On My Introduction to the CLEPosted: October 22, 2013 Filed under: Wandering in the city Leave a comment
Dearest Comrades! Esteemed Readers! Kind Visitors!
I now live in beautiful and bizarre Cleveland, Ohio. Consider this the inaugural post from this charming rust belt metropolis referred to by locals, fondly, as ‘the CLE.’*
As a way to launch what will be my cataloging of all things compelling about Cleveland, let me begin by briefly listing those experiential phenomenon to which I am now growing accustomed that make it unlike the other cities I have explored over the course of this blog and my short life on this planet.
1.) Cleveland is quiet. Due to a post-industrial exodus from the city center that made the metro area a sprawling expanse, Cleveland-proper neighborhoods tend, it seems, to be quiet places. Excluding Friday and Saturday evenings, you can stroll down nearly any residential street and many commercial strips without crossing paths with another pedestrian.
2.) Cleveland is segregated. This is linked, of course, to the previously mentioned exodus. Many of the suburbs in this city were a result of white flight. This has left the city unfortunately divided, geographically and culturally, between white and black neighborhoods. Though, from what I hear, this is changing.
3.) Not entirely unlike Los Angeles, Cleveland is divided into factions of folks hailing from the West or East sides. The West side is said to be more ethnically diverse (many of the steel-workers who helped the city thrive during the industrial era were European immigrants, largely working and living on the West side). The East side is diverse as well, but primarily a mixture of black and white folks (though the deeper into East Cleveland you get, it seems, the more African American the community: see above). The West side is said to be more characteristically Midwest, in cultural terms, and the East more characteristically East Coast.**
4.) Cleveland has to contend with its sprawl, not unlike Los Angeles. The distinction, though, is the forces that caused its geographical expanse. The demise of the industrial economy is felt, to this day, very distinctly in this city and is visible in the way the city-proper suffered a long period of vacancy after the shut-down of many of its industrial plants (primarily steel, though many others which were related to its production). ***
5.) Cleveland is magical. It is proof I think, having lived here but a month, that legitimately phenomenal and inspirational activity is ongoing in cities across the U.S.–regardless of the reputation or stature of these varied urban landscapes. It is strange and engaging and it has an ethos all its own. I recognize that I know but little yet of Cleveland, but I’d bet you anything, it is a city I will soon be proud to call my own.
6.) Cleveland has been active in seeking creative solutions to what were the long-time economic, cultural and social ills that came with the demise of the industrial era. This has, of late, meant that the city is undergoing a kind of rebirth. While most will suggest that this renaissance has been a boon to the city, it is not without its costs. Gentrification, as always, changes the character of neighborhoods and new industries can bring great economic benefits just as they come with devastating cultural costs. I am in the process of trying to suss out just what this particular moment in this city’s development history is doing to its cultural geography.
7.) Clevelanders love to eat, and they eat well. Because of the incredible waves of immigration that came into the city during its industrial heyday (not unlike those that made Buenos Aires so rich a city), and those that sought work in the U.S. long after, you can find cuisine of just about any regional bent. Polish and Ukrainian are something of a mainstay in my neighborhood. But the city boasts a fine ‘Asia Town‘ too. And then, of course, there is the foodie and farm-to-table revival that has made its way to Cleveland for its cheap real estate and proximity to Ohio agriculture, making the city home to some of the finest restaurants (and the cheapest, as far as I can tell) in the U.S.
The point, oh readers, is that Cleveland is, despite its many naysayers, extremely compelling. A good place, indeed, for an itinerant wanderer to land.
*CLE is the airport code for Cleveland Hopkins International. Said airport is not, however, technically in Cleveland.
**In Los Angeles I was a hardcore east-sider. It has been something of a challenge moving to Cleveland from such a standpoint, given that here I live on the near West side. Angelenos who love me may thusly feel free to send propaganda claiming either West or East side loyalty.
***This means, in part, that I cannot defend the same benefits of sprawl in Cleveland that I was willing to celebrate in Los Angeles. More on this, no doubt, in later posts.
