The Los Angeles Printers Fair

The International Printing Museum in Carson hosted the 9th annual Los Angeles Printers Fair in mid-October, and I went with Isabelle and Adam. The fair features demonstrations of many different presses from different eras, and you can get prints made on these presses or even make the prints yourself. There was also a paper-making station and many vendors selling prints, cards, paper, old books, inks, and actual type (yes, one of the vendor was a foundry!). There were also presses and parts for sale through the museum.

The most exciting part of the day happened almost as soon as we arrived, just after the fair had opened. We went right up to the linotype machine demonstration, where the volunteer on duty would cast you a linotype slug of the text of your choice. I’ve talked before about the linotype machine scene in Sparkers. I considered getting a line from the actual notice Marah and Azariah print in the book, but none of them struck me as the perfect one, so instead I chose “Marah Levi Azariah Rashid,” since after all they do print their names in the notice. Before my eyes, the volunteer cast what might have been an actual slug in Sparkers on an actual linotype machine! Just like Marah and Azariah watched the night watchman turn their text into slugs! When the slug came out, the volunteer said, “Marah?” and I reached out to take it from him. Isabelle joked he probably thought I’d wanted the double-name slug made for my wedding invitations.

14pt Spartan

We made our rounds to the other demonstrations. There were presses of various sizes where you got to roll cylinders, turn cranks, pull levers, and/or press a foot pump to make your print. Here are a few of the other prints I got:

This was printed on the Columbian Hand Press, and I got to help make it!

A page from the Gutenberg Bible, containing the beginning of Proverbs, I believe

A Night Heron in Central Park

First off, 中秋節快樂! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! I can’t believe I only discovered my (new) favorite Chinese bakery in LA Chinatown in what might be my last year here.

In mid-September, I went to New York City to present at the Annual Meeting on Phonology. Shortly before my trip, I realized it would be my first time on the East Coast since I graduated from Swarthmore, which seemed unbelievable. It was my first time in New York City (not counting layovers) since the fall of 2008. I stayed on the Upper West Side with a family friend, her son, and their two cats. It was a weekend filled with meetings and reunions with linguists and friends from Swarthmore, the intersection of which is not insignificant.

But first, on Friday morning, I met my agent in person for the first time! I figured I should take advantage of being in the capital of the publishing industry. I got to visit Writers House and see where all my e-mails, manuscripts, and envelopes go.

After meeting my agent, I had lunch with my friend Eugenia, who had also studied linguistics (and folk danced!) at Swarthmore. We had taken a translation workshop together, and she’s now a professional freelance translator. We correspond by snail mail and had discovered we’d be in New York City the same weekend (neither of us lives on the East Coast), and luckily our schedules aligned.

I finally made my way to NYU, where my conference was being held. There I found my friend Chris, another Swarthmore linguist (and shape note singer, surprise, surprise), now at Yale, whom I hadn’t seen since I’d graduated. Chris and I had taken Field Methods together. We were both glad to see each other again.

The conference was great. I ran into many graduate students from other schools whom I’d met when we were prospective students together, or when I’d hosted them when they’d visited UCLA, or at past conferences. It’s always nice to see friendly faces and have a chance to catch up in person. I also saw (and sometimes even spoke to!) Famous Linguists (often East Coast ones) I hadn’t met before. There were interesting talks and posters.

On Saturday evening, after the conference reception, I discovered completely serendipitously that my friend Leland, yet another Swarthmore linguist, now at UMass Amherst, was also in New York City. The conference was crawling with his colleagues, but I had had no expectation that he would be attending (and indeed he was in New York for entirely unrelated reasons). We made plans to meet up on Sunday.

I gave my talk on Sunday morning, I think to my largest conference audience ever, and after catching up with another fellow grad student over slices of pizza in Washington Square Park, I headed to the Strand to meet Leland.

I had never been to the Strand before, and I was duly impressed. Leland and I wandered very slowly through the SFF section, half catching up, half discussing books. Then we nipped up to Children’s for a bit before returning downstairs to pick up the books we wanted to buy. I got Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which I am currently reading and enjoying (lots of worldbuilding to sink my teeth into).

After leaving the Strand, we almost slipped into the Organ Meditation at Grace Church, then changed our minds and just went to get ice cream.

On Monday morning, before I had to head to the airport, I took a walk in Central Park. I chose trails somewhat at random in the Ramble and eventually hit the lake, where I witnessed this charming tableau:

Ducks and turtles living in harmony!

