Jam Day 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

So, yeah…today I attended the Jazz component of UCLA’s renowned, well-attended Jazz and Reggae Day concerts every Memorial Day weekend. Called Jam Day, the event was headlined by acts centering on a neo-soul, pan-Afro connection, such as Erykah Badu, De La Soul, Ayo, as well as contemporary indie hip-hop groups, such as People under the Stairs. Despite its vague Afro connection, and in true LA polyglot fashion, the event was attended and enjoyed by people of all walks, creeds, races, ethnicities, colors, genders and classes – a true a cross-sectional symphony of Angelinos.

As one would expect, with our excellent, celebrated summer climate finally starting to kick in, the event was packed…literally teeming with people! Long lines pretty much characterized this event; be it lines for restrooms, food, or even entering and departing. Still, lines couldn’t hamper the positive, laid-back vibes that our city is known for. I was, however, surprised (well, not really) at the sheer number of Blacks present. Wow! In a city once on the verge of joining the ranks of Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, New Orleans and Washington DC as a “chocolate city”, but now better known for its black flight and unnerved, split Black community, this was truly a sight to see. Sadly, I was even more surprised that the usual violence/feuding/riff-raff that unfortunately tends to be hallmarks of large Black gatherings were absent. For once, even if only for a day, the city was bound together in harmony; civility at last.

Anyways, on to the venue itself. I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It excelled in just about every aspect and regard. The people watching and ensuing people shooting were stellar, especially with the relaxed, mind-bogglingly diverse crowd out. To no surprise, lots of typical Southland cuties; and of course, our highest grossing and most prolific, export, marijuana were both present. The food was excellent, with vendors hawking all sorts of Diaspora cuisine; Philadelphia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Jamaica, Haiti, Belize, etc, were all present in the culinary spectrum. Personally, I feasted on a hearty Philly cheese steak sandwich. The music delivered, as well. De La Soul and Erykah Badu were on fire. Though, my only gripe with Ms.Badu was that she played some of her newer material – much to the audience’s chagrin. Truth be told, sorry, but the newer stuff doesn’t, or can’t hold candle to the older, neo-soul classics such as Mama’s Gun. Nonetheless, some classics were played, and she didn’t drop the ball after all – something we had expected her to do (well, she did afterall commence the performance with an unknown song). Anyways, what made the show especially good and hospitable, was the company. While in the company and presence of great people such as my mom and aunt, but also esteemed friend and fellow blogger, Daniel, one is bound to have a good time.

sup kristina


As of late..

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Buenos Aires Calling

Saturday, May 23, 2009

With my graduation nearing, my mother decided to honor the occasion firming up and purchasing tickets for a 2-week stay in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Yeah, lucky me. With its vibrant energy, sexy culture, timeless beauty, classical architecture and glorious past, Buenos Aires, the so-called “Paris of South America” had been hovering around the top of my travel list for some time now; but only now I am actually going.

Since finding out about the place sometime early last fall, I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Upon hearing about how great and alive the culture is, and at the absurdly low price it can be experienced for, I was absolutely shocked and smitten. To no surprise, it was only a matter of time before it became a “must-visit” place. While it’s rich, distinct culture, vibe and ambiance were what took the cake, sealing the deal - its architecture, history and distinct culture solidified the deal.

With its stellar urban setting and form, there is no doubt that I’ll have a photography field day. Simply put, the architecture is strikingly wicked; out of this world. Block upon block of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, French, Italianate & Neo-Classical masterpieces dot the cityscape. Without doubt, these are definitely relics of its stained, once-glorious past. It isn’t uncommon to find these buildings staggered and juxtaposed beside the current en-vogue architecture; soaring towers comprised of steel, metal and glass.

Did I mention the neighborhoods? One word: crazy. The sheer variety; almost an urban tapestry of sorts, if you will, is dizzying - something exciting for an urban enthusiast such as me. From the decadent barrio of San Telmo, basking in its honest colonial glory and elegance, with a rich tango culture and antique shops; to the barrio of Palermo, home to swanky high-rises and an endless supply of cutting edge, trendy boutiques, replete with the fashionistas you’d expect to accompany such. Or the ritzy barrios of Belgrano and Recoleta; leafy places where the old-time shot callers and power-brokers of Buenos Aires’ artistic, corporate and political élite call home. What about Puerto Madero? The formerly neglected port, where rotting factories, grain silos, mills were duped and converted into glimmering skyscrapers, upscale restaurants and residences for the élite.

