Agave Baroque, Etc.

Summer is here! What have I been up to since spring break, besides defending my dissertation? Well, I can safely say I’ve finished my doctorate; I graduate tomorrow! I also went to the LA Times Festival of Books and YALLWEST, which were fun, but I wonder whether I’m starting to get author paneled out… I went on a couple of top secret trips to the Upper Midwest; sooner or later the outcome of those trips is likely to become clear.

In between said trips, Isabelle and I went to a wonderful concert at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, which is part of UCLA but is located in the West Adams neighborhood. The Clark houses a rare book and manuscript collection and hosts UCLA’s Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies’ chamber music concert series. We had actually been to the library before, for a performance combining piano pieces and personal storytelling. This time, the performers were Agave Baroque, a San Francisco-based ensemble, and the countertenor Reginald Mobley. Apparently it was the first time a singer had ever participated in this concert series.

The Clark Library (check out that theorbo!)

The program was devoted almost exclusively to the extended Bach family. I’m a big Baroque music fan, so I enjoyed the whole concert, but I was especially excited for the penultimate piece, the chaconne “Mein Freund ist mein” from the cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön by Johann Christoph Bach. I had stumbled upon this piece on Youtube, searching for music by J. C. Bach, as one does, and I loved it. (Amusingly, for the title of the cantata Google Translate gives “my girlfriend you are beautiful.”) I should’ve realized sooner the text was from the Song of Songs. The organist told us the cantata had been composed for a Bach family wedding, but it was a Lutheran wedding, so the piece was in G minor. In any case, it was as wonderful as I’d hoped to hear the chaconne performed live. I was surprised to understand some German I had never caught before, just listening to a recording.

The title given in the program for the final piece, also by J. C. Bach, wasn’t familiar to me. It was “Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben” (Google Translate: “it’s over with my life now”). The organist said the song was about death, but it was happy (can anyone say shape note?). As soon as Reginald Mobley began to sing, though, I recognized the piece, which I knew as “Welt, gute Nacht.” It’s very beautiful and soothing, and I was delighted to hear it performed live too.

The next evening, I got to see Rachel Hartman (of whom I am unabashedly a fan) and Fran Wilde at Children’s Book World, the bookstores where I held my Los Angeles release parties. I’d enjoyed Fran Wilde’s Updraft, and she was touring for her newest book, an MG novel with a protagonist named Eleanor! She also had a stamp of a witch ball, which she was using in signing books. It was lovely to see Rachel in person for the second time and catch up a little. She was promoting her extraordinary Tess of the Road.

At the end of May, Isabelle and I went to the LA Zine Fest at the historic Helms Bakery in Culver City (the official baker of the 1932 Olympic Games). We discovered some new-to-us zinesters, saw artist Maggie Chiang in the flesh, ran into Jackie Lam, whom we knew from the West LA Burrito Project, and donated some zines to other branches of the LA Public Library.

Speaking of zines and the public library, last Sunday we went back to the zine workshop at the West Los Angeles Regional Library. I kept working on my latest zine, which I hope to finish and reveal soon, and we found that some of our previous zines were now on shelves in the library’s collection!

Dissertation Defended

You know how I sometimes mention I’m in grad school? Well, yesterday I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation! It’s been a long, sometimes quite difficult, but also very rewarding six years. Here’s me and my lovely committee at the post-defense celebration. Happy May Day!

Borrego Palm Canyon and the Rest of Spring Break

On our second day in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. There were plenty of people, and the trail was awash in desert flowers. The clouds of blooms were mainly shades of yellow and purple (desert dandelion, Parrish’s poppies, phacelia), with greenery and smatterings of other colors thrown in. The trail was pretty easy for a long stretch. Mountainsides jutted up sharply on either side of us, but far away on one side. There were streams (or maybe just one stream) flowing with cold water, and we had to cross all of these, usually on stepping stones or a log bridge. Closer to the palm oasis that was the endpoint of the trail, the path grew steeper and rockier in places.

Two kinds of phacelia?

A pretty blue flower

The oasis itself was a circle of California fan palms, the only native California palm tree. It was deliciously cool in the shade. Nearby, a shallow stream was flowing, and it seemed you could wade up it to find a waterfall. This sounded lovely, but a bunch of people had just arrived, so we opted to start the hike back. We stumbled upon some more ghost flowers along the trail, but alas, we didn’t meet any bighorn sheep.

Apricot mallow, I think

Stream from the trail, with ocotillos on the far hillside

On the drive back from the state park, we saw along the freeway near Lake Elsinore (lately overwhelmed by superbloom seekers) the hillsides coated in orange California poppies that are the signature of this year’s superbloom. The flowers do make impressive patches of color.

