Tag Archive | Los Angeles

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.

Obon

Two weekends ago was the Sawtelle/West LA Obon Festival, hosted by the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. I went last year for the first time and returned this year because I’d liked it so much. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival for remembering the dead and celebrating with joy and gratitude because of the life they have given us. At the West LA Buddhist Temple, there are countless food stalls and carnival games. The temple itself is also open, and there are displays with many photos documenting the history of the temple in the neighborhood. I don’t know very much about the history of Japanese-American Buddhism, but last year I was struck by how much the structure and activities of temple life resembled those of American churches. (Although I’m pretty sure there was a youth accordion band, and I’m not sure how many churches have those!) I interpreted these similarities as an assimilation strategy, but I should emphasize I know very little about this.

This year, my friends and I arrived in time to snag good seats (on the asphalt) for the taiko performance. I always like watching the drummers’ movements and feeling the drumbeats in my eardrums and my chest. After the taiko, we bought bowls of udon with sliced pork and fish cake and plunked ourselves down on the end of a driveway to wait for the dancing to start. The dancing is my favorite part of the festival. The street is blocked off, and the dancers move in one big circuit following chalk lines drawn on the asphalt. In the middle of the block is a platform/tower called a yagura, where a taiko drummer plays along with the recorded songs.

The minister of the temple delivered a meditation from the yagura, and then the procession of dancers entered in from one end of the street as the first dance began. During each dance, they’re moving forward, but it takes longer than one dance to complete the circuit of the block. The dancers wear beautiful yukata (summer kimono), often with floral patterns, or happi coats representing the different area temples, or just their regular clothes. There are dancers of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly, of all genders, of all races, and it doesn’t matter how well you can do the dances. The announcer encourages anyone to join in. The reason I love the dancing at Obon is because it’s so joyful, everyone is welcome, and it looks like a diverse community and neighborhood coming together to share something on a pretty summer evening. It’s rooted in a specific religious and cultural tradition, but it embraces everyone who comes.

Next year, I’m plotting to rope my friends into going to the dance practices in the weeks leading up to the festival so we can dance too.

Meditation Workshop & Mixed Remixed 2017

A week ago today I happened to see a post about a meditation workshop Yumi Sakugawa was leading that very evening on campus. I looked closer and realized the workshop was happening in my building, literally just upstairs from the phonetics lab where I was sitting. As it happens, Asian American Studies and Linguistics are in the same building, so it’s not so surprising, but it felt providential. Isabelle and I decided we had to go, since Yumi Sakugawa was practically coming to us, and the stars aligned even further: our afternoon seminar ended early, allowing us to make it to the workshop on time.

The other attendees were mainly Asian American women, like at the panel with Yumi, MILCK, and Krista Suh back in May. There were a bunch of undergrads, including a film student who told us about a documentary she’s making about Yumi! I hope we’ll get to see it in the fall. There were also a couple of librarians, at least one professor, I think, and several Asian American Studies staff.

Yumi had us go around and introduce ourselves and say three words that described our current state of mind. Since it was the last week of classes, there was a lot of “stressed” and “overwhelmed.” She led us in a couple of guided meditations and read to us from some of her meditation-related comics, which I hadn’t seen before. She also talked about this taking tea and cake with your demons exercise. The idea is to face the things about yourself you’re ashamed of, or don’t like so much, or have a hard time accepting, to face them head-on and without judgment and to listen to them in personified form. While drinking tea and eating cake. So we all drew the kind of tea and cake we wanted to have with one of our demons on tissue paper. As a closing ritual, we went around the room again and said what three words we wanted to define the rest of our week and ripped up our tissue paper drawings and dropped the shreds into Yumi’s singing bowl. It was a perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening at the end of a long quarter.

