This charcoal Middle Ages house is in Valley Village, not far from where the old Duttons Bookstore used to be -- the dusty, eccentric, wonderful store run by the brother of the Dutton who owned Brentwood's now-gone Duttons. It was the kind of place where you might stumble on a yellowing old book about chain mail. But enough about bookstores.
I came across this house when my daughter was invited to a children's party nearby. It is pure Plumbean, along the lines of Plumbean's mantra: "My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams." It is not so much a stage set as an embodiment. I am guessing that inside this house things are very, very tidy.
My house for four days this past week was a tent. By choice, fortunately. Gloriously. Temporarily.
My daughter, husband and I went to Catalina Island with a group of friends, riding the boat over, then a bus, with our gear conveniently trucked into the wilderness by truck. Storybook to the point of non-reportability. Except our tent failed to be packed onto the truck. Had everyone else in our group been sleeping out, in their pillowy sleeping bags, it would have been fine. But they weren't. They had tents, and we didn't have one, and the desire to conform at a campsite can be as deep as the need for marshmallows. They put up homes, found good places for their necessaries to make themselves "at home." And we left our canvas bags and cooler, our this-and-thats in a circle out in the open, in the area where our shelter would have been. Of course it turned into an issue -- the ranger was involved, the driver of the bus. A snag. We had turned into the difficult people with needs that involved others. Precisely what camping is designed to leave behind. We had only just arrived and we felt singularly displaced in our new surroundings, the burden of fate our own responsibility, or fault.
The difficulty lasted only a few hours, but it put me in a funk. Irrationally, I felt bad. The pretty picture of all our tents pitched near one another was denied by the hole where my tent was not.
But, regardless of my mental architecture, it was all pre-designed to resolve happily. Our friends would have loaned us their kid's tent, squeezing into their own big one. We didn't need to borrow it, though because the ranger rented us a tent. And the next day ours was found and delivered to the camp site. We had a fabulous time in a place that was utterly beautiful. We kayaked in blue water, climbed lovely hills, sat on the cove beach, told stories at the campfire. We returned home-home suntanned, tired in a happy way, tent materials furled in their box. The duffel bag was now a sack of dirty laundry. Our house felt huge and comfortable.
But it made me think about tents...and houses. And the way my brother, Adlai, ran out of money in Fairbanks, Alaska, a few years ago. He was a graduate student in biology, feuding with his advisor, losing financial support. He gave up the hard shell of his cabin, took his tent and set it up in a field. Where he lived for a while. He was still living in the tent when he came to visit one April. I went to LAX to pick him up. It was in the baggage claim where I found him, recognizable only up close. Long hair, beard, limping, smelling.
A tent dweller. A person who hiked and camped alone in the wilderness. He had lived in Alaska for about ten years at that point. Camping was natural to him. When we got to my house, I threw all of his clothes into the washer immediately. It wasn't a good visit.
He now lives, studies, and works in Prague, the Czech Republic. He has cleaned up for old Europe. He resides in a land of old buildings in ornate styles that are as foreign to Americans as wilderness. Adlai has a long history with Prague, predating his years in Alaska. His ties in Prague are as deep as anywhere, including our hometown, Washington, D.C. I don't know when he's coming back. He seems to have pitched his tent, for the time being.
This house is on Devirian Place in Altadena, in walking distance of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and dozens of horse stables. When I first saw the Africa painting several months ago, it was about two-thirds toward the degree of completion you see in this picture. My first thought was, "Plumbean!" I was thinking of it as folk/outsider art, something irrepressible and personal, though obviously political. One pair of painted sashes reads: "Humanity Superiority/White Supremacy Inferiority." Another reads: "Our Story/Not History."
It turns out to be an organized effort, with fifteen contributors' names listed on the bottom of the mural, and an email address for a man named Lacy. Leaning against the house today was a small sign that read "The Garvey House."
When I stopped in front of the house to take my iPhone picture a few days ago, there were two pickup trucks parked in front, both of them painted red, black, and green. A woman who waited in front was friendly about my taking pictures, but she did not want to talk. She pointed out the email address.
It was a notable contrast, between the woman's reticence and the screaming red paint, the house's boldness and operatic call for attention.
