“a Prisoner of the White Lines”

July 1st, 2008 § 5 comments

Road culture, as I understand it, was a subversive kind of travel, an inexpensive and interesting way to meet people and get somewhere at the same time. The blue collar workers nomadically wandering the country tied poverty and hitchhiking together with the road. For Kerouac’s intellectuals it was a kind of uncensored way of seeing the country. There seems to be whole generations that took buses, trains, and cars before commercial airlines. An elderly lady without teeth I met recently told me about taking her children on a bus from New York to Washington D.C., and it seemed instantly odd—they took a bus? Hitchhiking is the predominant activity in On The Road, and the novel seems more about who was met on the way than about the act of traveling from the east coast to the west and back again. Jumping into (and probably out of) freight cars was a practiced art and an acceptable mode of transportation. Neal Cassady stole and dumped cars to make his way across the U.S. And yet I have no idea how true any of these myths, for lack of a better word, are. What I know of “the road” has been passed down from movies, books, songs, various elderly people, and even images. There is something very mythic in the idea of driving great distances. Perhaps because of where I am from, the road is wrapped up in the notion of the west, expansive landscapes of nothingness, winding through farms into cities.

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Southern Opulence

May 23rd, 2008 § 0 comments

The moment people arrive in town they demand to see “the south.” Granted Richmond provokes this sort of the response, it clings to its history with a vigor that California lacks. Monument Ave. is a lovely tree lined street boasting statues of southern heroes, in stark contrast to the rest of America. I have gotten so oddly used to seeing Stonewall and Lee that it seemed strange that M, at a distance, guessed that the statue in front the of the capital building was Grant. Grant, I thought, now what is he doing there? But it is hard, I have found, to really get a sense of “the south”, usually referring to pre-civil war northern notions of what the south was, because if those notions even existed at all they are cloudy and hidden now. Susan, who has lived in Richmond for over twenty years, often says the people here cherish their origins and family tree, something I have never seen proof of. Even going to Monticello is tempered by the man Jefferson was, an inventor, an intellectual, and despite his contradictions and flaws, he was pretty interesting if only for the “stuff” he collected in his house.

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Art Basel, Miami Beach

December 14th, 2007 § 0 comments

miami

On the surface Florida, not necessary Miami, seems a lot like California. It is warm, the sun is almost always out, the suburban ares have the same stores built in the same manner, but more than a quick glance around shows a place that is quite different. The relationship of the land to the people and their habits feels even more precarious and artificial, if that is possible, than in California. For example, the beach culture appears to be similar, when you walk into a drug store towels, sunscreen, and flip flops are the first thing one sees, and yet the beaches in Delray are different. There is a startling lack of young people, and the sand is imported from elsewhere as the beaches just erode. There is a sharp line where one can see where the real sand ends and the imported begins, when you brush it off it leaves scratches. While it is warm, South Florida lacks the lazy breezy quality I associate with beach culture on the west coast, we don’t have storm shutters, poisonous bugs, etc. Even Miami, which has a subculture similar to that of California, where English in many places is hard to come by, has an edge and sleaziness that I do not feel even in LA. Miami ended up reminding me of Las Vegas, where the non-beach side felt like old Vegas, with the run down original hotels and hookers with breasts down to their waists. Miami Beach reminds me of the strip, with the new hotels that are almost like malls for the upper middle class, but have a sleaze all unto themselves. Talking about Art Basel today with the vising artist, she said that the art world attracted a certain kind of sleaze. I am only comparing South Florida to California because it did at first really remind me of southern California, and the longer I stayed the more I noticed the differences and what they said about the people who live there and the place they inhabit, if inhabited carelessly and obliviously.

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New York City (a first visit)

September 1st, 2007 § 3 comments

inwood

Getting into the city mid afternoon I decided to take a wander by myself. My destination was that of the Museums but I really had no clear plan of going directly to them, and so I found myself strolling aimlessly through central park. I was struck by how vast, green, and beautiful it was, not the dirty trash filled place I somehow had in my mind. I wondered as I thought these things, why did I have that preconceived notion and where did I get it from? In my rational and thinking mind I have only ever heard good things about New York, and outside from my mothers fear of me not being picked up from the airport, I really had no reason at all to think ill of the city. It is a place surrounded by myth, a place I have heard a lot about in my art classes and from my friends who lived there, but I could not drudge up any real reason why I should, on some level or another, think of central park (using this example in a specific but general way) as a dirty place. It was this contradiction of expectations I hardly even knew I had that took me by surprise, and caused me to enjoy the architecture and neighborhoods perhaps even more than I would have normally.

Doing “things” (sightseeing) seemed obligatory as it was a first visit, but I know that what I will enjoy more in return visits is just walking and looking, taking in finer details each time I go. Caught in conversation with an overly gregarious New Yorker and dragged about to look at some things near our meeting point, I also realized how many stereotypes of character we associate with that place. Jon’s dad’s gestures and voices were mimicked in front of me by this man, as he described personalities of the city. He sounded like a movie character, or at the very least an actor, but acted unabashedly honest and proud of the place he is from. I could never show or speak of LA to a stranger in that way, the best they could get out of me might be “it is kinda fun” as flashes of Annie Hall’s LA scenes play silently in my mind.

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Notes on Nostalgia

September 10th, 2006 § 1 comment

castaic
For someone who is hopelessly romantic in my conception of reality, I feel very little nostalgia for very few places. I suppose it is striking to me because I used to. When I first moved away from home I had little desire to return, but when I went back for visits I felt weakened by familiar places and their powerful memories. I could not help driving around Castaic looking at my old house, noting all the little stains and stresses I had long since disregarded. It was such a satisfactory experience that it made leaving it again equally pleasurable knowing it would all still be there when I came back, in some form or other–it would change and I would change and so we would meet again.

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