Noah Purifoy & a community of admirers

On Sunday a few weekends ago, I had a wonderful, unexpected experience at LACMA.  I’d like to write more about this later, but I’ve been wanting to get it down in a post, however draft-like this post may be.

Marlene and I went to see the Ingres Madonna and Sam Doyle’s painting of Jackie Robinson from the 50 for 50 exhibit, and then to visit the Noah Purifoy exhibit again.   I had fallen in love with Purifoy’s work when we visited his Outdoor Museum in Joshua Tree at spring break.  We enjoyed the Last Supper, which, with its 13 sardine tins, calls powerfully to mind the image of Jesus as a minister to the poor, sick, and outcast.  We marveled again at the assemblage titled Summer of 1965 that features a “meticulous arrangement of photos, pigments, a skull and various objects” and juxtaposes an idyllic tourist image of the Golden Gate Bridge with images from the wreckage of the Watts Riots.  I sat and watched the documentary that was playing on a loop and had a reverie at the idea of going to the Purifoy Outdoor Museum and actually seeing the artist there working on his creations.

As we were looking at the last room, almost ready to leave, suddenly we heard a trombone. We had seen instruments in the room with the portrait of musician Earl Fatha Hines, but I had assumed they were part of the exhibit.  (Marlene confirmed later that the instruments were not there when we first saw the exhibit in the summer.)

We wandered over to the first room of the exhibit, where an older gentleman was soloing on the trombone and three young people were performing a dance.  The trombonist, who I learned later was Phil Ranelin, was positioned as if he was soloing to one of the Purifoy assemblages.  It was incredibly moving, and it got better.

The dancers moved into the next room, and Ranelin followed.  There was a bass line, as well, which I assumed was recorded; there was no bass player in sight.  The dancers performed a piece that riffed off another of the Purifoy pieces; one of the men gestured as if he was trying to cool himself off, while the other male dancer and the female dancer fanned him.  They backed away from the art, still metaphorically on fire.  Meanwhile, Ranelin soloed in front of another Purifoy piece.

Finally, the dancers and Ranelin moved into the other room, where we saw that the bass was live;  the bassist had been playing in this room the whole time.  (I don’t know for certain but I think the bassist was Wendall Williams, who, according to my brief online research, has been a frequent collaborator with Ranelin.)

It is difficult to explain how beautiful this performance was.  Especially when Ranelin soloed in front of and facing the art, I felt as though these talented performers were honoring this artist, an artist whom I of course never met but have come to admire deeply.  I felt as though I were part of a community of admirers.


Weekend in San Diego

NOTE:  Due to my limited WordPress skills, I’m having some issues with the formatting of text next to the photos of the Model Railroad Museum.  I’ll have to revise the post later to address that because I’m headed out for the evening.  If anyone knows how to get the rogue “We” in the sentence that begins “We were headed to the Timken…” to move down with the rest of its verbal friends, I’d be most grateful for any suggestions!

On Thursday the 17th, we went to see Hum, one of my all time favorite bands, at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.  Because I am too old to be out on Thursday night and go to work the next day, I took a personal day on Friday the 18th; we decided that the resulting three-day weekend would be a good opportunity to visit San Diego.

We got a ride from Marlene’s sister to Union Station on Friday morning and rode the train to Santa Fe Depot.

Our hotel, the Bristol, was a 10-minute walk from the train station. We checked in and went across the street to the restaurant in the Sofia Hotel for happy hour.  (Later, I discovered that the Sofia is an “upscale” renovation of the old Pickwick Hotel, which I knew from my college days as it was next to the Greyhound Station at 1st & Broadway.  That bus station has since moved to 13th & National.)  Roasted shishito peppers in aioli dip were the highlight here. We were tired from the night out, so we decided to make it an early night. Unfortunately, an earlier version of this construction scene was underway a half-block from our hotel…

I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.
I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.

…and a jackhammer drill was running much of the night.

We eventually fell asleep, and went out Saturday to visit Balboa Park, which I’d been wanting to visit for awhile because of the ongoing events in celebration of the park’s centennial. Before we went, though, we stopped at Donut Bar on B Street.

Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera

Wow. This place had some tasty donuts. We ordered Funfetti & Creme Brûlée, which are vegan, as well as Pop Tart & Mexican Hot Chocolate.

