Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is What it Looked Like

You read all about it. Now you can experience it, as if you were there, Kinda. Not really.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vaughantown and the Spanish Sky

MONFRAGUE, EXTREMADURA, SPAIN—150 kilometers from Madrid near the Portuguese border, the sun is bearing down on this national park like light through a magnfiying glass burning little black ants.

Three hours from Madrid, on a four-acre, four-star resort hotel property in the shadow of Castillo de Monfrague, 10 Spanish students and 10 “Anglos” are assembled in “VaughanTown” for a week of one-on-one chats, discussions, phone calls, play performances, evening cocktails and morning coffee. The idea is to create a full-immersion learning situation for native Spanish speakers, far away from dreary classrooms.

I spent three weeks in and around Madrid this summer “working” at Vaughan Learning Systems’ two Spanish campuses, in Gredos de Avila, and Monfrague, in the region of Extremadura.

This is the basic idea: English-speaking “Anglos,” as they are referred to, are recruited from all over the world to stay in a luxury hotel here, and spend the week conversing with Spaniards. About everything. And I mean everything. Spaniards hear english as it is actually spoken, and not just by Americans.

Easy enough, right? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.

I had two misconceptions about this place at the very outset: one, that we would be dealing with stodgy Spanish executives and middle managers, and two, that this would be a vacation. Though the ages vary, the students are all youthful and dynamic. In this first week, there’s Maria Jose, the computer physicist, serious but with a streak of silliness just begging to be coaxed out of her. We spent a walk to the nearby village discussing Cary Grant movies and the creation of new computer ISDN addresses. Earlier in the week, she’d donned a wig and hideous glasses to play one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters, in a performance for the whole group.

Jesus, a 51 year-old business management consultant, portrayed Oscar Madison in a scene from Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” with hilarious results.

Andres, a “Master Student” and engineer for a produce company, and I, engaged in an intense discussion of music from Nine Inch Nails and System of a Down to Springsteen, and then, as we walked back to the hotel from the village, he proudly showed me his new iPhone.

Among the “Anglos” are Carolyn, a charming teacher from Manchester Metropolitan University; Will, a young, exuberant former college baseball player here for a week before heading off to a small private school in Maine this fall to teach; Fiona McDonald, a recent Oxford graduate headed off to the world of financial planning; Margaret, from Leeds, a landscape artist who played the wicked stepmother and narrator for an improvised traditional English pantomime version of “Cinderella.” (Due to an accounting error, I was picked to play Prince Charming. I was also the only male in our little troupe).

That’s not everyone, but combined, the first week’s group is dynamic, gregarious, smart and really fun to hang around with.
But this is no vacation, really. Don’t get the wrong idea. Come prepared to talk. A lot.

Our first week’s campus is the Hospederia Parque de Monfrague in Extremadura, a region of Spain known for its blazing hot summers and its ham (There’s a chain or restaurants in Madrid called “The Museum of Ham,” to give you some indication of the importance of the local product.) There is also a luxurious pool alongside a spacious grass lawn, as well as gracious Spanish dining with attentive and courteous waiters.

Both campuses are in fact, luxury hotels, with differing and similar characteristics and facilities. The Gredos campus sits just outside the village of Barco de Avila and the famous walled city of Avila, the fabled home of St. Theresa de Avila.

Over the course of a week from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, Anglos and Spaniards follow a set schedule that includes general conversations, and group presentations. Imagine being thrust in to a vacation with two dozen strangers, half of whom expect you to talk to them, all the time, non-stop. It is as rewarding and as draining as you might imagine. Our conversations ranged from American and Spanish politics, family issues, morality, business ethics, and well, a lot more sex than I expected. Many times I was asked the names of sexual parts of the body, or questioned as to my own sexual tastes. Oh, those Spaniards. (One Anglo reportedly spent his one-on-one-time showing pictures of his FaceBook female friends to his Spanish counterpart and explaining the American slang names for well, you can imagine).

The show is run and organized by a master of ceremonies and director, who change from week to week, and from location to location. Greg Stanford, a professor of drama at St. Louis’ University’s Madrid campus, led our first week, along with Carmen Villa, our charming and elegant director.

A mixture of corn and sincerity, Stanford engaged the group with a stream of silly jokes, scenes from Simon and Ionesco, and created an atmosphere which teetered easily somewhere between family and best friends.
“We were really fortunate this week to have such a great group,” said Stanford. “Everyone got along so well. That doesn’t happen very often. This one was magic.”

