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History in short installments

The 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles insurrection is being observed this week in L.A., and to a lesser extent, elsewhere. I was living in another state when the insurrection occurred 20 years ago, but felt tied to the events through a relative living close to the action and through a sense of connection to my hometown. This week, I decided to relive the events by following @RealTimeLARiots on Twitter.

Tweets show the city in crisis

@RealTimeLARiots is published by the local NBC station in Los Angeles. According to the announcement on the NBC-LA page, "Each @RealTimeLARiots tweet corresponds to the actual date and time (sometimes down to the minute) of each major event as it unfolded back in 1992." This reminded me of a similar effort I noted a few weeks previous, the History channel's live-tweeting of the Titanic Voyage at @TitanicRealTime on the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking.

Both the History Channel and NBC-LA used the term "live-tweeting" to describe their efforts, but it's not really an accurate description of either account. What they're doing is more like a dramatic reconstruction in real-time. The spontaneity of a live event is missing, since the events on which individual tweets are based have already occurred.

Although missing the live component, the serial dramas presented in @RealTimeLARiots and @TitanicRealTime nonetheless have the power to spark new emotions as people on Twitter remember, learn about and share the events of the past. In the case of @TitanicRealTime, some younger Followers discovered for the first time that the story of the Titanic was real, rather than fictional. I haven't seen any confirmed instances of people confusing @RealTimeLARiots with the present-day, although that could emerge still.

To kick off @RealTimeLARiots, NBC-LA asked, "What if Twitter existed in 1992? How would social media help tell the story of Rodney King and the Los Angeles Riots?" Which gets it exactly wrong, because although @RealTimeLARiots can reconstruct the events of 20 years ago, the one thing it cannot do is tell the events of yesteryear as if Twitter existed back then. Reading the recreation of events presented on @RealTimeLARiots is in a way similar to watching an old movie on Blu-ray. The events are being remastered, not remade.

The news experience on Twitter is cacophonous, and never more so than when news is breaking. No one can say how Twitter's chorus of voices might have shaped the L.A. insurrection, even as it narrated its progress. Much has been written about how Twitter enables activism; it is also proving to be a capable tool during emergencies. The hashtag #SMEM, which stands for Social Media for Emergency Management, tracks some of the new uses of Twitter during emergency situations.

The L.A. insurrection might have unfolded differently, as participants shared information online; it also might have been managed differently, with citizens, first responders, law enforcement and military using Twitter to navigate the crisis.

Despite their limitations, @RealTimeLARiots and @TitanicRealTime are successful examples of new media serial entertainment or edutainment. Only time will tell if their popularity or the technology that supports them will last.

Cruising by the Car Show

Red hot rodOver the weekend, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend and I went to a car show on the east side of L.A. This particular show was highlighting hot rods, but there were other types of cars on display as well. In particular, we saw a number of classic cars from the 30s. While we walked around the cordoned off streets where the cars were on display, a car-themed soundtrack played over loudspeakers.

I'm not an automobile enthusiast, but I feel connected to car culture from having been brought up in Los Angeles. I've toyed with the idea of buying a vintage car before, but never taken it past the fantasy stage. Practicality tends to win out with me when it comes to transportation. Nonetheless, I admire the way car customizers rebuild and remake vehicles according to their personal vision.

The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend said to me as we walked around, "There's so much love that goes into these cars." I know it sounds kind of hippy-dippy to say so, but I did feel like I could feel the affection the owners had for their cars and for their community of fellow car lovers. Like many other enthusiast communities, the car customizers appeared to have adopted several causes and were trying to raise money for them while they enjoyed themselves at the show.

Chevy Bel Air dashboardEarlier this year, I moved from the west side of Los Angeles to the east side. My intention was to move someplace where I wouldn't have to drive as much. I was tired of dealing with the gridlock on the west side, and rising gas prices also factored into my thinking. Using Walk Score, I was able to evaluate neighborhoods to determine which ones would enable me to walk more and drive less.

Since moving, I have cut down on driving a great deal, and it's improved my quality of life tremendously. This change in my daily habits was on my mind as I viewed the cars on exhibit. And it's not just me that has made a change. Slowly, Los Angeles is developing a public transportation backbone. It's inadequate, yes. But it's far enough along that one can begin to imagine the city as something other than car-dependent.