The Creme Brûlée was tasty, though I’m not sure how much I like the “burnt,” hard topping on a donut. The Funfetti was an unqualified success though, salty & sweet at the same time.  When we got back to San Gabriel, I had a taste of the other donuts; the Mexican Hot Chocolate was delicious, with hints of cinnamon, and the Pop Tart surprised me by not being overly sweet.  (I never liked Pop Tarts, even as a child, because of their saccharine sweetness.)

We took the donuts back to our room, then caught the 7 bus and got off at the stop on Park Blvd at Zoo Pl.  We made the short walk along the grass down to the Desert Garden, and took a stroll through this space before reaching the rose garden.  My grandpa, who worked for the city as his second career after retiring from the Navy in the 1960s, tended this garden. I’m not certain, but we suspect that at least some of the roses he grew at his house were from cuttings taken here.

The scent from the roses is delightful. We sat under the gazebo for a bit and enjoyed the view of flowers and Florida Canyon before moving on across the pedestrian bridge.

A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera.
A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.

We were headed to the Timken, but along the way we stopped at the Casa de Balboa building for a drink of water, and I saw the Model Railroad Museum. I half-persuaded, half-begged Marlene to go in with me. It had been awhile since I’d been there; it will probably not be surprising that this was a favorite place of mine when I was little. It was much as I remembered it, but for the 2015 celebration, the museum has added an outdoor “centennial garden” which includes recreations of Balboa Park buildings.  My favorite was the miniature Botanical Building and Lily Pond. There’s also a recreation of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

We had lunch at the Prado, and then moved on to the Timken, which had a Vermeer painting on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  We had seen Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, on loan from the National Gallery in London, in December.

Unfortunately, I incorrectly assumed that the Vermeer loan would be through the end of year; instead, its last day at the Timken was September 13. However, the museum’s most-celebrated painting, Rembrandt’s “Saint Bartholomew”  – which was in Europe for nearly a year in exchange for the Raphael and the Vermeer – was back on display, which made for a nice consolation to my disappointment at having missed the Vermeer.

This is my favorite painting. I have seen more famous paintings and perhaps more beautiful paintings, but the fact that this piece hangs in a free museum in my native burg puts it at the top of the list. A reproduction can hardly capture the astonishing range of shades Rembrandt captured in this painting of deceptively simple appearance. Even the background seems to have a thousand different shades of dark brown and black; it swirls behind St. Bartholomew with menace and premonition. Add to this range of shades the starkness of the composition: the saint holds the instrument of his martyrdom and, as the Timken website notes, appears to be “contemplating his own demise.”

After I enjoyed the Rembrandt, we crossed the Cabrillo Bridge (dedicated by then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1914) and spent a bit of time at Marlene’s favorite spot in the park: the Nate’s Point off-leash dog park.  We sat on the bridge and watched the dogs play for about an hour before heading back through the park to catch the 7 bus back to the Bristol.

Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera

After resting for a bit in our hotel room, we decided to go to Old Town for dinner. Admittedly, Old Town is touristy, but – as with Olvera Street – we enjoy visiting. We browsed the Fiesta de Reyes, where I bought some chile pepper seeds and Marlene got a couple of books for our nephew at Gepetto’s Toys, and then had a relaxing dinner at El Patio de Old Town.

It was not as good as El Patio in El Monte, but then again, what is? I had a light meal of tortilla soup and caesar salad, which was good if not memorable, and shared some of Marlene’s rice and tortillas. The tortillas were handmade and quite good, the hotter of the two salsas was delicious, and the staff were friendly.

Sunday morning, I tried to get more donuts, but the line was out the door almost to the corner, so I had to settle for a tasty bottle of cold brew from Westbean Coffee Roasters on Broadway.  We walked the few blocks back to Santa Fe Depot and were on our way back to Los Angeles aboard the train.

A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train
A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train

Adventures in the Valley(s)

Marlene and I had to pick up our quarterly wine club bottles from Agua Dulce Winery in the Sierra Pelona Valley in northern Los Angeles County (about an hour from our house).  On the way, we decided to stop in the northeast San Fernando Valley at #100 on LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s Top 101 Restaurants, Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses (mole of the gods/goddesses).

