“You Were Here…”

I ALMOST missed the e-mail with the invite to “travel” for a story. My work inbox is a loud mix of music, arts, books  press releases and announcements and miscalleaneous musings, so I was happy that the editor pinged me a second time to make sure I’d seen the request to participate. 

I haven’t been back to San Francisco now for a couple of years, but I think about the city often.  I lived there for a short time in the late 80s and spent much of the 90s visiting friends and colleagues and trying to keep myself familiar with the changes — which were as rapid if not more as those I was experiencing here at home in Los Angeles. 

I hadn’t thought about that chapter in a long while. Not deeply. That required that I reach back into old journals (sparse evidence there) and photographs (a little more) to try to recall what it felt like. I told the editor that I wanted to write about ghosts and the names in the address book that don’t correspond with  streets and phone numbers any longer. But what triggered precisely where I wanted to go was happening upon a series of photographs on Twitter that depicted Caffe Trieste over the decades. That unlocked something inside me about rituals and how one sees oneself in a place.

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Caffe Trieste, North Beach 2015

 

From the piece:

 

“Advancing through the frames, a half hour slipped away. An hour. More. Not until daylight fully faded did I stop myself: what sort of wish — or melancholy — sent me scrolling through scores of other people’s memories? Decades of regulars ringed around small tables, nursing the last swallow of a cappuccino; solo patrons’ eyes focused on middle distance; loose configurations posted just outside the entrance on Vallejo Street in animated conversation — stilled.

It wasn’t simply wistfulness that powered my search. Perhaps it was a shade of self-absorption or hubris, but I realized I was looking for myself. I was, without at first knowing it, hoping against hope to find some ghost of myself — part of this story, too. I was searching for evidence, not just that I had been there, but that it had moved through me.”

From there, I was able to drop down the rabbit hole, shadowing old routes, reacquainting myself with old selves. 

What a great experience working with my editor, Claudia La Rocco at SF MOMA’s Open Space. I hope to be able to work with her again. She took great care and was such a wonderful sounding board.

You can read the rest of the piece here. 

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North Beach, 2011

Troubling Calm

IN THE EARLY DAYS, of our “shut down,” I was asked to file a report from my corner of the region. The world had changed so abruptly and I am not clairvoyant, but I kept looking at what was right in front of me until the words circled and un-scrolled. Here’s a piece I did last Spring for LMU Magazine.

“Take what you want/need”

“Days before everything turned inside out, when I still had access to the full stretch of my old world, I attended an opera based on science fiction author Octavia E. Butler’s prescient novel “Parable of the Sower.” Fittingly, the story is set in a 21st century dystopian Los Angeles — a city ravaged by long-term drought and upturned by grim social disorder. Butler, who was born and raised minutes from where I now live, shrugged out of the label “seer.” Rather, she often spoke about how one can read the future just by being attentive to what’s outside the window. “Learn from the past,” she warned. But, too: “Count on surprises.”

Learn to read the cycles, Butler knew.

Of late, Los Angeles has been at its most impossibly lush: The mountains and their contours aren’t hidden by a scrim of haze. The sunsets bloom paint-box vivid — ribbons of lilac and blush pink. The air offers a perfume of new blooms — jasmine, citrus, sharp lavender. And now, with so much at a standstill — no conversations in the street, no rush-hour car horns blasting — nature is at the forefront.

This beauty, in other instances, would be comforting, but each day the world outside the door feels more threatening. How can these spring days be so dazzling, and yet they don’t quiet the sense of unease? They underscore it.

Since early March, with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, the sense of unease and sadness that I, and so many others, have been swimming through is as novel as the pathogen itself. Its slow approach is something we can neither hide nor run from. It’s a force we can’t even see.

Silence has become a shelter. I’ve begun telling people I know and love that language has not caught up with the expanse of my emotions; my feelings are too new and seem to occupy some unexplored territory of both place and self.

I am a journalist, so it is often difficult for me to take a break from the news. In these weeks of sheltering, I cook to radio analysis. Over coffee, I keep scrolling, absorbing stats, reading charts, hitting share buttons to disseminate best-practices advice. But the more information I have the more it feeds anxiety — the “what ifs” and “if onlys …”

To read the whole piece click here:

State of Mind/State of Being

MY ESSAY — in words and pictures —  about what it means to be a Californian is now up at Boom California.

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At the edge of it

I have been thinking more and more of late about how being both  an inheritor and a native of a place,  shapes the way you see and move through territory as well as how you  understand your place within it.

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Keepsakes and Souvenirs

I want to thank especially my former SF roommate, Shelley,  for spending endless hours with me  roaming around our old spaces and chasing vanished addresses in the Bay Area. I can do that for hours and hours.  I do a fair amount of this roaming on my own when I’m here in Los Angeles but it was great to have a second set of eyes and someone with whom to bounce ideas back and forth.

California, I do love you, but I have to wonder sometimes if you’re moving faster than I am.

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Boom Winter Issue 2016

All images by Lynell George

hearing/seeing the familiar

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I WANTED to add a couple of images to the Little Tokyo set just so that I could link to the walking public art tour. These images are from 2nd Street and Central Avenue, just up the street from the Japanese American National Museum. But what I always try to make time for is a chance to “read” the sidewalk, the chronology of nesting history of this place. The hotel shot from Sunday gives you a sense of the motion and feel of the street, the sidewalk, tells the history.

Click here and you’ll find a Community Redevelopment Agency with a walking tour outlining Little Tokyo’s layered history, told elegantly through various media — sculpture, in-laid photo-collage, etched into the sidewalk quotes and map-style legends..

Was nice to have a brief little window of time to walk back through it. I wish there were more spots in Los Angeles where the streets themselves were still able to tell their stories, if only small pieces of it.

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familiar