I’d been focused entirely on the reptiles and waterfowl on the submerged rock, but suddenly something in the tree on shore beside me caught my eye. For a moment, I thought a duck was perched in the tree; this struck me as unusual, and I wanted to take a picture. But then I realized it was not a duck but something far more interesting!

The bird’s shape reminded me of a night heron, but its plumage was totally different from that of the black-crowned night herons I’d seen in Minnesota. I didn’t figure it out until I got back to Los Angeles, but I think this is a black-crowned night heron–just a female one! Anyway, I stared at the poor bird for a long time and kept trying, mostly in vain, to take a decent picture of her. I think she was watching me too.

Bernstein, Orff, Arbeau, Susato

Last week, two professors in my department were giving away their tickets to the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Sunday concert at Disney Hall, and after wavering for an afternoon, I snagged them and invited my friend Dustin to the concert. I had been to Disney Hall in downtown LA before but had yet to hear a performance there (I’m starting my fifth year of grad school and still haven’t seen the LA Phil!). Plus the program was Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and I liked the parts of each that I was familiar with.

Before the concert, we had ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo and then went to the mochi ice cream place, where I got a scoop of red bean ice cream. Then we walked to Disney Hall. I’d never seen the inside of the concert hall, and I thought it was pretty! Mostly for the majestic pipe organ, with its pipes flaring and jutting out at many angles, all dappled in the blue and gold lighting.

Disney Hall 2

I knew the second movement of the Chichester Psalms because a countertenor at my high school sang it. Here, the soloist was a thirteen-year-old boy soprano. It was great to hear a live performance of that, and I also liked the other two movements. There was an extended cello solo (or perhaps cello ensemble?) in the third movement.

For Carmina Burana, the LA Children’s Chorus (in red vests) joined the Master Chorale, and the orchestra got bigger. Dustin and I knew the somewhat ubiquitous “O Fortuna,” but not the rest, and again, I liked all of it! Carmina Burana (maybe just “O Fortuna”?) was one of the pieces I studied in music listening, and I remembered the texts were written by medieval German monks, but I didn’t realize the themes were basically drinking and love. There were surtitles in English, and some of the translations were quite comical. There was also this tenor solo for which the text was the lament of a swan who’s been cooked and is being served up and sees the diners’ teeth approaching. The tenor really hammed it up. Also, the soprano soloist turned out to be the singer who played Daiyu in the world premiere of the opera Dream of the Red Chamber, which I saw in San Francisco just over a year ago!

It was a splendid concert, and I’m glad I’ve finally heard a performance at Disney Hall.

And since this is a music post, I’m going to squeeze in another musical connection discovery: I’ve talked about Arbeau’s pavane “Belle, qui tiens ma vie” before, and how it appears in Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite.” Well, the other day I was listening to a recording of Tylman Susato’s Danserye and heard something familiar in an allemande… It’s the first piece in this recording, and if you’ve listened to “Belle, qui tiens ma vie” enough you’ll recognize the first two lines. After that it’s different.

Trip to Utah

At the end of August, I went on a road trip to Cedar City, Utah with Isabelle, Olivier, and another grad student from our department and his partner. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Isabelle is a big fan of playwright Mary Zimmerman, and her Treasure Island was one of the plays being performed this season.

This was my first trip with friends (as opposed to family) in a very long time, and I also never drive on the West Coast, so it was a grand adventure! We left on a Friday morning and drove northeast out of Los Angeles, through Las Vegas (I drove this part), through a little corner of Arizona, and into Utah. Luckily, Cedar City is in the part of Utah closest to Los Angeles. We just had time to settle into our Airbnb, a bunker-like but otherwise extremely nice basement apartment on a quiet street, before heading off to Friday evening’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I had neither read nor seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, though I roughly knew the story. The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production was Jazz Age-themed, and the sets and costumes were beautiful. We had great seats in the middle of the front row of the balcony. Although the plot is ridiculous, on the face of it, the (human) drama was at times affecting (I particularly liked the parts about Hermia and Helena’s friendship). And the play was quite funny. I thought the dragging play-within-a-play in the last act was an example of horrible pacing on Shakespeare’s part, but the actors managed to milk as much humor out of it as possible (and I caught what I was 99.9% sure was a jab at Trump’s wall during an earlier rehearsal scene). Also, in her last speech to the audience, Puck interrupted herself to say “bless you” when an audience member sneezed, and the entire theatre laughed. Puck nearly cracked up herself, and it was a moment before she resumed her speech.

On Saturday, after a lazy morning singing with ukuleles, we explored Cedar City. We walked through the campus of Southern Utah University, home of the Shakespeare Festival, and had sandwiches and crêpes for lunch in town. Then we visited an art supplies shop and a stringed instrument store.

