Dec 22, 2009


This time in Spanish and English

This is like a retwitt. The story on the link below was going to be here but I pitched it to the LA Weekly and they bought it. I am very happy about it because so far only Canadians had encouraged me to write in their language...

It's about the book 'A heartbeat and a guitar. Johnny Cash and the making of Bitter Tears', by Antonino D'Ambrosio. He did a musical presentation of it at Subliminal Projects, the Shepard Fairey art gallery in LA. Fairey's art work related to the book and to D'Ambrosio's documentary Let Fury have the hour was in display there too.

Read it here:


En el link de arriba podeis leer un reportaje mío publicado en el LA WEEKLY sobre el libro 'A heartbeat and a guitar. Johnny Cash and the making of Bitter Tears', de Antonino D'Ambrosio. El libro habla del casi desconocido album Bitter Tears, con el que Cash reivindicó los derechos de los indios americanos y que fue censurado de forma fulminante. D'Ambrosio hizo una entretenida presentación musical en Subliminal Projects, la galería de Shepard Fairey (el artista mundialmente famoso por los posters de Obama) en Los Angeles. En la foto dos obras de Fairey hechas para la portada del libro y para el poster del documental Let Fury have the hour (sobre 'activismo musical y artístico') que D'Ambrosio presentará en verano.


This time in English.

This is the third chapter on a series about experiencing LA as a potential Angelina.


I needed a prescription. So I went to one of the dozens of clinics that surround my LA apartment in what it's called 'Little Guatemala', this lively neighborhood of Latino workers with a million clinics around. The doctor's experience wasn't really different from others I previously had in New York: a very uninviting place, dust everywhere, and a stretcher that was so old they had secured it with gaffer's tape:

For the uninsured like myself those clinics request that you pay $20 dollars for a visit and $1o dollars for each prescription. If you need a blood test or something more sophisticated, the bill gets into the hundreds. Doctors don't even look at you when they ask questions. They literally couldn't care less about people's health. They just make sure you sign every possible paper so you won’t take them to court later. Hopefully, the health care reform will also change this way of treating people. If being uninsured won't be an option anymore there won't be any dark stigma for people that cannot afford a private insurer...
We are humans too!!


I biked through MacArthur's park a few days ago. It looked very beautiful from the 10th floor of the American Cement Building, where I have been working on my documentary (yes, it will be finally ready quite soon!!). Unfortunately, some parks in LA are not intended to be enjoyed by citizens. I am still trying to understand the reason; all I can say, so far, is that I felt I was biking to hell. I was the only woman; at least three junkies where trying to avoid falling into the water; a wide variety of hustlers where loitering and looking at me without friendly faces and at least two drunk guys mumble who knows what to me. The landscape was either drunken people or homeless sleeping on the park.

In an ideal world, all types of people enjoying the sun would have inhabited this beautiful green space. Someone has told me that those parks exist in LA too. I just wonder how is it possible that an area of town whose streets are alive, as opposite as many others ghostly neighborhoods, is exactly the one where a potentially public space it's a total nightmare. New York parks used to be like that years ago. Now it is a different story. I just hope LA won’t follow Giuliani's example to 'clean' up the city. The 9/11 mayor throws everybody either into jail or into buses with one-way tickets to out of town.

What can I say? As the great Jonathan Gold reminded me, many punk lyrics used to refer to Bonnie Brae, a notorious street in the neighborhood known for being the heroin supermarket of LA (at its corner with 6 st) It seems that crack is more on vogue now days but probably the killer # 1 in the neighborhood is alcohol. Soledad, a Guatemalan who works selling pupusas on Alvarado, told me the sad story that plagues the area: "Almost everybody drinks his salary on Fridays and ends up falling asleep at any given corner. Hard workers but totally depressed by their lives in LA". Is she too? "No hija, en mi país te cortan las orejas para robarte los pendientes. Eso sí que es deprimente. Aquí hay cosas feas pero se puede ser feliz".

Dec 20, 2009


This time in English

This is the second chapter on a series about experiencing LA as a potential Angelina.

Alvarado St.

I am living around MacArthur's park, which means I am a white girl with blond hair and blue eyes around Guatemalan, Salvadorian and Mexican workers who think I am a gringa who doesn't understand Spanish. It's a lively neighborhood where you can incessantly listen to Jose Luis Perales , buy cheap socks and impossible clothes, have great tacos, pupusas -and great pastrami at Langer's- and get fake green cards.

