Posts Tagged 'USA'



The Americanness of Garlic: Weekend Wedding Part III

We rode down the line, past the line, through it: the slice in the sky where the fog stops and the blue begins.

The California Coast and the Central Valley: there’s more than just a fog bank that separates the two. They’re culturally two different worlds. One is liberal, cultured, Priuses and windbreakers all year round. The other is hot, flat, migrant and dusty, rumbling trucks and fruit stands, too-neat rows of too-green produce lining the highway, whipping past your window in a monotonous flipbook, eye-numbing and strangely hypnotizing.

To us coastal folks, the Central Valley is a hazy strip of heat and pesticides, a nebulous region of towns we’ve heard of in passing, maybe driven through, but never really experienced past a gas station or two. Which is why Gabe and I had decided to stop in Gilroy, a typical agricultural Central Valley town, on our drive back to the Bay. That, and the garlic.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is one of those things I’d heard about my whole life, but never been to. I wasn’t even really sure where Gilroy was. It’s one of those small-town events that put the place on the map, gives it some sort of name recognition to city folk. You get the feeling that the whole town lives for Garlic Festival weekend, that it’s their moment to shine—or more accurately, to waft.

We snaked along the single-file traffic leading to the parking lot. Everything was agriculture: produce stands, the Garlic Shoppe, a garlic restaurant, garlic paraphernalia. People with coolers stood on the roadside selling bottles of “ice-cold water, $1 here, $3 at the festival.” The town was amped.

We tromped across the dirt parking lot, past port-o-potties and shuttle bus lines, volunteers with bull horns, in towards the banners and balloons and cloud of cooking garlic.

It wasn’t cheap: $17 to get in. It didn’t matter. We were in it to win it.

At first, it was kind of disappointing—all the usual festival stuff: cheesy craft booths and “funky” bands, frozen lemonade (not garlic-infused). I was expecting some sort of kitschy throw-back vibe, a state fair kind of atmosphere. I was expecting uber-ridiculous, inventive garlic food, garlic everything.

But as we wandered more, went deeper into the booths and stands, the subtler ridiculousness revealed itself. And then we found this:

A flaming garlic effigy. How metal is that?

We went for it. We didn’t care that everything cost $5 and the lines were long and the sun was brutal. We wanted the full experience.

That’s right—garlic ice-cream. This is one of the festival’s great claims to fame that I’d heard about. And it’s ice-cream. So I had to have it. Oddly enough, they served it in a half cantaloupe. Not so sure about the culinary success of that, but I could appreciate the eco-friendliness.

Shit yeah!

Gabe was obsessed with finding deep-fried garlic. When he succeeded, we sat down on a hay bale and indulged in our treats (dipping deep-fried garlic into garlic ice-cream: amazing). One of the bands had broken into a cover of an obscure, early Johnny Cash song. As the families trundled by in the afternoon heat, there was something really sweet about the whole thing, something All-American in a way that I once scoffed at.

And then we found this dude:

Nothing like a man in drag resembling a human garlic nut sack to really get the party started.

While most of the booths were of the folk-art and rip-off variety ($20 for a flattened glass bottle window hanger), there were some hidden gems in the rows of awnings:

More vaguely scrotal goods

“The Originals”—thank god! None of these impostor custom toe rings.

This one goes out to all the vegetarians in the house...

“Gourmet Alley” was the closest thing to the state fair vibe I found. They seemed to serve all the same fare as the rest of the festival; the fonts on their banners were just of a more dignified variety. There was a cook-out section complete with demonstrations and seminars, where local hot shots flexed their garlic prowess. It was all proudly and unironically sponsored by Foster Farms (complete with chicken-shaped balloons bobbing overhead). We may have only been an hour and a half from the Bay Area, but the food culture was was a whole nuther world: purely All-American.

And in a way, beyond the deliciousness of garlic, that’s what I been looking for, hoping to find at the festival: America.