Play of the DayPosted: October 4, 2013 Filed under: Food, Plays of the days, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
It would be fair to say, given my deep attraction to things edible, that my final weeks in the city of Los Angeles were unsurprisingly food-driven. Also predictable as a relatively young epicurean with a tendency toward hyperbole: I more or less spent the last month of my tenure as though each meal might find me, mid-bite, with the soft whispers of the Judas that was immanent departure tickling my ear. I returned to most of my favorite restaurants* (both low and high brow and everywhere in between). And, being as I am an itinerant adventurer, made sure to find tables at a handful of new spots.**
The play of the day is a fond memory now: an exquisite supper at one such new restaurant, Alma. So glorious, dear comrades, was this dining experience that I would choose it among them all as my last. I will recall the meal recorded below fondly whenever I think of the foodie wonderland I want so badly to call home; that wild city to which I wish always to return; my sweet, my lovely, my lush culinary jungle, my Los Angeles.
Here is what we ate:
1.) smoky eggplant dip, puffed onion
2.) snails, fingerling potato, bérnaise, pickled garlic
3.) seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
4.) English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs
5.) young squash soup, mussels, red ale
6.) pigeon, celery root, pear, cabbage
7.) lavender roasted duck, corn, mido, chanterelle, blackberry
The restaurant is small, sparsely decorated, lovely and downtown. It also lacks air conditioning and was, mid heat-wave, well, hot. But I’d eat that meal again over molten lava. If ever I’m sentenced by God or man to die, let me first wander through those ephemeral seven courses as one would hope to wander the seven heavens after the reaper really comes.
It was the perfect send off.
Good bye, oh my beloved city. Wait for me, I beg you.***
*Such as, but not limited to: Zankou Chicken, Bludso’s, The Park, Wat Dong Moon Lek, The Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, Sqirl, Barbrix, Proof Bakery, El Buen Gusto, Canelé, Umami Burger, Mother Dough, Cortez, and the backyards and kitchens of my culinary-minded friends.+
**Such as, but not limited to: Scratch, Lemon Poppy Kitchen, Chego and, read on, Alma.
***Next post: Cleveland, Ohio. Readers, a new adventure has commenced!
+ See previous post.
Of the Sunday (Sometimes Monday) Summer SuppersPosted: September 12, 2013 Filed under: Food, Language and text, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
A group of friends of mine, all of whom live within a three mile radius of my house,* often meet on Sunday evenings during the summer to cook and eat together. There is little peculiar about such gatherings, I imagine, but living in Los Angeles means a lot of outdoor dining. What is commonly known as the ‘Fortress of Ballertude’** serves as host with great frequency for our Sunday Summer Suppers. The most recent dinner there happened to occur, thanks to the late summer holiday and an epic barbecue,*** on a Monday evening.
What, prey tell, does this have to do with the city, you ask? Well, the back yard of this particular domicile is intoxicatingly Angeleno. Its residents laid red brick on the dirt floor of the small fenced-in back yard a few years ago. A partial canopy of bougainvillea which leans in from three sides of the yard gives way, if you look straight up, to a view of four waving palm trees. When the grill is going, they pipe music in from speakers wired through the walls. Those sounds combine with the noise from passing walkers and traffic.
It is as close as I have come to the plutonic ideal of what nights in the summer should feel like in Los Angeles. It doesn’t hurt that most of those in attendance are amazing cooks, so whatever they bring or create at the fortress satisfies the late, hot afternoon appetite.
But mostly what makes the Sunday Supper an institution is the city itself. If you make a home here, if you let yourself love the occasionally too-hot summer nights and the people with whom you choose to spend them, everything else will blossom to compliment you and it and them.
I leave the Sunday Suppers and often find myself stupidly grinning on the walk home in the kind warm breeze.
Palm trees are not native to Los Angeles. And the recent heat wave was likely man-made. Almost all of the folks who sit around the table are transplants from other distant cities. But after such good pot luck, I don’t care. I just love the city and its inhabitants. I love the summer. And wish I could stay forever.****
*This is extremely rare in Los Angeles. Particularly given that this group of folks are mostly friends I won in college. The sprawl and the job market has it that most Angelenos have a cohort more widely dispersed.
