Table for One

By Lynell George

Via Open Space | SF MOMA

From the piece:

IF THE MOMENT were different, I would have been there, in the thick of it, shoulder to shoulder, with the rest. North Beach’s venerable gathering place, Caffe Trieste, would only turn sixty-five once and I wanted to celebrate its auspicious day. Instead, on the first of last April, I settled on a poem fragment alongside a vintage photo to post on one of my social media feeds. I augmented it with a congratulatory note, sent with love from my Southern California shelter-in-place hideaway. 

Moments later, a Bay Area friend replied with a portrait of the cafe’s late founder “Papa” Gianni Giovanni Giotta, resplendent in a black stingy-brim fedora and dark sunglasses — a chin-chin across cyber distance. In a blink, the photographer who had captured that moment added a link to a folder of images (portraits, celebrations, candids), cracking open not just a world, but a feeling.

I tumbled down that rabbit hole, eagerly paging photo to photo, happy to be floating back to one of my earliest North Beach touchstones — one that always seemed to exist out of time but never out of place. It was distinctly the San Francisco I craved before I lived there, the one I’d go seeking when I briefly made my home there. I went for the atmosphere: busy conversations about art, books, politics, or plans for general ruckus. I could experience it all from my single window seat: the photos summoned the sharp aroma of a freshly pulled espresso, the majestic arias soaring from the jukebox, the harsh snap of chill that roared into the room when the door swung open for another patron or cast member. 

Advancing through the frames, a half hour slipped away. An hour. More. Not until daylight fully faded did I stop myself: what sort of wish — or melancholy — sent me scrolling through scores of other people’s memories? Decades of regulars ringed around small tables, nursing the last swallow of a cappuccino; solo patrons’ eyes focused on middle distance; loose configurations posted just outside the entrance on Vallejo Street in animated conversation — stilled.

It wasn’t simply wistfulness that powered my search. Perhaps it was a shade of self-absorption or hubris, but I realized I was looking for myself. I was, without at first knowing it, hoping against hope to find some ghost of myself — part of this story, too. I was searching for evidence, not just that I had been there, but that it had moved through me.

You can read the rest here.

Everybody Loves the Sunshine

By Lynell George

Via LAist:

A BLACK LA WITH ‘REAL SHAPE AND FORM’

When you’re from Los Angeles and far from home, it is never unusual to spot a hint of the familiar in some on-screen backdrop: a car commercial, a music video, a glammed-up police procedural. But when you hail specifically from “Black Los Angeles” — finding your personal cross streets swirl up on television, especially from afar, prompts a unique set of emotions.

The Avenues: The Backdrop of South L.A.

Instantly, I recognized the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. I’d grown up just down the street. Five — no — three minutes away. Back then, I seldom saw my neighborhood on television, except, of course, if something tragic had transpired. Some crime blotter mishap: gang-related violence, a robbery. So when a jittery picture, framed from above, filled the screen. I already knew to steady myself. From the newsticker running across the bottom quarter of the screen, I deciphered that Nipsey Hussle, the L.A.-born and Crenshaw-bred rapper, activist and entrepreneur had been shot outside of his business, the Marathon Clothing store. In a short time, the newsticker reset to announce his death. Murdered. He was 33.

My heart broke into innumerable scattered fragments. The atmosphere shifted in the room, too. This mostly-Black crowd in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, didn’t just know who Nipsey Hussle was; they also deeply identified with what he symbolized. Pushback. Resilience. He could have moved “up and out”; he could have chosen to be anywhere, but instead he was taking his community back, taking into his arms. His example of re-investment offered a path toward hope.

Though I am a generation older than he was, this loss was my loss. This was the neighborhood that shaped me and, in certain ways, it is the place I’m always trying to get back to in my soul. He’d grown up in this same patch — running the avenues and boulevards: Sweeping corridors lined with impossibly tall, listing palm trees, chockablock stretches of charming starter homes. He’d made a point to make these streets the backdrops of media photos and music videos. They, in turn, became his kingdom. And while many of those blocks still stood strong, unified in spirit, we all saw, in real-time, that the landmarks, the charm, the voices and rhythms of life there were in jeopardy. By choosing to remain in place — visible — he’d made inroads and impact.

Read more at LAist

Locked Down? Try Letters

BY LYNELL GEORGE/VIA LA TIMES

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“finding that old letter-writing voice” — lynell george 

“I timed out on Zoom almost as soon as we all started being “safer at home.” Extended video chats make me feel more, not less, distanced from the people who matter to me.

Maybe it’s the narrow bandwidth of home WiFi, the lag, the stumbling over folks’ words, the “I’m sorry!” “No-no-no, you first,” or the way a face sometimes freezes mid-thought, stretched into a detail that would be at home on a Dali canvas.

