An atlas of LA's multitudes

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: Atlases implicitly invoke the myth of Atlas, the god who carried the world on his shoulders. An atlas is designed to embrace, contain, and carry a world in its collection of maps.

All maps tell stories about the relationships between things in space. You are here at Union Station. Just in front of you are four rows of Mexican fan palms, Washingtonia robusta, natives of Sonora and Baja California. Across the street: a Moreton Bay Fig, Ficus macrophylla from Australia. Just behind that: an olive tree, Olea europea, from the Mediterranean.

LAfreeways.jpgAtlases tell stories about the relationships between the maps they contain. How are the trees of El Pueblo related to the carp in the Los Angeles River related to fires in the El Puente and Chino Hills, the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains? And how are these related to the early ranchos of Los Angeles, homesteaders out in Antelope Valley, the various street grids of Los Feliz, Encino, Watts, and the crazy compass rose of LA's freeways?

LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas, just out from Heyday, whole-heartedly embraces the Whitmanesque myth of Los Angeles: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

To call this a myth, I hasten to add, is not to say it isn't true. To truly know LA whole may well be impossible. It often seems so. To know LA, we are told, one must explore its neighborhoods and enclaves--even if they are constantly shifting, constantly being renamed, making maps out-of-date as soon as they are made, as Rosten Woo argues in "Naming Los Angeles," a map and essay in this new atlas. One must pick a path through this postmodern metropolis--hunt for the "speakeasy tacos" with Michael Jaime-Becerra, investigate a mysterious historical bike path with Dan Koeppel, trace the city through lyrics with Josh Kun, explore the radio dial with Lynell George, listen to the undocumented with Jen Hofer, get to know the city's ugly buildings with Wendy Gilmartin, its tribal landscapes with Cindi Moar Alvitre, its toxic legacies with Laura Pulido, cowboys and spacemen with Steven M. Graves, LGBT pioneers with Sylvia Sokup, Xican@ politics with Luis J. Rodriguez.

This is a subjective city, this atlas argues. There is no point-of view that can take it all in objectively.

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote of Queequeg's native home Rokovoko: "It is not down in any map; true places never are."

LAtitudes is full of true places.

What are the relationships between these very different maps of very true places? Though most of the maps overlap in space, and many in time, too, this atlas doesn't try to answer that question. It leaves us to carry those contradictions.

Note: A series of book launch events begins May 2 in the evening at Clockshop with tacos, drinks, and presentations by the authors, followed on May 3 by a walking tour and launch party at Skylight Books. For more information: LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas, Edited by Patricia Wakida; Foreword by Luis Alfaro; Introduction by Glen Creason. Heyday: 248 pages, with 19 full-color maps and infographics, $30. Image of 25 LA freeway interchanges aligned on top of one another at the same scale and compass orientation from the atlas.

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