Leslie Le Mon's Blog

June 12, 2014

Difficult Beauty

The beauty of the desert is a challenging beauty, alien, and sere. Flat expanses of salt and sand and mineral are softened, slightly, by clumps of spiky-haired vegetation. Every great once in awhile, a flash of distant water, some thirsty trickle bounded by jutting stones, or a flash of fragile color, some wildflower that dares to bloom in that washed-out world of tans, olives, and duns.

Now and again a hill breaks the monotony. It is not an old Appalachian hill, worn smooth by time and the elements. It is still, as geological time is reckoned, quite a young hill, all angles and sharp edges casting crisp contour shadows under the pitiless desert sunlight.

In the distance—always in the distance, like mirages that have no substantive reality—purple jags of low mountains zipper the horizon. Roads run parallel to these distant monuments, but not toward them. If you went off-road, arrowed toward the mountains on horseback, galloping across the mineral flats and spiky vegetation, would you reach them before thirst closed your throat?

The mountains’ indistinct remoteness discourages such mad feats of exploration.

The distant mountains are the only indistinct elements of the landscape. Everything else—the flat sands, the serrated foliage, the sharp-edged, youthful hills, the limpid air, the sky so starkly clean—is in startling focus. Everything unmistakable for what it is.

That is a road, that is a cactus, that is a desert bird vectoring in the clear sky, those are the bleached bones of some unlucky creature. There are no illusions here in the desert, no disguises, nothing to filter or mediate or prettify the images you see.

In a world increasingly filtered through the manipulated images of marketing, media, virtual reality, whimsical architecture, and even our own smart phone apps, deserts might be one of the few places left on the planet where what you see is, genuinely, what you see.
Hence the alien quality of the desert, the sensation of viewing the landscape of the moon. Overlook the few billboards and occasional mining plant, and desert travelers might be navigating a lunar surface.

But there is life here, though it is often camouflaged. Life blends with its surroundings by imitating the angled patterns and washed-out colors of the land, or by burrowing under the parched soil.

In a land of difficult beauty, life must melt into the wan world, or dig under it, to survive.
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Published on June 12, 2014 07:46 Tags: desert, nature, nevada, travel

April 13, 2014

Vinyl Destinations

[In celebration of National Record Store Day on April 19, 2014, I'm blogging my never-published "LA City Guide" piece about the beauties of vinyl and the shops that sell it.]

If you grew up spinning Floyd and Zepp *way* too loud on turntables in the basement, you understand the near-mystic allure of listening to music on vinyl. The warmsizzle-pop-hiss of an LP isn’t a flaw– it’s a strand of music.

Angelenos and tourists who miss the hiss can rediscover the natural beauty of records at one of the music shops – mostly mom-n-pop, pocket-sized caves – where L.A.’s vinyl renaissance thrives. The city that launched bands as diverse as the Doors, the Beach Boys, N.W.A., the Go-Gos, the Byrds, Black Flag, Metallica, Tierra, and the Runaways is, not surprisingly, a center of old, new, and rare vinyl.

You don’t have to be a hipster-of-a-certain-age to understand vinyl’s appeal.
Digital technology paints every overproduced note with unsettlingly perfect clarity, so music lovers of all ages turn to vinyl for a toothy sound that feels deeper and more real. For oldsters it might be nostalgia. For the D.I.Y. generation, the sizzle of vinyl feeds a craving for authenticity.

Art lovers worship vinyl’s eye-popping cover art (which is never as seductive when shrunk to fit CD sleeves or clickable “download” icons). Album covers make an ideal canvas across which images flow in a swoon-worthy melt of color. There is something primal in eyeballing a great piece of cover art, picking up the album, and turning it over in your hands. Holding an album is the musical equivalent of the hunter’s “proof of kill”.

Amoeba Music is the King Kong of L.A. music shops, boasting an encyclopedic selection, expert staff, and frequent concerts. Amoeba came early to the
vinyl renaissance. It launched in Berkeley in 1990, opening the Hollywood store a few blocks from the iconic Capitol Records building in 2001. Scoping records at Amoeba on Sunset is like digging through the exhaustive vinyl collection in your cool friend’s basement pad, if he had a really big basement, say, the size of an underground NORAD hangar. In a contemporary twist, Amoeba is now digitizing a curated vinyl collection in their Vinyl Vaults.

At the other extreme, small record shops are quirky labors of love launched by owners who share the magic of vinyl with their neighbors in historic districts that have tumbled into decay – hello, reasonable rents! – but are trying to rise from the ashes. Local culture – art, eats, and vinyl – often play a big part in steering a depressed neighborhood back from the brink. These little shops can feel held together by twine, tape, and wishful thinking – but deep music passion and knowledge are there.

