Tag Archives: history

the golden isles of Georgia

Ben and I are on a plane tonight, in first class because we’re so fancy, coming home from the Golden Isles.  We’ve been visiting my cousin and her sons for the past week, as they camped on Jekyll Island, just outside Brunswick.  It was a concept that my cousin and I came up with when I realized Ben desperately needed to get out of NYC, and wasn’t going to have his usual access to summer camp to do so.   We decided to fly down via Jacksonville, rent an AirBNB, and spend our week hanging out on the Georgia coast.

The Georgia coast, I should note, is incredibly beautiful.  This was the Low Country, the marshes and coastal ecosystem that extended up into South Carolina and down into Florida.  We would drive over the Jekyll Island causeway in the evening and I would catch my breath at the vista of marshes with the sparkling creeks running through them.  Jekyll Island itself is only partially developed, and is crisscrossed with roads that run under overhanging trees, dripping with Spanish moss, linking the beaches and historic areas of the island.  The island also has the petrified forest of Driftwood Beach, dozens of eerily beautiful trees left on the beach, dead from erosion and preserved in salt, that the boys climbed on for hours.  It was a beautiful piece of the world that was surprisingly under-exploited.

There is something deeply romantic about the Southern American coastal towns, built as they are on swamps.  The live oaks and Spanish moss, the secondary growth forests, the unique coastal landscapes of marsh and reclaimed land.  It is so different than the clean salt air of the Pacific Northwest, and yet similar in the way the landscape is dripping with life.  The moss hangs instead of carpeting the forest, and the trees grow outward instead of up, but it has that same timeless quality, a sense that the forests and the marshes will outwait the humans who try to settle and inhabit them.

This is why find it hard not to be charmed by the South at times.  There is an eccentric note to the Southern cities, an emphasis on aesthetics over business in places like Savannah.  It is like having an old aunt who tells the most marvelous stories while holding court in a perfectly preserved house.  Coastal Georgia also holds tightly to their English heritage, looking to not just an antebellum heritage, but to the very origins of European colonization (I almost wrote “founders” and then changed that: it is so very ingrained in me to refer to Europeans as “founders” or the first people).  I am also from a British colony, although one built much later in history, when More’s Utopia was a more distant memory, when the colonizers knew they sought exploitation and were no longer coating it in a layer of socialist vision.

This history is a fascinating narrative, until you start reading between the lines to what isn’t in the narrative: the people of color who are left out of that charming story altogether.  Those preserved towns and squares were likely built by Black hands.  Those beautiful buildings were paid for by cotton proceeds, profits stemming from stolen labour.  The coastal marshes and fertile islands were taken out from under the indigenous tribes that shelled and ate the piles of oysters found on the islands.  Considering what isn’t in the narrative of the South makes it much less charming.

This is why I find it hard to visit the South, because the narrative I hear when I go there is so skewed, with no interest or insight in creating a more inclusive story.  We hear stories about Europeans who came to Georgia and the Carolinas, but we do not hear about how their existence was made possible by the unpaid labour and land that they took at the expense of other peoples. We see the marsh ecosystem but not a tribute to the native peoples who lived i it. We see plantation ruins but do not hear the multidimensional perspective of who built and ran it. In many places, even outside of the Northwest, this narrative is becoming more inclusive; even in Virginia, at places like Monticello, this one dimensional storytelling is changing. In Georgia though, especially out on the coast, I felt like there were voices I couldn’t hear. It was like hearing a single topnote poorly and loudly played on a piano, when I knew there should be a whole melody, a whole orchestra, to make the sound whole.

The reason I’m also writing this, as I parse through my own thoughts this week, is because I’m thinking about statues coming down right now throughout the South. I am thinking of the Confederacy story, how romanticized it is, how those losers are lionized. The accusation is that destroying statues erases history, and I think it is the reverse: keeping statues is what keeps history one-dimensional and keeps the stories that need telling completely invisible. With this perspective top of mind this trip, it was difficult to stop seeing the limited story the Georgia coast presents to the outside world, history that is so narrow as to be revisionist.

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somebody leave a light on, just in case i like the dancing…

(tori amos, “mother”, little earthquakes)

I always tell my mom the details of what I’m doing in L.A., where I’ve been, what I’ve seen. But it’s difficult to explain sometimes, because of how much L.A. has changed in forty years. Tonight, I was telling Mom about how I’m planning to go to the wake for the Ambassador Hotel on Thursday, and I was trying to explain where the HMS Bounty bar was, without using the word, “Koreatown”, because there was no K-Town forty years ago.

But Mom didn’t remember the Ambassador, and I was trying to explain (again, without being able to use half the references that exist today) and finally said, “It was attached to the Cocoanut Grove”. That triggered her memory. Apparently, Mom had been out to the Cocoanut Grove a few times in her day. I think that, and the Biltmore hotel bar, are some of the only old L.A. nightspots that are still standing, and with their original names, that she’d been to. And the Cocoanut Grove is no more.

So the nightclubs and bars that my grandmother went to, and then my mother somehow got into without being carded, have disappeared from Los Angeles, one by one. I find new, tenuous connections to the history I study and search for, every day. It gives me a definite sense of place, because I can feel like I’m following in my mother, or my grandmother’s footsteps. I just wish Los Angeles would stop rewriting itself, and demolishing places like the Ambassador, long enough for me to really understand what I, a third-generation Angelino, may have missed in the years between when my mother left for San Francisco, and when I came back to L.A.

not quite sure where the morning went

One year ago today, I was home in Victoria, with my father in the hospital. I remember watching him, a confused old man in UVic sweatpants, hobble down the hall with his walker. His false teeth were still a bit too big for his face, and he shook when he walked, and he kept forgetting I lived in Los Angeles, not Vancouver or Seattle. And he was better than he had been the month before, but he was still so sick, and I went home to L.A. miserable and broken hearted to see my father so ravaged by his own damn stupidity. No one thought he would walk again, or regain much more use of his brain – the recovery he’d already made in the five weeks since his minor stroke was considered exceptional.

