Sunday, February 19, 2017

Architectural Class Divide: The Changing Nature of LA

When I moved in three years ago, my block contained mostly single-family homes. I loved the bedroom-community feeling of my street, tucked inside dense east Hollywood. My neighbors on either side came over and introduced themselves. The woman across the street brought me some homemade brownies. At night, my neighborhood, despite being just one block removed from two major streets, was remarkably quiet. I could sit in my little backyard and hear nothing but crickets and a breeze through the trees.

Old view from the south.

Old view from the north.

Last year, a developer bought two large craftsman homes on the west side of my block, tore them out and erected double four-plex condo complexes (eight units each) in their place. The atmosphere of my street changed significantly. The sunset used to stretch across the entire west view of the sky, uninterrupted save for the tall cypress in the middle of the block. Now, the complexes cut the sunset off midway across. As I no longer know everyone on my street, I'm less likely to walk outside in my pajamas and chat up my neighbor. Not only are there more cars on my street, due to more residents, but the developments actually removed two street spaces, to make way for wider driveways.

New view from the north, condos on the right.


Though my block had become more urbanized in the short time I've lived here, one block, directly to the west, remained untouched by development. The street, with its nearly matching craftsmans, was so perfect that movies and TV shows regularly shot there, for the post-war, cookie-cutter character.

Each home was well-maintained, their lawns always neatly mowed, flower gardens nicely designed and cared for.  The owners seemed to take great pride not just in their own homes, but in the curbside appeal of their whole block.

View of the perfect street.
On Friday afternoon, as I was driving home, I slammed on my brakes. Every single-family home on the east side of that street has been bulldozed. Their large lots now stand primed for one mega condominium complex.

The perfect street no more.
I hoped the owners of those homes received enormous amounts of money from the developer who must have bought them out.

I spoke with a man who lives directly across the street from the new construction zone.  He said he heard the impending condominium complex would have nearly a hundred units. He bought his house 20 years ago for $79,000. The homeowners who sold their properties told him they received $700,000 each. Apparently, the sum was enough to make them jump.  But I can't shake the question: at what expense?

Before







After



With an ever-growing population, access to housing is an ever-present problem in Los Angeles. A single-family home can only house so many people.

As a city person, I'm not opposed to urban development. In fact, I prefer living in dense areas. But I also love LA's unique juxtaposition of urban and suburban (sometimes even rural, like with the old sheds and stables hidden inside the patchwork of Echo Park).

And of course, I loved my little, traditional suburban neighborhood in urban Hollywood. Soon, I fear all of Hollywood will be walled with mega housing complexes, while the traditional neighborhoods will only be found in affluent areas: Hancock Park, the Hollywood Hills.



Developers are, whether they know it or not, creating a distinct, architectural class divide in Los Angeles.


Fortunately (or not) for me, my property is too small for a developer to build upon. I know, because the real estate agent handling the sale of the complexes across the street told me so. Then he handed me his card and said, "call me if you decide to move."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The City Exposed: Western and Fountain on Foot

The distance from my home in East Hollywood to Malo in Silverlake, where I had dinner plans on Saturday night, is 2.6 miles. Too far to drive, by LA standards. But by walkable-city standards? Reasonable. So, I walked.

I haven't walked Los Angeles – I mean, really meandered, or, flaneured, to use the pompous term preferred by literature enthusiasts* – in longer than I can remember. At most, I walk to the market on my street corner, or from my car to, a few feet away, whatever destination I've pre-chosen.

A full-moon, significant for some sort of astrological event, according to my friends who know about such things, illuminated the streets.

Can you tell which light is the moon?



From a car window, the establishments of Western Avenue are almost unrecognizable as anything but a jumble of poorly-designed strip malls.

But on foot they loom, vibrating with detail and color.

 The flow of freeway traffic, observed on-foot from an overpass, is LA's version of The Seine.

A family street-food cart, serving arepas, tamales and pupusas.





