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Entries in los angeles (16)

Thursday
Apr102014

In Which One Move Leads To Everything Else

Blue Islands

by CATIE DISABATO

Grocery shopping is an aesthetic experience. The cardboard boxes built to hold crackers are decorated with designs that the cracker companies hope will make you feel a feeling, then buy crackers. The crackers lead to cheese. The cheese leads to fig jam. Everything I know about advertising I learned from television – certain colors make you feel certain things and what I call love was invented by guys like Don Draper to sell nylons – but I remember vividly when Coca-Cola debuted those mini-cans in the early 2000s. It was all I could do to keep myself from constantly buying them. They were so cute and little and came in Diet.

If you completely fetishize the act of grocery shopping, the way I do, it becomes totally divorced from cooking and eating. It becomes about places and things. Sometimes I manage to leave the house with an idea of the foods I want to cook. More often, I’ll leave the house with a list of grocery stores I want to visit.

photo by henrico prims

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, which, in the late 80s and early 90s, did not have a grocery store that carried organic meat and produce. My mother was a sort-of ex-hippie and wanted to raise her children on organic meat and produce. We did not have pop, we had Spritzer. We did not have potato chips in the house, we had blue corn chips. All the other kids made fun of the blue chips, they looked so strange. Sometimes, a boy would agree to eat one on a dare, like sometimes a boy would agree to eat a worm on a dare. I would insist that they tasted just like yellow corn chips, but no one would believe it until they had the chip in their mouth and they were chewing. I relished the attention from my classmates, but it was also hard to be the kid with a weird lunch. 

To get our organic items, blue corn chips, and Spritzer, my mother trekked into Chicago several times a month to visit the closest Whole Foods, approximately 30 miles from our house. She buckled us into car seats and filled a cooler with ice, to keep the meat and frozen food fresh during the long drive home.

by hannah sheffield

I remember the Whole Foods from the vantage point of a person so tiny the aisles were like long, wide stretches of road and the shelves were the height of one-story buildings. Shelves filled with colorful bags, bottles and boxes, which themselves were filled with things that tasted good. Things I could have and hold and make my own. In an age before my parents give me privacy, food was something I could own because once you eat it, no one could take it away again. My brother always stole my candy; I learned to eat it quickly so it could be mine.

I hated the fish section, which smelled bad and still smells bad. I loved the bulk goods, the tubs of grains, each with their own consistency. I could sense their enticing textures. I wanted to touch them, the way I wanted to touch paintings in museums, to see what the heavy paint felt like when it dried. While my mother ordered fish and meat at the counter, I tried to touch everything. I did not distinguish the Whole Foods from other playgrounds.

On the few occasions my father took me grocery shopping, he took me to the “regular” grocery store (in Flossmoor, Illinois, this was either Jewel Osco, Dominic’s, or Walt’s). My father lead me through the produce section, grazing. He ate green beans and cherries and anything small left out in piles. He taught me to be grazer. When I’m at Trader Joe’s, I visit the free sample stand two or three times. I eat the green beans from the produce section at Whole Foods. I also eat the nuts, candied fruit, and yogurt pretzels out of the dried goods bins. I use the plastic spoons to pour two or three items into my palm and I eat them while filling plastic bags with lentils or red quinoa.

The only distinctive grocery store my father brought me to as a child was Calabria’s, a small Italian grocery store in Blue Island, the south Chicago suburb where my father grew up. Blue Island is primarily a Hispanic neighborhood now, but when my father lived there, all of the families were Italian immigrants. My grandfather, Michael Arcangelo Disabato, was born in a town in southern Italy called Ripacandida. Calabria’s was named after a region in southern Italy so, combined with my family’s town of origin, I sometimes like to think that Blue Island was a town for southern Italians exclusively. No one ever told me this, but my grandfather died when I was eleven and I don’t remember him very well, so I make things up to fill in the emotional gap. I don’t really remember my grandfather’s voice. I don’t remember if he had an Italian accent.

