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Fare Thee Well, Los Angeles

After spending six years working toward my Ph.D. in linguistics, I have left Los Angeles a doctor, and I’m currently en route to my next home. We’ll be driving through the Southwest and the Rockies to…you’ll find out soon!

I tried to take advantage of my last weeks in Los Angeles. I lived there longer than I had in any other place other than the places where I grew up, and UCLA is the school where I was a student the longest. When I arrived for grad school, I had no particular opinion of Los Angeles. I neither dreaded nor looked forward to living there. But now that I’ve spent so much time there, there are many things I like about it (the diversity, the neighborhoods, the bookstores, the food), and I’ll definitely miss it.

In my last month or so in LA, and particularly in my last days, I:

  • Rode the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier with Isabelle
  • Attended my fourth (I think) Obon at the West LA Buddhist Temple with Isabelle, her friend Alice, and Alice’s partner Quentin (I recognize all the taiko drummers now!)
  • Went to both free Shakespeare plays in Griffith Park, Pericles with Isabelle, Alice, and Quentin, and Twelfth Night with Isabelle and her partner Olivier
  • Ate at some of the most beloved restaurants in Sawtelle, many of which I will miss, including Killer Noodle, Marugame Udon, Seoul Tofu, and Tsujita Annex
  • Ate a last pupusa at the West LA Farmers Market

  • Finally achieved my goal of swimming in the Pacific when I went to the beach with Isabelle and Olivier (in the end, it wasn’t freezing!)

It’s funny how you can intend to check something off your list for months or even years and then not get around to doing it before everything is suddenly a whirlwind of moving preparation and you run out of time. Museum of Jurassic Technology, I’ll have to visit you someday! I also never did dare dance at Obon. Until we meet again, Los Angeles!

A Cupcake Zine and Maia Kobabe at Book Soup

Last Sunday was the July zine workshop at the West Los Angeles Regional Library. Last month I mentioned I was working on a new zine that I hoped to reveal soon, and this month I finished it! A Cupcake ATM Misadventure tells the true story of what happened when I tried to use the cupcake ATM at USC at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books.

From the zine workshop, Isabelle and I took the bus to Book Soup, a bookstore on Sunset Blvd. Maia Kobabe and Samuel Sattin were there to talk about their recent comic books. They were joined by their respective collaborators, Phoebe Kobabe and Ian McGinty. Maia and Samuel met as members of the guinea pig cohort in California College of the Arts’ comics MFA program. Isabelle and I had discovered Maia’s zines at Comic Arts LA in December, and I was interested in eir debut book, the graphic memoir Gender Queer.

The event was pretty intimate, and the authors seemed to know a lot of the attendees. Maia and Samuel kind of interviewed each other, with Ian and Phoebe contributing their thoughts. They discussed the genesis of their books, the comic making life (taking care of your body is important too!), time management, themes (identity, climate change, anti-capitalism), and trusting that the time you’re investing in creating art rather than, say, registering voters is still worthwhile. (Or is it? Sometimes I wonder… Sarah McCarry’s diamond-sharp expression of a certain kind of hopelessness hit home this week.)

Afterward, I asked both Maia and Phoebe to sign my copy of Gender Queer, and I gave Maia a copy of my just completed A Cupcake ATM Misadventure. By the way, this zine, with all the others, is available to be printed under Other Writing.

Doughnuts and Seafoam

Some recent summer snapshots:

Bright sea and sailboats, walking along the sand from Santa Monica to the Venice boardwalk

Experiments with nail polish stamping

An excursion to Sidecar Doughnuts in Santa Monica

Basil Eggs Benedict, Choc-A-Lot, Vanilla Glazed, Huckleberry

The Giant Robot Post-It Show

Giant Robot is a store and art gallery in Sawtelle, the traditionally Japanese-American neighborhood on the Westside where I’ve gone to Obon the last couple of years. I’ve been to exhibits at Giant Robot’s gallery before. Every December, they have a post-it show for which dozens of artists (many of whom have exhibited at the gallery or have works available in the store) create art on actual post-it notes. The post-its are then displayed in a wide band around the perimeter of the small gallery; rows and columns are labeled so a given post-it can be pinpointed. The public is invited to view the post-its during a preview event, and then sales begin. People camp out for hours for the chance to buy the post-its they want. Also, there’s now a second drop of post-its on a second weekend.