On Saturday, I headed downtown for my third Mixed Remixed festival. I went in 2015 and in 2016, when I appeared on my first author panel. In the past, the festival has been at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, but this year it moved to the Los Angeles Theatre Center, a stone’s throw from The Last Bookstore. I arrived in time for the Featured Writers reading, which featured (haha) Tanaya Winder, May-lee Chai, Tara Betts, Julian Randall, and Julie Lythcott-Haims. They all read powerful work, but I particularly liked Tanaya Winder’s spoken word poems, some of which incorporated song. I was also interested in May-lee Chai’s personal story: she wrote a memoir, Hapa Girl, about growing up with a Chinese-American father and a white mother in rural South Dakota in the 1980s. It was…not a hospitable place for her family.

Next I went to the panel The Mixed-Race Conversation: Is It a Wrap?. It was moderated by Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR’s Code Switch and featured Kayla Briët, a musician and filmmaker who’s performed at every Mixed Remixed I’ve been at; Greg Kimura, former president of the Japanese American National Museum and an Episcopal priest; Tehran, a comedian whose performance at last year’s festival I did not particularly appreciate; and Caroline Streeter, a professor at UCLA. I once again did not appreciate Tehran, but setting him aside, the panel was great. The panel was intergenerational, which brought out a diversity of perspectives and was also just nice to see. The conversation ranged from the academic to the pop cultural to the personal and even to the religious, thanks to Greg Kimura. That was a voice I hadn’t heard before at the festival. I liked what Caroline Streeter had to say about our cultural amnesia, how there have been mixed race people and communities in the United States for hundreds of years and so many of those stories are forgotten. I also liked what Greg Kimura had to say about the essential role he thinks literature and the arts will play in shaping our society’s attitudes about mixed race people (among other things). And basically everything Kayla Briët said was eloquent and inspiring.

A young hapa woman in the audience asked Greg Kimura about his strong identification with the word hapa. I think she asked if he’d faced any backlash for using it, but–and maybe I was projecting onto her–I also sensed that she was asking whether he thought it was (still) appropriate for multiracial Asian Americans to call ourselves hapa. A question in this vein is what I would’ve liked to ask the panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this spring if I hadn’t had a raging headache at that session. I was thinking about the term hapa at last year’s festival too and have written about it at other times as well. Greg Kimura basically said it’s been shown that hapa isn’t a Native Hawaiian term so it’s not appropriation to use it, and he claims his identity with this word. This argument doesn’t suffice for me though. First of all, I know hapa is Hawaiian Pidgin; just because it’s not an indigenous Hawaiian word doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a meaning and history specific to Hawaii that’s been overwritten and changed by multiracial Asian Americans on the mainland. Being hapa means something to me, but I also can’t use this term without qualms.

At the end of the panel, talk turned to Trump and how optimistic (or not) the panelists were about the future. Both Caroline Streeter, the oldest panelist, and Kayla Briët, the youngest, found they could not truthfully say they thought things were getting better. They both expressed worry about the future. I was grateful for their honesty and also…saddened, I guess. We were all at a festival celebrating our mixed race identities, but we can’t forget that this is a dark time for our country.

During the longish break between the last session and the evening program, a young woman named Laura came up to me and handed me a postcard about her oral history project Mixed Feelings. Check it out on Facebook and Tumblr; there are interviews with mixed race people of many backgrounds about their identity and experiences. If you identify as mixed race, you can participate by filling out the survey! Laura and I ended up sitting together at the evening show, and she told me her project was born in the wake of last November’s election, out of her need to do something.

Kayla Briët opened the show again; I will never get tired of watching her play the guzheng and use her loop machine. There were a couple of other acts, and then actor and producer David Oyelowo accepted the Storyteller’s Prize with a moving speech about his own interracial marriage. After the show, I caught up with Maria Leonard Olsen, one of my co-panelists in the kidlit session last year. I also said hello to two other people I recognized from the mixed and queer writing workshop in years past. The workshop did not take place this year, sadly.

