All posts by Andrea Gibbons

Arizona Ghost Towns

Life seems such an unlikely combination of luck and choice and circumstance…I think it hits me most when facing choices that will send my life down vastly different trajectories. Or is even that assuming too much? It’s interesting to think of life curling back to an original line no matter which direction you go, or this moment as a hub from which extend multiple lines into the future like rays from the sun. In geologic time, I suppose life looks like a tiny pin prick, with no trajectory whatsoever. Or it could be one circle or a series of them or a combination of metaphysical loops and linear time…I like to imagine it as a spyrograph drawing but that doesn’t really mean anything metaphorically without a great deal of mental stretching. And choice itself is something of a luxury…

What if I had been born here?

Gleeson, a mining town that is almost dead, population down from 2,500 to 100, and people leaving via the cemetery. It sits to the west of a town full of adobe ruins and shattered timbers, only a few miles from Tombstone (that has survived only by becoming its own spectacle, a real town turned into Hollywood set complete with fake gunmen in long black coats and tours by stagecoach). Gleeson is only one of so many towns built upon the mineral riches of southwest hills. And I know the myths, the level of violence. I also know Nana and Tata, the parents of my old soccer coach from Dos Cabezas, and they are beautiful people. On Nana’s wedding day she was sitting on the porch with her suegra and when they saw some rabbits, she got the rifle from inside and shot one dead for dinner. I’ve driven past there, and always wondered which of the foundations and shattered walls belonged to them…I know Frank  born and raised in Tombstone, he’s beautiful too, and his dry sense of humor is made up of puns and spanglish wordplay and he tells truly terrible jokes that I love. It’s why in spite of my love of noir, I’ve never liked authors like Camilo Jose Cela where there is nothing to redeem these dusty violent towns. And much as I love Sergio Leone’s westerns, still, I wish they showed some of the warmth and humor that allowed people to survive in these places.

Gleeson still has those 100 people. But there are far more in the cemetary. Most of the graves are unmarked, it appears almost empty from the road, but when you get closer you can see the remnants of plastic flowers, the splinters of broken crosses, crumbled headstones. The grass here is full of such things, hidden from view.

Maximo Rueda, died 1927, who was he and what was his life like? I know it is too far away for me to even imagine properly, though it does not stop me from trying.

Ed Ramirez, who died in 2000 yet his grave appears almost as old as the others, though with flowers remaining intact. Some graves have iron railings to rescue them from being swallowed by time, but even so, most of the names have long gone. For those that remain, you can see the families buried in groups, World War Two veterans, the Mexicans in one area and the whites in another, attempts by family members to rescue the graves of their loved ones from obscurity. One almost fresh grave.

I wonder if they are people who never left, or people who only returned to be buried?

The whole place was eerily silent, broken only by the wind over dry grass and the occasional clear sounding of two different bells, almost like windchimes, too musical to belong to livestock. I didn’t find the grave they belonged to. I’m not usually spooked by graveyards, and the hot sun and blue skies kept fear at bay, but images like this send chills

as I walked across the graves of the unknown to rescue some from total obscurity, to search for signs that they were there at all, to take pictures of their forlorn brokenness, I hope I did not simply take advantage of the picturesque. Seems like you owe something, even to those who are dead.

Gleeson is the third stop on the back roads between Wilcox and Tombstone, the first is Pearse. I read that it had a reputation worse than Tombstone back in the day, but find that hard to believe, especially of a town so tiny. Tombstone is a metropolis by comparison, though perhaps more foundations lie lost to view in the grass along the road. There are two buildings still standing. One belongs to the only residents of the town, though this was the only living thing to greet us

Some kind of miniature donkey? he was as musical as his larger cousins. And there is a beautiful old general store of adobe with a painted metal facade, if you arrange a tour in advance, and pay for it, you can go inside. But we hadn’t…

From Pearse you drive down through hills filled with the multicolored landslides of mine tailings. They are more than familiar to me from my youth, my family spent so much time going over them looking for cool rocks, bits of azurite, turquoise, silver, copper, gold, molybdenum. There was one only a couple of miles from my old home, we’d hike there and eat lunch in the cool shadows of the mine tunnel, which ended in a deep pit twenty or thirty feet back.

