Category Archives: personal

Roque-Gageac, Beynac, Rouffignac

I woke up this morning to a brave calling of swallows echoing across the cliff face, greeting the dawn. It is the same cliff that forms one wall of my room, the other wall of pine sloping sharply up to meet it with a cross bracing of huge and ancient beams cut square. It is very cold. The swallows move in and out of crescendo and light comes in through the two small triangular windows.

Last night I was kept awake by the irony of a rock-pop festival in this tiny medieval village, and then I was kept awake by the cold. I wore my down vest under the covers for a while, then wrapped it around my feet. In between wakings I dreamed of James Crumley, big and shaggy and alcohol soaked, I dreamed he had hired my dad to rebuild and redecorate his record and auto-part store. I dreamed we walked in the desert and I tried to explain just how beautiful it was, just how much I loved it. But I almost never write about the desert, I don’t understand. But I suppose dreams aren’t for understanding.

Maybe it is just that I have found no inspiration beyond photos, I don’t find words hidden seamed up in time’s folds the way I do in London. So I shall work on my dissertation. It is ridiculously beautiful here of course, ancient villages of mellowed golden limestone and narrow winding roads. They are all fortified, on hilltops, castles crowning outcrops and defensible walls blocking cavern faces high up in the cliffs. It was on the edges of the hundred-years war with England, the castle of Beynac-et-cezenac in French hands, that of Castelnaud in English.

We went to see the grotte de Rouffignac yesterday as well. It is a huge cavern, huge. And regular the way most caves are not, carved out by an underground river through stone that must have been very regular. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, though my french did not quite reach to understanding why. The walls are mostly smooth, with a layer of what looks like a conglomerate just above the level of my head, strange rounded multi-armed shapes embedded whole into the walls, grey near the opening, stained a deep orange-red with iron ore deeper inside. You ride a small electric train very deep inside, following where ancient people walked with only torches. Large openings branch to either side, you wonder how they found their way. Past the hollows where ancient cave bears dug their holes to hibernate for the winter, into a rounded cavern where beautiful mammoths and bison were drawn across the roof, only a few feet from the floor, emerging from the deep hole of a cavern to the left that goes far beyond seeing…

Advertisements

Legally Underground

I love being underground, I love dark, close places. And dark massive airy places of course. And while London is undergirded by miles of tunnels, bunkers, culverts, sewers, abandoned underground stations and etc, can you legally get into any of them?

No. But Graham and I did our best.

We started in the Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A copy of American Colonial architecture, which is really just a variation on a copy of traditional English architecture…and they sell decent coffee and quite delicious currant buns in a warm, dry, well-lit brick vault that a self-respecting ghost would never be caught…in.

They have an art exhibit on now, Cartooning and Conflict, international takes on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Some of them were good, some of them ridiculously simplistic. Of course.

So coffeed and fed, we started on the quest for the (now underground) Tyburn river. On foot. And wandered past St. James Palace just as a marching band was scheduled to appear (!), line up in front of the palace, play, salute, and head out again. It made no sense at all, but the tourists did like it.

I just love the incredible feeling of being fortuitously in exactly the right place at the right time…even if it’s only to see a marching band. We passed Truefitt & Hill, London’s oldest barber shop established in 1805. They say that:

Men deserve the best in everything they do. If you are looking for the finest in men’s grooming, we are confident you will find Truefitt & Hill’s unmatched product quality and prestigious tradition extremely compelling.

And looking in their window I believe them, almost makes me wish I were one

And so we wandered on. And in another blinding moment of fortuitosity, I mentioned we were looking for Davies Street and Graham realized we were on Davies Street, and so a moment of awed silence for such mad luck…

On Davies Street you can find Gray’s Antique Market, full of beautiful and very old things. But you actually want to turn the corner, head down the back for Gray’s Mews, because you head down into the basement there and you will find a section of the (famous) Tyburn River. Actually, I don’t think the river is famous, but the spot where they used to hang people certainly was. The river runs in culverts below London, until it arrives here, where it is neatly channeled and full of gold fish.

We couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of it, both of us thinking that the Tyburn river should be larger, dirtier, primeval. Possibly behind thick glass, certainly not staid and well-lit and mechanically aerated. But it was quite extraordinary all the same. And Gray’s Mews? Beautiful. You can see at the bottom the fabulous vintage clothing and jewelry store…quality gorgeousness, Chanel and proper furs and etc etc, long cigarette holders, old compacts that I could have conceivably afforded…it is the kind of place that is most dangerous, in that it has beautiful old things at the top of my price range (but still within it. Hence the danger.). Many other stores were shut up, sadly, like the shop below with the pair of dragon-bearing elephants that I truly desired:

It was a day of desire really, walking back down Bond Street we passed this store full of silver, and all of it beautiful

We were filled with a sense of satisfaction, of vague melancholy, of…thirst. So we stopped at the Iron Duke for a pint, a most satisfactory pub with a very interesting wall covering and scrumpy jack on tap:

From there we wound our way back down to a pub previously-spotted and tagged for a return. But once more on St. James we decided to wander into the cigar store, James J. Fox & Robert Lewis. And discovered that not only can you smoke a cigar inside (lit for you by use of a small, insanely impressive blow torch), but there is also a museum. In the basement! Underground once again, and happy because look at this:


And I discovered that, like Winston Churchill,

I am a [wo]man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best.

The Queen Mother had her account here as well…I like to think of her kicking back and smoking a fine cigar or two. This place is packed with phenomenal things, an old register you can flip through, Oscar Wilde’s account, fur covered cigar cases, Cigars that are two, maybe three feet long, a tin of “Potter’s Asthma Smoking Tobacco”, this letter to the company from Churchill once again:

Dear Sirs,

Confirming our telephone conversation, Sir Winston Churchill would be much obliged if you would send a box of 25 cigars of good quality, but not quite as good as the Romeo and Juliet, and of medium size, to his grandson for his birthday on October 10…

Highly recommended. Though we couldn’t afford cigars at the time. But we will be back, the humidor at the end of the room was extremely impressive. And I have never seen anything like this:

But I tore myself away.

So we found our way to the Red Lion, a small pub and the second oldest license in the West End. The oldest license? No one could say. That’s a quest for another day. But a good mix of people, Graham believes that many were masons, I accept their cover story of a funeral. The lad with the red trousers? Well, there’s no excuse for that sort of thing of course. And there were china plates lining the piece of wall between the wood paneling and the ceiling, I loved that. We had laid down the one pint per pub rule, this being an exploratory excursion, so we headed out. We passed the Golden Lion. Sadly closed. And then we found a second Red Lion. A slightly larger pub, with beveled and engraved mirrors

And as buns weren’t quite enough to support this kind of effort and quantity of drink we went in search of food. I hadn’t prepared an underground location for this, so we ended up with pizza. Probably the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten but we all know that’s because I was drunk. Drunk on the magic of London at night

From Soho we headed to embankment and a martini at the Buddha Bar. That was planned, the Buddha Bar is in the old tram tunnel you see, though of course you’d never know. We weren’t dressed for that kind of poshness of course, so most of the waitresses were rather dismissive and politely rude. Our waiter was awesome though, redeemed the whole place for me beyond any doubt.

And then still not quite ready to go home, we made a last stop, sort of underground once again, in the Coal Hole, “famous for coal-heavers and cartoonists”. Great little pub too, according to the menu (always a supreme source of local history), it was one of the last informal clubs of the Victorian era. Gillray and Rowlandson used to haunt this place! And I dearly hope they still do…Gilbert and Sullivan used to show up from time to time as well, but I’m not so fussed about them.

What a day, what a city, what a cousin. Joy.

Odilon Redon, Honore Daumier and assorted monsters

Odilon Redon…I saw him for the first time (that I remember) today at the Chicago Institute of Art, and found him extraordinary. Born in France in 1840, he created these beautiful works in black and white, charcoal and lithograph, strange combinations of human and plant, animal, and insect. This is the one I found

chimera

This was called Chimera…and more, but I didn’t write it down and the light was terrible, the images blurry. Redon kept to himself, remaining almost unrecognized until the end of his life although he heavily influenced surrealism. He only became generally known after being mentioned in a cult novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature. Which sounded intriguing, but I believe I have read enough novels of decadence for the moment, it might have inspired Oscar Wilde but was influenced by Schopenhauer and he certainly isn’t one of my favourite philosophers.  So. Another image from google because I love these…

367px-Redon_spirit-forest

Tree man. Additional information is slim, he’s one of those artists to learn more of…as is Honore Daumier. There are a couple of brilliant little satirical sketches and this truly amazing collection of  miniature sculptures

They capture the spirit of the individual with a delightful intensity and quickness, it must have been even more impressive in his own day knowing the politicians and public figures so captured. My favourite:

As far as big names go, there are plenty of my favourites here, and a whole room of Toulouse-Lautrec! But today I most enjoyed the hidden, the weird, and the wonderful…no flash allowed so my apologies for quality

Who knew Delacroix had ever drawn anything like this? It’s called Marguerite’s Ghost

margueritesghost

They had one print by Durer, who fills religious paintings with the most fantastic creatures

And this sculpture by Jean-Joseph Carrie

Frog Man. I have never seen anything like it. And this shield from an assorted saint facing the devil

And time with my family, a great day.