"ID's, ID's". That's the most common word uttered around the area. The cholos (gang people) control the business but deep in the chain of command there are illegal immigrants walking the streets and offering their bargains: the cheapest ID is $40, the most expensive could be $700. Maybe because I look 'gringa' but I speak Spanish with my thick Castilian accent, one of those men agreed to talk to me. "If you just jumped the fence we try to be good and give you a deal. If you are European we charge you more and if your car looks expensive the price goes up". At least, they have a heart...

Alvarado on a Sunday morning

The cost also depends on how fake the ID looks. The quality of the number it's key too. "If you want a green card with a real number you are going to have to pay for it, but we can get you anything". The price of the best ones, $700, looks very cheap to me, compared with New York, where as far as I know you have to pay at least $2000 for a good green card in the black market. "The business is bigger in LA and we sell mainly fake numbers but every employer knows it and everybody plays along" this guy told me.

He was caught months ago when he sold an ID to a cop in the area. He was deported but crossed the border again; it cost him $4000. "I have done it a few times, so that was a 'good customer' price; if not it could have been $5000 or $6000". He used to work in construction in LA but he wasn't making much money. "This is a better business, it's worth the risk" he says, although he wouldn't say how much he makes. "In Mexico there is no money and my girlfriend is here so I had to come back". Whether it's love or money who keeps him here, he doesn't even think about going back to his country. Neither are millions of illegal immigrants who are trapped in all kind of emotional or economic webs.

Picture of 'Love and Documents',
a great short movie recently screened in LA and
directed by Ben Fine using muppets.
It's based on the following story and it´s a good example of how art
can help to raise awareness:

I have a very good friend in New York who crossed the border more than ten years ago. He's married to an American because he loves her but he can't get his green card because he entered the country illegally and laws don't forgive it. It's a catch 22 situation. They are trying to press the government to change the current law and include their case in the future immigration reform: there are at least half a million people in the same situation. You can read about it here, and you can help them by sign their petition for the waiver reform here.

Dec 18, 2009


This time in Spanish

Interrumpo estos relatos sobre Los Angeles para hacer una declaración muy poco habitual en estos tiempos de crisis periodística: he babeado abriendo un periódico. Por primera vez en meses, me he sentado frente a un 'ladrillo' de papeles - en concreto 320 páginas!- como esos que solían llegar cada domingo a los kioskos y me ha apetecido leerme absolutamente todo, incluída la sección de deportes, de la que soy muy poco adicta.

No, ni el New York Times ni Los Angeles Times han mejorado milagrosamente sus ediciones de la noche a la mañana. Siguen su proceso de degradación y aburrimiento paulatino en papel como casi toda la prensa tradicional. Ha tenido que ser la iniciativa del escritor de moda, Dave Eggers, la que me haga recuperar el placer de devorar prensa escrita (e impresa).

Su nombre? San Francisco Panorama. Ya sé que todo lo que cuento no es noticia: hace meses que se especulaba sobre cómo sería la iniciativa de Eggers, que anunció a bombo y platillo que preparaba un periódico 'como los de antes', con mucha letra, mucho papel, reportajes largos y trabajados, en formato sábana y hasta con cómics, concretamente 16 páginas de viñetas!

Pero yo no lo había visto hasta hoy. Y a mí me gusta escribir sobre lo que veo. Llegó a las calles de San Francisco el día 8 y por fin en Los Angeles conseguimos uno ayer. En una de las primeras páginas se explica al detalle qué pasa en Congo, con background, análisis y esclarecedores gráficos, hay un reportaje sobre la sequía en California y también locuras como el recorrido fotográfico de un asado de cordero, desde que el cordero pasta en la hierba hasta que llega al plato, con toda la parte gore incluida. Las elecciones afganas al detalle, Michael Chabon escribiendo sobre música, Stephen King sobre deporte, estupendos periodistas despedidos de otros medios hacen reportajes de investigación...

El SF Panorama está agotado en todas partes. La tirada ha sido de apenas 20,000 ejemplares y en principio es un periódico de un día. Eggers no quiere emular a Rupert Murdoch, simplemente aspira a recordarle a la gente -y a los Murdoch planetarios- que leer diarios con reportajes bien escritos de muchas páginas solía ser un placer y podría seguir siéndolo. Yo también lo creo.

Visualmente es un regalo: hasta las recetas de cocina están hechas con buen gusto. Y los textos... una delicia. Y eso que varios versan sobre temas muy locales de San Francisco, pero importa poco: esa es la clave del buen periodismo, conseguir que te interese hasta lo que en principio te resulta lejano y ajeno.

