It's a short tour. Next week I'm presenting a paper at the Alan Moore conference at the University of Northampton (rumor has it the keynote speaker will be some local writer). Then I'm spending a few days in London, trying to catch up on all the "new" attractions built in the last eleven years--the Tate Modern! The London Eye! Which seems like an obligatory stop for any Morrison fan, fraught with ominous and disturbing associations better left unexpressed. (Think Seaguy, not Batman and Robin.)
If you're in the UK, perhaps I'll see you there. As blog meetups go, it seems like I'm traveling an awfully long way to finally meet Geoff Klock.
I took these photos out in Monterey last summer during the conference of the International Society for the Study of Time--one of the coolest names for any scholarly organization and one of the few places where literature professors can talk shop with physicists.
I took the first two photos on a free day in the middle of the conference, when I biked a couple of miles along the coast to Monterey. As you can see from the later photos the conference met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, originally a YWCA camp from 1913. The original buildings by Julia Morgan (Hearst's architect) are still in use and the grounds still look like the kind of lodge where my parents, or their parents, would have vacationed, right down to the social hall with board games and table tennis.
It hadn't occurred to me that this reprieve from time's passage would also extend to the grounds' bicycle rental options. They were all giant metal death-machines, also suitable for my parents in their youth, one of which I had to haul up the coast while being passed by irritated Californians on bikes so streamlined, frames so light, tires so narrow and frictionless I believe they actually hovered a few millimeters above the road on cushions of pure machismo. And there I was on this Cold War juggernaut with huge fenders and a big metal basket in front. And a lovely little bell.
Still, Asilomar was a perfect setting for a conference about time. My favorite building wasn't any of the Morgan originals but a midcentury addition, a glassed-in "living room" in a rambler that tried to blend with the Arts and Crafts structures but came across as Tiki Modern. Of course its name was "Surf and Sand." A relic of the short American Century when the South Pacific was the last suburb between Palos Verdes and Mars. Even though I know what it was built on and where it led I can't help but feel a curious unearned nostalgia for the culture that fantasized its own endless expansion in California--a culture at a zenith I never got to witness firsthand.
I've been so elated with the return to DC that I haven't had any time, until the last couple of days, to register all the things I'll miss in Tennessee. There's our many friends (who came through in a big way to help with the loading today), and our great neighborhood in East Nashville. And the live music, although that realization came to us weeks ago when we were walking through Bethesda, Maryland and we heard the most horrible singing reverberating down the block. I don't expect the street performers to be Nashville quality, but really--did the city have to let him use an amp?
And then there's the scenery. This is the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, about three hours from Nashville, this past April:
I have a feeling we'll be visiting again just for the hiking. We never did get around to the Smokies or Mammoth Cave...
Friday July 22. The first time I feel like I've earned my view of the Pacific. Two days after hiking in Utah at 8500 feet I'm standing on a deck in Malibu at about 10. I've tumbled from the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon to rooms at the Flamingo to this beachside rehearsal dinner. The sun sets behind a beach house and a private helicopter buzzes low over the surf. California once again arranges itself to be extra Californian. Literally arranges itself, since the restaurant has cemented the rocks to create more dramatic breaks as the waves roll in. Later that night it's a show at the Viper Room - we'll leave before the Guns N' Roses simulation takes the stage - and the next evening at a hotel in Santa Monica with just a glimmer of an ocean view I will watch as an actor whose work I know and like dances with my in-laws. He won't look so tough the next time Daredevil drops him under a train. From the first tumbleweed in New Mexico everything in this trip has been itself, only more so.
This is written at the request of some readers who want to see more posts outside of comics.
I spent last weekend in southern California at the wedding of one of my oldest friends. A Hindu/Jewish feminist-updated fusion wedding, a harmonious polyphony that seemed pretty appropriate for southern California, especially since one of the officiants appeared to come straight out of The Long Goodbye by way of The Big Lebowski.
I and most of the other groomsmen spent about half the weekend taking rather peacockish pride in our kurtas, long, collarless shirts/robes ideal for dancing, looking austere, walking menacingly, kung fu fighting, entering the Matrix - all manner of manly endeavors, not the least of which is standing at your friend's side as he is married. Leave all the fussing over pictures and decorations to the bridal party; as a man you can tell yourself that, although the prospect of a band of raiders swooping in on horseback to steal the bride is distinctly unlikely in the year 2005, you and your kurta'd posse are ready to kick some ass if and when it happens.
The kurtas also lent an immediate solidarity to a disparate bunch of groomsmen. One guy walking up Los Robles in a black kurta looks pretty weird. Three or six are total badasses. You have no idea how badly I wanted us to stumble across some sort of crime in progress so we could spill out of our kurtamobile and demonstrate our distinguishing gimmicks.
Besides stoking every adolescent male fantasy of redemptive violence (is this really not about comics?) the wedding also afforded a chance to catch up with old friends, something I'm lucky enough to do fairly often, and a chance to settle into a real, sustained groove during the dancing, something I haven't had for years. (You would think that Nashville, Music City, would have at least one decent club whose idea of "disco" isn't playing the electric slide three times in two hours... no, actually, you wouldn't, would you?)
Unfortunately every period of intense emotion, every suspension of mundane time is followed by that inevitable descent back beneath the clouds - literally in this case as my return flight landed at BNA. I've been settled back into my normal routine for a couple of days now but I'm still feeling a sort of jet lag, an emotional disconnect equivalent to the ache that I picked up from hiking up and down Mt. Hollywood but didn't even notice until I was back in Nashville.
When I first moved out here I decided, or I told myself, that Nashville was a Los Angeles in miniature. That the two cities had a lot in common - the decentralized western organization, the local entertainment industry that attracts legions of young hopefuls. You just have to ignore the factor of seven (or ten, or twenty) that makes it look so much smaller coming back from the real thing.
Almost anywhere would, but Nashville even moreso. The downtown now looks like a jumble of toy blocks, discarded by some child who's hoarded all the tallest, shiniest buildings a couple thousand miles to the west, and as I drove home after my class Monday night the sudden absence of palm trees swaying against the horizon was gut-wrenching. The local hills I glimpsed from the plane seemed petty and embarrassing, but even the Appalachians and the gorgeous Cumberland plateau have a hard time competing with the San Gabriels looming over Pasadena or the Santa Monicas folding into the sea.
I first visited Los Angeles eight years ago this week, to see the same friend. The spring of 1997 marked the beginning of the most (first?) exciting time of my life, and as the memories blur and run together it becomes harder to sort out which parts of that transformative season happened before the trip and which happened after. Southern California sits at the center of it all, a wonderland of eternal springs and so many beautiful women that you'd even see them at thebowling alley. California arranged itself to appear extra Californian that week; immediately after all the Oscar frenzy, the Heaven's Gate cult decided to kill themselves and ride out the millennium on the back of Comet Hale-Bopp.
I wrote something about it back then, although it didn't amount to much more than a plagiarism of Soul Coughing's "Screenwriter's Blues." (There was a journal too, long since lost and that's not much of a tragedy, nothing but bad imitations of Irvine Welsh - but what do you want, it was '97 and I was 24.) It's been long enough since the last trip that I was able to rediscover many of the things that had so charmed me the first time - the view from Griffith Park, the lights of the planes lined up for approach at LAX, the richness of Los Angeles' early modernist architecture, half Tenochtitlan and half Metropolis. No matter how apparent the costs are, I know I want more of this only half artificial paradise. I'll be driving back this summer.
It was, in short, the least noir Los Angeles experience ever. If I'm looking for disaffected loners drifting despondently in a place of sun-baked corruption, I can find that better right here in Nashville.