Somewhere To Go

Chewy the Bulldog at the Automobile Driving Museum

The coronavirus outbreak has affected me mostly in two ways:

  1. There has been no place to go. We could take walks to nowhere, of course, but that palls quickly.
  2. We haven’t been able to see our friends in person.

In the last two weeks or so, some destinations have become available. This weekend, we availed ourselves of two of them. Yesterday, we went to the Cruise-In show at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo. Martine has become particularly enamored of the museum, so much so that she donated $300.00 to them to help them out of the plaguey times.

There, we met the bulldog Chewy (picture above), who showed himself to be a real cool customer. Also, my favorite caterer, the Taco Taxi, was there with their super-great Mexican street tacos.

Neon Signs from the SFV Yesteryear

Today we showed up at the Valley Relics Museum in Lake Balboa to see their displays of pop culture hearkening back to the glory days of the San Fernando Valley back in the 1960s and 1970s. Most impressive was a large warehouse (above) filled with neon and other signs of businesses that are no longer. Back around 1970, I used to go to Pioneer Take-Out on Westwood Boulevard near Pico for a bucket of their chicken livers. That’s not an item that can be found at most chicken restaurants.

We had visited the museum once before, but didn’t enjoy it as much because it isn’t air conditioned, and in the Valley the heat can be formidable. Fortunately, today was on the cool side; and we were comfortable.

Manny, Moe and Jack from the Pep Boys

We ended by driving to a late lunch at Lancers Restaurant in Burbank. It’s one of Martine’s favorite sources of American coffee shoppe chow.

 

Fort Tejon

Reconstructed Enlisted Men’s Barracks at Fort Tejon

Near the top of the Grapevine along Interstate 5 is an old fort constructed soon after California joined the Union. Beginning in 1854, the fort was occupied by the U.S. 1st Dragoons to protect Southern California from the North and vice versa. Martine and I had been there a couple times before, but we were starved for some sort of destination. Although the Fort Tejon State Historical Park was open, all the buildings and their exhibits were closed in the interest of social distancing. Semi-open as it was, it was still interesting to wander around the premises looking at the reconstructed buildings.

First we drove to the mountain community of Frazier Park on the route to Mount Piños, at 8,847 feet (2,697 meters) the tallest mountain in nearby Ventura County. There, we ate at a little Mexican restaurant before doubling back to the I-5.

Entrance to Fort Tejon

There were never any real battles fought at Tejon—other than sham affairs involving re-enactors—and, what is more, as soon as Fort Sumter was fired upon, the 1st Dragoons were all shipped east, to be replaced by three companies of the 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry. There was some secessionist feeling in Southern California, but there was the staunchly Union Drum Barracks in Wilmington to keep Los Angeles in line. By September 1864, the Fort was decommissioned.

It was blisteringly hot at the Fort, despite the fact that we were a 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) altitude. The temperature was around 90° Fahrenheit (32° Celsius), but dropped down considerably as we returned to the Coast with its “June Gloom” marine layer.

The Buildings at Fort Tejon Looked to Be Made with Adobe Bricks

Most of the reconstructed buildings at Fort Tejon looked very authentic, being made with adobe bricks.

It was nice once again to have places to go, even with all the coronavirus restrictions in place.

Unexpected Angels

Young Volunteers Removing Graffiti

In general, I am not one to praise the younger generation—probably because they have adopted too many aspects of our culture which I find spurious, including smart phones, e-scooters, and in fact the whole gig economy.

Imagine my surprise when I found many young men and women cleaning up the mess in Santa Monica after the looters and other thugs had their way last Sunday. Okay, I guess I was a little tough on them, but after all they shouldn’t ought to have have stepped on my lawn.

