Wednesday, July 28, 2010

East Side / West Side

East Side / Sears Tower, Boyle Heights

West Side / Wilshire Boulevard, The Miracle Mile

East Side / 1850 East 1st Street

East Side / 1860 East 1st Street

West Side / 6018 Wilshire Boulevard

West Side / Opposite 6018 Wilshire Boulevard / LACMA Entrance

Within the space of twenty-four hours, I experienced the Los Angeles East Side/West Side cultural divide.

July 29, 2010 / 6:00 - 8:00 pm - Primera Taza Coffee House, 1850 E.
1st Street / Boyle Heights

July 30, 2010 / 4:00 - 6:00 pm - Edward Cella Gallery, 6018 Wilshire
Blvd. / The Miracle Mile

East Side / West Side / North / South Divisions are common in most cities.

"Sidewalks of New York"

"East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang 'ring around the rosie,
London Bridge is falling down' ...
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York"

I was raised in Cleveland and lived on the East Side for seventeen years. I never went to the West Side and knew nothing about it. In New York, we lived on 90th between Park and Lex. Our kids went to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue nursery school on West 68th, but that was our only contact with the West Side. We would drive through the West Side and never stop.

In Paris, the cultural divide is the Left Bank and the Right Bank: Boulevard St. Michel versus the Champs Elysée.

Paris, Boulevard St. Michel

Paris, Champs Elysée.

In London, it's the East End versus West End

"Peter Ackroyd's London: East versus West End"

In Rome, it's the Spanish Steps versus Trastevere.

Rome, Spanish Steps

Rome, Trastevere

East Side / West Side in LA

So, is LA different from any other great city?

You can provide your own answer.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mary and Allon After Six Months in LA - A Postscript to the Previous Blog

Why LA?

On May 15, 2001, Mary had a brain aneurysm incident. She was in the hospital for a month and rehab for another three weeks. She had a remarkable recovery- cooking, reading, driving and leading a normal life. About three years ago, she realized that she could no longer drive. Two years ago, she could no longer cook. Her ability to function normally began to disappear. By the middle of last year, we realized that we could not anticipate improvement.

We had to move. Our son, Abe, lives in Napa. We wanted to be somewhere near him, but not on his doorstep.Through friends in LA, we heard of Hollenbeck Palms. In September 2009, we came to check it out and decided to move.

Hacienda Hollenbeck

We moved into Hollenbeck Palms on January 15, 2010. "Hacienda Hollenbeck" is Mary's appellation. Our brand new 1,000 square foot apartment in Magnolia Court had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and full kitchen. It was spacious and attractive.

Without going into detail, the transition was a rough road. Mary had previously been diagnosed as having dementia. The disorientation of the move, attempting to accommodate oneself to a new environment and a new city were too much for her. At this point, our lives were truncated. Mary moved into Hensel Hall, the skilled nursing section, and I remained in Magnolia Court in our apartment. We either have lunch or dinner together every day and we go on junkets in the car several times a week.

Our First Seder in LA

Never wanting to be anything but a Jew, I was pleased to learn that having a Passover seder was a recent tradition established by head nurse Camille Goldsmith. It was a very nice affair that made both of us feel more at home here.

Higashi Hongamji Bhuddist Temple Obon Festival

Mary and I went to this event with two Japanese American women who live at Hollenbeck Palms. The festival took place in the temple parking lot in Little Tokyo. We spent five hours in blistering sun, but it was great. While there, I said to Mary, "I am beginning to like LA." She concurred.

The two most outstanding events for us were Taiko drummers and Sumo wrestlers.

Above: Taiko drummers performing in Central Park. Although not the same group that we saw, the performance was similar.

Above: Sumo wrestlers. We saw an informal version of this in the church parking lot.

Grafton, Vernont 1972

After Fifty-one Years of Sleeping in the Same Bed Together, What is Like to Sleep Alone?

Not much fun!

Hollenbeck Palms, 2010

What's Next?

LA is not where either one of us thought that we might live. However, we're here and we're finding out that it is a pretty good place to spend the waning years of our lives.

For our 25th annersary book, my Yale class did a survey asking what people planned to do on retirement. The majority had dreams of yachts, tennis courts and golf courses. There was one person who answered that "he never intended to retire." ME.

