In Chapter 2 of The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard moves from phenomenology (see part 1) to a tying of philosophy to particular kinds of spaces (see part 2) to read houses and rooms written by great writers.I have gone very Walter Benjamin on these posts, they are mostly strings of quotes to ponder. At least what follows is not all from Bachelard himself. For example, the poetic epigraph from Paul Eluard, Dignes de vivre:
Quand les cimes de notre ciel se rejoindront
Ma maison aura un toit.
(When the peaks of our sky come together
My house will have a roof.) (39)
I swooned away just a little there. Bachelard turns to poetry and fiction because how else to understand how space transfixes us?
In this dynamic rivalry between house and universe, we are far removed from any reference to simple geometrical forms. A house that has been experience is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space. (47)
He describes how Bosco’s Malicroix works to help us understand the power of that which surrounds us:
the world influences solitary man more than the characters are able to do. … the cosmos molds mankind, it can transform a man of the hills into a man of islands and rivers, and that the house remodels man. (47)
Quotes William Goyen from novel House of Breath:
That people could come into the world in a place they could not at first even name and had never known before; and that out of a nameless and unknown place they could grow and move around in it until its name they knew and called with love, and call it HOME, and put roots there and love others there; so that whenever they left this place they would sing homesick songs about it and write poems of yearning for it, like a lover … (58)
I have thought a lot about this from friends with The Circle Works, not about the creation of home, but the creation of warm, welcoming spaces that serve to foster human beings and community growth. Bachelard writes
But I now believe that we can go deeper, that we can sense how a human being can devote himself to things and make them his own by perfecting their beauty. (69)
There is more to be found here, this is a book I look to come back to. But in the meanwhile, Bachelard makes me wonder if I would not do better to quote single lines from my favourites poems, like this one, another poem fragment from Milosz:
L’odeur du silence est si vielle
(The odor of silence is so old…)
To end? A copyrighted picture of Bachelard in his beautiful library…oh the thoughts I could think in such a space!
Last night at Bristol’s Watershed we went to see The Fabulous Nicholas Brothers:
Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming at Film Forum in New York, presents a unique compilation tribute to the greatest dancers of the 20th century the Nicholas Brothers, featuring a collage of rarely seen home movies, photographs and film clips.
It was — the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers were — amazing. I perhaps use that adjective too much, my enthusiasms lace my writing with ‘I loved’ and ‘brilliant’ and other such encomiums so that perhaps they lose some meaning. But little I have ever experienced compares to the feeling of pure joy that dance can grant, particularly as embodied by Fayard and Harold Lloyd Nicholas. Before Bruce Goldstein began, they started with this clip, ‘Lucky Number’ (1936):
Throughout their career, in addition to the jaw-dropping virtuosity of their movements, there is a joy in dance and in dancing with each other that is a gift to watch. It fills you up as you watch it, together with awe that such things might be done.
I will also note that this format, of talk interspersed with clips, from someone as knowledgeable and personable as Bruce Goldstein who knew the brothers personally, was awesome. He had loads of footage from the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers’ own home videos including some of their unique film of the Cotton Club performances, which rendered it incredible. You are sorry you missed it.
Anyway. You take all of this, the very best and the most beautiful of talent, and you set it in Jim Crow America. This ensures the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers are billed most of their lives as a ‘specialty act’ (though usually at the top of the bill). I think for all I have read, watched, wrestled with, this exposed an entirely new view of how damaging Jim Crow was. How crazy it was.
Absolutely batshit crazy.
There’s Pie Pie Blackbird. Crazy. Immense talent to be found singing and dancing about the master’s ‘blackbird pie’.
As a reference to master sleeping with his slaves, it hardly seems veiled at all. And so it is that here, the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers in their 1932 debut get called little pickinninies.