**Not my choice. I swear.
***See previous post.
****So, if you follow this blog or are thorough about your footnotes, you already know I’m leaving Los Angeles. For this, and the quickly waning days of summer weather, I feel I should be forgiven for all my swooning about the city until I depart.
Play of the DayPosted: August 30, 2013 Filed under: Plays of the days, Wandering in the city 1 Comment
Dearest Readers! I give to you, as the play of my Labor Day, my carefully constructed invitation for an upcoming soiree in honor of my departure from Los Angeles:
To my immense sorrow, I must now serve as the herald of a great empire’s immanent collapse.
Taxes levied have been too high.The funds that might have served the people have been squandered on the excesses of the elite. What once stood as a gleaming beacon, a power with which few would dare to reckon, is now meager, paltry and insufficient. The city is lost. But I beg of you: let me fiddle in your company as the the towers of this, the Empire of my presence in lovely, decadent Los Angeles, are swallowed by the flames of time and progress, relentless harpies that they are.
Yes, oh beloved citizens of the sprawl, I must depart for the rust belt charms of Cleveland, Ohio*, pale though such charms will always be in comparison to those once offered by our shared, our sweet Los Angeles.
Join me in one last, one great, one bacchanalian** celebration before my departure. We will drink beer in the light of the late summer sun. We will eat cloven-hooved animals***. We will laugh and carouse as the epoch of my glory comes to its fiery close.
*I am taking a job as the Baker-Nord Center Postdoctoral Scholar in the Digital Humanities at Case Western Reserve University.+
**Togas are welcome but not required. Wine stored in the stretched and dried intestines of animals, also welcome, as will be sacrificial offerings to the gods.
***It’s a barbecue. Bring some booze. Some foodstuffs. Some friends. Something to throw on the grill. Or bring nothing but your welcome selves. Some beer and some carnitas will be provided.
+Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is my title. But I would prefer it if you would refer to me, over the course of the party, simply as ‘Caligul-alli’.
On leaving Los AngelesPosted: August 23, 2013 Filed under: Mishaps, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
All urban centers are filled with dwellers and visitors just about to depart. It is, partly, the constant population flux that makes cities compelling to explore, to live in, to pass through. Los Angeles has its own very particular place in the global landscape as a city of flows. People come and breath the smoggy stuff of it in. They love it or hate it or nestle into an ambivalence about it. Then life interferes and sends them meandering elsewhere. They leave. Or, sometimes, they stay. Either way these movements change the city, and in turn, make it the sort of strange and compelling ecology that transforms those who move within it.
I am, alas, quickly nearing my departure from Los Angeles. There is very little conflict in my feeling about this city. I adore it. I swoon. I am drunk with love for Los Angeles. But leave it, I must.
I’m Cleveland bound, dear readers. And that may mean for you more exciting and exploratory posts. For me, it means an adventure and a mourning. I already feel the terrible weight of this loss. Los Angeles is the city of my coming of a certain age, the city that housed my least bearable sorrows and served as harbor for my most brilliant joys.
Los Angeles is a city that must be sick with the trite, the inadequate ways I and many (and better*) writers before me could list its gifts. Those who have named its faults (and there have been many**) did so with sometimes vicious and intentional, sometimes naive myopia. The city responded to both with equal indifference. She*** will treat me as she did them. If there is any feeling that might come for her in response to my departure, it will be, at most, a negligible sorrow.
Ohio calls. And many other places call many other Angelenos, and would-be Angelenos, and passers-through and by. When those calls come, Los Angeles mocks them. Or at least she seems to for me. She glistens in the sun. She whispers about her mild winters and lets maps to her secret corners unfurl on the desk. She coyly offers a picture of just what a bitch she will be if you really do leave her. I am a sucker for her charms in just the way an itinerant urbanite would be. I’m sure that as soon as I really walk out the door I will be filled with regret that I did. I’ll pay for leaving.
