Evan Gabriel

Archive for the ‘Anywhere But Here’ Category

Thoughts from Venice Beach

In Anywhere But Here, Nonfiction on July 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm
Palm trees on an overcast day

Touchdown on a rainy day

Everything always immediately becomes a little different when you express it, a little falsified, a little foolish—yes, and that, too, is very good and pleases me greatly, I am also perfectly contented that one person’s treasure of wisdom always sounds like foolishness to someone else.

—Siddhartha

17 February, 2013

Went down to Venice Beach yesterday to meet up with Sonny and the gang from USC. Stopped off at the corner of Washing Pl. and Lincoln to hear the Zydeco band playing at a Mardi Gras celebration. What a great place to pause and see the world revealed; black cowboys in fancy leather boots, Chicano men with fedoras teaching their grandparents how to eat crawfish through spoonfuls of jambalaya, little kids running around confused and happy, and of course, women strutting up and down the lanes, flashing morsels of skin and flab and skirt all together, all over. For my eyes only.

I sat happy and anxious eating my delicious $5 catfish as the band played and I realized Zydeco music is pretty sweet. Made me think back to my senior years, Audio Tech, final recording project when a few other classmates and I were assigned to produce a Zydeco song. This timid freshmen would always come up to us when we were slacking off, working on our own shit:  “So, wussup with the Zydeco beat today?” I don’t think we ever finished it.

Sunny skies flapping overhead like the patriotic flag on the Fourth of July in Excelsior, I headed down Washington on foot to hit the beach and find Sonny, who had just taken acid, he announced to me on the phone as I passed Marina Del Rey. Finally reached the Venice Beach boardwalk. What a scene. Beautiful beach in the distance, silk sand, palm trees, but people everywhere. And the houses—so lavish, such complex structures, beautiful in their integrity, ugly in their origin—having come from money and ugly people and the dream of attaining happiness (their little piece at least). The boardwalk is a bit of a freak show: the Muscle Beach section is solely devoted to guys lifting in front of medical marijuana card shops while gaggles of bros, French and Middle Eastern families clip the heals of gorgeous women who steer clear of the homeless and crazy. Strangest of all, I saw a short man, very dark, with a greasy sleek-down perm flat to his skull, strutting along, content wearing a revealing red Speedo and carrying a strange, big black oblong shaped object that looked like a horn. He smiled in his cheap running sunglasses as people passed, some of them shocked at this curved, phallic object he kept hooked around on of his bulging biceps like a wrench.

I finally reached Sonny who was coming up on some good giggles and we hung out on the sand with his girl Nicole. Eventually, Will and Geenie showed up after some time underwater. All nice people. All in their own world of LSD, and me, happy to sit and think more about this place and the deeper theory I have about California—L.A. specifically, holding this elusive promise of happiness to its inhabitants. I mean even the lawns and boulevards are professionally manicured. Nonnative palm trees tower over every city block. What were Tom and Ma and the rest of the Joad clan looking for, more than just stable employment? What is America looking for? In second and third world countries, the only cities most people have heard of are New York and “California.” What is it seeded in this land of sun and long days that draw people toward it? What wheat is planted in these fields that causes people spend their whole lives working it?

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Sonny and I talked about his friend, Tyler, a guitarist from La Crescenta whom I had become very interested in after we’d met a few nights before at a recording session at USC. Tyler was a very quiet kid, wearing a loose beanie and carrying a pack of Marlboros in the tattered breast pocket of his red-checkered flannel. After the guys laid down about an hour’s worth of music, Sonny toggled his thumb up and down to mimic a lighter and called me outside. In the dim courtyard, we talked future plans as smoke poured from our mouths and noses. Then gradually, with the pumpkin glow of streetlights piercing the iron latticework, the subject took an unexpected turn to literature.

“You’re an English major. So…do you read books?” Tyler asked me.

The way he muttered “books” made me think that was the only subject he really associated with English majors. I couldn’t help laughing as I answered.

“Yes, I do—read books.”

But after this, my first impression of him receded, for his seemingly shyness about the subject was not based on a weak understanding of a literary track, but rather the opposite—the kid was addicted.

“Good. That’s like, my favorite hobby. That and this,” he pointed to his potent pillbox.

So we began talking about subjects and titles and devices that escape the appeal of most standers by. I brought up books I had only heard about, with sexy titles by far off authors. Tyler had read them all.

“Absalom, Absalom?” I asked. “I’ve heard it’s one of the hardest books to understand, up there with Ulysses.”

“Ehh, not quite on a Joycean level,” Tyler croaked through a throat load of smoke. “But definitely amazing prose, the stream of consciousness with that guy, man.”

The kid was very well read—excelling in almost any author I brought up save Bowles, Theroux, Hawthorne, and Kerouac. But what does it matter? He knew the prose of Joyce, Faulkner, Pynchon and had no resistance to attest to their genius. I liked that.

“The beauty of tragedy,” he kept muttering.

By the end of the night, I was fond of the saying as well. And it made me ponder why tragedy was always so beautiful on a page when it was far away from the reader.

On Venice Beach I recounted the conversation Tyler and I had to Sonny.