And they are always looking for Anglos, if you’re wondering.

Okay, now add to all of this the fact that this was my first trip to Spain, and my first trip to Europe. Ever. That backpack trip you took through Europe after college? I took it last month.

So everything was new to me. Gathering footage for an accompanying video of the trip, I told the camera more than once, that far more skillful American writers had traveled this road before me, and I wondered what I could add to the hundreds of years of insight.

I arrived on a flight from Munich to Madrid late on a Friday night. I saw little on the taxi ride from the airport to the city. Come Saturday morning. Boarding the clean and efficient (and air-conditioned) Madrid Metro at Ciudad Lineal on my way to the Sol Station, I ascended a flight of stairs to the street above.

As if in a wide-screen movie, I emerged on to Gran Via, on e of the main boulevards of Madrid. The whole of the street appeared before me—heat and crowds and beauty and history converged at once. I literally laughed out loud.

“I’m in Europe.”

Though Spanish-speaking, Madrid isn’t Los Angeles, and it certainly isn’t Mexico. Having only emerged from the shadow of former dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-70s, it has re-emerged, and re-invented itself into one of Europe’s most progressive and important cities. (Following the March 11, 2004 Madrid Metro terrorist attacks, newly elected president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promptly withdrew Spain’s forces from Iraq. President Bush, not surprisingly, is loathed by most Spaniards.)

Madrid’s modern wide boulevards, and narrow streets in its historic section near the Plaza Del Sol, teem with people at all hours of the day and night. The afternoon slows slightly with the last vestiges of “siesta,” and then ratchets itself back up, going full-bore till long past midnight.

On the Friday night of my first week in Madrid, I joined a group of VaughanTown Anglos and Spaniards for dinner at Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, according to Guinness. But before that, I strolled through the Plaza Meyor in the middle of Madrid near the dead center of Spain , as the lights began to come up, families and couples filled the Square, and a thin line of blue and purple lit the skies just over the rooftops. Magic would be too easy a word for it.

And oh, the Spanish skies.

Standing on the terrace at Monfrague on my first night, I stared up into the deepest and biggest sky I had ever seen. Miles from Madrid, thousands of stars filled the sky from horizon to horizon in a huge, mesmerizing, and humbling display of nature.

The Spaniards may remember the idioms and phrasal verbs they learned. I will remember the Spanish sky. 0034.91.591.48.30

© Copyright 2008 The Arroyo Seco Journal

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Heritage Square Debuts Concert Series

LOS ANGELES- On July 17, July 31 and August 28 step out of your car or get off the Metro Gold Line on your way home from work for a relaxing evening of live music in the historic atmosphere of the Heritage Square Museum in Highland Park.

Doors open to the public at 4:00 PM with music beginning at 5:00 PM. Arrive at the museum early to see the historic architecture up close. Visitors will have a chance to try local food and drink and shop in the museum store. Costumed docents will be on hand to enliven the evening.

The concerts begin July 17 with Marie MacGillis and the Toddy Trio, followed by the Pasadena City College Swing Band. July 31 features Groove Session,and the Susie Hansen Latin Band. August 28 begins with the “Sometimes in Tune “ band, followed by Orquesta Salsumba.

Mark Holston wrote in JAZZIZ Magazine that Susie Hansen’s “violin speaks the language of Latin Jazz with total fluency." A long-time favorite in Los Angeles, Susie and her band play 175-200 live performances per year, including such events as the Playboy Jazz Festival, Fiesta Broadway, San Jose Jazz Festival, LA Salsa Festival and Newport Beach Jazz Festival. She has toured nationally with her band, and has appeared with such big names as Tito Puente.

Opening for Susie Hansen is Groove Session, who won the best jazz category from the 2007 Inland Empire Music Awards. The group has been called a “soul filled genre fused space funk odyssey!

Marie MacGillis is a seasoned performer who just released her second album with the “Model Millionaires”. Marie’s style focuses on 1920s and 30s blues and jazz, with forays into Rockabilly.

Dennis Kay leads the Pasadena City College Swing Band, who will play big-band standards, swing favorites, and ballroom classics from the likes of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and many more. Don’t let the name fool you – the Pasadena City College Swing Band consists of extraordinary students, faculty and professionals who come together to present a rockin good time!

On August 28, Sometimes in Tune will play bluegrass and American folk music with a fun, energetic twist. Rounding out the series is Orquesta Salsumba, who combine the rhythms of Salsa, Rumba and Latin Jazz to create a contagious energy sure to bring you to your feet! Led by Eddie de la Fey, this 12 piece band is sure to please!

