13 August 10 – Feast Day of Cassian of Imola, Ill-Fated Writing Teacher

A quick little moral tale before we get to our main story

Saint Cassian was a 4th century schoolteacher, who “taught [his students] the basic elements of literature, that is, how to read and write.” Unfortunately, Cassian’s activities drew the ire of the local judge who, alliteratively, was a “partisan of the passions of the apostate emperor.”

For any still-summer-vacationing teachers, the ominous news is that the angry judge “could find no means more appropriate to take vengeance on Saint Cassian than to abandon him to his own students.” (shudder!)

Cassian was stripped and bound, and some two hundred of his students  did their worst – or, depending on your interpretation, their best, for one telling of his martyrdom records that the students “carved their initials carefully on his flesh.” (emphasis added)

A good story seems to lurk here, morbid though it may well be: Cassian taught 200 boys to read and write: After carving their initials into their master’s flesh, what did they go on to write?

And Now, Our Main Story:

Each December some half a million people converge on Guadalajara’s convention center to celebrate that perennially endangered species known as the printed word. La  Feria Internacional del Libro, or FIL as it is more handily and affectionately known, brings together publishers, authors, and book lovers from all over the (chiefly Spanish-speaking) world  for a week of exhibitions, conferences, readings, and convivially crowded hobnobbing.

For some two decades now, la FIL has recognized one country or another as its Invitado de Honor, affording them the chance to spotlight their literary and artistic culture.  Last year la FIL tweaked this tradition a wee bit by extending its Invitado invitation to the City of Los Angeles, which, in turn, invited four dozen writers to travel to Guadalajara as L.A.’s cultural ambassadors.

While a number of well-known and widely-read authors – Ruben Martinez, Yxta Maya Murray, Dagoberto Gilb, Geoff Nicholson, Jonathon Gold, and Alex Espinoza – traveled to la FIL, at least one fairly unknown author also got the nod – that would be me.  Sort of like Ringo being chosen once upon a time to bring up the rear for the Beatles.

A highlight of our Guadalajara sojourn was, of all things, the hotel.  Not that there was anything the least bit distinctive about it, but because each morning, upon entering the café for breakfast, one focused not on what to eat, but with whom to eat it.  Writers who principally knew one another by by-line alone got to chat over café con leche with writers they – we – admired.

One thing that came up repeatedly in conversation was how charmed and enamored we all were with our host city.  Guadalajara has wonderful colonial and beaux arts architecture, parks hither and thither,  several museums and community arts spaces, and some of the most congenial and polite citizens a large city could possibly boast.

It felt, one thought, like a rather enhanced, civilized version of L.A.

And that’s where the thought began to germinate, to propose a small anthology of writers’ reminiscences about our time in Guadalajara, as sort of valentine not only to our host, but also to the National Endowment for the Arts (which funded our trip) and to the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Los Angeles (which organized it).

My sweetheart friend Veronique de Turenne, late of the LA Times and still of the “Here in Malibu” blog on LAObserved.com, enthusiastically volunteered to co-edit the submissions, which filtered in from a dozen fellow authors.  David Kipen, who organized the L.A. writers contingent, agreed to contribute a cheery, pithy foreword; and Veronique and I each had stories about Guadalajara we wanted to contribute. Veronique’s fun tale, which ends the book, inspired its title, Waiting For Foreign.

The essays include a pair of lovely, nuanced pieces: Alex Espinozas uneasy meditation on his complicated relationship with the land of his birth; and Michael Jaime-Becerra’s sweet ode to his father’s alternating power and fragility.

There are some light-hearted pieces as well: Dagoberto Gilb’s stream-of-consciousness take on Guadalajara, the publishing biz, and Cesar Rojas, which ends on a slightly bitter rant about racism; and Ruben Martinez’s reggae-foxtrot love song to Guadalajara and all things tapatío.

I had taken dozens of photographs in Guadalajara, and as I graphically reworked them in Photoshop, these began to complement the stories in the book. I found a website – Blurb.com – which enables users to design and create their own books, through its downloadable program, and which the website will then print on demand.

Admittedly, it felt a little ironically complicated to be self-publishing and printing-on-demand a book inspired by an international book fair that relies on the participation of dozens of publishing houses, particularly at a time when no one knows what the future of publishing holds or what the workable model will be.

Perhaps this eight inch square, eighty-page book, labored over for months, and then uploaded in a half-hour and printed – “on demand” – and delivered directly to my door less than a week later, is one of those models for the future.  .

I only know that it offers a creative person the liberating opportunity to gather and organize thoughts and insights however one best sees fit into an actual physical book – that still palpable, valued object.

Whether anyone else cares to read, to purchase, or to own that creation remains to be seen.  But thus has it ever been with writing. May it ever remain so.