There’s a kind of beautiful part to participating in a culture, in mainstream culture. Growing up in a city, and especially in a place as distinct as the Bay Area, you don’t get a lot of chances to indulge in Americana—we’re all about film festivals and Critical Masses and dirty punk shows in dingy warehouses.

But there’s this American mythology, this agrarian life, a “simple life,” that’s always been there: a vague background noise, aired on old sitcoms, tucked into dusty paperbacks, into the heart of the big, wide country that I fly over and past, but never stop in. I’ve never experienced it, never lived it, observed it from a distance, as the Other.

I think us city people feel alienated from that culture. We judge it (“uneducated, small-minded, uber-Christian bigots”), and are afraid it was judge us (especially if we’re something other than straight, white, native-born). There’s a kind of deep distrust—“that isn’t me, can’t be me, not ever me.” There’s something lonely about existing in something other than the predominate culture.

It was nice, for an afternoon, to feel like in some small way, I can be a part of that too, that that’s in me as well: America. Never thought I’d say that.

And sweating garlic for the next day and a half was fun too.

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A Circle of Stones

“I believe that the land has memory—that the earth remembers the things it has seen.”

Lucille Clifton said that at a reading I went to as a teenager, in introduction to her poem “Auction Street,” about how it felt to stand at former slave auctioning blocks in Memphis. I hadn’t traveled yet, hadn’t experienced much outside of the Bay Area, but something in me knew she was right: that rocks and trees and dirt have memories, maybe even dreams—that they hold little pieces of their histories in them, stored emotions, tender and swollen as our own knotted muscles.

I kept thinking about that line, said in passing in some beaming wooden room years ago, on my last trip. Walking amid the wordless rocky ruins of an abandoned village with a heat in my chest and a trouble in my mind, nothing seemed truer. Because, after all, Hawaii is a tragic place.

I stayed along the Kona Coast, a barren, burned-out mound of volcanic rock where the resorts stand out like green sores: lush, overly landscaped swaths of palm and grass against the expansive silence of lunar black.

P. was supposed to be one of them. Not a resort, but a tract of vacation homes: 7 acres divided into 10 lots, like much else along the winding 3-mile road that led from the highway to the coast. The land had belonged to a Hawaiian family who, amid the 80s mad-dash of development, could no longer afford the property tax and was forced to sell the land to a shady enterprise. A wealthy philanthropist came into contact with the family, bought P. from the enterprise, and built a personal vacation home there. My brother married the daughter of a the philanthropist’s good friend—which is how I came to find myself vacationing in a private, ocean-side villa earlier this month.

Sure, there was a gym and a media room and a billiards room and WiFi and groundskeepers and a gated entrance. But it wasn’t like a private resort. Not really. Because something had been retained, kept, preserved—not bulldozed and landscaped over (just landscaped around). The place quivered with a peculiar spiritual energy that made me hippie-out on heavy vibage. (And feel like I was on Vicodin.)

P. had once been a small Hawaiian village, abandoned for unknown reasons around the time Westerns arrived. Through a kind of cheat-the-locals-out-of-their-land swindle, a family came into possession of the land in the 1930s when they swapped their more lucrative property on a lusher side of the island for the rocky tangle of coast. As they bush-whacked into the overgrowth, the family discovered the rock-mound remains of the old buildings, as well as a burial site for what was later determined by archeologists to be a chief. The family was old-school, and believed in respecting the ruins; they didn’t move a stone, but left it in homage to their ancestors.

When the philanthropist came into possession of P., he respected the original family’s wishes and built his home around the ruins. He hired the son of the family, T., to be the property manager, an effort to maintain the sacred integrity of the place and undo some of the bad mojo that had cheated the family from their land.

That was as much of the story I knew as I walked the property the first day. Barefoot, the thick grass felt like carpet, and the air was soft and heavy and feeling of paradise. The path of grass snaked between the ruins, dotted by dense tangles of native trees. Neon birds flitted past, and the weasels darted like small, hungry ghosts.

I approached a perfectly circular mound to the immediate right of the house. Shaded by trees and covered in the round shells of their nuts, it seemed like a particularly potent spot.

