Wednesday, April 23, 2008

City Collage: Los Angeles

“I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”
~Andy Warhol

So I've decided to begin a series of posts on cities that have figured into my life in complex ways. These may be cities I love, hate (though I can't think of any of those), or feel ambivalent about, but they are all cities that have, in some way, shaped the internal landscape of my imagination. I am not going to write about my experiences in these cities (usually), but how they exist in my mind.

If you were to ask Patrick what city has most completely consumed his fanciful daydreams, I am pretty sure he would say it was New York. I have an extremely difficult time deciding what city fills that role for me, since it has varied from time to time throughout my life. Therefore, I've decided to do a collection of posts about several cities. The textual/aural/visual collage format is such because I can't think of a better way to express the sensory overload of these cities and the ways in which they inhabit my waking fancy.

In spite of my inability to narrow my list of compelling cities, when I first conceived of this project I was consumed by thoughts of only one city: Los Angeles.

As you read this post about LA, I urge you to click the play button below for Ryan Adams' "La Cienega Just Smiled":

I've given this collage an accompanying playlist; if it offers nothing more inspiring, it certainly helps establish the mood of my Los Angeles.

Now, LA is not my favorite city in the world, by any stretch, nor is it where I've most enjoyed living. I suppose it probably does have the best weather of anywhere I've inhabited, but that's beyond the purview of this post. It's dirty, it's crowded, and it practically seethes with the desperation of unfulfilled yearning. The ostentatiousness and superficiality is overwhelming, and at times the pressure of an entire city at once striving for false promise can be crushing.

But when Los Angeles creeps into my mind, what creeps is not the concrete reality of living in it, but rather abstraction and color. These are usually the dripping, sun-drenched, molten colors of a smoggy dusk, best experienced as you drive around the bend of Sunset Boulevard where it meets La Cienega as the sun sets just past the hills (Beverly, of course). At this time of day, and in my imagination, Los Angeles looks like it is ablaze, the unabashed striving of its inhabitants fueling an unforgiving and constantly replenishing inferno.

This blaze then quietly slips into the purple depths of twilight, softening the harshness of day and sunset. Without the sun, LA seems to lose itself somewhat, the glaring brightness replaced with a balmy, gentle dusk.

After twilight, of course, comes night in LA. Now the colors shift to noir: chiaroscuro shadows playing tricks on the eye in each and every hidden, hedonistic corner of the city. At night, you almost feel as if you are in a pre-technicolor film, all the color leeched from the world leaving only an infinite palate of gray. This is a Los Angeles of loneliness and despair, of private eyes and femmes fatale, but it is a pleasingly aesthetic despair: even in sorrow and emptiness there resides the hope that this desperation may become a screenplay or a pilot or a novel.

LA Day: "No Blue Sky," The Thorns

For me, Los Angeles in the day loses all its color, all its mythology. Midday brings a garish brightness that blanches the pigment from the earth, leaving only a washed-out imprint of what is actually there, like when you close your eyes after looking at the sun too long and it leaves traces of light on the inside of your eyelids. This is the LA of beaches and summer and vacations, yes, but also suffocating smog and traffic and dusty, dirty desert.

In the end, it's hard for me to say what's so compelling about my imaginary Los Angeles. I think it is the paradox of the place, and how it embodies a sort of gorgeous melancholy. Perhaps, as Denise Hamilton claims, it is both "the seductive blur of artifice and reality, the possibility of shucking off the past like last year's frock and reinventing yourself beyond your wildest dreams" as well as "the desperation that descends when the dream goes sour, the duplicity that lurks behind the beauty, the rot of the jungle flowers, the riptides off the sugar sand beaches that carry away the unwary."

Either way, I hold Los Angeles close in the back of my mind.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Amazingly Rare.

I got this book.

It's way out of my league, but it is in the league I would like to be in.

It is beautiful. It chronicles the time of discovery when explorers headed out and found new places and in those places, new life. I have always loved beautiful things and have come to know that there are two kinds of art in the world: The art that inspires me to go and try something like it and the art that I look at and think, 'I could never do anything like that.' This book is the latter. How does a person could look at flower and tell his hand to do this...

What's more, these were scientists who were drawing to document the freshly found.

Often by memory.

They were seeing things that had never been seen by either science or art.

