LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE | AN ODE

Downtown Los Angeles has gone through profound changes over the last thirteen years, and depending on your politics and socioeconomic status, you might see this as a good or bad shift towards the future ahead. The crusade to clean up Downtown L.A. in order to compete with the likes of New York City, began around 2005 by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dubbed The Rejuvenation Project of Downtown Los Angeles. I personally don’t agree with some of these changes, on account the storefronts I grew up with in the early to late 90’s, have been wiped into nothing. But it’s not the town itself or the aesthetic I disagree with. Yes I’m pro-business however, I reluctantly disagree with the new wave of businesses that displace longtime residents and business owners of years past. These new businesses have alienated those of us who’ve grown up here, those of us who have romanticize the idea of Downtown L.A., and those of us who once lived here.

To my knowledge, no publication pushes this alienation far more than Los Angeles Magazine. To quote the headline in the article, The New New Downtown, as seen in the 2017 July issue, “The revival of our once idle city kicked off about a decade ago and it’s only picking up pace.” If I’m to understand correctly, the writer Marielle Wakim (deputy editor), and in turn Los Angeles Magazine, are essentially saying Downtown L.A. did not exist until after 2007. Nor did my weekends spent with family walking up and down Broadway Blvd., browsing through its once crowed swap meets, in the aforementioned 90’s. The businesses that existed then are also irrelevant to the writer because she’s a transplant from Ohio and thinks that if an area isn’t on Instagram or is Hipster friendly, or on a travel blog, it plain out doesn’t exist. Mind you, I’m not against gentrification wholeheartedly, but it begs the question on whether or not the writers of Los Angeles Magazine care about our local culture. I question when the said writers publish articles stating they alone have discovered Los Angeles and its diverse neighborhoods. and adjacent areas, worse yet, even take a pretentious attitude towards it. While I’m not a native Angelino, a term I hate using by the way, however I’ve been here practically my whole life, and I’ve seen many changes since 1994, so I’m not going to sit here tell you I know everything there is to know about this town. 

Further proof Los Angeles Magazine doesn’t care about immigrants, small businesses and most importantly local culture, I’ll turn your attention to the 2017 November issue with the article, All Hail the Pastry King. The writer, Joel Stein, a self-proclaimed Angelino, admits to stalking and kissing ass to pastry Chef, Dominique Ansel, French immigrant and inventor of the coveted Cronut, in hopes of getting ‘special treatment,’ once his new bakery opened its doors in the winter of 2017 at The Grove. The writer is then appalled to learn Ansel doesn’t care who you are once you’re in his bakery, with a firm, no-cutting rule, as to provide equal hospitality to all guests. The writer closes off by saying, “no matter how good his food is, he’s never going to make it in this town.” To be clear, Joel Stein isn’t a true Angelino, he’s in fact a New Jersey native. Los Angeles Magazine, if you’re reading this, don’t hire transplants who claim to be L.A. natives, who then virtue signal us as to who’s going to make it in this town, and who’s not. I’m tired of you bastards claiming you know everything and everyone is this town and the constant stomping of those of us, who hustle in our local, respective communities on the daily. Then turn around and slander those who don’t fit your mold, to further promote your unwanted gentrifying agenda.

A699280_015.jpg

I’m sure I can dig up further examples, however, I have since cancelled my subscription as of last year, on account the writers Los Angeles Magazine employ, seem to have limited views and experiences that don’t reflect those of us who have been here our entire lives. However, and you can quote me on this, I greatly appreciate the handful of new businesses that keep the old buildings they move into and take the daunting task of restoring them to their former glory. Downtown L.A. has stunning architecture from different eras scattered throughout. From 1994, to around 2006, Clifton’s Cafeteria was our go to place for a hearty, American comfort meal. It was the first restaurant I remember walking into upon arriving in this country at age five. A quick ride on the Metro Red Line from our apartment, as at that time, in the early 90’s, the Metro Red Line only went as far as MacArthur Park and Union Station. My family and I would eat here at least once a week, my parents would get me the tilapia filet with a side of rice and I’d get to pick my own gelatin for dessert, admiring how fast the cashier ladies would punch in the numbers on the cash registers. After a while, I started asking for the slice of ham with scalloped potatoes and a few slices of Texas Toast on the side, providing a much heartier satisfaction. As the years went by, Clifton’s laid forgotten through the ‘revitalization’ of Downtown that began in 2005. Then one day, it closed. Years later it reopened, with much anticipation on my part. Sadly however, it wasn’t the Clifton's I remembered. Though the new owners pianistically restored it to its former glory of the 1930’s, the food flat out sucked.

