Monday, July 31, 2006


Waitin’ for that train
Waitin’ for the train, yeah
Take me, yeah, from this lonesome place
--Jimi Hendrix

“you have rented space in the imagination of the city”
-- Joseph Giovannini, Architect

Preface: Why is it that every LA story seems to have a seamy side? OK, I have to admit that’s part of the charm of this city. Maybe a seamy side of New York or Chicago is just so…expected. But something about the image conscious city, the glitterati, the posing and the California dream (one of plentiful orange groves, palm trees, bikini clad babes and idyllic beaches)…is the perfect setup. All is not as it seems. It seems appropriate to quote Jack Nicholson playing Jake Gittes in Chinatown here "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't." Noah Cross (John Huston), 1974

Foreword: The ink is not yet dry on my post on the recent demise of the South Central Farmer’s Garden, when another chapter of LA History (featuring doomed gardens) has captured my imagination. Oddly enough the Annenberg Foundation features a role in both garden stories. This story is one about corn…or at least I thought it was about corn when I started to write. I now know it is a story about politics, prejudice, perseverance, and …the railroad.

The story begins a long time ago in a far away place. It was San Francisco in 1870. Southern Pacific was going to build a railroad and they needed cheap labor. Enter the Chinese immigrant. They came by the 100’s and then by the 1000’s and they laid track and they built that railroad and they didn’t stop until they reached Los Angeles. And when they were done, tired and broken, the idea of a return passage to the old country was a cost prohibitive dream. So what did they do? Well, the ones who could farm leased land and grew vegetables, and those who could not, set up shop. Those shops ran the gambit from mysterious apothecaries to illicit dens of opium.

And so was the birth of the first Los Angeles Chinatown. By 1890, a community of 3,000 Chinese lived in a 15 block neighborhood with over 200 businesses.[1]

It began with a train and it was to end with a train although that was to be some sixty years later. It was 1933 when the demolition began. Southern Pacific railroad had brought them there and now it was Union Pacific that wanted them out. So eager were they to begin construction of what was to become Union Station, that they actually began the demolition a week before the City Council approved the action.

The story of where the people went is at least a book chapter in itself. A story well told by Lisa See in her book “On Gold Mountain”[2]. The short version (so that we can get on to the corn) is that a new Chinatown was established in it’s present day location, in 1938.

The Present: this is not a cornfield?

First there is a mountain, then
there is no mountain, then there is
---There is a Mountain, Donovan

In May, 2006 I moved into my new place in Lincoln Heights. On arrival, I complained about the neighborhood, the gangs, the graffiti, the dirty sidewalks. Fearing I was missing something very special, my visionary landlord (and favorite architect), wrote to me:

“I see the area as a jambalaya of industrial, residential and commercial properties with a mixture of communities (Chinese, Hispanic and artist/gentry), and urbanistically, as the junction of the Arroyo and LA River (and therefore the oldest settled part of LA, occupied for millennia by the Indians), and the birthplace of modern LA, because of the railroads”. [3]
He continued:
“I actually prefer this grit to suburbia…I don't see the area for the stereotypes but for the infrastructure because it has the depth of history and the making of diversity.”[4]
And the truth was that as I looked more closely…I did become captivated with my neighborhood. Every day I drive across a bridge over the Los Angeles River, past old railroad yards. To my left, an old warehouse just purchased by a local nonprofit and now adorned with bright green and yellow leaves, and to my right an… old … ugly … patch of land. Or is it? (Look closely Pamela).

Sometimes it is hard to hear the whispers of history when looking at something as bleak as 32 desolate acres of mud, gravel and weeds. And maybe I wouldn’t have listened…if it weren’t for the artistic inspiration of Lauren Bon. Looking at that same land, where I saw an ugly strip of dirt, somehow, Lauren conceived of something quite different…She envisioned corn…and a lot of it. And she turned that vision into a reality, first forming a limited corporation, NotaCornfield, LLC., then garnering a grant from the Annenberg Foundation (okay it probably doesn’t hurt that she was an Annenberg granddaughter and a trustee of that foundation), but funding opportunities aside, this artist brought the necessary public attention to the land that would herald the ground breaking of what will soon be an urban park.