After leaving the festival, I walked to The Last Bookstore, since it was literally less than half a block away. While I was contemplating all the books I wanted in the SFF section, a woman with a stroller asked me if I worked there. I wish! I picked up Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and headed home.

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States. It also marked one year since the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, which I wrote about a little last year before I could write up last year’s Mixed Remixed festival. It seems a fitting time to reflect on how far our country has come and how far we have yet to go.

Science and Books and Madrigals, oh my!

I packed a lot into Earth Day weekend. Saturday morning was the March for Science. I bussed downtown with three other friends from the department. It was much less nuts getting to this protest than it was getting to the Women’s March. We actually made it into Pershing Square this time, where a button hawker greeted us with, “I’ve got you covered, nerds!” I did not buy a button. We hung out in the park reading signs as the morning speeches wrapped up. I spotted one that read: “I should be doing research right now #gradschool.” Too true.

I was glad to see this member of the clergy

We marched from Pershing Square to City Hall, just like in January. People chanted, “Science, not silence!” and when a little boy started chanting the slogan on his sign, “Science is better than Donald Trump!”, people joined in. When we reached City Hall, we stood around for a while watching the rest of the march arrive. One of our syntax professors found us, which seemed miraculous given the crowds. I later learned a bunch of other linguists from our department had been there, though we never saw them.

From the march, I headed to USC for my third LA Times Festival of Books. I wandered through the booths for a bit. I glimpsed Yumi Sakugawa at the Skylight Books booth and witnessed the eerie sight of red-clad, white-bonneted handmaids walking in pairs about campus. There had been a WriteGirl workshop at the festival earlier in the day (I finally started volunteering with them!), but I couldn’t make it because of the March for Science. I stopped by the stage where the girls were reading in the afternoon, though, and listened to some of their pieces. Then I made my way to the Big 5’s children’s book booths, and at the Penguin Young Readers booth I noticed that Julie Berry was signing. I had read The Passion of Dolssa recently and also enjoyed All the Truth That’s in Me, so when she had a free moment, I went up to talk to her. I told her I was a fellow Viking Children’s Books author, and then we chatted about grad school and Provençal.

After meeting Julie Berry, I met up with Isabelle at the Small World Books booth by the Poetry Stage, where she was about to get some poetry collections signed by Hélène Cardona. After that, we explored the festival a little more before heading to the first of the two panels I’d picked out for the afternoon. This one was a YA panel entitled Faith, Hope, and Charity: Strong Girls in Crisis, which struck me as a little dramatic, but okay. The panelists were Julie Berry, Sonya Sones (who…turns out to be someone I think I’ve contra danced with in Los Angeles–no wonder she looked so familiar!), and the person I’d been most eager to see, because I loved Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree: Frances Hardinge. The moderator was Jonathan Hunt of SLJ’s Heavy Medal blog fame. The authors talked about the inspiration for their latest novels, mixing genres, and whether/why their protagonists are girls. Julie Berry said that since she has four sons she gets asked why she doesn’t write about boys, and she said, “I’m a girl! It’s like what you are doesn’t matter once you’ve reproduced!” Which elicited much laughter, but there’s something dismal underlying that if you think about it.

Next we went to the other panel I’d picked out: the hapa panel! I’d been excited for it because Kip Fulbeck–author of Part Asian, 100% Hapa and creator of the Hapa Project–was on it (the other two panelists were USC professors). He was indeed the highlight of the panel for me. I enjoyed his self-deprecating manner and his sort of “you do you” attitude. He’s not interested in policing hapa identity, and he told one young hapa woman in the audience that one doesn’t have to spend every minute of one’s life fighting. Taking care of oneself is important too.

