometric form. Rings of curving barrel-vaulted glass and Teflon-coated fiberglass “sails” reflect San Diego’s maritime history. Waterfront terraces overlook San Diego and provide expansive views of marinas and the bustling sea shore.

In an earlier post I talked about how our environment shaped how our minds worked, enhancing or detracting from our creativity and imagination. I mentioned the story of Jonas Salk, whose experience in Assisi convinced him that architecture and environment could promote creativity and imaginative thought (more on this on a later post).

While Toulouse looked for mischievous things to do at the NEA Expo, I talked to a lot of teachers from all over the States, gave some free writing consultations in my "outside office" and gave away bazillions of promotional copies of The Fiction Writer. The San Diego Convention Centre is located in the heart of downtown SD at the foot of its Victorian-era Gaslamp district, which boasts over fifty restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars (most of them along Fifth Avenue). Toulouse and I started there and worked our way up Fifth, restaurant by restaurant.

We started with Lou & Mickey’s, a charming upscale beach style restaurant, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and the tram/railway facing the Convention Centre. We gorged on French fried Calamari and romaine lettuce served with Roquefort dressing followed by a main course of battered tilapia and French fries. This was all washed down with a roguish Duckhorn Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, kindly suggested to us by Heather, our knowledgeable waitress.

The next eatery we chose was La Fiesta, an authentic Mexican restaurant and bistro that served the best Margaritas this side of Palm Springs according to one of the NEA teachers. I ordered the “Purple Haze”, an exotic marriage of Margaritaville Silver Tequila, Chambord raspberry liqueur, Cointreau, and sweet & sour. (BTW, she was right). Margaret selected the “Mexican Seafood Platter”, sizzling hot in its own lava dish (pictured here) while I ordered the “Carnitas Uruapan”, tender chunks of pork slowly cooked in Mexico’s traditional style served with flour tortillas refried beans and rice and salsa fresco with cilantro and lime. Even the coffee was good here! The meal was awesome! Mind you, after a few Purple Hazes, I would have enjoyed anything.

San Diego is home to a diversity of engaging attractions for the sightseer. My companions and I caught several of these, including the San Diego Zoo and the Coronado Hotel (where the 1959 movie Some Like it Hot with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and Marilyn Munroe was filmed).

I was eager to see the Salk Institute, a bio-medical research facility architecturally designed by Louis Kahn to encourage creativity among its members. Located in La Jolla, next to Scripps (and about 30 minutes from Downtown San Diego), the institute is a historic site worth seeing. Check out my next post on Jonas Salk’s vision and the significance of the institute’s architectural design.

Historic Hotels of America

The Sofia Hotel belongs to a group of heritage hotels established by the National Trust in 1989, which identifies quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambience. To be accepted into Historic Hotels of America, hotels must be located in a building that is at least 50 years old.
For more adventures with Toulouse, check out Toulouse's very own blog: Toulouse leTrek, the COOL Travel Cat!

1. The NEA Expo at the San Diego Convention Centre.
2. The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! showcased at the NEA Expo.
3. The back side of the convention centre, overlooking San Diego Bay.
4. Circular elevator servicing the front of the convention centre.
5. The Exhibit Hall beneath the sails
6. The vaulted “ceiling” of vines along an outside walkway of the convention centre.

7. Toulouse lounges next to my Acer netbook (which attracted as many teachers to my makeshift office as my book!)
8. My favorite shop on Fifth Avenue.
9. Mexican sea food platter at La Fiesta.
10. The Coronado Hotel.
11. The Salk Institute.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

You know how to make me envious. I was really interested in the history of this fine hotel as well as the Expo. You go to some super places.

SF Girl said...

HAR! More to come, Jean-Luc! I'm on a road/plane trip that will eventually take me to Montreal, Quebec, and St. Simons Island in Georgia as well as Hamilton, Nova Scotia and Toronto, Ontario... It may NEVER end! LOL! If I keep going I will no doubt end up in London and Paris again! YAY!

More on architecture and environment in my next post. Hope you enjoy it. This is a topic that both fascinates me and inspires me.

Anonymous said...

Here is a great website by a concierge who lives, works and plays in San Diego:


A quick visit to this site BEFORE you get here can help you save a ton of money, time and energy

SF Girl said...

Thanks for the link, Guy... You are so right about what makes San Diego an attractive place to visit--so many teachers at NEA exclaimed to me: "The weather's so perfect! Why doesn't EVERYONE live here!" So, yes, it's worth it to come down for the weather and the beaches alone: they are free... so is a tour of the Salk Institute--my next post... go see!

Baby Brie said...

The photos of the San Diego Convention Centre were inspirational as was the discussion of Arthur Erikson's design!
Gotta love Canadians!
The whole San Diego area seems like a hotbed of creativity - Salk Institute, Scripps Institute, the world famous convention centre...etc, etc...

SF Girl said...

Yes, it is definitely a lovely place...I really enjoyed it. And I'll be back! :)

You'll have to catch my next post...

Princess Haiku said...

Hi Nina,
What a spectacular hotel and a great post about it. Now, I am tempted. Wonder if they have a resident ghost. Hope you are enjoying your walkabouts. Take care

SF Girl said...

I wouldn't be surprised if they did, Princess! It's been around long enough and will have gathered a rich history of travellers through it.

Nice to see you here again, Princess! Hope all is well with you. I am so enjoying my "walkabout". I could do this for a very long time. :)

Martha said...

I've heard NEA EXPO will be in DC this year.. Maybe worth checking it out...