It's strange to feel nostalgic for something--a car, a lifestyle, a time in history--and at the same time recognize that thing's faults. It's odd to feel love for something you know will never come back. I have great attachment to certain stretches of highway in Los Angeles. Trajectories of speed and scenery that can only be experienced by car. Time and traffic have rewritten those roads, and slowness has erased their magic. I'm choosing to look forward to whatever comes to take their place.

Rainy days and Monday

Do you know that scene in Westerns where the bridge has given out, but somehow the wagon train must get across the river before nightfall? There's Indians trailing, or bad weather coming, or a doctor on the other side that's needed.

Then someone rides forward on a trusty horse that picks its way across the treacherous river bottom, water rising up to its chest. Others follow and everyone manages to get across the river in time.

I relived that scene in my car at an intersection during the recent Los Angeles rains. My steed made it across.

*

I have been through two floods. Both times, I was not in Los Angles but in the Hill Country area of Texas, near the banks of the Guadalupe River. The rains were relentless and heavy.

I was a kid back then and, having grown up in Los Angeles, I didn't have much experience with severe weather. My one reference point for flooding was the story of Noah's Ark. After several days of constant downpour, I began to understand how rain could be interpreted as a punishment.

At nighttime, I slept in the top of a bunkbed in a room with a low ceiling. The pounding of the rain sounded both loud and smothering, like thousands of dictionaries being dropped in rapid succession. The noise kept me up at night, staring at the ceiling, worrying about the rising river and imagining water moccasins swimming towards me, mouths open. As the night wore on, the same thought would go through my head again and again, "When will it end?"

*

While driving in the rain the other day, I saw my first dog-assisted dumpster diver.

In my neighborhood, the alleys are populated with a steady stream of people competing to go through trash dumpsters. I used to think it was kind of cool, like a built-in recycling community. I'd use something, trash it, then someone else would come along and use it.

Sometimes I'd feel bad about the possibility that these dumpster divers might be homeless. But I also knew they could be freegans, or excessively frugal, or simply pursue dumpster diving as a pastime.

Over time, I've come to see dumpster diving as yet another privacy issue. I feel like I can't take a crap these days without ten people combing through it looking for scrap metal. And in Los Angeles, it's clear to me that dumpster diving has become a saturated field. If you are an Angelino that has avoided homelessness thus far, pray you continue, because all the best dumpster spots are taken.

Given this competitive scavenging environment, using a dog to assist in dumpster diving makes perfect sense. The dog I saw the other day was on a leash, except the collar it was attached to was wrapped around the dog's middle like a belt. Dark green trash bags were tucked into the belt in an overlapping manner, forming a skirt that trailed behind the dog prettily. When the dog's owner needed a trash bag to collect stuff in, he would peel one off the dog's skirt.

I watched them for a moment working in the rain together, man and dog huddled under a single umbrella. I hope they found what they were looking for.

Recently the Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend and I went to the Autry Center for the first of four programs on the history of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the West. The first program in the Autry's OutWest series was a panel discussion revolving around the movie Brokeback Mountain, called "Whatever Happened to Ennis Del Mar?"

One shirt covers anotherIn addition to the panel discussion and reception, attendees were invited to view the shirts featured in the final moments of Brokeback Mountain, currently on temporary exhibit as part of the museum's extensive movie costume collection. You can see the shirts in the snapshot shown at left.

During the panel introduction, members of two groups in the crowded auditorium were asked to stand: representatives of the International Gay Rodeo Association and "the Brokies" (like Trekkies, but for Brokeback Mountain), who had flown in for the occasion. I knew the movie had a fan base, but I hadn't realized until that afternoon how ardent it was.

The panel discussion ranged over a variety of topics, including whether Brokeback Mountain could be considered a gay film or a Western, the movie's representation of male friendship and masculinity, and the film's reception in the U.S. Panelist Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio, read his original published review of the film as well as his scathing post-Oscars commentary on Brokeback Mountain losing Best Picture to the movie Crash.

As a Westerner myself, I have a longstanding personal interest in the history of the U.S. West. But I was also drawn the Autry Center's OutWest series because of some documentary footage on gay and lesbian elders that I saw many years ago that has stuck in my mind ever since. In first person interviews, gay and lesbians in their 80s and 90s discussed their lives on film. One of the men discussed his life as a cowboy, describing how he moved west to escape the heterosexual expectations placed on him by family and society.

