Revisiting the Cold War

Entrance to the Wende museum in Culver City

Today, Martine and I visited the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City. Located in an old armory building, the museum specialized in the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in the period between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of Communism around 1989.

Although I was not born under Communism, I am an American of mixed Slovak and Hungarian parentage. From my earliest days, I remember my mother putting together packets of clothing to send to our relatives in Hungary. They were packaged in strong white sackcloth, buttressed with rope, and addressed in indelible blue ink.

I had heard of the Wende Museum before. Only within the last few weeks has it moved to its present site on Culver Boulevard just west of Overland. Admission is free, and there is a gift shop.

In 1977 I visited Hungary and then People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia. My parents had flown there separately and met me at Ferihegy Airport in Budapest. We traveled by train to see a festival in Szeged (featuring the opera Aïda), and then went by rail to Kosiče . We were picked up there by my father’s relatives and driven to Prešov-Solivar, where Imre Hrasko and family lived.

Bust of V. I. Lenin

The Wende Museum consisted of several rooms with Soviet and other Cold War memorabilia, including statuary, photographs, posters, models, toys, electronic equipment, thousands of books, and a few videos. Among the videos was a cute East German cartoon about Santa Claus trying to understand what Sputnik (the Soviet satellite launched in 1957) was because it was on so many childrens’ wish lists. So he goes back to the moon, where the Man in the Moon sends him back to Earth. There, at a scientific institute, he finds his answer and looks at a model of the satellite. There were a number of exhibits relating to Russia’s early accomplishments in space.

Hungarian Farm Girl Operating Tractor

It takes about an hour to visit the museum, and guided tours are available. It was interesting to see how clueless the younger visitors were about the Cold War era. Maybe that’s why Trumpf is president today.

 

Tophet

Sky Full of Ash: The View from My Front Door

The wildfires to the north of us have filled the sky with ashes. When I wake up in the morning, I have to blow my nose to lessen the irritation. The air smells burnt.

According to Wikipedia:

In the Hebrew Bible Tophet or Topheth (Hebrew: תוֹפֶת‎; Greek: Ταφεθ; Latin: Topheth) was a location in Jerusalem in the Gehinnom where worshipers influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive. Tophet became a theological or poetic synonym for hell within Christendom.

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13. He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.

In any case, it doesn’t sound very appetizing. There are times when Los Angeles is beautiful and fresh, but that’s only after a rare rain. Other times, it’s like a slow oven. And it could even be cold. When there’s a major earthquake, it feels that you can slide at any moment into a deep crevice near to the fires at the center of the earth.

But, still, it’s better than Cleveland.

 

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.