*Flâneur (pronounced: [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The City Escaped: Skiing Utah


 I'm not just from Utah, I am of Utah. Utah is more than my home; it is my heart and hearth. I carry it in my blood, my skin, and my mind. Though I haven't lived there full-time in twenty years, I'm proud and grateful that my family still does. I can escape to its mountains whenever I need, which, the longer I'm gone, is more and more often.

During winter, I ache for snow. I need to see it out the windows, casting my indoor comfort into a warm perspective, as well as to be in it, gliding on it, falling into it.

I woke up on morning with an itch for a snowy mountain. Living in Los Angeles, I could hop in my car and drive to Big Bear Mountain (and I might, before winter is up). But, a two hour drive to a mountain with a peak base snow depth of 60 inches, versus a 1.5 hour flight to a mountain (Brighton Resort) with a peak base snow depth of 117 inches – the choice was clear.

So, I took booked a last-minute flight, mere hours away, with the sole purpose of skiing Utah.

I threw a few days' worth of clothes into my new Chariot Titanic hardcase.




It looks small, and it is, but it's roomier than you think – it can easily fit a pair of size 8 snowboard boots.


Right: I'm learning to snowboard. I've been skiing for 25 years, but I've now spent five full days over the past two years on a snowboard.


The transition has not been easy. On my last day boarding, just a few days ago, I finally figured out how to turn heel-side to toe-side. The breakthrough felt mountain-shaking.

However, I don't yet know if I'm regular-footed or goofy-footed. That is, do I lead with my left foot or my right foot? The few times I've surfed, I go goofy. When someone pushes me unexpectedly, I catch myself with my right foot (that's goofy). But, I'm pretty comfortable boarding with my left foot forward. An instructor with whom I took a lesson last year insisted I was regular.

Story of my life. I'm regular! I'm goofy. I'm regular. I'm goofy! I want to be accepted but I feel like an outcast. Some talent agents think I'm too average, others say I have too much quirk. I live in Los Angeles, but I keep one foot in Utah. Let's just say I'm two-footed.


Chariot Travelware Titanic Hardcase  ||  Barefoot Eco Outfitters Cabin Life Tee


  


Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Razzies: The Worst (Best) Award Show in Hollywood


The night before the Academy Awards in Hollywood, the historic Palace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles opened its doors to an audience of no-names and non-celebrities to award Hollywood’s worst with the not-so-coveted Razzie Award.

The audience was eclectic, some dressed in typical evening attire, others in ironic costume like frilly prom dresses and ridiculous patterned jackets. They lined up under the glittering marquis to take selfies at a step-and-repeat backdrop along a flimsy red “carpet” of crepe paper that quickly became torn and soiled. A woman in a multi-layered, bulbous pink prom dress and a blonde starlet wig posed on the red carpet with her date who wore a tux. “We thought we’d been invited to the Oscars, but we wound up at this fuckhole,” she told me. Her date said her name was Crystal Terrace, and she was nobody. “What the hell are we doing here? Look,” Crystal said, pointing at people in the entrance line, “that guy’s in a velvet coat and he has gauges. That guy’s sunburned. That girl’s hair looks like Top Ramen.” I asked her if she was an actor. “No, and I hate actors,” she said. Two blonde, overly-tanned women stepped onto the red carpet, wearing loud, skin-tight floral-print dresses a la the 1990s. Crystal Terrace grunted and moved away.

In the lobby, a small crowd swarmed around the concessions table. “Where’s the alchohol?” someone asked. Water was the only beverage on hand, and the snack offerings were meager: Karamel Pop, coffee candy, Mary Janes, and beer nuts. 

