Tag Archive | Los Angeles

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

Comic Arts LA

The other weekend Isabelle and I went to Comic Arts LA, an annual festival featuring tons of graphic novelists, zinesters, and printmakers. It was held at an Armenian American community center in Glendale. We made the rounds of all the artists’ tables, flipping through zines and admiring artwork. In the middle, we took a break at the drawing wall.

CALA 1

That cute fuschia cat is Isabelle’s doing. I’m drawing a cat’s paw.

I ended up getting two zines by Maia Kobabe. Then I circled back to Aminder Dhaliwal‘s table because I’d decided I wanted a copy of her new graphic novel Woman World, set in a future with no men. It had occurred to me to worry that she might be sold out, and as we approached, I noticed that the only book I could still see was the display copy. Indeed, it was the last one left, and I got to buy it! She seemed very happy too and took a picture of me with the last copy, which she’d signed and dedicated to me.

My CALA comics

After leaving the festival, we walked to the nearby Forest Lawn cemetery, which is immense. Through the tall wrought iron gates and past the half-timber main building, there was a fork in the road and a huge sign, like a tablet of the Ten Commandments, indicating which way to the Little Church of the Flowers, the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, and so on. We took the path toward the Little Church of the Flowers, but then we turned toward the mausoleum, which looks a bit like a castle. After getting a good look at it from multiple sides, we left the way we’d come, and unlike last time we didn’t get locked in the cemetery after closing.

The Forest Lawn mausoleum

hapa.me

Yesterday I went to the Japanese American National Museum to see Kip Fulbeck’s exhibit hapa.me: 15 years of the hapa project. I’ve blogged about what hapa means before and also about seeing Kip Fulbeck at the LA Times Festival of Books in 2017. For this exhibit, Fulbeck took new photographs of the participants in the original Hapa Project and again asked them to respond to the prompt, What are you? The result is about 40 double portraits separated in time by fifteen years, accompanied by the subjects’ original written statements and their new ones.

I wanted to see the exhibit because I’m always interested in explorations of mixed race Asian (American) identity, but I was also particularly looking to see how Fulbeck’s subjects engaged with their identity and the label hapa fifteen years later. I was curious whether some of the participants, like me, felt more ueasy claiming the word hapa than they used to in light of a growing sensitivity to the appropriation of a Hawaiian term. On this front, I was rather disappointed by the double portraits. There was basically no engagement with this specific question. I still enjoyed the photographs and the statements, though.

Only after I’d looked at all the portraits did I realize there was a panel on the wall on “The Etymology of Hapa.” Here, I thought Fulbeck might have wrestled with the question of who gets to call themselves hapa. I was again somewhat disappointed. The text recognized that different people think hapa means different things and some people argue that there is a right way (and thus implicitly a wrong way) for the term to be deployed. This appeared to be an oblique acknowledgment of the controversy over mainland multiracial Asian Pacific Americans identifying as hapa. But the text read as defensive to me, emphasizing as it did how language is constantly evolving. Sure, that’s true, but I don’t think that’s a shield we can step behind to avoid having to really question our claiming of hapa.

In the next gallery, there were eight albums of additional portraits with written statements. I believe these represented work from Fulbeck’s ongoing Hapa Project (I actually tried participating at the Japanese American National Museum a while ago, but they didn’t need any more people). The walls were also covered with miniature photographs of exhibit visitors, with accompanying answers to the What are you? question on half sheets of paper. (This interactive component only happens on Saturdays.) I read a bunch of these, and finally I found one that expressed what was on my mind: “I used to ID as ‘hapa’ but don’t feel like it’s my word to claim anymore as a mainland mixed kid.” I was honestly surprised not to see more of this. That said, in my experience, it’s younger (say, under 30?) multiracial Asian Americans who are more likely to choose not to call themselves hapa anymore. In any case, thank you, anonymous museum goer!

Mopey Chipmunk Vol. 1

Lately I’ve been busy linguisticking and Being Cultured (I hope). In mid-April, having lived in Los Angeles for almost five years, I finally went to my first LA Philharmonic concert. It was a matinée, and beforehand I had a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. It was the day before they closed for a weeks-long ramen study trip to Japan. After lunch I walked to Disney Hall and found my seat in Orchestra East. An older couple sat beside me, and the wife asked me whether that was an organ behind the stage. I said yes. Then she and her husband began discussing how the audience skewed old, and one of them said young people couldn’t afford to go to the orchestra. (Um, so what was I doing there? But actually I bought my ticket with a gift certificate from my parents–thanks, Mom and Dad!) Then the other said if young people could afford to go to Coachella, they could afford to go to the orchestra.