Calabria’s is hard to remember, too. Narrow aisles, wire racks, boxes of pasta – all vague images. In the back, there was an Italian deli, with fresh baked bread in plastic bins. I remember the bread bins. I remember my uncle, also a Michael, and my father making us capicollo sandwiches in my grandparents’ kitchen. My father made mine with mild capicollo and no provolone cheese. My brother, a third Michael, ate the cheese and the spicy capicollo, the way it was supposed to be.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles. Every neighborhood has a farmer’s market and the produce in the “regular” grocery stores (Albertson’s, Von’s, Ralph’s) is as beautiful as the produce in a Midwestern Whole Foods. I’ve been looking for a good Italian grocery store in Los Angeles. I haven’t found one yet because I’m not really looking for a good Italian grocery store, I’m looking for something that reminds me of Calabria’s, and nothing really reminds you of half-forgotten nostalgia. I’m looking for a feeling I never felt in the first place.

Sometimes I go on a private scavenger hunt for a particular item. I once went to three different stores searching for Morningstar Black Bean Burgers, at least half of which are still in my freezer, crusting over with freezer burn. I searched for Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard for weeks before finding it in a cheese shop in Century City. Now I see it everywhere, winking at me at the butcher shops and the specialty stores.

I’m the kind of person who will drive half an hour out of my way to go to the nearest Whole Foods, because the grocery store near my house does not have the Sea Salt & Vinegar rice crackers that I like to eat while watching Revenge and drinking red wine. The red wine is from Trader Joe’s, because Trader Joe’s is the only place I buy my wine. I’m the kind of person who will drive fifteen minutes out of my way, from one grocery store to another, just to buy one bottle of wine.

Walking the aisles, I feel a sense of calm and control which I so rarely feel outside of the grocery store. I can pretend to remedy my persistent budget worries by cutting costs in each aisle (no nuts, no meat, no pre-prepared salad). I can combat uncertainty by completing a task, nevermind how small the task. The path before me is clear and unencumbered, the goals are modest and attainable, the competition of those goals is imminent. Checkout, paper bags, refrigerator, pantry, done.

Catie Disabato is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"The Wedding Band" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)

"Red Before Orange" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)

Thursday
May102012

In Which We Travel The Aisles

Blue Islands

by CATIE DISABATO

Grocery shopping is an aesthetic experience. The cardboard boxes built to hold crackers are decorated with designs that the cracker companies hope will make you feel a feeling, then buy crackers. The crackers lead to cheese. The cheese leads to fig jam. Everything I know about advertising I learned from television – certain colors make you feel certain things and what I call love was invented by guys like Don Draper to sell nylons – but I remember vividly when Coca-Cola debuted those mini-cans in the early 2000s. It was all I could do to keep myself from constantly buying them. They were so cute and little and came in Diet.

If you completely fetishize the act of grocery shopping, the way I do, it becomes totally divorced from cooking and eating. It becomes about places and things. Sometimes I manage to leave the house with an idea of the foods I want to cook. More often, I’ll leave the house with a list of grocery stores I want to visit.

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, which, in the late 80s and early 90s, did not have a grocery store that carried organic meat and produce. My mother was a sort-of ex-hippie and wanted to raise her children on organic meat and produce. We did not have pop, we had Spritzer. We did not have potato chips in the house, we had blue corn chips. All the other kids made fun of the blue chips, they looked so strange. Sometimes, a boy would agree to eat one on a dare, like sometimes a boy would agree to eat a worm on a dare. I would insist that they tasted just like yellow corn chips, but no one would believe it until they had the chip in their mouth and they were chewing. I relished the attention from my classmates, but it was also hard to be the kid with a weird lunch.

To get our organic items, blue corn chips, and Spritzer, my mother trekked into Chicago several times a month to visit the closest Whole Foods, approximately 30 miles from our house. She buckled us into car seats and filled a cooler with ice, to keep the meat and frozen food fresh during the long drive home.

