14 December 2010


Earlier this year I let my membership in Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) lapse. It was a purely financial decision in a crummy financial year. Now I almost wish that I hadn't, so that I could cancel it in protest. Here's why.

This coming April MOCA is opening a new show called "Art in the Streets." It is supposedly going to be the largest graffiti exhibition ever in a major institution. As part of the show the museum commissioned an Italian street artist known as Blu to paint a mural on the north wall of its Geffen Contemporary building - less than a half mile from Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles. (More about that later.)

The mural, in the spirit of much of the best street art was political, confrontational and undoubtedly would have pissed off some viewers. It was a field of military-style coffins draped with large dollar bills rather than the usual American flags.

The director of MOCA,Jeffrey Deitch, ordered that the mural be whitewashed over. According to the L.A. Times, Deitch said that the mural was "insensitive" to the community, and that his decision was "about my effort to be a good, responsible, respectful neighbor in this historic community."

I got news for you Jeff. Art is supposed to be insensitive sometimes. It's supposed to be challenging. It's supposed to push boundaries and be outside of the mainstream. It's not only supposed to make people comfortable and please them with pretty colors. That's what design is for, not art, especially not "contemporary art" in what promotes itself as a cutting edge institution. And even more especially not "street art."

Some people are comparing this to the recent ruckus over the removal of David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly" video from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. under pressure from right wing Catholics and members of Congress. I've got a comparison that's closer to home - less than a half mile away.

In 1932 the famous Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros was commissioned to paint a mural on a wall near Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. The mural, titled "Tropical America" was completed on the night before its dedication - October 9, 1932. According to the Olvera Street website, "The central visual and symbolic focus of the piece is an Indian peon, representing oppression by U.S. imperialism, crucified on a double cross capped by an American eagle. A Mayan pyramid in the background is overrun by vegetation, while an armed Peruvian peasant and a Mexican campesino (farmer) sit on a wall in the upper right corner, ready to defend themselves."

The art powers that were in Los Angeles at the time, well, they didn't much care for Siqueiros' mural. It made them uncomfortable, at the least, and angry.

What'd they do? They had it whitewashed over. Sound familiar?

But now, 78 years later, Siqueiros is having the last laugh. The mural is being restored and a visitor center is being built next to it. And, The Autry National Center has an exhibition called Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied.

I looked for a good photo of the mural that I could post here, but the only one I could find was in an event listing in the L.A. Times website. Not wanting to step on anyone's copyright I haven't posted the photo here. But you can see it by clicking on this link, and if you click on the photo it will enlarge.

05 December 2010


We were in Istanbul for Thanksgiving. Originally we'd thought to seek out turkey on that day. Not fancy big hotel Thanksgiving dinner turkey for tourists, but some sort of local turkey - turkey kebabs, for instance. According to several people we asked, turkey is eaten in Turkey, but usually only around New Years.

So we gave up on the idea and went out to a restaurant called Asitane that specializes in well-researched food that was popular in high society during the Ottoman Empire. I had a sort of goose pot pie - which was as close to turkey as the menu got - and it was delicious.

The very next day we had lunch at a place recommended by the extremely smart and very useful - should you ever be in search of a good meal in Istanbul - blog, Istanbul Eats. (Three cheers for the internet. We ate extremely well thanks to these bloggers.)

And there, there was turkey on the menu.

We failed to order it though. We were there to sample some sort of stewed beef on top of a grilled smooshed eggplant dish that is only available for lunch and was so good that we had no choice but to eat two orders of it.

Food is good in Turkey. Some of it is even excellent. And the markets that it comes from are even better - colorful, lively, interesting and a riot of intense smells and flavors and sounds.

All this is by way of an excuse to post some pictures I took in markets and at food stalls. (Not all of these are food markets, and as usual, click on the pictures to view them bigger.)

More Turkey pictures to come and maybe some tales as well. And sooner or later, when I get around to it, all the pictures on my blog and more will be found at my Flickr page.

02 December 2010


As usual, click on photos to see them bigger.

Istanbul, Turkey: Five times a day the voices of muzzein ring out from loudspeakers on the minarets of the more than 2,500 mosques in Istanbul. It's A Man's Man's Man's World by James Brown blares out across the city. (Click on the title to see/hear a truly bizarre rendition by JB and Luciano Pavarotti.)

Okay, not really and I shouldn't make too much fun of it as one of my favorite things in the world is to hear the Muslim call to prayer in a cacophonous multitude of voices echo across a city, town or village. I don't even mind being woken up by it. (I didn't even get sick of it having lived relatively near a mosque in Jakarta for the better part of two years. I'd wake up, appreciate it, then go back to sleep.)

Turkey and Indonesia are almost certainly the least oppressive, predominately Muslim counties for women. Women in Turkey got the vote not long after they did in the U.S. and before they completely did in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and plenty of other seemingly civilized places. Modern Turkey was founded as a secular state and has for the most part done a good job of preserving that. Although these days it is being increasingly nibbled away at by Islamic politicos - something that has made many, probably most, modern Turkish women nervous.

