Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Revisiting El Pueblo de Los Angeles



So was it "Our Lady" or wasn't it? Until I revisited Olvera Street earlier this month, I'd always believed that the original name of my birthplace was "La Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula." I believe I learned that at Budlong Elementary School in sixth grade. The story stuck with me.

The oldest church in the city, built between 1818-1822, always has been called La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church. But the official brochure I picked up on Olvera Street says this: "The words 'Nuesta Senora' are not part of the city's original name." What?

A little Googling brought up a lot of variations...and a lot of disagreements.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de la Porciuncula.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles del Rio Porciuncula.
El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles Sobre el Rio de Porciuncula.
El Pueblo del Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles de Porciuncula.



Admiring a mural of Dolores Del Rio.
The Historical Society of Southern California attempted to solve the dilemma with a publication in 2005. Longtime Los Angeles historian Doyce B. Nunis Jr., for over 40 years, editor of the journal, the Southern California Quarterly, said this: "The Spanish named Los Angeles El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles. That means 'the town of the Queen of Angels,' "

Thumbing through the book to Page 158, he pointed to a reproduction of a 220-year-old map from UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

"You see it at the top of the map, 'El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles.' That's the name on the first handwritten map in 1785. You have to look at the original documents, and that's what we've done. The name is right there." The map uses "Reyna"; other sources spell it "Reina."

A full review of this publication can be found here:

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/mar/26/local/me-name26

Linda with a mural promoting the Ramona Pageant
Rather than drive to Los Angeles from Orange County, my friend Linda and I took Amtrak to Union Station. We walked across the street and secured a patio table at El Paseo Inn, a 1930s landmark, a restaurant I visited back in the sixties and seventies. In those days it featured a large dance floor in the middle of the dining room, with Folklorico performances. The building housing the restaurant dates back to the 1870s, and originally was a winery. During prohibition, the owners switched to producing soft drinks. El Paseo Inn moved from its original location to this one in 1953.

It's served enchiladas, tacos and Margaritas to hungry local luminaries, and even United States Presidents, including George H. W.  and William Jefferson Clinton. I couldn't find out what they dined on, but I feasted on chicken tacos, accompanied by a draft Modelo.


 Avila Adobe, built in 1818 by a former Los Angeles alcade (mayor), Francisco José Avila , our next stop, remains the oldest house in Los Angeles.
Entrance, Avila Adobe
Over the decades, the structure served first as his family home, then as a restaurant and a rooming house, before remaining vacant and deteriorating. Condemned in 1926 by the City Health Department, it was rescued by Christine Sterling, who began a public campaign to save and restore the adobe. Open now to the public as a museum, it's furnished as it might have been in the 1840s.

Our last stop on this scorching afternoon, with temperatures soaring near 100 degrees, turned out to be the America Tropical Interpretative Center, which, thanks to support from the Getty Conservation Institute, has been stabilized and preserved, rather than "restored." David Alfaro Siquieros (1896–1974), a great Mexican artists of the twentieth century, painted América Tropical in 1932 on the second story exterior wall of the Italian Hall, located in the center of Olvera Street. It depicts a Mexican Indian, crucified on a double cross beneath an American eagle, with two sharpshooters taking aim at the eagle from a nearby rooftop. It symbolized American imperialism.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, this mural scandalized L.A. elites who might have expected lush foilage and colorful birds. Consequently, the mural was whitewashed, and Siqueiros  deported from the U.S. after his visa ran out.

We wandered through the interesting exhibit hall downstairs, with artifacts and paintings depicting Mexican cultural influences on Los Angeles, before walking up a flight of stairs to the viewing panel for the mural. Though the whitewash covering it has faded, the mural has not been "restored."  Nobody else's brush has touched it. It remains purely the work of Siquieros, nearly a century after he painted it.
Still a hundred percent Siquieros' mural.
We took MetroLink back home, still speculating on the original name of my birth city. I'm still embracing including "Nuestra Senora" in the title...I love the pronoun and the gender. Los Angeles remains "Our Lady," no matter what the historians say.

For more on Olvera Street's history:
http://blogdowntown.com/2012/10/7032-historic-olvera-street-siqueiros-mural-museum

http://www.elpueblo.lacity.org/Tourism/OlveraStreetDirectory/index.html

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July to the Rescue!


