Monday, September 26, 2016

SUPER KING: THE GLORY OF L.A.'S MIDDLE EASTERN MARKETS

ADVERTISEMENT FOR JONS MARKETPLACE

This week's arts and culture piece is about one of my--and I'll wager your--all-time favorite subjects: food.

Here's how it begins:

One of the greatest discoveries of my early years in L.A. was the Jons Market on Hobart and Santa Monica Boulevards in East Hollywood.

Jons was my introduction to the culinary wonders of the Middle East. Cartons of sour cherry and black currant juice. Kefir, smoked herring, eight kinds of feta. Sugared almonds, sheets of apricot paste, rounds of dried figs. Rustic blocks of deep brown-green olive oil soap. And $6.99-a-pound loose tea in a box of cheap pink cardboard with Arabic lettering, strong pots of which saw me through several winters and the writing of at least two books.

Later I would discover the mom-and-pop markets all up and down Santa Monica Boulevard in that part of town: holes-in-the-wall with fresh lamejun, dirt-cheap produce, haughty cashiers and deliriously crabby customers.

But who cared? Attending 5:30 p.m. Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary, then getting my shins barked in the couscous aisle by an impatient, cart-wheeling fellow shopper (often a guy with a three-day beard and a pack of Ararats sticking out of his shirt pocket) was part of the fun.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 


PART OF THE SPICE RACK AT SUPER KING


Thursday, September 22, 2016

AVERY ISLAND AND THE TABASCO SAUCE FORTUNE

THE LIVE OAK GROVE
I'm in the Lafayette, Louisiana area for the week.

Today I took a field trip to Avery Island, which is actually a giant salt dome and the former estate of conservationist and Tabasco sauce magnate Edward Avery McIlhenny. The plant still operates there and though you can tour it, I opted to walk the three-plus mile trails of the 170-acre Jungle Gardens.

There are all kinds of interesting stories. McIlhenny loved plants and birds, and propagated both Louisiana-native and imported plant varieties, including azaleas, irises, camellias, papyrus and bamboo. He introduced nutria to the area, which turned out not to be a great idea as nutria eat a quarter of their body weight each day and decimated the sugar cane crop, both locally and eventually farther afield, for years. On the other hand, when snowy egrets where in danger of extinction after being ruthlessly hunted down so their feathers could adorn ladies' hats (!), "Mr. Ned" got a hold of eight baby egrets, made them a gigantic net cage, nursed and reared them, and let them go. They wintered over in wherever egrets go, then came back the next spring, mated, and within sixteen years there were over 100,000 of them. Or something like that. You can look it up. 

I enjoyed every step of my visit but I couldn't help but think of the thousands of anonymous workmen and women who had to have done the planting, pruning, hauling, weeding, net-making, dredging, cooking, cleaning and Tabasco sauce making to make all that beauty and gentility possible.

Thank you, one and all!


THESE PLANTS GROWING UP AND DOWN
THE TREE TRUNK AND BRANCHES
ARE CALLED RESURRECTION FERNS,
AS JUST A FEW DROPS OF WATER
WILL BRING THEM BACK TO LIFE. 


THE (CREEPY) MARSH WALK

"RANDOM" STAND OF GORGEOUS PROTEA-TYPE (?) FLOWERS

ONE OF THREE LAGOONS, SUPPOSEDLY LOUSY WITH ALLIGATORS

FINALLY, I SPOTTED ONE!
VERY SINISTER LOOKING.
JUST SITTING THERE, STOCK STILL.

DAPPLED LIZARD GREEN SUNLIGHT

STEPS IN THE SUNKEN GARDEN

Sunday, September 18, 2016

AN INSIGNIFICANT EVENT

SUN SETTING BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS
INDEPENDENCE, CA
EASTERN SIERRAS
WEDNESDAY NIGHT, SEPTEMBER 14, 2016
FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS



NO TITLE REQUIRED

BY Wislawa Szymborska
(Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

It's come to this: I'm sitting under a tree,
beside a river
on a sunny morning.
It's an insignificant event
and won't go down in history.
It's not battles and pacts,
whose motives are scrutinized,
or noteworthy tyrannicides.

And yet I'm sitting by this river, that's a fact.
And since I'm here,
I must have come from somewhere,
and before that
I must have turned up in many other places,
exactly like the conquerors of nations
before setting sail.

Even a passing moment has its fertile past,
its Friday before Saturday,
its May before June.
Its horizons are no less real
than those a marshal's fieldglasses might scan.

This tree is a poplar that's been rooted here for years.
The river is the Raba; it didn't spring up yesterday.
The path leading through the bushes
wasn't beaten last week.
The wind had to blow the clouds here
before it could blow them away.