Also, I stare into screens too much — laptop, smartphone, e-reader. By day’s end, I crave IRL interaction, something I can touch, something that brings the people I love into the room in the ways I most recognize them.

On an “essential” bill-paying run to the post office, I masked up and held my breath planning on a quick “contactless” dash to the mail slots. Instead, I lingered, marveling at the line of customers waiting for help and embracing stacks of multicolored envelopes and packages.

It hit me: Letters! Care packages! This was how to bridge the distance and be an ally.

In my early 20s, I was a dedicated postal correspondent. When my friends departed L.A. for college and long-distance telephone calls were too expensive to consider, we fell back on letters. I built a stash of inexpensive colored envelopes and matching tablets. Later, I made my own stationery — busy collages and, eventually, ’zine-like Xeroxed pages personalized for each recipient.

I spent hours hunting for the right collection of images to add another layer to every story. I thrilled at the payoff: postmarks from New York, Prague, London, Chicago, San Francisco. Exotic stamps. Visitors almost daily….”

 

You can read the rest here.

 

 

 

Memory Palace: The Rehabbed Formosa Cafe

BY LYNELL GEORGE

via Preservation Magazine

 

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“NESTED NEAR the motion picture studios once run by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, later Samuel Goldwyn, and now Warner Bros., the Formosa remains suffused with Hollywood golden-era lore. It was a favorite watering hole of stars like Lana Turner, Frank Sinatra, and John Wayne, as well as mobsters Bugsy Siegel and, later, Mickey Cohen. In more recent decades, it had also endeared itself to celebrities such as Bono and Leonardo DiCaprio. But the double punch of two “makeovers” threatened its prestige. The first, in 2015, stripped the bar and restaurant of its trademark black-and-red lacquered interior and its gallery of kitschy, through-the-decades celebrity headshots, washing the room in a dead industrial gray. The subsequent backlash traveled swift and loud. The second remodel attempted to hurriedly fix the first. During the holiday season of 2016, the Formosa shuttered without warning, and for a while, its future was a mystery.”

 

You can read more here at  Preservation Magazine.

 

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Welcome to the Formosa — Image by Lynell George 

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The unveiled old Red Car car – Image by Lynell George

 

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“Meet Me at the  Formosa” 

 

Safe at Home

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BY LYNELL GEORGE

via High Country News

OVER THE years, I’ve railed against what Los Angeles isn’t (the nested insults about vacuousness), or shouldn’t be limited to (the slick surfaces). On a recent evening, upon meeting a friend’s visiting sibling, we eased into sunset small talk on a patio draped in bougainvillea. “I could see, if you grew up here, why you might stay,” he offered. It was a non sequitur. We hadn’t been talking about the place, we’d been talking about the flu, but yes, here we were sitting in the center of an L.A. cliché made real: the afternoon light softening to blush, a dwarf orange tree, showy with February fruit, fragrant beside us. He leaned back to share his own blink-awake memory of Los Angeles: a child, hurrying off a Midwest-originating flight, winding through the fluorescent terminal, pushing out of the automatic doors and peeling off layers of winter clothes with each step. December. Balmy. Unexpected. The sky, salmon, dusted with clouds that in the dying sun appear violet. Fifty years gone, he holds on to that moment, the sort of memory you fold into your wallet or press like a flower between pages.

In this sense, Los Angeles — physically — is an exhale. A recalibration. At times, I wish I could experience a “first-glimpse,” a “blink-awake” moment, but the region has always  been my backdrop, my ride through, my nurturing soil. Therefore, my relationship to Los Angeles — and how it looks, sounds, feels, pulses — is specific to my lifelong commitment to exploring it, sinking myself deeply into it, articulating it — its vastness, its complexity, its paradoxes, its defiance.”

 

To read the full piece you can click hereto visit High Country News

Troubling Calm

 

TOPSHOT-US-HEALTH-VIRUSBy Lynell  George/via LMU Magazine

DAYS BEFORE everything turned inside out, when I still had access to the full stretch of my old world, I attended an opera based on science fiction author Octavia E. Butler’s prescient novel “Parable of the Sower.” Fittingly, the story is set in a 21st century dystopian Los Angeles — a city ravaged by long-term drought and upturned by grim social disorder. Butler, who was born and raised minutes from where I now live, shrugged out of the label “seer.” Rather, she often spoke about how one can read the future just by being attentive to what’s outside the window. “Learn from the past,” she warned. But, too: “Count on surprises.”

Learn to read the cycles, Butler knew.

