Farmers and Hipsters

Seafood Stand at the Old Farmers’ Market

Originally, there was the Original Farmers’ Market at Third and Fairfax. Even on the hottest days, it is a cool, shaded place with dozens of good restaurants and interesting stores. Naturally, this being Los Angeles, the real estate developers couldn’t leave well enough alone. Adjacent to the old market sprang up The Grove, consisting primarily of chains oriented toward young hipsters.

In the original market, I can take a book or Kindle and sit down for hours reading without being bothered. Oh, I buy lunch there, and maybe have a cup of tea when I arrive—and maybe even some snacks to take home.

At The Grove, there is no place to sit and read. After all, hipsters don’t read. It’s just not cool enough.

Hipster Duds at The Grove (Yawn!)

Fortunately, the presence of The Grove has not killed the Original Farmers’ Market. It’s still a major tourist attraction. So is The Grove, for that matter. Both are full of people taking selfies. I think that if The Grove swallowed the old market, people would protest loud and long. Also, I have a sneaking feeling that The Grove may require several re-designs as the new hipsters replace the old. The Farmers’ Market, on the other hand, should be preserved exactly as it is.

Today at the market, I finished reading the first volume of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter and then started in with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Plus I had two great vegetarian tacos at The Lotería, one with nopalitos (marinated prickly pear cactus) and potatoes with poblano chiles. With it, I had a delicious watermelon agua fresca.

 

America: Going Down the Drain?

The Vegas Strip

Somehow, over the years, something happened to the United States and its people. In 1945—the year I was born—we were one of the few countries involved in the Second World War that were not in ruins. We were on top of the heap. The hardworking people who struggled through the Great Depression and helped restore Western Europe after the Nazi onslaught, were suddenly guilty of hubris. We thought we were really something, that our way of life was the only way to go. We were the City on the Hill, and everyplace else was a steaming sh*thole.

Nemesis struck quickly and often. Korea. The Bay of Pigs. Viet Nam. Iraq. Afghanistan. Panama. Grenada. Al Qaida. ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And that was just the military!

We still thought we were really something. We got into deep debt, figuring that we had it coming to us. We stopped saving money for a rainy day. There was always Vegas, the Lottery, or the Horses.

We built fancy new things, never figuring that we would have to maintain and repair them somewhere along the line. The streets of Southern California are full of potholes, ringed by K-Rails, and bumpy with steel plates.

Americans drove these mean streets in leased luxury automobiles they really couldn’t afford. The more they paid, the more they assumed they could do anything they wanted: They were the privileged class with their Lexuses, Bentleys, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, Infinitis, and Range Rovers.

These same Americans elected a President like them, a privileged real estate developer who made the Whites into the New Aryans.

Will I live to see American feel a twinge of humility? Or will we continue to swirl around the drain until we go down it?

 

 

Looking South to Guatemala

Temple I at Tikal in the Petén

It’s time to resume visiting Mayan ruins, after a hiatus of twenty-five years. It was in 1992 that I went to Yucatán with Martine and several friends from work. For years I had wanted to see the ruins in Guatemala, but there was something like a civil war going on under the dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt, whose “Evangelical” regime was slaughtering the Mayans. For most of the 1980s, the U.S. State Department recommended that Americans stay out of Guatemala.

Later this year, I hope to visit the ruins of Tikal and Quiriguá in Guatemala and hop over the border into Honduras to see the ruins of Copán. Half the trip will be devoted to ruins, and the other half to visiting picturesque Highland Mayan towns like Antigua, Huehuetenango, Chichicastenango, and Panajachel. It would be nice if I could talk someone into accompanying me, but even at my advanced age, I am too adventurous for most of my friends.

I am starting my planning early, because I have a lot of reading to do before the rainy season ends in Central America.

 

Old Man Crazy About Fish Tacos

Is It Now My Favorite Meal? Could Be….

My first acquaintance with fish tacos was in Yucatán in 1975. I tasted not only regular fish tacos, but also tacos with pan de cazón, or shark. I liked it then, but over the decades the taste has begun to grow on me. There’s something about grilled fish with raw shredded cabbage, a squeeze of lime, and even avocado slices that is capable of sending me into transports of ecstasy.

Today, Martine and I went to Gilbert’s El Indio Mexican Restaurant in Santa Monica. I had heard they had good tacos, but their fish tacos, which I tried for the first time today, were nothing less than superb. Each was wrapped in two warm corn tortillas and served with wedges of lime and pico de gallo.

In Southern California, there are fish taco chains, such as Wahoo’s, but I care not for their product. Maybe because they slather on some white sauce that tastes like sugared mayonnaise. No, I want to control the flavor of my fish taco, and do not want any weird sauces to wreck my flavoring the taco as I wish.

