Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Friday Morning, East Los Angeles

I’m here! And it’s everything I hoped it would be. I did end up taking the apartment in East LA, and most of my days have been spent exploring my new neighborhood while also accomplishing mundane tasks like buying a plunger and getting my new car smog tested.

Here’s a series of photos I took while waiting for the latter chore to get done, near Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

One of my favorite things about East LA so far is the way that signs and billboards are painted directly on the buildings. Some of them are incredibly creative. It’s a little like New York’s obsession with “street art”, but done for utilitarian reasons. 
Murals are the signature art form here, which is probably the reason for the all the hand painted signs. This is the entrance to a wine bar I’ll definitely be checking out sometime soon. 
Here’s a mix of hand-painted and more ordinary signage. Even the dollar stores here are dressed up with paintings. Bueno Bonito y Barato!
Even the more “typical” business signs are a thousand times more interesting than anything I’ve seen on the East Coast. Also, who doesn’t love a restaurant that serves burgers, tacos, miscellaneous other Mexican food, pastrami, AND nachos?
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In Other “People I’m Obsessed” With News…

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1986.

… BOMB Magazine has dug a 1988 interview of Robert Mapplethorpe by Gary Indiana out of their archives. Enjoy!

I Sing First Avenue

Manhattan in a cup of coffee. Photo by Sara Clarke.

It’s no secret that I’m leaving New York in part because I’m a little bit over it.

I’ve been here for twelve years. I’ve done just about everything there is to do here. Drank in all the bars. Eaten all the food. Seen all the art. Over it. Done. My New York chapter is complete.

For the last few months, I’ve mostly been holing up in my neighborhood, writing, working, sleeping, having drinks with friends at local joints that might as well be in Idaho or New Hampshire. I knew I’d eventually miss New York, but not yet. Not for a long time, probably. I’m ready to be in love with a new city.

And then Sandy came to town.

A disaster like this is enough to make anybody rally to their hometown. So of course I felt the sense of shared dismay, the looking out for our own, the worry about the Gowanus Canal breaking its STD-contaminated banks and the destruction of brand new subway stations in Lower Manhattan. I was already a little bit back on Team Noo Yawk.

And then yesterday morning I accidentally walked to work.

I meant to walk through my neighborhood (which was largely unaffected by the storm) and over the Manhattan Bridge, and then catch a bus in Chinatown that would take me uptown to my office near Grand Central.

Walking over the bridge, it all started coming back. There’s a metal grate on the downhill slope of the bike lane that, when you fly over it, makes a loud GOOOOOOONG! sound. Alone in the dark, the noise is shocking. I’ve always thought of it as a “yawp”, as in Walt Whitman’s line from “Song of Myself”:

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

Remembering Walt Whitman was pretty much the end of my jaded attitude about New York City. I looked over the East River (a name I have tattooed on myself, for fuck’s sake) and into Manhattan. I could see the Statue Of Liberty far in the distance.  New York is the beginning of America. New York might not be the original city, but it’s my original city.

The East River. Photo by Sara Clarke.

When I got across the bridge, I walked through Chinatown, a neighborhood I’ve never had a lot of love for. But yesterday was different. I could have loved the South Bronx yesterday. I walked to the corner of Hester and Eldridge. Such a great corner. So full of elemental NewYorkness. It was around this point that I forgot about the bus idea — there were hundreds of people waiting at every stop.

I turned up Allen Street and kept walking.

My route to work took me past my whole history in New York City. I walked past my dad’s favorite Manhattan restaurant, the ridiculous Sammy’s Famous Roumanian Steakhouse. I walked past Bluestockings Book Store, the hub of leftist organizing activity in New York.

A Chat in Little India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I walked past St. Mark’s Place, which has been a tourist sham version of Punk for most of the time I’ve lived here, but I don’t care. I’ve bought a million cheap “pashmina” scarves and a million falafels, taken a million “Pay What You Can” yoga classes and rented a million weirdo bootlegged alternate cuts of obscure foreign films from the movie kid mecca of Kim’s Video. Fuck the haters. St. Mark’s is the best.