On Sunday, I participated in Jouyssance’s fourth annual early music singalong. Jouyssance is a local early music ensemble whose concerts I’ve occasionally attended. I know one of the singers because she used to sing in our Georgian chorus. Anyway, I printed the scores to the nine songs on the singalong program a week in advance and made myself a Youtube playlist to sing along to. I can sightread vocal music to an extent, but I had a feeling I would be in over my head if I didn’t prepare a bit. My favorites were Orlando Gibbons’ “The Silver Swan,” Claudin de Sermisy’s “Tant que vivray,” Thomas Morley’s “April is in my mistress’s face,” and Heinrich Isaac’s “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” There was also Josquin des Prez’s “El Grillo,” which I find annoying.

I arrived in the sanctuary of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon, clutching my scores. A few singers from Jouyssance were there, but most of the participants weren’t in the ensemble. Everybody seemed to be a relatively experienced choral singer, though. The Jouyssance director complimented us on our reading of the first song and said she hoped we were all singing in choirs. The pace was relatively swift, and there wasn’t any hand holding, but everybody could handle it, and it was fun. Plus we weren’t exactly striving for perfection or speedy tempi.

My row of the alto section included our former Georgian chorister, a woman I know from shape note singing, and a French woman whom we told about shape note singing and who later told me she’d just started alto recorder. She showed me some of her music: “Pastime with good company”! “Belle, qui tiens ma vie”!

We didn’t do the Gibbons or the de Sermisy, to my chagrin. No French and too much Italian! I learned that Orlando di Lasso’s “Matona, mia cara” is not only quite vulgar but is also largely ungrammatical. After working on six of the nine songs for an hour and a half, we took a break for some treats and then sang everything in an informal “concert,” which Isabelle came to. (This concert was so informal that we occasionally started songs over again after a rocky start.) It was a lot of fun, and I hope I get to do it again next year!

BUSted!

On Sunday evening Isabelle and I went to BUSted!’s Third Anniversary at Stories Books and Café in Echo Park. BUSted! is a monthly storytelling show featuring “True Stories About Getting Around LA Told By People Who Don’t Drive.” It seemed like the perfect event for us, since we fall into the category of people who navigate Los Angeles without a car, plus we exchange stories of our weird encounters in LA, a rather startling number of which have taken place on buses or at bus stops.

We in fact had a little mishap attempting to get on the same bus to go to Echo Park, but all’s well that ends well: we ended up on the same 4, and though we arrived a little late, we hadn’t missed any of the stories. Stories Books and Café is another LA bookstore I’d wanted to visit for a while (like The Last Bookstore and Skylight Books), and now I’ve checked it off my list. It’s a long, narrow bookstore with a café in the back and a patio beyond; the show was on the patio.

BUSted! is hosted by Scott Schultz, who introduced each of the featured storytellers. Most of the stories were actually about bizarre experiences riding the bus, though there was some almost virulent anti-car spoken word and a reflection on how driving turns us into our worst selves while riding the bus inspires us to write poetry, among other things. Our favorite story was the one told by Horace, about (not) witnessing a crime on a bus and being rewarded for not telling the police anything with an invitation to what turned out to be a crack house. After the featured storytellers, members of the audience, both known and unknown to the host, got up to share stories, some of which were more to my taste than others. As I listened, I decided that some of my bus (stop) stories actually were good enough to share, were I the type to relate anecdotes to an audience of strangers. And I also found myself wondering what buses these people were riding (sometimes they would name the route, and sometimes they were routes I take!) because had never seen all these guns and drugs and whatnot. So much the better.

Between the two of us, Isabelle and I recognized two people in the audience from Alias Books. And one of them might have recognized us? The world can be small, even in Los Angeles.

After the storytelling, the Matthew Teardrop Orchestra performed. Their lead singer (Matthew Teardrop?) told some bus stories of his own while the sound equipment was getting set up. In one of them, he missed his stop because the back door didn’t open, possibly because no one had actually requested the stop (though people did get on and off). It was a long way to the next stop because it was an express bus, and Matthew was on crutches at the time, so he asked the bus driver if he’d just let him off between stops. The driver refused. Matthew acted like he was going to light a cigarette so the driver would have to kick him off the bus. The driver threatened to call the sheriff.