I took a seat in the balcony, with the other press. A man dressed in head-to-toe khaki, like a safari guide, set up a camera on a tri-pod. “Wow, you really dressed up. I guess I didn’t wear the right thing,” he said, observing my sequin dress, sparkle tights and gold heels. I told him I had a cocktail party to attend afterward. “Oh, good. I thought, ‘she’s clearly never been to this before — it’s not that big of a deal,” he said. I laughed. I didn’t let on that I did not, in fact, have a cocktail party to go to; I’d been excited about the event, and dressed up in full earnest. 

The show was scheduled to start at 8:00pm, but the stage remained empty and the lights did not dim until 8:30. At 8:33, audio from a backstage microphone drifted into the auditorium, delivering a private conversation from performers, unaware their sound had been turned on. They talked about the temperature, the show’s start time, their costumes. At 8:35, two presenters took to the stage, humming the tune of the Star Wars theme on kazoos while the history of the Razzie Awards scrolled behind them in yellow lettering, like the movie’s iconic opening. Then, the curtain raised and a woman came out singing a rendition of Adele’s “Hello,” rewritten with new lyrics. “I won an Oscar although nobody is quite sure why,” she belted, and then a man in a suit joined her in a duet. He stripped down to leather dominatrix-esque undies and knee-high stilletos — a reference to Shades of Grey — and “Will Smith” joined with a rap, ensuring the audience that “if you make a bad movie we can make one worse.” The opening number, staged by Sacred Fools Theatre Company, was hilarious, tightly rehearsed and performed. The audience responded with uproarious applause. Expectations for the rest of the show were high, but it’d all be downhill from here.

Matt Valle in stilettos and other Sacred Fools in the opening number.


The curtain dropped and a man’s voice inquired over the speakers, “is there an experienced award host in the house?” A medley of “me, me, me’s” chimed from the audience, and a man shouted, “I’m not experienced, but I can do it.” He walked onto the stage, and the show had officially begun.
For each nominee, the presenters read bad reviews. “Between Kevin James and a meatball parmigiana for president, I'd say the sandwich is more plausible,” Kyle Smith wrote in the NY Post about James’ performance in Pixels. “Tatum comes off better than Redmayne’s 14,000-year-old cross between Donald Trump and Sweeney Todd,” NY Post Lou Lumenick wrote, also in the NY Post, about Redmayne’s work in Jupiter Ascending. 

Between award announcements, “previews” of each worst film nominee played, in the form of sloppy, too-long, tongue-in-cheek live-action stagings, that reimagined the films as even worse than they actually were. For The Fantastic 4, announced as “an expansive pilot for a TV show that will never get picked up,” the film stood on trial in Judge Judy’s court where it was determined guilty of being terrible. Sound and production issues plagued the performances - mics dropped out, others crackled, the curtain didn’t raise on time, video queues didn’t show up. As two presenters announced the nominees for Worst Supporting Actress, pictures of the actresses appeared on screen behind them - in completely the wrong order. 

A performer took the stage with a microphone, preparing to sing, when the wrong song blasted over the speakers. “Nope. That’s not right.” she said. Two other women joined her, and they launched into a Dream Girls-style song imploring the audience to please stay for the second half. At intermission, audience members wondered if the production quality was intentional. “Are they trying to be so bad?” someone asked his friend. “Yeah, I think so. I mean, you could ask the same about the movies,” he responded.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thank Gods, We're Getting a New Beverly Center

Photo by John Lopez







What excellent news: The Beverly Center, aka one of LA's worst design nightmares, is getting a revamp.

The most aggravating aspect of the current Beverly Center is its lack of pedestrian access. The shopping mall sits on the upper three levels of the eight-story building. A dismal, drop-ceilinged Macy's Men's Store occupies part of the first level, while levels two through five are parking lots. I know from experience that getting in to the shopping mall on foot is an exercise in anger management.

The second most aggravating aspect of The Beverly Center is its lack of sunlight. A shopping mall set in the California sky, it has no windows. The view from up there must be lovely, but how would you know. The structure is so enclosed, you have no idea you're eight stories above Beverly Hills. Hashtag missedopportunity. You may as well be in any nondescript mall in middle America.