As I got closer, I felt a warmth in my chest, rising into the base of my throat—not entirely unlike how I remember that first sip of alcohol: the healing heat, how something from the outside got inside, and suddenly made me feel more whole, less empty and aching. It was a curious, jarring feeling, at once intensely comforting and, well, disturbing in its unapologetic power.

I steered clear of the spot for the next few days. Frankly, I was freaked out. There was plenty else to do: I floated around the pool in an inner tube, did yoga on the deck, lounged in a hammock and read my self-help book on love addicition and co-dependancy. I’d glance sideways at the mound, avoid it, like it were a person watching me with too-blue eyes: it had seen through me and sat waiting.

T. came over to attend to some maintenance issues one day, and we got to talking. He filled in more of the history of P.—how he’d spent his summers there as a kid, how his grandmother had always told him about the spiritual power of the place and how he’d always felt it, even during his wild party days. He talked about respecting the land, saying thanks and being in tune. He told a story about an owl that lived on the property, that may or may not have been the spirit of his deceased grandmother, that had once come out in the middle of the day to watch him repair some of the stones the archeologists had moved.

If it were a movie, T. would have been wearing a lion cloth and the lights would have dimmed when he spoke, the sound of far-off drumming accompanying his tales. As it was, he wore flip-flops and a t-shirt, wrap-around sunglasses and an American moustache.

“P. has always been a healing place,” he told me simply. “I’m just glad that G. bought it, and it was able to stay the place it had always been.” He looked around the stately furniture in the vaulted-ceilinged living room, the hint of a wistful smile in the lines around his eyes. It was a far cry from the rustic shacks of his childhood, but I knew what he meant: it turned out as best it could, for the situation.

“That mound over by the house,” I pointed. “What was that?”

“Heavy, huh?” T. smiled. “We don’t really know. The archeologists thought it might have been a women’s house. Either way, it’s got some of the most powerful energy here.”

Later, I went over to the mound. Thinking of what T. had said, I bowed my head a little and asked permission before I entered into the center. I sat down cross-legged and breathed.

I felt the heat come—not a burning, but a warmth. I tried not to fight it. (He left.) It reached down, to some very tiny place inside, a very old and glowing wound. (A black kitchen and a birthday cake.) I looked at the trees, imagined their roots reaching down, back, on in at something (purple sores, swallowed by black)—like the pulsing red roots of teeth, the throbbing behind the bones of things. (He was sick, I loved him, he left.) The wind was gentle but urgent, speaking in a language of leaves (if I could have loved them more), like a mournful ballad sung in a language you don’t understand. (And left me here: gone.) The stones scratched and the shells dug in.

I heard a hoot. My eyes shot open and my spine twitched.

I heard it again, a belly sound, a calling. I thought of T.’s story: his grandmother owl in the middle of the day, watching over him.

It could have been a dove, cooing at the wind. But in the center of that circle, the ancient black of rocks, it sounded like the voice of P., the voice of the past—whatever it was, still was, had been and was still being, despite the house and the sprinklers and walking of foreign feet: a place of healing. A place that could somehow get down, down into the tightly clutched hurt of things, and coo.

Does the earth remember what it was? Does it carry its past in special little pockets, like a wound we hardly remember, but keep reliving, searching to heal? Well, fucked if I know. All I know is that, with all its resorts and rental cars, Hawaii feels like a beautiful young girl who’s been forced to marry a man she doesn’t love—and P. feels like the place where she goes, not to weep, but to pretend, to dream, to whisper her fantasies to herself, in the voice of the wind.

Beautiful: The Ridiculous Hair of Chaos in Tejas

Oh, kids these days…

Or actually, kids circa 1979. This year’s crowd at Chaos in Tejas was kind of like a time warp. I haven’t seen that many liberty spikes and back dreads since the hey day of the Telegraph Ave gutterpunk.