The luthier told us a local girl had built the instrument on the left for a Science Olympiad event and had won state! The instrument has no frets, and she bowed it.

Then we headed north on Main Street till we reached the public library. Out front, there was a sculpture that reproduced some of the petroglyphs of nearby Parowan Gap. And inside, guess whose books they had in the YA section?

Petroglyph reproductions outside the public library

Found them!

From the library, we went to a bead/comic book/trading card store, and then to a lovely (mostly used?) bookstore. After lingering there a while, we checked out a couple of art galleries and then headed to the Southern Utah Museum of Art. They had an exhibit of local artist Jimmie Jones’s paintings of the southern Utah landscape and an exhibit of quilts (broadly construed) that were part of a competition on the theme of Pathfinders. The quilts were really cool; some of them were absolutely gorgeous. Several, inspired by the theme, depicted refugees or displaced people.

We went back to the Airbnb to rest a little before the next play, and Isabelle, Olivier, and I checked out the back garden, where there were chickens and raspberry brambles from which we plucked ripe berries.

Saturday evening’s show was Mary Zimmerman’s Treasure Island, which was also excellent. The sets were splendid, and I was delighted to recognize among the incidental music the fiddle tune “Drowsy Maggie” (for the fight in the Admiral Benbow Inn) and that famous Boccherini minuet.

On Sunday, we visited Zion National Park. I drove us to the entrance to the northwest part of the park (i.e. the closest part), the Kolob Canyons area. We set out on the La Verkin Creek Trail. Our original destination was Kolob Arch, which would have made for a 14-mile round trip hike, but we actually turned back after we’d gone about halfway to the arch.

The trail led us around these majestic red cliffs, through occasional woods and alongside wildflowers and over many dry streambeds. There were junipers, pines, and cottonwoods, mainly. The earth was red and sometimes reduced to soft sand. We glimpsed small birds, including the blue Steller’s jay, and saw some very large birds wheeling in the distance (I’m not sure I believe they were condors). There were also (rock?) squirrels; at one point we observed one chirping at us and another party of hikers quite insistently, and we realized some of the chirping we’d heard earlier might not have been birds but squirrels. I’d forgotten how much they could sound like birds.

We spent a lovely evening eating crêpes and singing with ukulele, and then Isabelle and I went out to look at the stars once more. You can see a thousand times more stars on a suburban street in Cedar City, UT than you can on the Westside of Los Angeles. The Summer Triangle, Cygnus, the Big and Little Dippers, Polaris, Cassiopeia… The Milky Way, even.

On Monday, we roadtripped back to Los Angeles to a soundtrack of French Canadian music, Scottish songs, and French musicals.

The PDR: Samsara

Back in August, my friend Michael told me about a friend of a friend who hosted musical salons/informal concerts in her apartment. He had been persuaded to perform at the next one and was planning to sing the Iron & Wine song “Naked As We Came” while accompanying himself on guitar. He thought it was the sort of event I’d enjoy and invited me to come. A few days later, he remarked that “Naked As We Came” had a subtle harmony line on the refrain. Would I like to sing it with him at the salon? I said sure.

We had one rehearsal after Georgian chorus one day, and then that weekend was the performance. The salon (that’s what I’m calling it) is called the PDR (for Playa del Rey, where the hosts live), and each PDR has a theme. This one’s theme was samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.

I find the concept of a salon like this really appealing. I used to host music parties for my friends where we’d get together and play strange instrumental arrangements (flute, viola, cello, piano/bells) of classical and not-so-classical pieces I liked. These days, I host singing parties where we sing shape note tunes, folksongs, and rounds in two- to four-part harmony. The PDR is more performance-oriented, and the participants are mostly fairly serious, even professional, musicians, but the host explained at the beginning of the evening how her goal was to create a low-stress performance venue where musicians could play for a friendly audience and anyone was welcome to participate.

The opener was Monti’s “Csárdás,” performed by a violinist accompanied by the host on one of her two grand pianos. When I heard the title, I wondered if it was going to be that “Csárdás,” and it was. Next a flautist played Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” also accompanied. I’d thought “Vocalise” had been written for cello (silly me); it turns out it was originally for soprano, with no text, and has been transcribed for every instrument imaginable. This was followed by a pair of piano pieces by Grieg, “Homesickness” and “Homeward.”