The music was nice (there was a violin!), and after the band’s set, the BUSted! host told one more bus story, about two guys who were spraying down seats with bug spray because they were convinced they’d gotten bedbugs from the last bus they’d ridden on.

After the show, we went back into the bookstore and browsed for a long while. Stories is small, but it has a nice selection. Eventually, we left to catch the 704 back to the Westside, and who should we meet at the bus stop but Scott the host and four other storytellers. Of course everybody was catching the bus. The host thanked us for coming and asked how we’d heard about the show; evidently we were recognizably new faces in the audience. Then the 704 came, and we went home without any BUSted!-worthy incidents.

Roxane Gay and the Women’s March LA

A week ago I went to Roxane Gay’s reading at Skylight Books with a friend of mine from high school. Jean and I were in Writers Club together, but we hadn’t seen each other since graduation. Now that we both live in LA, we’d been meaning to meet up, and Jean suggested going to see Roxane Gay. I’d wanted to visit Skylight Books for a long time too, so I decided to seize the opportunity.

While familiar with Roxane Gay, I hadn’t read any of her books, just some of her essays in the New York Times. Last week she was reading from her new collection of short stories, Difficult Women. On that rainy evening, Jean and I arrived at the bookstore within minutes of each other to find it already very crowded. We couldn’t move very far beyond the entrance, and we were squished in the standing room up against the checkout counter. I slithered my way over to the part of the counter where I could purchase a copy of Difficult Women, noticing as I waited the signed and numbered prints by Yumi Sakugawa commemorating the 20th anniversary of Skylight Books. Then I had an extraordinary experience.

I’d thought the bookseller behind the counter looked like a writer I’d seen at the Bushwick Book Club reading/concert at Alias Books in November. Isabelle had invited me to that reading, which was two days after the election, and one of the authors was a young man who’d had a bottle explode on him before it was his turn to read. We’d really enjoyed his story. When I saw the bookseller, I thought it didn’t seem that unlikely that that writer also worked at Skylight Books. So as I was paying for Difficult Women, I asked him if I could ask him his name, and when he said it was Beau, I was triumphant. (He thought I looked familiar too. A lot of people find I look familiar.) “I saw you read at Alias Books back in November, right after the election!” I said. “My friend and I really liked your story!” I said that twice, actually. And then he and another bookseller started talking about how Alias Books was closing. (Alas, it is, and the building is being demolished! I stopped in during their closing sale last week and picked up a boxed and illustrated edition of Possession and Scandinavian Folk Dances and Tunes.)

Roxane Gay appeared at last and read from her short story collection. There followed a wonderful Q & A, during which she talked about growing up Haitian-American and dual consciousness, academia, body diversity in comics, and more. She also fielded the perennial (inevitable?) question about writing the other (i.e. a white woman asked her for advice on writing black women). Afterward, Jean and I went through the signing line, so I’ve met Roxane Gay! Even if I had nothing intelligent to say to her.

On Saturday, I chose to bring Difficult Women along to read during my journey to the Women’s March in downtown LA. It felt fitting. Plan A was to take the Expo Line train, but in the morning when I walked to the station, even after bypassing the massive line for fares, I found the platform packed. Pink hats and signs abounded. It felt good seeing so many people turning out with the common goal of taking the train to the march, but it also looked like the Expo Line wasn’t going to be able to handle the throngs. Indeed, an eastbound train rumbled into the station, and through the windows I could see it was already stuffed. The doors opened, but there was no room. I texted the fellow linguists I’d been planning to meet a few stations east to say I was giving up on the train. Instead, I took a bus to Wilshire Blvd and there caught a 720 bus headed downtown. Fortuitously enough, the same friends I’d intended to meet on the train wound up on this bus much later, as did two friends from church, one of whom gave me a pink sign she’d made that read, “Women’s rights are human rights! -Hillary”.

