Más Más Más

Thursday, November 26, 2009

...So, as of late, I’ve been quite busy with school. Lots of assignments, deadlines, projects, essays, etc, and the like. That’s not to worry, though, as I’ve been doing the work on time, and in an almost meticulous fashion at that. And the few instances when I haven’t been totally swamped with schoolwork, I’ve been up to my usual ways. Those are, of course, biking around ethnic nabes, eating ethnic food, “interviewing” locals, writing in my journal, and just in general, getting a better feel, grasp and understanding of my city. And it’s been working, too.

Through these long bike rides, along with me being the keenly observant and alert person I am, I’ve come away being much more knowledgeable about the city as a whole. As previously stated, I feel bicycle riding and in general, being a pedestrian, is by far the best way to create and fostering a true understanding of and feel for a city. Doing this, it’s as if I am seeing things at face value, and for what they are. Such rides are prime opportunities to discover the many nooks and crannies of this city – things people can’t see when driving by at 40mph from the comfortable confines of an air-conditioned car.

Admittedly, it is often the quest for tasty street food often leads me into off-the-beaten-path nabes. Or, at the very least, those that are “different.” Notable amongst the treasure trove of nabes I’ve visited lately are East Hollywood, of which I refer to as EHO, and the refreshingly 3rd world Westlake, which I’ve designated “El Barrio.” These places, with their pre-war aesthetic, large immigrant communities and undeniable urban vibes, strike me as quintessential LA nabes. (I’ve been in South LA, aka South Central a lot, too..but that’s for a post in and of itself)

EHO…what can I say? It’s incredible. First and foremost, it is one of LA’s most diverse places, bar none. Its United Nations-esque mix of Mexicans, Salvadoreans, Thai (with a “Thai Town”), Armenians (a “Little Armenia,” too), a bevy of Ukrainians and Russians, and a smattering of hipsters and yuppies, is one of the most potent I’ve seen, anywhere. The said mélange of groups provides ample opportunity to immerse one into foreign cultures and their respective culinary traditions, of which I feel is perhaps the best one to truly explore a culture.

And as for its architecture and housing? It’s all over the place, quite literally. The styles run the whole spectrum, with the standard pre-WW2 architectural trinity of Spanish, Tudor and Craftsman, but also a rather large contingent of 70s Dingbats and other, minimalistic styles. If you look hard enough, there are a few gems to be found, especially north of Hollywood Blvd, as the nabe was obviously once quite affluent. My favorites are the random beaux arts buildings you find looming over unassuming, low-rise city blocks. There are few things better than riding by at full speed and smelling, hearing, absorbing and taking in the various sights, sounds, and smells of this polyglot neighborhood.

Though, what I like most about EHO is that, despite it carrying the infamous and world-renowned Hollywood name, it is nothing like its namesake sister portrayed in the media. It’s almost as if its Hollywood’s darker, much more sinister twin. If anything, with its gritty character and nature, rich wealth of diversity and culture, and unabashedly “raw” urbanity, it shows that beneath the glitz and glam (in LA), a real city, where real people exist.

Now for El Barrio. Man, I don’t even know where to start. It is, without doubt, LA’s most urban nabe. Seriously, where else do you have Manhattan densities in 3-4 story 1920s walkups? LOL. Coming in at over 95% Hispanic, its, uh, hardcore Hispanic, primarily Salvadorean, but with pockets of Oaxaqueños, too. Incredibly impoverished, with the average income hovering 3x below that of the average Californian, the bulk of the businesses are, unsurprisingly, low-end and geared towards Salvadorans and other Hispanics; pupuserias, 98 cent stores, immigrant health clinics, SRO's/"hotels", various mini-markets and discount clothing outlets (the kind selling 10x socks for a dollar), etc. and the like.

Westlake is a place where real, urban interactions are commonplace and influence many aspects of life. With its myriad vendors, flourishing sidewalk culture and sheer number of people outdoors walking around, its street culture is unrivaled. The buildings are amongst the best in the city, as Westlake was once a popular haunt for the moneyed, and the crème de la crème of 1920s LA neighborhoods – which, of course, is something made rather clear in the attention to detail in these buildings. It’s almost unreal. The crowds watching fútbol, the persistent buskers hawking fake ID’s and passports, the loud cumbia and punta music blaring from storefronts and 1990s Asian hatchbacks (replete with rosaries and El Salvadorean flags hanging from the rear mirror), as well as the fact that English is spoken so infrequently, that it stands out, all lend it a decidedly 3rd world vibe.

Despite its current gang/drug-addled nature and dire poverty, the nabe has made significant changes in the past 10 years alone, especially with regards to reducing crime and gang presence -- the visible forms of them, anyways. That said, the future is probably the brightest it’s even been, though that and other changes are contingent on current strides continuing. IMO, Westlake is poised to become the next big neighborhood, due to its awesome mass transit access (2 train lines), the most grand park in the city (MacArthur Park), the most charming and ornate housing/building stock in the city: its preponderance of pre-WW2 masterpieces, and lastly, its walkability/human-scale/street vibrancy and build form. Not to mention that you could, uh, walk to work in Downtown. Interestingly enough, even in its current form, many people romanticize its ‘Latin’ vibe; the music, people playing soccer, the illegality, noise and dirtiness of it all.

















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