On Ninth Street, I saw my favorite truck in all of New York. Yes, I have a favorite New York City truck. And it happened to be parked along my absurd walk to work.

This is my favorite truck. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I passed a restaurant where I once took a boyfriend on a nerve-wracking Meet The Parents dinner. I passed my college dorm on 25th street and a thousand landmarks from that time – this bar, that diner, the Associated Supermarket that we jokingly called ASS-GROSS-iated. It was mobbed with people fighting over the last jar of peanut butter.

For a little while I wanted to spend a day walking from Bowling Green at the foot of Manhattan all the way up Broadway to the old growth forest at Inwood Hill Park. I never did it. But I got my farewell tour, in the end. New York has ways of making you do things.

Halloween Costumes For Global Culture Junkies

Halloween costumes for sale in the 1920 Sears Catalog. Ouch. Image via the excellent Man In The Grey Flannel Suit.

When I was a kid, it was completely normal to dress as a cultural stereotype for Halloween. Suburban streets thronged with black-wigged Geishas and be-turbaned Sultans. Uncle so and so brought back a sombrero from that weekend jaunt to Tijuana? Go as Juan Valdez! (Never mind the fact that Colombia isn’t Mexico.)

Obviously this sort of thing is no longer OK, even if well-intentioned. You can’t go as a nebulously iconic something from the foreign culture of your choice.

But you can still use your interest in travel and culture to inspire a perfectly appropriate costume idea. Here are some ideas.

Mexico: Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Malu Block photographed by Carl Van Vechten. Image via Wikimedia.

Wear a red shawl, chunky jewelry, and a long skirt. Put red roses in your long dark hair (which should be worn in crown braids or some kind of chignon). Draw in a unibrow with eyeliner, assuming you can’t achieve one by skipping tweezers for a couple of days. Check out Take Back Halloween for a full costume guide.

China and/or Korea: Ai Weiwei as PSY

Ai Weiwei and associate dance a la PSY. Image via Designboom.

Are all your friends sharing this viral video of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s take on Gangnam Style?

 

All you need is a pink shirt, black blazer, sunglasses, and a ZZ Top beard to get his look.

Screenshot from “Gangnam Style” via Idolator.

If your friends aren’t as tuned in to the art world, you could also just dress as PSY himself. You know, if you happened to have a powder blue tuxedo and a can of pomade lying around the house.

Russia: Pussy Riot

Seven members of Pussy Riot, photographed by Igor Mukhin. Image via Wikimedia.

Maybe you’re looking for a super easy last minute group costume. If you can’t find colorful ski masks (check Goodwill or an Army Surplus store), cut holes in watch caps from American Apparel. Hat tip to Bust’s guide to feminist Halloween costumes for the idea.

Norway: The Scream

The Scream, by Edvard Munch. Image via Wikimedia.

In too much of a hurry to cut holes in a hat? Throw on a bald cap and the flowing blue garment of your choice. Art Info suggests a Snuggie, but anything long, blue, and tinged with existential despair will do. (By the way, one of several versions of Munch’s masterpiece is currently on view at MoMA.)

Egypt: Hatshepsut

Fragment of a sculpture of Egyptian pharoh Hatshepsut, in the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Image via Wikimedia.

Cleopatra is so over. Inject new life into the classic Egyptian costume by going as female pharoh Hatshepsut. You’ll need a white robe, miscellaneous Egpytian-esque accessories, and that Pharaonic headdress costume stores sell to people going as King Tut. Get the full inventory at Take Back Halloween.

And a bonus idea, assuming you’re not going to the same Halloween parties I am:

New York: Joey Ramone

A quick iPhone selfie of my early morning Joey Ramone test drive. I’ll be wearing a different shirt on the day, and these sunglasses aren’t exactly right.

I plan to achieve the look with a classic white tee, ripped jeans, Converse Chuck Taylors (photos show that Joey favored beat up plimsolls, but I couldn’t find any, so I’m taking poetic license), a motorcycle jacket, and dark shades. It also helps to have long dark hair with heavy bangs, but you could probably multitask the iconic Cleopatra wig found in any Halloween pop-up shop. If you’ve got the whole kit except for the moto jacket, throw on a black blazer and call yourself Patti Smith.