In addition to all of the aforementioned, perhaps is the one I’m looking forward to the most – the food! Buenos Aires and Argentina in general, is a meat-lover’s paradises, with porteños, as the attractive locals there are called, consuming more meat than any other country (on a per-capita basis). The River Plate region has to be the beef capital of the world, and rightfully so, Lonely Planet dubbed it a “blissful paradise” for beef lovers. To my knowledge, no other place has a near-religious following to the consumption of beef – it’s kind of hard not to when you have the best steaks in the world. If the ubiquitous parillas (steakhouses) weren’t enough, then the myriad of Italian restaurants doling out pizza, pasta, lasagna and other old-world, Italian specialties, will definitely satiate one’s tastes. And of course, for more contemporary tastes, try one of the many exotic restaurants in Buenos Aires’ food mecca, Palermo Viejo. With restaurants and cafés catering to every palate out there, Palermo has emerged as the sort of ground-zero for Argentine culinary innovation; with hardly a shortage of Armenian, American, Brazilian, French, Indian, and Japanese, SE Asian or Middle Eastern cuisines – heck, there’s even fusions of these. Based on my interactions with porteños, I think it’s safe to say that these people are, bar none, one of the most proud, vibrant, welcoming, and hospitable people around – all while living in one of the most food crazy destinations.

The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the supposed blunt, vain, conceited attitude of porteños. Also purported to be xenophobic, this definitely remains to be seen. I guess such attitudes are relics of living in a homogeneous city, being brainwashed and spoon-fed the obligatory euro-centric ideal and agendas? For decades, Argentines made their pride and love for the home team painfully obvious; often through an arrogant, euro-centric attitude that lambasted and looked down upon Hispanics from neighboring countries, as they were seen as inferior and “missing out” on the wonders of being European-descended. Thankfully, on the heels of its recent (well, early 2000’s) financial crisis, porteños and Argentina as a whole, is beginning to realize Europe isn’t the land of milk and honey it’s made out to be, and have begun to broaden their horizons. Though, if I were to speak on porteños as a whole, based on my extensive interactions with them, I can safely vouch that these accusations seem a bit far fetched – definitely not something that comes to mind when I think of them. Now that I think about it, maybe I've been so warmly received because I'm seen as a wonder or animal or something? Haha, no..I kid, I kid.

Also, I wouldn’t mind visiting Montevideo, Uruguay, a hop and a skip across the 100-mile wide River Plate. A cultural happening spot, Montevideo is the vibrant, eclectic and historically-rich capital of neighboring Uruguay. Dare I say that Montevideo is more human-scaled, humbled-down and down to earth version of the bustling metropolis across the river? Anthony Bourdain said “Uruguay makes Argentina look like a vegan suburb of Berkeley”. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the hardcore meat-eating culture there; one that puts even Argentina to shame – then I don’t know what will. Again, much like its big sister, and true to their shared porteño nature & heritage, Montevideo shares a people of predominately Italian/Spanish extraction, ridiculously attractive buildings, a common love for the imperdible mate, football & rigid diets defined by copious amounts of beef.

Man. I still can’t believe how affordable the place is. $4.00 for a generous steak dinner at one of the city’s finer restaurant – the same price as a taxi cab ride; trendy, innovative, fashionable clothes (BA’s fashion scene is ridiculous – look up Palermo SoHo/Viejo) that go for ½ of what they command stateside; $10.00/night for a room at a hostel, I mean it’s so cheap, feel it is probably akin to spending greenbacks in 1960’s Europe. I still can’t believe a city this nice is so cheap. No doubt, Buenos Aires, with its affordability, fusion of authentic, elegant European splendor and charm with contemporary sleekness, will be a future hub for me.

SF, yo

Monday, May 18, 2009

So, as some of you may know, I’m moving up north to pursue my higher education. And as one would certainly imagine, it is an arduous, complicated process that involves a lot of traveling and time spent visiting the respective city and campus. And as reflected in previous blog posts, my preferred city of choice is, to no surprise, San Francisco. So, that said, yesterday I visited The City to fulfill some educational duties, but also to get a better feel and understanding for the neighborhood I’ll be calling home, the Lower Haight.

From the very moment I laid my sights upon this neighborhood, I knew it was for me; I felt the kind of connection and bonding with and for the neighborhood, one felt as if I’d been there many, many times before. With its excellent, pedestrian-dominated strips, characterized by independent retail and cafés and rows packed wall to wall with stunning Victorian housing, I felt as if this was a neighborhood match made in Heaven. From my initial descent into this neighborhood, I was swept off my feet. The neighborhood’s authentic eclecticism seemed to be non-stop, bustling if you will. Everything seemed right – as if it was a prefabricated neighborhood, built to my most personal desire, liking and requirements. Most importantly, was that this wasn’t some elite yuppie enclave, instead, it was populated by and fooling nobody, geared towards my kin; easy-going, open-minded, free-spirited creative youngsters. Oh, and the culinary options? To put it simply…out of this world. Let’s just say that San Francisco is one of THE cities to eat in.