I want to join the (dark and twisted) circus

But doesn’t everyone after going to see one? Especially Cirque Berzerk, it is dark, twisted, extraordinary. It turns you on like a flame. You are in hell, amongst the dead, and as I have often imagined, the dead are fascinating and deeply sexy. They rebel against the world as it is, they embrace difference, and they wear great clothes.

And I have so many ideas. And an even greater appreciation for the benefits of flexibility, so I have taken up the quest to achieve a back walk-over once more. Especially now my arm has alllmost completely healed from the bike accident.

But I know I will never approach the effortless mastery and beauty of what I saw tonight. I loved most the two men, the courtship, the push and pull, the yes I want you no I don’t as they danced and then flew…impossible grace and power evenly matched, and long aching lines of desire spun out in geometric shapes of pure muscled strength and the sensuous curves of yielding. Limbs twining together high in the air, breaking free, and the empty space between them as beautiful as their bodies linked together in defiance of gravity.

And trampolines! They had trampolines! Two of them with a large wall in between, and four brothers flipping, falling, somersaulting in bewildering and marvelously choreographed fashion from trampoline to wall to trampoline to right over the wall to trampoline. I hardly knew which to watch and my stomach clenched in the spectacular confusion of it all, sure that such glorious madness could not continue indefinitely…

And then the skeletons, in goth dress, white porcelain masks like dolls. Their bodies moved with the jerking movements of marionettes, bones animated and dancing, skulls bobbing with their steps, moving from graceful skill to skillful awkwardness, all of it requiring an incredible control over every part of the body that was breathtaking.

There were cross-dressing caberet dancers who put on a hell of a show, and all of the dancers were phenomenal. Normally I hate clowns, but the fire breathing drunk in the dirty suit and cross face and conical hat, I loved him. He went from iconic figure of shabby Victorian fantasy on stilts, to clunky shoes and an intoxicated stumble, and pulled a hat out of a rabbit. There was a woman who did the most extraordinary things while in handstand position on…stilts as well I suppose, I have no idea what to call them! The trapeze artist was gorgeous, and the woman who wrapped and unwrapped herself in two pieces of red silk  high above the ground, also gorgeous. A man who balanced on barrels and boards and towers of multiple moving parts…a couple who went through the kama sutra in ways only impossibly gifted gymnasts can, and the three in hoops high in the air at the very end when the woman in red comes into her own. And there was a midget in drag with an unforgettable face and a bad temper, and whoever put the music together for this approaches genius. And those playing the music as well. And if I am forgetting anything it is only because it is late. But my eyes were wide, my lips parted, and my breath caught for the duration, there was nothing that wasn’t spectacular and I haven’t enjoyed a performance so much in ages.

So go.

Frida Kahlo on the streets of LA

She’s an amazing figure, and has become an icon of feminism and revolution… so a quick review? Born in 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Coyoacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, she was  3 when the Mexican Revolution  broke out. She suffered from polio, and then had her body almost entirely broken  in an collision between trolley and a bus. She wrote “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Yet she lived her life in almost constant pain, of body and I think mind, you can see it in her paintings…

frida-kahlo

She married muralist Diego Rivera, and they had an incredibly stormy marriage of passion and mutual infidelity, with Frida a lover of both men and women. Of him she said “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” Their politics were radical, and I think almost everyone knows that Trotsky stayed with them after he left Europe for Mexico. They are a couple found everywhere on LA’s streets

The above is off of Glendale just round the corner from my house, one of Diego Rivera’s most inconographic images alongside Frida’s… her face.

During her lifetime, Frida was too often known simply as Diego Rivera’s wife, but she has come into her own, and her face is found everywhere.

I found these three images of her in one day of biking the city to a distant meeting and back, the above is on Venice Blvd, and below on Pico (though the city has painted over almost all of the graf on Pico…sadness! Still, I’m glad they left this one)

My favourite I think. It is nice to look up and suddenly see her…there are many more of course. And the quote I’d like to leave off with, having known the feeling?

“They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore….I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.” [on Andre Breton and the European surrealists]

A glorious week in and around LA

There are two parties on the block tonight, so I’m hunkering down with some wine and my headphones…it’s been an amazing week really, I should blog more maybe…

Tuesday I went down to San Diego, and headed over to Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore with China Mieville. I hadn’t seen him do a book reading…I think I’ve said everyone should read The City and The City before, it is spectacular. He was funny and humble, incredibly intelligent and articulate and everyone there loved him. And you could see how much he respected and liked them right back (that’s character for you) and everyone lined up so he could sign the 3 or more books they were buying and I was amazed (that doesn’t happen at our book signings I’m afraid…), and he chatted with all of them and enjoyed it and they left beaming. And I loved him for that. I have been to many book readings in my time, and this was among the best. But who else can combine my love of monsters and politics and sense of fun? Not many.

