Not-so-secret Los Angeles

When I’m researching in Los Angeles, I talk to pretty much everyone about the river. Again and again, I hear the same story, as if it’s a script clipped out of the Los Angeles Times. People smile. They tell me nobody in Los Angeles knows that their city has a river. Then they recount an intimate, personal story about this supposedly unknown eighty something kilometre watercourse. I’m yet to meet someone in the know-nothing category.

The river just may be the city’s least-kept secret.

The janitor polishing brass fixtures in one of downtown LA’s oldest and swankiest hotels tells me, as I loiter in the lobby pretending I might be staying there while waiting for an interviewee to arrive, how he played in the river as a child in East Los Angeles. His father would repeatedly drill the children about river safety through a Spanish phrase that translates, loosely, as no matter who you are – rich, poor, black, white, Latino – if you mess about with the river it’ll badly mess with you. The security guard at one of UCLA’s libraries knows right away about the proposed billion dollar river restoration measures, and about Frank Gehry. An elderly man I met at in exclusive club in Hollywood remembers childhood in Frogtown when the ground would be so thick with frogs that he couldn’t walk for stepping on them, and his boyish excitement at the popping sounds they made. Someone else I met told me about doing jury duty at a trial for an alleged gang killing in the lower reaches, and another grimaced telling me how a friend had found a corpse in the river while hiking.

Everybody, it seems, carries a little piece of the river with them.

Horror stories, love stories, quirky stories, life stories. The Los Angeles River has them all.


Categories: Rivers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the world’s problems, and I write about gardening


Categories: Cooking, Growing | Leave a comment

Famine, famine, feast.

I curate this community event called Nourish Talks. It’s kind of magic. Our belief is that people are more likely to do good in the world if they feel good. We tackle heart breaking issues, in heart warming ways.We reckon people are more likely to save the world if they fall in love with its good bits, rather than getting heavy with hate and fear for everything that’s going wrong.

Being part of Nourish – which interweaves the time, energy and expertise of a stellar cast of talent and volunteers is one of my love projects. I appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to my community, to raise funds and awareness for important issues, and to build a new offering on Sydney’s cultural calendar.

I love Nourish too for the many lessons it teaches me. I learn more every day about courage, humility, tenacity, and relationships. It gets me up close with my handful of strengths and my truckload of weaknesses.

One lesson, a big one, I call famine, famine, feast.

You see, Nourish depends on acts of generosity. Everybody is a volunteer.

Sponsors provide materials, expertise, food, drinks, services, almost everything.

The success of the event depends in part on selling out of tickets, ensuring that we raise funds for the community initiatives that Nourish is designed to support.
And in almost every pursuit, the same pattern rolls out: famine, famine, feast. For example: there’ll be no sponsor in a particular category. There’s only days till show time, then suddenly three sponsors in that category are knocking on our doors. Tickets sell slowly, each one feels like a hard won battle. And then, suddenly, a flurry of interest, a sold-out show, a bulging wait list, and people imploring us to release extra tickets.

Famine, famine, feast.

Which gets me to thinking, actually, that there’s probably no such thing as the famine. There’s just feast which takes a little longer to reach. And I wonder then, how many other apparent moments of absence in my life are not really famines at all. I’m more and more convinced that they’re just the feast getting assembled, appetites getting piqued, the fruit ripening, the blossoms opening.

I’ve had moments this past year that have felt more famine than feast. Times of lonely and tired and unsure and empty that have felt heavy and hard. But, mercifully, there’s been an abundance of feasting too. And, on reflection, it’s all been feast. Yeah, sometimes it’s been slower in the service, but in the end the famine – the longing and the waiting and doing the hard work – was actually the most important part of the meal. And it was all, deliciously, a feast.

Categories: inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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