Obviamente es imposible leérselo en un día, ni siquiera en una semana, pero apetece. Y eso es lo que realmente debería importarle a quienes editan periódicos, que sus lectores tengan ganas de leerselo todo, incluído un reportaje de casi 30 páginas sobre el Camino de Santiago en el suplemento dominical !!! (llevo 15 y es lo mejor que he leído nunca sobre el tema)

En este blog y en este encontraréis más detalles -económicos y creativos, resulta que ha sido bastante barato hacerlo....- y descripciones sobre el contenido. Aquí van las críticas, siempre inevitables. Yo me declaro fan y lamento que el proyecto no se convierta al menos en un mensual. Por cierto, ya han entrado en segunda edición, pero no será cuestión de horas si no de semanas: la reimpresión llegará en enero.

Dec 15, 2009


Yes, believe it or not I am still in LA. I've been 'missing in action', I am sorry, but I had to organize many things in order to stay here in December so my blog suffered of lack of attention, but I am back!

It wasn't difficult to avoid returning to New York: the winter is killer there and December presented itself in LA under the warm light of my beloved Cadiz, (who knew it???) and with different kind of temptations, like a very cheap apartment to stay in or a kick-ass bike to be a rebel and bike instead of driving in LA so, how could I say no? Plus, I am a journalist working for a newspaper in crisis that shrinks everyday and in consequence my amount of work is shrinking too so I figured I wouldn't miss much...

The USC/Getty fellowship provided me with the best possible Cicerones in town, but after those three heavenly weeks, reality hit back. I don't want to be one of those reporters that land in a place and start judging it right away, without really knowing or understanding what life is like in that place. That's a sin that we journalists commit too often and I'd like to avoid it. That was one of the reasons for me to stay in LA longer: let's try to have an Angelino life and see if it is possible to understand why this city is evenly loved and hated.

I am going to try to do my best at describing very simple experiences that are also related with important discussions that are going on around the country and the world, like health care, public transportation, public spaces, culture, immigration or food. I' ll do it over a series of posts.

Yes, I've tried and it's possible. If you don't have a car, a bike makes your life easier, but it's not a solution if you want to go to the other side of the city... unless you have loooots of time!! -I' ll talk about driving in LA in the next few days and also about the project CicLAvia-. My biking trip from Downtown to Hancock Park wasn't too difficult, 45 minutes biking. But the thought of going back in the dark of the night, through blocks and blocks of empty sidewalks it wasn't an appealing idea. It feels very good to be alone in the middle of the countryside looking at the landscape. The emptiness of a city sidewalk and the deafening sound of silence when you are surrounded by inhabited houses it's very foreign and creepy to me... as a Swedish friend asked over and over for a year after she moved to LA, 'where is the city'?????

Well, it seems that in LA the city is always indoors. It feels weird because the climate would make it the perfect outdoors city but if people don't use public transportation, chances are that not many people will flock to the streets to going to places. They just flock into their cars. In fact, LA must be one of the very few cities in the world whose subway looks like this at rush hour:

This picture, taken at 8,30 am on the red line
must look like a dream to new yorkers....

The subway is not too bad, it's quite ugly but at least it's clean, and the city is trying to improve it opening new lines and promising a big expansion,. For buses is quite another story. Some of them look like they belong to a seventies horror movie: they feel old and quite abandoned inside -sorry to say that the GPS screens don't make up reality- and the amount of mentally ill people that board them it doesn't make it better. Public transportation in LA reflects class and economy without mercy : an overwhelming amount of users are Latinos, blacks, elderly people or homeless. I tried buses a few times, and I guess it also depends on the neighborhood but I never had such a depressing experience in a bus before. From a very old sick woman with her very cheap wig on to the super fat guy that hadn't shower in at least a month and walked into the bus drinking and screaming provoking zero reactions around, all I could think of is to leave the bus asap. I couldn't, I had to go somewhere. So were many workers that just happen to don't make enough money to have a car. The depressing view they have to endure inside buses every day probably just make them dream of killing somebody. I would end up in a gang if I had to take the bus everyday... It should be mandatory for every Angelino to hop the bus at least once a week, so people with voice and power -the poor never count- would start asking for improvements. Cities need to boost their public transportation system's asap. Did anybody hear about climate change and Copenhagen in LA????

If the city were smart enough, they would make life inside public transportation a less depressing experience, improving the quality of the buses, the amount of them and taking care of their homeless, that choose buses -and public libraries I am told- to spend their time. It seems that now they are less than they used to be, 'only' 48,000, but I am living downtown and I see them all the time, and it's heartbreaking. Governments are there, among other things, to take care of the weakest parts of society, that's what I learnt in Spain. In the USA 'weakness' equals 'looser', that horrible word that reflects better than any other the cultural values in which Americans are educated. That's why people seem to be afraid of the 'public option' in the health care debate. Being taking care of it sounds like a sin to millions of people. But they should realize that paying for health care doesn't guarantee real or better care...