Although he was seeking a life of solitude, once this man arrived in the West he realized there were others like him who had left home for similar reasons. When I heard this story, there was something startlingly obvious about it that struck me. I think part of what made Brokeback Mountain such a phenomena is that it brings to the surface this hidden yet in some ways plainly evident history of gays and lesbians seeking freedom in the West.

According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the Autry's OutWest series, the next program will focus on a female stagecoach driver who lived her life as a man.

I sell, therefore I am

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Hello Kitty in costumeThe Cute-Little-Red-Headed Girlfriend and I have the flu, so we haven't been going out very much lately. Because we've been hunkered down, which we missed the start of the Hello Kitty 35th Anniversary Exhibition happening at Royal/T Artspace. It's a three week long event commemorating Hello Kitty's birthday on--mark the date--November 1. It seems Hello Kitty is 35, which means I must be 102.

I wish I could have gone to the VIP Gala opening event, so that I could causally drop it into conversation. "You were at the L.A. Opera last night? No, I couldn't attend. I was at the Hello Kitty VIP Gala." Although I couldn't attend the opening, I have been able to see much of the artwork online.

Among the pieces I particularly like are the figure pictured above, which shows Hello Kitty wearing a toasted marshmallow costume. I thought it was very appropriate for Halloween. It's actually part of a series of figures depicting Hello Kitty in various marshmallow regalia. You can view more here. I also like the below portrait of the Bigfoot family showing the heartwarming role Hello Kitty plays in their lives.

Bigfoot family with Hello KittyThe first time I encountered Hello Kitty merchandise was in a department store. I remember being confused by it because I didn't know where the character originated from. I thought I must have missed some new cultural manifestation, like a series of Hello Kitty children's books, or a Hello Kitty animated television show--something that gave birth to the character. It took me awhile to understand that Hello Kitty exists purely in reference to her own merchandise.

A Celebration of Free

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Miniature vintage disneyland signFor my birthday this year, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend and I went to Disneyland for the day. We considered attending the annual unofficial Gay Day at Disneyland earlier in October, which we had attended in the past. But the park is running a promotion this year where guests receive free admission on their birthday, and this persuaded us to make a mid-October birthday trip instead.

It had been several years since my last trip to Disneyland. Many of my favorite rides were closed for rehab work the last time I went, and several attractions were looking downright shabby. I have not always been a fan of Disney's rehabs, but I'm happy to report that nearly every attraction I visited had been thoughtfully renewed. The clarity of the audio on the rides was outstanding, and the Pirates of the Caribbean had been restored to a state of glory.

The Girlfriend and I had a good time dining in and outside the park. We began with a breakfast of pancakes at the River Belle Terrace in Frontierland. For lunch, we ducked out to the Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel. The wait staff served me an adorable strawberry cupcake, pictured below, and sang to me when they discovered it was my birthday.

left

While walking along Main Street U.S.A., I was excited to run across the Disney Gallery, which showcases archival Disney artwork alongside newer artwork and merchandise created by contemporary artists. We saw, for example, several original pieces created by Shag to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion.

We had been on the Haunted Mansion ride only an hour earlier. In anticipation of Halloween, the mansion was decked out with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Although I had seen the overlay before, I left with the impression that the decorations were different and better this year. This impression was later confirmed through a visit to the DoomBuggies forum, where I found Haunted Mansion fans offering similar observations.

Miniature version of teacup ride

My favorite part of the Disney Gallery was a section containing marvelously detailed miniature versions of various attractions, including the old Disneyland entry sign, seen at the top of this post, and the Mad Tea Party ride, pictured just above. Since miniaturism is already built into many Disneyland rides and attractions, the effect was redoubled in some of these sculptures.

Once the Girlfriend and I left the gallery, we found ourselves back on Main Street U.S.A., where a parade was in progress. In keeping with the birthday promotion, the parade was called "Celebrate! A Street Party." An announcer encouraged guests to join in the spirit of this "celebration of you" while costumed performers danced down the street.

Continuing the shameless pandering, the announcer called out to all the guests who had come to Disneyland for their birthday. This had been on ongoing theme inside the park. When I entered Disneyland that morning, I was given a huge button to wear that read "Happy Birthday, Teresa!" All day long, I was greeted with "Happy Birthday" by every ride attendant, food worker, shop keeper and cleaning staffperson I encountered.