Back in Los Angeles, we visited the Getty Museum, where the illuminated manuscripts exhibit was Artful Words: Calligraphy in Illuminated Manuscripts. As usual, I tried to read the French texts. There was an amusing legend to an illustration in The Visions of the Knight Tondal: “The Good But Not Very Good Are Nourished by a Fountain”. Sounds like Not Very Good is good enough, then? This particular exhibit featured a lot of pages from books of music, which I’m a big fan of.

We also made our usual pilgrimage to The Huntington. In the Chinese garden, there was a performance underway in my eponymous pavilion: Gao Hejia was playing the guzheng.

The Chinese garden (notice the egret among the water lilies behind the rock)

Bird!

On the final day of our vacation, we visited the Getty Villa.

The Getty Villa, modeled on the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum

Inscription in what the exhibit called Palmyran Aramaic and what I think might be the Palmyrene alphabet–in any case, it’s beautiful!

A Mission and the Anza-Borrego Badlands

My parents recently visited me for spring break, and we started off by heading down the coast. We ate burritos and caught the sunset in Laguna Beach. The next morning, we arrived at Mission San Juan Capistrano soon after opening. The mission is very pretty, and the well-tended gardens were gorgeous. We apparently missed St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows by a few days, but I saw nary a swallow (it seems like the mission is going to great lengths to attract them back–there were artificial nests and recordings of mating calls).

Mission San Juan Capistrano (there is a raven on the belltower)

The ruins of the Great Stone Church, destroyed by an earthquake, reminded me a bit of the Ruínas do Carmo in Lisbon. I liked the painted beams, painted motifs, and organ in Serra Chapel (which has the distinction of being the only church still standing in which Father Junipero Serra celebrated mass). The ornate alterpiece was less to my taste. I liked the bells too, including the bell-gable (maybe it wasn’t one, but it reminded me of what I saw in southern France last summer), and the cloisters. There were exhibits displaying both treasure and objects from daily life, including a bookcase of old volumes, a gloria bell wheel (like a spinning wheel with bells attached around it), and Acjachemen baskets. The gardens boasted many plump cacti, manzanita trees, California poppies, succulents, and a huge jasmine vine in full fragrant bloom.

I liked this musical display

From San Juan Capistrano, we drove inland to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which we had first visited two years ago for the 2017 superbloom. After picnicking in Christmas Circle, we arrived at the headquarters of California Overland Desert Excursions for our afternoon tour of the badlands. (I didn’t know there were badlands other than the ones in South Dakota; the formations do look alike.) The advantage of the tour was that we’d ride in a 10-wheel military truck on unpaved roads and desert washes to parts of the park that would be inaccessible to us in our rental car.

The military truck

Our guide, Joe, first oriented us to the region and showed us paintings of what it looked like in earlier prehistoric ages, when the climate was (sub)tropical and megafauna roamed. Then we all climbed a ladder into the back of the military truck, where there were green-upholstered benches, and off we went. Our first off-road detour was to the Truckhaven Trail to see some blooming desert sunflowers, with a little sand verbena thrown in. Then we started down a path on the other side of the highway. Joe stopped so we could get out and see some ghost flowers blooming along the trail. This is a rarer desert flower, I believe, and it has pretty speckles inside the cup of its pale petals.

The badlands

In the wash, with smoke trees in the middle ground

Further on, we reached the badlands and got out again to explore the landscape. The sandy ground glittered with pyrite. There were flowers here and there, and caterpillars, and a large round spotted beetle. The truck was parked in the wash near a palo verde and a smoke tree. I particularly liked the smoke trees; they looked like they were made of silver and gold. Joe also showed us a big creosote. We took a break for some snacks and lemon water and then drove a little farther on to see a mud cave (perhaps a century or two old) carved into the rock formations by water.

The badlands from Vista del Malpaís

The view in the other direction

Next we drove on and upward to Vista del Malpaís, which afforded views of the folds and ridges of the badlands, the wider valley, and the mountains ringing it in all directions. There were a lot of lupines blooming up here. After taking it all in, we returned to headquarters via a trail Joe called the rollercoaster for its ups and downs. I don’t usually go in for tours, but this one was well worth it.

Desert lily and lupines at Vista del Malpaís

Blackout Poetry and West LA Zinemaking

At the latest meeting of the artists and writers collective, our warm-up activity was blackout poetry. To create a blackout poem, you take a printed text and black out all but the words you want to incorporate into your poem. It’s a kind of constrained writing, and it’s rather tricky because you have to see something of your own in the midst of someone else’s text. We used pages ripped from the author’s note of this year’s UCLA Common Book, The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú. (I picked up my free copy in January and read the book then; I recommend it.) In the end, I found it easiest to dispense with the vast majority of the words on the page, and I came up with: “the absence of stories is the crisis / nothing else frees us from anonymity”.