Still, walking around Istanbul you mostly see men. The most women you see are in the new, shopping and cafe and nightlife districts around Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi - maybe as many as 30 percent of the people on the streets are women, only about one in five or so of them with their heads covered. It's where the modern young folk hang out.
Most places, however, it is mostly men - maybe 90 percent men, maybe more. They cluster in groups everywhere: drinking tea, playing cards, fishing off bridges, just shooting the shit and kicking their shoes on the cobblestones. And in some neighborhoods as many as half, or a little more, of the women you see have their heads covered. (Though it is still rare, if less so than only a couple of years ago, to see women in full purdah and with their faces covered.)Crowd of men in front of the train station.
All men drinking tea, playing cards, hanging out.
It's all men fishing off the Galata and Ataturk Bridges - we only saw one woman out of hundreds.

While even the mosques are mostly frequented by men, women are allowed in them. During prayers they are quarantined in their own small screened off areas. Presumably to avoid having their presence distract all the guys up front with a better view.When it's not prayer time, those distracting females are let loose to maintain the proper decorum in the other parts of the mosques:
But like most of the places I love in the world, I fell in love with Istanbul in part because of its contrasts and contradictions. Here are two side by side pictures of Turkish women walking in front of the womens section of the mosque of Salim the Terrible. I took the pictures about 15 seconds apart.
More to come from Turkey over the next few days.

08 November 2010


Gila Bend, Arizona is not anywhere that you'd expect to find someone farming shrimp. Here's pretty much what it looks like all around the town of some 1,600 or so people, halfway between Tucson and Yuma along Interstate 8:
That isn't to say it doesn't have its attractions, especially around sunset:

And if you've got an appreciation for small American towns that probably haven't changed a whole lot over the years, which I do, well, places like Gila Bend are a fine place to spend a day wandering around:

Now I suppose that when they inaugurate the new solar energy plant on the outskirts of town, that's going to be a pretty big celebration. But once a year Gila Bend hosts its Shrimp Festival and that's where I was last Saturday.

If you click on this paragraph you will get to the website of Desert Sweet Shrimp and maybe you'll understand why there is a shrimp festival in the middle of the desert where temperatures during the summer are often somewhat north of 115 degrees.

I stayed at the Space Age Lodge - pictured above - ate plenty of shrimp (and a Sonoran hot dog - hold the mayo and ketchup (on a hot dog? are they insane?)) - drank some beers at Neto's Bar after the festival closed for the night, and took some pictures.

As for the shrimp, I had it simply boiled with a hot sauce, "scampi-style" and as "shrimp poppers." Sadly, and in spite of what it claims on the website, the local shrimp just didn't seem to have much flavor. It was plenty fresh, reasonably well cooked, but lacking in, how do I put this, shrimpiness. Maybe the water they use is too clean, or something.

But I had plenty of fun anyhow and here's some photographic evidence:
One of the winners of the bobbing for shrimp in cocktail sauce contest.

Shrimp eating contestants - non-bobbers.

The festival grounds. The salad on a stick ladies (I had one, not bad) told me that they thought maybe they'd misjudged the crowd that was going to be there. Other than myself, I never saw anyone at their booth. Maybe if it had been deep fried salad on a stick.

As darkness fell, and the band played a mix of '50s and '60s oldies, blues standards and Norteno corridas, dancing broke out.

13 October 2010


There's a new interview with me by Morgan St. James at the Examiner.com. You can find it by clicking on this sentence.

Meanwhile, I've mostly been up to my ears in trying to finish the second novella in the trilogy I'm writing. As it takes place along the L.A. River, I've been spending a lot of time around and near the river. You may or may not recall that I have a great fondness for commercial nursery farms underneath powerlines. I recently came across a new one that I liked. There's a scene set there in the new novella. Here's a couple of pictures:

I also recently wandered around downtown L.A. during the first, hopefully monthly or even weekly (fingers crossed) CicLAVia. That's an event in which they close the streets along a route - in this case 7-1/2 miles from my neighborhood to Boyle Heights in near East L.A. - so that cars, skaters, pogo stickers, walkers, whatever, can wander the streets unmolested. Food trucks and carts set up along the way. People wore odd costumes. Bands played. It was fun. Here's a few pics of that:
March Fourth Marching Band - from Portland, Oregon. They were great, fun and bizarre.
Mennonites on Broadway.

Oh yeah, and last night I engaged in a taco crawl with the ever fabulous - though sadly unable to eat the requisite amount of salt - Christa Faust(pictured below under the watchful eye of a giant shrimp), her, now mine too, Scottish crimewriting, now taco convert buddy Russel McLean (seen here with cleaver and al pastor wheel), and Bill Krauss, my regular cohort in taco crime and an all around bon vivant.