Small music shops excel at handcrafted touches like the silver labels affixed to many records at Mount Analog, album descriptions ranging from the workmanlike to the poetic (consider “bubbling funk,” or comparing an album’s sound to time spent “in Laurel Canyon”). Mid-size shops have their charms and treasures too, like the bargain bins at the Last Bookstore, where a discerning customer can purchase the “Carousel” LP (cover graced by an impossibly young Shirley Jones) for 99 cents.

Four fabulous vinyl destinations for music lovers in L.A.:

1. Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Amoeba Music –
6400 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 245-6400 | www.amoeba.com
Hours: 10:30 am – 11:00 pm Mon – Sat, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm Sun

CDs, DVDs, and armadas of vinyl. Buy, trade, sell. Concerts and events. Vast selection.


2. Shoot from the Hipster

The Last Bookstore –
453 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 488-0599 | http://lastbookstorela.com
Hours: 10 am – 10 pm Mon – Thu, 10 am – 11 pm Fri – Sat, 9 am – 9 pm Sun

Used books and vinyl. Art galleries. Events. Quirky, artsy, gritty downtown hipster-haven.


3. On the Dark Side

Mount Analog –
5906 ½ Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 474-6649 | www.climbmountanalog.com
Hours: 12 pm – 8 pm Tue – Sat, 12 pm – 6 pm Sun, Closed Mon

New, indie, and rare vinyl. Dark and edgy, with occult wares like Tarot cards.


4. Cheers!

Wombleton Records –
5123 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(213) 422-0069 | www.wombletonrecords.com
Hours: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm Thu, Fri & Sat, 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm Wed & Sun, Closed Mon & Tue

Classic, imported, and rare vinyl, with a heavy British inflection.
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Published on April 13, 2014 08:30 Tags: hollywood, los-angeles, music, national-record-store-day, records-stores, vintage, vinyl

March 15, 2014

Glitter Gulch

You wouldn’t know it now, but for millennia Las Vegas was a swamp. Over thousands of years it declined into a desert—a desert that entombs fossils by the thousands, remains of prehistoric creatures that roamed the ancient swamp.

Even in its dessert state, the region contains underground water. That means springs. And wells. Over the years, these subterranean waters have refreshed Native American tribes like the Paiute, Mexican explorers (“Las Vegas” is Spanish for “the meadows”), pioneers, Mormon settlers, and miners.

By the early 1900’s, brothels and gambling establishments blossomed in Las Vegas, creating what critics would label a moral “swamp” in the clear desert air. The red light houses and gaming joints catered first to miners, and later
to the workers laboring heroically to build the Hoover Dam.

Once the dam was completed in the mid-1930’s, the workers moved on. But the military was moving in, using the desert for training and testing. The establishments of questionable repute that had welcomed the Hoover Dam workers were just as happy to embrace the military personnel. It was at this time that electricity generated by the brand new dam touched Las Vegas with fire—electric fire—the incandescence that first gave Las Vegas its glow and gleam, and its nickname of “Glitter Gulch”.

Notwithstanding its electric brilliance, Las Vegas was decried by some as anything but a shining beacon of civilization. Attempts to clean up “sin city” are old hat. But its momentum could not be stopped, particularly as local politicians often had stakes in and wholeheartedly supported the establishments under fire by the moral coalitions.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the post-war boom brought two things to Las Vegas: Ambitious mobsters like Bugsy Siegel (who built the Flamingo), and legions of tourists with leisure time and money to burn. It was a potent combination of mobsters who wanted to take suckers’ money, and willing marks who wanted to spend it, a magical cocktail that set the foundation for Las Vegas as we know it today.

The mob—as well as more reputable casino owners—built glitzy and comfortable surroundings for their marks, providing buffets so hearty and so inexpensive that they became legendary, and the best in entertainment. Elvis. Sinatra. Sammy Davis Jr. Heart-stopping showgirls sporting elaborate feathered-and-sequined headdresses that weighed more than the showgirls did. The décor was bright and glittery and colorful and gaudy in a way that the mob and the typical wide-eyed American tourist read as “glamorous”. The modern Las Vegas was born.

In the days before the dangers of nuclear testing were understood, detonations were part of Las Vegas entertainment. You savored cocktails while you and your friends watched a not-so-distant mushroom cloud fill the desert sky, then descend to ground level for steaks and martinis, roulette and a show.

During the ensuing decades, the casinos expanded like mushroom clouds, not only in number, but in size and spectacle. Classic casinos were exploded, imploded, and bulldozed. Massive gambling-and-entertainment palaces rose on their bones. Gambling remained a staple, as well as red light activities, but the morals crowd finally achieved victories in pushing out much of the mob; corporate businessmen and investors largely replaced the gangsters who had put Glitter Gulch on the map.