The first half of the concert was the world premiere of Pollux, by Esa-Pekka Salonen, former conductor of the LA Phil, followed by Edgard Varèse’s Amériques. I enjoyed listening to Pollux, but Amériques sometimes just sounded like…noise. There were fourteen percussionists, one or more of whom played the siren. There was also apparently a lion’s roar, and I was disappointed not to have picked it out. Also somewhere in the first half something seemed to be going on in the oboe section. Was there a reed issue…? It’s vaguely stressful to identify what you think is a musician’s minor crisis on stage during a concert. I didn’t detect any problems in the performance, though.

The second half of the concert, and the reason I’d chosen it, was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, a symphony I played in community orchestra in high school and with my college orchestra. I know it very well. Gustavo Dudamel conducted it without a score, and it was wonderful. After a couple of ovations, Dudamel returned and led the orchestra in an encore. As the concert hall was emptying, the woman next to me asked if I knew the piece, adding that it was so familiar. I said I didn’t know it and didn’t mention that it hadn’t even sounded familiar to me. Later, I found a concert review which identified the encore as “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t know.

Two days later, Isabelle and I went to one of The Moth‘s live storytelling events at a nightclub in Silver Lake (I don’t think I’d ever been to a nightclub before, but also, it was only 7:00pm…). The theme of the evening was Mail. Attendees who wanted to tell a story put their names in a tote bag, and ten storytellers were drawn. Each person had five minutes (with a little grace) to tell their story. Three teams of judges were chosen from the audience, and after each story they held up placards with their score on a ten-point scale. It was like the Olympics or something.

Isabelle’s and my favorite story also garnered the highest score and therefore won the night. It was told by a writer from New York. One winter day she dropped her keys, including her mailbox key, through a subway grate. This was disastrous because it was the very day she was expecting to hear back from the second MFA program she had applied to. She had been rejected from the first one, though with a personal e-mail from Colum McCann (!), who told her her work was great and she should keep writing. She, however, believed that if she didn’t get into the other program she would give up on writing. (There was backstory on her feverishly writing weird stories in a corner of her apartment when she couldn’t sleep.) So she picked up her kids from school, and then they returned to the subway grate with bubblegum and magnets and proceeded to fish for the lost keys. And they got them back! And when she opened her mailbox, an acceptance from the MFA program was waiting for her. She told this much better than I just did, which is why she won.

So that was my cultured April. Now our feature presentation: I got my wisdom teeth out (technically two wisdom teeth and two second molars, except they left in one wisdom tooth) at the end of March, just before spring break. I had joked I was going to spend break being a mopey chipmunk. That sounded like a great zine title, which led to this:

Women’s March LA 2018

Last Saturday I participated in the second Women’s March in Los Angeles. I went with Adam, a friend from the department. I was expecting a smaller crowd this year, and certainly public transportation was far less clogged (though that might’ve been in part due to Metro planning for massive crowds). But downtown, it still felt like a big turnout, and that was heartening.

Not everyone invested in resisting the current administration embraces the Women’s March, and I understand the dissatisfaction and the critiques. Others can and have expressed these much better than I could. The reason I marched on Saturday was because I wanted to help swell that crowd of protesters. I wanted the Women’s March to be big, and I knew the only way it would be was if countless individuals like me made the decision to show up.

Like last year, there were hundreds of signs, which varied in their content, tone, and degree of punninness. I took almost no pictures, but when I read a sign I really liked, I tried to tuck the words away in my memory. So here’s what stuck from my favorite signs:

  • We march for indigenous women
  • The revolution will be intersectional or it will be bullshit
  • Sex is cool and all but have you tried intersectional feminism?
  • Japanese Americans say: No Camps!

And also this one:

The best moment of the morning for me was when we were marching up Olive Street, past some tall apartment buildings. Several elderly Asian ladies were out on their balconies, each on a different floor. One looked benevolently down at us as she tended her plants. Another leaned against her railing, smiling and waving as we passed by. And a third stood on her balcony and raised her fists above her head, beaming as she watched us march. We cheered. She looked so happy.

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