watts towers

watts 1Watts Towers rise up out of the surrounding working-class neighborhood like a fist pumped heavenward in victory. Amongst run-down ranch houses and dead-end streets, they sit serenely and proudly, a confection of concrete spun like sugar. Despite graffiti that proliferates elsewhere in Watts, the Towers remain untouched; rightfully respected.
watts 4Back when I worked at Book Beat, I’d seen pictures of the Towers many times in folk art or outsider art books and been intrigued–I’m a sucker for anything with mosaic or tile work, so right off the bat, the site appealed to me. When T and I found ourselves not terribly far away after an afternoon at Venice Beach, we decided to go check it out. watts 3

I’m not sure any photograph could have prepared me for how astonishing and moving this structure is in person. As someone who dabbles in creative pursuits in my spare time, it was both inspirational and incredibly humbling (like, who the F am I, this guy was the real deal). The towers’ creator, Simon Rodia, was an Italian immigrant and day laborer who worked on the project over the course of 33 years (1921-1954); pretty much any second not given over to work or bodily functions was dedicated to their construction. He created what he called nuestro pueblo, “our town”, partly out of scrap found along the railroad tracks, and would walk up to 20 miles up and down the tracks for materials. The towers were built solely with hand tools, no machinery. The dedication and perseverance it took to realize his vision are virtually unknown in this day and age, a sobering thought to those of us quasi-addicted to the instant gratification of blogging, instagram, etc. Not appreciated and even at risk of being torn down in the 1960s, the work is now being maintained and restored.
watts 2We weren’t able to actually enter the site, but had to content ourselves with viewing it through a fence. It’s beautiful and strange and awesome and I can only imagine sitting inside and staring up through the towers from within. Please do yourself a favor and visit this place if you’re anywhere nearby; photos don’t do justice to the actual experience. Read more about Watts Towers at the official website or on Wikipedia. Particularly fascinating is the religious ritual performed in Rodia’s home town and from which it is speculated that he took his inspiration.

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venice in january

hare krishna van in venice CA

The boardwalk at Venice Beach is a maelström of humanity. T has informed me in the car that we will most definitely see a guy with a snake, and true to his word, the very first street performer we see wields a slithering sidekick. Approaching from Windward Ave, we pass some inviting restaurants and cafés which give way to a grotesque but expected series of tourist shops blaring pop music and hawking the usual t-shirts, sunglasses and other tchotch, as well as a number of marijuana outlets whose dreadlocked proprietors vie for our dollars like old-time medicine men.

“How are you feeling? Good? I can show you how to feel AMAZING…”

“Wanna kiss the sky?” (or maybe it was “this guy”?)

We make our way to the skate park directly ahead, and marvel at the lithe movements of these ratty young men, who, like all talented performers, make their craft look so easy. Torsos stay erect while hips gyrate to the curves of the concrete bowl. I try not to stare too much, but it’s mesmerizing.

The water is calling me, so we head across the expanse of sand. Giddy as a child, I roll up my jeans, take off shoes and socks and head for the water. T warns me to be careful, look out for needles. It spoils the moment just a little. I stand with the waves lapping my feet, staring into the surf and marveling at the fact that it’s JANUARY and I’m wearing a T-SHIRT and I’m BAREFOOT in the OCEAN!

Sadly, probably due in part to being a little hung over, we have not planned well and have neglected to bring a blanket or books or other sorts of things that one would want handy if one were to pass an afternoon on the beach. This causes me a fair bit of mental anguish, as there is nothing I want more at this moment than to doze off on the sand with the sun caressing my bare arms. Such is life. I focus on the positive (the BEACH! WINTER! T-SHIRT!) and we head back to the boardwalk.

We perform the ritual tourist walk-and-gawk. A man has trained his dog to lie prone while wearing a hot pink lamé bikini, which has dollar bills tucked in and around it. I don’t know whether to be amused or feel sorry for the poor beast. Awful art mingles with even awful-er art and a smattering of decent art. Buskers range from angelic waifs with sunken eyes and clear trembling timbres, to puffy middle aged men tunelessly belting out minor hits of the eighties. Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-ah his stride.

As we stroll on, observing the motley assortment of artists, performers, shysters, freaks and just plain beggars, I marvel at how anyone gets by. Practical me queries: aren’t tourist dollars more apt to be parted with in exchange for a “show” of some sort? How do the homeless and talentless survive? But survive they do, and in droves. Our nostrils are assaulted in a steady stream by the stench of the unbathed. A small parade of Koreans with placards marches past. “Come to Jesus!” exhorts the group’s leader, and the rest of the group echoes in a call and response. “Cooooome tooooo Jeeeeeesus!”

We agree that nothing we’ve seen today can top that, so after fueling up with lunch from a hole-in-the-wall Peruvian joint, we decide we may as well call it a day. The hustlers and hippies and hijinx of the boardwalk will remain as ever, should we choose to return.

just like starting over

Last night over a fantastic Thai meal in Los Angeles with an old college friend, I had the brilliant light-bulb realization that what I most needed in life was to start a blog. Rather, I should say- another blog; I had a food blog from about 2008-2013 but I became disillusioned with the competitiveness of the food blogging “scene” and no longer had the interest or energy to keep up with bloggers who clearly had more time and resources than I did to spend on props, styling, and creating magazine-worthy photographs. No disparagement intended; I just found my interest waning with the increasing pressure to up the ante. Plus, as we know, repetition can breed boredom. I noticed a couple friends’ food- and drink-related blogs fall off around the same time mine did, so I can’t have been alone in these sentiments.

Anyway. That blog was all well and good, but it was written more for others; this blog is for me. If people read and enjoy, that’s just a cherry on top. A fog that hung over my life for the last few years is finally beginning to dissipate, and I’m experiencing an intense creative energy for the first time in ages. It’s amazing what can happen when weights that you didn’t necessarily even realize were holding you back are suddenly lifted. I feel like a hot air balloon whose tethers have been cut; heady with possibility.

I’ve been a traveler since I was old enough to go off on my own (age 16, an eye-opening three-week trip to France with my best friend Hilary). Even before that, I’ve always loved reading books set in faraway places or times, and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to study foreign languages in school. “Scènes et Séjours” was the name of my high school French textbook, and I couldn’t think of a more perfect name for this blog. Whereas my old blog was food-centric, I envision this one being about time/place/experience; the scenes and sojourns of my life, if you will. This past year, I had the chance to take two trips with a very good friend, and it reaffirmed that I want to experience this world as much as I possibly can while on this particular plane of existence. I want my writing to creatively capture moments and essences of travels not only through the world but at home in Detroit, a vibrant and wondrous city brimming with the best people I have ever known. I hope you’ll enjoy my adventures.