I started off with a refreshing agua de nopal con piña (fruit drink with cactus and pineapple).  We shared the mole sampler; I  also had a cactus salad and Marlene had a chicken dish with mole poblano.

The mole sampler with “nopaltillas,” cactus tortillas. Photo by Marlene Caldera.

The moles were delicious, probably the best I’ve ever had.  The “mole de los dioses,” made with huitlacoche, an edible fungus that grows on corn and is also called “corn truffle,” had a smooth creaminess; the mole manchamanteles was smoky, almost like a Mexican barbecue sauce; and the mole de nopal was creamy up front and hot at the end.

After lunch, we headed over the Newhall Pass into the Santa Clarita Valley and exited California Highway 14 at Placerita Canyon Road to visit the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.


The center, maintained by LA County Parks & Recreation, is the home of a famous tree:  the Oak of the Golden Dream.

Photo by Marlene Caldera

Leon Worden’s article at Santa Clarita TV’s history website tells the story:  according to legend, in 1842, Francisco Lopez was herding cattle on his niece’s ranch when took a nap under an oak tree.  As he slept, he dreamed that he was swimming in a pool of gold.  After his siesta, Don Francisco found some wild onions, and, after he dug the onions up, he noticed that some particles of gold in the dirt around the onion roots.  Sure enough, Placerita Canyon was the site of the first gold strike in California, six years before the famous strike in Northern California.

Next, we headed to the Vasquez Rocks, not far from the winery.  If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you’ve seen this iconic landform.

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Apparently, not far from the rocks are Native American petroglyphs.  Looks like we’ll have to go back and hike that trail!

We ended up at the winery around 3:30.  It was getting late, so we only stayed long enough to pick up our wine before heading for home.

New school year

My school is two weeks into the new year, and it’s been a good start.

Busy, of course, but the mood on campus is upbeat, and in my classes we’ve already begun using an online forum and Google Drive to write and share. We’ve also done some idea-generating activities so that we can write ‘from plenty,’ as James Moffett put it.

I’m going to do an inquiry this term involving academic discourse & Sheridan Blau’s commentary activity. More on that in an upcoming post.

I’ve also been busy with my piece on Gay’s Lion Farm for the El Monte history reader. Writing history is difficult for me, as it’s similar yet not quite the same as writing about literature, and I’m on my fourth ‘official’ draft, not to mention endless notes and ‘idea chunks,’ digital & handwritten. I hope to be finished with the piece by next weekend, though.

One more neat thing going on: my journalism students are going to work this fall with folks from local public television station KCET, with an opportunity to have their work published on the station’s website. More on that soon as well.

LA Writing Project Writing Marathon

This morning, the Los Angeles Writing Project Summer Institute held its annual Writing Marathon. We met at Jameson Brown Coffee on Allen Ave in Pasadena and walked over to the Gold Line station a block or so north.

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The train station platform is very…Southern Californian.

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Our first stop was Memorial Park in Old Pasadena. (My first date with Marlene ended here while I waited for my train. I lived in Koreatown then, and we’d met for dinner at the late lamented Gordon Biersch at One Colorado.) After we walked over to the park, fellows chose writing prompts from a bag that Shahe had brought; then we spread out and wrote for about 15 minutes.

In the middle of our writing, the bells from nearby St. Andrew Church rang out for ten o’clock.

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An old man came by and fed pigeons.

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I wrote a draft of an introduction to the piece on Gay’s Lion Farm that Romeo Guzman invited me to write for the El Monte/South El Monte history reader he and his partner Caribbean Fragoza are putting together under the banner of the South El Monte Arts Posse (SEMAP).  After we wrote for about 15 minutes, we reconvened and shared our writing.

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Next, we rode the train to the Mission Street station in South Pasadena, and walked along El Centro to the South Pasadena Public Library.

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We passed Firefly Bistro, site of the rehearsal dinner for our wedding (and many Valentine’s Day dinners.)

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Outside the library, Shahe passed out prompts. Ravy pointed out an unusual tree.

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Inside the library, I noticed this:

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I was seduced by the 50-cent book stands.

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After writing at the library, we headed to Olvera Street on the Gold Line (via Union Station), and enjoyed lunch together at La Golondrina.   While we waited for our food, we shared our writing once more.

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After lunch, we head back to Allen Avenue.  The train pulled away and we walked back to our cars.

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