Isabelle and I caught the end of the preview on the first day of this year’s post-it show, but first, we shared a bowl of Japanese-style dan dan noodles at Killer Noodle. Sawtelle is full of popular restaurants, and Killer Noodle is a relatively new one I had yet to try. Their core concept is two seven-point scales: one for   (the numbing flavor/sensation of Sichuan peppercorn) and one for (spiciness, in this case from cayenne pepper). We got three and three, and it was very tasty, but I’d go for less next time.

IMG_3789

After lunch, we went to the Giant Robot gallery. There were already people parked on the sidewalk, waiting for sales to begin; I couldn’t see how far the line went once it turned the corner. The preview was also packed. We entered a sort of human river that slowly flowed clockwise along the walls. It was hard to take in every post-it, but we spotted a lot that we liked. Here are some of my favorites:

San Francisco II

Earlier in October, I went up to San Francisco for the weekend. The reason for the trip was to give a talk in the Berkeley Linguistics Department, but it was an excellent excuse to spend time in a city I like more and more. I arrived on Friday evening and met my friend Dustin for dinner. The place where we met was a stone’s throw from the Chinese restaurant where the banquet I went to before the premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber was held, but we ate at a different Chinese restaurant, which specialized in Sichuanese cuisine. We had mapo tofu and steamed fish over tofu with chopped chilies.

I made my way by BART and bus to the Marina District, where I was staying with my mother’s cousin and his wife, whose wedding in Maui I attended last year. They very kindly introduced me to some of their favorite places to eat. On Saturday, we went to the farmers market around the Ferry Building for chilaquiles (which I had never tried) and porchetta sandwiches. Then they took me to Lands End. Beyond the ruins of the Sutro Baths, the tide was very low, and gulls and cormorants crowded on the rocky outcroppings just off shore. Here by the ocean it was cloudy, and the wind-sculpted conifers stood tall and eerie on the hillside.

I spent part of the afternoon in Golden Gate Park catching up with my friend Katherine (alas, I did not get to see the bison paddock). Then in the evening my cousins and I went out for seven-course beef (bò 7 món), which I had also never tried (or even heard of). NO PHO, a sticker on the door of the restaurant proclaimed, and inside every table had ordered the specialty. The meal consisted of seven courses of beef in different forms, including a salad at the beginning and congee at the end, passing through various iterations of thinly sliced beef and ground beef sausages. Most of the meat was meant to be rolled in lettuce and/or rice paper wrappers with vegetables and herbs. It was fun and very tasty.

On Sunday morning, I went to church with Katherine. It was the Indigenous People’s Day Service, and the sermon was partly about the Nez Perce translation of the Gospel of John and the Nez Perce story of Coyote and his daughter. After church, my cousins and I drove to Berkeley, where we ate an Indian restaurant/market specializing in chaat. I had a mango lassi, and we shared a bunch of dishes served on metal trays. These included lamb biryani, masala dosa, puri, a puffed rice dish, fried fish, and bhature (a.k.a the big puffy thing), with a variety of sauces and accompaniments.

My cousins dropped me off at my friend Jesse’s place, and the next day Jesse and I went into the Berkeley department. I spent the morning at the Free Speech Movement Café and then returned to give my talk, which was on a couple of my dissertation experiments. Afterwards, I went out to lunch with some of the Berkeley folks, including my friend Andrew. Then I made my way back to the airport to fly back to Los Angeles.

Village Churches and Roman Ruins

In which I conclude the chronicle of my travels in southern France (you can also read the first part).

Tuesday

After sending my brother on his way back to the U.S., we visited the village of La Louvière-Lauragais, which has a population of around 50. There is an old church with an unusual belltower and apparently a Black Virgin, though we didn’t get to see it. I marveled again at the ornate interiors of tiny village churches tucked away in the countryside.

The slate tiles and belltower of the church in La Louvière-Lauragais

We stopped by Molandier, another village, to check out its three-pointed bell-gable (clocher-mur), which had fifteen bells of different sizes hanging in its eleven arches. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear them ring at noon because we had to make our lunch reservation at Le Paradis du Pape, a restaurant with erratic hours and extensive gardens.