But such are the manic loves offered by the lovers of cities, and such are the cities worthy of such ridiculous, impossible loves.
Los Angeles will be for me, perhaps always, the city that got away. In fact she might be such for most visitors, for most native-born, even for those still held in her particular, bizarre embrace. She is a city a heart can love until it breaks. Unknowable but familiar, she returns affection only partially. Sprawling, traffic-clogged, imperfect—magical.
I just may spend my life wanting desperately to return.
Take me back, someday, Los Angeles. Please.****
*Reyner Banham was a lover of Los Angeles, more faithful than most. To name just one.
**Nathanael West did not, it seems, really love Los Angeles. He did not suffer from the myopia to which I refer but he wrote poor Todd Hackett and Homer Simpson into being so that they seem only able to view, if lustfully, the awful, the violent, the wretched phenomenon of the city as it was.
***I struggled with choosing the gender in my anthropomorphization of the city. I settled on this particular pronoun not because I in any way support the tropes that perform in our language what translates in our culture to the asymmetrical distribution of power by gender, but because the depth and breadth of my love for Los Angeles is the sort I have felt in my life far more often for women than for men. I trust you, dear visitors, to read it thusly.
****I recognize that this post takes itself and its prose too seriously. So be it. I am serious about loving Los Angeles.
On ending things in citiesPosted: May 24, 2013 Filed under: Mishaps, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
In the last weeks, time seemed multiplied by a feeling of no longer being there and of living Santa Barbara each day, with its fatal charm and its blandness, as the predestined site of an eternal return. –Jean Baudrillard*
In Santa Barbara (where I have, over the past month or so, been holed up in one final push to finish my dissertation) my days are a numbered bunch. They’re not usually very kind to me either. The water along the coast is still just cold enough to make the first leap in a quick and numbing experience, though indeed refreshing. The 7-year-long trajectory of my life in and out of the city is inscribed in it and as I near the end, those markers seem unusually plump with nastiness. Cloying, unpleasant moments live on corners when I might rather see them rotting, buried in the trash heap of forgotten history. And of course, there is the morning marine layer, which makes it hard to wake at an early hour. Paradise, they say. But those who say that never really lived here. Paradise is always just for the tourists.
Many of what will likely be my last stretches of time here are spent laboring in the awkward, existentially obliterating task of begging and pleading with whatever dying muse might be left to tend to the poor, the jobless, the potentially obsolete humanities graduate student.
These sorts of things do not put one, shall we say, in the mood to celebrate a merry send-off.
But nostalgia is a real jerk. He sets traps. He lets you suffer in the present only to turn that suffering with just a little bit of time into longing and melancholy, albeit longing and melancholy tinged with a certain, desperate and (usually) false sort of pleasure. And cities, places of all sorts, are ripe sites for his dangerous play. I can see him circling now, even before the departure has taken place. He’s going to make me miss it.
Do not let any of this grimly insist that Santa Barbara is some kind of awful wasteland and that I’ll be a fool when I remember it fondly (though it can be, and I will be). I do so love the beaches, the mountains that push the city toward the water. The community of scholars with whom I’ve shared the city are a kind and glorious group. It’s just not a place to which I have ever wanted to belong.
In these last days I’m doing what I can to push away both the impending nostalgia as well as the less kind and generous voices in my head and just enjoy, in the present, the slices of Santa Barbara which still buoy a resident up and make the place inhabitable: Reading on the beach. The best restaurant in the whole of the central coast, Julienne. Handlebar Coffee. Citrus trees everywhere. And a quietness, a slowness that makes the banal tasks of life just a little bit easier.
Leaving a city is always a strange and complicated act. Like leaving a lover. Even when you know the whole thing should be over, has been over for a long time, you still ache in the send-off. Maybe because you know, in the end, despite everything, you’re going miss her.
*America. Trans. Chris Turner. (New York: Verso, 1988) 72.
Play of the dayPosted: May 5, 2013 Filed under: Language and text, Plays of the days, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
I am currently trying to eek out the last, resistant concluding paragraphs of my dissertation at a bar called ‘The Faculty‘ in East Hollywood (this particular section of which is apparently referred to by locals as Hel Mel because of the small collection of businesses at the intersection of Heliotrope and Melrose).