That was the last of three emergency visits, and by the time I went home again in May of 2005, Dad was up to a cane. When I came home two months ago in September, he was absolutely zipping around with it. When I go home in two more weeks, fifty-four weeks after that last fall visit a year ago, I imagine he’ll be better still. He’s graduated to increased weights and resistance in his physio work, goes to the gym twice a week to work on his legs with the therapists, and looks/acts like his old self. I can’t say enough how proud I am of him for working to get better, how grateful I am to my mother for pushing and encouraging him, and how happy I am just to whatever Higher Powers there are for seeing fit to help my old dad regenerate his brain.

I know I post about this a lot, but every time an anniversary comes up of one of those horrible trips home, it reminds me again, I am lucky. Many things may be wrong in my social life right now, and people may be upset with me, but as my father says, “well, it’s all a bit of a tempest in a pot of tea, isn’t it kid?”, and compared to the big things – my family, for example – it is.

This morning, I was woken up by someone listening to or watching some sort of Baptist evangelism at a high volume. So I got up, realized I was still in my tights and miniskirt from Bar Sinister last night, changed into jeans, and stumbled into the living room to make coffee and watch TV. And after a minute of flipping through the DirecTV guide, I found…an entire HOUR of Depeche Mode themed programming on VH1 Classic.

I *heart* VH1 classic, by the way. I will watch classic alternative videos for HOURS. And I was delighted to find a program that interspersed a “hanging out interview” with the band, with classic Depeche Mode videos. Especially since it’s such a contrast from, say, “The Meaning of Love” video to “Halo”. (Yes, sammynella, they showed the HA LO video, and I thought of you.)

And then I flipped over to the History Channel, and they were running a documentary on Vikings. So that was another half hour.

The problem is, with the TV, I tend to lose time. I should have made it to the Farmer’s Market and back by now. But I’m still moving slowly – having everything I’ve done wrong in the past year come back to haunt me all at once tends to paralyze me still, especially when I stop and think about everything that’s been said to me this week. TV is just a way of distracting myself until I can get over it completely.

But last night did cheer me up immensely. I went to Bar Sinister with a few of the core group of really good friends that I’ve been extremely lucky to have. And I also adore Bar Sinister. It’s one of the most fun places for me to be. When we got in, Nine Inch Nails’ “Ringfinger” was on, and it went directly into an Assemblage 23 track. They play Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and the remix of Depeche Mode’s “Fly on the Windscreen” and the Rammstein cover of “Stripped” over the course of the evening, and before I left around 1:30, played “Cities in Dust” (Siouxsie), “Cuts You up” (Peter Murphy) and “Lucretia, My Reflection” (Sisters of Mercy) all in a row. And I will go in there and dance for two hours to that kind of goth music, and wonder where the time went.

And it’s been a great experience also in that all the friends I take there love it. They come and dance, and even if they don’t know the music the way my roomate and I do (Andrew and I were yelling back and forth over whether one track was Seabound or Covenant – it was Seabound) they still love to listen to and dance to it. Everyone seems to like going. Which makes me very happy.

And of course, all that dancing wears me out. Last night, I fell asleep fully dressed, in the poofy pinstriped miniskirt, cut-up black T-shirt, patterned black tights and layers of eyeliner I’d worn out. I still have a piece of black velvet ribbon tied around my neck, and the studded leather wristcuff I bought years ago around my right wrist. But I felt so much better for going.

So now it’s noon, and I’ve been up since 9am, and I’m not quite sure where the morning went. I still get paralyzed by sadness, or lost in distractions to avoid thinking about everything that’s been said to me, or about me. But I’m starting to come out of that daze, and focus on the things that do make me happy, and on being with the people who also make me happy, and I hope, I hope, in two weeks or so…I won’t be taking any of this sadness back to Victoria for Thanksgiving.

pockets of time

You know how sometimes you sense a concept but it takes a book to really crystallize it for you?

Neverwhere was where I picked up the idea of “lost time”, of a city having so much time that pieces and chunks of it still exist scattered around. And Los Angeles has pockets of time throughout the city. There will be a perfect, intact 1890s farmhouse, sitting right by an industrial park, where the white paint is smudged with the last few decades of exhaust from the smokestacks. There will be a few blocks of 1920s narrow houses, on narrow lots, in what was once a Chicago-style sub-development just north of downtown. There will be a 1700s Spanish mission, a relic from the time when this was an entire Spanish country (people always visualize it as isolated forts, not as cities in a networked empire) in the middle of a sprawling suburb. And of course, there are the tar pits, which have also gone completely unchanged in spots for years.

It’s completely random, and that’s one of the things I love about it. So it seemed fitting that we go to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum tonight for an event that could have been custom made for me. Los Angeles Remixed combined two of my favorite things – history and trance music – into a series of exhibits and displays. And, of course, had two live music rooms, where people danced in front of the dioramas of stuffed animals. The trance DJ played in the African mammals room, the live rock fusion band played in the California mammals room. We looked at the animals, and then went to dance.

about the museum, and how all history happens at once