Monday, July 22, 2013

California Research Adventure: Day 20

My California saga continues...

Day 20: Mid-City, Los Angeles

After an action-packed day on Day 19, I woke up again at 7 a.m. and went back out there on Day 20. Today's mission was to visit the L.A. neighborhood known as Mid-City. I guess some actually call this area Mid-Wilshire. It seems that you can "Mid-" a lot of things in the city of Los Angeles... sprawling monstrous mass of concrete and palm trees as it is. You're always in the middle and yet you're never quite really there.

San Gabriel Mountains, as viewed from the Metro platform in Pasadena

I began my morning once again on the Metro, traveling from Pasadena into downtown L.A., and then from there on the purple line subway from Union Station all the way to its end along Wilshire Boulevard. When I finally stepped outside, this is what I saw:
The Wiltern, along Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

This city loves Art Deco. I mean, if there is any one decade that best sums up Los Angeles, it's got to be the 1930s. Sometimes it feels like the whole city is stuck in the 1930s. Union Station? 1930s. City Hall? 1930s. The Wiltern (pictured above)? 1930s.

I should also mention that as our subway rattled on westward underneath the great Art Deco city, as we passed beneath MacArthur Park I couldn't help but start signing that "MacArthur Park" song to myself on the subway... which then I couldn't get out of my head for the next thirty minutes or so...

..."Someone left a cake out in the rain!!!"...

Then I got on a city bus and continued traveling west for another ten minutes or so until I arrived at Hancock Park and the Page Museum.

The Page Museum / La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

What is this Page Museum, you ask? Well, it sits in the middle of Hancock Park which is less like a park and more like a big archaeological site that smells of asphalt and has several oozing, bubbling tar pits within it.

The La Brea Tar Pits, Hancock Park, Los Angeles. Those are not real mastadons stuck in the tar, but this is what the scene might have looked like over 10,000 years ago.

If walking among stinking, oozing pits doesn't sound like your average day in the park, then you have never been to Hancock Park! Because that is what this place is. But the Angelenos here take it all in stride. I mean, these are a people wedded to their automobiles, and so the smell of anything faintly petroleum-like simply pleases. And also, L.A.'s early twentieth-century growth was really due to oil extraction—yes, right here in L.A. County, in fact, even right here on this site! The city was literally born from oil. And so a park full of black, oozing asphalt just makes people feel damn good!

And I, too, thought it was pretty cool. Inside the museum they've got the bones of thousands of prehistoric animals that got caught in the tar pits and died in the pits over ten thousand years ago.

 Giant sloth, died in the tar pits ten thousands years ago, and brought back to life by archaeologists in the twentieth century.
Contemporary art installation? No. Just hundreds of dire wolf skulls recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

I didn't see any evidence that early humans also fell into the tar pits and died... but how could they not have? And what about more recent deaths? I can only imagine that mobsters back in the Art Deco 1930s dumped bodies here...

Next I headed just across Hancock Park to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Part of the massive Los Angeles County Museum of Art complex

I ended up spending about three hours at the museum. It consists of nine separate buildings, and certainly houses thousands upon thousands of works from all over the world. As always, I started by looking to see if they have a Pacific/Oceania wing. They do! And it's brand new.

Objects from Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Arts wing, LACMA

Like most art museums, the great majority of objects were from Papua New Guinea. You might also note in the photograph above that the objects are just sitting there in a blank white room. There are no text labels, no interpretive introductions to the gallery or to specific objects. It's almost like walking through a warehouse where the objects are awaiting their proper placement in a gallery. But, alas, this is the gallery

This was no problem for me, but for most visitors to the museum, I'm sure they got absolutely nothing out of this exhibit. Although it raises interesting questions about museum practices. Perhaps it is best to just let the objects speak for themselves. But, for me, I prefer lots of text and interpretive panels and audio guides and video and just throw it all at me. Do it tastefully, and don't go overboard, but help me understand what I am looking at.

Anyway, it was here at LACMA that I found some of the most Hawaiian objects in all of Los Angeles:

Drum / Pahu (c. 1778), collected by Captain James Cook!

Shark-teeth hand weapons / Nā pālau papanihomanō (c. 1778), collected by Captain James Cook!

I was kind of shocked to see that these objects were collected by none-other-than Captain Cook, the man who "discovered" Hawaiʻi and died there in 1779. The accession numbers on these objects indicate that LACMA purchased them in 2008. Where they've been between 1779 and 2008 I don't know, but how interesting that they would end up here in Los Angeles!

Of course there was other art, too:

19th-century American art, hung in the 19th-century style...

LACMA's very exciting Latin American art wing. I really enjoyed the exhibit design here, although interestingly it was only like this for the ancient art; once we got to Spanish colonial and post-colonial art from Latin America, then the walls became blank again like in most galleries.

The Japanese art wing... it has its own building which, as you can see, was built purposefully to match the art inside. I much more enjoyed moving through the building than actually looking at the art!

After all that art, I was hungry. So from there I walked up Fairfax Avenue to 3rd Street and the "Original" Farmers Market. There were not so many farmers there. Rather, it was more like a bazaar with food vendors here, there, and everywhere in an open air market. A great place for lunch!

Inside the "Original" Farmers Market, Los Angeles

I scoped out all the food options and then I decided to go with cajun. It was a good choice!

Blackened catfish, cornbread, and spicy mustard potato salad, at the "Original" Farmers Market

Then it was back to Pasadena, on a bus, then a train, then another train, and then a short walk back to the hotel.

Now it's back to work for five more days at the Huntington!

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