Heritage Square is a living history museum dedicated to telling the story of the development of Los Angeles. At the museum, eight historic structures, saved from demolition and moved to the site, provide a glimpse of Southern California as it looked 100 years ago. The Museum is located at 3800 Homer Street, off the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway (110/Pasadena Freeway) at Avenue 43, just north of downtown Los Angeles. Further information is available at

These free events are made possible thanks to support of several local neighborhood councils and the LA County Arts Commission, with free transportation provided from the Metro Gold Line courtesy of Budget Rent-A-Car.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

28 Arrested in Major Glassell Park Gang Raid

by Margaret Arnold, News Editor
GLASSELL PARK—At 4 a.m. this morning, 500 members of Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies moved into the Drew Estara area of Glassell Park in a major crackdown on the Drew Street clique of the Avenues street gang, in the largest Federal gang takedown in recent L.A. history.
Twenty-eight defendants were taken into custody on criminal charges during the sweep. Four were arrested on immigration charges. An additional 26 defendants named in the indictment were already incarcerated. Authorities are still seeking an additional 16 defendants. Cars and cash were seized during the operation.
Seventy members and associates of the gang had been named in a 157-page Federal racketeering indictment, alledging a long string of drug crimes and violent actions. The gang is said to control drug trafficking activity—and by extension, life in general—in the Drew Estara neighborhood.
The drug crimes include the sale of crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
The violent crimes listed include murder, attacks against police officers, witness intimidation and extortion of local businesses.
LAPD Chief William Bratton promised that “this morning is just the beginning,” today at an afternoon press conference in the Los Angeles Federal Building
“People who live in this neighborhood are prisoners in their homes,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo (who attended Irving Middle School immediately across the street from where some of today’s arrests took place. “People drive two blocks to school. They don’t go out at night. This gives them back a bit of freedom.”
Some of the arrested gang members are facing the possibility of life in prison without parole.
The lead defendant in the indictment is Francisco “Pancho” Real—a familiar name to many Northeast L.A. residents. Real is alleged to be the “shot caller” among the Avenues. According to the indictment, Real, 26, collects taxes from neighborhood drug dealers. A portion of that money is then forwarded to the Mexican Mafia. Money is also raised through home invasion robberies and extortion of local business people. In one cited case, Real alledgedly threatened a local business person with threats to kill him and burn his business if not paid $30,000.
Real is the brother of Danny Leon, who was killed by police in a much-publicized incident after Leon had killed a member of a rival gang and then turned an assault weapon on police. Real was recently recognized as leader of the Drew Street clique by the Mexican Mafia.
Also named in the indictment are Real and Leon’s mother and several of their siblings.
The sweep was conducted under the authority of the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department. A great many agencies participated, including the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Sheriff’s Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the IRS and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The investigation leading up to this morning’s operation began in January with the installation of several wiretaps, which exposed the gang’s complex economics. For example, 28 firearms were seized as part of the investigation prior to today, and most were traced to Arizona, according to ATF Special Agent in Charge Christopher Shaefer.
Ten of the warrants were served by the local SWAT Team or its Federal counterparts. Commuter traffic and pedestrians were allowed on San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive, but the side streets of Drew Estara were cordoned off. Police checked trunks and shone flashlights in any cars leaving the area, and no civilians went in. But, according to LAPD Central Bureau Chief Sergio Diaz, the officers encountered no resistance. Things began to return to normal about 6:45 a.m.
Briane Grey, DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge, said that an immediate goal of the sweep is to stem the neighborhood drug trade.
“With today’s arrest,” said Grey, “it is time to stop referring to Drew Street as a gang, and rather, as a neighborhood. It’s time to give it back to the citizens of the community.”
The violence has not, however, been contained within Drew-Estara. Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams said that his city has been terrorized by the Drew Street gang members. In a short period of time near the end of 2007, Glendale experienced five follow-home carjackings and four street robberies.
Adams says that the Glendale PD “began to set up on Drew Street because that’s where they’d always flee to.”
One of the shot callers arrested today lives in South Glendale.
The sweep was not the only anti-gang event of the day. Delgadillo also filed nuisance abatement lawsuits against ten Drew-Estara properties. Nine of the properties are located right on Drew Street. One is located around the corner on Chapman. The suits target both the landlords of the properties and the gang members or associates who use them. According to Delgadillo, the operation represents the largest scale use of property abatement actions against a street gang in the history of the City. The lawsuits seek to require security guards, security cameras, proper maintenance, tenant screening and eviction of anyone involved in narcotics activities.
Delgadillo is also seeking a requirement that owners reside on their premises.
O’Brien reports that there are about 150 to 200 active Drew Street members. That would mean that perhaps as much as a third of the clique has now been taken into custody.