Now everyone loves a good Elmer’s glue mohawk with an anarchy symbol spray-painted on it. And who hasn’t shaved half their head before? It was like being a kid again…

By the end of it all, I wanted to wear a pink leotard and sparkly tights. To the dude who wore a tie-dyed t-shirt: rock on. You might have been the punkest of them all.

Sunset at the Super 8

Dusk and the birds come out.

Diving dark bodies against a fading pink—the kids are getting ready.

Ripples in the pool, empty cups and sagging neon intertubes, nodding “yes, yes.”

Drums and distortion and a screaming rage, rattling out of too-small speakers, a half-open door. Hanging over the rail of the balcony, smoking and slouching, bad postures and back patches.

A bird swoops, circles, disappears inside a nook under the drain pipe—small squabbling voices: hungry. Ready to be fed.

Skateboarding in the parking lot of the Super 8 as the light fades: pink and darkness stretching, chasing, reaching for the sun and consuming the city instead.

Night is coming, the shows are starting, the air exhales and a breeze from no particular direction blows across the pavement, the hot stretch of steel, winking windshields, “yes, yes.”

The birds keep circling, searching for something to take between their beaks. They are only aware of their wings, the wind—not of their dancing or the shape it makes against the sinking Austin sky.

Chaos to Kona: This Will Be Epic

SFO –> AUS –> SJC –> LAX –> KOA –> LAX –> SFO: This will be epic.

It happened like this: my brother’s family was going to Hawaii. It’s an annual thing. My sister-in-law has a good family friend who is famously, fabulously wealthy, and owns a private villa along the Kona coast (“It’s like your own personal Four Seasons,” my parents told me). They go down and stay at the house every year, usually with a big group of people in January (when you can watch the migrating whales from the pool deck). The imminent arrival of my new baby niece pushed the party back till the end of May this year, which gave me enough time to scrape together airfare and justify taking a proper vacation (travelers don’t vacation, see below…). I roped my hard-working best friend into getting some time off from her fancy scientist job and come along with me.

Aside from the not-paying-for-a-place-to-stay bit, it’s kind of the classic American vacation: a relaxing one-week Hawaiian beach vacation. We’re renting a car (which I’ve never done while traveling), traveling with family, have nothing on the agenda other than morning yoga, noontime naps and all-day sunbathing. Which means, of course, it was nearly impossible to justify. I don’t relax when I travel; that’s not the point. If I need to relax, I’ll sleep till noon and go eat ice-cream cones in Dolores Park. I travel to see the world, dig in, explore, run myself ragged on third-class busses. When I travel, virtually no sacrifice is too big: I’ll bankrupt myself, take as much time off work as I can without getting fired. But when it came to taking 5 days off work and spending $436 to fly to Hawaii, I balked. It seemed like a lot to do nothing, learn nothing, gain nothing but a couple pounds from my brother’s bad-ass cooking.

I took it on as a sort of spiritual challenge: a traveler vacationing. In a lot of ways, it’s going to be my first vacation in 5 years. Unwinding, unplugging. But of course, I’ll have to write about that. And bring my laptop along. And then a friend gave me some tips on non-touristy places to go on the Big Island. An independent traveler tackling the most touristy place in the US? Sounds like a killer article…

Already, I was chipping away at the “vacation” element of my vacation. And then came Chaos.

It’s the dirtbaggiest, DIY-est music festival of the year. Organized by one dude with a blog and Xeroxed flyers, Chaos is Tejas brings out some of the biggest names in punk/crust/sludge/metal for four days of sheer debauchery in Austin, Texas. Friends had been road-tripping out since its inception 6 years ago. I finally went 2 years ago, and partied like I was 15 (minus the malt liquor and methamphetamines). I stayed with a tattooer/artist friend of mine, and ran around the streets till 4 in the morning, lighting off fireworks at after parties and making out in the back of a truck with some dude while his friends careened us around the city. And that was stone-cold sober.

I remembered the festival as being in early May. A tight squeeze, but I could fit it before Hawaii, right?

Turns out Chaos in Tejas (which has entered the digital age this year with a Facebook page) is Memorial Day weekend. And I was leaving for Hawaii on that Sunday. Some friends were planning to drive out. A hair-brained scheme began to hatch.