More Graffiti Cleanup

I have always loved the look of Santa Monica. In 1966, when I moved into an apartment on Sunset Boulevard near Barrington Avenue, the first trip I took on my own was by bus to Santa Monica and its beach. After having been raised in grungy Cleveland with its dirty red brick, I saw Santa Monica as a pretty town at the edge of the sea. In Cleveland, we had no beach to speak of along the shores of poor, polluted Lake Erie. For many years, I lived in Santa Monica, until I was squeezed out around 1979 when Proposition 13 was adopted by the voters of California. Still, I live within two and a half miles of the ocean and I like to walk there from time to time.

 

 

Plague Diary 6: Good News from My Dentist

Watching the News These Days Is Like the Dance of Death

There’s nothing like a spell of plague to make one doubt one’s sources of information. And mainly, I mean the news.

On Saturday, I bit into some fruit, only to have one of my dental crowns pop out. Inwardly, I cursed. Can the crown be glued on? Will a new super-expensive crown be necessary? Or is the underlying tooth rotten, requiring an implant? Fortunately, my dentist was able to see me today. It looks like I’ll need a new crown.

During our conversation, I learned a few things that seem to go against most of the news stories I’ve been seeing lately about the coronavirus. (And really, it seems that over 75% of the news is about just that.)

My dentist came in just for me, her office being closed for more routine dental procedures. So the atmosphere was more casual than usual. We started talking about the “plague” that is gobbling up all the news services. She expected that she expected that the virus would be old news within a couple of weeks. All viruses have a life of somewhere around four to six days. The two weeks isolation described by the news services was because many people are infected by contact with multiple carriers of the virus.

It turns out that the UCLA Dental School, with which she is affiliated, will be re-opening within a couple of weeks. Why would they do that if there is any substantial danger to the dentists?

She re-iterated the usual advice about washing one’s hands, but added one very useful piece of information: Be sure to dry your hands. Viruses like a moist, warm environment.  Social distancing generally works. The main danger is being in close contact with someone who cynically does not believe in changing his or her lifestyle, which is a danger to the sick and elderly, who are most likely to die of the virus.

 

 

Plague Diary 4: The Empanadas Run

Our Local Empanada Take-Out Restaurant

Near the corner of Sawtelle and Venice is our local Argentinian take-out restaurant, called Empanadas Place. I have been to Argentina three times, and I find that Empanadas Place has tastier empanadas than the South American versions. I decided to pick up a bunch of them for Martine, myself, and my elderly Mexican neighbor Luis, who is particularly fond of the place.

So I drove down there and placed my order. The tables for the sit-down part of the restaurant were all in storage, except for one for people waiting for take-out. I had a nice chat with the owner, an Argentinian of Italian ancestry (like about 75% of all Argentinians). Because his business had always been heavily oriented toward take-out, his business did not seem to be suffering from the forced closure of all sit-down restaurants. Unlike most Americans, he did not see his business as a path to riches: He was quite happy to make a small living selling delicious empanadas to the residents of Culver City and West Los Angeles.

For myself, I got four items: an Arabe (lemon-flavored ground beef and onions), spicy beef with cheese, spinach, and potatoes with cheese. I ate two of them for lunch, saving the remainder for tomorrow. Luis was pleased with his empanadas. (I think I will try to do an occasional take-out run at least once a week for the duration of the plague.

A Selection of Goodies from Empanadas Place

In addition to the featured items, Empanadas Place also sells a selection of Argentinian groceries, such as yerba mate tea, dolce de leche, and cookies known as alfajores. You can also get sandwiches and salads, as well as a refreshing glass of iced yerba mate tea.

 

Plague Diary 1: Kárpátok

I Violate the Plague Laws Prescribing Social Distance

In the new environment of worldwide plague, I must carefully pick and choose what I can and cannot do. I started out with a major violation by attending a folk dance performance given by the Kárpátok Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble. It was well attended with several hundred audience members, many of whom within the six-foot danger zone of contagion.

Martine particularly loves the performances by Kárpátok, and so do I because I like to revel in my Hungarian background. Of late, I have used the Magyar language primarily to damn to hell cruise ship passengers in Mexico who try to use me as an information resource. At the United Magyar Ház in Los Angeles, where the concert was held, virtually everybody present could cuss me out more correctly and picturesquely than I can do. So I am on my best behavior.