Speaking of house and home, I was driving south on Echo Park Avenue just past noon today and saw the fences peeled away from the debacle we call Durbin, a failed condo development in the heart of Echo Park -- at Chicken Corner in fact. It has been about 14 months since construction on the project was halted. There is still a porta potty on the premises, and fire clearance has killed the wild tobacco plants and grasses, but no building, no tearing down, nothing. The several acres where the condos were supposed to go have been surrounded by regulation-issue green-tarp chain-link fence for all that time until today. At first I thought that maybe the fence rental folks hadn't been paid and they had come to reclaim their property. But it turns out they were only maintaining it. Doing repairs, a worker explained -- to the fence, the only active element in the whole moribund eyesore. Curtain goes back up shortly.
Spotted in Echo Park:
I have spent much of my life thinking about weird houses, loving them and loathing them -- including the weird house I was raised in. It is a row house, on a corner lot in Washington, D.C., built in 1877 and, during most of my childhood, completely covered in ivy, which at times covered various windows and sometimes during summer grew in. Despite being embarrassed by it, I always had a protective streak toward the ivy, which my mother refused to have trimmed except away from windows and doorways. Despite eventual persecution by some of her neighbors.
There is a spectrum of weird houses, from highly intentional, sometimes precious yearnings for otherness to uncontrolled/uncontrollable manifestations of otherness. This cow house is a piece of theater. But it's on one of Echo Park's extreme side streets, near Sunflower Ave. No one goes there unless they are very lost, wandering, or on their way to one of the houses on the dead end streets in this far north part of Echo Park. Which is part of what makes it such a surprise.
Plumbean: If the reference doesn't mean beans to you, it's from a children's book, The Big Orange Splot (Daniel Manus Pinkwater) in which Mr. Plumbean, who lives on a "neat" conventional street transforms his house into a psychedelic vision of tropical splendor, to the upset of his neighbors. He says, "My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams."
It had been quite a while since I had walked around Echo Park Lake, on a weekday, for no particular reason. So that's what I did today, at noon, with my dog Chyla. I found, once again, that it's a perfect place to be when you have no particular place to go. It was sleepy and quiet, and each person there -- most of the people I saw present were solo -- whistled their own tune. One guy carried a brass instrument but didn't play, another jogged, another sunbathed, another fished. And so on.
The entire place, the ducks, the strollers, the vendors, seemed blissfully unaware of a fairly constant and increasingly vitriolic "conversation" cum shoutfest that has been developing on a neighborhood list serv -- in which a group of neighbors express mostly their fury at a growing informal swapmeet that takes place at the park every Sunday. The complaint is that the vendors who toss down tarps to sell tubesocks, electronics, used clothing, plastic toys are making the park less park-like, ruining the grass, littering, turning the recreational space into a commercial zone. To some of my good neighbors and friends the issue is nearly an obsession. (There has been talk of organizing a protest swapmeet on the green in front of City Hall.) Others argue that the economy being what it is poor people should be allowed a chance to make some money. In any case, there was no outward sign of distress on a Tuesday lunchtime. The water was a weird color in some places, definitely swampy -- a variety of unusual orangey colors and gray-green and gray. Fingerling trout played about in schools, and I saw a few bigger ones who were about six or eight inches. A muscovy duck nestled in the muckiest place in the park -- the northeast drainage corner -- where I saw it a few Sundays ago. A sunflower grew in an unlikely crack in the cement just above water's level. There seemed to be very few ducks and geese compared to what I have remembered from past years. I have heard the Canada goose residents may be to blame. But I was glad to see a mallard mom with three tiny ducklings, or "patitos!" as a toddler called out to them from his stroller. And Our Lady of the Lake had both of her hands. A couple of years ago, she didn't.
*Update: I should add there was no sign of OK Go singing and dancing to this Prince-y song at the Lake:
Some Tuesday snapshots(to be continued after the jump:)
A young sunflower found its niche down by the water.
Last time I saw this muscovy duck, he/she had a partner, also a muscovy, and this foul (no pun intended) place was where they sat, as crowds of people ambled by on a Sunday.
These guys and girl were looking for a snack.
The Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park had its annual fundraiser dinner last night at Grace Simons Lodge in Elysian Park. It is the eighth if not ninth year I have attended the springtime event, which is always interesting, drawing the old guard of the neighborhood as well as civics nerds of all ages, oddballs of all ages, people who care about the park. In fact, dinner to dinner, I have watched some of the younger folks turn into old guard or near old guard, certainly establishment.
Ha! You may shout, Echo Park establishment? And, yes, that's what it was: the committee folks, the activists (including perhaps a few anarchists), the ones who have fought the city or collaborated with it on important developments, such as the saving of Elysian Park some 40 years ago, when there were plans to build a convention center right smack in the park, perhaps where the lodge is located right this very minute.
The best way to differentiate between annual dinners, of course, is to compare and contrast -- never mind that's not always fair. Here are a few notes in that regard:
This year, they had nicer centerpieces than ever: bromeliads with little limes and other greens in terra cotta pots. They were too nice not to give away as favors, so the committee devised a system. At each table, one chair had a post-it underneath. That person got to keep the centerpiece. Christine Peters announced this from the podium. As virtually all the seats were occupied, there was no danger of centerpieces not getting homes. And this being Echo Park -- where limes are loved, as are bromeliads, anything green in fact, and this being Echo Park, where desires can sometimes be raw -- people started looking under their chairs immediately. Anarchy! Christine had to beg for quiet as chairs were overturned, people getting out of their seats, talking, voices. It took a little while for quiet to return.
After the chairs, it was a fairly quiet event compared to some. For one thing, although tomorrow is election day, it isn't the kind of big election that draws state assembly candidates and the like to the event. No Kevin De Leon standing by the doorway, no Eric Garcetti at the podium.
And I believe the Lakers game may have siphoned off a few guests and possibly speakers. Not that anyone was calling out, "Speeches, more speeches!" This was a more intimate, though equally populated, kind of dinner this year. It had a kind of Passover-like seder quality to it, where everyone gathers to hear a familiar story: How King Antiochus tried to put a Convention Center in the park, but the underdogs fought him off, and we get to have/buy tickets to a dinner party, where we retell the story, as a result. Complete with pita if you were avoiding leavened bread.
Never forget! The park does not remain at its current level of green space on its own. Nature untrammeled would have it paved and developed presto pronto. Next year at Grace Simons Lodge!
And the raffle was fun. A man at our table gave my daughter a winning raffle ticket (her six tickets all turned out to be duds). She picket out a cat toy for our cats. Her benefactor, whose name is Hal, had bought quite a few tickets, and after claiming a prize of a dog bed for his dog, he handed out winning ticket after winning ticket to the deserving folks around him.
That would have been the perfect place to end Chicken Corner's report, but I have to add that the Echo Park urban country band I See Hawks played the gig and stayed for dinner.
A quick look at the May 5 L.A. Times' interactive map of medical marijuana dispensaries shows at least six shops in 90026 (Echo Park's main zip) that have been ordered to cease (legal) operations by Monday, June 7. Five of them are on Sunset Blvd. Lots of empty storefronts coming our way.
Meanwhile, a few days ago the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) posted an interesting article sketching the history of marijuana's illegality in this hemisphere, in the context of the current high level of gun-play just over the border. Author argues that the effort to delegalize marijuana in the early part of the 20th century -- and later keep it illegal -- was deeply racist and corrupt.
Chicken Corner found herself at the Cafe Tropical in Silver Lake this morning, where she was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Natasha (below), a solid gray feline with gold eyes. Most people bring their dogs to the outdoor tables at the Cuban cafe, which serves Cuban sandwiches, cafe con leche and guava-cream-cheese pastries deliciosas. But Natasha pushes the boundaries when it comes to sidewalk lounging. Chicken Corner asked, and Natasha said she does not see her felinity as a problem.
"Why should I care if most animal patrons are dogs?" she asked. "I am not a dog. I am a cat, and I like it here. But I wish my human would hurry up and get his order. Most dogs feel the same way when their guardians go inside."
Natasha chats with a blogger while waiting for her people to return with coffee, orange juice, and guava cream cheese pastry.