20 years later – day 2

TODAY’S HEADLINES

  • It was another city, not our own
  • Riots long time ago
  • Progress but not yet victory
  • Fading memories
  • Not everything heals
  • The night the LAPD failed
  • We do ‘just get along’
  • South L.A. job climate worse than in ’92
  • WHERE ARE THE JOBS ?
  • Adrenaline fades; sadness lingers

20 years ago @ Florence and Normandie

 

 

“I still do not understand why those people burned their neighborhoods” Pounds said. Bosch knew that the fact people like Pounds didn’t understand why “those people” did what they did was one reason they did it, and would have to do it again someday. Bosch looked at it as a cycle. Every twenty-five years or so the city had its soul torched by the fires of reality. But then it drove on. Quickly, without looking back. Like a hit and run.

(Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blonde)

 

 

USC at the Olympics + top 5 US athletes

As in many American universities – actually more than in most American universities – sport plays a very important role at USC.  Colleges in the US build their prestige (also) on the performances of their teams and their students/athletes. Being a great athlete is a sure short cut to get generous scholarships. In the last years USC had great results in volley, tennis and water-polo while the renowned basketball team had a disastrous season with a long row of defeats. However, the real pride of USC is its Olympic history. The University of Southern California had more Olympians than any other American university and colleges. Its glorious history – duly preserved and celebrated in its Heritage Hall in the center of the campus – started with Emil Breitkurtz who participated in the S. Louis edition of the Olympic Games in 1904. The first gold medal was won 8 years after by Fred Kelly in the 110 hurdles final of the Stockholm 1912 Olympics. Since then, the Trojans have earned at least one gold medal in everyl edition of the Olympics for a total of 122 victories until the lat one of student Rebecca Soni in the 200 m breaststroke in Beijing in 2008. If they were a country they would occupy the 12th position in the all-time ranking before countries like Canada, Belgium or Spain.

Talking about sport and Olympics, these are my favourite US athletes ever. What are yours?

#  5 – Greg Louganis – diving

One of the best diver ever – if not the best – he was only 16 when he got a silver medal in the Montreal Olympics behind Italian legend Klaus Dibiasi. He missed the Moscow games and then was able to earn 4 more gold medals in Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988). He was one of the first top athletes to declare he was gay and HIV positive. I remember very well the image of  his blood in the water when in Seoul he suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard during the preliminary rounds. Still, he bravely managed to win the gold medal of that competition.

# 4  – Phil and Steve Mahre – alpine skiing

The two identical twins from Washington State were among the few non-European skiers in the Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. The legend says that they would switch one with the other according to the results of the first run. Phil was a more complete and technical skier and he was able to win three World Cups between 1981 and 1983 in addition to two Olympic medals in slalom, silver in Lake Placid in 1980 and gold in the Sarajevo games in 1984. Steve’s specialty was slalom and he was second in Sarajevo behind his brother. Surprisingly, he was also world champion in giant slalom in 1983.  They were absolute protagonists in the golden years of the World Cup.

#  3 – Mike Powell – athletics, long jump

At the 1991 Tokyo world Championships everybody was expecting Carl Lewis. Everybody wanted Carl Lewis to win and set the new world record which was standing since Bob Beamon supra-natural performance in Mexico 68. But Mike Powell decided it was his turn and flew to a distance that no other man has ever been able to overcome: 8,95 meters. Mike was less lucky at the Olympics as he was silver medalist twice in Seoul 88 and in Barcelona 92 beaten in both occasions by Carl Lewis who took his revenge.

 

 

#  2 – John Naber – swimming

Montreal 1976. I was ten and these were the first Olympic Games I followed from A to Z. They were also the first color TV games in Italy and I still remember the emotion when I first saw the beautiful light blue of the swimming pool on TV. John Naber became one of my sport heroes on those games. He won 4 gold medals and one silver and one of his victories was for the first ever 200-meter backstroke under 2 minutes. With his 1 minute 59.19 second win, John set a world record which stood for seven years. Naber became also the first swimmer in history to earn two individual medals on the same day of Olympic competition. And he was a Trojan from USC too.