Down the road is Courtland, of which I know nothing but the name. There are clear signs that mining is about to begin again, but apart from recently graded roads and white survey flags, nothing is there but more scattered remnants of abandoned buildings and bored youth

Though shooting up street signs, generally while drinking and driving, is to my certain knowledge, not at all restricted to youth. One of my old coworkers used to enjoy such a pass-time. He was my old assistant manager too.

It was a stunning day all round, even before we arrived in Tombstone and Bisbee. The country is extraordinarily stark and reluctant to support human life, but also extraordinarily beautiful. Here is the recently graded road leading into the back streets of Tombstone

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The Boneyard

The Boneyard is another name for AMARG’s (the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) facility beside Davis Monthan Airforce Base, acres and acres of planes and helicopters in short term and long term storage, where many of them come to die. They are cannibalized for parts (why is that all of the terminology serves to make them seem human?), and there are rows of motors and wings and engines separated from the hulking metal bodies that yielded them. I don’t know that pictures can give any sense of the scale, but here are a few:

It is run by the Department of Defense, which made it impossible to walk around, you have to board a bus showing picture ID, and only gaze longingly at the close up shots and perspectives that might have been possible as you drive slowly by. Why do I love the twisted ruins of metal so much? There are lines of helicopters stretching into the distance, they remove the rotors for storage

Of the planes stored here, 60% are capable of being brought back into shape for flying within weeks, 35% shall almost certainly fly again, the rest look forward to a slow protracted death or a sale to one of our allies…the Australians for instance, are still enamoured of certain fighter jets that the Americans have left for younger, newer models. The guide was an old Vietnam Vet, he pointed out the bombers that the Iranians still have…all grounded for lack of parts but will we be sharing ours? Never, and one of the passengers in the back gave a good American yeah at that. We saw the models of helicopter our guide had piloted back in Nam, the kind of plane that McCain was shot down in over the jungle (oohhs for that), the kind of plan that transferred him away from captivity. We saw the bombers built to carry 18 cruise missiles at once, there are wheels on the ends of the wings to keep them from dragging along the ground during takeoff because of the weight. We saw sub-sonic and super-sonic jets, jets with nuclear capabilities…most of them were on the right side of the bus and I was…on the left. There were great gaps however, of planes called up I imagine, and in service to do what they were built to do half a world away. And the stealth bomber was also missing.

Acres of brilliantly fascinating metal, feats of engineering, and death. They were all built to strafe the enemy, drop bombs, blow up submarines, kill. They are protected from the blistering heat of the Arizona sun with layers of latex regularly removed and replaced; they are serviced by a small army of workers. And there is a strange sort of beauty to them

I suppose it comes partly from the beauty of their surroundings on fields of gold and brown with the mountains rising up blue behind them and a vast sky overhead, they are so far removed from their consequences and their meaning. Even bombs can somehow seem innocuous and…interesting. Amazing that such a small casing of metal can hold such a wealth of pain and loss inside of them. And they are are there at the entrance to the Pima Air Museum so you can walk around them, touch them, admire them.

And part of me can understand the enthusiasm of the other passengers, I am on the same bus, marvelling at what human kind has accomplished. It is our purpose that I find devastating.

In the parking lot we saw a javelina, a lone one, seperated from it’s pack

It didn’t hurry away, it didn’t even bother to notice us. I have seen many in the wild, one particularly close when it charged after my dog and straight at me, I have never known them comfortable at all in the presence of people. It was rather bewildering, and I wonder how this one arrived here in the middle of army service personnel, electrified fences, acres of metal…

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A funny police helicopter story

I spent all of yesterday and most of last night doing the final reviews of a 400 page and very tangled manuscript I’ve been editing for months, and I finally poured myself into bed after 1 am, feeling rather shattered though I had that nice sense of achievement because it is done, and was secure in the happy knowledge of just how GOOD it would feel to rest my weary bones.