The road-tripping part had to get chopped out, but here’s how it’s ended up working out:

Wednesday: Fly to Austin with Liz and Melissa.

Thursday – Saturday: Rock our effing brains out. Killer bands from all over the world playing nearly 20 different shows. 3 single girls in a sea of crusty boys: think “Girls Gone Wild,” but with more tattoos.

Sunday: Fly from Austin to San Jose. Meet Alicia at the airport. Fly from San Jose to LA, where we’ll connect and fly to Kona. Grab our rental car and traverse the dark turns of some deserted highway, arriving at the gate to the mile-long driveway.

Monday-Saturday: Chill-ax.

Saturday night: Red-eye back to LA.

Sunday morning: Fly back to San Jose. Get a ride back to Oakland. Be at work by 2:30.

It’ll be one end of the spectrum to another: ridiculous partying to ridiculous relaxing. Punk rock shows to private properties, dirtbags to nieces, stinky clubs to island paradise. 11 days, 2 destinations, 7 flights, 1 rental car, 3 girls in 1 cheap hotel room, 15 people in 1 oceanside villa, 99 bands and 1 me to live (and write) it all.

Painting the Town: Street Artists Bomb the Bay

One of the nice things about living in the Bay Area is that people come here. Just, you know, to visit. We’re coming up on the high season, when the streets swell with tourists, clicking their cameras and speaking their different languages, hanging limbs off cable cars and sharing undoubtedly brilliant commentary in the halls of museums. We don’t complain so much about tourists in the Bay Area—aside from the fact that they spend a shitton of money (and have hopefully read the part in their guidebooks about tipping), it makes us feel good: we live somewhere people want to come to.

It makes us feel especially good when those people are street artists who leave us little gifts.

The Bay Area has been freaking out over the past few days about 6 Banksy pieces that have surfaced in San Francisco. We’re a medium-sized city, so it makes us feel special that an artist that big would come out and leave his mark. I, for one, had to take advantage of a sunny spring day and go on a taco-fueled, MUNI-powered mission across the city (cause, you know, why not?) to see as many as I could. But here on the quieter, slower side of the Bay, a couple other street artists/collectives have made visits. They may not be as big as Banksy (who is?), but spotting their work made me feel, I’m not gonna lie, a little warm and cozy about my hometown.

The blogosphere has been abuzz over Banksy lately. With the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, everyone’s favorite British recluse has been hitting up spots where the film’s debuted. (His recent work in LA caused quite the stir when it was physically removed to be sold in a shady art gallery.) The San Francisco debut of the film went down recently, and we were all waiting, holding our collectively aerosol-stained breath, to see if any Bay Area pieces would surface.

They did. Warholian broke the news, spread the word and even got himself on TV:

I had to wait a few days, for a full day off (new waitressing gig = mucho trabajo) to embark on the mission. Luckily, Warholian posted exact locations on his Flickr stream (along with far better photos than I took). Oh, the digital age…

What was funnest about missioning around to find the pieces wasn’t really the art; it was seeing all the people come out. Folks were really excited to see the work, like a treasure hunt where the reward wasn’t some crappy Easter egg but sick-ass stencils that spawned social commentary—and a nice dose of civic pride. One guy I met was super stoked that a piece ended up abutting his soon-to-open bar (“It’s like free publicity!”). A group of European kids posed for photos by the Native American stencil while a hip dude explained in Spanish to a passer-by what all the fuss was about. On Haight Street, I met an old dude with a serious camera—miles of lenses and clicky gadgets—who told me, “I’ve never been that into this whole street art thing. Always looked like a bunch of scribble to me. But I read about this in the paper and thought, well, that’s pretty cool. So I wanted to come out and document it.”

Doubt this one will be winding up in a gallery

Yeah, my camera sucks. You should really just Google this shit.