Duck for lunch

After lunch, we bid our friends in Mazères goodbye and drove southeast. There was a good view of Carcassonne from the highway. We stopped in Nîmes to visit the Roman arena. It’s cool how 2,000-year-old ruins built by another civilization are still used today for shows and concerts, though the modern equipment does kind of mar the original.

The Roman arena in Nîmes

From Nîmes, we drove to Arles. After checking into our hotel, we walked past the Roman arena and had dinner at a crêperie. I had a crêpe with Corsican sausage and cheese. Afterwards, we walked around Arles some more, passing the Roman theater, the impressive doorway of the Cathédrale Saint-Trophime, and the café famously painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

Wednesday

We left Arles and drove to the Pont du Gard, the Roman aquaduct spanning the Gardon river. We arrived right around noon. The sun was beating down mercilessly on aquaduct, tourists, and olive trees. We clambered up and down scrubby hillsides, seeking views of the bridge and occasionally glimpsing a town farther off in the distance. We picnicked under one of the massive arches and then walked across the bridge to climb the trail on the other bank. The aquaduct was certainly impressive; I just wish we could’ve gone swimming in the river.

The Pont du Gard

From the Pont du Gard, we drove to Lyon to stay with other family friends. I’d last been in Lyon when I was studying abroad in Grenoble, not too far away. We ate dinner outside, and then we all went to the circus. I’ve seen some circus arts performances before, but this was my first time (that I can remember) going to an old-school circus complete with big tent and ring. There were no elephants, lions, or trapezes, however. There were some strange storytelling episodes and some okay juggling. My favorite acts were the Russian acrobats on the flexible beam and the man who rode standing on the back of a running horse. Towards the end of the show, a thunderstorm rolled in, and rain pounded on the tent. Lightning flashed in the dark sky as we walked across the field back to the car.

Thursday

This was my one full day in Lyon. In the morning, we walked by the Gallo-Roman ruins and the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, taking in the view of Lyon spread out below the basilica plaza. Then we took switchbacks and stairs down into the city. We had lunch at the rooftop café of the Musée Gadagne and then walked to the fontaine Bartholdi by the Hôtel de Ville. Eventually we crossed a bridge over the Saône and took the funicular back up the hill to visit the Gallo-Roman museum (now called Lugdunum). I looked at a lot of carved rocks. There were also some lovely mosaics. I particularly liked the remains of a Gaulish calendar, with Gaulish inscribed on bronze.

The Cathédrale Saint-Jean and the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière across the Saône

Friday

In the morning, our host François drove me to the train station to catch a 6:30am TGV for Paris. I was a little worried about making my 11:30am flight to Los Angeles because I didn’t have much wiggle room, and although the SNCF strike had ended with the month of June, I was traveling on the day of a “mouvement social,” whatever that meant. My train was a little late getting into the Gare de Lyon, but I transferred right away to the RER. That train was stuffed to the gills, in part with cosplayers headed to the Japan Expo one stop before the airport. I made it to Charles de Gaulle, checked my bag at about the last possible minute, and dashed off to the security checkpoint. When I reached my gate, my flight was boarding, but I’d made it. The Air Tahiti Nui flight crew thoughtfully gave us World Cup match updates (in French only) as we flew over the Atlantic; the passengers cheered for both France and Belgium. I was pleased when France won the World Cup a little over a week later.

Adventures in Cathar Country

On the last Friday in June, I flew from Paris to Toulouse, where I met up with my parents and brother. We visited the Basilique Saint-Sernin, which has an impressive belltower and, inside, a lot of banners about the wonders of pilgrimage. Then we walked around a bit–Toulouse is quite pretty, and it has street signs in Occitan!–and ate dinner at a restaurant where I tried skate for the first time. I was curious after all the rays I’d seen at aquariums lately. We then drove to Mazères, where the American friends who were hosting us live.

Dôme de la Grave, across the Garonne, Toulouse

Saturday

We went to Foix, a town apparently known to all French schoolchildren because of a rhyme that incorporates four French homophones (foie, Foix, foi, fois). Foix has a very well-preserved castle with three towers, which we visited. I saw the bed of Henri IV, who I learned was the last count of Foix (I thought he was from Navarre, which in fact he is–nobility is complicated).