Before my friends boarded my bus, a man who apparently took this bus more often than most of us got on and said conversationally, “What are all you people doing on my bus?” He sat down in front opposite two women who told him they were going to the march, and he said, “Only white women go to that.” From the people on that bus alone, this was demonstrably not true (though there’s certainly a discussion to be had about race and the Women’s March). He kept talking to them, but I tuned out (to read Difficult Women).

The bus disgorged us near 6th and Flower, and we joined the crowds filling the streets. Eventually, it became clear which way the march was going, and we walked from Pershing Square to City Hall. From the reports I’ve heard, there were between 500,000 and 750,000 people at the LA Women’s March. It was heartening and inspiring. There were dozens and dozens of fantastic signs, but here are a few I made a note of:

  •  צדק צדק תרדף Justice, justice shall you pursue (I learned this bit of scripture by reading Davita’s Harp, one of my favorite books)
  • Pro-choice, pro-cats, pro-feminism
  • Queer the fight!

I also saw a lot of THE FUTURE IS FEMALE shirts, including on a whole family with two small children. And I saw a 101-year-old (immigrant?) woman in a wheelchair, carrying a sign (which explained, among other things, that she was 101!).

Then there were the chants:

  • Education, not deportation!
  • No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!
  • Men: Their body, their choice! Women: My body, my choice!
  • The people united will never be divided! (I like “defeated” myself, but anyways.) El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
  • Sí, se puede!
  • No justice, no peace!

On our walk away from the rallies to catch the 720 back to the Westside, we passed the Last Bookstore and the Los Angeles Public Library.

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And here is my mother and several of my high school friends (with family) at the Minnesota State Capitol:

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The 29th Annual All-California Sacred Harp Convention

After attending the 26th in Los Angeles and the 27th in the Bay Area, I missed last year’s All-California Sacred Harp Convention in San Diego, but the convention returned to LA this year, and I went! It was once again at Angels Gate in San Pedro, in the Friends meetinghouse-like building on the hilltop overlooking the Pacific. Saturday, the first day of the convention, was very clear, so you could see Catalina Island and what I was told was San Miguel Island, though having now looked at a map I’m not so sure. In any case, it was beautiful!

I went to my last two All-Cals with my friend Leland; this time, my friend Ames (also of the Swarthmore shape note/folk dance set) came down from Portland to go to the convention with me! He arrived in time for Datvebis Gundi’s inaugural rehearsal of 2017. Ames has in fact been on a singing trip to Georgia, so, you know, all the cults intersect.

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Ames and me on the muddy hilltop, with the ocean and the Marine Mammal Care Center (think barking sea lions) in the background

On Saturday morning, just before the singing was to begin, Elaine, a singer from San Diego, told me she was going to try to see the SpaceX rocket launch. Intrigued, I followed her outside, picking up Ames along the way. According to Elaine, the launch was scheduled for 9:54am. We positioned ourselves on the hilltop and looked northwest up the coastline toward Santa Barbara, where the rocket was launching from. At one point, I saw a small red and blue object (like a Southwest plane?) moving horizontally across the blue sky until it vanished. I mentioned this, and Elaine wondered if that was it. But then I spotted a small white object, sort of bullet-shaped, rising vertically above the land to the northwest. Its location and trajectory seemed more plausible. I pointed this out, and eventually a contrail appeared below, along the upward path the rocket had taken. Because this was definitely the rocket! It began to arc southward, and eventually I lost sight of it. But we caught the rocket launch!

On Saturday afternoon, Isabelle and Adeline from the department stopped by the singing, and Brice, also from the department, came all day on Sunday, so UCLA Linguistics was awfully well-represented at the convention. And funnily enough, who should I run into on Saturday morning but Linnea, the person who taught the Georgian yodeling workshop Isabelle and I went to at the Machine Project last summer! I didn’t know she did shape note singing too, but I was not surprised.