Wonderful without reservations is their appearance in the 1935 All Coloured Vaudeville Movie — and look at that city background, this is really an urban art after all, not one tied to the plantation south, but to Harlem, to Chicago, to the places that beckoned towards freedom and equality (though still have yet to grant it). Fayard is performing in his characteristic three piece suit — he wore it at almost all times (there’s home footage of him wearing it at the tennis courts, on the beach), a fashion statement against the indignities and disrespect of Jim Crow, and I love him for it:
Yet so many of these clips make me feel Jim Crow viscerally. After a rather saccharine display of white doo-wop and the (rather good don’t you know) Glen Miller band, there is the joy and virtuosity of the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers and the equally fabulous Dorothy Dandridge (who married Harold, how did I not know?). Carefully orchestrated so the whole section is separate from the white musicians, able to be cut entirely for Southern audiences — a prime reason the Nicholas Brothers would always perform self-contained ‘numbers’ rather than roles.
I found this separateness physically painful to watch, which sat strangely beside the absolute joy of the performance itself. But more bewildering were these two clips, the first the 1934 ‘Minstrel Man’ from Kid Millions
Apart from it being cool that Lucille Ball is in this, I sat wondering in what insane ideological space the whole of America was in to make such a musical number possible, such plunging necklines and singing about loving a minstrel man when Black men were being lynched in the South for even looking the wrong way at a white woman.
Their number from Tin Pan Alley (1940) is even crazier:
I couldn’t stop thinking about Emmet Till through the whole of this damn number. What the actual fuck. Never in a million years could I have imagined such a thing in 1940. In struggling to make sense of it, I think a partial answer is that the category of youth allowed Harold Nicholas to be non-threatening enough for ‘Minstrel Man’, and the category of ‘performing slave’ to be non-threatening enough for Tin Pan Alley (and the absence of sexual innuendo or physical contact). And yet. It doesn’t really explain it to my satisfaction.
Nothing does. Think of Billie Holiday singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939: Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze / Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees. The two performances together somehow make white power and violence even more terrifying in ways I am unable to understand. Perhaps it is the impossibility of reconciling these two things that is the most terrifying, how do you fight what is impossible to understand?
World War II would start to move change along again, Fayard would be drafted into the Jim Crow Army’s laundry brigade.
The Pirate (1948), with Gene Kelley, was the first film where Black and white dancers interacted together, as something like equals (where Gene Kelley, who is a superb dancer, is struggling to keep up in fact).
Still the brothers’ speaking roles were cut from the final film, they remained listed as a specialty act.
Bruce Goldstein writes of all those they influenced:
The dancer’s dancers, their fans have included Gene Kelly, who teamed up with them in The Pirate; Bob Fosse and Gregory Hines, whose first acts were modelled on them; ballet legends George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov; Michael Jackson, who once had Fayard as a dance coach; and Fred Astaire, who named their Stormy Weather ‘staircase’ number the greatest of all musical sequences.
Yet watching this talk I was struck by how much better all of those dancers and all of their performances could have been in a world without racism, where the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers could have found a rightful respect and a rightful place in musicals and movies. The leading roles they deserved. The space to further develop their art. Instead they moved to Paris. After four years Fayard moved home, because home is home, you know? No one should have to leave home to feel like a human being. No one should have to choose between performing with his brother or being treated like a human being. Harold had to, chose the second for a time. Remained in Paris. Ended up coming home to be with his brother.
Here they are reunited at the Hollywood Palace in 1965. Fayard is 51.
How wonderful they are. How angry I remain at this larger context and history.
Finally to end, and to end on the wonderful just as the talk did, the most wonderful routine of all (of all!) from Stormy Weather, which we are lucky enough to have tickets to see on the big screen on Sunday!
I am going to learn to tap dance. I will not be good, but perhaps I might come to express some of my joy with my feet in such a way…
My last day at the farm, sheep-shearing day which I am so happy I got to see. It hardly seemed real to be leaving, hardly seems I was there now I am in Bristol. Everything fades so fast, though the soreness of my arms and tiredness implies it was in fact real.
