Wandering Mindfully in DTLA

The Millenium Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square in Los Angeles

I am facing a change in my life relating to my relationship with Martine. It appears that, before long, we will not be together. The odd thing is that we still love each other: The reason for Martine’s desire to leave has more to do with how she feels about herself. There is a French expression bien dans sa peau: Feeling comfortable within one’s own skin. Ever since she got a pinched nerve in her back early in 2013, she has not felt well. Plus, she seems to just want to leave Los Angeles, which I cannot do at this time without quitting my job and running through my savings..

My first reaction was anger and sadness. The sadness is still there, but to make her feel even more depressed would be doing her an injustice. All I can do is hope she will discover that life with me is indeed preferable—even if it is in Los Angeles. My door will remain open for her.

How am I coping with this event? I will concentrate on my mindful meditation practice. I wandered around downtown LA (a.k.a. DTLA) after my meditation session at the Central Library. I ate lunch at the Bugis Street Brasserie at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square. The red awnings at the lower right of the above photo is where the restaurant is located.

Then I stopped in at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring, looking for more Teju Cole books. Apparently they sold out. Then I took the Dash D bus to Union Station and waited for the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #R10 to take me back home.

Home will be a different experience, but I am resolute about not poisoning the well.

 

Los Angeles de Meso-America

Mayan Dancers at El Pueblo de Los Angeles

I was looking at some old pictures I had taken near Olvera Street several years ago. There was a Meso-American dance troupe dancing by what passes in L.A. for the city’s zocalo. This was the center of Los Angeles when it was founded in 1781.  There are several 19th century museums, including the Chinese-American Museum and the old firehouse; there is an old Catholic church, Our Lady Queen of Angels; and, of course, there is Olvera Street with its restaurants and Mexican handicrafts.

What I like about the Pueblo is its seeming lack of self-consciousness. There are some scheduled events, such as the annual blessing of the animals by the Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles that takes place in April. But there is also a lot of spontaneity.

Walk across Alameda Street from the Pueblo, and you find yourself at Union Station, L.A. art deco railroad station, which has since been turned into a rail and bus transit hub. That’s where I first arrived in Los Angeles on the El Capitan in December 1966.

A block or two north, and you’re in Chinatown. Not far south is Little Tokyo, and a mile or two east begins the East Los Angeles barrio.

I find myself in love with the city’s endless variety.

 

Serendipity: Getting High on … Bananas?

How I Learned About Bananadine aka Mellow Yellow

It was the March 24, 1967 issue of the Los Angeles Free Press that taught me all about how to get high on bananas. You can see the cover of the issue in question illustrated above. Did I run to the nearest supermarket and buy up all the bananas in sight? No, I didn’t. It was just six months after my brain surgery to remove a chromophobe adenoma from the center of my head; and I was not about to go experimenting with psychedelic drugs. I was just finishing my first quarter as a graduate student at UCLA’s Film School. Although I loved the Free Press and looked for it religiously each week, I was both impressed and somewhat repelled by the whole hippie phenomenon.

What is this about getting high on bananas? Just read this excerpt from Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which reminded me of this news story that happened some half century ago:

Bigfoot had been driving around once a week to Kozmik Banana, a frozen-banana shop near the Gordita Beach pier, creeping in by way of the alley in back. It was a classic shakedown. Kevin the owner, instead of throwing away the banana peels, was cashing in on a hippie belief of the moment by converting them to a smoking product he called Yellow Haze. Specially trained crews of speed freaks, kept out of sight nearby in a deserted resort hotel about to be demolished, worked three shifts carefully scraping off the insides of the banana peels and obtaining, after oven-drying and pulverizing it, a powdery black substance they wrapped in plastic bags to sell to the deluded and desperate. Some who smoked it reported psychedelic journeys to other places and times. Others came down with horrible nose, throat, and lung symptoms that lasted for weeks. The belief in psychedelic bananas went on, however, gleefully promoted by underground papers which ran learned articles comparing diagrams of banana molecules to those of LSD and including alleged excerpts from Indonesian professional journals about native cults of the banana and so forth, and Kevin was raking in thousands.  Bigfoot saw no reason why law enforcement shouldn’t b cut in for a share of the proceeds.

So, as you see, however much I dearly loved the Freep, the whole thing was an early instance of fake news on the (far) left.

The Free Press Called it “Bananadine”

I remember that the Free Press even had a bookstore on Fairfax, specializing in subversive titles, but with enough interesting general literature available to whet my appetite. A big plus is that it was right across the street from Canter’s Deli, which was open all hours, making it a popular nosh stop for film addicts discussing the pictures they had just seen. Martine and I still go there from time to time for their corned beef, pastrami, and other delights.

“This Must Be Thursday”

The Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles

The entire quote is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” And that’s the way I felt when I was working full time in an accounting office. I never did get along very well with my boss (nobody could), so when he cut me back to two days a week, I saw that as an opportunity. I said, “Okay, I’ll work on Tuesdays and Fridays.” Those were days when our late tax manager worked, so my boss couldn’t use me as a highly unqualified tax manager, which he was not above doing.

One Thursday in June 2016, I took the Expo Line downtown and hung out at the Central Library on Fifth Street. Just by chance, I noticed that there was a regular Mindful Meditation session conducted by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), and I attended.  And I’ve been attending ever since. I read for a couple of hours in the Literature and Fiction Department on the top floor, and usually check out a couple of books. Then I go to Meeting Room A on the ground floor where the sessions are held.

In more ways than one, the Central Library has become a part of my life. I feel energized by these meditation sessions. Afterwards, I go for lunch either to the Grand Central Market on Hill Street, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, or Olvera Street. Then I take the Big Blue Bus R10 freeway flier back home.