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My local library, the West Los Angeles Regional Library, recently launched a zine collection and has also begun holding monthly zinemaking workshops. Isabelle and I went for the first time last month and recently went again. Thanks to these workshops, we’ve discovered the library has a second floor (!), hung out with cool librarians, and used an old-fashioned typewriter (much cooler than my inherited electric typewriter). Over the two workshops, I also completed my newest zine, Confessions of an Obsessive Journaler (also available to print and download under Other Writing).

Carving and Printmaking

Our university’s international student center has a new artists and writers collective whose meetings Isabelle and I have been attending. At the last meeting, Isabelle taught everyone how to carve stamps out of plastic erasers with X-Acto knives. The erasers are nice and soft. For my first ever stamp design, I eventually decided on a bass clef, and the result wasn’t too bad. It’s like a rustic bass clef.

Two days later, we went to a linocut workshop hosted by the Horn Press, UCLA’s book arts society. Isabelle is quite experienced with linocut, but I had never done it before, and it’s a bit trickier than plastic erasers. We used gouges of various shapes and widths to carve linoleum plates mounted on wood blocks. It took me a while to come up with a design again. I tried thinking of things I used to draw when I was younger that I actually felt turned out well, and I remembered these little birds made of simple shapes for the crown, eye, beak, wings, tail, and feet. I don’t remember what originally inspired those drawings; I think I must’ve seen a brush painting somewhere. Anyway, I set to work with my gouge, and of course I picked a design that required me to carve away most of the plate. But I finished.

First print at the workshop

Later I did some additional cleanup with some of Isabelle’s tools, and I tried printing again.

Mobile Museums and Rare Books

Earlier this month Isabelle and I went to the Mobile Museum Fair at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The fair brought together a couple dozen exhibits and libraries, from the International Printing Museum‘s printing shop on wheels (which we’d once seen in front of our building on campus) to the Feminist Library on Wheels to a native plants pop-up seed museum. The trucks were lined up outside the library on 5th Street while other exhibits were scattered throughout the library’s halls and meeting rooms.

We’d heard there would be tours of the Rare Books Room, and we were lucky enough to snag the third and fourth spots out of twenty for the second and last tour. After signing up, we visited the Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, which featured a large collection of masks and musical instruments from around the world. On a table in the middle of the room were a handful of instruments you could play, including a few thumb pianos, a guitar, and something Isabelle thought was a guzheng. She showed me how to pluck it. On the walls were many more instruments: balalaikas, an erhu, a kora, a hulusi, a banjo, a violin… There were also the masks, but I was more into the musical instruments.

Part of the instrument collection, including Scottish highland pipes and the violin-like hashtar from China

We checked out the museum trucks outside and visited the Department of Recreation and Parks’s eco trailer, with stuffed wildlife from the Santa Monica Mountains. Inside the library, we also saw the screen printing station in the courtyard, a couple of mobile libraries, a mastodon skull, and volunteers cuddling a tegu (a very big lizard) and a snake. Later on, after the Rare Books Room tour, we arrived in the rotunda just as the inflatable planetarium was toppled. We examined the seeds and seedpods at the seed museum and then took a quick look around the 21 Collections exhibit in the Getty Gallery.

Fox in the eco trailer

At four o’clock, those of us who had signed up for the tour were taken up in an elevator to the Rare Books Room, where we were welcomed by Xochitl Oliva, Senior Librarian of Digitization and Special Collections. Now, I received Susan Orlean’s The Library Book for Christmas, and I had finished reading it shortly before the Mobile Museum Fair. Orlean’s book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and, in particular, the central library, the building that houses it, and the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books there. She also writes about a number of current library staff, and Oliva is in her book! Reading it also gave me much more context for this visit to the library; the only time I’d been before was with Mike the Poet over two years ago.

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dalí

Oliva oriented us to the library and then spoke about each of the pieces from the collection that had been selected and set out for display on two wooden tables in the center of the reading room. There was a large-format edition of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. There was the oldest book in the collection, a 13th century Latin manuscript from the priory of Nostell in England. There was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a map depicting California as an island, a Sumerian temple dedication cone with a cuneiform inscription (the oldest item in the collection), and samples from the library’s collections of menus and fruit crate labels.

The oldest book in the special collections, a 13th century Latin manuscript from England