Las Vegas today can be—and has been—described as a Disneyland for grown-ups, a place of leisure packed with iconic symbols reminiscent of our childhood dreams. Casino resorts embody our fantasies. A pyramid. A castle. Italianate palaces. A compact and idealized New York City. A compact and idealized Paris.

Navigating the casinos of Las Vegas is to navigate a dream, or, rather, a jumble of dreams piled upon dreams. At Caesar’s Palace, towering marble statues mimic treasures of one of the cradles of civilization. At the Bellagio, towering columns of water dance in carefully choreographed movements in the fountain out front, while inside rivers of chocolate flow down a twenty-seven foot tall fountain. Circus Circus presents trapeze and acrobatic acts to dazzle the casual stroller. Treasure Island presents a rousing pirate show. Paris Casino invites you to the top of an elegant replica of the Eiffel Tower.

It would take an entire book to unpack the imagery of today’s Glitter Gulch. Suffice it to say that in every possible way, Las Vegas draws visitors into a dream world where they begin to feel as exotic and interesting and rich as their surroundings, a state in which they are quite likely and quite willing to part with their money.

Marks are feted grandly, enforcing the illusion that every visitor, whether a housewife or painter or banker or subway token collector, is a VIP. Those legendary, nearly free buffets are a thing of the past, but even standard hotel rooms show splashes of elegance, and rates are kept reasonable to invite longer stays. Shows remain big, featuringgenuine superstars like Celine Dion as well as once-superstar talents like magician David Copperfield and brother-and-sister crooners Donny and Marie. Casinos are beautifully decorated, from the lobbies to the pools to the gaming floors, where thousands of gaming tables and slot machines invite visitors to lose their money in big handfuls at the blackjack and craps tables, or penny-by-penny at the slots.

Penny machines are plentiful in every casino. And, as canny casino runners know, it’s surprisingly easy for marks to lose tens, even hundreds of dollars in the humble penny snatchers. Fitted with elaborate interactive visuals, cheerful music, and sound effects that mimic the shimmer of a magic wand or the seductive clinking of coins, penny machines use small, short-term payoffs to entice marks to feed more and more money into them until, suddenly, there is no money left to feed.

Lulled by the plush and glittering surroundings, by a fine prime rib dinner, by a series of brews or colorful cocktails, everyone begins to feel like a player. Every sense is engaged—even scent; enter New York, New York Casino, for example, and you are embraced by the scent of fresh apples which infuses the casino. The apple scent is a reference to New York’s nickname “The Big Apple”. Appropriately enough, the apple is also a classic symbol of temptation, and seduction.

In the perfumed, fantastic world of the Las Vegas casinos and resorts, nothing seems quite real—including money. And so the money flows, in the millions of millions, generally from the visitors to the casinos’ coffers.

If you visit Las Vegas and feel in need of a bracing jolt to restrain your gambling, venture north of “the strip” and the casino district.

To the north you will find dingy little strip malls, and abandoned bungalows that might once have housed brothels, and jigsaw piles of rubble that were once glittering palaces of fun.

To the north you will find smaller, older casinos on their last legs, their dazzle now dimmed and nearly extinct, stranded like islands, last gasps of prosperity in the midst of ruin and decay. The landscape is flat and grey and beige and washed-out and tinted with a spent desperation.

To the north you will find some of the city’s homeless shambling along cracked sidewalks, toothlessly mumbling and brushing strands of lank hair from their sunburned brows. You will wonder if some of the homeless arrived with fat bankrolls that were lost at the gaming tables, on unlucky turns of the roulette wheel.

Las Vegas today has such glimpses of beauty, genuine beauty, from gourmet meals to works of art like the blossom ceiling in the Bellagio’s lobby. And the Vegas shows, the spectacle, the gambling—even at its gaudiest, Las Vegas is a great deal of fun.

But it is a delight to be enjoyed cautiously, and for a brief time only. Robert Frost wrote that“nothing gold can stay”. And it can’t. Not the glimmer of today’s casinos, which will someday be piles of rubble to be carted away. Not the success of the performers now shining on Vegas stages. Ask the fossilized mammoths extracted from Las Vegas soil. They, and the Mexican explorers, and the Mormons, and the mobsters (mostly) are merely memories now.

Nothing gold can stay, even in Las Vegas. Perhaps especially in effervescent Las Vegas, which has always been a place of reinvention. Nothing gold can stay long in Glitter Gulch—and that includes your bankroll.

[For more blog posts and photos please visit www.leslielemonauthor.com]
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Published on March 15, 2014 09:57 Tags: desert, gambling, history, las-vegas, nevada, recreation, travel, urban-exploration

March 7, 2014

Olympians

In the 1970’s my siblings and I were athletic kids growing up in a hamlet in rural New England. When the snow stuck, we dragged our sleds over to a steep hillside that was forested in some stretches, bare in others, and known—due to its generally sandy composition—as “the Sand
Bank”.