I have lived in Los Angeles now for upwards of half a century, and I find that I like the cuisine of Southern California, which is really Mexican. I love pork tamales with hot sauce, salads with marinated nopalitos (prickly pear cactus pads), and aguas frescas made with tunas (cactus fruit, not fish). I love hot chiles, when Martine lets me cook with them (they irritate her eyes). Freshly heated corn tortillas are still magical to me.

Although I was raised as a Hungarian—and I still like Hungarian food, when I can find it—I must have been kidnapped by Mexican bandidos when I got off the train at Union Station in 1966.

By the way, the first taco I ever ate was at the Mexican Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair in 1965.

 

The City in Woodcuts

The Early 20th Century City in All Its Glory

For some reason, I had always thought that Frans Masereel (1889-1972) was German, because his subject matter seemed to coincide so exactly with German Expressionism’s view of the city, usually Berlin. Actually, he was Flemish, and although he spent time in Germany, he also spent time in France and Belgium. I know him primarily for two wordless graphic novels composed entirely of woodcuts: Passionate Journey (1919) and The City (1925). I have both in my book collection.

I wonder if these woodcut books were created to appeal to those who couldn’t read. In any case, I admire them for their view of life in the city circa 1920.

Symbolic Image of Loneliness in the City

Both wordless novels are (or at least have been) available in reasonably priced paperback editions from Dover Publications.

I have always liked woodcuts as a medium of artistic expression. Masereel is able to convey a story and an overwhelming feeling of being crushed by the multitudes in modern urban life.

Busy Restaurant

After Masereel, the American Lynd Ward (1905-1985) carried on the medium of the wordless novel. There is a two-volume collection of his graphic novels available from Library of America.

 

Los Angeles Place Names

The Dining Room of the Rancho Dominguez Adobe

History in Southern California has a decidedly Spanish flavor. By the time that American settlers began to trickle into the Mexican Province of Alta California, most of the agricultural land had been surveyed and distributed among over a hundred grantees. Their names today—not coincidentally—are place names across the land. In Los Angeles County, there are grants named San Pedro, Los Nietos, San Rafael, Los Feliz, Las Virgenes, Topanga Malibu Sequit, Palos Verdes, San Antonio, Rincon de los Bueyes, Las Cienegas, La Brea, Rosa Castilla, San Pascual, Santa Gertrudes, Paso de Bartolo, San José, Sausal Redondo, La Ballona, San Vicente y Santa Monica, Boca de Santa Monica, Tujunga, Los Nogales, Azusa de Duarte, La Puente, La Cañada, San Jose de Buenos Ayres, Cahuenga, Aguaje de Centinela, and others.

Now take a detailed map of Los Angeles, and you will see these same names replicated as names of streets, communities, hills, and waterways. The road that winds around the UCLA campus is called Buenos Ayres. There are Verduga Hills in the valley, around which snake an endless number of streets with Verdugo in their names. If I were to take a bus downtown, I would go on or past streets names Santa Monica, Centinela, La Cienega, San Vicente, and La Brea—all within ten miles.

A Map of Spanish Land Grants in Los Angeles County

Scattered throughout the county are the various adobes, or what remains of the grantees’ ranchos and haciendas. I have visited the Centinela and Dominguez adobes, and there are others I’d like to see. They are usually staffed by enthusiastic volunteers and stocked with furniture of the period. The oldest house in the City of Los Angeles is the Avila Adobe, which belonged to an early alcalde and is part of the Olvera Street tourist complex.

By the way, let’s call the city by its founding name: El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula. That translates to the town of our Lady Queen of the Angeles of Porciúncula. (Curiously, one place name that’s widely missing in L.A. is Porciûncula—too long, I guess.)

 

Southwest

A Place Onto Its Own

Until late in 1966, when I took a train from Cleveland to Los Angeles, I had never been farther west than Detroit. My only notion of the American Southwest came from watching Roadrunner cartoons. Then, early one morning late in December of that year, the El Capitan went through the Mojave Desert. It was d-r-y, yet there were little puddles beside the track that were frozen over. It was the beginning of my adjustment.

More than half a century later, I am still adjusting. Where back East, rain was a frequent occurrence, here it was rare, though occasionally tumultuous. In our last rain, some 17 people in Santa Barbara County were buried in mudslides when a heavy rain hit an area that had been affected by the Thomas Fire.

If you have never been “Out West,” you won’t get the picture over a short weekend. There is an element of time in the deserts of this Earth that has to be experienced. It’s not like Woody Allen breezing into town and complaining about mashed yeast and the legality of making right turns at stoplights. Experiencing L.A. will probably involve some discomfort. This ain’t no Paradise, nor yet is it Valhalla.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

What helps is to travel around the Southwest to see the variety of strange scenery, from the Grand Canyon to many of the other National Parks—one vastly different from the other.

After all these years, I’m just getting started on the road to understanding what life here is all about.