Thankfully, Taubman Centers, the company that owns the massive disappointment announced they will unveil a renovation of the Beverly Center on March 7, according to Curbed LA. No news yet on design plans, spearheaded by ltalian firm Studio Fuksas, but fingers crossed, it'll involve some mixed-use, urban development and open space. Oh, and sunlight. Because, after all, this is L.A.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alone in Bogotá


Why am I alone in Bogotá? I keep asking myself.

In November, I spent a week in Cartagena and Mompox, as part of a journalism fellowship. I intended to travel solo for a week thereafter, but flew home to Los Angeles in a hurry, to address some personal . . . stuff (there's no better word). A week later, I regretted abandoning my original plan. Out of curiosity, I searched roundtrip flights to Bogotá, and found one that was remarkably inexpensive. I booked it. And here I am.

I do not speak Spanish. For this reason, not only am I alone in Bogotá, I am silent in Bogotá. I could be on a spiritual retreat or a vision quest. But, no, I am just traveling. Quietly, and alone. In the last two days, I have spoken maybe a dozen words: buenas, cafe, por favor, uno arepa con queso, agua sin gas, la cuenta, gracias.

Yesterday, as I got dressed for my first full day, I realized I had forgotten to pack my contacts. The thought of having to wear my glasses all week made me want to bail on the whole trip again. After beginning my day at a cafe with a tinto (sort of an espresso) and a pan de queso, I found a busy boulevard lined with - what luck - optometry shops. I stopped in one and showed the woman at the counter an old 1-800-CONTACTS email on my iPhone. Without more than two words exchanged in the same language (which were  and gracias), I purchased two packs of contacts.

Pan de queso y tinto


The view from inside the optometry shop.
 I then walked to the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, a large food market I'd read about. Along the 1.5 kilometer walk, I realized I probably should've taken a cab. The route took me through a homeless encampment along a median lined with spare tires and a ramshackle neighborhood where I saw dozens of prostitutes out in broad daylight, wearing either vinyl hot pants and stiletto boots, or nothing but fishnet body stockings so tight that their flesh bubbled through the netting. 

Median of tires on Calle 19. The homeless encampment lines the brick wall.
The prostitutes wander all surrounding streets. I dared not take a picture of them.
At the market, I tried Guanabana, a large fruit that resembles a Yoshi egg, with slimy white meat that tastes like a cross between pineapple, banana and sugar cane.

Mercado de Paloquemao

Guanabana






























































Butchers With Pork






































From there, I walked two miles through an industrial area of factories and warehouses, up Calle 13, a busy boulevard of electronic shops, lighting shops and cell phone stores. Piles of garbage dotted every corner, and people tossed their litter into the streets. Along Calle 13, homeless men tore open bulging black trash bags and spread the contents out into long layers in the gutter, picking through for food and clothing. Students and businessmen and women stepped around them.

Calle 13


On my way to Plaza De Bolivar, I navigated through a chaotic street market, so crowded that for several blocks my body was not out of contact with someone else's - feet, elbows, knees, hips all vying for a bit of space. Vendors sold Christmas lights, stuffed animals, plastic housewares, cheap bras and lingerie. Men shoved carts of candies and cigarettes through the oncoming crowd of shoppers and other peddlers. When I finally pushed my way onto Carrera 8, I was surprised by the relative serenity at Plaza de Bolívar. Children fed flocks of pigeons with seed purchased from individual sellers, and groups of tourists from all over the world posed awkwardly for selfies. I did the same, and then a man approached me and started shining my boots. I kicked him off until he said "sólo un mil."  For $1,000 pesos, about 35 cents, I let him shine my boots.