And though nothing much is going on nearby,
the world's no poorer in details for that,
it's just as grounded, just as definite
as when migrating races held it captive.

Conspiracies aren't the only things shrouded in silence.
Retinues of reasons don't trail coronations alone.
Anniversaries of revolutions may roll around,
but so do oval pebbles encircling the bay.

The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.
Ants stitching in the grass.
The grass sewn into the ground.
The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.

So it happens that I am and look.
Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air
on wings that are its alone
and a shadow skims through my hands
that is none other, no one else's, but its own.

When I see such things I'm no longer sure
that what's important
is more important than what's not.


Friday, September 16, 2016

MARTA BECKET AND THE AMARGOSA OPERA HOUSE



This week's arts and culture piece is on a California desert institution: Marta Becket and the Amargosa Opera House.

It begins like this:

Several springs ago, I took a road trip to Death Valley, stayed at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel and fell in love with Marta Becket.

I never actually saw Marta — the opera house’s founder, owner and, for more than four decades, its star solo performer. At the age of 84 at that point, she performed only Saturday nights. But I did fall in love with her story.

In 1967, Marta (b. 1924), a New York ballerina, singer, painter and pianist on a road trip to California with her husband, stopped in Death Valley Junction with a flat tire. While their car was being fixed, she peeked through the window of a dilapidated dance hall, deserted since mining days, and saw her future: her unlived life, her destiny. So she and her husband packed up, moved, rented the dance hall and opened the opera house.

Death Valley Junction at one point had a population of two, and has topped out over the years at roughly 20.

The first show was in February 1968. The audience would often be five or six people and if nobody came, as happened frequently, Marta danced anyway. In the middle of the desert, by herself, she danced anyway.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Monday, September 12, 2016

THE THEODORE PAYNE FOUNDATION AND NURSERY





This week's arts and culture column is about the wonderful Theodore Payne Foundation and Nursery, nerve center of all things California native plants-related.


Here's how it begins:

“Be a good Californian; be loyal to your own state and keep your landscape Californian, by planting trees from California.”

—Theodore Payne

The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, off the 210 in Sun Valley, is a nonprofit education center and retail nursery offering California native plants and seeds.

Theodore Payne (1873-1963) was born in England, moved to California in 1893, worked for a time as head gardener for the renowned Madame Modjeska in Orange County, and in 1903, opened his first nursery and seed store in Downtown Los Angeles. In 1906, he opened his second store, and in 1922, he moved to 10 acres on Los Feliz Boulevard in Atwater Village across from what is now the Tam O’Shanter restaurant and lounge.

By all accounts, a classy, gentle man, Payne introduced more than 430 native plants into cultivation. He also helped to develop many Southern California private landscapes, as well as public gardens, including a short-lived, five-acre “Wild Garden” in what is now Exposition Park; Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge; and the Rancho Santa Ana (now in Claremont) and Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 


THE AMAZING CALIFORNIA NATIVE
MATILIJA POPPY



Thursday, September 8, 2016

WE SHALL BE RELEASED



AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER ARE CREPE MYRTILE
TIME IN LA

Whoa. I have barely had time to come up for air in what seems like over a year.

First, I had a job writing a book for someone else. Then I wrote my own book (on prayer, out from Loyala Press if all goes well next year).

Meanwhile I had two or three other books come out, a weekly column and a monthly column to write, several speaking gigs, a trip back East, and a few large editing jobs.

But the real excitement has been what is now the eighth consecutive month of five-day-a-week, 8 am to 4 pm construction on the house in which I live.

When I moved in last December (to a grand old 3-story California Craftsman that's been divided into seven apartments), before taking the place and signing the lease, I specifically looked the property manager (who lives next door) in the eye and said, "I'm a writer. I work at home. My number one priority is quiet. What's the noise level like here?"

"Noise?!" he chuckled. "Why, just about everybody else who lives here works during the day! The most noise you'll have to worry about would be noise from the street, and since your apartment faces the back, that shouldn't be a problem at all."

Three months after I moved in, "they" proceeded to re-roof the entire gigantic house. No notice, no explanation.  Three solid months of daily drilling, hammering, guys going past my windows on ladders, electrical cords hanging down off the roof of my balcony. Et cetera.

The day the work was finally, finally finished, the property manager announced, "We're going to do a little rehab now of James and Laura's apartment"  (the one directly below mine). "Should be done in five to six months.

I froze. "Months?" I brayed.

I'm no contractor but should it take six to eight guys half a year to rehab a small kitchen and bathroom?

No seriously, this has got to be the slowest crew on record. A week will pass. I'll sneak down to survey the progress: They will have managed to nail up a single shingle. Another week of nonstop power drills, saws, hammering might yield the screwing in of a door latch.