Today as I sat at the train station — before being joined by an Afro-Carribean pensioner on a day-trip from Bristol doing her photography who boldly stated that Blair and Bush should be brought to the Hague for prosecution for their wars that were for nothing more than oil and was a bit taken aback I think when I wholeheartedly agreed so continued on with her arguments as if I had disagreed — before being joined by her, I was thinking how much I have enjoyed my time so far. I feel like I’ve been cracked open a little bit, horizons expanded a little bit so I have more room to grow. There is all this new experience that I can now own as mine, and the humility of knowing it could fill a thimble of what there is to know.
Today the sheep-shearer came. Martin. I watched him work and like yesterday herding sheep with T I was hit by just how very beautiful human beings are when they are in their element doing things they are expert in. I think sometimes this is the fascination of sport, because in office life, city life, you almost never see this. You forget just how amazing it is to watch someone with true expertise move and perform the very difficult tasks that they are best at. It seems effortless, every movement is sure, practiced, with the weight of years behind it. It looks easy, but you know it is the opposite.
It struck me that in this kind of physical labour you can find one aspect of true beauty visible nowhere else.
I will miss it the way I miss stars. Both of these things, I think, are things generally lacking in urban modern life, a reminder to be a little humbler in how we walk on the earth.
He had already done a few hundred sheep this morning before he came to do our 51 (the ewes with lambs will be shorn later in the summer) — most farms have several hundred at least. He spends three months a year in New Zealand shearing sheep like this every day — there are farms there with 80,000 of the things. Teams spend weeks shearing. Then there is part of his year traveling up and down England shearing sheep every day, and he has just added winter months in Finland and Latvia to the rotation — sheep there are kept inside for whole of the winter into the very late spring.
It never occurred to me that people could travel the world shearing sheep. A different kind of migration than what we usually hear about.
In England, where there is barn capacity (unlike the farm where I was working though plans are for that to soon change), ewes are often shorn in December before they lamb, and then kept inside until spring. They only need an inch and a half to two inches of wool coat to be perfectly happy outside in the winter weather, the rest of that immensely heavy fleece has all been bred for our own use.
The sheep file up this ramp — it was easier than I expected though often enough a ewe grew tired of waiting there and backed a waiting line right back into the pen. Often enough one of the stupid things sat stubbornly sideways across the entrance blocking it. They snorted and started around the pen when I got in to encourage them up. They act as if they are afraid of you every time you move, but when you are still you often feel their hot breath on your hands, and they will attempt to nibble away at wellies and sweater and jeans.
The shearer grabs them under their chin and by the foreleg and as he pulls them down he flips them over and there they lie strangely quiescent for the most part as he follows the same routine in removing their fleece, moving their dead-weight deftly to do so with practiced holds. Off the great thing comes. It is an amazing thing to watch.
I was expecting someone burley and older and grizzled. Not a rather puckish looking slender guy who is very possibly stronger than anyone else I have ever met.
The clippers are razor sharp and the skin very thin though the fleece is generally ready to come off at this point, seemed mostly to just peel away. From scattered conversation it also seems that certain kinds of sheep are much easier in this respect to shear than others, and some fleeces much more ready to come off. On one of the ewes who kicked there was a deeper cut, and he sewed it up himself there and then with something very thick and a huge needle.
That made me a little queasy I confess.
T rolled up the fleeces as they came off, into bundles that filled these massive great sacks that need massive muscles to haul into trucks and make this a bit more of a manly occupation than it needs to be. The sacks belong to the wool board, a cooperative that collects the wool from around the country and sells it all for the best price possible for large and small farmers alike. I love this, the only problem for T & I is that they don’t get a check for the wool until the following year. Not a huge problem for large farms, but often quite difficult for small holdings as you could imagine.
Sheep are so funny when shorn, but so clearly very happy and they even frisked a bit like lambs might — these were the year-old ewes who still hadn’t lambed, so still young I suppose.