Hollenbeck and LA meet our needs. We get full support from Hollenbeck. Mary is in good hands and I am able to explore the potentials of a professional life. Being the new kid in town, is not easy because you know nothing of history, geography and the parameters of behavior. You are lacking a network of contacts that fuel a professional life. I have lived in Cambridge, Cincinnati, Cleveland, London, Manilla, New Haven, New York, and San Francisco. So, I have had some experience in adapting to urban environments. There are always some parallels as well as many differences.

Coffee Shop, Union Square, New York, 2005

And What About New York?

A friend who has lent us her apartment at Park and 90th is planning to go to Japan in November and has suggested that her apartment might be available. If that does not work out, there are friends in SoHO who have a loft where I can stay. If I go, I will have to cope with some guilt and concern about Mary's lonliness.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Evaluating My First Six Months in LA

My Passport

What is LA?

Although I have yet to figure it out, there is the City of Los Angeles and there is Los Angeles County and within the boundaries of the city and the county, there are some 80 additional cities all which have independent governments.

It was recently revealed by The Los Angeles Times that in Bell, a city with a population of 36,664 according to the 2000 census, city manager Robert Rizzo was paid nearly $800,000 annually, making him the highest paid city manager in California and possibly the nation. The police chief gets $457,000. Both have lucrative pensions.

In March 2000, a shipment of 55 Oscar statuettes was stolen from a trucking company loading dock in Bell.

LA = Amoeba = LA = Amoeba = LA

Above: NASA view of Los Angeles. Below: Microscopic enlargement of an amoeba.

From the COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, "Amoebas constantly change the shape of their bodies as a result of a phenomenon known as ameboid movement involving the formation of temporary extensions."

In AMERICA DAY BY DAY, with regard to Los Angeles, Simone de Beauvoir said," ... one feels that the most sophisticated city in the world is surrounded by indomintable nature. If human pressure were relaxed for even a moment, the wild animals and giant grasses would reclaim possession of their domain."

My Scorecard / NY vs LA

Above: View of Manhattan from the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building. Below: View of Downtown LA from the Cafe at the Griffith Park Observatory.


I have been reading The New York Times since I began to read. As a kid, we lived in suburban Cleveland. My father was an avid Times reader. A local drugstore would deliver the Sunday edition of The Times throughout our suburban enclave. Wherever I have gone and wherever I have lived, I have managed to read the The Times every day. I am doing the same thing here in LA.

Unfortunately, I can't read The Los Angeles Times. I know that it was once a great paper - at one point, it captured more Pulitzers than The New York Times; however, it is not the case now. The paper's staff has been decimated by the current owners. As a result, The Los Angeles Times is now a tragic shadow of its former self. I read LA Observed, an excellent on line report, as often as I can.

Climate and Air Quality

We arrived in mid-January; since then, there were some mild, cold days in February and March with off and on again rain during what is called "winter." I doubt that I will ever see another snowstorm, nor will I experience 103 degree heat and 100% humidity in the summer. Here, the sun shines every day. In the summer, it gets hot, but there is no humidity, so it is tolerable.

We live in proximity to freeways; there are the contingent issues of pollution and dirt. According to a May 2009 report of the "Most polluted American cities" prepared by the American Lung Association, Los Angeles ranked: fourth in short term particle pollution, first in ozone pollution and third in year round particle pollution. New York did not make it into the first ten on any of these lists.


Police and fire sirens are inescapable in any large urban environment. In LA, they can be heard day and night. Sebastian Junger just returned from having spent months making a film on the battlefield in Afghanistan; he said that he was freaked out by New York's middle of the night street noises.

With regard to to the constant hum of the freeways, my wife, Mary, suggested that we imagine
that we're at the sea shore listening to the surf.


Every major city in the world has a subway - some better than others - some one hundred years old - some brand new. The New York subways system is over one hundred years old. The LA system is brand new. Everyone rides the subway in New York. In LA, mass transit is for the working class; the freeways are for the middle class and upper classes.