I remember the Whole Foods from the vantage point of a person so tiny the aisles were like long, wide stretches of road and the shelves were the height of one-story buildings. Shelves filled with colorful bags, bottles and boxes, which themselves were filled with things that tasted good. Things I could have and hold and make my own. In an age before my parents give me privacy, food was something I could own because once you eat it, no one could take it away again. My brother always stole my candy; I learned to eat it quickly so it could be mine.

I hated the fish section, which smelled bad and still smells bad. I loved the bulk goods, the tubs of grains, each with their own consistency. I could sense their enticing textures. I wanted to touch them, the way I wanted to touch paintings in museums, to see what the heavy paint felt like when it dried. While my mother ordered fish and meat at the counter, I tried to touch everything. I did not distinguish the Whole Foods from other playgrounds.

On the few occasions my father took me grocery shopping, he took me to the “regular” grocery store (in Flossmoor, Illinois, this was either Jewel Osco, Dominic’s, or Walt’s). My father lead me through the produce section, grazing. He ate green beans and cherries and anything small left out in piles. He taught me to be grazer. When I’m at Trader Joe’s, I visit the free sample stand two or three times. I eat the green beans from the produce section at Whole Foods. I also eat the nuts, candied fruit, and yogurt pretzels out of the dried goods bins. I use the plastic spoons to pour two or three items into my palm and I eat them while filling plastic bags with lentils or red quinoa.

The only distinctive grocery store my father brought me to as a child was Calabria’s, a small Italian grocery store in Blue Island, the south Chicago suburb where my father grew up. Blue Island is primarily a Hispanic neighborhood now, but when my father lived there, all of the families were Italian immigrants. My grandfather, Michael Arcangelo Disabato, was born in a town in southern Italy called Ripacandida. Calabria’s was named after a region in southern Italy so, combined with my family’s town of origin, I sometimes like to think that Blue Island was a town for southern Italians exclusively. No one ever told me this, but my grandfather died when I was eleven and I don’t remember him very well, so I make things up to fill in the emotional gap. I don’t really remember my grandfather’s voice. I don’t remember if he had an Italian accent.

Calabria’s is hard to remember, too. Narrow aisles, wire racks, boxes of pasta – all vague images. In the back, there was an Italian deli, with fresh baked bread in plastic bins. I remember the bread bins. I remember my uncle, also a Michael, and my father making us capicollo sandwiches in my grandparents’ kitchen. My father made mine with mild capicollo and no provolone cheese. My brother, a third Michael, ate the cheese and the spicy capicollo, the way it was supposed to be.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles. Every neighborhood has a farmer’s market and the produce in the “regular” grocery stores (Albertson’s, Von’s, Ralph’s) is as beautiful as the produce in a Midwestern Whole Foods. I’ve been looking for a good Italian grocery store in Los Angeles. I haven’t found one yet because I’m not really looking for a good Italian grocery store, I’m looking for something that reminds me of Calabria’s, and nothing really reminds you of half-forgotten nostalgia. I’m looking for a feeling I never felt in the first place.

Sometimes I go on a private scavenger hunt for a particular item. I once went to three different stores searching for Morningstar Black Bean Burgers, at least half of which are still in my freezer, crusting over with freezer burn. I searched for Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard for weeks before finding it in a cheese shop in Century City. Now I see it everywhere, winking at me at the butcher shops and the specialty stores.

I’m the kind of person who will drive half an hour out of my way to go to the nearest Whole Foods, because the grocery store near my house does not have the Sea Salt & Vinegar rice crackers that I like to eat while watching Revenge and drinking red wine. The red wine is from Trader Joe’s, because Trader Joe’s is the only place I buy my wine. I’m the kind of person who will drive fifteen minutes out of my way, from one grocery store to another, just to buy one bottle of wine.

Walking the aisles, I feel a sense of calm and control which I so rarely feel outside of the grocery store. I can pretend to remedy my persistent budget worries by cutting costs in each aisle (no nuts, no meat, no pre-prepared salad). I can combat uncertainty by completing a task, nevermind how small the task. The path before me is clear and unencumbered, the goals are modest and attainable, the competition of those goals is imminent. Checkout, paper bags, refrigerator, pantry, done.