He did the two ewes that didn’t lamb and the ewe whose lamb died and the four rams as well — those last cost quite a bit more trouble, and then one of them jumped the hurdles, a rather astonishing feat for something so heavy. An annoying one too as it meant a much more tiring day for us. Martin’s sheep-dog Jack helped round him up which was immensely helpful, but it meant he ended up penned separately with two of the shorn ewes so we had to separate them, get all the ewes into the orchard, get the rams together, load them up into the trailer, and return them to their fields.
We had the best bacon butties I have ever eaten when we finally had done. Showers and hot water seem extra special as well.
And then there I was waiting for the train. Feeling a little sad to be going I confess. Before I left I got a shot of the very helpful poster of sheep, cattle and pig breeds, though a bit of reflection from the sunny day
Wonderful thing to do, this farming malarkey, though I am quite happy to have a good long rest before me.
With my article on psychogeography and race and the city done and dusted and accepted by Salvage, I suppose I should finally finish off these half finished blogs collecting my favourite quotes from tom mcdonaugh’s wonderful book of new translations, the situationists and the city. There were a lot of them, too many for one post really, so I’ve mixed it up a bit with Wark’s Beach Beneath the Street to look at Constant and Jorn, my favourite piece by Ivan Chtcheglov and adventures in Limehouse. This one on Guy Debord, and one more and then I am done.
I liked Chtcheglov’s piece so much more than these more widely quoted pieces from Guy Debord, but they’re still interesting. Also infuriating. From ‘Introduction to a critique of urban geography’
(Les Lèvres nues no. 6 (September 1955)):
Of the many sagas in which we take part, with or without interest, the sole thrilling direction remains the fragmentary search for a new way of life.
I do like that very much. But then there comes the causal reference to an ‘illiterate Kabyle’ that I hate, and hate also that he (or she) remains unnamed. It taints the definition that follows, though it is an interesting one…
The word psychogeography, suggested by an illiterate Kabyle to designate the general phenomena with which a few of us were preoccupied around the summer of 1953, is relatively defensible. It does not stray from the materialist perspective of the conditioning of life and thought by objective nature… Psychogeography will aim to study the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic milieu, consciously planned or not, acting directly on the affective comportment of individuals.
I enjoy their fanciful parallels:
It has already been a long time that one has been able to say the desert is montheistic. Would it seem illogical, or devoid of interest, to declare that the quarter running in Paris between the Place de la Contrescarpe and the rue de l’Arbaléte inclines rather to atheism, to oblivion, and to the disorientation of customary routines?
I like this as well, with its quote that brings us back to King Lear, or Faulkner, both of whom would have found Haussman rather incomprehensible. I do wonder how historical it is for governments to want open spaces for the rapid circulation of troops however, so what exactly is he trying to say there…
It is right to possess a historically relative idea of the utilitarian. The concern to have at one’s disposal open spaces allowing for the rapid circulation of troops and the use of artillery against insurrections was at the origin of the beautification plan adopted by the Second Empire. But from any standpoint other than that of law and order, Haussman’s Paris is a city built by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (59)
On privilege, of which Guy Debord had more than a little really, and some other interesting things:
Since we run into, even with such slight justification, the idea of privilege, and since we know with what blind fury so many people–who are nevertheless so little privileged–are willing to defend their mediocre advantages, we are forced to declare that all these details partake of an idea of happiness, a received idea among the bourgeoisie, maintained by a system of advertising that includes Malraux’s aesthetics as well as the imperatives of Coca-Cola, and whose crisis must be provoked on every occasion, by every means.
The first of these means are undoubtedly the spreading, with an aim of systematic provocation, of a host of proposals tending to make of life an integral, thrilling game, and the unceasing depreciation of all customary amusements… (60)
The revolutionary transformation of the world, of all aspects of the world, will prove right all the dreams of abundance.