Happy Halloween!

Midcentury Modern: Pleasing All Of The People All Of The Time

Are these people experiencing an objectively higher-quality life? Vintage image from X-Ray Delta One, via Flickr.

Why do we love Midcentury design?

Is it because there’s some kind of absolute standard of Quality, which MCM furniture objectively meets? Is it because it’s trendy?

The Wirecutter’s Allison Gibson asks these questions and decides that midcentury furniture is inherently good design.

I’m not sure I agree with Allison.

Anyone trying to convince you that Midcentury design is objectively better is selling you something. It’s worth remembering that.

Don’t get me wrong. I love almost anything that evokes the early 60’s. I’m wearing a pair of Laura Petrie style cigarette pants right now. My resume is laid out in Futura. And, yes, I have a total hard on for Danish teak credenzas and Eames chairs. They’re gorgeous. Duh.

But that’s the thing. I like them in an individual way, because of my personal taste. I like Midcentury design the same way I love Bob Dylan and think tattoos are rad as fuck. These things are matters of opinion. Sure, MCM is a little more timeless than, say, Gangnam Style, but that doesn’t mean it’s objectively good.

I know for a fact that there are people who don’t like Midcentury Modern furniture. This blog’s namesake, my grandmother, is one of them. I’m sure she has no problem with it (we’ve never discussed it in detail), but when she and my grandfather built their house in the 60’s, the furniture they bought was NOT modern at all. They passed their traditional taste down to my parents. Our dining room table was lacquered cherry with curved legs that hinted at a vaguely Hepplewhite-ish Chippendaley influence. Our kitchen chairs were a copy of a style commonly seen in Living History museums. Dressers had brass pulls dripping with rococo detail. There wasn’t a stitch of bent plywood in any house I spent time in as a child.

Growing up, the taste I inherited from family told me that modernist furniture was ugly. When I saw Eames designs in antique shops when I first moved to New York, my first thought was, “People pay money for that?” I’d always liked it a little, in a rebellious way. But it didn’t seem to be of Objective Quality, to me.

In 1987, every bank in my hometown looked like this. It was hideous and dated. Image via X-Ray Delta One, via Flickr.

Which brings me to my theory on why people like MCM furniture so much. For a lot of people of my generation, it’s what they grew up with. Midcentury to them says home, family, and oddly enough, tradition. For people of a slightly older generation, it still looks toward an optimistic future, like a little piece of Tomorrowland you can sit on to watch TV. Midcentury furniture is both nostalgic and forward-looking. It has something for everyone. It’s iconic and unique, timeless and contemporary.

Then again, maybe The Wirecutter is right. Maybe good design means something that can be all things to all people. Maybe form follows function not just physically but emotionally.

Either way, you bet your ass I’m getting a bunch of fabulous modern furniture for my new apartment. Family tradition be damned. Stay tuned for the epic flea market posts!

Ay Arriba, Arriba

Musicians, Boyle Heights. Image via East Of West LA, via Flickr.

So I might as well tell you guys.

It looks like I’m probably going to be living in East L.A. Yes, that East L.A.

It’s a little bit freaky moving to a new city, telling people where you’re going to live, and hearing them immediately make gang jokes. Especially since I really don’t know Los Angeles. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s really dangerous.

When I moved to New York, I lived in Washington Heights. The Heights is nice now, but back in 2000 it was way off the radar in terms of places nice white girls should live in New York City.

The neighborhood was fine. I was fine. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same relationship with New York City if I had moved directly to Williamsburg, Park Slope, or Murray Hill.

So I’ve been doing my homework on East L.A. And so far, I like what I see.

There’s a feminist bike collective called the Ovarian Psychos! I won’t have a bike when I first get to town, but I’ll be sure to pick one up right away so I can ride with the Psychos.

There’s a place called Mariachi Plaza which is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s literally where all the mariachi bands hang out and jam.