“Yeah dude, Tyler’s the man. He’s crazy smart. He’ll just go for days, reading and writing books, writing music, just smoking. He’s always doing that. But like, I worry about him. He’s got such a good style [musically]. I just hope he doesn’t burn out, you know? He’s a heavy smoker. I don’t want to see him burn out too quickly.” Sonny smiled through his baby-blue Raybans.

“Man, I don’t want to burn out too quickly,” he said, and stared toward the boardwalk as if speaking passed me.

Abruptly, I became omniscient and was not me but rose into the sky, above the ocean and saw us sitting there, young and brimming with life in America, trying to succeed by societal standards while not losing sight of the unquantifiable joy of existence—the fuel to pursue dreams, the treasures of wisdom—and I sincerely hoped none of our fuses burned too quickly.

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ANYWHERE BUT HERE: Fez, 2011

In Anywhere But Here on July 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm
"'The intellect is the soul's pimp.' She had not wanted to know what he meant, but of course he had gone on and explained that the intellect was constantly seducing the soul with knowledge, when all the soul needed was its own wisdom.""

“‘The intellect is the soul’s pimp.’ She had not wanted to know what he meant, but of course he had gone on and explained that the intellect was constantly seducing the soul with knowledge, when all the soul needed was its own wisdom.””– Paul Bowles, The Spider’s House

TRAVEL: In the Medina

In Anywhere But Here on June 28, 2013 at 2:08 am

Under the sunshine, under the mosque’s minarets, under the rising engine fumes, another world exists. In the old towns, sheet metal covers slender walkways of pisé mud brick walls, giving home to the collections of merchants stalls known in the Middle East and Northern Africa as medinas, or souks.

Souk in Tangiers

Souk in Tangiers

These tunnels of commerce have thrived for centuries. Obscured, often dim alleys await the visitor with a stark change of pace from newly developed Ville Nouvelles. In Morocco’s large cities, causeways of shops run for miles and add to the mystique of places like Tangier—what Paul Bowles called the “classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons, and cliffs.”

Abruptly in Fez’s Medina, I realize I can barely breath. Unlike Marrakech’s open J’emma El Fna, Fez’s old townhas no opening. Just continuously cramped passageways. Every side has options to browse. Soon it is clear the lanes do not deposit me at a destination, like stairs to a room. The stairs simply continue. I keep a pace of intent as to repel hustlers. Though starting to feel the pressure build. No air and narrow walls. Mounting paranoia. Quickly, I duck into a café where I huddle down, order my food, and eat in peace.

The Medina offers a crossover into the ancient world. Merchants still sell spices of saffron and cumin, along with salts, and dried bodies of chicken and sheep that hang upside down with bellies like fleece. The maâlems, or master artisans, chat in front of their shops. Change is easily made with neighbors. The shab al A’hwa greets a boy arriving to the café with the morning’s supply of mint leaves on the back of his bike. Visiting friends drop in on to clear or collect debts. Walking past, one hears hammering and live crafting of copper or silver tea trays. Dyes from Saharan oils and minerals find their way into the symmetrical sewing of rugs, creams contrast dark-blue backdrops and form matrices in each. Textiles of crimsons, green, and purple are tucked away in shelves, awaiting the grasps of customers. Shop’s corners are stacked with felt hats, gold-dyed cowhide slippers, and almond or wine-dark leather jackets. Old men with shaky eyes eek along in long djellaba coverings, holding canes. Youngsters swipe passed on mopeds but despite their beeping, banter prevails on the cobblestone streets. Like the ancient Agora in Athens, the medina remains a place to meet, to gossip, and argue politics over lunch before heading back to the job. Most of all, the medina is the theater of barter for goods.

Life in the souk is slow paced. It is disrespectful for travelers to rush deals. Although disputes over prices may appear unorthodox to the Westerner, it is a part of cultural tradition. As Akbar Ahmed points out, the Islamic tradition is “rooted in thought and debate, a tradition going back to the prophet himself. The history of Islam is the history of ideas and their power to affect people’s actions.”Due to the charismatic nature of the maâlems, simply making it out of the customer/artisan role-play without overspending is a battle.

At the Hotel Central Palis in Marrakech, Nathan and I overlook the Jaamah El fna. Even from our roof, the buzzing square of flickering lights and wafts of meat smoke is intimidating. Yet we decide to enter for a late dinner. With noise on all sides, I feel lightheaded as if floating. Everything moves in the slow pace of desert life. We keep in single file to avoid clipping heals. As drums beat nearby, I spot a group of older woman, all covered in hijabs and reading the palms of their daughters while waiting for customers.

“Are you scared of snakes?” I hear from behind.

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Eagle Eyes

Easily enough, one can become overwhelmed in any medina. Small charges often get hairy. In Fez, Francois and I explore the old town’s famous tanneries. A guide shows us up to a roof where we see cow skins soaking in stone baths of deep red dye. He hands us mint leaves to block the powerful stench. After leaving the rooftop, our guide disappears. I assume he is attending to other business in his leather shop. We head out, but while slinking our way through a tunnel, he remerges to demand a tip, looking disgusted that we left.

“Dh1000,” he insists.

“Too much,” I respond, stone faced in sunglasses.

When we settle on Dh500, his tone changes and we shake hands professionally, the dank tunnel having become a negotiation room.

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