My father took this shot of the Los Angeles skyline when we walked through the corn last August:
I don’t know if I can describe her project…I mean… it IS a cornfield, it’s NOT a cornfield, it’s a “living sculpture”, it’s a “potent metaphor”, it’s “land art” blah blah blah. Maybe I’d better let Lauren (or her web writer) say it:

Extending environmentally, socially, and spiritually engaged art practices of the late twentieth century into the specific circumstances of contemporary Los Angeles, Not A Cornfield operates in a controversial arena where still-cherished assumptions regarding the nature of art as a pursuit devoid of practical or social goals, and of the artist as a singular, disconnected, image-maker, are being powerfully challenged. To cite the writer Gablik, this is an arena where artists are performing a "new interpretation of the relationship between artist and society, based on a sense of ethical responsibility toward the social and environmental communities."
Huh? Okay, I admit it, I picked that quote on purpose. Let’s try an easier one, this from the site as well:

a transformation of a 32 acre industrial brownfield in the historic center of Los Angeles into a cornfield for one agricultural cycle. This temporary project is located just North of Chinatown and South of Lincoln Heights on a large stretch of land well known as “The Cornfield."
Had enough? Alright, now I’ve given her version. Here’s mine: 32 acres of corn was planted, allowed to grow up, opened to the community for artistic endeavors and then cut down (not eaten because the ground is contaminated) and recycled (don’t know what they made out of all that corn but I’m sure you can find out on their website). I have to admit that despite my skepticism, all that corn did make an impression.

But hold on, about that space for community artists…The project was advertised as “open” to community artists. At least that’s what Aaron Landy thought when he showed up to film “a dancer in a colorful, flowing gown near a row of cornstalks”.[5]

Leave it to Angelinos, they can’t resist a good pun…or a really bad one for that matter. So it wasn’t too surprising when LA Times staff writer Bob Pool went cornball, by starting his coverage on the Aaron Landy scandal with the following line: “It was an accusation of porn in the corn that aroused Aaron Landy's scorn.”. I don’t know if he wrote the matching title, or if we can blame that one on the editor, but the headline read: “Porn Talk Stalks L.A. Art Project”. Stalks? Get it? (Rim shot) Maybe we’ll never know if Aaron was clandestinely shooting pornographic films as alleged, or just a misunderstood artist with every right to be there (as he alleged). I can live with that.

Was it after that incident that they put up the “Corn Cam”? Probably not, it was probably just someone trying to make the security camera part of the art project, or maybe part of the web cam that let web users watch the corn grow? How high is it today I wonder? As high as an elephant’s eye?

Art Imitates Life: This wasn’t the first time an article ran on the illustrious topic of porn and corn! On November 1, 1991 “Lawmakers from Western states abandoned Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in droves Thursday, accepting a "corn for porn" deal that preserves grazing subsidies in exchange for keeping new anti-obscenity restrictions off federal arts grants”. Do you think Lauren might have known about that? A deal that swapped corn to save the arts? You never know do you?

[1] Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council Official Website

[2] On Gold Mountain: The 100-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family, 1995 Lisa See
[3] Private correspondence, Joseph Giovannini
[4] Ibid
[5] Porn Talk Stalks L.A. Art Project Managers of a temporary cornfield say a filmmaker was shooting adult films on the site. He denies the charge.By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer, November 15, 2005, LA Times

Saturday, July 29, 2006


OK, one month in my new place, and one month of shopping at my "Ghetto Von's grocery store and I had had it. I made a desperation call to a friend, where’s the nearest Trader Joe's?”. Honestly, I was willing to drive back to the Marina just to pick up some milk and bread! “Duh” my friend replied, “you’re right near Silver Lake!”.

I knew I had found Silver Lake when I spotted a trendy furniture store called simply “Grain”. The whole tenor of the neighborhood shifted into a minor chord. The barbers became stylists; the stores became shops, the purses transformed into handbags. Sigh. How happy it all makes me!

So many “shops” had one name, a block away from “Grain” was one called “Salt”. I looked everywhere for the store called “Of” but no luck.

When I saw Trader Joe's ahead I felt a sense of relief, but across the street, even better—was Gelson’s! I was like a kid in a grocery store. I ran around picking out organic items in cute little overpriced jars.

Perhaps this is a sad reflection on me, such a victim of consumerism. But, as my mother always said, I was born with “champagne taste and beer money”.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


On my dad's first visit to the Lincoln Heights the first thing he asked was "are you sure this isn't where they made Klute?"

Though most other visitors focus only on the interior, Dad was struck by the qualities of the "haunting hallway" as he called it. He snapped these shots, one of the stairway (with the doorway eerily reflected on the black granite on both left and right; and the other of the glowing red square in the hallway.