# 1  – Tommie “Jet” Smith and John Carlos – athletics, 200 m

This is not only about sport but also about courage and engagement. Still, it was a fantastic sport performance. In the morning of 16 October 1968, during the Olympics held in Mexico, Tommie Smith won the 200 m final and set a fantastic new world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia’s Pete Norman second and favorite John Carlos in third places. The two American athletes received their medals shoeless and saluting the anthem with their fist raised and wrapped in a black leather glove symbolizing the black power. “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight” said Tommie Smith after the celebration.  The event was one of the most important political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Tommie Smith’s record had to be beaten in Mexico City by Pietro Mennea 11 years after.

 

5 weirdest things so far

# 5 – Everybody is jogging, hiking, cycling, walking with sticks, working out…but everybody takes the car to drive half a mile. And everybody seems to love being stuck on a freeway instead of driving reasonably freely on L.A. surface streets.

# 4 – People pay a fortune for a live match of the Lakers or the Kings at Staples Center and then spend most of their time there in line for nachos or sodas.

# 3 – You cannot have beer or even just step into a bar which sells alcoholics if you are not 21 but you can easily buy a a rifle or a shotgun – excluding assault rifles – as long as you are 18. In a Walmart shop for example.

# 2Smoking is forbidden in virtually all indoor spaces and in some open spaces such as the Third Streed Promenade, the street of shopping in Santa Monica, as well. And this is clearly fine. I found it a bit excessive though when a woman who was smoking outside of a restaurant in Morro Bay, repeatedly apologised for giving “a very bad example” to our 9 and 12 year-old daughters.

# 1 and WEIRDEST THING SO FAR: the CIA recruiting radio ad. Yes, it is really weird while you drive to work or school in the morning to hear the commercial thought by the almighty Central Intelligence Agency to attract new recruits. “Why working for a private company when you can serve your country?” warns you a deep male voice. There’s the small print, of course: “You must have U.S. citizenship and the ability to successfully complete medical examinations and security procedures, including a polygraph interview. For additional information, and to apply, visit cia-dot-gov.” “That’s cia-dot-gov,” in case you missed it. “The work of a nation. The center of intelligence. An equal opportunity employer.”

Festivalland (2/2)

There are no summer holidays for film festivals goers in the Los Angeles area. In July, the historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard hosts the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, a ten-day event serving as a springboard and catalyst for the promotion and distribution of Latin films in the US.

The Old Pasadena Film Festival presents a month of outdoor screenings of films that reflect the urban vibe of Downtown Pasadena. In August, one can choose between Docuweek, the annual showcase of the year’s most promising documentary and the most hollywoodian of all festivals, the Feel Good Film Festival devoted to films that have happy endings, make audiences laugh and highlight the beauty of the world.

September starts with Cinecon, a 5-day celebration of movies, specializing in rare, unusual and unjustly forgotten movies from the silent and early sound era, followed by newly born Downtown LA Film Festival and by the socially and environmentally conscious Burbank Film Festival. Asian American filmmakers pay homage to their ethnic backgrounds in the framework of Singafest Asian film Festival and independent cinema gathers in Huntington Beach, home of surfing, for the SOCAL Independent Film Festival. The month closes with a firework of festivals celebrating Polish, Irish cinema in their respective festivals and films written, directed, or produced by women at LaFemme Film Festival.

Do not even think of getting out of a theatre in October as you will have to attend BelAir Film Festival, Screamfest LA (horror movies), Hollywood Film Festival and Hollywood Black Film Festival. November opens up with the Los Angeles Children’s International Film Festival followed by the All Sports Film Festival focused on movies about all kinds of sports and competitions. Then, the very interesting Red Nations Film Festival which showcases the work of American Indian filmmakers and break stereotypes of American Indians in film and the oldest festival in town, the AFI FEST of the American Film Institute.