As did the new owners of Clifton’s, so have the owners of the Ace Hotel Building, formerly known as the Texaco Building; otherwise known as the Jesus Saves Building by locals. As a photographer, it makes my heart jump for joy when I see gorgeous, Art Deco architecture fully restored and beautifully presented. I appreciate how accessible Downtown has become over the years. I would say it’s mostly due to the MTA (public transit of L.A.) implementation of the light rail Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Downtown as of 2003, and later with the 2009 East L.A. extension. I was living in Palmdale when the extension towards East L.A. was completed, irrelevant to me at the time. Who would of thought that a few years later, the Gold Line would become my main source of transportation when calling East L.A. my new home. I’m not completely against the changes Downtown L.A. is going through. I’m simply asking writers with a voice in a mainstream platform as well as new business owners of Downtown L.A., to promote the new while embracing the past. What do you miss of Downtown L.A. and if you were running things, what would you change, bring back or keep, do you agree or disagree with the changes?

THE ART OF STYLE | EVERYDAY LIFE

Art in everyday life, has a particular significance. It implies the belief that art may be so much a part of our daily life, that It’ll helps us to do the simple, homely things of life as well as the more unusual aspects, in a more beautiful and graceful way. As we surround ourselves with beauty, art becomes a part of our life and personality, not to be set apart for the occasional enjoyment however. Both beauty and art must be sought after and enjoyed in everything we do and in everything we select. As consumers, every time we make a purchase, however humble it may be, we’re consciously or unconsciously using our power to choose. Since art is involved in most of the objects seen and used in our everyday lives, one of the great needs of the consumer is knowledge of the principles of the fundamentals of good taste. Good taste, in the field of art, is the application of the principles of design to the problems in life where appearance as well as utility, is a consideration. With the development of our appreciation of these principles, the meaning of the term “principles of design” broadens and deepens. These principles should never be static. They should be regarded as flexible guides to be used in producing a desired result. It has been said that good taste is doing the right thing, unconsciously, at the right time and, in the right way. In the book Joseph Vance, Dr. Thorpe says, “I keep hoping for the development, in Joey, of the faculty of Good Taste…. It’s a quality of the inner soul, that gives a bias to the intellect.” Few people are born with this rare gift, but, fortunately for us, good taste in art can be acquired by applying the principles of beauty deliberately until the time is reached when the right thing is done, unconsciously.

- Art in Everyday Life, 1925

DÍA DE MUERTOS | OAXACA, MÉXICO

When I think of death I recall to Professor Dumbledore’s words from The Philosopher’s Stone, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Because of the emotional roller coaster people get themselves in when dealing with death, we cope with this inevitable part of life vastly differently from one person to the next. Using myself as an example I will be the first to tell you that I deal with death as a celebration. A celebration for the person’s life towards the next, wherever that place may be. At the same time, I tend to remain rather neutral and treat death as say a quick trip to the convenient store. And yes, I’ve always been this way and I owe it to my upbringing you see, the women in my family have set a standard on remaining neutral in severe situations, especially during someone’s passing for the sole purpose of being a much-needed pillar for those coping with death. Considering some folk don’t deal with death as well as we do. Do I fear death? No, but as I get older I’ve become well aware of my own mortality and with each passing, death becomes ever so closer.

El Día de los Muertos is a national holiday observed on the 2nd of November within the Mexican Republic and its been a staple holiday my family has observed for as long as we’ve been around. By no means am I an expert or an authority for this or any other Mexican holiday, but from what I know El Día de Muertos has its origins heavily rooted in Pre-Hispanic times. In those days, native peoples baked human shapes out of Amaranthus and covered them with juice of the Tuna (prickly pear) to symbolize blood. This was how they honored those who have passed over to Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. 