I could see the wheels turning as he roamed around the place. In under an hour he was out in the hallway with a dust mop. On our first trip out the front entrance he wrote "wash me" in the dust on the granite trim.

Five trips to the nearby Home Depot later, he had (not in this order): caulked the bottom of the shower where the tile had separated from the floor; carefully scrubbed off the most egregious paint spots on the floor and then filled in each gouge with a perfect match of plastic wood; created a simple shade for an exposed fluorescent light in the bedroom, with a beautiful curve that matched the room; bought a hardwood floor compatible vacuum, a new string mop, a new cover for the dust mop in the hall; put up rack shelving to hide some of my storage; covered the plastic connector to the air conditioner with insulated foil to prevent the heat from emanating back into the room; hung my silk Persian rug and my photos of Prague and Chicago; and replaced the dead orchid with another bloom.

Needless to say it was a whirlwind. I tagged around trying to stop him from throwing away everything I owned, handing him screws or extension cords, etc. etc. I was so exhausted by the third day that I called my sister in Chicago to plead for advice. In a hushed voice, indicating the utmost gravity, she said "you haven't been giving him caffeine have you Pammi?".


Moved into the Lincoln Heights area of LA recently. The first thing I noticed about my building was a corner of “art” gracing the wall. The second thing I noticed about the block were the much less artsy scrawls tagging almost every building in the vicinity. The tags on Michaels Furniture Store had been painted over, leaving only the rectangular square of a lighter shade of tan over the rest of the tan wall. The liquor store on the corner was painted with a mural, but every part of the mural was tagged. I counted over eight unique tag signatures. Some made reference to gangs in other areas; some seemed to be individual names. Whatever the meaning, the mural was completely defaced.

After a month of pondering the graffiti, I decided to contact the City. I could have called the “311” graffiti hotline, but it seemed so impersonal, so instead I walked over to my local Councilman’s office. This wasn’t difficult to do since the office for Council District 1 was on the other corner of my block! I asked my father to accompany me, hoping he would add a measure of maturity and gravity to my case.The secretary at the Council office told me that the Councilman wasn’t available but I could speak with a “Case Manager”. The Case Manager for my area wasn’t available but another area Case Manager came out to hear my plea and then told me to wait for a moment to speak with a “Deputy”. A few minutes later, the Deputy came out and said that the City could provide some rollers and paint, but that it would be a standard color (not custom) or I was welcome to call the “311” number.

I had come over to the office only intending to offer my help, but frustration overcame me when I felt what seemed to be a very familiar bureaucratic apathy. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I found myself crying out “but don’t you think even if we can’t solve the whole problem, the Councilman could just keep his own little block clean?” “Well” said the Deputy, “the Graffiti Problem is a very serious problem in the City”. Luckily my father intervened at that moment, interrupting what could have been a disastrous tirade with “Well, anything we can do to help, we have to get going now” he cheerfully offered. And that was that.

I’m a nonprofit accountant by trade and, as I pay the bills, I too have contemplated the “graffiti problem”. We pay the paint companies over $100,000 a year for the paint to cover over this “problem”. To sit at my desk and moan about what a waste it is to spend this money for paint to paint over paint, is one thing, but to look at on my own block is a different thing entirely.

Hoping to find some more innovative solution, I set out to do a little research. To my surprise I found a man named Ward blogging about the subject in a blog called “The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal”. His blog took it’s title from Mark McCormick’s 2001 award winning video. This video (summarized in Wards blog) “makes the observation that the process of destroying one art form unwittingly creates another”. An idea I certainly never considered before.

Ward, it seems, in addition to blogging, is also a Graffiti artist himself. His work (painted on walls around Atlanta under the pseudonym “Canon” is a bit reminiscent of Picasso in his Blue Period. As a fan of Guernica and the Portraits of Sylvette, Ward/Canon’s art holds appeal. Sadly most has been painted over, but are recorded in his photo journal. That would be the downside of unrequited wall painting.

The next week, as I drove around the block, I noticed that the mural on the corner liquor store (in all its vandalized glory) had been painted over. I will probably never know whether it was our visit to the City, or the liquor store owner, who brought about this little bit of social change...but...who cares?


It's a , it's an apartment, it's, it's...a loftment! Moving toward the next adventure in my life, this Sunday I take occupancy of my new domicile. Escher-esque design by architect and critic, Joseph Giovannini.

Will the glasses slide off the counter tops? Will the cabinets fall off the wall? No, it is all optical illusion with color and light. I wonder what the cats will think when they try to jump on the counters?