The abrupt change of environment in a street, within the space of a few meters; the obvious division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the strongly sloping contour (with no relation to the unevenness of the terrain) that aimless walks must follow; the appealing or repellent nature of certain places–all this seems to be neglected. (61)
I love the description of beauty here:
…in speaking here of beauty I don’t have in mind plastic beauty–the new beauty can only be a beauty of situation–but solely the particularly moving presentation, in one case and the other, of a sum of possibilities.
But I am not so sure of the usefulness of impostures in achieving any kind of aims at all, much as I love their maps:
The forging of psychogeographic maps, and even various impostures like correlating (with little justification or even completely arbitrarily) two topographical representation, can contribute to illuminating certain displacements of a nature indeed not so much gratuitous but utterly insubordinate to usual attractions–attractions of this order being catalogues under the term tourism, that popular drug as repugnant as sports or purchasing on credit. (62)
So I’ll just throw in a few quotes from ‘Plan for rational improvements to the city of Paris’ (Potlatch no. 23, 13 October 1955), that exemplify all of the division of my feelings between loving their challenge and their call to reimagine the city, retheorise the city, rethink how we live in the city and move through it — and everything else that shows a lack of empathy, compassion, respect or connection to the real struggles of the time.
Everyone agrees to reject the aesthetic objection, to silence the admirers of the portal of Chartres. Beauty, when it is not a promise of happiness, must be destroyed.
Gil J. Wolman demanded the complete suppression or falsification of all information about departures (destinations, times, etc). This would encourage dérive.
I was trying to imagine the chaos this would cause with trains, the lifeline between myself and my own true love and the horrible thought of heading in an opposite direction from him when trying to get to Bristol and wanting to hit Mr. Gil J. Wolman. Is a dérive forced upon you by a half-baked French intellectual still a dérive? I think not.
This same article asks
Is it possible to see a cemetery without thinking of Mauriac, Gide or Edgar Faure? (70)
Which I found somehow irrepressibly funny for some reason, but that brought to mind another ridiculous prank by Marcel Mariën as related in ‘The Commanders Gait’ (Les Lèvres nues no. 5, June 1955) where he moved crosses around in a graveyard to be playful, to ‘favourably stimulate the minds of those who visited this spot…’ (57).
Fuck that guy, even if this is simply a provocation. What made it worse was that he wanted to move rich people’s grave markers but they’re all massive stone things, so instead he wrote of moving the humble wooden crosses of the poor, fucking with people’s relationships with their dead and every belief they hold most dear, rather than their perceptions of space or any empty boredom of their lives (presuming this exists). It highlights the arrogance of young intellectuals who think they know best, which means they are never able to think very deeply or learn from who and what is around them. To me this kind of thing (and it is hardly unique) makes harder attempts to take seriously this movement more or less as a whole.
So I’ll return to fragments… back to to Guy Debord, and the ‘Theory of the dérive’ (Les Lèvres nues, no. 9, November 1956)
I enjoyed the dig at the surrealists:
An insufficient distrust of chance, and of its always reactionary ideological use, condemned to a dismal failure the famous directionless ramble undertaken in 1923 by four Surrealists… (79)
But on the whole I found this less interesting than I had hoped, being very definitional…useful but not so interesting.
Dérive‘s lessons permit the drawing up of the first surveys of the psychogeographic articulations of a modern city. Beyond the reconnaissance of unitary ambiances, of their main components, and of their spatial localization, their principal axes of passage, their exits, and their defenses would be perceived.
This I liked, but it’s fairly obvious after all:
The distances that effectively separate two regions of a city are measured, distances that cannot be gauged with what the approximate vision of a map may have you believe.
Such certainty, I can’t imagine feeling this kind of certainty about everything, whether hopeful posturing or not:
Everything leads us to believe that the future will precipitate the irreversible transformation of current society’s comportment and setting. One day, cities will be built for dérive. Certain areas that already exist may be used, with relatively light touching up. Certain people that already exist may be used. (85)
What is it about Guy Debord that makes me hope his vision of city built for dérive won’t actually come true?
