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August 30, 2010

Fix provides a respite...

berryman.jpg...from the doldrums on a Sunday afternoon. The cafe on Echo Park Ave. in Elysian Heights has been having festivals to fit the space on weekends, with music by Robert Berryman's reggae-blues-international band African Cowboy and craft vendors in the four-car parking lot. My family and I stopped by yesterday intending to stay to hear a couple of songs, consume a coffee and a cup of yogurt (though my daughter would have preferred the gelato -- she knows all the flavors, but she'd already exceeded her dessert quota for the day if not the week), and then head back home. We ended up staying and staying, until the vendors -- and the sun -- were packing up, as friends and neighbors popped up from all directions, some of them with kids. Our friend Joe D'Augustine was carrying seven or eight classic paperbacks he had just found on the street; Joe and his wife, Heather, were joined by the author D.R. Haney, whose novel Banned for Life I had just borrowed. Another literary light who was hanging out, with his dog on leash, was Joe Donnelly, published/editor of Slake literary journal, which had made the L.A. Times best seller list this week. I didn't know that literary journals could do that. Oddly, it was classified as "nonfiction" though it contains fiction. Our neighbor Iva Gueorguieva stopped by with her mom and son. The actor Roger Smith was there, too, hanging out with his daughter. I heard he'd taken the mic on a previous occasion, joining African Cowboy for at least one song. But I missed that show. My daughter, Madeleine, asked, "Why isn't Roger singing?" Perhaps he had done so earlier yesterday. And, in any case, Berryman had a full crowd, all seats taken, his band focused and intent -- I couldn't believe it was free. At that moment it seemed like a dream of a good neighborhood, where you can walk to a tiny festival and hear music performed by musicians who happen to be neighbors, socialize with your next door neighbors and others whom you like but rarely see. Meanwhile, the vendors are knitting and silk-screening, a chalk-artist creates a face on the driveway apron, and, if you haven't already consumed too many treats for one day, there's gelato. The only thing missing was the Fallen Fruit Collective, with bushels of free, locally grown, produce, harvested from the overhanging branches of Joe & Heather, Iva, Robert, etc. etc.

August 26, 2010

Echoes of Echo Park in Calafell

calafell.jpgA feature broadcast by NPR's The World today sounded like late-in-the day coverage of the controversy over unlicensed vendors of discount goods at Echo Park Lake. Undocumented immigrants selling inexpensive goods on blankets in public spaces, got chased away by police after established residents of the community demanded their removal. One of the central issues was how to allow immigrants to make a living in a hobbled economy. Which, of course, is what happened in this neighborhood. But The World's story was about Calafell, Spain.

Here's the link: Right here.

Photo via The World.

August 19, 2010

In T-town they can dream of peanut butter pie

Chicken Corner has flown to Wash, D.C., for a bit, visiting family and experiencing rain in the summertime. A quick look on Facebook today brought me news of Echo Park in a roundabout way -- via the Toronto Globe and Mail, which ran an appreciation of Echo Park that featured Delilah Bakery on Echo Park Avenue. Finding it a bit difficult to locate my bearings here, but pleased to see Delilah appreciated by our neighbours to the north (never mind that the Echo Park details now read almost like boilerplate -- Mack Sennett, radical leftists, vintage shops -- describing this well-appreciated district).

Meanwhile, D.C. is quiet, as it tends to be in August -- no Obamajams, but messy traffic nonetheless. Huge thunderstorms have left tree branches laying across roads, cutting off important access routes, making a bloody nuisance of themselves, as we say in Cali.

August 12, 2010

The Conversation

Echo Park Ave., where there used to be an abandoned gas station: Green (and blue) sectionals. Are there two sides to this story? Perhaps Abandoned Couches would know.


August 10, 2010

Libros Whatros?

schmibros-1.jpgChicken Corner was a bookstore tourist on Friday, when I went to Boyle Heights with two friends to investigate a shop recently opened by my friend David Kipen. Libros Schmibros opened July 12, the day the public library was forced to cut the public's hours. Kipen said he could have opened the shop earlier but waited for July 12 in order to make a statement. In the spirit of volunteerism and of private entities taking over what public agencies are taking away, Libros Schmibros is both a resale shop and a lending library -- in the tradition of bookshops loaning books as well as selling them. Years ago, I used to borrow books from a bookstore on the upper east side in Manhattan; I think the store's name was Gotham (not to be confused with the legendary place on 46th), but a quick look online a few minutes ago showed no such store near 86th Street anymore. If it went out of business, I'll hope it wasn't because they loaned books.