It is not lost on me that cities, as much because of the way they name their neighborhoods, their streets, their addresses, offer a kind of poetic license to the wanderer. We make our own fictions just by choosing our route through their strange and glorious linguistic ecologies. So I, jobless would-be professor, work at ‘The Faculty’ though I lack, alas, work as faculty.
Now is the new (old) urban historyPosted: May 2, 2013 Filed under: Wandering in the city Leave a comment
Readers! I have neglected you for far too long. For my absence, I offer my regrets and apologies. These long months of internet silence can someday be counted as archeological evidence that blogs (like humans, languages and machines) cannot so easily deliver on their promises: Noise is always already in the signal, diverting, disrupting, generally destabilizing. Here we are once more though, with feeling (and a snazzy new look). So let’s put the past behind us, shall we?, and remark instead upon the present.
As a means by which to resuscitate the blog and my neglected relationship to its small pool of beloved readers (i.e. you), I give you a brief summary of my thinking on loving and wandering a city you’ve long known:
I have lived in Los Angeles for the vast bulk of my adult life and, of late, have been spending a good deal of time in neighborhoods, on corners, in buildings that I avoided, ignored or had simply forgotten for some years. Happenstance has had it, however, that some of these dormant domains in my cognitive map of the city have beckoned me back.* The eternal return of the same, I suppose, but such a return offers a nice, if sometimes uncanny, avenue of access to memory and to the ways in which it is so concretely spatial and materially present in the city.**
Spaces make the folks who wander through them aware, in exactly the haptic ‘now’, of a history to which their access is both immediate and distinctly mediated, and to the fictions (some personal, some social) on which we all ground our experience of place. At any moment a wanderer roams a space they confront in the present whatever weird and weighty remembered moments they shared with it, whatever weird and weighty stories they told themselves or were told about it. Place might well be described as the present experience of the environment thick in its presence with the past.
Here’s an exemplary gloss: I’ve had the good luck in the last few weeks to find myself on the rooftop of a building across the street from an apartment in which I used to live. From this rooftop I can see my old apartment, can map from that vantage point a spatial relationship between the place I’m standing, the apartment I lived in visible below, the other spaces of the city I have inhabited or with which I have engaged in some manner, and so on… And my mapping in turn becomes the milieu in which I make my knowledge of me, on that rooftop, looking at the Los Angeles I know and the Los Angeles I am coming to know and the Los Angeles I knew and lost.
If this sounds like philosophical jargon, it might be. But much in the muddy memories I’ve made in Los Angeles*** is linked to the ways I grew here to think about memory itself, about history, and about cities. The urban landscape, maybe all space, won’t hold memory so much as offer it as an immediate and ephemeral marking of the experience of wandering precisely where and when we wander. And all wandering (all experience) is always and only in and of the moment, or better, the millisecond, or better still the now.****
*Yes, I am aware of the ridiculous amount of alliteration in this sentence. I make no apologies.
**I did it again. See if I care! You’ll see that I don’t.
***”What? She wrote another alliterative sentence?” That’s what you’re thinking. Yeah, dude. She straight did.
****Blame the obscure poetics of this post in its entirety on Itinerant Me’s recent and intense work on the closing chapter of her dissertation. You may either forgive her (me) or despise her (me) according to your disposition and constitution. And, of course, according also to where you are, right now.
Of car culture and primal screamsPosted: September 29, 2012 Filed under: Language and text, Technology, Wandering in the city Leave a comment
Much has been written on the atomising nature of car culture in Los Angeles. All of us (who can afford it) ferrying ourselves to and fro on the wide network of freeways that cover the sprawl–isolated in our capsular space, shuttling forward at high speeds (or, given the traffic, at virtually no speed)–are said to be without a public space any longer, without even a notion of our neighbors. Our fellow Angelenos, so close yet still so far away from us, are themselves isolated inside, captured, really, by their cocoons of metal and steel and rubber.