2 April – Feast Day of la Santa Musa

CBS Reporter Martha Teichner before my painting of "St. Stephanie"

My wife and I were recently in Barcelona (more on that another day), immersed in its many-layered histories and beauty, when I received a surprise email from a producer for the great weekly television program CBS Sunday Morning, inquiring if I would care to be the subject of a profile for an upcoming broadcast.

Timed to air on the thematically-relevant Easter Sunday, April 4th, this segment would feature my “All the Saints of the City of the Angels” project, wherein I had explored the multi-cultural heritage of Los Angeles, via its 100+ streets named for saints.

Of course I was ecstatic – and grateful – and, as soon as we returned to L.A., I began preparing for the film crew’s visit – which was an adventure in itself, as my studio had been hastily converted into a storage facility when our home’s sewer line irrevocably broke, just before our trip to Spain…. Ah, Best of times, Worst of times….

Nonetheless, I was able to re-establish peace, space, and reasonable tranquility in time for our interview.

I had long esteemed reporter Martha Teichner as one of the most thoughtful and cultured of reporters on Sunday Morning; so I was doubly pleased that she was selected to interview me.  She was thoroughly engaging during the nine hours we spent together; insightful and empathic, and the pleasant  source of sweet stories of interviews past.

Crew on location, KGB Gallery, producer Brian Healy at right

Producer Brian Healy hovered helpfully in the background throughout the day, offering spot-on suggestions and tips to enrich the  segment that will ultimately appear on the show (if it appears, of course).

Each time All the Saints gets a little exposure like this, that I get interviewed or asked to speak on the project,  provides me a much-appreciated opportunity to better understand the project myself.  These ten years of researching, writing, exploring, and painting the City of the Angels’ saint-streets and street saints add up to a significant portion of my time here on this blue marble, and probably constitute one of the most thoughtful, if meandering, meditations on how I view the world.

I am grateful to CBS Sunday Morning for the opportunity to explore this project again, and to share it with others. I hope those of you who view the segment, on televised air, or in some online version, will get something useful and reflective out of it as well.

All best. Blessings.

Shooting the Saints

4 August, Feast Day of Saint Sithney, Friend of Mad Dogs and Englishmen

04 08 09 breakfast Today is the Feast Day of St. Sithney, a rather mysoginistic character. As the Patron Saints Index informs us,

“A Breton legend says that God chose Sithney to be the patron of girls seeking husbands; the saint begged off, saying he would never get to rest, that he would rather take care of mad dogs than women. Sounded like a good idea to the Almighty, and ever since, sick or mad dogs have been given water from Sithney’s well as a tonic.”

Silly man.

I’d prefer the company of women any day, myself….

Breakfast this still-cool lingering a.m. comprised a snippet of garden-fresh rosemary bedding a lamb chop morsel, several slices of red onion and purple potato; half a cinnamon-raisin bagel and a strong cuppa volcanic coffee….

It was pretty satisfying and light, actually.

Published in: on 4 August 2009 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

15 July – Feast of St. Swithin and Our 32nd Anniversary

St. Swithin, stained glass

St. Swithin, stained glass

Today is the feast day of many saints – the big web calendar of saints lists fifty-five of them, many largely anonymous.

A favorite is Saint Swithin (or Swithun), a ninth-century English bishop reputed to possess a post-mortem talent for weather forecasting (Perhaps, given his view from above, he may have some advance knowledge of cloud movements?).

A charming legend recounts how he miraculously restored a basketful of eggs, carried for sale by a Winchester egg woman, that had been maliciously broken by some workmen.

A warning about putting all one’s eggs into one basket? Or that, having done so, there is still hope? Or a love from the common street vendor? Restoration?

Who knows.

In any case, I wish to mark today because it carries great significance in my little life – a life as anonymous as that of most of today’s patron saints.  For it was 32 years agotoday that I was married to my wife, Mimi, the source of most of the good things that have happened in my life.

Mimi and  in NYC's Central Park, one snowy December

Mimi and I in NYC's Central Park, one snowy December

May this good fortune long continue.

Published in: on 15 July 2009 at 12:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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13 July – Feast Day of Blessed Jacobus of Voragine, Author of the Golden Legend

St. Christopher, Guardian of Safe Journeys, from Jacobus' Golden Legend

St. Christopher, Guardian of Safe Journeys, from Jacobus' Golden Legend

Hard to imagine the history of Western Art without the participation of this thirteenth century inadvertent writer.  Jacobus was archbishop of Genoa, which would provide him a small place in Italian Church history, but inarguably his greatest gift to us was his compilation of the lives and legends of the saints, in the text popularly known as the Golden Legend. Not a properly readable set of stories, it serves more as a gathering of seeds for sermons and other oratory. The tales range from the sublime to the most fanciful, with gruesome helpings of misogyny and antisemitism (perfect mirror of its age).