Three pickup truck-fuls of guys spent the entire month of July putting in a 3 by 4 kitchen window. There it sat for a few weeks with tape all over it, then this week the whole thing was out again with plywood tacked over the opening.

It took two of them two whole days to replace 13 3-feet-long 2 by 4s on the landing outside my door. When they were done, they left a friendly rubble of paper coffee cups, stray tools, sunglasses and the entire area strewn with sawdust and wood chips.

Actually, the whole side yard looks like a dump. The picnic tables are perpetually littered with empty water bottles, dirty paper plates, and orange peels. There are trash buckets full of trash lumber, stray hunks of drywall and twisted lengths of cable.

Naturally the workmen take it as a terrible affront that I pay rent, live and work here. I often come home to find a peeling pickup truck parked in my spot. The owner will glare at me with disdain, then deign to amble over and move his vehicle to another place in the football-sized yard.

Of course in my people-pleasing way I'm constantly trying to curry favor, profusely thanking them for my "new stairs", hopefully asking "How's it going?"

How it's going is this: The place seems to have been in a state of repair dormancy for decades. Now that I've moved in, suddenly the time has come to do every imaginable kind of rehab. "Antonio was just saying the other day the place hasn't been painted in fifteen years," the property manager remarked dreamily the other day. I shudder to imagine how long painting the place would take. Ten years? Thirty?

For over twenty years I have pined for a quiet place to work. Now I see it simply isn't to be. I did everything "right" this time. I moved to a quieter part of town. I made my "needs" known. I found an apt. on a residential street with yards and gardens. My apt. faces the back. I try to be super conscientious about not making any noise and/or disturbing my neighbors myself.

But hey, people live in war zones, chronic pain, chronic fear, chronic hunger, chronic poverty. People live in modern-day dungeons in 24/7 isolation. People live in Guantanamo, exposed to the noise torture of unbearable loud rock music. People whose nerves are at the breaking point live with newborn babies who never stop crying.

The upside: I've discovered 8:15 am Mass at St. Andrew, and the Pasadena Public Library.

The other great thing is that at 4, when the crew leaves for the day, I'm in heaven. The guys may have a I-It relationship with me (to be fair, like me, each of them has his good days and his bad days), but in my heart at least I try to have an I-Thou relationship with them. I know most of their names. I make a point of smiling and saying hi and staying out of their way. They sometimes arrive while I'm in the midst of my morning prayer and I'll include them, praying for their safety (rather than that they'll hurry the hell up, which I no longer hope for or expect). I often pick up their trash after they leave for the day.

Also, in spite of the noise, I've never lived in an apartment I love more. My place is on the second floor, surrounded by old-growth trees, with a huge balcony and spectacular view of the setting sun. The pomegranates are out. The persimmons and lemons are ripening. The gardening opportunities are endless. No-one minds that I'm constantly out in the yard puttering, planting, re-arranging, watering, pruning, planning.

Last Friday, I hosted the welcome home dinner for my friend Dennis Apel, who that morning had been released from MDC, the downtown LA federal prison, after serving 120 days for a non-violent vigil against nuclear weapons and our profoundly anti-human war economy/mentality.

We gathered around the groaning dining room table. We prayed, laughed, wept, ate, told stories. Mostly we gave silent thanks. We rejoiced.

We pondered all these things in our hearts, like Mary.


HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING?
LOUDLY! 


Sunday, September 4, 2016

REVOLUTIONARY VISION: CALIFORNIA LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS AT THE AUTRY MUSEUM

Flooded Marina (Gas Pumps), Salton Sea, California
RICHARD MISRACH, 1983
© RICHARD MISRACH

This week's arts and culture column is on an Autry Museum exhibit of California landscape photographers, both "old" and new.

The piece begins like this:

The Autry Museum of the American West, across from the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park, has a pleasant, if slightly airbrushed, pioneer-era feel. The site has a courtyard, a café, a theater and a store that sells Pendleton blankets, turquoise jewelry and books with titles such as “Kodachrome Memory” and “The American Dog at Home.”

Through Jan. 8, 2017, the museum is featuring a compelling exhibit of California photographers called “Revolutionary Vision: Group f/64 and Richard Misrach Photographs from the Bank of America Collection.”

At its formation on Nov. 15, 1932, in San Francisco, Group f/64 was comprised of 11 photographers, five of whom — Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Brett Weston and Willard van Dyke — are included in “Revolutionary Vision.” The name of the group — f/64 — refers to the smallest available aperture in large-format view cameras at the time, which made for exceptionally clear, crisp images with great depth of field. Breaking with the “Pictorialism” that held sway in Western photography at the time, Group f/64 asserted that the camera has more clarity — and less prejudice — than the human eye.