At the top of the hill we sat on our sleds—or in some gloriously reckless moments, threw ourselves onto the sleds head-first—and rocketed down the icy slope. Sliding (or sledding) was a particular favorite of ours during the Winter Olympics. In the evenings, we were glued to the Olympics telecasts.
The skating. The skiing. The bobsled. The luge.

After school and on weekends we flung ourselves down the Sand Bank, racing each other, or our own best times and best distances. Sometimes we crashed into tree trunks. Soaring off a hillock dubbed “Dead Man’s Point” we knocked the wind out of ourselves and almost cracked our spines for glory. In our imaginations, we were the Olympians then.

The 2014 Winter Olympics have just concluded. This year I watched them, nightly, attentively, as I haven’t watched an Olympics telecast since I was a kid. Many of the Olympic events are new, unheard of in the 1970’s. Super-slope, for example. And snowboarding. But that Olympic spirit is the same. Like the Tennyson poem we all memorized in high school: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. That quest for Olympic glory.

Glory doesn’t always need to be validated with a medal. Sometimes merely competing is a badge of honor. Sometimes attempting, and then failing with grace and humility, is the prize. To be in the game. To strive. To give one’s all. Not to yield, even if ultimately one doesn’t win. That is Olympian spirit.

Watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, I was struck particularly by the razor’s-edge closeness of many of the competitions, especially the skiing, snowboarding, and downhill events like the bobsled, luge, and skeleton. The difference between winners and losers could be tenths of seconds or points. Hundredths of seconds or points, even. The difference between winning or losing, medaling or not medaling, was the width of a hair. And yet it was everything.

Most of the Olympians interviewed in 2014 were gracious in defeat as well as victory. Winners often remarked that their win was a win on that particular
day. That on any other given day, any one of their Olympian peers could easily have won by a hundredth of a second.

Olympic competitors are firsts among equals. They are all exceptional. They are all magnificently striving figures out of mythology, the kind we don’t encounter any longer outside the dusty pages of Greek history books or the frames of CGI film extravaganzas. To be an Olympian, win or lose, is to be a winner, just as it’s an honor simply to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Not long after the 2014 Winter Olympics concluded, Hollywood held its own titanic competition, the Oscars. The races were closer this year than in many years. The nominees were all so worthy, the wins were like Olympic wins, a
matter of a hundredth of a second, a hundredth of a point. Great entertainers hurl themselves into their roles the way a great skeleton rider will hurl herself down the track, head-first, nothing but the slenderest sled between her and the icy track at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour.

That’s how winners of any stripe move through life, with the wonder and optimism and energy of children, literally or metaphorically diving head-first onto the sled and racing down the hillside. They might win, they might lose. If they lose, it is only by a breath. They have won nonetheless, because they
dared, and strove, first among equals.
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Published on March 07, 2014 08:19 Tags: new-england, olympics, sled, sports, winners, winter

February 24, 2014

A World of Your Imagination

Immersive theme parks—Disneyland being the gold standard—invite visitors into a three-dimensional dream. For each visitor the dream is unique, a collaboration between the dream-like environment which they have entered, and their own imagination. No one’s experience (dream) of Disneyland is the same as another person’s. Not precisely.

Designer Justin Jorgensen and friends launched Dapper Days as a dream-within-a-dream—or a dream-electroplating-a-dream. Harking back to the not-so-long-ago convention of dressing up for a day out (even at a theme park), Dapper Days are organized opportunities for Disneyland visitors to wear their very best.

Dapper Days have grown in scope and popularity every year. Held twice annually, in spring and autumn, the events now include discounted rates at resort hotels like Disneyland’s Grand Californian, lectures on fashion, books on style and etiquette, and pop-up shops where the discerning stylisto or stylista can purchase vintage dresses, suits, hats, eyeglasses, ties, suspenders, and costume jewelry.

The primary point of Dapper Days is for visitors to be fashionable and well-groomed, a goal primarily met by wearing vintage threads, accessories, and hairstyles. One can wear stylish contemporary clothes, but most participants skew vintage, sporting fashions of 1910 – 1960.

Dapper Days are a heady experience. In a space where oversized mice wear costumes and are beloved by millions, where one of the world’s largest train sets circles the park, where pirates still sack the Spanish Main, where a pixie soars eighty feet over a fairy tale castle, and where an elephant really flies, in the midst of a land already given over to fantasy and imagination, the influx of thousands of elegantly turned out visitors in period clothing introduces yet another level of the fantastic.

A young woman in a cloche hat and flowing Depression-era skirt evokes an image of early Nancy Drew. A man in top hat and vest strolls arm-in-arm with a woman twirling a parasol. A soldier in dress uniform is accompanied by a woman sporting red lipstick, a 1940’s pompadour, and 1940’s dress and heels.