Surprisingly however not much is done on the actual holiday. The city pretty much shuts down as November 2ndis to be spent at home with family. The majority of events and celebration of the holiday take place on the latter weeks of October with the main event take place on October 31st at the Mictlancihuatl cemetery (named after Mictlantecutli, Goddess of Mictlan) in the town of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, roughly 20 miles south of Downtown Oaxaca. The Mictlancihuatl cemetery or the new cemetery as it’s known to the locals hosts a wake the night of October 31st to symbolize the welcome of our passed loved ones from the netherworld. A massive celebration of vendors, food, music and carnival games gather outside both the new and old cemeteries in  Xoxocotlán. We’re fortunate to have our Great Uncle buried in the new cemetery, which grants us permission to hang out at the grave site all night. Our Great Aunts brings with her candles, marigold flowers, beer, Mezcal, fruits and sugar cane to decorate the grave site of her passed husband, along with food for us to eat while we sit around the grave and listen to music as the musicians walk from grave to grave asking for a few pesos in exchange to play the songs our passed loved ones enjoyed in this life. 

The best part of the holiday aside from the Comparsas (Halloween themed parades) throughout the city, is the food and free Mezcal you get while walking in the Comparsas. At home, my Grandmother puts together an altar in the spare room of her house two weeks prior from November 2nd. To my surprise, my Grandmother had the foresight to plant marigold flowers at the plot of land we own close to the town of Zaachila. The altar is decorated with photos of our passed loved ones, together with an abundance of marigold flowers or as we call them Flor de Muerto. Other adornments include Pan de Muerto, Mezcal, fruits, nuts and as the day gets closer, tamales de frijol, tamales de mole and other dishes our passed loved ones enjoyed when they were alive. About a week before November 2nd, the grave site of both my Grandfather and Uncle (they share the same gravesite) is decorated with the same adornments found on our altar. As I stated, I’m not the authority of this or any other holiday, but you’re always welcomed to visit Oaxaca during this time and I’ll happily show you around. 

 

MEZCAL OAXAQUEÑO | A PRE-HISPANIC ART

The word Mezcal originates from the ancient Nahuatl word Mexcalli, which divide into two words, Metl (cooked) and Izcalli (Agave). It’s well categorized that over 20 types of Mezcales are distilled from Agave within the Mexican Republic. The Agave succulent has a current population of over 200 species, 150 of which are native to Mexico, with the state of Oaxaca leading the way with 38 species native to its region; 8 of which are used for Mezcal production. One being the Agave Angustifolia, better known as the Espadín Agave. Other Agave species included the Tepeztate, Mexicano, Tobalá (Potatorum), Cuixe (Karwinskii), Jabalí, Arroqueño and the Sierra Negra. Other states within the Republic use the Agave which are native to their own region to produce other variations of Mezcales. The state of Sonora for example produces Bacanora, made from the Agave Angustifolia and Agave Rhodacantha. The state of Durango produces Mezcal from the Agave Cenizo (Durangensis), while the state of Jalisco produces the most popular of Mezcales, Tequila; made from the Blue Tequilana Weber Agave. Because of the unique variants of the Agave, the artisanal process utilized to cook, distill and ferment the Agave, as well as the water chosen to distill the Mezcal, each Mezcal is miles different from one the next. As such, Mezcal must be treated with the utmost respect while consumed as a bottle of Mezcal can take on average seven years to produce. On account of the years it takes for the Agave to mature. The domesticated Espadín Agave for example can take between seven to ten years to mature, and the Agave found in the wild as the Tobalá or Karwinskii, can take anywhere between 13 to 15 years to mature. 

Mezcal is an integral part of the Mexican culture, full of history, legends, aromas, flavors and folklore, all of which incorporate a vast amount of traditional wisdom, regarding the cultivation and use of the Agave and Mezcal. The final product depends on the species of Agave employed, the climate in which the Agave matured, the specific fermentation and distillation process and finally, the container used to age it. Each Mezcal bottle contains aspects of an age-old tradition of the land that gives it life and the vast knowledge of each individual producer, known as Maestro or Maestra Mescalero(a). These influences set Mezcal apart from other spirits, not to mention its immense pre-Hispanic and Mesoamerican history it has under its belt. We don’t know exactly where Mezcal originated from as major influences derived from different cultures and peoples, this gives Mezcal a rich history that makes it near impossible to know everything about it. Even now evidence is being uncovered of the first stills that are traced back to ancient China and the Middle East, not to mention the various legends as to how this, spirit of the Gods came into the possession of humans.