And then the helicopter started up. Again. Every day this week. And the voice on the megaphone shouting –  come out with your hands raised – and it went on for hours and I lay in bed hating everything and everyone.

And so I woke up this morning late, unrested, and mildly cranky. But it did remind me of a funny story.

It belongs to my friend Carlos, truck driver, and definitely used to think he was tough…when not driving a semi he drove this souped up car with hydraulics. I’m not terribly impressed by hydraulics myself, but was pretty excited to experience them while cruising, rock en español and rap blasting on the radio…

At any rate, there was a helicopter circling his apartment in the middle of the night, as they tend to do in South Central, and that didn’t wake him up, but the blinding light that shortly filled his entire room did. It was the helicopter. And he heard the megaphone screaming out come out with your hands up. And it didn’t stop. And so after some sleepy and very confused thought he decided that inexplicably they must have come for him. So he went out onto his balcony in just his boxers with his hands behind his head, unable to see anything at all because of the spotlight and his heart pounding and his mind racing to try and figure out what exactly he could have done or who he could have been confused with to have been in such a position at all.

And then he heard the megaphone – “We weren’t talking to YOU! Get back inside!”

They were after the guy in the next apartment, and they got him too, and for the life of me I can’t remember why, which is a sad ending to a good story, but so it goes.

Louise Bourgeois retrospective at MOCA

Go see it, it’s brilliant.

And I know great art when I see it (though I also know that’s a bit time-worn as phrases go). But she truly is great. Generally speaking I don’t go much for the art of the so desperately personal, but her work is incredibly moving and provocative and it hits you in your stomach where you carry your most visceral of emotions…for decades it has circled and circled around themes of the body, love, family, sex, a traumatic childhood of male patronage and infidelity…it repeats shapes in different forms that skate a continuous line between masculine and feminine, beauty and horror, being and becoming…it comprises an astonishing number of mediums that are all exquisitely carried out: sculpture in wood and plaster and latex and stone, collages with fabric and bits and pieces of everything including orange peels, sewn figures with gaping holes, installations, paintings and drawings, the written word.

They are a strange mix of the tender and the repulsive, sometimes beautiful, always provoking, and so many with a strange edge of terror and violence that trickles down your spine. We both love spirals, and she says of them that they are attempts to control chaos and also freedom, and asks whether you find yourself in the vortex or on the periphery? She says she hates men obsessing over their penis…that it is not the appendage she dislikes, but what it is attached to. I love wit, and her art has both wit and raw emotion in an uneasy balance that gives it power.

No pictures can do the pieces justice at all, for her more than most people I think. But my favourites were the personages and the installations, particularly the red rooms. The personages look like this (This picture from the New York Times)

There were others that were blocks stacked one upon the other…I found them eerie and beautiful and they made me think.

The red rooms, on the other, scared the hell out of me. Here is what the parent’s room looks like, hard to know where the terror comes from I know, even when you’re standing in front of it. Perhaps that is why I like it so much

They are surrounded by a sort of a spiral made by doors, I won’t even begin on the symbolism of that! You can only peek into it, and the parent’s room you can really only see through the mirror, and it is red…and it should be peaceful with a couple of toys on the chest at the foot of the bed, but there is a looming shadow over the pillows and I don’t know, but it was terrifying. The way The Shining was terrifying. The children’s room was overtly terrifying with entwined sculptures of limbs cut off at the elbow, you stare at it through a window in one of the doors, children have no privacy.

I liked the spider as well…nothing represents horror better than a giant spider with long spindly legs ending in rather dangerous looking points, and yet they are oddly protective, maternal…

Go see it if you’re in LA.

There has been a police helicopter circling near my house for two hours now. I hate them. If I were an artist I’d be obsessed with helicopters…such brilliant technology that we use primarily to hunt and to kill.