LA is developing a new urban mass transit system - subways and busses. So far so good. The trains are comfortable and clean. They run on time. Not necessarily to my taste, some of the stations are spectacular. The signage is good - obviously patterned after Massimo Vignelli's New York subway signage. The buses run on compressed natural gas. They are ubiquitous and frequent.


Central Park - It is pedestrian friendly and bike friendly I have
covered every square inch of it in good weather and bad, in good
times and bad. When Jean Claude and Christo's "Gates" graced
the park in orange splendor, I walked along every single path from
59th to 110th Streets. When we lived on East 90th Street between
Park and Lex, I would ride my bike in the park from April through
to my office my office at Broadway and 57th Street.

Griffith Park - Accessible primarily by car, but offers many opportunities
to experience nature in the midst of the city. I want to explore it and know
it better.
The Wolfgang Puck cafe on the Observatory terrace is pure joy.
Wonderful inexpensive salads and sandwiches with spectacular views - like
the one above.


The New York Public Library - It is one of the world's great libraries
and has been my first stop for research when I initiated a new project. I
have done exhibitions there and spoken there. Although I would love to
have been a benefactor, I could never afford it. I have been a member for
many years.

The Los Angeles Public Library - I know that it is a great resource
which I will investigate and utiize. Although I am not a celeb watcher, I
had one there. Before moving to LA, I was doing research in the photo
collection. As I was standing at the librarian's desk, I looked to my
left and recognized a familiar face - Michael Douglas. I glanced at him;
he smiled and said "Hi."

Book Fairs

NewYork Is Book Country - A stretch of Fifth Avenue in Midtown
was turned over to the publishing industry. I did book signings there
a couple of times. Unfortunately it is not going to happen this year.

Harlem Book Fair - A stretch of 135th echoes its midtown predecessor.
As the Fifth Avenue event feels like Fifth Avenue, the one in Harlem
echoes the dynamism of the community. I did a book signing there, too.

The LA Times Book Fair - I will never forget my first day at the Book
Fair on the UCLA campus;. It was invigorating and inspiring. It
obliterated many of my negative preconceptions about LA.
I wrote to
David Ulin, the LA Times book editor, "It was excellent and opened
my eyes to LA's vibrant intellectual life. Orchestrating a blend of high
culture with populism, the festival demonstrated that the two could
be joined effectively without condescending. Organization and
management were outstanding."


I never went to the 92nd Street Y lectures. Disinterested in dinner party circuits, I had no need for an inventory of witty remarks from famous people. I went to lectures where substance prevailed: NYPL. NYHS, The Met, MCNY and similar institutions.

My first LA book author lecture was a riot. I had gone to an opening at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. As I left, I heard a lot of racket across the Bergamot Station courtyard.
I walked in. There was food and wine. I helped myself and sat down. Then, I asked a stranger
if he could tell me what was happening. He said that Jane Smiley was going to interview Dave
Barry. What a team! I was in stitches for an hour.

LA ALOUD is first class. I have gone to several programs including Bill Boyarksy and Peter Jones on "Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times." Boyarsky was an important cog in the
machine for many years, He spoke with authority. Peter Jones made an excellent film. Pam
Morrison is a great interviewer. For someone who had no background, I was introduced to the history of major players in the history of LA and the vicissitudes of the paper that I refuse to read.

Film Forum

In a series of dark cavernous spaces with uncomfortable seats, poor projection and unsatisfactory sound, it provides the best film programming available on the East Coast.
It appears that there are dozens of venues where good film programming is available in LA. I
have gone to several. I know that a plethora of good film programming awaits me.

Municipal Art Society

I have been involved with the MAS for forty years as: a member, speaker, program organizer,
consultant and grants administrator providing funding. Under MAS auspices, I took a group of
architects and planners to Paris to examine it as an evolving global city.

I joined the Los Angeles Conservancy, an organization with similar objectives.

Farmers Markets

To my mind, the Greenmarket in Union Square remains the pen ultimate fresh food market in the United States. I have gone to several neighborhood farmers markets in LA, but have not been too impressed. I have heard that the Santa Monica farmers market is exceptional. I hope to get there soon.

Dean & Deluca

There is nothing else like it. Joel Dean died and Giorgio Deluca opened a restaurant. What they
created, revolutionized food merchandising in this country. Fortunately, the current corporate
owners want to preserve the authenticity of the brand.