We were up next! I perched on a chair next to Michael, who was on a piano bench. “Naked As We Came” is a pretty short song, two verses, each followed by the refrain, and I only had to sing my harmony line on the refrain. Michael was doing all the rest, including the pretty guitar playing. The host thought it was the first time there’d ever been singing not accompanied by piano at the PDR, and we were also the only non-classical piece of the night. It went pretty well, and people seemed to enjoy it!

Next someone played a series of Beethoven bagatelles. In the meantime, I noticed that a musician who’d come in late had unpacked an instrument from what I’d thought was a cello case. It was not a cello but a viola da gamba! And he was next. He played “Death” and “Lyfe” by Tobias Hume, an English (Scottish, actually) composer and mercenary who wrote music for viola da gamba when he wasn’t fighting for Sweden. That’s what the viola da gambist told us, anyway. Before performing, he showed us the sheet music he was playing off of. It looked like a facsimile of the original, very old notation that vaguely resembled tablatures.

After the Hume, his girlfriend joined him with a Baroque violin to play a violin sonata by Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, a composer I had in fact heard of thanks to this very nerdy activity I did in high school called music listening. (My team made it to the state championship match every year, and when I was a senior we won.) Viola da Gambist told us Jacquet de la Guerre became a musician in the court of Louis XIV at the age of five (later Wikipedia browsing suggested she performed for the king at five but became a court musician only later). Anyway, the sonata was beautiful.

Lastly, someone sang three art songs while accompanying himself on piano, which was quite impressive. He sang Schubert’s “In Frühling,” Fauré’s “Les Berceaux,” and Mozart’s “Abendempfindung”; I especially liked the Fauré (chanson over lieder, I guess).

After the concert, I went to talk to Viola da Gambist and Baroque Violinist about Jacquet de la Guerre and the violinist’s instrument. I told them I was a cellist and was envious of people who played the viola da gamba, and Viola da Gambist told me he knew where I could get a viola da gamba for free. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.

Later, I was talking to Baroque Violinist again. She had lived in Boston all her life, and it turned out she’d been in youth orchestra with someone I knew in college. She also told me Viola da Gambist’s sister was a fiddler, and I put two and two together and realized she was my favorite local contra dance fiddler! Small world.

By this time, some people had left, and those who remained were chatting about Handel’s operas and whether they’d been trained to be better at memorization or sight reading. Then Viola da Gambist regaled us with his take on Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo’s life (Gesualdo was another composer I’d studied in music listening). According to Viola da Gambist, Gesualdo had discovered his wife having an affair and killed her and her lover. Thereafter, he lived under house arrest. He wrote madrigal after madrigal for his live-in singers, and because he listened to nothing but his own madrigals being performed back for him, they got weirder and weirder (chromatic and such).

Just before we left, Viola da Gambist showed me the Hume music and tried to explain to me how the tablatures worked. I asked him whether he’d been serious about the free viola da gamba, and he told me about the Viola da Gamba Society of America or somesuch, which likes getting instruments into the hands of eager would-be viola da gambists. He even said he was looking for a student…but I did not rise to the bait, however much I’d like to play viola da gamba. I have my hands pretty full with the cello, the fiddle, and the hammered dulcimer, none of which I play frequently enough.

Long Beach Zine Fest

The first Sunday in August, Isabelle, her partner Olivier, and I went to the Long Beach Zine Fest. If you’re not familiar with zines, they’re typically homemade, self-published booklets assembled from folded paper about…absolutely anything you want. Stories, poetry, art, essays, comics, political manifestos… I first encountered the concept in the book Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, which I read when I was about thirteen, I think. Since then, I’ve come across zines here and there: my friend Miyuki makes them, I saw them for sale at Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis, Miyuki mailed me some zines (by other people) from her collection when she moved, I saw zines at the LA Times Festival of Books… More recently, I’ve read some of the zines of Yumi Sakugawa.

The zine fest was held in the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. When we arrived, we had to decide whether we wanted to sign up for one of the two remaining afternoon workshops. The first, First Language Zine (“a writing and artmaking and zinemaking workshop to explore the power of multiple tongues [and] the languages of our families”), sounded pretty cool, though I interpreted it as being about using your heritage language in your zines and I don’t actually have a heritage language (well, I suppose I sort of have written Chinese). The second was a basics of zinemaking workshop, and all three of us decided to sign up.

We took a look at the Luis Tapia exhibit and then headed into the big room where the zinesters were tabling. There was a lot of ground to cover. We wandered the booths together, took a break for lunch under the bougainvillea at the edge of the back parking lot, and then split up for more browsing.

