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.
What??
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.
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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.

 

5 August – Feast Day of Our Lady of Copacabana

My version of Our Lady of Copacabana, sort of

My version of Our Lady of Copacabana, sort of

The cheerless dismantling of our local daily paper, the Los Angeles Times, has been so harrowing and relentless, it’s led me to check LAObserved’s fine blog a couple times a day for the latest dreary development. (Already the fine reporter who profiled me last fall, Deborah Schoch, was let go after 16 years.)

And so it was that last night, just before retiring, I turned to LAObserved for a final midnight looksee – and was stunned to read my name in a posting about upcoming book awards:

My book All the Saints of the City of the Angels: Seeking the Soul of L.A. on Its Streets has been named a finalist for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s award for best nonfiction of 2008.

O my fluttering hummingbird heart! Humbled to the core, bedazzled and amazed, it’s made me feel just like a kid.

I want to send everyone flowers; offer free backrubs; share a glass of better wine; and stretch out on the grass to stare up at the clouds, and then (after more wine) up at the stars.

These awards are voted on only by independent booksellers, not the chains. No offense to Amazon and the rest; but these are the folks who, when they order my book, have to pay my wonderful publisher upfront and can’t return their leftovers. These arethe True Lovers of Books, who share their enthusiasm with customers and post handlettered endorsements next to treasured discoveries.

Their support since my book’s release, in March, has warmed my heart; this nomination has set it ablaze.