Of late, Los Angeles has been at its most impossibly lush: The mountains and their contours aren’t hidden by a scrim of haze. The sunsets bloom paint-box vivid — ribbons of lilac and blush pink. The air offers a perfume of new blooms — jasmine, citrus, sharp lavender. And now, with so much at a standstill — no conversations in the street, no rush-hour car horns blasting — nature is at the forefront.

This beauty, in other instances, would be comforting, but each day the world outside the door feels more threatening. How can these spring days be so dazzling, and yet they don’t quiet the sense of unease? They underscore it.

Since early March, with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, the sense of unease and sadness that I, and so many others, have been swimming through is as novel as the pathogen itself. Its slow approach is something we can neither hide nor run from. It’s a force we can’t even see.

 

To read more

Joan Didion’s California

LYNELL GEORGE

via L.A. Times.

90

The sequence is as predictable as the season itself: The calendar reads “fall” but the thermometer registers 90-plus. The Santa Ana winds kick up. Wildfires zipper across the landscape. Once again Joan Didion whispers in the Southland’s collective ear.

“I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too,” she writes in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” “We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. … To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.”

Novelists, essayists and poets, photographers and painters have all evoked the region in its inscrutability and calamity, but Didion’s measured cadence is embedded in our consciousness. Tropes become burrs. We come to her for dusty palms, pepper trees, eucalyptus, the “soft westerlies off the Pacific,” but also the concrete overpasses, cyclone fencing and deadly oleander.

It’s home. The truth of it. Hot pavement under our feet. She has written hauntingly about disasters — both acts of God and man-made mayhem, from runaway wildfires to Charles Manson — that have rewritten the narrative of this place. Pared down: For many she articulates California’s particular seasons, a West that is as recognizable as it is changeable.

to read the  rest of the review click here 

Mirages and Myths

L.A.’s Dazzling Rise 90

By Lynell George

via L.A. Times

Most longtime Angelenos learned early to read between the lines.

Los Angeles has been both elevated and suffocated by the strength of its legends — about the promise or calamity of this place. These stories are rooted, of course, in a deep history of civic boosterism — real estate narratives, spleen-venting newspaper columns and all manner of quick-money speculators. Those enticements, while inventions, have long legs and the sort of staying power that continues to shape conversation and sense of place, both inside, and out of, city limits.

As summer wanes and waves of travelers looking for that Los Angeles — of orange crate vistas and Hollywood art direction — make their last loop, the season calls for a history refresher course about Los Angeles, this city that bloomed out of the desert.

Gary Krist’s “The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination and the Invention of Los Angeles” (now in paperback), tunnels to the roots of these invention narratives, identifying the individual threads, and shows how they began to work in tandem to create a fantastic tapestry.

 

You can read the rest of  the review here at latimes.com

The Queen

‘The Queen’ was kidnapper and a grifter — but her welfare scam made her a symbol

By Lynell George/ Via L.A. Times

 

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“While Taylor the person was a mere shadow, her infractions were writ large, cast in bullet points pulled from Sherwin’s case files. Bliss included them in his article: “Goes under at least 27 different names;  Uses 31 different address . . . Has 25 different phone numbers…”

The article would be one in a series that  Bliss would file on the subject. In this third follow piece about Taylor’s “larceny,” and public aid’s incompetencies — Bliss chooses a particularly resonant and indelible  identifier: “‘Linda Taylor, the 47-year-old ‘welfare queen.’ ”

The story would snowball, becoming part of the national conversation. Most significantly, however, the term “Welfare Queen” would wind itself into the lexicon. Most famously, it would become a racially coded dog whistle that former California governor and newly minted presidential candidate Ronald Reagan would invoke — and exaggerate — as a way of eliciting emotion and rallying constituents’ support in the deepest part of the conservative south. “[Reagan] made it clear that the federal government was preventing the country from reaching its true potential,” Levin writes, “but this unnamed woman in Chicago — she was the enemy too.”

 

You can read the rest here:

Traveling Through an Analog World

By Lynell George

via The Frame/KPCC and LAist

LOS ANGELES-BASED musician Anthony Wilson‘s latest release, Songs and Photographs, reminds us what we’ve lost in our departure from the analog life — both in music and in snapshots, rich repositories of emotion and memory.

The guitarist, arranger, and composer is the son of the late great jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Gerald Wilson. While jazz is his homebase, Anthony often deftly finds his way into different settings, sitting in with a mix of artists — among them Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Kenny Burrell, and Willie Nelson. He’s also been a member of Diana Krall’s ensemble since 2001.

His latest release combines his own music and photography. This new work is an “album” in a broad sense: an unfolding collection of images, both audio and visual. It’s meant to be taken as a whole, intended for reflection.

To read more click over to LAist and you can hear the review along with sound samples here at KPCC/The Frame.

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