If you ever wondered why those saints in Gothic and Rennaisance art and architecture are occupied with odd tasks, or are carrying curious artifacts, the Golden Legend is your key. Jacobus’ writings provided the visual clues to religious compositions for centuries.
As a footnote to St. Christopher, above, herewith a short poem I wrote comoing home last night from the Ford Amphithetre and Gregorio Luke’s presentation on Rufino Tamayo:

Dragging east along Hollywood

Big chunk of moon hanging low

under the Bronson Street sign.

It was: Take the moon or take the freeway.

I hooked a quick right onto the 101

Under a falling star, home to my baby,

Who fell asleep

Praying I would get home safe.

12 July – Feast Day of Saint Veronica

veronica iii Today’s issue of the New York Times Travel section has a short but not so sweet piece on our Los Angeles neighborhood, Highland Park.

Sadly, NYT’s first foray into the 90042 got it wrong, or at least came up woefully incomplete.

Three of the four businesses mentioned lie along a mere block-and-a-half of York Boulevard;
and the fourth, the admittedly fun Society of the Spectacles eyeglass shop, is just down the street.
No Figueroa Street, the long, broad and longtime heart of Highland Park??
Apparently not:
The most egregious comment (one hopefully taken out of context)
comes from Cafe de Leche’s owner Matt Schodor, who says,
“The landscape has changed significantly. Now, everything is centered on one street.”
Oh. Is it? What about:
Avenue 50 Studio, a non-profit community arts and culture gallery, founded in early 2000 by local artist Kathy Gallegos, was one of the first – and still flourishing – cultural outposts to put out a shingle in the neighborhood. Housed in what was, decades ago, a small automotive garage, in a hardscrabble landscape abutting the Metro line snaking up to Pasadena, Avenue 50 now shelters two artist studios and an Etsy-ite fabric artist, as well as providing Northeast L.A. with monthly exhibitions of cultural significance and outreach; as well as concerts, poetry readings and workshops, weekly yoga classes, the occasional Women-Only massage party, and more.
[Note: I had the good fortune to have a solo show for my then-a-birthing “All the Saints of the City of the Angels” project there the year Avenue 50 opened, and I have had (I think) four more shows there in the intervening nine years, and was tapped to serve on its Board of Directors when the gallery went 501 c-3 several years back. ]
Figueroa Street between Avenue 50 and York boasts all sorts of cultural richness of the sort that precludes many of us from ever needing to fight the westbound traffic of the Santa Monica 10 Freeway:
Chicken Boy, the once-beleaguered and now much-beloved tongue-in-cheek Statue of Liberty of Northeast L.A., perched (of course) above Future Studio Gallery, an appropriately quirky venue for pretty quirky art, replete with a souvenir shop;
The Highland Theatre, where first-run movies are shown in modest circumstances for less than the cost of a louche’s latte;
A cornucopia of great taco trucks and, increasingly, pirate/private nighttime taco stands, where dedicated men and women sizzle buche, carnitas, cebollitas y mas, with griddles and gas tanks under jury-rigged mood lighting in alleyways and in front of grocery stores and (Yes!) tire repair shops  – Just one dollar for a salsa verde stairway to heaven.
There’s much more I could add, but the morning grows long. In the end, perhaps there’s little reason to fault the New York Times for its incomplete reportage on a distant zip code, for naively compacting a vibrant community to four shops on three blocks.
After all it took the Los Angeles Times nine years to write its first review of Avenue 50 Studio, just down the hill from where a number of its now-laid-off reporters once lived and commuted….
As Saint Veronica’s vera icon teaches us, the truth is often far more complex than it looks on the surface.

19 January – the Feast Day of St. Gudule and Martin Luther King

gudule-and-barbaraSaint Gudule, it is said, carried a lighted candle to church each visit. The devil repeatedly blew out its flame, but could not extinguish the light, for the flame always re-ignited.

As U2 sang yesterday, at the Inaugural concert for Barack Obama, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in its emotive song “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, the same could be said for Martin Luther King. “Early evening / April 4th / Shots rang out in a Memphis sky / Three blasts: They took your life / They could not take your pride.”

It is a Beautiful Day. Happy Birthday, Martin.

18 Jan 09 – Feast Day of the Chair of Saint Peter

my-friend-abrahama1How did we ever get to this place, this moment, this shared bit of civilized pavement where we meet as friends and mutual-created family?

Didn’t it short time ago seem unlikely, so much a sappy-sweet sophomoric-simple dream? Something we would deflate and deride in irony-laden moments of eye-rolling chatter.

Yet here we meet and greet, bumping into one another, warm and unhurried, turning to greet our new neighbor with a smile rather than the hard glance of challenge and turfsmanship.

We. Are. Here. Together. To make change.