There are older participants, but most are young, aged between twenty and thirty-five approximately, clear evidence, should any be required, of the younger generation’s fascination with history. There are solitary dappers, but most navigate the resort in pairs or packs.

They move as graciously as they have dressed, queuing politely in a monstrously long line to ride a riverboat by the hundreds. Once aboard, they stand at the rails of the riverboat, waving in a genteel, smiling manner to the visitors below as the riverboat glides along the shore. It is a grand dream image: Stylish young people of every era of the 1900’s, standing at the rails of a majestic riverboat.

Justin Jorgensen and his colleagues are to be praised for introducing another layer of hallucinatory beauty to spaces already rich with fantasy and symbol. In such ways do designers, dreamers, and visionaries enrich the simulacra in which we increasingly exist.

If you missed Disneyland’s spring Dapper Day, mark your calendars for September 12, 2014. This is an event you must experience personally, your perceptions combining with the whimsical images to create a world of imagination that is all your own. (www.dapperday.com)
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Published on February 24, 2014 09:36 Tags: dapper-day, disneyland, dream, history, imagination, style, vintage

February 8, 2014

Adrenalized Heart

Walking a city is always more raw, and authentic, and authentically raw, than driving through it.

Skimming through a city in a climate-controlled bubble with heated seats and cupholders and favorite-song playlists programmed into the onboard computer, one is too insulated to engage with the city in any meaningful way.

To experience a city, walk it. Suck in lungfulls of smoky-smoggy air. Feel the texture of it under your feet and at the end of your fingertips. Sweat. Pulse with its music, and its sirens. There will be some level of discomfort. There will be some level of surprise. Rather the point.

You might stumble across an art show, a street fair, a long-lost friend, a person in need, a new flavor, a new song, a roiling protest march. Drink it, breathe it, pure and unfiltered. This is your city. These are its people. You have never been closer to your city than here, at the center of its adrenalized heart.
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Published on February 08, 2014 21:35 Tags: authentic, city, industrial, urban-exploration, urbex, walk

January 27, 2014

Mythinformation - "Snow White" Cottages

There are widespread urban legends that the Disney Studios built and/or owned the so-called “Snow White” cottages on the 2900 block of Griffith Park Avenue in L.A. These charming–but tiny–1931 dwellings were built by architect Ben Sherwood in the storybook style that was popular in Southern California during the early decades of the 1900’s–especially in Hollywood. Although Disney’s Hyperion studio was located nearby (from 1926 – 1940), Disney neither built nor owned the Griffith Park Boulevard cottages. It is true (as confirmed by Dave Smith, Disney’s Chief Archivist Emeritus, in a January 2013 D23 Fanfare column) that some Disneyanimators rented the cottages as living spaces; their proximity to the Hyperion studio was too good to pass up. Ham Luske, supervising animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was an occupant of one cottage.

It is possible that the whimsical storybook flavor of the Griffith Park Avenue cottages inspired some of the animators’ Snow White production designs. It would seem impossible to live in a fairy tale cottage, among other fairy tale cottages, while working on Snow White, without the real architecture influencing the animation. A January 2014 visit to the cottage complex by the author and her research associate revealed that the courtyard, which in recent years had fallen on hard times, seems to have been painstakingly renovated, its original charm restored. It is a gem, definitely worth a look if you’re a Disney fan and you’re in the neighborhood. (Just remember that there are tenants in residence; quiet, please.) The Gelson’s supermarket located nearby stands on the site of Walt’s Hyperion studio. A plaque memorializes the significance of the site. And Walt once lived at another nearby (and privately owned) landmark, the house at Lyric and St. George.

[From the upcoming "Disneyland Book of Secrets 2015"]
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Published on January 27, 2014 07:44 Tags: cottage, disneyland, griffith-park, hyperion-studio, los-feliz, snow-white, walt-disney

January 24, 2014

A Quiet Disruption

It always confounds me when pundits worry about the younger generations, about the Millennials (b. circa 1980 – 1999) and the Digitals (b. 2000 – present). All I can picture when those pundits wax gloomy is Mr. Wilson shaking his fist at “Dennis the Menace”. Whenever this happened, Mr. Wilson’s wife, Martha, promptly dosed her husband with a spoonful of his “nerve medicine” and told him to go lie down. Then Martha said something nice to Dennis, and gave him a plateful of cookies. See, Martha got it. Dennis, however irritating, was part of a dynamically disruptive new generation that was going to change the world. He didn’t mean to turn everything upside down. But it was his destiny, and his generation’s.