Catie Disabato is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Holiday Home" - Catch Bees (mp3)

"Fighters" - Catch Bees (mp3)

Thursday
Jan122012

In Which We Generally Play It Where It Lays

Los Angeles Dossier

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Flanked on four sides of a kitchen island in West Hollywood, friends were exchanging details about a serial arsonist on the loose in Los Angeles. Copycat fires had been reported; revenge or thrill-seeking were pinned as possible intent. A description of the suspect had been released by the LAPD: male, heavy-set with a receding hairline and ponytail, driving a white and tan mid-90s Lexus sedan. It was New Year’s weekend, eighty degrees and sunny, fifty-some fires and counting. It was also my first time in L.A.

News of the arson spree was being tossed around between bites of tortilla chips, riffs on Noomi vs. Rooney, and fanciful guesses as to how the Mayan apocalypse would hit. One girl in red polka-dots shared her excitement about the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. I would miss it having returned to New York by then. At one point Dion’s “The Wanderer” came on and everyone fell into a brief stupor, twisting slightly and opening new beers.

Growing up on the east coast and having attended college in Westchester, pictures of friends bunched in kitchens, leaning against and perched on counters, gabbing, had swept — much with my affection for the Dunnes, both John and Dominick, any picture of Robert Evans, noir Los Angeles, and Ice Cube’s Raiders hats — into a vague notion of images that were “very L.A.” It was an indefinable place despite countless landmarks and friends who called it home. Its celluloid portrayals caused it to unnaturally ooze thrill and ease for someone far too impressionable like myself.

L.A. wasn’t real, real. "Some of these buildings are over 20 years old," Steve Martin points out to Victoria Tennant in his satire-celebration, L.A. Story. Mailer called it "a constellation of plastic." Of course Andy Warhol loved it for that very reason. "It's redundant to die in Los Angeles," Capote deadpanned. Dorothy Parker said it was “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city," and Kerouac rued "the loneliest and most brutal of American cities." Saul Bellow wrote that "in Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn't tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California."

Frank Lloyd Wright echoed Bellow's sentiment: "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles." Fran Lebowitz compares it to a "city-like area" that surrounds the Beverly Hills Hotel. And Montell Jordan testified that "South Central does it like nobody does." To me, Los Angeles was counterfeit. I hadn’t grown up with winds or fog or earthquakes. Seasons were dependable. And yet, entirely wooed, arson and apocalypse aside, in that moment with my forearms resting on cold tile, like Brenda Walsh or Annie Banks might, I too felt for the time being, merrily very L.A.

I stayed with my friend, Zoë, who up until recently had been living in New York. My vacation coincided with her renewed appreciation for Los Angeles. She was once again a California girl. Even her ponytail, which always flops to the side of her head, seemed to spring and twirl better with Pacific air.

She bought sunglasses like the ones Woody Harrelson wears in Natural Born Killers while I tried on bigger ones like the pair Gena Rowlands wears (and does not take off at dinner) in Minnie and Moskowitz. Most days Zoë wore her mother’s red corduroy zip jacket that she rolled into wide cuffs. It matched the red beams at LACMA where I took a picture of her near the re-created Charles and Ray Eames living room. I only now just noticed that that particular photo never developed.

At the tar pits adjacent to LACMA, my attention was stolen by a white vertical tower. Thirty-one stories tall in a district that upholds a seven-story height moratorium, the Variety skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard is a stark giant crowned by its name in red lettering. Its stature is somehow comic, especially in Los Angeles. It appeared oversized; as if it was a spoof building, a prop, a facade, a mirage?

Designed by William Pereira, it boasts three hundred and sixty degree open views of the city. Didion might describe its lines as "alienating" and its build thick like an upright block of butter wrapped in wax paper. Jerry Bruckheimer, if he hasn't already, will use it for a heist helicopter landing in one of his next productions.