It’s possible that my new neighborhood is the epicenter of Mexican food in the US.

Also, there’s these guys:

Searching terms that might lead to images of places

Watts, Los Angeles. From Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture. Image via Cool Hunting.

I think I found an apartment in L. A. Because this apartment is across the country in a city I’ve spent approximately one week in, ever, there is a lot of speculation happening. It’s in a neighborhood I’ve never been to. A neighborhood that is on the bleeding edge of the Angeleno version of gentrification, maybe safe and wonderful and full of colorful local culture, or maybe a godforsaken blighted hellhole.

I’m spending a lot of time looking at the building, the block, and the neighborhood on Google Street View. Does it look OK? Does it look terrible? Does it look like someplace I could live? Street View is like a magic eight ball in photographic form. It all feels a little like a nineteenth century immigrant contemplating the photo of his picture bride.

I’m not the only one who gazes deeply into the magic looking glass of Street View. There have been piles of online features highlighting the beautiful and surprising American landscapes compiled at random by Google. Most interestingly, photographer Doug Rickard used the images in his series A New American Picture. These are images of American desolation, places we sweep under the rug, revealed by the all-seeing internet eye.

Hopefully none of them are pictures of my new apartment.

An exhibition of these photographs will be on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York from October 18 through November 24, 2012. There’s an opening reception and book signing (yes, you can also buy the book) this Thursday, October 18. You should go!

Chicago. Doug Rickard, from A New American Picture. Image via Cool Hunting.

Detroit. Doug Rickard, from A New American Picture. Image via Yossi Milo Gallery.

Where I will be from?

Beaded Skull, made by the Huichol people of Western Mexico for Late Night Chameleon Cafe. Via TwistedSifter.

I’m back.

And I’m leaving.

I move to Los Angeles in three weeks. This is scary, and exciting, and very new. The move itself has been in the works for the last two years, as I’ve become less excited about living in New York and more excited about screenwriting and moving on to new horizons.

Stay tuned here as I talk about the last days of my New York life, the first days of my California life, Los Angeles art and culture, and furnishing my very first apartment!

(Want more beaded skulls? Check out the Late Night Chameleon Cafe! They are for sale, apparently.)

Seven Roman Art Spaces And What They Are Good For

Laocoon And His Sons. In the collection of the Vatican Museums. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for Seeing Slides from Art History class live and in person:

The Vatican Museums

Remember that time you had to take a quiz on all the different philosophers depicted in Raphael’s School of Athens? Yeah, I’m trying to block it out, too. If you look back on that time fondly — or maybe just want to get in a little Anatomically Incorrect Madonna And Child action —  the Vatican Museums are for you. It’s plural because there are different collections within the museum complex. Don’t worry about it.

The Calling Of St. Matthew. In the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for getting lost in the Caravaggio of it all:

The church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Maybe you don’t need to see all the important paintings ever. Maybe you just want to see a few really perfect ones. In that case, seek out this tiny church behind Piazza Navona which holds three works by Caravaggio depicting the life of St. Matthew. They’re counter-reformationtastic! Snarking aside, the ability to just wander into a nondescript parish church to stare at art of this caliber is one of the great pleasures of a trip to Rome. If you like this sort of thing, you should also try to schlep over to see Bernini’s Ecstacy of St. Theresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria.

A detail from the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for when you’re thirsty:

Fountain of the Four Rivers

This Bernini-designed fountain at the center of Piazza Navona is another world-class artwork you can see for free in Rome. Even better, Roman water is potable, so theoretically you could even get something tangible from the art. That said, Piazza Navona is pretty crowded, and it might be difficult to get at the fresh water spewing out. If you’re dead set on drinking from a work of art, try Il Facchino, a smaller fountain near the via del Corso which is rumored to have been sculpted by Michelangelo. It looks a lot like a zombie, which is probably not Michelangelo’s fault.

Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Photo by jmj2001, via Flickr.

Good for pretending you’re fabulously wealthy and it’s the 17th century:

A tie between the Villa Borghese and the Palazzo Barberini.