In any case, Kipen will lend you his -- and what a terrific selection of trade literature and American classics he has (as well as other genres)! I had been looking for books by Penelope Fitzgerald and found several on David's shelves. I have also had a yen for the Queen of Mean, Florence King, recently -- and didn't find any of her very funny essays, sadly.

Libros Schmibros is the next step in an unusually broad literary career. Before opening the shop, Kipen, who, of course, is a writer -- as well as translator and NPR books reviewer -- was head of literary programs for the National Endowment for the Arts, which then was headed by the poet Dana Gioia. Recently, Kipen wrote a new translation of Cervantes' The Dialogue of the Dogs (Melville House).

El Random Hero wrote a nice post about Libros Schmibros a couple of weeks ago on

Libros Schmibros is at 2000 East 1st Street, in close walking distance to the lovely Hollenbeck Park. It's also close to Al & Bea's burrito stand on 1st Street, which served the best burrito I have ever had -- though I will add the caveat that I was very hungry at the time.

Photo via El Random Hero at

*Full disclosure: David Kipen is married to LAObserved's Malibu observer, Veronique de Turenne.

August 9, 2010

Weekend notes

Normal had a new, sweet flavor this Sunday at Echo Park Lake as neighbors exulted that the only vendor at the park was selling ice cream. Three squad cars remained at the park all day, armed with their new legal tool -- an "enforceable" ordinance (as opposed to the other kind) -- that the police used to chase away unlicensed vendors. "The grass was visible again," according to one account posted on a neighborhood list serv. The park looked like a park! Chicken Corner celebrates the reasonable separation of recreation and commerce in public park spaces. And hopes the vendors regroup in suitable surroundings quickly.

Meanwhile, about a quarter mile away from the Lake, a select mini-market of cool at the boutique Feeding Birds attracted a kimchee taco truck -- Calbi -- which served delectable shrimp tacos on Echo Park Avenue. menu.jpg No grass was trampled, nor picnics disrupted in the serving of this food.

The bitter note for the weekend: reported gunfire on Echo Park Avenue, near Baxter on Saturday night, about 20 shots fired, some say (Chicken Corner slept straight through it). That kind of thing used to be "normal" around here. Not so much recently.


Photos: At the scene of the Taco Truck, Echo Park Avenue, August 8, 2010.

August 5, 2010

L.A. Mythology

Notes from the Time Travel District: Funny thing that last night's reading of selected peices from Slake literary journal was at Stories bookshop/cafe, which is adjacent to the Time Travel Mart on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. Funny because the reading at Stories was dedicated to Time Travel as well. (It's spreading!) One reader, Hank Cherry, delivered a beat-inspired performance while reading from an essay called "The Resurrection of Henry Grimes," asking the audience to snap their fingers instead of clap. And two out of five readers read reminiscences of the '80s music scene (and earlier) in Los Angeles. It's evocative material, the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, Ron Athey, Bob Seeger, L7, Jac Zinder, Thelonius Monster. It was a scene whose members found a lot of employment at the L.A. Weekly in the paper's legendary, debauched early days and continuing to the present (the Weekly having employed so many of the writers in the inaugural issue of Slake, as well as its editors, Laurie Ochoa and Joe Donnelly). If the atmosphere last night seemed clubby, Chicken Corner had to remind herself it wasn't Slake's job not to be that way. It's the writing that counts.

A couple of mini snapshots -- in words, because I was loath to get up close with an iPhone camera. Polly Geller reading poetry: she wore pretty ballet flats, and at her feet was a tall Colt 45 beer can. She got a bit flustered before she began reading and said something oddly lovely, "It's weird to be in your own neighborhood and reading poems."

John Albert, who read selections from an essay titled "The Hep C Generation," had brought his ailing, elderly dog, whom he carried over one arm like a doll. He explained she was sick -- and presumably he hadn't wanted to leave her at home. He also told the audience that he had had front-row seats to the Dodgers; he did not say he'd rather be here reading a personally difficult piece involving drug abuse as a teenager. When it was his turn to read, he went to the mic with his dog under his arm. Editor/publisher Joe Donnelly went up and offered to hold the dog. Donnelly cradled the dog for the rest of Albert's reading.