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The absurdity of mass repression

Documentary after documentary. It is how I have been spending the tail end of my nights lately, after long days of work and time with friends. Some we have published, some are submissions for us to consider publishing, a few I throw in as reminders of what is already out there.

They are all of struggle, so at some point every night I have sat here with tears pouring down my face. Sometimes they are indefinable tears. I don’t know why masses of working people in the streets and facing down riot police always make me cry, but they always do. Perhaps for the hope they give me where there is so little hope left. Too often they are tears of sadness, for those who have been injured, tortured, killed. The worst was Black and Gold, where there is a mother grieving for her son shot by the police. I have heard that grief before, it is hoarse and raw and rending, it shatters everything in you to hear it. It flays you to bear witness and be able to do nothing. It takes me back remorselessly to the burial ground and the huge machine already covering the coffin and tamping the ground even as the mariachis still played. Maria almost screaming, if she had had any voice left. I cannot understand how this can be the world that we have created.

And I cannot understand how these things continue. Chicago, Alabama, Buenos Aires, Oaxaca, Burma, Greece…these are just a fraction of the confrontations where governments have turned on their own people.  Intellectually, of course, I understand the intertwining of government and capital, the need to retain power at all costs, the strength and cunning of propaganda combined with media silence. But fundamentally, everything in me revolts at its very possibility. Everything revolts at the idea that a government that turns its army and security forces onto thousands of its own people could retain the slightest shred of legitimacy. With anyone.

What is a government for, and why does it exist?

How can a legitimate government defend itself from its own citizens with police bearing clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, pistols and machine guns? With helicopter attacks, secret and open raids, illegal arrests, disappearances, torture, assassination, bombs?

How is it possible that we have come to accept that a government can repress a mass movement of its own people? Who else do we think it is accountable to?

In my cynicism I know that’s a beginner’s question. Of course they are not accountable to the masses of their people; they are accountable to the few, the wealthy, the elite that they themselves are part of. They hold the money and power, and if persuasion does not work, they will use force. I understand all of this, but even so. I rage at the fundamental absurdity of this being the universal system that defines the lives of all us.

Some love from the streets

I got some today…as I biked along 31st street towards Grand, an older black woman yelled at me “JESUS LOVES YOU!”

And I wondered, why does she think I don’t know that?

I started thinking about what made me look like someone down and out and in need of some saving! Did she think I was going to the new Planned Parenthood clinic that just opened there? Did she think any white girl on a bike in that neighborhood, on those streets, was looking for some kind of fix? Did she think I was lost…on the physical or metaphysical plane? I know I wasn’t dressed like a hooker, at least not today.

Hmm. It reminded me of a sunny Sunday morning when I was on my way to the farmer’s market, and some cholo straight up offered me pot, crystal, AND a good time. These things make me worry.

News in L.A.

Is horrifying, almost always, but today seems particularly bad…to sum up the L.A. Times California section’s dose of death and violence:

1. The son of Fabian Nunez, former California Assembly speaker and our own dear representative, was arrested in the fatal stabbing of a student in San Diego. Apparently he identified as part of the Hazard Crew…good old East Los gang, though maybe they’re operating in Sacramento?

2. A security guard shot and killed a man wielding samurai swords at the Hollywood Scientology building…this story is not without humour of course, the man was a former scientologist himself, and apparently talked of revenge. This only reinforces my theories about scientology…the actual article is on the fact that the guard will not face charges.