Exploring the castle

This region of France is Cathar country, and now that Cathar heretics are not an issue (because they got wiped out), there seems to be some Cathar pride. Most of what I knew about the Cathars came from one of my favorite book series, Catherine Jinks’s Pagan Chronicles (seriously, go read them). Specifically the second book, Pagan in Exile, in which the knight Pagan serves, Lord Roland, falls in love with a Cathar woman. It ends badly.

We came down from the castle and walked by the abbey church of St. Volusien as a newlywed couple was coming out into a crowd of well-wishers. The church bells rang. The France-Argentina World Cup match was also going on.

Back in Mazères, we had a leisurely French dinner in the backyard. The neighbor cats came by for morsels of sausage.

Sunday

We went to Albi, a city whose name was a revelation to me because I had no idea that the term Albigensians referred to a place. Albi has a fortress-like cathedral built to underscore the power, might, and righteousness of the Church of Rome. The outside has a sort of unusual, scalloped perimeter and very tall, imposing brick walls with rows of svelte gargoyles up high.

Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi

Based on the exterior, I wasn’t expecting the extravagance of the interior. The sectioned ceiling was painted with portraits of saints (including many women!) and biblical scenes on a brilliant blue background. The colors are still jewel-bright even though the paintings, completed in the early 1500s, have never been restored.

Inside the cathedral

There was also a pipe organ, a painting of the torments of hell, relics of St. Cecilia (for whom the cathedral is named), and the Gothic rood screen, so intricately carved it kind of looks like it’s…dripping. This is one impressive cathedral.

Passing under the rood screen

We also passed through the courtyard of the Toulouse-Lautrec museum (who knew Toulouse-Lautrec was from Albi!) onto a walkway overlooking a manicured garden and the Tarn river. The palais de la Berbie, the former bishop’s palace that now houses the museum, rose behind us. We stopped by a cloister and a very old house and then headed back to Mazères.

Monday

We visited Carcassonne, a walled medieval city I’ve known about since I was probably ten or so and had never seen. Inside the church of Saint-Nazaire, we heard the Russian men’s choir (quartet, perhaps) that seems to be in residence there singing. We walked around the cité and made sure to go see the Roman towers on our way out. Crossing the bridge over the Aude on our way back to the car, we saw a furry creature swimming in the green water. I’d like to think it was an otter, but I’m pretty sure it was a muskrat.

Carcassonne

We drove to the village of Fanjeaux, former haunt of St. Dominic, and enjoyed a late lunch at La Table Cathare, where I had confit de canard and my brother had cassoulet. It was generally hot during our trip, so it was usually more tempting to order salads, but in Fanjeaux we got in our heavy southern food. Then we wandered up through the village, finally arriving at the church, which was open. It seemed we were lucky to have found it unlocked. There was an elderly local woman inside who knew everything about the church and was eager to share her knowledge with Francophone American tourists. She knew the names and origins of the artists who had done the paintings, she had herself restored the vestments that were going on display the following week, and she told us that it was possible St. Dominic had prayed in front of a particular statue since it was from the 13th century, but we didn’t really know and one had to be honest about these things. Our host in Mazères had told us a story about an argument between St. Dominic and some Cathars during which the gospel flung into the fire did not burn but flew up and imprinted its letters on a wooden beam. The beam was on display in the church in Fanjeaux, though it had come from elsewhere. Also, in Fanjeaux and elsewhere, I was a little stunned by how much literal treasure a little village church could have just on display near the altar. Traveling in Europe really reminds you how much longer Christianity has been rooted there than in North America.

Leaving the church, we walked to a vantage point from which there were spectacular views of the nearby countryside and the towns, cities, and mountains beyond. It was a little hazy or we might’ve made out the mountains better.

View from Fanjeaux

Back in Mazères, I visited the church just to see what it looked like. There was an extremely amusing sign on the door informing visitors that while you might hear the call of the Lord upon entering this place, it would be really surprising if He were to call you on your cellphone, so… In the evening, we had another leisurely dinner outside and watched the hoopoes flying to and from their nest in the wall in the backyard.

Mazères