One of my favorite artworks in Slake is a black-and-white photograph by Dan Peterka that shows a ground-level view of a turtle, a red-eared slider, at a full run -- they can go fast, those sliders. Forget the myth of the slow turtle. Behind the creature is an overturned bicycle. Lovely. I am assuming the turtle was heading for Echo Park Lake, to join the 500 or 1000 of his/her compatriots who live there.

101 dalmations

An odd piece of dog info popped up on the Echo Park Animal Alliance list serv this morning. Yesterday, someone "surrendered" an even-ten "friendly" spotties at Northeast Animal Shelter, known around here as Lacy Street. What kind of person has ten dalmations? I had to ask myself. Who "surrenders" -- dumps -- ten dalmations? A hoarder? Don't tell me they're movie dogs. That pretty pup on your widescreen TV could be a dead dog at the pound.

Meanwhile, the subject lines in some of the postings from the EPAA have been too heartbreaking to even open the files today. This morning someone is pleading for the life of a "sweet" dog who apparently is running out of time at Lacy Street. Gotta make room for the new arrivals. And sometimes they arrive in batches of ten.

Impound IDs and details for the dalmations after the jump.

Lacy Street staff wrote the following:

We received 10 owner surrender adult Dalmatians today...

This DOG - ID#A1139104
I am a neutered male, white and black Dalmatian.
The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old.
I weigh approximately 47 pounds.
I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.

This DOG - ID#A1139066 I am a neutered male, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 2 years and 0 months old. I weigh approximately 54 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139096 I am a neutered male, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 43 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139075 I am an unaltered female, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 37 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139101 I am a neutered male, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 48 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139105 I am an unaltered female, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 2 years and 0 months old. I weigh approximately 34 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139108 I am an unaltered female, white and black Dalmatian. My age is unknown. I weigh approximately 42 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010
This DOG - ID#A1139118 I am an unaltered female, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 42 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139073 I am a spayed female, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 36 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.
This DOG - ID#A1139071 I am a neutered male, white and black Dalmatian. The shelter thinks I am about 3 years old. I weigh approximately 38 pounds. I have been at the shelter since Aug 04, 2010.

August 3, 2010

Life would be perfect

When I first read the reviews, I was intrigued by the idea that a person who would write the memoir titled Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House would live in Echo Park, which wears its imperfections so ostentatiously. I am talking about the neighborhood before the last couple of years, before it reached what looks like to me a tipping point in its gentrification, for better or worse. I was pleased that Meghan Daum, who could pull off a book about being compulsively nesty and picky, would choose Echo Park; it was like a Caldecott seal of excellence on my own choice of residence nearby. Then, the week that I bought the book, I learned that its author had just written an op-ed piece about selling her house in Echo Park, which she had bought about six years earlier. I remember a sinking feeling as I lost a little bit of interest in the book. Of course, I know the perfect house could be found anywhere. And the reason people are paying so much attention to Daum's book is that most adults in our demographic -- college educated, not rich, older than 30, sometimes way past 30 -- can relate to all kinds of issues Daum confronts in trying to settle into a comfy nest, particularly the effort to balance one's taste with one's budget, and of course the existential difficulty that moving -- or staying! -- can introduce. My disappointment in the rejection of Daum's house notwithstanding, I read Life Would Be Perfect at the end of June, and it inspired an ongoing rumination about people and houses. It made me aware of the fickle relationship I have with my own domicile, though I am a devout homebody. Life Would Be Perfect made me conscious of a lot of habits of thought I have regarding homes and houses, the alternate life-shopping I do so constantly without even being aware that "living somewhere else" is constantly in my thoughts, which doesn't mean I actually want to move.

In any case, reading Daum's book deepened my appreciation for houses like "Villa Deborah" in Elysian Heights (see photos below). Lots of people love this small house on a quiet off-park street, but I doubt that anyone who passes it nowadays tells themselves that life would be perfect if they lived here. Villa Deborah's current owner knows it's a special place. During the bubble he talked about selling (he lives around the corner in a different home), but his ambivalence was obvious.