3. A Swedish hip-hop artist (!) by the name of David Jassy punched, kicked, and then ran over a pedestrian, after the pedestrian was rude enough to get hit by his SUV while in the crosswalk. The irony as acknowledged by Jassy is that the man, John Osnes, was a fellow musician, and deeper investigation reveals that he was of Norwegian parentage… the reporter seems to think that makes it all doubly ironic…

4. A mummified body was found in North Hollywood, the house was so stuffed with garbage that firefighters had to “hoist” the body out of window. It was of a woman who apparently lived with her 48 year old son, and died at least a year ago. It’s Psycho but with more trash. And no beautiful blonde. I do wonder about the theme music…

5. A woman is at trial for the 1969 murder of her toddler, she is charged with covering up the murder and burying the body. Her jury is deadlocked over her guilt.  I think I saw this case on some unsolved mysteries program at my parents house…

6. The coroner released the report today on the body of the train engineer responsable for the crash in Chatsworth killing 25 people. He was not drunk or high.

7. A Japanese businesman hanged himself with his T-shirt after being extradited to an LA jail to stad trial for killing his wife in 1981. Or so the LAPD says. His lawyer, however, states that the injuries are more consistent with choking or beating.

8.  An off-duty officer (in Central California, not LA) was convicted of felony battery for grabbing a man by his throat and the back of his shirt and throwing him down the concrete stairs of the Angel’s baseball stadium in Anaheim. What touched it off? He was tapped on the head by an INFLATABLE THUNDER STICK!

9. And then of course, we have the news from the Bay…so i don’t know if it counts, but it’s about the teenager that escaped from his home and collapsed in a parking lot bruised and beaten, with a three foot chain padlocked to his leg.

What a beautiful world we live in…and this is just the death and violence juicy enough to print.

Petroglyphs!

I found them! Eureka!

Well, my dad found them first…and took me too see them out in the desert, we drove and drove, walked and walked…I’m being cagey because I doubt that their exact location should be public knowledge. Because they are just there, you can touch them

It’s extraordinary to touch them, to stand in front of them in the middle of the desert, to search for them under stones. Here’s another, this motif could be seen several times, I don’t know what it means but it has sent my mind imagining of course, mysteries…

There were many more, if you click on the above images you’ll get to my flickr page where you can see all of them, they were truly extraordinary. At one time there were a great deal more, but the rock face is splitting off and falling away, I am sure myriads lie hidden, face down on the earth or crumbled into shards of rock. I happily climbed the cliff faces (not that I need an excuse to climb cliff faces). And the good news is that I can still do it in chanclas, to the right is a steep slope of scree, and myself showing off my powers in flip flops. I suppose I could have more grace and poise, but I am glad I’m still half wild, I worry sometimes that I face incipient and total domestication. Not that sensible footwear means domestication. I hadn’t actually realized the kind of hike we were going on or I might have been tempted into trainers, but I really hate wearing socks if the climate does not absolutely require it.

My brothers and I spent quite a bit of time looking for petroglyphs back in the day, we searched every cliff face within miles of our house I think…little did we know that the internet would soon be along with every location noted, as I have now found out. Still, there’s no real information there on the ancestors who carved them, and no knowledge of what they mean, I suppose they would have had to have been done by the Tohono O’odham, or those who came before? I remember reading a book by Frank Waters years ago about the ancient migrations and how they were tracked on the stone, but it’s been too long for me to remember properly. It was pueblo myth anyway, I doubt the folks down here would agree with it.

It was truly a gorgeous day in the desert today though, and one of the prettiest washes I’ve seen I think. It must be spectacular after the moonsoons, and full of deep pools perfect for swimming.They would collect below the pyroclastic flows of Rhyolite Tuffs like this one

My dad, and my fount of all geological knowledge is at the end of it, an ancient lava flow. The rock is beautiful

There was water there today, left from the rain over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely more seeping through the rocks in several places. We continued walking down the wash back towards the car

Final views of what I love about this place, saguaros:

Barrel cacti growing out of a rock face

And ocotillos against a blue blue sky

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Agua Caliente

A rare place I’ve never been before…well, on this side of town not so rare, but I had no idea it was even here! We drove out for a post lunch walk through a beautiful November day…a stroll really, it’s an idyllic oasis formed by a spring in the desert, expanded and planted around by palm trees, the water is full of ducks and the banks full of picnicking bbqing families, you get one overview shot because it’s not very exciting:

Me, I rather prefer striking out into the non-idyllic wilderness. I prefer wildlife with teeth or tusks or scales…but I do like my family mostly. There was a time when their dawdling ways would have had me raging with impatience, but now I just do my best to amuse myself while also dawdling along at their pace. Turtles help, look how cool these guys are

So I dawdled on, had I not been, I would have completely missed the crazy butterfly sex going on by the side of the path

We can all be glad we’re not butterflies, as life should be crazier than that. The chollas were beautiful:

If you’re ever lost and hungry in the desert you can eat the flower petals, but I don’t know about the fruits actually! They don’t look at all tasty, not like las tunas off of prickly pears, or saguaro fruits, those are lovely.  I found a rare species of cholla skeleton come to life in the form of a duck rearing its head through the dead grasses

(Imagination helps to amuse yourself, but probably not others). This is what chollas look like when they die, they’re extraordinary, I miss them. AND THEN my dad was attacked by an elderly and deceptively innocent docent for asking one too many questions about why the upper pools had been drained and left dry, or maybe it was before the cholla duck? Or was it the elusive cholla duck that attacked? I don’t know, it all happened so fast, but he was left sprawled on the cracked clay bed of what was once another small oasis

Dad’s a great sport I have to say. I didn’t think he was going to do it. It was still rather damp, and there was a fairly bad swampy smell.

So then we walked back to the big pond and stared at ducks. Hard to amuse yourself looking at ducks, but I managed, because I got lots of pictures of this:

Getting the perfect picture of a duck doing this cracks me up every time. I now have many, and I really don’t know what to do with them, I think it’s more fun to take pictures of them than to look at them. We had mallards doing it, coots, murgansers, and we learned a new duck this weekend, the American Wigeon. I suppose it’s not every weekend you learn a new duck! I’d hate to keep that to myself, so here it is

The sun was behind him, but the water came out well….

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LA’s floating islands

Wealth in LA floats. We are not just segregated from north to south and east to west, but above and below. And I suppose I knew about the aerial isle that was once Bunker Hill, but I’d never really walked it, and until you walk you don’t really know a place. At 4th and Hope you are high up above LA, and all traces of the old Victorian neighborhood once there were completely bulldozed and destroyed several decades ago. And there followed some truly grim decades in terms of block architecture, and a planning model designed to keep public space as the exclusive right of the right people. So it is a modern wonderland of concrete and plazas leading to car garages and sleek, expensive men and women. There are a couple of skyscrapers built on it, their lights serve as the stars and I’ll not deny a strange beauty to them…there are some expensive shops and restaurants, but they all look like upscale chains. It’s that particularly L.A. thing I think, where everything is relatively new, sanitized, familiar, safe. People here trade what is real and true for a secure and enhanced façade every time, just look at sunset strip with its fake western bar, it’s fake Irish pub. Look at people themselves. And this place is made for cars, you have to climb a very steep hill to get here, and it isn’t the easiest thing on foot. I’m sure that’s quite deliberate. The right sort of person doesn’t walk in this city. I passed Gehry’s Disney hall, it’s on the edge of this as is MOCA. Wealth’s claim on high culture.

Usually I go beneath this place, through the terminator tunnel with its shiny white tiles reflecting the light when they are not falling off the walls, and the homeless sleeping along the sidewalk. I like it better underneath.  The higher you go in LA, the richer it invariably gets. From crack in Hollywood to cocaine in the Hollywood Hills and so it goes everywhere…even Echo Park has had its bastions of wealth up on top of everything, and now of course it is gentrifying at the speed of light, and from top down.

These things make me angry, so I’m glad the YMCA is still there, giving people one last reason to democratize space. I was walking because I forgot a clean shirt to change into after workout, sauna and steam, and couldn’t face jumping on a standing room only bus full of people going home from work. Especially since I was going home TO work. Happy Friday to me. But I haven’t really been home for so long, so I’m still enjoying it.