The Man Who Shined My Boots


A stroll through La Candelaria, the Colonial district, with its colorful, hilly streets and lively bars and restaurants, added a much-welcomed layer of charm to my day. I then wandered over to La Macarena, an equally charming neighborhood, where I settled in for a few beers at Bogotá Beer Company, and dinner at a kitschy restaurant called La Jugueteria. Juguetes are toys, and this restaurant was full of them. An awkward place to dine alone, among families and birthday parties. Strings of lights illuminating a hallway of tchotchkes through an arched doorway enticed me - of course I found myself inside, eating a steak and drinking a mojito and wondering, again, what am I doing here.

La Jugueteria


My salt shaker seemed to mock me.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Automne en Juillet

July in Paris has decided to skip to autumn. 62 degrees the other day, and rain for a straight week. I packed for summer. Skirts, sundresses, flip flops. I did not pack warm jackets, or pants. Or closed-toe, non-porous shoes that can be worn in the rain. For three days, I wore my sparkly gold Toms shoes. They became so water-logged that putting them on in the morning felt like enbalming my feet in little mushy bogs, and as I shivered continuously, day after day, my spirit sunk down into them.

 Last weekend, just as the rains hit, I went walking. I headed east of Bastille, away from the areas with which I'm already familiar. I heard music and thumping, and followed it. At La Place de la Nation, I came upon a parade. Caribbean dancers in elaborately scanty costumes gyrated down the street while standers-by whooped and hollered and danced among themselves. It was Le Carnaval Tropical. A fierce wind ripped rain out of the sky, but neither the dancers nor the crowd would be interrupted. I danced too, to keep warm.



Later, I wandered back to Bastille, and from there along the Seine, making my way over to Les Berges de Seine, a 2.3 kilometer portion of the quai between Musee D'Orsay and Pont D'Alma that has been renovated into a design-focused esplanade, with art installations, bars, restaurants, children's playgrounds, and sustainable landscaping. I knew that the Paris Cinema festival was having a kick-off event of what they called "cine-karaoke" at the end of les berges. I met up with a few classmates, and we settled in, with wine and cheese, among the audience. I did not know that "karaoke" meant "sing-along." Musical movie scenes played on a giant screen, while everyone sung along. The vast majority of the audience was French (we were the only Americans I noticed), and they knew the words to all of the scenes, some from famous American movies like Moulin Rouge and West Side Story, as well as to the French films that I'd never heard of, and some bizarre, obscure American ones, like an incredibly weird musical war movie from, I'd guess, the 1970s. The cypress trees on the right bank sparkled with white lights while the Eiffel Tower loomed above us on the left. I noticed that, within the crowd, I was perfectly warm.






The rains became stronger and colder the next day and after getting completely soaked (I ducked into le Musée des Arts et Métiers when my parapluie ceased being of any protection), I knew I'd have to supplement my poorly-planned wardrobe. Luckily, the month of July in Paris is Les Soldes. Sales are state-regulated in France and only take place twice a year, once in July, and again in late December. Inventory at most stores is marked down over 50%, and up to 80%. Now armed with a pair of jeans, a sweater, a jacket, and a pair of rain boots, I am warm, and much, much less frustrated. I don't need the weather to be beautiful; I just need to be comfortable. But I don't enjoy shopping when I travel. There are millions of things I'd rather do with my time than wander around a department store. All of my finds were serendipitous, my needs presenting themselves to me as I wandered around the city. A sign in a window on Rue du Rivoli read "les jeans, -70%," so I ran in and 12 euros later had warmed my legs. A musty vintage store at Rue Ferdinand Duval had a bin of clothing for 5 euros, and another for 10 euros. From one bin I unearthed a military jacket that fit me perfectly, magically, and from the other, a gorgeous peplum fair-isles sweater. A pair of black rain boots - handsome, sleek and structured, - gleamed in a window on Rue des Francs Bourgeois, and my soggy feet cried out for them. I said no until I saw the little tag with an original price of 75 euros crossed out, and 20 euros written next to it. Oui, oui, d'accord! And with that, my shopping was done, my body warm, and my spirit risen.