These insects are known as Lantern Flies because they gave off a bright flash of light. Maria Sibylla Merian (who drew this) said they were as light as a candle and strong enough to read a paper by. Scientists named them 'Fulgora' meaning 'Flash of Lightning' stemming from similar accounts. But European scientists who named them only had dead or 'ailing' specimens and never really got much light out of them.

Even more interesting is that NO ONE since has ever seen a light coming from these insects. Maria described a burst of flame out of the box that she kept several in and now...nothing.

That is both Rare and Amazing.

There are so many incredible paintings in here and I hope to learn all about them.

Like what's going on here?

I get that snakes are fighting, as I'm sure snakes would, but why has that poor frog given it all up and splayed himself out to watch the battle? And why doesn't his buddy there help him out? What's more, why did the artist choose to depict him that way? There is so much action going on what was it that made the artist think, 'That's it. Just like that. That is what this species of frog would look like in the presence of dueling serpents.'

I got this book from Anthropologie where it is on sale for $19.95 (plus my discount), so while it was not hard won, it still feels like a Rare and Amazing find.

There are a lot of things I'm leaving out, like it is written by David Attenborough (of Planet Earth fame) and has illustrations by Leonardo da Vinci, both of which deserve note but in the end it really is just drawings of spectacular things that are already out there. And (without getting too zealous) what is the more awesome creation:

The Big Crocodile Wraastling the Coral Snake?

Or, the hand that depicts it?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Oh man, let me just say that if you ever want a great few days away, might I just suggest Buffalo, NY? Lindsay was invited to present a paper at a conference in this blessed city and Scout and I went along for the ride...the 11 hour ride. It could have taken 6, but thanks to a little invention called GPS we meandered up through the Catskills stopping in on whatever struck our fancy. Here are our highlights... it's kinda like we invited you in to our house and then set up the slide projector.

First up is 'Wings Castle'. Before they left, our friends Liz and Jared gave us a book of good little road trips to take in the New York area. This was one of the sights.

It was built by an artist couple from completely salvaged parts and was pretty sweet... and noble no doubt.

Before we got to Buffalo we stopped off here at the Phelps Hotel for dinner.

It was real good, and I got the Creamed Cod... 'cause I'm 80.

Buffalo was cold and close to Canada, neither of which I knew a week ago. This picture was taken at a park that me and Scout went while Lindsay presented her paper. We didn't go watch because she said she would present it to me for free. She hasn't.

Real cold but pretty pretty.

We did loads of cool stuff that I won't make you look at but it should be noted that we ate at real good places, saw two Frank Lloyd Wright homes that were in the area, and stayed in the greatest little Bed and Breakfast that could not have been nicer in both board and hospitality.

And then, for some reason, we went on this tour of Niagara Falls at night. It was a real dim idea. So very cold, a little rainy, misty, and you really can't see the falls so...? We did, however, learn that all this time we thought we were so cool living over here in America but you get to Niagara at night and you can tell right away--on our side: cold and wet, on the Canadian side: Rock Star Party Palace. You could practically hear the techno music thumping over the roar of the falls. I told Lindsay it was like Lehi's vision and we were stuck over here with the righteous.

That's Canada in the background.

On the way home we swung by Palmyra and boy-oh-boy did it show up to have its picture taken. The sky could not have been better if it had been pulled down as a back drop at Kiddie Kandids.

This is from the top of the Hill Cumorah.

A nice Mormon family took our picture in Jospeh's Bedroom of the Smiths little Log Cabin.

We look like a vision ourselves!

And this is the Sacred Grove as seen from the back of the Smith's house.

It really was beautiful, and what was going to be a two hour stop off turned into four with a planed trip back in 6 weeks.

All in all, a wonderful trip was made only more wonderful by the two sleeping passengers at my side as I drove back to Hoboken, grateful for monumental blessings...and small ones.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Blogging Apology

Hello dear readers,

We're terribly sorry for the vast nothingness that has inhabited our blog the last couple of weeks. Patrick's been hard at work, and I had to plan and execute a graduate student conference at CUNY. None of this is a good excuse, but what can you do?

Tomorrow, we're off to Buffalo, where I will deliver a paper and we both will enjoy a little R&R. We shall report next week, when we will resume our normal (and more frequent) blogging habits.