Frank and me at Hercules, July 3, 2017

When people in Southern California grumble about "June gloom," I suspect they allude to the overcast, the marine layer that hangs over us who live near the Pacific. By afternoon it's frequently burned off, but other days it lingers until nightfall.

Sometimes the gloom even oozes into July. This year it didn't. And for Independence Day celebrations, which seemed to begin here around July 1 this year, the sun glimmered just as much as we expected it to do. I appreciate July. It really does come to the rescue.

For me, June has other gloomy connotations. Every week during this short month has at least a date or two that brings me a wistful memory. Birthdays, weddings, deaths...June's packed with them. A couple of years ago my late daughter-in-law, Mari Lou Laso-Elders, in late May, assigned her creative writing students the task of composing one of those novelty poems, where the first letter of each line spells out a message. This was mine:



June Again
By Terri Elders

Too often when I note this month
On my computer's monitor
Or on the kitchen calendar
Memories emerge.
Unfulfilled dreams, unresolved schemes,
Carefree days that never happened,    
Heavy-hearted dirge.
July rushes in, a rescuer.
Unlimited days, endless nights,
Numbing the aches of solitude…
Ebb and flow converge.


Obviously, I'm relieved when July 5 rolls around. June Gloom has been vanquished, as well as any anxiety about the early days of July (Mama and my sister Patti shared July 2 as their birthday...and I always remember how Grandma Gertie would make a special chocolate cake for the three of us to share...my own birthday, June 28, would wait until closer to theirs.


July began with a barbecue and memorial at my H-W Senior Living complex, where I had my first homemade barbecued burger in a long while. Independence Day debuts early in Orange County...the City of Orange, where both my son and my boyfriend live, celebrates the big event with a patriotic show and fireworks at the high school stadium annually on July 3. For the second year, Frank and I had supper at our favorite Chapman Avenue eatery, Hercules, sitting outside to wait for the boom-hiss-a-boom-boom.

This year we weren't disappointed. We followed up on July 4 by dropping by a neighborhood block party, where all generations paraded, barbecued, splashed on the most elaborate water slide I've ever seen, and competed at horseshoes, ping pong and HORSE. I particularly enjoyed the band, which included a couple of numbers by Willie Nelson.

I didn't fall asleep last night until the fireworks halted...close to midnight. Then I awoke to the calm of July 5. I welcome the rest of summer.







Friends George and Sue Burchfiel

Friends Darlene and Jerry Steddum

Monday, July 3, 2017

Just "Like" the Others



On the day we celebrate our country founded in liberty and justice for all, I'm reminded that kindness still counts. I don't have a Foursquare app on my cell phone. So I don't have the ability to check in to see where everybody's going to hang out on the 4th. Full disclosure: actually, I don't have a smart phone. But tomorrow I'm going to a block party, as will millions of others across the US on Independence Day.

I suspect I might see volleyball games...maybe even horseshoes or croquet set ups in folks' front yards. Does anybody still play Four Square? I wonder if I still can spike a ball. Several months ago, I remembered how I learned to play...and the message that being kind to others means to me. 


I maintain a love of this good old-fashioned playground game, which I learned years ago from an expert, Robin, who knew how to be kind to strangers.