Founding member Edward Weston (1886-1958) issued something of a group manifesto: “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Friday, August 26, 2016

EDUCATION THROUGH MUSIC!!



For this week's arts and culture column, I sat down with Anna Wray, teacher at a nonprofit called Education Through Music LA.

Here's how the piece begins:

Education Through Music-Los Angeles (ETM-LA) is a nonprofit that partners with inner-city schools, both public and private, including Catholic. Their mission is to provide and promote music in disadvantaged schools as part of the core curriculum for every child in order to enhance students’ academic achievements, and their creative and overall development.

Recently I sat down with ETM-LA teacher Anna Wray and asked her to talk about her experience.

Anna grew up in Westchester, New York, and started taking piano lessons at six. “I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher who taught me music theory. That set me up for a lifelong love of, and fascination for, music.”

She went on to get a B.A. at Mills in music performance and, in 2015, a master’s in percussion performance at CalArts.

The overarching goal of ETM-LA is also to teach music theory. “It’s so exciting when the kids can start to see that the chord progressions in Bach, for example, are the same as in a lot of pop music.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Monday, August 22, 2016

REST AND WAIT



Too many anxious Christians today think that their efforts to preach and teach and enter into outward activities can do more to save the world than the surrender of their souls to God, to become Christ-bearers.

They believe that they can do more than Our Lady did, and they have not time to stop to consider the absurdity of this. They fear that if the world goes on hurling itself ito disaster, as it seems to be doing now, Christ’s Kingdom may be defeated. This is not so; Christ has given his word that he will be with, and in, his “little flock” until the end of the world; however dark our days may seem to be for Christianity, they are not so dark as the night following the crucifixion must have seemed to be to the apostles. For that night Christ had already prepared them. He told them to wait: to wait for the coming of the Holy Ghost. He told them that he was going away that they would no longer see him and know the consolation of this presence with them, but that it was better for them that he should go, and the the condition for the coming of the Holy Ghost, through whom he would live on in them, was his going: “And yet I can say truly that it is better for you I should go away; he who is to befriend you will not come to you unless I do go, but if only I make my way there, I will send him to you” (John xvi.7-8).

Christ himself prepared for his Resurrection by resting in the tomb, just as he had prepared for his birth by resting in his mother’s womb. He did not call the legions of angels whom he could have called to fight back the forces of evil that had crucified him; he simply lay in the tomb at rest and, at the appointed moment in time, rose from death to renew the life of the whole world.

The apostles, like the modern apostles, were afraid, and with good cause; in spite of their utter failure during the Passion, they, with the Mother of Christ, alone stood for Christ’s Kingdom, and the murderous hatred of Christ’s enemies pointed straight at them. They shared the reasonable fear of the modern apostle.

But Christ told them simply to wait in the city until the Holy Ghost came to them; not to run away, not to make plans of their own, not to be troubled, either concerning their own own recent failure and sin or concerning the danger that fenced them all round, but only to wait, with his mother among them, for the coming of the Comforter who would make them strong, heal their wounds, wash the stains from their souls and be their joy.

“And behold, I am sending down upon you the gift which was promised by my Father; you must wait in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke xxiv.49).

Christ does not change, the preparation for the coming of the Spirit is the same today as two thousand years ago, whether it be for the rebirth of Christ one soul that is in the hard winter, or for the return from the grave of Christ, whose blood is shed again by the martyrs; the preparation is the same, the still, quiet mind, acceptance, and remaining close to the Mother of God, resting in her rest while the life of the world grew within her towards the flowering of everlasting joy.


--Caryll Houselander, The Risen Christ (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958), 109-111.



Friday, August 19, 2016

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S HOLLYHOCK HOUSE





This week's arts and culture column involved a field trip all the way to the Hollywood-adjacent LA neighborhood of Los Feliz. It's on a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural gem called the Hollyhock House.

The piece begins like this:

Hard by the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont, up on a hill, stands a highlight of L.A.’s storied architectural story: Barnsdall Park.

The compound features the Municipal Art Gallery, Community Arts Division, Junior Arts Center, Barnsdall Art Center and the Barnsdall Gallery Theater.

But the crown jewel is the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, built for Philadelphia oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in 1919-1921, known as Hollyhock House.

Barnsdall (1882-1946) was a philanthropist, art collector, bohemian and single-mother-by-choice of a daughter nicknamed “Sugartop,” who she’d conceived out of wedlock with a Polish actor.

Envisioning the creation of an arts complex where she could produce theater in her own venue, Barnsdall bought the 38-acre site, then known as Olive Hill, in 1919. She hired hotshot young architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.