Of course, being the amateur urban explorer and anthropologist I am, I unsurprisingly spread my wings, and visited other locales. These locales included: The Castro District, SF’s ground zero for gay culture; I walked the hilly, urban terrain of the nearby charming Noe Valley; and lastly, visited SF’s burgeoning, gentrifying Mexican neighborhood; The Mission. And to no surprise, being the urbanite and associated urban enthusiast I am, I can say I definitely got a kick out of all the neighborhoods.

While Lower Haight is still my coveted darling neighborhood and urban entity, The Mission is a close second. Every time I walk there, it’s as if I’m arrested; captivated by its charm. It is, without doubt, one of the finer neighborhoods anywhere – using urbanity and aesthetics as a criterion. IMO, its undeniable position as the heart and soul of San Francisco’s Mexican neighborhood, is of great benefit to the street life and culture there, pretty much permeating into every aspect and regard of life. As with just about any Mexican neighborhood, the ubiquitous street sellers were out in full force, hawking all sorts of greasy, no-nonsense, yet guilty (!) culinary wares. Indeed a stellar neighborhood, my only concern/gripe was that, as in all SF nabes, gentrification is inevitable, and unfortunately has already made significant inroads. The ensuing cultural homogeneity and upscale hegemony/order will (and already has been), effectively eradicate the unique, defining life and culture out of the place. I’m assuming that the reason why the local Mexican population lacked its typical vibrancy and spirit, and instead seemed muted, passive, and even a tad bit subdued, is a direct result of the gentrification. Compared to Westlake or Pico-Union, it seemed neutered, lol. Entailed in this process is possible displacement, redevelopment, loss of community, and in other cities, deportation (illegal to deport people in SF). All of this makes me wonder, does it ever strike these forces that there are normal people in this city who DON'T (or want to) live a lifestyle revolving around trendy Thai/Tapa restaurants, uber posh lofts, gastropubs and lounges or silly cupcake shops etc ? Maybe not.

The Castro district too was interesting. No doubt, of the utmost importance to San Franciscans and Gays in general. At the nabe’s entrance, billowing in the relentless Peninsula sun, illustrating its position as the nexus of gay culture, in California, and probably the nation as a whole, was the world’s largest rainbow flag. I interpreted this as a welcome sign or gate guarding of sorts to the neighborhood. Its main strip, Castro St was a confection of “proud” bars, cafes, and other shops hawking gay paraphernalia. Of course, the flagship barrio and mecca of gay culture, will, without doubt, have its fair share of
characters, LOL. I’m talking people walking around totally nude, and showing no shame. It’s almost as if people in The Castro went out of their way to adhere and conform to traditional gay stereotypes. Some of the characters were truly over the top, but most fell within the realm of the stereotypical gay; the ultra-buffed out, masculine bear types with flowing beards; the clean-shaven effeminate queen types with perfect gay mannerisms; the activists out in full drag, masks, clown suits, etc, etc. In addition to all of the blatant, lewd promiscuity that comes with popularized, over-dramatized gay culture was a sizable, probably majority, population of heterosexuals. I don’t know if there were tourists or transplants/newcomers, but I’ve noticed a trend nationwide where heterosexual couples flock into gay ghettos, coveting their bohemian-esque vibe; restaurant scene, shopping options, relative safety and cleanliness, etc.

Nearby Noe Valley was cool, too. Put on the map due to spillover from The Castro, it now has been thoroughly sanitized, and sadly, is a bit on the tame side - though, that can be attributed to its demographics, and not the place itself. Strolling along 24th street en route to the Mission, I bore witness to the character of the neighborhoods along it; The Castro, Noe Valley, Mission Dolores, and finally, Da Mission. It was definitely interesting to observe the changes and contrast the differences of the respective neighborhoods. A general trend of sorts I noticed along this wonderful vehicle through the neighborhoods was, that the further east one pushes, the grittier and rougher it gets – I don’t know if it is out of sheer coincidence, but that is also where the character picks up.

At any rate, San Francisco, must be on track to be the first city, and is showing promise to fully gentrify – and thoroughly sandblast away any “unwanted” or “undesirable” elements, allowing it to adhere to a uniformly upscale, white (and white-washed Asian cronies) hegemony. A boutique city, if you will. Indeed a harrowing and unfortunate reality.


Thursday, May 14, 2009