So, the Millennials and Digitals are less … aggressive than the Boomers were. They aren’t as strident or as chipper as they Boomers were—but they are more stylish. The Millennials and Digitals are going to change the world—are already changing it—in a quietly disruptive way. A politely disruptive way that will ultimately be constructive. Because one of the many things to admire about the younger generations is that they are creators, as well as consumers. They create as well as consume culture, entertainment, design, goods, and technology. And they not only create—they share what they create. With everyone, and anyone. Often for free. They create for the sake of the act of creation, not to become billionaires (although that does, sometimes, happen along the way).


For this new youth, the act of creation is more important than the perfection of that which is created. The artifacts produced and widely shared by the Millennials and Digitals often have an appealingly hand-crafted, heartfelt, “let’s put on a show in the barn” quality. Everything from music to art to video to gadgetry to throw pillows should have a texture—a smudge here, a stray thread showing there. Artifacts that glow with shiny-bright perfection are either dismissed by the M’s and D’s as too finished, or consumed by the M’s and D’s as an act of conscious irony.


What I admire most about the M’s and D’s is their appreciation for the past. Not merely the recent past, but distant (by the American reckoning of time, anyway) history. Shawl collars are back—for men—as are pork pie hats and big dark-framed eyeglasses. And while young men today appear to have stepped out of time machines installed in the 1920’s, 30’s, or 40’s, young women echo the sartorial time warp in their vintage Depression-era dresses and chunky shoes, or their seventies Boho silhouettes. These retro-clad young hipsters are moving into affordably shabby gentrified lofts and houses, and downloading onto their“i”-everythings selections of digitized vinyl classics that could have been heard wafting from open windows on Tin Pan Alley or Don Draper’s apartment.


Which is not to say that today’s young people are not forward-looking. While the M’s and D’s are visiting, even basking in, the past, they are creating the future, which promises to be an increasingly diverse, creative, and communal world, if its designers and future inhabitants are any indication. But our youth has no problem shifting amorphously from the present to the future to the past, and back again, endlessly, and effortlessly.


It’s no accident that many of the programs, films, and video games most popular with this demographic feature supernatural creatures—often stylish reboots of very old classics (see “Grimm” or “Dracula” or “I, Frankenstein” or the “Mass Effect” games). These supernatural beings are typically diverse (racially, ethnically, socioeconomically), but they are always beautiful, frequently ancient, sometimes immortal.


An important quality is their connectedness. Whether they are trying to save the world, or trying to destroy it, they are all up in each other’s business. Among these highly social, communal creatures, one person’s problem or secret or drama ends up impacting everyone else, usually in unexpected ways. Therefore, one person’s problem or secret or drama belongs to everyone.


It is this connectedness that makes it clear that these supernatural beings are avatars for the M’s and D’s (the generations who are linked to each other, almost every moment of every day, via text messages, social media sites, multiplayer online games, and share-sites YouTube and Instagram and Vine). The fictional, supernatural heroes and villains portray how Millennials and Digitals see themselves, or want to see themselves. The fictional worlds the M and D’s avatars inhabit are aspirational as much as they are reflective. M’s and D’s have identified with supernatural characters, banded together in diverse, close-knit, purposeful tribes, since the first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (arguably the prototype for this sort of ensemble) enthralled teen Millennials in the mid-1990’s.


View any 2014 episode of “Dracula” or “Sleepy Hollow” or“The Originals” or “Reign” (or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for that matter) and we see tightly linked groups of beautiful young people who are heroic and witty and talented and tolerant and flawed—yes, even “the bad guys”. Their lives are deeply entwined. They all have purpose. And they seem to slip effortlessly between different historical periods, through time and space, fantasy and reality, just as modern technology has allowed the M’s and D’s to shuttle along non-linear paths between the real and the virtual, to experience history, to listen to music and wear clothing from eras that seemed “old” even to their grandparents.


“Wired” (the February 2014 issue) and Chuck Klosterman (in“Eating the Dinosaur”) remark upon the way the past, present, and future are collapsing. These kids today—they can (and do) listen to Frank Sinatra, watch painstakingly restored footage of early 20th-century battles and historical events on an electronic device that they can hold in their hands, wear the aforementioned shawl collars (un-ironically), and stream episodes of "Supernatural” or read a digitized copy of Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula” at the tap of an icon.


Because the past is deeply, instantly present for today’s young people, one thing you will find them doing in droves is revitalizing lovely old buildings—entire neighborhoods, even—that have fallen on hard times. Today’s youth sign petitions to save these places, and rent or buy property at these locations, and attend meetings and rallies and fundraisers to resurrect the past in all its glory.


They apply their DIY creativity to open bars and cafés and restaurants and stores in these “undead” neighborhoods, in a conscious effort to revitalize them, to galvanize them back to life. The M’s and D’s who cannot afford to open bars or restaurants or stores patronize them. The simple acts of drinking, eating, and shopping therefore become meaningful because those acts, in those locations, support a greater cause, fostering a building (or neighborhood, or city-wide) renaissance.