The Kárpátok Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble is one of the best things about Los Angeles. Martine and I have been attending their events for upwards of ten years.

It is unlikely that there will be other plague law violations in the weeks to come, mostly because just about everything is being closed down. The supermarket shelves are being emptied by hoarders of food, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper. When I go shopping tomorrow, I will have to be careful about confronting hoarders: Particularly in Southern California, people who are the most guilty are also the most aggressively defensive about their deeds.

My postings here in the next few weeks will discuss how my life has changed as a result of living in a plague zone. I anticipate that my life will change in many ways over the next few weeks. I remain hopeful, however, because of the following reasons:

  • I have a personal library of several thousand volumes, including all the classics
  • My cable television configuration includes about a dozen movie channels
  • Plus I have hundreds of DVDs
  • One of my hobbies is cooking—useful when many restaurants are closing or cutting back
  • I make a point of maintaining frequent telephone contact with my old friends

The Crown Jewel

Overview of Uxmal Ruins Today

When John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood traveled in Mexico and Central America to visit Maya ruins, the only place where they went twice was Uxmal in Yucatán. Their description of the site appears in both of their books: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán.

In fact, there is something about the place which calls one back. I have now visited it a total of four times, usually staying overnight at the Hacienda Uxmal Hotel and spending extra time with what I consider to be the crown jewel of Maya architecture.Over the next few days, I intend to share with you why I feel this way.

Pretty Much the Same View in 1839 as Drawn by Catherwood

On my first visit, I went on a group tour under the auspices of Turistica Yucateca in Mérida. As the tour van pulled up within sight of the Templo del Adivino, also known as the Pyramid of the Magician, I noted that he crossed himself twice. The Templo del Adivino is shown below in greater detail:

The Templo del Adivino, or Pyramid of the Magician

On previous visits, tourists were allowed to climb the pyramids, and a chain stretched from the base to the top of the Templo del Adivino to help with this. As you can see for yourself, the stairs are steep, with higher than usual risers and narrow treads. When some tourists fell to their deaths from the heights of the pyramid, INAH (the national Institute of Anthropology and History, which controls the archeological zones) began to forbid climbing the ruins. Because “boys will be boys,” some lesser and more easily scalable ruins still allow climbers—but only if the ruins are not as important as the Templo del Adivino or the Castillo at Chichen Itza.

Next: The so-called nunnery quadrangle.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean

Statue of Pirate on a Bench in Campeche

It was by no means one of the gold and silver ports used by the Spanish treasure fleets (those were in what is today Panama), but the city of Campeche, Mexico, was the main port of Yucatán from the 17th through the beginning of the 19th centuries. The city’s wealth came primarily from a plant used for dyeing textiles called palo de Campeche, salt from evaporation, and shipbuilding. The result was that the city was frequently attacked by pirates.

The most prominent of these were the Dutchman Laurens de Graaf, called Lorencillo, and Jean David Nau, called El Olonés. Of the latter, it was said:

He committed innumerable and famous stumbling against the Spanish viceroyalty of the mainland. In a terrible storm, he lost his ship on the coast of Campeche. All the men were saved, but, arriving on land, the Spanish persecuted them by killing most of them, and also hurting the Olonés. Not knowing this how to escape, he thought about saving his life through a ploy: he took several handfuls of sand and mixing it with the blood of his own wounds he smeared his face and other parts of his body. Then, hiding with great skill among the dead, he remained motionless until the Spaniards left the field of struggle. Since they were gone, he retired to the forest, sold his wounds and took care of them until heal and then headed to the City of Campeche perfectly disguised. In the city, he spoke with certain slaves to whom he promised freedom in case they obeyed him. They accepted their promises and stealing a canoe at night, threw themselves into the sea with the Olonés.