Just Like the Others

”Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” ~Seneca
By the end of the first week at my new school I’d already learned to loathe recess. My new sixth grade teacher by then had wearied of my begging to be allowed to stay in to help her empty the wastebaskets or erase the blackboard.
“You have to go outside and play, just like the others,” she’d say, furrowing her brow.
But I wasn’t just like the others. When my family had first moved from urban California to a small rural town in Oregon, I’d skipped a grade. The old three-room schoolhouse boasted a teeter totter and a few makeshift tire swings strung up on maple tree branches. Shorter and slighter than my classmates, I nonetheless could hold my own in the dirt yard at tag or crack the whip. Recess didn’t require us to have any special skills. Nobody ever chose up sides for teams.
Now, though, since we’d returned to the city, my diminutive size mattered. Recess involved competition on asphalt courts. Nobody knew my name, so I usually was the last one chosen. So   I took to lingering on the sidelines, admiring the grace of a tall, pretty blonde. Robin sat on the other side of our classroom. Like me, she managed to get all the words right on our spelling quizzes. When we stood side by side at the blackboard to work arithmetic problems, she solved the sets just as fast or even faster than I could.
She especially excelled at Four Square. I’d figured out the rules by watching the players advance from the lowest to the highest square.
One morning Robin spied me on the outskirts and beckoned for me to step into a vacant square. My gratitude soon turned to dismay. I simply couldn’t get the hang of the game. I’d be eliminated the first time anybody bounced the little rubber ball into my square. Either I’d fumble and let the ball bounce twice or I’d flail wildly and hit it out of bounds.
Eventually, Robin took me aside.
“Let’s go over to the corner and I’ll teach you how to hit the ball right,” she offered.
And she did, though it took her several afternoons of coaching before I actually managed to advance to the highest square.
Though I lost track of Robin once I started junior high, I often thought of her over the years. I tried to model myself on her, befriending new kids who started school midterm, offering to show them around the campus, or inviting them to sit with me and my friends at lunch. If a new family moved into the neighborhood during the summer, I’d tell them about the nearby park where they could swim for free on Saturday morning, and offer to walk over there with them.
“It’s what Robin would have done,” I’d tell myself. Robin had been a lodestar, an inspiration, a shining example of how to treat outsiders with kindness.
In college, when I studied the philosophy of Martin Buber, I realized that Robin, even as a child, instinctively must have known the meaningfulness of relationships, the I and the Thou.
Decades later, I read about “The Note Project,” sponsored by a Chicago writer and publisher. Mike O’Mary. O’Mary wanted a million people to improve the world through sharing appreciation. He had received a note of appreciation from his sister at one point in his life that he felt changed his whole perception of how to live in this world.
“In my personal life, appreciation is a tool to build and strengthen relationships…every chance I get I tell the people I love and appreciate that I love and appreciate them. I tell them every time I see, write or talk to them,” O’Mary said. He encouraged everybody to think back on somebody who had provided a random act of kindness, and write to thank them for it.
I thought immediately of Robin. Now in my seventies and living in a remote rural area of Northern Washington, I realized that my chances of reaching her to thank her for her kindness to me when I was an awkward, lonely sixth grader were remote indeed. But Robin had a very unusual last name, one that I’d never forgotten. So I took a chance and Googled it.
What a miracle! Her maiden name showed up with an attached surname, with links to several Internet articles that alluded to her. A still-practicing psychiatrist, she’d recently been widowed. She still lived in Southern California.
I took a deep breath…and a chance. I wrote her a note, explaining that I’d always remembered her, and wanted her to know how much I appreciated how she took the time to teach me Four Square when we were both so young. I wrote that I had been widowed a few years earlier myself, and had a couple of stories about how I’d weathered the demise of my husband in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, “Grieving and Recovery,” that I’d like to send her. I appended my email address.
A few weeks later, I opened my inbox and had a response.
 “I can’t tell you how surprised and moved I was to receive your letter this afternoon. And pleased,” she wrote.
She described her own troubled family situation, with complications I never could have guessed. Because of harrowing home conditions, she’d blocked from her memory most of her elementary school years. She, too, had felt invisible at that elementary school. She’d been delighted that though she couldn’t remember me, or her kindness to me, I’d remembered her.
I sent her the Chicken Soup book, and we continued to correspond frequently, reminiscing about the family events that had lead us both to similar professions, hers in psychiatry, and mine is psychiatric social work. When I visited family in California, we arranged to meet for lunch. Now that I once again live in the Southland, we have met for lunch again.
Recently I had reservations at my age about embarking on a new romantic relationship. This man, a religious leader, historian and scholar, possessed a depth of knowledge about a subject totally unfamiliar to me. Robin though knew something about his field. So I wrote to her, full of questions, hinting that his superior knowledge would perhaps lead him to regard me with disdain.
She immediately replied. “I wonder why you would imagine he would think you're inferior! You're an accomplished woman. And you know all the secrets of Four Square!”
Once again, she’d provided the encouragement I needed. My timidity vanished.
I stopped regarding my new friend as an “other.” Rather, we got to know one another, I learned that his unsettling event in his childhood had lead him, too, to devoting his life to being kind to people, trying to be an agent of change in the world. He, too, had struggled as a young man with trying to fit in, to be just like the others.
It might be that simple. We just need to “like” the others.