Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Moshi, Moshi Foreigner

The dream: to know a foreign language yet not to understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, communication or vulgarity...to undo our own "reality" under the effect of other forumulations, other syntaxes...in a word, to descend into the untranslatable.

-Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs
Lea Jacobson, Bar Flower

I experience a certain anxious ecstasy in anticipation of learning a new language. I am not frustrated with grammatics or limited vocabulary, but rather, simply salivating to speak aloud the alluringly foreign, lusty new words. The newest (and always easiest sentences) I learn, roll off my tongue and curl in my mouth. I am in heaven in my ignorance of the future. Too soon, pronunciation becomes embarrassing, and I fear any native would cringe to listen. This is xenocentrism at its worst, as I am morbidly fearsome of what the natives will think; my world now revolves around theirs and my self-awareness culminates in terror - cutting me off at the throat. I will never learn like this. And sometimes, I simply cannot bear it anymore, and my only action is to put the reference book back on the shelf. However, my new obsession will not allow such submissive action. So, I took one Sunday afternoon and drove to downtown L.A. with a singular stop in mind - to find inspiration.

Little Tokyo provides an expanse of opportunities to speak with Japanese, the limits of which I will (in all likelihood) never test. I can see my future: it is a breeding ground for my now insatiable appetite for all things related to modern Japan and it's pop culture, including red bean Mochi and Death Note Manga.

I ended up here one Sunday afternoon, trying to search out the origin of my favorite Mochi brand, Mikawaya. Thinking I would discover a costco of a mochi manufacturing plant, I was happily disappointed to find the shop to be a small, almost empty confection store. Offering different Mochi flavors I hadn't discovered, alongside additional confections similar in texture to the rice covering of Mochi. Once satisfied with 6 pieces and coconut ChiChi, I left the shop to explore the town.

Little Tokyo is exactly that, little. The surrounding apartments and housing stretches further than I can see or know, but the "cultural" center, most likely dedicated to serving tourists than the actual residents, is fairly small, seeing as how a 10 minute walk takes you through most of the shops and two levels of related stores (assuming you're not doing much shopping). However, I find that this superficial Tokyo offers a Japanese video store and many a small eateries offering Japanese cuisine unrelated to Sushi. This place is not solely a tourist trap. Still, my suspicions that the center is more of a tourist shop than real cultural experience are somewhat confirmed, as the first store I enter sells cheap but beautiful chopsticks and small sake sets alongside Hello kitty pencil sharpeners and Totoro aprons.

Mystery breeds creativity, and mystery awakens the imagination. ~Lea Jacobson, Bar Flower

This exploration will or must culminate in the commencement of learning and tedious study of the minutiae that is the Japanese language. Listening to the language is fun in itself; hearing the girls voices especially - talking quickly in high voices, giggly and cute-as-a-button adorable in their fashionable clothing and brand name bags. The language manages to sound elegant and delicate.

I have yet to forgive myself for not property devoting myself to learning the French language, so the responsibility of learning another looms ahead; intimidating but still enthralling, the love affair having just begun.

Design Sponge

Los Angeles is no doubt the mother of many a creative inspiration, so it's no wonder that L.A. has become a Disneyland for home decoration. It's unenviable traffic packed roads are lined with countless facets of innovative home design. So how do you navigate 30 miles of lusty home furnishings? Enter Grace Bonney. A gift to home design enthusiasts everywhere, she gives back to the world with her blog called Design Sponge. This little gem in the World Wide Web offers tidbits of information from all over the U.S. and beyond, offering guides, Do-It-Yourself and before and after shots of others homes; giving those with no idea what to do with their living spaces plenty of ideas to make their home comfortable and unique to them. Likewise, Grace, along with several colleagues, has compiled a list for cities across the U.S. to show off their best stores and native-known-only hot spots to visit if you're in the mood to decorate. For L.A. dwellers, here's a list of stores that might make you forget that IKEA exists altogether.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dov Charney Hates L.A.?

The class act that is Dov Charney, the child porn photographer and all-around sleaze, continues to be his offensive self. As you can see, in the front yard of his porn emporium, aka Charney's L.A. home, sits a bronze statue giving the bird to downtown L.A. To a city that's given him so much - naive girls, factory workers to sexually harass and a tolerant advertisment policy - you'd think that hand would be a little more welcoming.