For more on situationists and psychogeography…
Parkland Walk is an extraordinary thing to find in London — it removes you from the city and carries you through it at the same time. You catch glimpses of buildings through the trees, everywhere little paths join it, allowing people to enter and exit from their streets of concrete and brick and stone. Each such path or stairway stands as a tantalising road not taken.
Never do you lose the feeling you have somehow escaped the city for a while into a cathedral of green.
It carries you along with quite a number of other people.
Past these wonderful ruins of the old train platforms
Through tunnels of leaves
Through tunnels of stone and brick, covered with a generally higher quality of graffiti art than I am used to in this city
past alcoves with sprites [as we found out later, a spriggan] smiling down on you
And nearing the end in Highgate, a meadow, with a dirt trail that invites you along
To find the bats:
Surely we can do this with all of our disused railway lines. A welcome breath of peace and beauty, a place for birds and wildlife, and a safe place to walk that many people can integrate into their daily routines, and the rest of us can enjoy from time to time.
But doesn’t everyone after going to see one? Especially Cirque Berzerk, it is dark, twisted, extraordinary. It turns you on like a flame. You are in hell, amongst the dead, and as I have often imagined, the dead are fascinating and deeply sexy. They rebel against the world as it is, they embrace difference, and they wear great clothes.
And I have so many ideas. And an even greater appreciation for the benefits of flexibility, so I have taken up the quest to achieve a back walk-over once more. Especially now my arm has alllmost completely healed from the bike accident.
But I know I will never approach the effortless mastery and beauty of what I saw tonight. I loved most the two men, the courtship, the push and pull, the yes I want you no I don’t as they danced and then flew…impossible grace and power evenly matched, and long aching lines of desire spun out in geometric shapes of pure muscled strength and the sensuous curves of yielding. Limbs twining together high in the air, breaking free, and the empty space between them as beautiful as their bodies linked together in defiance of gravity.
And trampolines! They had trampolines! Two of them with a large wall in between, and four brothers flipping, falling, somersaulting in bewildering and marvelously choreographed fashion from trampoline to wall to trampoline to right over the wall to trampoline. I hardly knew which to watch and my stomach clenched in the spectacular confusion of it all, sure that such glorious madness could not continue indefinitely…
And then the skeletons, in goth dress, white porcelain masks like dolls. Their bodies moved with the jerking movements of marionettes, bones animated and dancing, skulls bobbing with their steps, moving from graceful skill to skillful awkwardness, all of it requiring an incredible control over every part of the body that was breathtaking.
There were cross-dressing caberet dancers who put on a hell of a show, and all of the dancers were phenomenal. Normally I hate clowns, but the fire breathing drunk in the dirty suit and cross face and conical hat, I loved him. He went from iconic figure of shabby Victorian fantasy on stilts, to clunky shoes and an intoxicated stumble, and pulled a hat out of a rabbit. There was a woman who did the most extraordinary things while in handstand position on…stilts as well I suppose, I have no idea what to call them! The trapeze artist was gorgeous, and the woman who wrapped and unwrapped herself in two pieces of red silk high above the ground, also gorgeous. A man who balanced on barrels and boards and towers of multiple moving parts…a couple who went through the kama sutra in ways only impossibly gifted gymnasts can, and the three in hoops high in the air at the very end when the woman in red comes into her own. And there was a midget in drag with an unforgettable face and a bad temper, and whoever put the music together for this approaches genius. And those playing the music as well. And if I am forgetting anything it is only because it is late. But my eyes were wide, my lips parted, and my breath caught for the duration, there was nothing that wasn’t spectacular and I haven’t enjoyed a performance so much in ages.
I woke up Sunday morning, fell back asleep, had a brilliant dream, woke up again, made coffee. It was a bit of a late night at Allegra’s house party the night before, reggaeton and some dancing, beer and a contact high. So I treated myself, and lay in bed reading The Urban Question by Manuel Castells and maybe dozed a bit more through that, it’s heavy going. Though good for a chuckle when he starts to rumble with Lefebvre if you’re an urban planning nerd like me…
And then Bev called to say they were heading north after all, so I threw on some clothes. Jeans and a T-shirt here in the LA sunshine, but by the time we arrived in Gorman on the I-5 it was snowing.