Surviving Fortifications in Campeche

Other pirates included Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Cornelius Jol, Portuguese Bartholemew, Jacobo Jackson, Michel de Grandmont, Henry Morgan, and finally Jean Lafitte, who helped Andrew Jackson win the 1815 Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

What the Spanish and the people of Campeche did was to fortify their city, surrounding the center with walls on all sides and putting separate fortifications on the north and south.

The Fortress of San Miguel, South of the City

With independence from Spain, the pirate menace eventually abated. But many of the walls (baluartes) that surrounded the city still exist and are walkable. You can also visit the two large fortresses that protect Campeche on either side.

 

The Russian Connection

Maya Glyphs—Interpreted Thanks to Two Russian Scholars

When I started my travels in Yucatán in 1975, only a handful of Maya glyphs had been deciphered. In fact, one prominent archeologist—J. Eric S. Thompson—was of the opinion that such glyphs as existed were primarily calendrical. Earlier archeologists had deciphered the vigesimal (base 20) numbering system of the Maya as well as the day glyphs for the two calendar systems. But the notion that the glyphs provided names and descriptions of events was considered as far-fetched.  It was Sir J. Eric S. Thompson who felt that ancient Maya was anti-phonetic.

It took two Russians to show that, yes, the Maya did have a history, and that the history was described on commemorative stelae at the various ruins.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff

First came Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985), born in Tomsk, who spent much of her professional life with Harvard University and its Peabody Museum. It was she who made a key discovery. According to Wikipedia:

Her greatest contribution was considered the breakthrough for Maya hieroglyphic decipherment in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While researching the chronology of changing styles of Maya sculpture, she discovered that the dates shown on the monumental stelae were actually historical, the birth, accession, and death dates for Maya rulers. Analyzing the pattern of dates and hieroglyphs, she was able to demonstrate a sequence of seven rulers who ruled over a span of two hundred years. Knowing the context of the inscriptions, Maya epigraphers were then able to decipher the hieroglyphs.

The next key person was one of her countrymen who had never even seen a Maya ruin first hand:

Yuri Knorozov

It was only after Thompson died in 1975 that the work of Yuri Knorozov came to the fore. During the height of the Cold War, he wrote a paper entitled “The Writing of the Maya Indians” (1963), followed by his own translations of many of the glyphs. His work opened the floodgates. New scholarly works on the Maya archeological sites come with dates, names, and even history.

If you are interested in the subject, I recommend you read Michael D. Coe’s Breaking the Maya Code, Third Edition (2012). The book is dedicated to Knorozov and his work.

 

In Tents City

Things Have Changed in L.A.—And Not for the Better

When I first arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966, I saw a bright, clean city that looked bran spanking new compared to the dirty brick of Cleveland. That image has now changed: The streets of L.A. are crowded with tents, scruffy looking men (and women), and their garbage which spreads far and wide around the tents in which they sleep.

I guess it is inevitable when rents go sky high in an area which has a mild climate with only a few days of rain and real cold during the year. Some of the homeless are people like me who have been squeezed out of their homes and would like nothing so much as to return to them. But, alas, most of L.A.’s homeless are the mentally ill and druggies of various stripes, including the alcoholic.

Typical Downtown Street Scene

The homeless have taken over sidewalks and what we used to call tree lawns back east. On her walks in our relatively expensive neighborhood, Martine has come across used syringes from heroin addicts. Across the street from my apartment is a tent city consisting of between eight and twelve tents. During the hot weather, when our windows are open, we can hear profanity-laced arguments and occasionally even fisticuffs as the homeless settle scores.

Note that I have been calling all these people “the homeless.” Actually, most of them are more accurately termed bums, similar to the “sturdy beggars” of Elizabethan England. Politicians typically have not a clue as to how to return Los Angeles to its glory days. Building housing units and forcing bums to obey rules like not fighting or drinking or taking drugs won’t work. The bums regard it as an infringement of their liberties.

Lurking in the Shadows of a Great City…


Frankly, I don’t think that the bum problem will last forever. At some point, the residents of L.A. will rise up and demand real action. Only, God knows what that action eventually will be.