Photos by Margaret Arnold.

Friday, February 1, 2008

One Nation. One State. One City. One Neighborhood.

A National View From Northeast LA

The Arroyo Seco Journal Report from the CNN/LA Times Democratic Debate

By Edward Rivera

Kodak Theater, Hollywood, California, January 31, 2008—Before you are too impressed, let's set the stage here. Minutes before the CNN/LA Times debate is due to begin, I am seated three floors above the theater in an upstairs press room. Just in this room, there are about 400 reporters from all over the world seated at their laptops. What is essentially the most important American presidential debate since Lincoln battled Stephen Douglas, is about to begin. A woman is battling an African American to be the Leader of the Free World. They are the final two after the original 17 candidates. If you're in LA, and remotely politically acute, this is the place to be. When I was 20, I wanted to be backstage at every rock concert. Im not 20 anymore, and now this is where I want to be. Plus the catering is better.
Though the actual audience is by invitation only, there is a small photo and press booth in the theater itself. But the bulk of the national and world press is here upstairs. A lot of familiar TV news faces are strolling though the press room, as well as a lot of familiar local media. The behatted Patt Morrison from the LA Times just said hello, and even the guy who runs the press box at Dodger Stadium is here.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer, his own biggest fan, is warming up the crowd, and mugging to the trough of "photogs," as he calls them. He's like the comedian who warms up audiences before the Tonight Show. But not as funny.

Ground Rules
Seated in rows and rows of seats before a series of flat screen TVs, this is much like sitting in the press box at Dodger Stadium. Many years ago, covering a game, I applauded following a Dodger home run, I was gently informed by an editor that "there is no cheering in the press box." Tonight there is no cheering upstairs.

Let's Begin
It's struck me that no moment in the lives of either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is as gigantic as this one. All that they have achieved in their careers as politicians leads to this night. Both will be under the world microscope down to the last speck. Every movement, every tic, every hesitation, every hiccup, and every gesture will be scrutinized. Imagine yourself under the same lens, and you have just a tiny sense of what it is like to be a candidate. Both candidates are friendly, respectful, and on their best behavior as we begin.
The Republicans had their debate last night in an entirely different California than this one. Los Angeles is heavily Democratic, and tonight's event is essentially a lovefest. Here are two beloved Democrats in front of the faithful. Both of their positions will be similar. There are no Republicans to boo tonight. When one of these candidates faces off against a Republican, then the tea party is over. Hide the good china.
Following the debate, the press will make its way down to the Spin Room to be fed Word Noise by both candidates' people. Brave correspondent that I am, that is still more than I can stomach. I'll be home long before they stop talking tonight.

Heath Care
Both candidates agree on the importance of revitalizing the US Health Care System, which is simply a hornet's nest of lobbyists and anti-patient HMOs. Apparently the basic difference is the question of mandating coverage, something that Clinton favors. Obama is in favor of mainly making it affordable. Both ideas would turn the idea of American health care on its head, hoping to recreate a system that favors avoiding health care, into one that emphasizes prevention.

In answer to the "Driver's License" issue, Clinton emphasized the need firsthand to redo the immigration system with a series of steps and rules for illegal immigrants, and both attempted to minimize the actual licensing question.
"Lets do it in a practical, realistic approach," said Clinton, who introduced immigration reform before Obama came to the US Senate. On the other hand, Obama attempts to nail her down after hinting that she has changed her position a few times during the campaign.

Let's face it. neither candidate is an old warhorse. Clinton is a youthful 60-ish, and Obama is a youthful 40-ish. No one gets here by accident or coincidence. It takes years and years of work in the trenches, and countless hours of unglamorous work over a lifetime of sweaty politics. "It is an exciting and humbling experience for both of us," said Clinton.
For his part, Obama carefully avoids criticizing the Clinton Years, and emphasizes the number of new voters that this election has attracted, always a critical issue. Clinton responds to an Internet question from a citizen and rocks thehouse when she said, "It took a Clinton to clean up the house after the first Bush, and it will take another Clinton to clean up the house after this one." If cheering was allowed, this room would have shook.