November is also the time of one of the world most important event for the Cinema Industry as in Santa Monica takes place the AFM (American Film Market), the premiere global marketplace for motion picture production and distribution, the largest gathering of film industry professionals in North America. It is very simple, the AFM is where business gets done. Hundreds of millions of dollars in production and distribution deals are sealed every year on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production. And while you are there, what about a couple of screenings at the Santa Monica Film Festival?

For those who had not had enough, the year closes with a very special festival organized by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the My Hero Film Festival which celebrates the best of humanity through short films from around the world, including categories from elementary school to professional. And soon will be Oscar fever again…

Festivalland (1/2)

Los Angeles is “movietown”, everybody knows that. Hollywood, the studios, the majors, the mini-majors, the Oscars, the blockbusters productions and the star-system at the very core of it. But – luckily –  there is much more than that for cinema lovers. Los Angeles and its surrounding area are not just home to Hollywood, they are a real film festival freaks paradise. An inventory of all festivals throughout the year is practically impossible. I’ll try and mention a few.

It starts in January – when the Golden Globe are assigned, the Oscar fever grows and Sundance Festival opens in Utah – with the Scandinavian Film Festival L.A (SFFLA), a yearly showcase of the best films from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. This year “Le Havre”, Aki Kaurislaki’s latest masterpiece was in the programme.  If you are not an Oscar addict, in February you might decide to hang out at the PAFF, the Pan-African Film and Arts Festival, possibly the best African festival outside Africa. Twelve days of films, debates, artistic performances with a lot of visiting stars – including the African American ones. Otherwise you can go to the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival  at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre which honoured Dario Argento and Pupi Avati this year. March is family month with the International Family Film Festival. April is a real feast with Indian, Japanese, French, Brazilian and Beverly Hills film festivals followed by the amazing Festival of Film Noir organized by American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre presenting rare original films, most of which are not available on DVD, including films which have been recently restored by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I have been invited to the opening tomorrow featuring a double screening of the “The Great Gatsby” (1949) and “This gun for hire” (1942). I’ll tell you about it.

May starts with the South East European Film Festival/L.A which aims at  creating opportunities for cultural exchange between Southern California and South East Europe and opens up when the huge and glamorous Newport Beach Film Festivals – 400 films from 50 different countries – comes to an end. Santa Catalina Film Festival – taking place on the homonimous beautiful island in front of LA – celebrates filmmakers dedicated to promoting their goal of protecting, restoring, and experiencing the power of nature. Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is the last May festival unless you wanna fly to Seattle for the 38th edition of SIFF, possibly one of the three most important and European oriented film festivals in the US.

In June, Los Angeles Greek Film Festival and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival are the appetizers before the main course of the year: the LA Film Fest which offers the best of American and international independent (yes, independent !) cinema. and ncludes panels, seminars, music video showcases, high school programs, family-friendly activities, and numerous special events, from glamorous gala premieres to free outdoors screenings. Opening Night this year will be… Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love”.

(to be continued)

The Ministry of Martini

Not only they serve the best Martini in town – certified by LA Weekly – and have a fantastic, classic restaurant menu which remained unchanged for nearly 100 years, Musso and Frank are today one of the last living Hollywood historical institutions. The oldest restaurant in the neighborhood, the place which was there even before the iconic Hollywood sign was built. Since 1919, the Musso & Frank Grill has been home and office to so many writers and actors and directors. In the golden years in Hollywood, almost everyone in the entertainment business dined or drank here.  Through the years, legendary waiters lile Mannie, served Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Orson Welles and many more.  But the real aficionados were the writers: John Fante, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel West, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway. Raymond Chandler used to write in one of their room (the famous Back Room) and mentions Musso and Frank in his 1939 novel “The Big Sleep”. Then Budd Schulberg and of course Charles Bukowsky.     