I’m preparing to defend my dissertation prospectus in a few weeks, so if this blog goes silent, that’s why. But hopefully I’ll be able to come up for air now and then.

Wildings Launch Party at Children’s Book World

Last Saturday was the California launch for Wildings at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles! I was lucky enough to be joined by professors and fellow students from my department, friends from my church, my friend Andrew (who came down from Berkeley and served as official photographer again), and even some people I didn’t know (miracle of miracles!). I got to break out Isabelle’s famous stamp for the linguists. 🙂 Here are a few photos, all by Andrew unless otherwise specified:

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With Sharon, the owner of Children’s Book World

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Reading

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With Andrew (photo by Spencer)

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UCLA linguists and Georgian choristers all! ❤

Poetics of Location

Two Sundays ago, my friend Isabelle and I went on a walking tour of Downtown LA with Mike Sonksen, a.k.a. Mike the Poet, who recently published a chapbook called Poetics of Location. The tour began at the Central Library of Los Angeles, a place both of us had been curious to see but had yet to visit. We arrived a bit early and went inside to see the mosaics and (very colonialist) murals in the soaring rotunda. Then we joined a handful of other tour participants outside the library’s north entrance. Mike greeted us and presented us with our signed copies of his new book.

The first stop on the tour was in fact the library, but this time we used the grand entrance on the west side of the building. My favorite part of the library was the steps outside this entrance, which were inscribed with phrases in various languages (English at various stages of its development, French, Korean, Chinese, and Esperanto, among many others), as well as the digits of pi, an integral, a passage of music, and much more.

Once we left the library, Mike the Poet proceeded to regale us with tidbits about the various buildings in the neighborhood. These included the Library Tower, once the tallest skyscraper in LA; the Biltmore Hotel; and the Gas Company Tower. He made scads of movie references that I didn’t get. He also told us about the literary history of LA, reading to us from John Fante in John Fante Square (just an intersection next to the Gas Company Tower) and telling us about Carey McWilliams in Pershing Square.

The tour was punctuated by Mike’s performances of some of his own poems, as well as performances and readings by his poet friends who also came on the tour. There was F. Douglas Brown, whom I’d heard at the Mixed Remixed Festival earlier this year; the brother and sister pair Dante and Monique Mitchell; and one of Mike’s students, a high school senior.

The tour took us through part of the Jewelry District, past movie palaces and a vaudeville hall, and into the charming St. Vincent’s Court. It ended at the Last Bookstore, a famous independent bookstore I’d wanted to visit for ages, mostly to see its iconic book arches (they’re like flying buttresses!). It did not disappoint. The place was a warren of books. In the center of the ground floor, there was a low stage surrounded by leather furniture oozing stuffing. We gathered here for a last reading. Mike, Dante, Monique, and F. Douglas Brown all performed more poems. Monique’s was inspired by the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel.

After the reading, Isabelle and I wandered the bookstore for a good while. I began in the music section, where I found one of Cecil Sharp’s collections of English folk songs and the complete scores of Handel’s concerti grossi (I did not buy either). In the children’s section, I found Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, which I’d heard a lot of great things about. So of course I picked it up. (But I’m still reading Dream of Red Mansions! Will it never end!) Upstairs, there was science fiction, fantasy, foreign languages, and much more, as well as the famous book arches! There are also galleries, studios, and shops on the second floor, including a yarn shop that was, alas, closed. Several artists’ work was exhibited in the narrow corridors. There were a bunch of painted wooden whales hanging on one wall. I particularly liked the illustrations by kAt Philbin. The artist bio said her work was reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s. I’m a Gorey fan, and I could see the resemblance in some of the pieces.