Wherever they live, drink, eat, or shop, the M’s and D’s are recording their experiences in words and images, and sharing the experiences via the worldwide electronic membrane, a medium that is increasingly become a quasi-real “place” populated by the people we wish we were (and kind of are) and the surgically extracted moments of our lives that we not only want to preserve but want to communicate to others. Nearly everything has become communal. Our image, and bits and pieces of our lives, once uploaded, become omnipresent and eternal and the de facto property of all.


The tendency of the M’s and D’s to commune and communicate is outstanding for historical preservationists, particularly in Downtown Los Angeles, where legions of hipster Millennials and Digitals have moved in and are reclaiming the once-blighted landscape. They are not tearing down old properties in a mad rush to build the new. Rather, they are thoughtfully, appreciatively resurrecting the long-neglected beauty that was already there under layers of peeling paint, crumbling drywall, and icing-thick graffiti.


Our young citizens don fedoras, checked jackets, vintage dresses and boots, and attend preservation events. Such gatherings are often held at “new” venues that conscientiously revive bygone worlds: vinyl record shops, classic diners, gloriously restored golden-age movie palaces. And, of course, the M’s and D’s record and then share their impressions of these events, the sounds and words and images, spreading the message, raising the profile of the cause, driving up interest.


When is the last time a vast population of young people was so entranced by what came before them? One glaring example: Millennials and Digitals wear three-piece suits and top hats and flapper gowns to Disneyland on“Dapper Days”. If you have attended one of these stylish events, you know that almost without exception Dapper Day attendees, with their parasols and suspenders and pocket watches and canes, range in age from fifteen to thirty-five. These are the youths who watch the ubiquitously popular ghost-hunting programs more for the historical content than for the ghosts. This genuine reverence for the past is a generational hallmark not seen, perhaps, among our youth, since before the Great War.


There are, of course, posers among the M’s and D’s, as there are in any group. There are young men and young women who dress like hipsters and listen to Doris Day and Tweet about“Supernatural” merely to be part of their generation, merely to ensure that their selfies and their social media pages are in line with their peers’. However, posers seem to be a small subculture. And the M’s and D’s, being particularly earnest and self-policing generations, have a nose for sniffing out the most egregious and obnoxious poseurs in their midst and dealing with them in the global stocks of the worldwide web.


I admire the Millennials and Digitals immensely, nearly everything about them. The Mr. Wilsons of the world need to take their nerve medicine and go lie down. Let the M’s and D’s go about their creative, non-linear travel among time and space as they construct our brave new worlds.


Yet … I can’t suppress a slight feeling of unease whenever I see advertisements for uber-popular cable program “The Walking Dead”. Because when I see the rotting zombies scurrying after the pretty young cast, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the fleet-footed zombie slayers reflect the M’s and D’s, whereas the zombies shambling after them in a disorganized, uncoordinated ballet … that’s my generation.


I don’t know—yet—exactly what that means, but the zombies are GenX, infected with … what? With some defect that the M’s and D’s escaped, most likely—and quite paradoxically—because GenXers have been such excellent parents? If so, it isn’t right … and it isn’t fair … but, somehow, the zombie is me.
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Published on January 24, 2014 17:19 Tags: digitals, genx, historic-preservation, los-angeles, millennials, time-travel

January 15, 2014

"Broadway-Bound"--In Los Angeles

Author Update: "Downtown Los Angeles in Photographs 2014" will focus on Broadway, one of L.A.'s oldest and most important thoroughfares.

The street owes its existence to Lt. Edward Ord, who named it Fort Street. From 1849 until 1890, Fort Street connected L.A.'s downtown with Fort Moore. In 1890, the thoroughfare was re-christened "Broadway". And, yes--the name was a nod to New York City's Broadway.

One of North Broadway's cross streets is "Ord"--named in honor of the famed surveyor. Fort Moore is gone, but an impressive (if decaying) monument to the fort remains atop Hill Street. Pedestrians on Broadway who wish to visit the monument can climb a narrow staircase connecting Broadway to Hill.

Today Broadway stretches from Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Los Angeles, past the sprawling rail yards and newest downtown park, through the last vestiges of "Little Italy" and through still-vibrant Chinatown, through the Civic Center, and thence flowing through L.A.'s famed theatre, jewelry, and fashion districts, finally terminating well south of the downtown in Carson.

"Downtown Los Angeles in Photographs 2014" will be, like the original book, a collection of black-and-white photos showcasing the city's "noir" beauty, featuring historical information as well as noting anticipated changes. For Broadway is under revitalization, particularly along its historic theatre corridor.

Broadway's Chinatown remains largely untouched, a bustling community that welcomes foreign and domestic tourists. "Downtown Los Angeles in Photographs 2014" will focus heavily on this fascinating enclave, where the old and new, the traditional and modern, exist in sometimes dream-like congruence.