Say what you will about Banksy—publicity stunt conspiracy theories and cries of being too mainstream—but that Bristol boy got San Francisco juiced, taking pictures and making missions and actually chatting with each other (usually a more Oakland phenomenon). And at least one cool old dude seeing street art as something other than vandalism.

But I’ve been noticing more cool pieces around lately, on my own side of the Bay. One of my favorite street art blogs alerted me to that fact that Feral was in town, and I spotted one of his pieces (now gone) by the MacArthur BART station.

Abandoned furniture and trash-feasting pigeons: that's my town!

And up on Telegraph, the epicenter of gutter punks and flip-flop-wearing bros, I spotted one of TrustoCorp‘s guerilla street signs. These have been making me giggle for months, and I was stoked to see some stuff locally.

I’m not sure who did this piece, but I liked the placement of it—a busy intersection across from a Whole Foods—and its stark insistence on being noticed.

I’m continuing to think a lot about street art and what exactly it is that draws me to it—what exactly it is that seems so undeniably related to travel. It’s got something to do with place, with the insistence of place, the immediacy and intimacy of interacting with a place on such a visceral, physical level (the subject of one of my first ever blog posts). The words are forming, the drooling gibberish shaping itself into discernible sounds under my wet pink tongue (“mama,” “dada”).

In the meantime, I’m thinking a trip to Italy for Fame Festival might answer some questions and cure some wanderlust. Just in case the Bay doesn’t receive any visitors for awhile…

Smog City Street Art

Second and Traction. I wouldn’t have ended up there if three degrees of separation and a vaguely pointing finger hadn’t sent me, the intersection pulsing on my iMap like a gleam off buried treasure. Does every town have a warehouse district—posed delicately between decay and revitalization, a hushed breath that sends the trash dancing ecstatically down deserted streets. Abandoned buildings, chain-link fences, art collectives, lofts, hip cafes on whose terraces a gothic bartender I once knew squinted her eyes against the LA sun (she never did get sober). Dogs and day laborers and cute girls on bicycles—and a shitton on graffiti.

I’m thinking this little tract of Downtown LA is something like the hill (or dug-outs or BART tracts) where the cool kids in high school smoked weed. There were pieces from big names like So-Cal native Shepard Fairey and the UK’s D*Face (who recently made a stir with his Zombie Oscars installations), as well as wheatpastes and stencils and tags galore. I came across a friendly crew of dudes painting a legit mural on the side of an abandoned building that read “Still Kicking Ass.”

Damn straight.

Shepard Fairey

A lot of the work was heavily politicized—making poignant to satirical comments on the imperialism, immigration, consumerism, commodification and other fun subjects not typically conjured in my LA stereotypes. Just more proof that there’s more going on than teeth whitening and Botox injections.

Interesting comment on the commodification of political figures--especially considering the man responsible for the oh-so-famous Obama image had a piece up a block away.

Mad skills

Reminiscent of Banksy mice, no?

D*Face: Siiiick

Word.

Dudes painting mural

"Can I get a picture of your bird tattoos?" "Sure." "Aw, dude, show her your Booger tattoo."

At work

More pieces on the same building

One of Nomade's Roman fellows

Down on 9th and Mateo, another abandoned building was getting seriously hit up by some bad-ass murals, part of the LA Freewalls Project. Local boy Saber had just completed an impressive piece, as had D*Face.

Saber's mural

Detail: buffed graffiti

And, why not, a couple more gems from elsewhere in the city…

Sherpard Fairey & Saber alley, Silverlake (thanks for the correction, Daniel)

Note the can: Campbell's Soup. How Meta.

If all taggers and graffiti artists looked like this, they'd have a much easier time.

Health care reform passed while I was in LA. Was delighted to see the Monopoly fellow around.

So what does it all tell you, these smears of paint and peeling papers, about Los Angeles? If street art and place really do have as much of a connection as I suspect they do, LA’s told me this: that even within the belly of mass culture and consumerism, pangs of outsider aches burn acidic. And they don’t sit quietly, politely, hands folded and waiting their turn. They’re illicit, guerilla and goddamn beautiful.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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