When I got home, I looked up the Last Bookstore and noticed that there was going to be a cello concert there the next day. Steuart Pincombe, a cellist with whom I wasn’t familiar, was going to be playing three of the Bach cello suites. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the concert, but I learned that Steuart Pincombe once had a project called What Wondrous Love Is This? in which he and other musicians played and sang early American music, including the shape note tunes Wondrous Love, Restoration, Ecstasy, and Russia, in a hollow square (the way shape note singers sit)! For that I would’ve gone all the way back to the Last Bookstore for the second time in as many days.

Georgian Yodeling and the Cave Temples of Dunhuang

Last Tuesday, my advisor e-mailed the members of our Georgian chorus from Montreal to tell us that a Georgian yodeling workshop was taking place that evening in Los Angeles at the Machine Project. It was very short notice, but my friend Isabelle and I decided to go. At 8:00pm, we found ourselves in a mostly empty storefront with white walls and a wooden floor. Around the edges of the room, there was some sound equipment, a cooler of beer, and a collection of potted cacti. The workshop leader, Linnea, greeted us.

Once about sixty people had shown up, we all stood in a big circle, and Linnea taught us yodeling patterns for an orira, a type of Georgian song made up entirely of nonsense syllables. She also taught us the melody (meure) part. Isabelle had done some yodeling before for one of our choir’s songs (a different orira), but I’d never tried it before. The patterns all consisted of the interval of a fifth, plus the minor third below, with the top note sung in head voice and the two lower ones in chest voice.

After we’d learned all the patterns and done some antiphonal singing, in parts, the second half of the evening commenced: collaborating on a group improvisation with loop machines. This was not really my thing, so I dropped out after a while and went to talk to people out on the sidewalk. Somebody told me there was a theater in the basement of the Machine Project, so Isabelle and I went downstairs to check it out, and indeed there was a theater, with a little raised stage, movie theater-style seating, and an old upright piano. Before we left, we told Linnea about our Georgian chorus.

Last Thursday, I took the day off to go see an exhibit at the Getty Center entitled Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road. My father used to travel to Gansu Province, where the caves are, for work, so I’d heard of them before, but I’ve never been to China, nor had I ever read much about the caves. I got to the museum bright and early and got one of the first batch of timed tickets for the replica caves. Yes, they actually built and painted replicas of three of the cave temples, one from the 5th century, one from the 6th century, and one from the 8th century, and you could walk into them to see the statues of Buddhas and the detailed wall paintings and the intricately decorated pyramidal ceilings. The only drawback was that we were only permitted to spend about five minutes in each cave.

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Dim photo from inside one of the replica caves

Next I went into the virtual immersive tour of Cave 45, for which we had to don 3D glasses. That was interesting because it was narrated, so our attention was drawn to various details of the sculptures and paintings. Then I went into the gallery exhibition, which featured manuscripts, sketches, banners, and European-drawn maps of western China. Many of the artifacts came from the Library Cave and are owned by the British Museum or the Bibliothèque nationale de France. My favorite pieces were four manuscripts (all from the 9th or 10th century, I believe) meant to showcase the religious diversity of the materials found in the Library Cave. There was a Chinese Christian text, a Hebrew text, a spell book in Turkic runiform (the oldest extant text in this script), and a manuscript written in Brahmi with Sogdian transliteration (I’d never even heard of Sogdian script!). There was also a beautiful Chinese manuscript in gold ink on indigo paper. I could pore over these kinds of objects forever. I also liked the depictions of musical instruments in one of the cave paintings, including what looked like a sheng!

From there, I went to the current illuminated manuscripts exhibit, Things Unseen: Vision, Belief, and Experience in Illuminated Manuscripts. I love looking at these too! The margins of all these psalters and books of hours are filled with intricate leaf and flower patterns, with plenty of gold. I like the ancient paper and staring at the texts in Latin, English, French, German, and even Ge’ez!

Before leaving the museum, I got another timed ticket for the replica caves and went through them again, this time lingering as long as I could.