Chinatown is perfumed with the scent of freshly cut oranges, and incense burning in rooms off shop. There is very little you cannot find in Chinatown. Tanks of live crabs. Glass cases of roasted pig. Bakeries--among the best in the city--and jewelers, and banks, dentists and optometrists, cultural centers and benevolent societies.

One hears the frantic clucking of chickens behind a fence on which a sign proclaims "Pollos Vivos" ("live chickens") and "No Entry". No entry for the public; no exit for the fowl.

Everything seems to be for sale. Cardboard boxes overlowing with colorful produce--fruits and vegetables and berries. Herbs. Vitamins. Irish caps. Heavy-metal T-shirts. High-end sunglasses. Lucky bamboo plants. Fresh flowers. Birthday cakes. Fortune cookies by the bag. And everywhere, everywhere, merchandise stamped with the adorable visage of "Hello Kitty".

Bookended by the last remnants of "Little Italy" to the north, and the Great Dragon Gate to the south, the Chinatown section of Broadway welcomes drivers and pedestrians to Downtown Los Angeles. Tourists snap photos and queue at the Chinese restaurants. Elderly locals take morning constitutionals, or sit languidly on benches, smoking.

In the central plaza, a golden statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen welcomes visitors entering the plaza from the Broadway side. Here is the district's heaviest concentration of traditional Chinese architecture and decor. Red-pink paper-lanterns strung across the courtyards link restaurants, gift shops, and importers.

Esther, a shop owner, runs two stores in the plaza, one she describes as more American, the other more traditionally Chinese; the latter is presided over by a large, lucky Buddha statue. "Sincere Imports" has been open since 1937, when Esther's father-in-law opened it. Esther took over the store in 1980.

While instructing an employee on the benefits of using water-and-newspaper to remove grease from the shop windows, Esther holds forth about the upcoming Lunar New Year festivities. "The Year of the Horse" is nigh. She recommends that the author photograph Chinatown's neon and its glowing lanterns at night, particulary during the new year festivities.

In research there is no substitute for talking to primary sources. Esther directs the author to a somewhat hidden gem: The Chinese Historical Society, tucked away in a tiny purple house on Bernard, just west of an abandoned gas station. Esther also holds forth on stories of treasure hidden by Chinese residents long in the past "in vases inside of vases" and then buried by construction when the nearby freeways were built ...

[Look for "Downtown Los Angeles in Photographs 2014" later this year at Amazon.com or through the author's website: www.leslielemonauthor.com.]
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Published on January 15, 2014 18:52 Tags: broadway, chinatown, history, los-angeles, photographs

January 8, 2014

Fantasy-Lands and Utopias

"...Dreamers kept building their dreams in Southern California. Over the years they have taken on many forms. What seems to one person like a ludicrous obsession might seem to another to be peerless entertainment. You never knew what someone might build next door. It might be a lion preserve, a whole safari land, or a reproduction of an old western town. It might be an alligator farm, or a seaside amusement park.

By the late 1940’s, as the California suburbs expanded, and more and more Californians were out and about in their cars, and more and more tourists were coming to the Golden state, Walt Disney began dreaming a very special, very complicated, and very expensive dream—a dream that combined many dreams, if you will.

And the genius folks at the Stanford Research Institute told Walt just where to build his dream: Thirty miles south of Los Angeles, in Orange County, in a quilt of orange and walnut groves and strawberry fields. Though Anaheim was still very small, and very sleepy, it was about to become the population center of California, smack-dab near a convergence of freeway interchanges that would make it exceptionally convenient for locals and tourists in those restlessly prowling cars.

Anaheim itself had been something of a dream, the utopian fantasy of Bavarian vintners and grape growers who settled Anaheim in the late 1850’s. When the grapes were annihilated by insects thirty years later, the resilient residents regrouped and began growing citrus fruits and nuts. Anaheim’s bucolic beauty attracted dreamers like the brilliant actress Helena Modjeska; in the late 1800’s she settled in Anaheim and built her own dream-like residential compound, Arden, in what is now Modjeska Canyon.

Orange County has been the site of vast cattle ranches, vast citrus groves, and vast oil fields, of Modjeska’s Arden, and Reverend Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, of Friedrich Conrad’s interpretation of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, of seaside Fun and Joy Zones, of Knott’s Berry Farm among many, many, many other eclectic attractions large and small.

So when Walt Disney built his dream—some would say it’s still among the greatest dreams ever conceived and realized—he built it in a territory already well known for its utopias and fantasies ..."

From "The Disneyland Book of Secrets 2014" available now at Amazon.com.
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Published on January 08, 2014 08:15 Tags: 1950-s, anaheim, book-of-secrets, disneyland, fantasyland, secrets, so-cal, utopia