DSC_7514.jpg

One such legend tells of Quetzalcóatl (feathered serpent and God of Wind) falling in love with the virgin Goddess Mayahuel the sacred fountain of water and granddaughter of Tzitzímitl, the celestial demon of darkness intent on preventing the Sun from raising. Upon learning of this forbidden love, Tzitzímitl killed Mayahuel by ripping her limb by limb and scattering her pieces throughout the ancient world of the Aztecs. Quetzalcóatl cried with the deepest of sorrow on the burial sites of Mayahuel and thus, the sacred Agave plant was born. In his rage Quetzalcóatl killed Tzitzímitl causing the Sun to rise every day and during the fight, a lightning bolt struck the Agave, causing it to cook and the ancient peoples then enjoyed this sweet nectar from the charred body of the Agave, giving birth to the sacred spirit of the Gods, Mezcal. Other versions the legend state that Mayahuel transformed into the Agave to hide from her Grandmother Tzitzímitl. But wowever Mezcal came to be, its widely accept its roots are heavily planted within the state of Oaxaca.

During the 1920’s, the women of Oaxaca marked a decisive factor of the industry's survival during Mexico’s prohibition era. An era when Mezcal was fabricated and distributed clandestinely. Women working in the industry were known as Mezcalilleras or Mezcaleras. During prohibition, women turned to Mezcal distribution as a perfect complement to their husband’s work, acting as business administrators and pillars of the family during the long periods of time when the men would go into the mountains to produce Mezcal illegally. And up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities within Oaxaca and at the time, Maestra Mezcaleras were unheard of. However, in recent years thanks to labels as Cuish and Mezcaloteca which promote local distillers, more Maestras are gracefully represented within our industry.

Mezcal runs through the blood of every Oaxaqueño. Aforementioned, it’s almost impossible to know everything there is to know about Mezcal, as new information of its origin are constantly being discovered, new stories of its Maestros and Maestras in the field are told and new Mezcal labels are introduced into the market as its popularity grows. This is why I love Mezcal, as it can transcend through different lifestyles and cultures. It can be consumed in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. It brings us together to mark a special occasion in our lives, such as a wedding or even a death in the family. Having us contemplate that life is measured out in cycles. The land’s cycle is marked by the flowering and maturing of the Agave. For the Agave, a cycle is marked by the coming of the rains. For the horse, whose powerful muscles bear the weight of the massive round stone that grinds the cooked Agave hearts, a cycle is made after every turn of the stone. For the Mezcal distiller, the last drop of Mezcal out of the alembic represents the end of yet another working day. For the Mezcal drinker, the cycle begins every time a new bottle is opened. And what a true drinker looks for in Mezcal is heightened sensitivity, not dulling of the senses. Mezcal uplifts the senses, conversation flows more freely, eruditely even and far more cheerfully when a bottle of Mezcal is given a place of honor at the table.

| Source |
- Artes De Mexico #98: Mezcal Arte Tradicional

OAXACA | A CULTURAL IDENTITY


Un día me preguntaron, “tú que hablas de muchas cosas, que es Oaxaca?” Le respondí, “no lo sé. Pero lo que sí sé, es que soy orgulloso de ver nacido en Oaxaca, llena de sabor, historia y tradición. Ser Oaxaqueño es la más grande delicia del mundo, ser Oaxaqueño es mostrar tu tierra y de donde vienes.” Como Oaxaca no hay dos. Oaxaca es cultura. Oaxaca es comida. Oaxaca es Mezcal. Oaxaca es mi tierra. Oaxaca es mi identidad. Oaxaca corre dentro mis venas. Pero más importante, Oaxaca es mi familia y mi hogar. Alguien dijo, “un día salí de Oaxaca, pero Oaxaca, nunca salió de mi.