I also learned something that has been puzzling me for some time, and that is that while I have incredibly geeky tendencies, I am not in fact a geek. Though I sometimes aspire. And I realized that is because I am not OCD, and therefore not worthy. Or perhaps I’m just geeky in an extraordinarily broad sort of way that would elevate me to a true geek after about 200 years (If I planned to be cryogenically frozen, would that qualify me? But then I couldn’t keep reading). Because I am fascinated by everything, and therefore cannot concentrate or be overly obsessive about any one thing. I almost never read anything twice for example, from my Tuesday conversations it appears that this does not at all conform to the sense of what is normal. Of course, I have been keeping a list of books I want to read since I was 20. It has now reached epic proportions, and I never delete anything off this list but steadily mark things off as I read them. How on earth could I find time to read anything twice? Nor does the fact that I like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mean that I have read everything the man has ever written…and so, I feel I must bow from my pretensions and remain unaffiliated to any tribe. Except in solidarity.

Anyway, that was a night of pure unadulterated magic, and I shall never more be tempted to say it doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, my friend woke me up from my nap and I headed out for drinks and dinner with three of my favourite girls in the world. We’re all ex-organizers, and life is so good when ex-warriors get together. Not that we talk about the glory days, what a waste of time that would be. Instead I got all of the juiciest gossip on the latest union drama, HERE and SEIU and UNITE and it was actually incredibly horrible and infuriating and I would like to give Andy Stern a bloody nose. At the least. It’s too juicy to repeat in a blog for damn sure, but apalling. Still, I feel I’ve been through worse and what can you do? And the drinks were good and strong. And then we talked about life and love and laughed and laughed some more and I went to bed happy to have such friends.

Thursday now…went to the Getty to see Alain de Botton talk about his new book. And I felt bad for both Alain and Beverley. It was a place and a crowd expressly designed to bring out the hater in me, and oh, but it did. To be in a place like that where everyone is white and wealthy in this city makes my skin crawl. I always wonder where that immense reservoir of rage comes from…I am not as a rule an angry person, being too caught up in enjoying the world. But it makes me physically uncomfortable, and it is only slightly better for me than others of my friends, if only because I look like I might belong there. And the talk was on the joys and sorrows of work, and I did appreciate the intellectual curiosity and questions. But I must confess that given I believe labour is the crux of the world’s problems, to talk about the curious aspects of how people end up being accountants is vaguely interesting. Yet infuriating if it does not do so within a context of structural inequality. Or mention the fact that only a tiny percentage of the world’s population has the luxury of choosing their occupation…or worrying about that choice and thinking about what they’d rather do instead. So I was steaming at the end.

And tonight? Bev and I went to see Food, Inc. And I cannot recommend it highly enough, it was fantastic. And I’m winding down…but it looks at how food is produced and how it comes to us. And it has the shots of cows with holes in their sides from eating only corn, the chickens who can’t walk, the screaming pigs headed to slaughter. And I am a vegetarian because of those things…and the hormones, the antibiotics, the disease (e-coli will break your heart in this movie). Not because I think killing animals is intrinsically wrong, but because how we do it is so unutterably horrible. And there are so few alternative sources of meat, and at a cost most of the population cannot afford. And, well, I do like animals. Let those who want to eat meat eat meat, but I don’t want to anymore. Though bacon remains a severe temptation.

Of course it also looks at corn. And a little at soy. Given corporate practice and cash crops and the evils of monoculture, being a vegetarian really isn’t that much better for the planet of course, I wish most vegetarians would click on that. But what I LOVED about this movie was that it actually looked at structure, corporate power and government, and labor…it actually talked about the exploitation of the workers, and how companies work hand in hand with ICE. It talked about how many of the immigrants working in meat packing plants were actually displaced corn farmers from mexico, put out of business by NAFTA.

And the farmers who spoke were incredibly courageous and smart. And they had all been sued and been forced to settle and that hit me hardest of all, next to the workers being chained up by Ice. It’s how my family lost our home after all, and I cried. I don’t know how this illusion that courts disperse anything resembling justice can hold up. Courts are about protecting private property of course, and whoever has the most money and can afford the experts, the lawyers, the interminable process before a case even gets to court…well, they always win. Oprah made a comment about how she’d never eat another hamburger after mad cow, and spent 6 years and $1 million in litigation, it took that much to defend herself. Regular folks can’t do that. Mo settled with Monsanto and lost his business, just getting sued lost him that, and the tears were pouring down my cheeks. They are winning and I am so angry and I feel like breaking things again. I guess I know where the rage comes from.