So now I can say I get the hang of Thursdays. It’s one of my favorite days of the week. That leaves Mondays and Wednesdays for doctors’ appointments and miscellaneous explorations of this gigantic city of which I am becoming more of a part as time passes.

 

My Los Angeles

Tree on Ocean Avenue in Venice

I guess that by now I’m officially an Angeleno. It was late in December 1966 that I took a train to arrive at L.A.’s Union Station and was met by former neighbors from Cleveland, Ohio. It was the first time I had ever been west of Chicago, so all I saw was new to me. All that pastel stucco instead of the sooty red brick of Northeastern Ohio. The plants were all different. The climate was strange. Even the people were somewhat odd. Fortunately, I was rooming on Sunset Boulevard with a friend from Dartmouth College days, with whom I am still a close friend.

Mind you, I did not take to the place at once. For years, I thought of myself as an Easterner. It was only by slow degrees that the light of Southern California, with those beautiful sunsets over the Pacific, started to work a sea change in me. There were some things that repulsed me. Numero Uno: Earthquakes. The Sylmar quake of 1971 hurled me out of my bed and scared the stuffing out of me. Last night, while I was recording a Max Ophüls film—The Earrings of Madame de … (1953)—on videotape, I felt a sharp jolt. Even after all these years, I felt a moment of terror. Should I run for the bedroom hallway, where I would be safe from falling building parts? Should I just shrug my shoulders? I opted to go to bed.

Martine is even more nonchalant about temblors than I am—probably because she never felt one of the big ones, such as the ones in 1971 and 1994. Ah, well, she’ll learn!

I still don’t think much of L.A. drivers. They tend to be lazy about following the law, such as signalling lane changes and crashing red lights and stop signs. But then, it could be that way in most other big cities, too. I seem to remember not liking to drive in Miami, Calgary or Las Vegas either.

Some things I really like about Los Angeles are:

  • The food. California looks South (Latin America) and West (Asia) for its cuisine.
  • The politics. As a determined Trumpf-hater I feel in good company in this very Blue State.
  • The mountains. There are some mountains in Los Angeles County that are 10,000 feet high, a far cry flat flat Ohio.
  • The deserts. So we don’t get much rain, but the deserts of the Southwest are beautiful, so long as you don’t make the mistake of visiting them at the wrong time.
  • The coast. Driving along the Pacific can be gorgeous, especially in the early morning before the Beemer bozos get out of bed.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the weather. I’ve never liked really hot weather: And every year we get about 20 days of horrendously torrid weather. Fortunately, Martine and I live only two miles inland from the coast, so we can usually catch a few breezes, but not always.

L. A. Writers: Michael Connelly

Why Is It That So Many L. A. Writers Are Mystery Writers?

I read five of his novels before deciding that, yes, Michael Connelly is indeed an L. A. writer. It bothers me that so many of the writers I see as L. A. writers are into the mystery genre. That was true of Raymond Chandler, certainly, and also James Ellroy and Tyler Dilts. If I wanted to, and I may in the future, I could add Joseph Wambaugh and a handful of others.

Perhaps there’s something about Los Angeles itself that brings forth so many fictional investigations into the dark heart of the place. When one things of the noir genre, one could just as easily think of New York or Chicago or Miami or—for heaven’s sake—even my own home town, Cleveland, Ohio. But there is something about Los Angeles that is different. I think I put my finger on it when writing about the film version of The Big Sleep in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style: “Los Angeles adds a horizontal dimension to film noir. In place of the looming monoliths and endless urban alleyways of the Eastern cityscape, there is a physical and moral sprawl, a chain of suburbs full of legal and illegal activities linked by wide boulevards and expressways.”

The Concrete Blonde, which I have just finished reading, is about one (or possibly two?) murderers who prey on porno stars and prostitutes. Connelly’s homicide detective Harry (short for Heironymus) Bosch shoots one killer at the start of the novel, and winds up in a long civil suit for having killed an “innocent man” according to the widow and her attorney. And, when the killings continue, it looks as if Bosch could be in the wrong. While attempting to defend himself, the homicide detective concludes that there is a second killer, whom the LAPD christens “The Follower,” who is responsible for these other killings. Bosch frantically attempts to pin the tail on the right perpetrator.

Unlike Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Tyler Dilts’s Danny Beckett, Harry Bosch comes from a troubled background. In Viet Nam, he blew up Viet Cong tunnels. While he was still young, his mother was murdered. He has had difficulty hanging on to girlfriends, because at a certain point they become frightened of  the “black heart” of Los Angeles that he must fight on a regular basis.

To date, I have read the following Connelly titles, all of which I recommend:

  • The Black Echo (1992)
  • The Black Ice (1993)
  • The Concrete Blonde (1994)
  • Trunk Music (1997)
  • The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)

 

The Venice Canals

Garden Statue with Cacti

It being another beautiful day, Martine and I took a walk along the Venice Canals. The six remaining canals are what remains of Abbot Kinney’s original 1905 plan for the area. In addition to the vertical Grand Canal and the Eastern Canal, there are four horizontal canals that link them. To remember them, I use the mnemonic ScHLoCk—for Sherman, Howland, Linnie, and Carroll.

In the past, we would visit the area only around the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas, to see the decorations. But suddenly, one year, the decorations all but disappeared. The area is interesting, nonetheless, because of the residents’ attempts to create gemlike little gardens and house fronts. There were more than a few vacancies and notices portending structural modifications. There are numerous types of succulents and flowering plants on display, and not a few architectural monstrosities, especially of the modern variety.

I have a feeling that the neighborhood can go either way at this point, either becoming a slightly disreputable slum or a major tourist draw. Most of the other walkers were speaking French and other foreign languages, so it is obviously hitting the European and Asian guidebooks. In any case, it’s a pleasant walk.