Snowing! I love the inconsistencies of snow in Southern California a short drive from home, and the brightly capped peaks that lie to the left of the 5.
I have no proof, I took shots of the wet flakes in vain, and nothing was sticking. But Gorman is coloured beautiful with flowers,
even though the poppies and trumpet flowers were closed up tight against the weather. Wish I had that ability as well, I took this shot through my tears, they were rolling down my cheeks from the cold of the wind. Needless to say I was not prepared for snow, though I did have a sweater. We drove the 5 and then down along the 166, past row upon row of grapes, peaches, citrus trees. Past oil derricks and the weathered wood of abandoned buildings and bridges with their twisted rusted metal. And up into the hills and down again onto Carrizo Plain.
It was a day of wide expanses, a world of sun and shadow. And salt flats. And flowers.
The great San Andrea’s fault runs down through the basin, plain to the view, and if California ever cleaves in two with half of it falling into the ocean? It will crack along this line, this understated source of seismic unrest and quaking earth. It’s quite extraordinary to think you could walk along this slight cleft in the ground and never know the power that lies beneath you.
The flowers, our reason for driving, were incredible carpets of yellow. Poppies were all hiding their heads and we only saw a few clumps of lupins, but the various sunflowers?
Dancing in the wind…exuberant, short lived, glorious. As we walked up this mountainside, crickets sprang from underfoot, hundreds of them, and they sang low and sweet and from all directions. And all of this is almost side by side with Soda lake. It is filled entirely by run off from its large basin, and sometimes dries almost completely. The water leaves an eerie beauty in its wake, mud encrusted with brilliantly white alkaline salts.
Death and life once again, I find them everywhere!
The drive back homeward was full of afternoon light and storm clouds, and great expanses of rolling hills that are one of the landscapes I love best.
And one of the best shots of the year below. The Pogues were playing, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die, black hell! Hell’s ditch.” And I don’t know I disagree, which gives an enormous sense of pleasure and transgression to be out in this beautiful world and joyful, a day stolen from the world’s ravages
The sun was setting as we drove through McKittrick, and then Buttonwillow, and I caught this shot of grower owner an operated gin, cotton gin I imagine! I remember reading about them in school though I’ve really no idea what a cotton gin does…still, cooperatives make me happy, especially when the sky is rosy and their surroundings beautiful.
We stopped to eat, and then drove back down over the grapevine, the dark sky carpeted with millions of stars the way it should be. And so while I could possibly name a couple of things that could make me happier with their presence, being happy is quite enough.
I’m still impossibly sad. So this is reflecting on past glories. We headed east from Frogtown on Monday. Frogtown will get its very own post because it’s such an amazing place, but today it is the river. A piece of it, because there was too much.
Here is one of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful places I’ve encountered in L.A., and one that actually scared me. You are always being watched here. And no one can hear you scream.
But enough of the melodramatics, I respectfully took no pictures of the watchers, so let me show you the amazing and incredible bridge.
This is the outside, but it has unguessed depths, and that’s where you are being watched from. More of my people with nowhere else to go but the depths and darkness.
The ground is littered with spray cans and strange sculptures of rocks and wood piled high on top of each other. The world of graf artists and those seeking some kind of home coming together.
And the cars, I don’t know how they got down here, or when.
I love twisted pieces of rusted metal, I find them…beautiful. I think beautiful is the right word. But it’s a dark, jagged, decaying beauty of sharp lines and curves and deep shadows.
And the combination of rusted twisted metal, architecture, nature, and graffiti? Stunning.
The graffiti was incredible, I have to go back. You could spend days I imagine, documenting some of the tags, and a sunny day would be better. But I love rivers as much as dark places, and the river has nothing of the bridge’s enclosed creepiness, with all of the characters.