 

No stay in Los Angeles is complete without sititng in Musso and Franks leather and wood booths, so comfortable and austere at the same time, where even Harry Bosch held its retirement party when leaving LAPD (check “Lost Light”). 

You can’t really miss their Porterhouse steaks, the Chicken Pot Pie, the bone-in pork chops and the side orders (9 different kinds of potatoes, creamed spinaches…). But the top feature is always the most quintessential Hollywood drink. Yes, only Musso and Frank bar can turn out a Martini that Bogart would’ve judged worthy of the name. 

 

Best Martinis in Los Angeles: http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2012/03/5_best_martinis_in_la.php 

 

 

 

Hollywood at night

Hollywood was always best viewed at night. It could only hold its mystique in darkness. In sunlight the curtain comes up and the intrigue is gone, replaced by a sense of hidden danger. It was a place of takers and users, of broken sidewalks and dreams. You build a city in the desert, water it with false hopes and false idols, and eventually this is what happens. The desert reclaims it, turns it to arid, leaves it barren. Human tumbleweeds drift across its streets, predators hide in the rocks.

Harry Bosch in “Lost Light” by Micheal Connelly

Death penalty and worse

In the US, 16 out of 50 States had no death penalty until the beginning of this week. They are 17 now as Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has confirmed he will sign the bill to repeal the state’s death penalty which was approved by the Parliament in Hartford after more than nine hours of debate last Wednesday.

In its history and until 2005, Connecticut performed 126 executions, first by hanging, then by the electric chair, and since 1973, by lethal injection. But since 1976, there has been just one person executed in the state. The abolition is definitely a good news. However, one can not help being at least puzzled when reading the declarations of the Governor: “(…) we will have a system” he said “that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience. Let’s throw away the key and have them spend the rest of their natural lives in jail.” This shows that even abandoning the death penalty, the ideal of justice as a “vendetta” is unfortunately not changing. This might be understandable for those people who had their lives destroyed by a violent crime against themselves, their families or friends, but it is absolutely not admissable for an advanced society organised in a civil way.

In any case punishment and the fear of punishment alone do not prevent and fight crime. As a matter of fact, a democratic society like the US have a very high murder rate (6 times higher than Germany, 4 times higher than Spain and France and 3 times higher than Canada and Belgium) and at the same time the world highest percentage of its population in prison (0,72% – Iran has 3 times less, Spain and Portugal 4 times less, Germany and Italy 7 times less and Finland and Vietnam 10 times less). Some say statistics can be misleading, still I think they can provide food for thought.

number of prisoners in the death row in the US (1950-2010)

 

For statistics check:  http://www.nationmaster.com

 

Two USC students killed in shooting near campus

USC people were shocked and mourning today. Ming Qu and Ying Wu, two 23-year-old chinese graduate students of electrical engineering have been shot dead at around 1.00 am on Wednesday while their were chatting in Qu’s car (a used 10,000 USD BMW) in front of Wu’s house in Raymond Avenue just south of Adams Boulevard. Literally two blocks off campus. LAPD investigators are currently examining all motives including robbery and car-jacking. 

South of downtown Los Angeles, the area where USC is established, has long been considered as a very problemaic and dangerous one. Still, in the last 10 years enormous progress had been made and crime dropped significantly. The Adams-Normandie corridor where the shooting happened is a mix of USC students and working-class residents but the neighborhood once experienced a lot of gang activity, which had slowed over the last decade as students moved in.

“Our community is saddened and outraged by this callous and meaningless act,” stated USC spokesman, “Tragedies such as this morning’s remind us that we all need to be continuously vigilant about safety and security.”

However some choices of the University are now criticized.  In particular, the USC is attacked for not building enough in campus dormitories for the growing number of students coming from other states and countries. USC has more foreign students enrolled than any other college or university in the United States

I guess I will not be able myself to look at this once enchainted world I am part of for a short period, with the same eyes.