Guest Dispatches: Los Angeles, CA

Anyone who reads the blog of memoirist and fantasy writer Rachel Manija Brown already knows she’s in love with Los Angeles. (Like many great loves, it’s not without its … moments … of course.) So I was thrilled when she agreed to write a Los Angeles dispatch for me. Here’s what Rachel had to say about the city:


[Thailand Plaza]I’m not here to tell you that Los Angeles is a city of vapid Botoxed starlets, red carpets, Hollywood phonies, and shallow rich people driving Humvees through Beverly Hills. You know that already, and anyway I rarely encounter that world.

I’m here to tell you about the grungy corner stores that, you will discover if you walk inside, contain mini-kitchens in which they prepare made-to-order soft tacos for about $1.50 each, in your choice of carne asada (beef), al pastor (marinated pork), carnitas (fried pork), chicharron (crispy pork rinds), lengua (tongue), or buche (stomach), and, on the weekends, birria (goat.) They also tend to carry Mexican breads and pastries.

I’m here to tell you about the Japanese-French pastry shop which makes cream puffs with black sesame-flavored cream and a thin layer of honey, and is kitty-corner to a Japanese-Peruvian sushi place. I haven’t been to the latter, but I’ve heard that it’s run by a married Japanese/Peruvian couple. The famous Korean taco truck Kogi (which you can follow on Twitter) was also the result of an interracial marriage, when a Mexican-American guy and his Korean-American sister-in-law were up late one night discussing tacos and Korean barbecue. Scoops, the avant-garde gelato shop whose proprietor Tai Kim produces gelato in every flavor imaginable, including bacon, olive oil and sea salt, chocolate Guinness, taro, wasabi, lavender, cucumber, and brown bread, has had at least one commission to produce a gelato to commemorate a multicultural relationship.

[Jacaranda blossoms]I’m here (if I can drag my mind away from food, which is quite difficult in a city where many people are obsessed with it, and there is such a wonderful variety of choices, many extremely inexpensive – izakayas (Japanese pubs), Jewish delis, Americana sandwich joints, Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings, Chinese bakeries, Korean fried chicken, and the very best roast chicken I’ve ever had (at Zankou Chicken, where it comes with a mysterious and excellent garlic sauce)) to tell you about the peculiar and marvelous Museum of Jurassic Technology, which is better experienced than described; the La Brea Tar Pits, where primordial tar still oozes up through cracks in the sidewalk and life-size mammoth statues struggle in a still-bubbling lake of tar; Thai Town and its perfumed cupcakes and serenades by its three Thai Elvises, one of whom is female; the strip mall on Sawtelle and Olympic which features shops selling anime DVDs and memorabilia, erasers and candles and oven mitts shaped like sushi, Angry Little Asian Girl T-shirts, and crepes stuffed with tuna fish and corn. And also Tomato Bank.

[All the Fishes cover]I’m here to tell you that the jacarandas bloom purple in spring and summer, that the maples turn wine-red in fall, that snow falls on the mountains in winter, that the hills outside the city bloom brilliant yellow with mustard and orange with California poppies, that sunsets are neon pink shot with gray, and that the hot Santa Ana blows only long enough to make me appreciate the just-right sunniness of the rest of the year.

I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t possibly tell you everything there is to know about Los Angeles; that it’s not one city, but hundreds, scattered like pearls; that if you asked anyone else who loves it here, they’d give you a completely different list of wonders; that I love this city so much, sometimes I’m convinced that it loves me too.


[Rachel Manija Brown]Rachel Manija Brown is the author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, an account her childhood on an ashram in India (“Horrific childhood: check. Searing, indelible prose: check. Comparisons to Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors: check (and they’re richly deserved) … Grade A.” –Entertainment Weekly), as well as (with illustrator Stephanie Folse) Project Blue Rose and its sequel. (Both Project Blue Rose books are intended for mature audiences.)

Rachel was the youngest person ever to receive an MFA in playwriting from UCLA, worked in TV/film development for the Jim Henson Company for four years, was a staff writer for the one-hour TV horror-comedy The Fearing Mind (which played on Fox Family), and now does freelance TV development. Her play Driving Past was produced off-Broadway.

She’s been a disaster relief worker, a movie reviewer, a CPR/first aid instructor, a stage manager, and a teacher for teenagers who have been expelled from public schools. She can be found on livejournal as rachelmanija, where–among other things–she regularly reviews awesomely depressing books.

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