The view looking out from the caves was incredible too, if you like mazes of concrete and bridges and freeways
And to turn this place into a home? Someone had tied up things all along the fence. If I were a believer I would say this was brujeria, a witchcraft protection or warning, a wrapping of potent charms in black plastic bundled with flowers and wrapped in yellow cord and shoelace.
I’m not much of a believer at any rate. This guy was just fun.
From here we headed further east, even though that required cutting cross country. But more on that later…
Every now and then people ask me what I do for fun…I enjoy life quite thoroughly and I could knock out a long list, but today I’ll just look at one…riding my bike through the garbage-filled alleys of downtown L.A. and taking pictures. And writing about it. I believe I am allllmost alone in this, which is why Jose is one of my favourite friends.
Riding through this sort of place is not so fun on your own. I don’t mind the smells, or the rats of course (though I do sometimes worry about the bubonic plague, people still die of it every year in Arizona)…the east side of downtown is industrial, it holds the remnants of skid row and sweatshops. Its alleys are the city’s margins where everything is swept to keep it out of sight and out of mind, to me they are a strange beauty curled around a dangerous sliver, they are all that is fucked under urban capitalism and the bright face of rebellion against it. They are full of rats, syringes, deals, desperation, drunkenness, art like you’ve never seen it before.
Don’t get me wrong, I like nature too. But there is something about it here…
We went down an alley alongside a burned out garment factory, stark brick and charcoal against the sky
As I was taking pictures two men came up to us, one white and one black, the same hollowed cheeks, dull eyes, brittle frames. They were arguing, voices rasp-edged and angry. They came closer, voices smoothing into friendly calm, they said that the fire had started in the blanket warehouse and spread, an electrical problem. They said they did not beg, they would sing. And they did. And it was beautiful, perfect harmony, perfect rhythm, clearly the fruit of long practice. We gave them some money, Jose mocked me for enjoying it too obviously, and then we passed them again on our way out, their voices rough with edges anew.
We passed rottng fruit, and a shrine to la virgen in a triangular parking garage hung with last years Christmas decorations, we passed shops full of cheap clothes, vendors selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon and tiny live turtles. We passed people hurrying home. We passed a sweatshop awning for a label once called Affluence…but the Affluence had been scraped off and it’s ghost painted over with Shanna K. Beside it was the label Felicity and the alley in front strewn with trash. We passed L.A. Babe…
We passed the extraordinary row of shops that sell everything you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta
There are fashions in pinatas, superheroes come in and out of style, barbie is replaced by bratz, seasonal variations mean Frankentein and green faced witches are followed by santa claus, there are usually huge corona bottles that can only be for adults…I would admit I would have a great deal of fun swinging blindfolded at a pinata once again.
We found an alley guarded by its own figurehead, or screaming a warning
I suppose if Jose hadn’t been there this just might have scared me a very little bit. From here we reached a couple alleys full of the most extraordinary graffitti art I’ve seen in some time, worth stepping into rotting garbage with my flipflopped foot, and fending off the advances of a very drunk Indian (see what I mean about the importance of traveling companions!).
And it got darker and darker and so we went faster and faster. We passed more solitary walkers in the dusk, more working girls, we passed this place
There are some dive bars even I won’t go into, and this is right up there with el Chubasco. We ended up at Olvera Street and hung out and looked around and ate, and then back home. I made Jose come back through the Terminator tunnel because I wanted to take pictures of that, but all of the damn lights were working! I don’t believe I have ever seen that. Ever. Perhaps that alone was worth taking a picture. But I love it when all the lights are off, when the tiles shine with the reflections from the white of headlights, the red of brakelights, the green of the semaforos. But not tonight. So we rode past the long line of homeless folks already sleeping.
And two last images to finish, this of amazing skill and art and terror
A face of suffering or sleep or resignation somehow emerging unbidden from a painted-over, tagged-up street sign. This world is full of such awful, terrible, beautiful things.