In other times, I might have removed the button, embarrassed by all the fuss. I'm usually not the type that likes to receive that kind of attention. In fact, I had had concerns about going to Disneyland prior to our visit. With unemployment and underemployment in California at 23%, I wondered if Disneyland might feel empty because few people could afford to attend. I worried the trip might seem too frivolous and maybe I wouldn't be able to enjoy myself.

But that wasn't the case. The park was wonderful and filled with people. I cherished each "Happy Birthday!" I heard. I thrilled at the rides. I celebrated me. I firmly put aside the fact that the country is now held hostage to corrupt business interests hell-bent on squeezing the lifeblood out of everyone I know and care about. For this one day, I forgot about all the problems looming and enjoyed my goddamn cupcake.

As a follow-up to our enjoyable visit to the Pompeii exhibit (written about here), the Cute-Little-Red-Headed Girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to the Getty Villa.

Representing one half of the Getty Institute--the other half being the Getty Center in Los Angeles--the Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to the "arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria." But really, mostly Rome. Greece and Etruria are more like side dishes.

The Getty Villa is itself a loose recreation of a specific first-century Roman structure, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. We learned this during a short introductory film about the Villa and its benefactor, J. Paul Getty. The original Villa dei Papiri was destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The lush interior garden of the VillaThe Girlfriend was most interested in seeing the architecture of the Villas, and I the gardens. As it turned out, we were both easily satisfied. As we strolled the Villa, we moved seamlessly from one indoor/outdoor space to another. I was impressed with the variety of textures in the square garden we saw as we walked along the inner peristyle--an open, columned walkway interior to the villa. A picture of it is to the left.

We enjoyed the art in this way, winding into a small room with a cluster of art objects, then out again for the view. The art was arranged thematically, around topics such as the theater, animals, and the legend of Heracles.

A bather looking put outWe then walked the long exterior peristyle that runs along a large and impressive pool. I was much taken with the expression on a statue of a bather in the pool, as seen in the photo here. I feel like that all the time. We paused to view the Pacific ocean at the end of the peristyle and then finished our tour with a leisurely walk through the Getty Villa's abundant herb garden.

After our visit, the Girlfriend and I felt an overwhelming desire for red wine, cheese and bread--all items eaten by the Romans. Fortunately, we had all these things at home, and it was almost lunch.

In the book Fires of Vesuvius, which I mentioned in my earlier post about the Pompeii exhibit, I read about some of the typical dishes eaten by Pompeiians. Stuffed dormice were considered a delicacy. I have no desire to try this dish, though the author's description of how the dormice were caught, kept, fattened, and prepared was fascinating.

I found the description of ancient eating habits so interesting that when I read in the "Further Reading" section at the back of the book that "Plutarch's Table Talk is a mine of curious information on Greek and Roman dining customs," I immediately stepped to my computer to see if I could find it online. I struck out at Project Gutenberg and likewise at the Perseus Digital Library.

I was finally able to track down the text at the University of Adelaide Library in Australia. They don't offer downloads, however, so I contented myself with reading the work online.

Our trip to the Getty Villa only fueled my interest in Pompeii further, so I went in search of documentaries on the subject. My favorite so far is the BBC's dramatic recreation, Pompeii: The Last Day. I also enjoyed a more science-y program on volcanos, which demonstrated how a pyroclastic surge works. I thought about it a lot during the recent Los Angeles wildfires, when a large scaryass pyrocumulus cloud formed over the city.

If you like, you can see more photos from my trip to the Getty Villa by viewing my flickr page.

I Gotta Lotta Lava Love

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Several weeks ago, the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I went to see Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The experience of the exhibit reminded me of a house tour, since the art and culture on display came from villas, country homes of the rich and powerful. In some cases, the interior or exterior of the villa was itself transported or recreated as part of the display.

The first exhibit room was filled with busts and other carvings of Rome's ruling family, starting with Julius Caesar and continuing down through the Julio-Claudian dynastic line. I found it remarkable how easily identifiable the faces were from movies and television shows set in the ancient era. How else could the faces of these Roman royals appear so familiar?

