Friday, May 18, 2012

Visiting The Last Bookstore

At least once a month, Amynah and the girls and I travel to downtown Los Angeles to have lunch with her uncle.* Downtown Los Angeles is strikingly non-vibrant, people-wise, considering that it is the nominal heart of a city of 12-million people.

On the other had, it does boast a great deal of attractive art-deco architecture, including some beautiful movie theatres (most of which have been converted to other uses, like churches).

It also boasts one of the so-called “Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World,” so honoured by no less an authority than Who could resist?**

After dining, Habib guided us to The Last Bookstore (demanding to know, as was his wont, if I would not prefer to read things on my phone like a civilized person). It’s a used bookstore, and I suspect the fact that they don’t charge retail left them feel free to make their cashier’s counter out of old tomes.

It’s an enormous space, littered with couches and offering a coffe bar, all of which contributed to an inviting atmosphere. It also featured somewhat-too-precious decorative touches like fake taxidermy of a wooly mammoth head mounted on the wall, and a mutilated mannequin at the end of an aisle (both of which Sana reported with frightened certainty as being monsters that intended to eat her). It need hardly be said that a place like this would also have a section devoted to the paleo-technology of vinyl records, right?

Places like this always inspire me to buy some classic or other that I’d never tried before. I think the mannequins, in particular, guided my hand this time: I picked up Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.”*** Similarly unnerved by the atmosphere, Sana picked up Sandra Boynton's “Birthday Monsters.”

·    * The presence of Amynah’s uncle and his family has been the aspect of Los Angeles that I am most going to miss when we leave. Yeah, we're leaving. BUT I WON'T TELL YOU WHERE OR WHEN.

** I have now managed to go to three of the bookstores on this list, though this last one was the only one whose threshold I'd crossed as the result of any intent or foreknowledge.

*** Will I get around to reading it? Not in less than two years, if my moldering copy of "Persuasion" is any guide!
These are photo experiments: because the world needs more black and white urban
 decay photos, and I am the man to elevate the genre from "trite" to "barely competent." 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Noted near my building

These handbills posted near our apartments, part of a compound owned by UCLA. Note, the "No Smoking" sign is not consistent with UCLA standards, and is presumably part of an ongoing feud.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A rose by any other name would still not look like that

I’ll cut right to the chase: I finally rescued my bike from the decay caused by it having been left, neglected and unloved, for five years in storage. I also installed a snazzy new child seat for Sana.
Sana narrates the trip: "What's that? What's that? What's that?
It's windy. What's that? You're going fast! What's that?
What's that? He's on a bike too! What's that?"

My first two-wheeled adventure in Los Angeles was modest in scope: a quick trip along the Ballona Creek Bike path, which sounded promising, and which received rave reviews from knowledgeable locals.

All I knew about the path was that it runs seven miles from Culver City to the ocean. There was an access point not far from us, and so I thought I’d try a quick jaunt to test out my long-atrophied cycling legs.
They hurt, not least because I was riding with 30-odd pounds of toddler with which I never had to cope when last I biked in France. What hurt more was the disparity between the mental image conjured by the words “Ballona Creek” and the reality.
I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the scenery and conditions that had made me fall in love with biking in the first place – waterways were supposed to have trees nearby. And banks on which spray-painted graffiti could get no purchase. Rainbows and Ponies this was not.
But you know what was more painful? The constant taunting knowledge that the neighbourhood directly across the creek from me is called (drumroll please)…. Alsace.

Post Script: Some people find motivation to improve ourselves through competition. Some find it through fear of senescence. Some find it through their belief that the Almighty has commanded it. Others among us find it through the desire to find odd stories with which to fill the ever-grasping maw of their blog.
 The 3,000 odd kilometers I put on my bike during my three years in Alsace should have confirmed in me a love of cycling. The fact that Amynah and I owned bikes that were superior to our French bikes in every respect, and brought them to Los Angeles at some personal cost and inconvenience should have induced me to get them up and running just to make the trouble worth it. The fact that I have daughters with whom I like to spend time, and for whom I want to be a good role model, should have encouraged me to install a kid’s seat ages ago.
None of those things worked. What did work was my inability to resist the lure to my curiosity set by the neon-yellow sign of the “Libreria Christiana.”  The placard of the small store, located roughly 1.609344 km from my apartment, boasts not a cross, as you might expect, but a bicycle.
I mentally dubbed it the “Bikes and Bibles store” (their website is actually the much more ecumenical “bikes and books”) and vowed that eventually, I would have to go in there. But to do so, I needed an excuse, and so I resolved to rehabilitate my CCM roadbike from Montreal. 
I managed it last week. Books and Bikes is a family store, as one would expect. The owner is Freddy (I didn’t get a last name), who runs the store with his two sons. The “Books” part of the store pre-dates the “bikes” part, though today it seems to occupy only the first quarter of the store’s space, the rest being given over to bikes and bike parts of all shapes and sizes (creeping secularism?). Apparently, Freddy’s facility for fixing frames, footbrakes and fenders found favour, and soon the small group of friends and neighbours grew into a steady trickle of local customers, who would drop their bikes at the back of the bookshop, leaving them for Freddy’s ministrations. Eventually, it became clear he had the makings of a proper business, and Books and Bikes was born. I plan to become a regular, so that I might continue my campaign to convince them to rename the place “Jesus Spokes.”