It needs repairs. The weight of the hillside behind it is pressing down, not to mention the weight of altogether too much concrete. But it seems that at some point someone embraced the drama of living in this odd mix of neo-classical and craftsman styles, with country cottage "stone" facing and an uncertain future. It's a place that inspires wonder, beyond the confines of the thought "what if I lived there?"



August 1, 2010

Overlay diary -- urban country*


At 3 p.m. yesterday, my daughter, Madeleine, was officially fit for the public (3 being the 24-hour mark since her diagnosis of step throat and the time at which she was no longer considered contagious). She didn't even look sick, was bouncing off the walls. So I took her to an all-ages country rock, urban-country-rockabilly-cow-punk extravaganza, called Roots Roadhouse, I'd been hoping to attend at the Echoplex in Echo Park, near our house. And what a treat that was! Not to mention a graceful confectionary fusion of cultural...stuff, both intentional and not.

Since we don't have plazas in Los Angeles or much that is similar, we have to create/commercialize our public milling spaces. Which is what the Echoplex provided on Saturday afternoon/early evening (with shows scheduled to continue till around midnight). A self-selected public of country types a la Nashville glamour -- lots of cowboy hats and fancy shirts, women with urban boots, sheepskin vests, peroxide hair, glowing skin, plus lower-key country styles, punk country styles, and indie-grunge-hipsters who didn't realize they were going to a costume ball, even after they got there. Once past the ticket tables that blocked the alleyway entrance, there were two food trucks, a band playing, and many vendors. The outside vendors sold guitars, hats, t-shirts, beer, lots of other stuff. Lots of energy as dozens of musicians arrived, carrying their own guitars, threading their way through the crowd, the alleyway also being the musicians entrance to the club. It seemed to be a fairly big day, at the sub-festival level. It was an insiders' scene that felt genuinely friendly to outsiders.

Inside the club another band played, plus more vendors, selling vintage clothing, mostly. My favorite overlay was a woman from a company called Easy Acres (the vendor is a resident of Cypress Park); she was set up next to one of the two downstairs bars, and she sold succulents and cactus. It seemed perfectly in keeping that you could buy your tequila at the bar, and while you were waiting for change, pick up a baby agave for the yard you can no longer afford to water. The two vendors -- liquor and plants -- looked perfectly paired because of their incongruence -- it was that kind of event.

Outside again, Madeleine and I tapped our feet, she dancing from time to time, to a tight band called Last Round Down, who played their hearts out. Madeleine's later comment about Last Round Down, "All their songs are about the same thing, a baby." Then we sat on a bench and ate potato salad and a bbq chicken sandwich. (Madeleine's recent pronouncement on eating chicken: "I am sorry dead chicken that someone had to shoot you" -- then she tucks in.) On the roof of a building that is filled with hipster gallery-boutiques stood a couple of men who got a free view/listen. The building next door to their houses the community organization El Centro Del Pueblo.

It was after 7 by this time. A band that started out fabulously -- Old Bull -- had to be left behind as it was time to get Madeleine back home. You don't want to push it when it comes to strep. Fortuitously we found a clean staircase shortcut through a building on Glendale to Sunset Boulevard, above us, where my car was parked. (The public staircase we had walked down to get to the Echoplex had been a horror of piss, garbage, and feces. I had been hoping the club masters would allow us to enter at the Sunset Blvd. entrance, which has a staircase directly to the lower-level "plex" part of The Echo.) Behind us, among the bands the growing crowd would enjoy, were Old Californio, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men, I See Hawks in L.A. (from Echo Park), Red Simpson, and maybe 10 or 12 others.

On Sunset a rockabilly-looking guy was preparing to be taped for a show. He sat on a chair on the sidewalk in front of the Echo. A few feet away there was a small crowd in front of the record shop Origami Vinyl. I asked a man in front, who turned out to be the proprietor, what it was about, and he said O.G. was having a show as well -- experimental music involving broken glass an an instrument. We went into the shop to see for a minute -- they were setting up, and it looked as if the star act was going to perform while sitting on the spiral staircase at the back of the storefront. Back at the Echo, most of the children were gone, and the second phase was just getting started.

One thing I like about country music in general is that you don't have to be young or pretty to play it convincingly;that and, despite some of the language, a six-year-old could enjoy it live on Saturday.



Photos: On front: Last Round Down performs; on jump: East Acres in the Echo Plex; Sunset Boulevard, 7-something p.m.

*Edited post.

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