I agree, for the most part. The automobile, and more-so, the automobile industry has made this city a network, has collapsed the center and spilled what remained of its guts in all directions, morphing LA into a labyrinth of commerce devoted to the isolated spender with a big trunk. Car culture has bulldozed and forgotten what was once a functional trolley system. It has, too, brought with it a near-constant cloud of cancerous pollution which weighs heavy in the air on hot days and seems always to specifically target the poor and the marginalized, the communities built up against the complex of freeways for whom car ownership is less and less possible. As ubiquitous as it is, it denies access still to exactly those who pay the largest price for its excesses.
But one hates to ignore, at least I hate to ignore, something compelling, something common in our not-so-new, ever-mobile cybernetic selves. Even when we can in the same breath critique the automobile (certainly LA’s most emblematic, if not its most common cybernetic appendage) and its impact on the production of the city, might we too find something of value in it? That human thing, as I see it, might just be the total release such strangely fashioned, such costly privacy affords us drivers in a city that belongs not to drivers but to cars.
Every once in a while I like to test this theory of mine out. Usually simply by singing, loudly, along with the music playing on my car’s quickly failing radio. But sometimes, to maximize effect and highlight in the extreme the kind of solitude a car can provide, I scream.
I roll down all of the windows and scream as loudly and for as long as my lungs allow. It’s a habit I picked up in college when I was first learning the freeways. It felt at the time like a way of marking space in a city that is under constant self-erasure. Now that I know Los Angeles well, or at least well enough that even in its continuous transformation and re-fashioning it feels like a city to which I belong, the screaming just feels good. Or if not good, it at least always feels.
That, in the end, is sublime. And it is also the stuff of connective tissues between us, post-human and machinic though we may be. Maybe no-one hears me literally screaming past at 70 miles per hour. But they don’t have to. Because once in a while I bet some other driver, in their very own strange shell, is probably screaming too.
“Traffic is Junkspace,” writes Rem Koolhaas, “from airspace to the subway; the entire highway system is Junkspace, a vast potential utopia clogged by its users, as you notice when they’ve finally disappeared on vacation …”* I think maybe the utopic on the highway is indeed clarified by a kind of absence. But even on packed highway, utopia as the someday Los Angeles comes as all no-places (which are perpetually absent, after all), all would-be places that are not yet but still might impossibly be, come. It comes as hope in the form of some kind of speech, some sign-making. Perhaps particularly in the animal universal of one long, loud, zooming primal scream.
*Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace,” October Vol. 100 ‘Obsolescence’ (Spring 2002) pg. 180.
Of heat wavesPosted: August 13, 2012 Filed under: Wandering in the city Leave a comment
Record summer heat hit Los Angeles this week. So did a handful of small earthquakes.
I felt the first, shortly after 11 at night. I was sitting on my porch, lap-top open before me. The blue-grey glow of its screen fell on my face and flickered when the earth shook.
Such moments in LA are not so much common as part of the small cadre of miraculous phenomenon that pepper a life here. I love this about the city. That the earthquake or the record heat can become something of a skin on you. It belongs, is yours, but sometimes you catch it in a particular light and it still manages to be strange, other.
Such ecologically and geographically grounded markers of what it means to be living in Los Angeles, at this particular moment in time, emerge from the smooth surface of the quotidian and ask that you take note. And we do.
The nights in the middle of the heat waves here are spectacular. Arms and legs exposed to the breath of the city, all signs of the pacific snuggling against its border crushed by barometric pressure, we gather. We meet on porches and in parks, in backyards. We are slower as we walk. Our speech loses its affect. We have trouble performing ourselves with the weight of the heat pressing upon us and so are less able to guard against the world, against others.
I was once walking in the Marigny in New Orleans in deep August. It was very late at night and so muggy hot that the music spilling from open windows seemed, literally, to hang in the air. This week, nights in Los Angeles have felt like that–thick, sticky.
I love a good heat wave in the right city. I love when the weather, or the shaking earth beneath, changes us, sharpens a moment, shifts the spaces we inhabit just enough to make them new.