But it was brilliant, go see it…

And maybe in your movie theatre, if you’re lucky enough to live in a big city where it is playing, you’ll also be lucky enough to have a woman wearing a purple turban…

Homicide in L.A.

I rode my bike to the gym last night, and passed the little park just two blocks away…my friend Jose helped plant the trees there. I had to stop for a minute, confronted by the spectacle of more cop cars than I have ever seen in one place (outside of the DNC when it was here). 10 or 11 of them, and crowds of neighbors clustered on the corners…I remember hearing the sirens earlier, because there had been so many. But I always hear sirens.

And then I rode on without finding out what was up, feeling a little guilty about the huge spike of curiosity that tragedy always seems to evoke when it is not tied to people I love. When I came back a few hours later there were only two black and whites, and a handful of others with the city crest on the doors. Homicide. Kidnapping. I wonder.

I looked it up in the Times today and found nothing…I shall have to go back I suppose, looking in the list of homicides for next week. I found that John Ortiz, 46, was beaten in the head with a planter and killed only a block and half away from me on May 2nd. While I was sleeping.

And there have been 13 homicides this week in L.A. County, all shootings but the hit and run, and the drug overdose that apparently was not suicide. Almost all young men of color. Almost all in the ghetto. Even when the young men of color leave the ghetto they still get shot, the big story of the week being the rapper Dolla getting shot in the parking garage of the Beverly Center.

There are a structural reasons of racism and inequality and hopelessness that help explain why we kill each other. Mixed in with drugs and alcohol, passion and anger, the flood of guns. Mixed in with frustration turned on the wrong people, and life and death struggles over things that should never be life and death. It makes me angry and sad in equal measure. And sometimes I even despair just a bit. Each of these violent deaths has rocked a family to its foundations, and filled the markets and liquor stores of their neighborhood with old coffee cans, complete with pictures of the victim (usually with their kids or family) and a plea for money to pay for the funeral…I have helped pass those around. It breaks your fucking heart.

I wish the LA Times would print those photos, as none of us is an island… But people from our neighborhoods tend to be treated so, just some more fucked up kids.  They’re online with something that looks like a mug shot. Their names appear in a long list of other murders that is almost impossible to comprehend. One murder is news, 13? In a week? Two a day? Too much to follow up on, though the reporter on the crime beat does try.

Homicides: May 11 to May 18

The Los Angeles County coroner has confirmed the following deaths as homicides. The Times will report more details later this week:

Roberta Romero, a 24-year-old Latina, on May 11. Romero was shot near the intersection of Glenpark Street and Bellevue Avenue in Pomona.

Michael Moore, a 20-year-old black man, on May 13.  Moore was shot in the 1100 block of south Chester Avenue in Inglewood.

Erika Balayan, a 27-year-old Latina, on May 13. Balayan was shot in the 8300 block of Van Nuys Boulevard in Panorama City.

Robert Rodwell, a 28-year-old black man, on May 13. Rodwell was shot in the 1400 block of 105th Street in Athens.

Courtney Adams, a 24-year-old black man, on May 13.  Adams was shot in the 6800 block of Atlantic Boulevard in Long Beach.

Victor Moreno, a 19-year-old Latino, on May 14.  Moreno was shot in the 1700 block of East Vernon Avenue in Central Alameda.

Jose Chavez, a 30-year-old Latino, on May 15.  Chavez was involved in a hit-and-run near the intersection of Huntington Street and Third Street in Pomona.

Ly Tran, a 45-year-old Asian man, on May 15.  Tran was shot in the 13100 block of Lakewood Boulevard in Downey.

Alejandro Perez-Robles, a 25-year-old Latino, on May 16.  Perez-Robles was shot in the 2900 block of Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park.

Javier Gonzalez-Cordero, a 19-year-old Latino, on May 16. Gonzalez-Cordero was shot in the 2900 block of Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park.

Oleida Robinson, a 40-year-old white female, on May 16. Robinson died of an apparent overdose in the 10600 block of Soledad Canyon Road in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Danny Quijada, a 30-year-old Latino, on May 16.  Quijada was shot in the 6300 block of Milton Avenue in Whittier.

Marcus Smith, a 31-year-old black man, on May 17.  Smith was shot in the 800 block of Osage Avenue in Inglewood.