Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the arts district and artisan tortillas

I’ve been thinking about space lately. I’m finally living the Eastside dream I’ve had since I started making pilgrimages to Silver Lake in college. I start the day with a train ride that takes me across trestles and over a cement river. I eat lunch in the middle of 1938’s idea of China—neon-outlined pagodas and bamboo lettering. And then I go home to Highland Park’s rolling hills and gold-pink light. I took a long walk on Saturday and found an old glass-works studio I’d never known about.

Old New Chinatown.
Sometimes, even now that it’s (nearly) all familiar, L.A. still takes my breath away. Other times I wonder if the magical space I longed for in my twenties is made magical only by my longing. It’s like having a crush on someone and then marrying them. Your love dives deeper than you ever knew possible, but the exotic twinkle fades.

A little while ago, a writer I know, who recently moved to L.A., asked her Facebook friends what their favorite coffee shops to write in were. There were the usual suspects: Intelligentsia, Café de Leche, the Coffee Table. Someone wrote a poetic reply about the best writing spot being the one you stumble into that no one else knows about. Fair enough answers, all of them, but I was tempted to go the anti-hipster route (but I didn’t, because nothing is more hipster than being anti-hipster) and mention some of my true favorites:

·      The Starbucks inside Target (not as overly air conditioned as regular Starbucks)
·      McDonald’s (better and cheaper coffee than Starbucks)
·      LAX (the sweet un-anxiety of early arrival + the good feeling of multi-tasking by traveling and writing)
·      Philippe’s (49-cent coffee + a weird circus-themed wall)

The original French dip! Unless Cole's is!
Right now I’m writing at an El Pollo Loco, where I just had the Mango Taco Plate. It included an “artisan tortilla,” which was pretty good, even though I’m not sure what made it artisan.

Clearly, I pride myself on an anytime/anywhere approach to writing. I was raised on stories of women writers who scribbled on legal pads in their cars while waiting to pick up their kids from soccer practice. But it’s pride born largely of necessity (not entirely, though—we do have a spare room in our house that gets called “the office” and, when we’re being honest, “Ollie’s eating room”).

This morning I tagged along to the new art class being taught by Fabian, Homeboy’s resident artist. (This is the awesome part of my job. But I also spent a lot of time today reading the fine print on government grant applications.) For years he painted at home, but as his work started getting out there, a patron offered him a studio. I followed a dozen homies to the third floor of an old hotel on Main Street. There was oyster-cracker tile and filigreed columns, all in a state of blissful disrepair that made my heart ache when I wondered how much of this—the homies, the ruins, the art—might be pushed out of Downtown in the next few years.

There is a more ruined kind of ruin too, of course, which is the other side of this coin. The hotel back when people used it to shoot up. The homies when they—some of them—shot up. First thing you see in Fabian’s studio is his altar, with pictures of his  grandparents and fallen homies and the gods of Chicano art: Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco, Siqueiros. Then you see Fabian’s art, which has evolved, in his words, from “folklorico stuff, straight from the tube” to glowing, nuanced portraits that reflect a growing thoughtfulness about cultural solidarity. He showed me one of his latest, the back of a rabbi overlaid by Hebrew words from the Torah.

"Falling Star" by a rising star.
He put his students to work drawing spheres and cones and cubes, getting to know the range of their pencils. This was no just-express-yourself art-therapy class.

“If you’re getting upset, it’s ‘cause your brain is working out some shit,” he said. “That’s art, ese.”

Neuroplasticity meets street art.

The mid-morning sun came through the fuzzy windows and I thought fondly of MacDowell and considered giving up writing in favor of drawing spheres in beautiful places. I think it’s fair to say, at least, that it beat El Pollo Loco.


RT said...

My kids always want to eat at El Pollo instead of using the drive-through, but it reminds me of the inside of a bus station. Hope you're settling in nicely to the new gig.

Cheryl said...

Maybe I should try writing at a bus station....

Claire said...

When I lived in SF, everyone looked at me scornfully when I said I preferred LA. Even though I had some of my worst times there, there's so much I like about that sprawling mess of a city.

I have been to Phillipe! The coffee was even cheaper.

Also the Coffee Table, that was close to home and I remember running into a classmate from grad school there, she was writing, natch.

Never understood that. Fucking drives me crazy to have people talking around me when I'm trying to right. I humbly submit that the true anti-hipster route would be not to write in any sort of coffee shop or public space. ;)

Love that your new job has a resident artist. Very cool!

Cheryl said...

Well, Fabian is also the substance abuse counselor, so he's an unofficial/semi-official resident artist.

I wish I could write at home. I like a little white noise. Although that could change now that I'm working at a place with a lot of white noise and noise-noise of all colors.