And if it is "Escheresque" who would this character be? 9 out of 10 people I asked did not know, leading me to believe maybe my one year as an art major may have taken me farther away from general public opinion than I had thought. Scroll thru Wikipedia's entry to see some of the most famous Escher drawings.

Another feature--shapes that when viewed from one specific spot appear to be one object. The blue shape shown here is actually three blue shapes painted on three different walls at different depths. Well, I'll see what happens to my brain when I move in this Sunday! This is your brain, this your brain on Escher!

I'll part with my Dad's remark "don't come home drunk darling"!



"Heaven, heaven is a place, where nothing, nothing ever happens..." Talking Heads

Yes, yes, I know, I'm supposed to be packing! Today's the day I move into the -ment. Walked around my future home last night and noted (again) just how small the place is. The storage spaces are ingeniously hidden, but also small. I was reminded of the house Frank Lloyd Wright built with no closets and his remark in response to criticism "people in California don't wear clothes". Don't know if that is apocryphal or not, but funny. Also reminded me of a quote from my favorite comedian Steven Wright "You can't have everything...where would you put it?"

So it is time to scale down (again). All this evokes the problem identified by philosophers as the mind-body problem. Here is an architect who appreciates space, form and simplicity and in that pursuit has (of course) embraced "whiteness". The forms are white, backlit by white light. The white walls "float" in white space.

And of what is all this"white" reminiscent? Why heaven of course! White fluffy clouds, white angels, white feathers, presided over by a supreme being wearing white robes, etc. etc. Now here is the thing about heaven, it is not occupied by earthly beings, beings that (for instance) eat, sleep, wear clothes, read books. It's true there may be a harp or two, but other than that--nada.

You see, the mind, when considered without the body, is both simple and expansive. It may need care and feeding, but one thing it does not require is a shoe rack!!

So today, corporeal me, shall try to move in to this white space and see (along with my soul) if my body can find purchase here.


When Matthew Arnold wrote about "Wandering Between Worlds..." he was writing about the struggle between traditional religion and the theory of rights, the two worlds "one dead, the other struggling to be born".

This week, I find myself wandering between two worlds of my own... When I left Hollywood for my new "near Chinatown", I didn't realize how far a world I was about to travel. That was until my boyfriend arrived and said "Pam! You live in East LA!". I raised one eye-brow as I turned the deadbolt on the front door behind us.

The first time I heard West Hollywood called "We-Ho" I rolled on the floor laughing. I also assumed it was a joke; but I was wrong. is the City of West Hollywood's official website. So it wasn't as big of a surprise to hear my new neighborhood (East Los Angeles) called "East-Lo".

In WeHo you sip cappuccino at a bistro, in EastLo you order carnitas at the taqueria. In WeHo the restaurants start with the italian pronoun "IL", in EastLo, the spanish "EL". In WeHo, dress-up means go in drag, in EastLo, a zoot suit and a classic car. WeHo, gay, EastLo, gang, WeHo, fabulous, EastLo, fabulosa.

Of course that's all just the stereotypical gloss on the surface, but under every gloss a little truth must shine. Sometimes an image can be so, so wrong though. Ever since I saw Allison Anders' film "Mi Vida Loca" in 1993 (which was technically set in Echo Park, not "EastLo", but...) I have romanticized the stylized gangland Latino world. I was in for a shock when I met girls from the area who told me that to be tattooed with the three dots symbolizing having lived a "vida loca" or "crazy life" meant you gangbanged and lived to tell the tale. The three dots were like tear drops tinged with regret and pain. It wasn't at all like the crazy life I talk of, laughing and rolling my eyes. I felt very bad for joking about it. I also loved (LOVED) the soundtrack, especially "Suavacito" by the 4 Corners.

Anyway, I am here, all moved in, part of that insane part of urban living known as "". I guess I'm the "gentry" (which has at least two layers of irony, being both female, and a poor inner-city girl myself).


Last night I was awakened by three loud noises. I lay in the darkness frightened by the sound of gun fire. But something in my brain told me that noise was too…plastic. I decided it had not been gun shots and fell into sleep.

In the morning, I padded down my stairs to pick up the Sunday Times and… there it was—Yellow splats of paint on the door like tiny bright sunbursts. Indisputable evidence of three…paint balls!

A brief flashback followed--a traumatic moment of childhood, being hit by an egg on Halloween, faded with the relief that my neighborhood choice of weapon on a Saturday night was paint guns!