Clearly, both candidates recognize the need for the US to extricate itself from the murky swamp that is the war in Iraq. While Clinton says she "hopes" we will be out in sixteen months, Obama emphasizes his position that American should never have gone into the country, a position this newspaper overwhelmingly supports. Happily, he also takes McClain to task—which few had really done yet—for his remark that the US should remain in Iraq for "one hundred years."
While Clinton gets a swipe for having originally voted for the war, this is a buffet for both candidates as they devour the Republicans on the issue. Obama nails it when he describes the the US as having "set the bar so low, they can't see it anymore."
Clinton counters with a cogent explanation of the parameters under which she voted for the Iraq War, while Obama strikes back, saying," It's important to be right the first time." I dont know many people who can claim that.

Clinton/Obama? Obama/Clinton?
"Its presumptuous," says Obama. Clinton agrees. Neither wants to commit to a running mate, while John Edwards is sitting and bravely smiling in the audience. As Obama pulls out Clinton's chair like a gentleman, the lovefest continues.

See you Super Tuesday.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Specific Plan Delivers

What Eagle Rock Really Wants

by Joanne Turner
Last October, I attended a presentation by Root Development of a proposal to redevelop the three parcels at the northeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Vista Drive on which Boston Transmission now mostly stands.

Before the 134 freeway was built in the early 1970s, Boston Transmission was a tan-colored biker bar with green shamrocks crudely painted all over the exterior walls and towering-handlebar choppers lined up outside. Outside now are disheveled cars in various states of disrepair behind a cold and uninviting wrought-iron fence. A highly visible location, it is ripe for change.

One of the first things the Root Development presenter said was that the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan clearly outlines what the Eagle Rock community wants. She said the community wants less automotive businesses and that this project would replace one of them.

The existing characterless building, front parking lot and fence would all be demolished, and a mixed-use edifice close to the sidewalk with 10 condominium units above and two retail spaces on the ground floor would be erected in their place. Appropriately, parking would be located in back.

It was music to my ears. What a relief to know that the developer recognized the law and was ready and willing to honor it to further improve Eagle Rock’s business district. At last, there would be no hassles or fights trying to protect the letter and spirit of the law this community volunteered to write over five years, a law that was finally enacted by the city in 1992.

The drawings passed around at the meeting were somewhat simplistic, so I e.mailed the developer asking for copies of the plan specifications. I received the specs a few weeks later, only to see the same simplistic drawings but with all technical site plans and elevations included.

Overall, the project appears to be very well designed, but I wanted more detailed drawings that showed choices of colors and surface materials to see exactly what the building would look like. I called the developer and was told those details had not been finalized. He assured me he would let me know when they were.

Getting our business district on track for revitalization began in earnest in the mid-1980s, when our community lobbied hard to get the city to authorize us to write a law to reverse the ongoing destruction of our historic commercial fabric and bring back the pedestrian by creating attractive, sidewalk-fronted architecture with concealed parking.

Along with some in the business sector who “got it,” we succeeded. The Specific Plan, a relatively new idea at the time, was born and made into law. Fifteen years later, it’s working.

Fatty’s (A Place to Eat) used to be Stapp’s Auto Service. The Coffee Table Bistro was Williamson Auto Supply. Larkin’s (A Contemporary Soul Food Joint) was MR6 Auto Sales, housed in a deteriorating bungalow that has been lovingly restored. SW Hill Country Western Wear was an auto stereo-installation business whose name I can’t recall. Glendale Adventist Therapy & Wellness Center was Montgomery Ward Automotive Center.

What was One Day Paint & Auto Body is where Starbucks now stands (but there is a long, bruising story to this one). Rattan Wicker Tropical Mart, which along with rattan furniture and photocopying services illegally sold auto parts (say what?), is now for lease.

Blas Auto Repair/Auto Glass/Auto Upholstery/Performance Auto . . . pick a name, any name . . . is now The Loft Hair Lounge, Pollen Botanical Design, and Curve Line Space (an art framing business and gallery), and last time I looked there was some square footage still available.

I was recently told that American Tire Depot has been sold to a developer with plans to replace it with another mixed-use project designed, I am sure, to the Specific Plan’s higher standards. The pattern is unmistakable.

Most importantly, formerly empty sidewalks are teeming with people. We now have a diversity of charming businesses to patronize so we spend our dollars in Eagle Rock and not in Old Pasadena. It’s precisely what the Specific Plan intended.

The Root Development representative couldn’t have said it better. It’s what the Eagle Rock community wants.