Certainly it was my memories of I, Claudius that made a relief portrait of Tiberius and Livia together appear chilling. Then there was Nero, looking like an overfed, spoiled man-child, just as I imagined him to be. A sculptor had made Caligula's cruelty evident in a strange, downward quirk of the emperor's mouth.

Marble statue of Aphrodite or Venus

In the next room, we were greeted by a beautiful statue of Aphrodite/Venus, shown here. The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I naturally gravitated toward a large statue of Artemis, around whom other pairs of women museum-goers had gathered.

While the scale of the marble statues was impressive, I was dazzled by the many small bronze statues on display. I was unaware that such delicate bronzes were being created then. I also learned that the earliest examples of decorative glassware date from this period; several pieces were included in the exhibit.

Some objects on display were unusual but apparently typical. There were a number of bronze standing lamps in the shape of a standing human slave bearing a handheld lamp. Novelties, I suppose. Lava Lamps for the wealthy.

Also in the unusual objects category was a large marble sculpture that included the figure of a nude hermaphrodite. Depending on the viewing angle, the hermaphrodite might appear male, female, or intersex. The accompanying text stated that such sculptures were popular conversation pieces.

A life size model of a Pompeiian dining room, or triclinium, was featured in the exhibit. I was excited to walk around inside this close room with its three built-in couches. The idea of lounging around while eating grapes and so forth appeals to me. However, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend finds the Roman practice of eating while reclining unhealthy.

The exhibit's final rooms documented the Pompeii mania that took over Europe after the first excavations of the area in the eighteenth century. After seeing Pompeii and the Roman Villa, I felt the city taking over my imagination, too. I'm now reading Mary Beard's The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found to satisfy my new interest.

As a random note, I've decided that one of my favorite words ever is Herculaneum. Say it with me a few times: Herculaneum. Herculaneum. Herculaneum.

Joe, Five-Oh

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The wave from Hawaii Five-OhMy friend Joe recently turned 50, and he called me on Gizmo to discuss reaching this milestone. Our conversation is the basis for his most recent Bored Beyond Belief podcast, which he calls A Disgruntled 50 and a T. The T is me.

I think this is my favorite podcast that Joe and I have done together. You can't deny that we have a certain chemistry. If we weren't such flaming queers we would be good candidates for opposite-sex marriage. Joe and I cover a variety of topics, including Miss California and the Golden State's budget crisis. Since Joe is older now, I try to listen respectfully while he reminisces about living in California. I didn't have the heart to remind him that L.A. is Logan's Run territory and if he tried to celebrate his 50th birthday out here he'd be likely to disappear.

In between our discussion, Joe has edited in several appropriate musical interludes. You should listen just to hear Lorne Greene's rendition of "Ringo." You'll find the podcast here.

Some Familiar Witches

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The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles has free admission on Thursdays, so The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I took advantage of the policy to see their current Houseguest exhibition. "Houseguest" is a series of exhibits curated by artists. For this show, Los Angeles-based artist Francesca Gabbiani selected works from collections housed at UCLA.

I didn't know anything about Francesca Gabbiani beforehand, but I was attracted to the theme of the show: witchcraft and sorcery. The collection was immaculately arranged in a small room, giving the exhibit a jewel-like setting. The works Gabbiani collected suggested a dreamy meditation on the themes of witchcraft and sorcery. As a viewer, I felt I needed to let my mind wander in order to make associations between the images.

Some of the artworks were specifically about witches, such as the one shown below, but many were not. I noticed that several of the works with witches had a similar composition to the one reproduced here: a witch is placed prominently in the picture, surrounded by objects and scenes associated with witchcraft.

In this image, one can see human and animal skulls, vials and potions on the floor and on shelves, animals playing instruments and acting as if they were human, and a naked woman standing before a cauldron.

A witch and her cohorts

One of my favorite macabre details in the picture above is the skeletal hand sticking out from above the doorway in the top righthand side of the image. I was also intrigued by what appear to be chicken feet belonging to the badger-like creature sitting on a bench in the foreground.

Many of the artworks on display contained some form of bird imagery, such as a raven or an owl. I marveled at the persistent association of some natural objects with womanhood. My favorite image from the exhibit, for example, was a woodblock print, depicting the surface of the water far out at sea. All that could be seen were lines of waves: rough, mysterious, implacable.

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