Touchstones and Keepsakes: Chinatown’s New Orleans in L.A.

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A FEW months back, I’d heard word about a spot opening up in Chinatown that was going to bring a little bit of New Orleans to L.A. It got my hopes up, but I also knew to be sure to be a bit measured with my expectations. We’ve been disappointed before. Frankly New Orleans is difficult to get right — the accent as well as the food.

Slipping into Little Jewel back in August, I saw from the start that this was going to be different. Strikingly so. Since then,
I’ve been following the evolution of this market/deli and rendezvous for the last six months.

For many transplanted New Orleanians it’s already become a freeway-close home away from home.

You can click here to find my piece about Chinatown’s Little Jewel of New Orleans.

Executive Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger greets customers at The Little Jewel of New Orleans -- photo by Lynell George

Executive Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger greets customers at The Little Jewel of New Orleans — photo by Lynell George

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David Carr, 58

“Shakespeare describes memory as the warden of the brain, but it is also its courtesan. We all remember the parts of the past that allow us to meet the future. The prototypes of the lie — white, grievous, practical–make themselves known when memory is called to answer. Memory usually answers back with bullshit. Everyone likes a good story, especially the one who is telling it, and the historical facts are generally sullied in the process. All men mean well, and clearly most people who set out to tell the truth do not lie on purpose. How is it, then, that every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?”

— David Carr
from “The Night of the Gun”

Woke up and it was still true…Heartbreaking.
NYT obit here.

Looking for the Lost City

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IN THE last few years, I’ve been taking copious notes: Written and photographic ones. I didn’t have a project in mind when I started; it was, instead, a conversation I was having in my head with Los Angeles — the lost city. Some of these thoughts/notes I’ve begun to explore more formally, and they are now making their way out into the world. You’ll find a piece here at Zócalo Public Square. It’s about place and memory and what connects us to a place we call home.

Sincerely, Langston

MY REVIEW of Selected Letters of Langston Hughes for the Los Angeles Times is now live.You can find it here.

The book comes in at nearly 500 pages and is a vivid sampling of an archive of letters that could fill perhaps 20 volumes, according to the editors. Hughes was a prodigious letter writer. How he found time to do so (and with such detail), amid his other writing — short stories, poems, plays, librettos, children’s stories and poetry — is mind spinning.

From the piece:

Mail arrived from many corners of the black experience — from the first bloom of Harlem Renaissance stretching well into the trenches of civil rights era. The specific details and texture found within them granted him entree — and lent him gravitas as an informed eyewitness who helped to shape a deeper understanding of blackness in a global sphere. Through letters Hughes cultivated a circle of literary cohorts, business associates and patrons (Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Carl Van Vechten, Arna Bontemps, Blanche and Alfred Knopf among them), some of whom remained close nearly the entire arc of his professional life.

There is a Los Angeles tie in this. Not in terms of his letter-writing life, but about his relationship to the city.  Hughes didn’t very much care for the city. langstson He’d swing through town for meetings or work and at one point took a brief stay downtown at  Hotel Clark on Hill Street. However, much of his distaste for the place had to do with his frustrations with work in Hollywood and an on-going battle that had been waged against him by Sister Aimee Semple McPherson founder of the Foursquare Church. Hughes had made mention of McPherson in a poem “Goodbye Christ,” in which he charges that she is both “materialistic” and an “exploited.” Although he would  later retract the poem from publication, it wasn’t over, for McPherson whose publicity arm organized a group from her Angelus Temple congregation in Echo Park to protest the poet’s appearance at Pasadena’s elegant Vista del Arroyo Hotel in November of 1940, on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, The Big Sea. It was a poem, as the letters suggest, that would tail Hughes throughout the rest of his career. Click here to read more. Also, here’s black-owned newspaper, the California Eagle’s take on the imbroglio.

Rojas’ Eastside

James Rojas - Urban Planner & Community Activist

James Rojas – Urban Planner & Community Activist (photo by Lynell George)

GREAT URBAN walkabout on Saturday with James Rojas who led about a dozen of us through Boyle Heights into East L.A. Rojas, an urban planner and community activist, gave us generous samples of Latino Urbanism — a specific refashioning of built landscape.

Writes Rojas:

“Street vendors, plazas, and benches are all part of the Latin American streetscape. Traditional Latin American homes extend to the property line, and the street is often used as a semi-public, semi-private space where residents set up small businesses, socialize, watch children at play, and otherwise engage the community.

To create a similar sense of belonging within an Anglo-American context, Latinos use their bodies to reinvent the street.”

We looked at how people refashion and mark place and make it their own. We wandered by front yards turned into plazas. We explored upon gardens, shrines, murals and garage-adjacent altars. Christmas is still in full bloom; it’s just tucked away off the main drag. I was most taken by the thread of improvisation winding through block by block. Streets that are made for walking with goods and signage at eye-level. Re-purposed gas stations, vacant lots and front porches transformed into impromptu meeting places.

Community in this sense truly feels like community — lives linked together, shaped by one another.

Big thanks to wonderful Victoria for letting me know about it. I’m always re-energized seeing L.A. through a different set of eyes.

So grateful to you to James Rojas!

(mosaic images by Lynell George)