Years ago, I asked Giorgio if he had a model. He said that it was Peck in Mllan.

Even though I much admire Dean & Deluca, I have to admit that Peck outclasses it. Peck is the most extraordinary food store that I have ever seen. In truffle season, I had the audacity to inquire about fresh truffles. They had them all. It was an exercise in frustration.

Maybe there is something like Dean & Deluca in LA. I don't know and hope that I discover it.


Swami Satchidananda has been my guru for over forty years. The IYI on West 13th was my sanctuary. I even managed to get to Yogaville when Swamaji was still alive.

Having discovered the Vednata Society in the Hollywood Hills,

both Mary and I have found our sanctuary. At least once a week, we
meditate for an hour and a half and leave as new people.

Off Beat

I have become a groupie at Farmlab's Metabolic Studio Public Salon Series.

The brain child of Lauren Bon, creator of NOT A CORNFIELD

They begin every Friday at noon with free lunch. They have provided me with
insight and connections to creative spirits whom I would otherwise never meet.


From a friend, a native Angeleno living in New York:

"I find LA (like NYC), because it's so large, to be more mysterious and those surprises make it more pleasant. Roma verso Firenze."

We live at Hollenbeck Palms in in Boyle Heights. We go to the Mariachi Plaza farmers market. I have met Councilman Jose Huizar and he recognizes me when he pushes his kid in a stroller through Mariachi Plaza. I have a card at the Benjamin Franklin Branch of the LA Public Library at 2200 East First Street. I am a member of Corazón del Pueblo, a community arts collective where I am taking free Spanish lessons.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blown Away at LACMA, But ...

Above: Broad Contemporary Art Museum.. Below: Resnick Pavillion (opening Fall 2010)

Everyone admits that LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is a sprawling collective mess; the administration is developing a master plan to correct its deficiencies. However, LACMA does possess some stunning jewels. I want to focus on one of them.

My recent visit to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a stand alone structure adjacent to Hancock Park facing Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile, possesses 60,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors. The yet-to-open Resnick Pavilion for temporary exhibitions abuts its rear flank. Both buildings were designed by Renzo Piano. From my perspective, the Broad Museum is an exceptionally successful museum design. Here, the architectural design does not detract from the art on display; it enhances it. The galleries are spacious, occupying a full floor without any structural impediments. On the top floor, natural light filtering in from the skylights above provides what might be described as "art friendly" natural illumination. Such clarity of design with obvious sympathy to the art to be presented is a rare commodity.

With so many boards of trustees, civic leaders and museum directors seeking to replicate the "Bilboa effect," ( a number of curiosities have joined the global inventory of art museums. Many of them are manifestations of an egocentric architectural style - planned to enhance the reputation of the designer - hardly satisfactory environments in which to display works of art. Although I have yet to see it, I am willing to accept Michael Kimmelman's (The New York Times roving European cultural critic) negative assessment of MAXXI, Rome's new museum of 21st Century Arts, designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid. Kimmelman found it to already look dated and out of style. Beyond that, I would say that the design of the exhibition galleries appears to overwhelm anything that might be displayed in them.

Above: MAXXI, Rome, exterior and interior.

Above : Third floor gallery, Broad Contemporary Art Museum.

Not so at the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art. Having a positive assessment of its architecture, I want to turn to the art on display. My knowledge and familiarity with the contemporary international art scene is like a piece of Swiss cheese. However, I can recognize the names and work of some of the major players. Andy Warhol has always been an admired favorite. Although they can't be seen in the photo above, there is a group of his Kellogg's Corn Flakes stenciled corrugated paper boxes stacked lazily in a corner of the gallery. Seeing these boxes, reminded me of an opening in Leo Castelll's gallery. Andy had just completed his cow wallpaper. It covered the walls of the tight little space. There were silver helium filled balloons floating through the gallery space. The installation of the Kellogg's corn flakes boxes at the Broad successfully captured the informality with which much of Andy's work was displayed.