How extraordinary when you even pause a minute to think of it – and yet, in retrospect, how simple and ordained.

Like: What was All that Fuss about? 

Today, on the Feast Day of the Chair of Saint Peter, the day that commemorates the chair where the Apostle Peter sat to oversee services after Christ’s death, tens of tens of thousands gathered before the Lincoln Memorial, under the sage vision of the seated Abraham Lincoln, as Barack Obama inaugurated the inaugural celebrations of his ever so imminent inauguration, with song and praise; a celebration in song and spirit of hope an renewal.

pete-seeger-brucespringsteen_lAnd, just a tiny Thank you, God, for preserving Pete Seeger long enough to have this final, powerful validation of his pure vision.

We may never fully know what today meant to him; but i think we can imagine and be grateful.

This land, truly, is your land, mine, and ours.

Let us preserve, protect, and renew it. Amen.

Published in: on 19 January 2009 at 12:37 am  Comments (1)  
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The Feast Day of Saint Reinhold and the Passing of Robert Graham

robert-graham-reliefFrom what I knew of the man, Robert Graham would have enjoyed this little tale.


Saint Reinhold was a tenth century bishop, assigned to oversee the construction of an abbey in Cologne. No mere supervisor, however, Reinhold threw himself into the abbey’s stonework with such skill and zeal that his carving soon outshone the handiwork of the stonemasons under his care. Disgruntled by this turn of events, and envious of the saint’s superior craftsmanship, the stonemasons grabbed their hammers and beat him to death.


Ah, the tempestuous art world.


Last Wednesday, on the 1048th anniversary of Saint Reinhold’s final, crushing critique, hundreds of us gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in Downtown Los Angeles, to honor the gentleman carver and sculptor Robert Graham.


I came alone and sat near the back – as misfortune would have it, I had yet another memorial service to attend, and would need to leave before the final benediction. Even so, when that time came, the rows all around and behind me would be filled: Frank Gehry in the row before me; Donald Sutherland across the aisle; Harrison Ford passing in front. Really, though, the mind registers the faces and names, then rapidly – especially in such a setting – readjusts to the realization that we are all, at base, small and frail human beings.


Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. For me the twin moments were the human ones at, or near, the beginning and end of the service:


Noriko Fujinami, Graham’s studio director, presiding quietly and comfortingly from the center aisle, moving over to place her hands on a mourner’s shoulders from behind; silently embracing a newcomer.


And then: As the service began, we were asked to join the choir in singing “Amazing Grace,” a song that hadn’t passed my mind in decades, as Cardinal Roger Mahony and entourage entered with the casket from the rear. Looking up from the printed lyrics – “How sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me” – I caught the cardinal reaching into the fount of holy water at the rear of the cathedral, and taking great handfuls and literally pouring out great draughts of it, repeatedly: the holy water cascading over the beautiful wood, as though Roger was trying to exorcize some deeper personal pain at the loss of his friend.


Much later, after Communion, and before the Eulogies would restore a sense that our life, at least, goes on, Robert’s widow, the actress Anjelica Huston, was escorted by Msgr. Kevin to a podium, from which, veiled in black, she read William Butler Keats’ poem “He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace.”


First, what a joy it is to hear poetry read by someone who knows how to do so. But of course, how fraught with emotion and meaning this was, given the context. As Anjelica came to the sixth line – “The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire” – her voice broke, became hoarse holding back her tears, as ours poured down. She struggled to regain control over the next two lines, and then spoke the rest quietly, tarrying softly over the half-benediction / half-plea of the final four lines:


“Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,
And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.”


Whatever followed seemed superfluous.

11 Jan 09 – Feast Day of St. Peter of Alexandria, from whom San Pedro Bay Derives

castratiWhat with the recent spate of dour local arts news – downsizing, near bankruptcy, layoffs, and cancellations – the three brochures for local arts organizations tumbling out of Sunday’s paper bestowed an aura of belated Christmas gifting.


Printed in full color on good card stock, they advertised the schedules for, respectively, the Los Angeles Art Show (Good for a $5 admission discount);  REDCAT at the Disney (A true keeper, chockablock with detailed info on great programming); and the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, at Santa Monica College.


Over 150 worldwide art galleries at the Convention Center in two weeks; opera, Cajun, and jazz at the Broad through the spring; and experimental cinema, theatre, dance, music and ideas at REDCAT through the year – all give rise to hope for the arts scene despite the economic downturns here and ahead.


The stunning kicker, though, is this: All three tumbled out of, not the Los Angeles Times – which offered, instead, the usual Target, Best Buys, and CVS adverts – but the local edition of the New York Times.


One couldn’t help thinking how their placement in the NYT must register as yet another none-too-subtle dismissal of the cultural relevance or importance of the handful of critics still soldiering on at the LAT. So sad.