There was a zine that had caught my eye earlier at Oatmeal Press’s booth. It was entitled “Messy Bits: An Essay on Grief & Queer Friendship.” There’d been nobody at the booth at the time, so after lunch I checked back a couple of times until someone was there. It turned out to be Claire Stringer, the author of the zine, so I bought a copy and asked her to sign it for me! It’s a lovely, lyrical, at times melancholy but also hopeful zine.

The next thing I couldn’t resist was a small, folded-but-not-stapled zine entitled “A Handy Guide to the Things Not to Say and the Reasons Not to Say Them.” #2 is “So, why aren’t you dating someone?” and the answer includes “maybe…they just want to adopt 5 cats and eat pizza.” It’s actual good advice in a cute and funny package, and on the last page there are some suggestions for better questions to ask people.

I arrived at the table of Christina Tran, the zinester who was running (perhaps at that very moment, since she wasn’t at her booth) the First Language Zine workshop. This table had an interactive activity: there were two box-envelopes of cards, one labeled Leave a Note and the other labeled Take a Note. There was also a small zine called “Dear Daughter: A Zine Fest Letter Exchange” that was a compilation of notes from a previous zine fest. I leafed through the compilation and decided to get it. Then I wrote my own note, which the person at Christina’s table photographed before I slipped it into the Take a Note box. I took a note from the middle of the stack for myself. Like all the cards, it was printed with Dear Daughter, and inside the printed speech bubble someone had written, “This, too, shall pass. ♥” I’ll take it. Later, Isabelle and I both read the whole collection of previous Dear Daughter notes, and we agreed the best one was a very long one that began, “For you there will be:” and included “hidden passages in small town libraries,” the loyalty of bookstore cats,” “bridges of words over snow-covered hills,” “enemies redeemed as friends,” and “forever friendships,” among other delightful things.

Isabelle and Olivier had gone to explore the rest of the museum, and I walked through the galleries too. I was happy to see a couple of works by Wifredo Lam, a Cuban artist whose artwork I had first encountered at an exhibit about him and Aimé Césaire in Paris in 2011.

Around 3 o’clock, we went into the art classroom where the workshop was. It was led by Aima Rosa of frijolerx press. We sat at round tables covered in brown paper, and there were markers, pens, and pencils scattered around. Aima Rosa gave a little introduction to zinemaking and answered a few questions. Then she taught us how to make a very simple zine by folding a sheet of paper in half three times and making a single cut. The result is a booklet with eight pages, including the front and back covers. She invited us to make a zine on the theme of self-love. She said there’s plenty of stuff in the world that makes people, especially marginalized people, feel bad about themselves so it’s important to remember to love yourself and think about what you love about yourself.

I decided to give it a try, though I spent a while figuring out what approach to take and then struggled to come up with things to put into my zine. Turns out it’s actually kind of difficult to come up with nice things to say about yourself, whether it’s because you can’t think of things you like about yourself or because it feels self-centered or like bragging or because of any number of other things. In the end, I was happy enough with how my zine turned out, and Isabelle said I should post the whole thing, so here you go. It was fun to make, and I’d like to make more zines someday.

After the workshop, we walked around Long Beach a little bit. We found the mural Yoskay Yamamoto did on the temporary walls surrounding the city hall/library construction site. It was pretty and whimsical, and in the yellow section I found a wug, the adorable bird mascot of linguistics!

A wug!

After admiring the mural, we rode the train back to Los Angeles, reading our newly purchased zines.

Solar Eclipse!

I was a little worried when I woke up this morning to cloud cover, but Los Angeles’s typical sunniness came through in the end, and I was able to witness the partial solar eclipse (about 60%) visible here. A few of us from the department went to the UCLA Court of Sciences to view it. When we arrived, there was an enormous line we were afraid was for eclipse glasses. Turned out it was for both eclipse glasses and looking through the telescopes. Getting glasses looked like a bit of a lost cause, and indeed after we’d waited in line for a while someone else from the department farther ahead told us they’d run out. We improvised a pinhole camera from a sheet of paper nabbed from a campus newspaper stand and a business card someone poked a hole through with a pen. Then we abandoned the line and went to the center of the Court of Sciences. People who had eclipse glasses were happy to lend them to people like us, so we all got to peer at the eclipse directly after all.

We amused ourselves for quite a while by making improvised pinhole cameras out of various configurations of our hands and that same sheet of paper, and we attracted people who were curious about what we were doing and wanted to take pictures or try it out for themselves!

My hand, my head, and partial eclipse! (Photo by Isabelle)

We also saw some leaf shadow effects, though the crescents aren’t as spectacular as those I saw in photos from people who saw a more complete eclipse.