Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Olvera Street (and surrounding coolness)

First off, doesn't the guy on the left look just like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid? This handsome fella is actually Filipe De Neve, the first Governor of the Californias(appointed by King Carlos III of Spain in 1775) and founder of "El Pueblo de Nuestra SeƱora la Reina de Los Angeles" which translates into “The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels." It seems that even back in the day, Angelino's had delusions of grandeur...

Anyway, Felipe now resides in La Plaza, once the center of LA's social life under Spanish and Mexican rule, now a kind of a park with a giant festive gazebo, a lady who will take your picture on a fake donkey,while wearing a sombrero, for ten bucks, and(the day I was there) a flautist playing the theme from Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. If those of you who know me haven't already guessed, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS PLACE.

You see, Olvera Street isn't just Olvera Street. Don't get me wrong, Olvera Street is awesome, kind of like a combination between a slightly crumbling Williamsburg, VA(no cars, historical buildings from the colonial era, including Avila House and Sepulvada House: two restored homes that are now free museums) Canal Street in NYC(lots of of those creepy wrestling masks and many, many Freida Kahlo tote bags) and a county fair(tourists and locals crammed in together, and the smell of good food from all the restaurants and greasy stalls).

But it is the area around Olvera Street that is almost more interesting. First off is the aforementioned La Plaza, which Olvera Street opens into. Across the street from La Plaza sits the oldest church in Los Angeles, La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles(founded 1822). A still thriving congregation worships there, and the day we came children were being baptized, girls were celebrating their Quinceanera, and old women were praying, both in the cheaply restored church and outside at a waterfall like shrine, where parents had taped ultrasounds of unborn children onto the rails. The covered patio by the church is straight out of a movie fit for dancing and desperado's. Kim, Katherine and Jamie, who accompanied me, thought it would be a great place for a festive party, but I, being me, instantly pictured a star-crossed couple dancing sadly in the night, as a mariachi band played its last drunken song.

Perhaps it was the influence of the Romeo and Juliet theme...

Another very pleasent suprise was the Chinese American Muesem (free admission) which faces La Plaza and sits besides the ornate, Italianate, Pico House(which deserves some kind of medal as it was the first luxury hotel in SoCal, but sadly now seems to be nothing but a sometimes functioning exhibition space) and right behind the niftily restored Old Plaza Fire Station. The area was home to the original Chinatown, which was raised for the building of Union Station, and is has some very good, very new exhibits. Not so fun fact: did you know there was a masacare of Chinese Angelino's in 1871, sparked by the killing of a white man who got caught in the middle of a dispute between two Chinese factions?

You would if you went to Olvera Street! I cannot stress enough what an enlightening, educational and interesting area this is. Jamie was commenting that many of the old buildings surrounding the coolness seemed barely used, and what a shame it was that they were not being repurposed as office building, stores and apartments. I would live in this area in a heartbeat, because it was once the heart of Los Angeles, and you can feel it pumping even to this day.

Subjective Coolness:A+

Directions: From the Eastside take the 101-South(for around 5 miles) and exit at Broadway merging onto West Aliso Street. Then turn left on North Main Street and start lookin for parkin.
Hours: 8am-10pm. Store and restaurant hours vary and the muesems close close between 3 and 4pm.
Price: Basically nothing except parking- there are lots all around, charging on average $7.00. And if you're in the market for a terrifying baby Jesus doll dressed as a doctor, that will run you about $39.99 in the store on Olvera Street right behind the empty wishing well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Los Angeles Zoo

So, here is the thing about the LA Zoo. There are LOTS of children. Duh, I know, it's a freaking zoo for christssakes, but seriously, listen. THERE ARE A LOT OF CHILDREN. Children who push and trip and headbutt you as you are leaning over the rail trying to free the monkeys or steal the gazells graceful essence or whatever is your wont. I have never seen more strollers in my entire life than in the line to get into the zoo, the line which Matt and I stood in for THIRTY minutes after we had witnessed, in true LA style, a man who looked like a nice fat daddy getting arrested in front of his mini-van in the parking lot. The zoo is incredibly easy to get to(directions at the bottom) and remarkably cheap(parking is free, tix are only $13 for adults) but I would suggest not going on a Saturday morning like we did.

The Zoo is a dingy old-school attraction and when you first walk in it feels more like a cheap theme park than a zoo. The smell of churros and poo fills the air, children and animals scream, and those of you with social anxiety may find your hearts racing. If you are like me, and grew up back East with the open air variety of zoo, you may find the cages rather depressing, painted with fake foliage like a shady pet store and filled with lots of sad looking, furry brown mammals.

However, there are pockets of the zoo that are quiet and lovely. The layout is a giant loop and the further you get into the loop the more magnificent the animals and the less depressing the aura of the place. There is a kids petting zoo, a really lovely cactus garden, a beautiful Japanese pagoda and lots of damn impressive animals. Luckily Matt was with me, so he could actually tell me the full names, indigenous habitats and mating rituals of almost all these creatures.

There really is nothing like watching two snow leopard cubs go at it playfully. I have never been much for animals(humans and vintage dresses are more my speed), but as I craned my neck around the masses to get a better view of a cub stealing a pine cone from its brother, I heard myself sigh at the same time Matt and several others did, overwhelmed by the loveliness of it all.

Subjective Coolness:C

Directions: Coming from Hollywood take the 1-5 N and merge onto the 134 E towards Pasadena. Keep right at the fork and follow signs for Zoo Road. The Zoo is directly across from the Autry National Museum.
Hours:10-5(open everyday but Xmass)
Price: Adults $13, Seniors $10, Children $8, Two and under free.
Picture by Matt Kane

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Grand Adventure.

I have found a common thread running through the city of Los Angeles.
I'm not just talking about the my boobs are lopsided, my agent didn't call me back, I miss my real(insert Midwest state here) home loathing. I am talking about a kind of city wide apathy, a general ignorance about the culture and history of Los Angeles that causes us to throw our hands up in disgust and say:
"I'm just here for my career."
"As soon as I sell this script, I'm getting a beach house in North Carolina, on an island with NO cars and NO nightclubs."
"Everyone cool lives in Brooklyn."

I have said all these things numerous times. But over New Years it dawned on me. I don't like LA( besides my lovely Eastside neighborhood) because, after five years, I don't know it at all. I love exploring, I am a history nerd, I grew up fat with stories of old Hollywood, yet I can tell you very little about this fair city, except that if it weren't for my friends and my...ahem...career, I would not be here.

So I am challenging myself this year to open my jaded heart to the City of Angels. In 52 weeks I will go to 35 new places, and by places I do not mean clubs, bars or restaurants, unless they have particular cultural significance. I will invite friends to come along and then I will blog about it, and tell y'all what is cool, what is not and how to get there.

Hopefully, it will help Los Angeles start to feel like home. If not, I heard that Hoboken is reeeaaallly where it's at.