Rome is one of the best cities for public art, but a lot of that art was commissioned privately and meant for the enjoyment of a select few. Pretend you’re one of those few at either of these private homes which have been turned into government-run museums. The Borghese has more famous art and is in the middle of a manicured park which you can imagine is your sweet country estate, but the Barberini is less crowded, which keeps the fantasy alive. It’s your call.

Where is our place? Installation by Ilya Kabakov in the collection of MAXXI. Image via MAXXI.

Good for forgetting you’re in one of the oldest cities in the world:

MAXXI

Tired of all those Old Master paintings, sculptures of writhing naked people, and baroque architecture dripping with swirly bits and fussy details? Zaha Hadid’s long cold drink of a contemporary art gallery in Flaminio is the answer. The collection includes work by Gerhard Richter, Kiki Smith, William Kentridge, and other folks I’m kind of obsessed with.

House of the Vestal Virgins, Roman Forum. Photo by Arboreality, via Flickr.

Good for facing the whole Rome thing head on:

The Forum

Dude. You’re in motherfuckin’ ROME. Like, Ancient Rome. The Eternal City. The capital of the world for a solid millennium. Emperors, gladiators, togas, and the first Republic ever. This city is so important I just let myself use a total of four sentence fragments in order to describe it. What are you doing looking at a bunch of poncey installations when you could be in the Forum checking out temples and triumphal arches and the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated? I mean, why did you even come here, anyway?

It’s always such a thrill

Pacman street art by Invader. My best guess is that this is Bilbao, but I’m not entirely sure. Photo by kurtxio, via Flickr.

January of 2004 was frigid. There’d just been a huge snowstorm, and the sidewalks of Long Island City — such as they are — were frozen over with a solid layer of ice, like a skating rink. I had just moved into an arts collective called Flux Factory, on 43rd Street between the Sunnyside Rail Yards and the Pathmark supermarket on Northern Boulevard*.

“See that Space Invader looking thing kind of over next to the front door?” my new friend and roommate Phunquey asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“It was made by this French guy who goes around the world putting them up, like graffiti but made of tiles. In any city you can look up in some random place, and you’ll notice one.”

“Cool.”

Close up of the Space Invader at the old Flux Factory space on 43rd Street, Queens. Photo by JoshBousel, via Flickr.

Space Invader, or just Invader, as he’s known around the art world, had done a residency at Flux Factory the previous summer and christened the building with his work. I might have seen them around New York before then, or the tile installations might have been yet another addition to the guerilla public art I was beginning to be fascinated by. People like Banksy or Shepard Fairey, or an artist I dubbed Neck Face after his tags around the East Village. The mysterious phrase “Egg Yolk” was scrawled on the mailbox near my old apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The era of the anonymous street artist had arrived.

Seven years later I was in Rome, visiting my college friend Gillian. We wandered the eternal city, visiting the house of the Vestal Virgins, churches filled with Caravaggio paintings, and a Victorian gelateria decorated like a marble birthday cake. Here and there amid the centuries, Gillian would say, “hey, look, it’s a Space Invader!”

A Space Invader in Manchester, UK. Photo by erokism, via Flickr.

The futuristic pixels of grafitti were a perfect match for Rome’s aggressive pastiche of different millennia. Tile is an old medium, cold and hard but still organic. And the Invader designs themselves are somehow both forward-focused and backwards-looking.

No city is a better setting for an Invader than Paris, however. As the artist’s home base, according to Wikipedia (of all places) it’s “the most Invaded city to date.”  The following video, made by Raphael Haddad with music by Toby Screamer, follows the faceless Invader through the streets of Paris as he installs several new pieces under cover of darkness. It’s weirdly visceral, almost surgical, with quick cuts of Invader applying mortar and caulk, placing his ladder, slapping tiles into place, ripping off the protective plastic coatings, et voila! Paris is Invaded yet again.


Via Booooooom! and TWBE.

*By the way, Flux Factory lives on in a new Long Island City space, on 29th Street. You should check them out!

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