I'm confused, are the girls of L.A. not so agreeable lately? Did he run out of parting gifts?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Starbucks Is Gourmet?

A friend of mine once woke from a dream in which she opened up a Starbucks in the jungles of Paraguay. Granted, she worked at Starbucks at the time, the dream certainly wasn't uninspired. Although she never advocated it's existence, she certainly didn't oppose it (after all, she worked at one of the newest Starbucks music stores off Lincoln Road in Miami Beach; and they wanted to promote her - that was one thing she didn't want and she turned them down). There's no denying that pretty much everyone in the world coffee drinking age has tried Starbucks self-promoted 'premier' coffee, and subsequently been exposed to its' Baristas and cornucopia of merchandise (did anyone see the coffee cups shaped like a to go mug? I admit - I think they're cute). However, the prices of their coffee have gone up without quality to match, and I often find the long lines and cookie-cutter atmosphere has cheapened the experience.

How lucky was I to find a blurb in New York magazine about how Starbucks should wise up and take a gander at the newbie coffee houses slowly whittling away their profits and producing Mochas and Lattes that justify the price and a true gourmet reputation. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a true coffee house in L.A. and it's name is Intelligentsia. Known to many SilverLake dwellers, their L.A. location exists on a small section off Sunset, where some of the more interesting culinary treats of Silverlake exist.

Why comes to L.A.? If you go to the site, it's slightly reminiscent of the Starbucks mantra, however, "Along with introducing Los Angeles to Intelligentsia’s understanding that responsible business practices create the finest coffees, the Silver Lake store will showcase the seasonality of the fine coffees. An agricultural product, coffee can be grown and harvested with the same care and commitment local artisanal farmers have for heirloom vegetables. And like heirloom vegetables, coffee varietals, such as the famed Geisha bean, each have a season when they are at their peak. The new Silver Lake store will showcase these finer, heirloom-grown coffees by offering coffees only during their specific season, when their stunning aromas and flavors elevate it from commodity crop to an elegant foodstuff to be savored."

So where does that leave Starbucks, leader of the coffee biz? Danny Meyer, a restauranteur, believes that since Starbucks has "put an entire adult population through Coffee University," it must now prepare its own generations of "stores run by passionate coffee geeks," after taking a cue from "four of the smaller, elite players from across the world who are doing it right." Drumroll please, these are: Monmouth Coffee (London), Blue Bottle (San Francisco-Oakland), Intelligentsia (Chicago/Note* L.A. is their newest location), and Joe the art of Coffee (New York). L.A. certainly doesn't need another superficial anecdote in the daily grind; but can Angelenos sacrifice their time for a good cup of Joe? After all, I don't want to see Starbucks in the middle of the jungle.

Coffee sommelier, pastries, Clover
3922 W. Sunset Blvd., 323.663.6173
Daily 6am-11pm

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hazed Horizon

Tonight it's cool, the city enveloped in fog. I've snaked my way through Pasadena and now head home, back to Hollywood on Highway 101.

As I drive past downtown L.A., I can see the skyscrapers tower above me, advertisements and signs atop the buildings effectively blurred by vapor. The traffic bellows but it's quiet as I travel, as if the brume submerges the sound.

No one is out, save for a woman with a platinum blond mohawk looking to cross the street at Franklin and Highland. But I am taking side streets. I drive through the dark; and finally, I am home.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Roll Credits

A unique L.A. phenomenon: Unlike the rest of the country, much of L.A.'s movie audiences sit through the closing credits; I'm not in the biz, so this stand-still simply gives me time to get out of the parking lot before the masses head out and create a painful parking lot traffic jam.

An LA Observer shows us what's up: "In L.A., a movie isn't over at the fadeout; we want to see who was the best boy, who stood in for Julia Roberts and who got the catering gig. For Angelenos, the movie isn't over until the Dolby Sound System logo has appeared, and the house lights have come on.

I used to believe L.A. movie crowds watch the credits with as much interest as the story action because they want to see how many people they know making below-the-line appearances. To recognize names, to claim relationships, is a gauge of professional status in an industry town; it's a competition as much as a curiosity satisfier."

The networking never ends in this town.