In the car, Zoë and I listened to the radio or the Boogie Nights soundtrack. More and more, my adolescent habits seemed to spark as if willed alive again by K-Earth 101 and one night, I spoke on the phone to a friend for over two hours. I haven't done that in years. Ann-Margret in a yellow shirt lying on pink sheets with a teal blue phone. Sally Field as Gidget. Dionne and Cher.

We spent a lot of time going places to hang out. We climbed up a hill on my first night — the first of many views — and ate graham cracker flavored frozen yogurt the next day while we talked and scraped the bottoms of our Styrofoam cups while staring out at a parking lot.

The sun warmed through my jeans — in January! — and struck me dumb. Nobody believes they are as invincible and the day infinite as a teenager on vacation, and that’s exactly how I felt. Even now, writing about the sun — and the sunsets too, which are an entirely different kind of spell, and that cruelly or precisely, no picture can ever capture — I feel foolish. From the car one evening as we drove through Silverlake, I stared at the sky’s airbrushed pinks, peaches, and lavender, only to look away because I only had one day left in L.A.

There’s a great picture of Ronnie and Phil Spector where he’s posing in the background holding a microphone stand while she’s in the fore, charming the camera with her attitude. He looks half her size. I always turn up the volume dial for The Ronettes — a regular occurrence during my stay. Nowadays it's Phil's trial pictures that are most vivid: his freakish wigs and chilling, googly stare.

Celebrity trials are another spectacle here. The wood-paneled court rooms, the lawyers, the lawyers' families, the media circus, the outfits, all of it. In college, I remember my friend Akiva, who grew up in Beverlywood, told me that his brother recorded on VHS tapes every item broadcast of the O.J. Simpson murder case: a plenary account of television segments and updates. Los Angeles media experienced a coup d’état of celebrity trial magnitude. A black leather glove.

Retention and analysis of proceedings, exclusive interviews, and tell-alls, create a specific type of mania spurred only when celebrity, power and privilege cross the judicial system. As Camille Paglia put it, "Television is America's kingmaker." And as Akiva put it in a recent gchat, "OJ is LA." I recently learned that Joan Didion was given press credentials and an opportunity to write a book about Kobe Bryant's 2003 rape case. She turned it down after the first day of trial. The cover art alone, in serif purple and gold, DIDION, KOBE, might have been the most L.A. gospel ever.

While Jacques Demy's only English language film, 1969's Model Shop, is not a great, it tempts. It ambles from Hollywood Boulevard to Santa Monica, from Beverly Hills to Malibu and loafs from a girlfriend’s apartment to a car garage, from a pink plush Rent-A-Model to band practice. "You don't buy a $1500 car just 'cause you like it. You don't have a cent and you don't even work! You get a skateboard!" a girl scolds her boy at the start. Conversations move in and out of burnout meters, never quite changing our protagonist, George — a ne’re-do-well who is about to get drafted. He meets a mysterious French woman Lola, played by Anouk Aimée, and seeks out one last human bond, if that.

What Demy does so masterfully is capture LA’s devil-may-care lure. Undoubtedly he was smitten with the city’s airy and delayed character. After all, the very first image is a blonde in bed, sleeping in. Her room is a mix of beach and artifice, bohemia and Barbie: piles of records, hanging stockings, a wig on its stand, an orange bra, a striped towel, neutrals and neons, both. Los Angeles is the film’s most palpable antihero. Los Angeles is the slacker, the layabout, the intrigue and the crush.

Demy splits the screen in two: sky and road. Pale blue and pavement. Billboards, Standard Chevron signs, palm trees and cars. It does not impose itself on anyone. And as I experienced it too, the faraway beach or winding hilly roads, there is something incredibly tacit about Los Angeles’ strangeness. It courts you. It’s still too new to simply exist — the trivia, infinite amounts of it, is what sustains the city.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing here. She last wrote in these pages about hypothermia.

"Blue Skies" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)

"I Dreamed A Dream" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)

"For All We Know" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)