Thanks to a flawless installation in a majestically neutral space, I found my indifference to Jeff Koons' work obliterated and transformed into admiration. On a generational basis, he is an inheritor of Duchamp / Warhol traditions. In the gallery view above, it is possible to see his inflatable blue puppy. Although banal, I found myself standing in the middle of the gallery admiring it. Having seen Koon's work in cramped locations in New York competing with other artists, it always looked a bit tacky. Not here. To me, it made a clear and forceful statement in the land of Disney. More than the inflatable, I was struck by his multi-colored ceramic Bernini simulation. It echoed the sculptural figures adorning Bernini's fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome. It was "Bernini enhanced."

"Pure Beauty," the work of the prolific John Baldesdari, occupied the entire second floor. Having heard his name in the context of the LA art scene, I had never seen any of his work.

This is a very impressive installation of an innovative multi-faceted artist who manages to make a series of unique statements of considerable import. To say that it is a visually stunning exhibition, would be an understatement. To stay that the exhibition confirms his stature as a major American artist would be honest.

Several of Richard Serra's grandiose sculptures occupy the entire first floor. Again, the neutrality of the space, adds to the majesty of the experience.

So, I was blown away by the quality and power of the art and architecture at the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art. What's the but? How does this museum and the art presented rate in relation to a New York museum experience. As good as it might be, the LA museum experience remains thin. Flash predominates substance. Whenever you go to an exhibition at MoMA or The Met in New York, you are exposed to layers of art - some masterpieces, some not - going to and from your chosen exhibition. Even though you might not pause to view any art along the way, you know that what you are going to see or have seen fits into the context of human creativity. The same could be said of viewing exhibitions in major museums or equally suitable venues in London, Paris, Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome, Berlin and Vienna.

In 1964, Walter Mondale adopted "Where's the Beef?" as his campaign mantra in an effort to defeat the insurgent Gary Hart who was seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination. As exhilarating as my experience at the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art might have been, I am afraid there was no "beef" there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Farmers Market Opens in Mariachi Plaza

Mariachi Plaza, a stop on the Gold Line subway, is about a quarter of mile from where we live in Boyle Heights. Below ground, one finds a sparkling new cavernous subway station that must be buried at least 100 feet below street level.. Above ground, there is an extensive plaza adorned with a Spanish colonial band stand, the identifying symbol for the congregations of free-lance mariachis awaiting clients.

The Farmers Market is located to the rear of the plaza. We went to shop for produce. There were a half dozen stands with assorted fruit and vegetables, one of which had a large banner proclaiming that they did not use pesticides. Although my preference is for certified organic produce, I have learned that obtaining state certification is a long and complicated process and that few of the vendors who come to farmers markets are certified even though many of them might follow organic or organic related processes. The Santa Monica farmers market is the exception. I understand that the majority of the vendors are certified organic. Someday, I will get there. For the moment, the Mariachi Plaza Farmers Market meets my needs. As usual, I bought too much, but I figure that I am helping sustain people whose labors enhances my life.

The Mariachi Plaza Farmers Market was the creation of Jose Huizar, Councilmember of the Fourteenth District. By chance I met him at an event at Hollenbeck Palms the previous night. He orchestrated the ribbon cutting ceremony which was documented by the local ABC TV News outlet. Councilmember Huizar is a dynamic leader who was born and raised in this neighborhood. When he completed his official duties, he came to the bench where Mary was sitting and greeted her. By the time that he arrived, we had deposited the remains of at least a hundred peanut shells on the pavement. I apologized and he assured me that his crew of green uniformed high school age assistants would clear way our garbage. They did.

Then, the stage was animated with a troupe of a dozen white costumed female dancers who performed traditional Mexican dances flawlessly. Next came a young rock group; they said that they had graduated from high school only three years ago. They were loud, dynamic and rhythmic. Good to listen to. There was a break in which djs from a local radio station performed. Then, more live musicians.

How can I describe my reaction? I no longer felt like a stranger in my new neighborhood. A friend from Hollenbeck Palms who accompanied us, said that, he Mary and I were the only Caucasians. That might have been true. I was not aware of it, nor do I think was anyone else except my friend. Belonging to our new neighborhood, was a wonderful feeling that continues to resonate.

As the sun set around 7:30pm, I had a hard time getting Mary to leave. We'll be back next week.