Postcard from North Beach: Work and pleasure in the Bay.
ONCE AGAIN Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena outdoes itself with an elaborate Banned Books Week display. This time each title is outfitted with a backstory — about where and why the “notorious” volume made the list. I haven’t picked my title yet but as you can see there are many to choose from.
Exercise your right and freedom to choose.
FALL IS here just about, though the temps are still spiking into the high 90s. It’s typical L.A. Indian Summer. That’s why I had an early-morning visit this week with the artist Dominique Moody. She’s been taking her artist’s residence on wheels on short trips around Southern California. It’s a tiny house, but one built by a trained assemblage artist. Both portrait and theater, Moody’s Nomad is the product of a series of serendipitous encounters that very early on took root in her imagination.
I wrote about her for KCET’s Artbound not too long ago. She’s almost ready to take the first of her longer journeys.
Here are some quick moments from my visit in Altadena.
Just before I hopped out of town for a brief pause, I was able to speak to writer Claudia Rankine about her book Citizen: An American Lyric and the staged version that will be up at the Fountain Theatre here in L.A. until October 11.
Here’s a snip from the intro:
On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.
While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”
Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.
To read the interview in full click here.
I hadn’t planned to write anything formal about Katrina and the flood, but it was on my mind — taking up more than backspace. Last week all that circular thinking started surfacing as full sentences. And finally, in a block of focused days I had a piece. It ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, you can find it here.
One of the things about my post-Katrina New Orleans and the absence of my blood-ties is that it’s left me thinking about the people who used to live around the folks I once visited as part of that summer ritual. I think about this as I wander New Orleans trying to locate sites that no longer exist on any map. I remember generations of families who had remained on one block passing on not just an address but a hibiscus and iris garden, a porch with a ceiling painted blue like a spring sky. Even an attic ghost. On this side of the family line, I am the last person to hold those memories, to know what it was before: The stories and the voices — the intricately built sentences — I will carry in my head I know, but these are the features will always define New Orleans for me.
Just last week, I was speaking to my friend Mark Broyard, an artist who lives here in L.A. and has deep New Orleans roots. As I note in the piece, after Katrina, he went back to help but also to bear witness. Photograph and collect debris that he would ultimately make into art. I remember the first time I saw the piece above, I didn’t have words. It hit someplace so deep, I cried.
(Broyard has other work in a group show, “Hard Edged” now up at the California African American Museum.)
With all of the trumpeting of “recovery” and “resilience,” my hope is that we will all remember — remember that there is so much more to do, to finish, to fix. To make whole. I’m realizing more and more that I’d like to find a place in that.
And as a guide, to keep in mind, that that new spot you’ve landed in — your new domain — that was once someone else’s garden, porch, ghost; it was once someone else’s dream.
Katrina Series Image courtesy Mark Broyard
Often when I post here, I try to consider Los Angeles less a focus and more a prism. That said: I couldn’t help but not linger on the passages about Los Angeles in the new collection of Lawrence Ferlinghetti journals, Writing Across the Landscapes.
Though there wasn’t room to cite it in my review, I keep thinking about this vivid glimpse of an unexpected Los Angeles.
This entry reads like the photographs of Gordon Parks, Robert Frank — or the photo above captured by Larry Winogrand from the same period.
Here’s a little fragment of an image/thought montage.
It’s just a moment. A 50-year-old L.A. moment
Came upon Los Angeles by bus at night … Ah the crazy hotels, crazy streets, sad signs of America –Jesus Saves!–Tom’s Tattoo–The Electric Rembrandt–Snooker Parlor–“Acres of Autos”– Hotel Small — Ice Rink–Greyhound — Los Angeles Street -TV in Rooms –eat–Barber and Beauty Supply–Pawnshop–“Shave Yourself” —
Might as well be on the Trans-Siberian Railway …
Strange people waiting in Greyhound Bus Depot: One all-leather cat with cowboy hat — tight motorcycle pants with zippers on slash pockets and lithe padlocks on each zipper–same on tight jacket — all black leather ….Animated, talking to a Negro also in cycle suit only much less flashy.
And lonely the hotel doors, gaping. And lonely the lobbies, lonely the beds! Forever & ever…Lonely the lunchrooms, lonely the cars running in the streets … Lonely Los Angeles, lonely world!
Sure are a lot of defeated people in this here America …”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti –Los Angeles, 1964
Letters are available at City Lights Books. The journals publish, Sept. 7