Nuestro Pueblo: Watts Towers

My most recent trip to Los Angeles finally yielded a visit to the Watts Towers. I’m not sure what I expected to see but the effect of the towers rising, as their designer and builder Simon Rodia put it, “up to the sun,” was both breathtaking and calming. There, in the middle of a tidy, residential area, is the Watts Towers Arts Center, home to the single city block environed by the towers and their relevant structures, as well as a museum of contemporary art, a handfull of faded but still compelling murals, and some freestanding sculpture. It is a celebration of the neighborhood, the vibrancy of Watts, a full embrace of its past, and full advocacy of its present and future. There are artist residencies and music festivals, and jazz education and mentorship for emerging and developing youth musicians, but above all are the towers, Nuestro Pueblo.

[A note about the photos: I opted to develop the photos of the towers in black and white because my color versions were overwhelmed by the late-morning sunlight. The same light, of course, served ground-level photography quite well, making it possible to capture the brilliance and array of colors and textures that make up the rest of the work.]

BELLS≥ Recording at the Magpie Cage

My band, BELLS≥, recorded the first of our North American Spirituals this past weekend at the Magpie Cage in Baltimore. The piece is called “The First Ray.” We debuted it last year on tour, and although we’ve kept the overall structure intact from that version, there have been some significant changes that we hope familiar listeners will enjoy.

Among these changes is J. Robbins joining us on bass. We were all quite pleased working together on Solutions, Silence, and Affirmations and it seemed a natural move for us to include him on this and future recordings. We look forward to his contributions to the remaining Spirituals as we move towards composing and recording the entire cycle.

Colorado

I was in Colorado last week for a family event and took these pictures in the course of a hike into a very small portion of Rocky Mountain National Park. What appealed to me about these subjects was the disarray, the contrast between cleared and nearly-uniform wooded areas and meadows, and the invasive presence of the root balls and fallen trees that previously contributed to that order. Each of these photos presents a sort of sore thumb.

If it can be said that there is an argument between the dead or fallen —the disrupted— plant lives displayed here and those that flourish, it follows that one aspect of the fight is the stubborn, gnarled refusal of the former trees to move on: rather than decompose, they opt to dry out and stay put.

Time, it seems,
forgives, if not redeems.

Pier 2 Courts

This group of photos was taken midday last Saturday during the Dew NBA event at the basketball courts on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The general sense of activity was rather loose when I happened by, and although there was play on each court, it appeared to be entirely unsupervised, so I couldn’t tell if it was part of the event or not. Maybe I showed up between rounds and these guys were playing pickup to fill the time.

Handball

I’m not aware of another city that has our quotidian relationship with handball courts. Anyone familiar with New York City’s park system recognizes these walls with unattended indifference. Should the walls, on the other hand, appear unused and mysteriously erect and their purpose unclear, it takes only a quick query to a local to learn that they’re for handball. Like eating pizza while walking or scaffold pull-ups, handball is a not infrequently-occurring phenomenon here in New York.

One Walker in Carroll Gardens

It was over 90° when I made this exposure on the east side of Carroll Gardens. The street you see (click the image for a larger version) is a single-block one way, situated between Smith and Court Streets, whose terminal streets are one ways in opposite directions. That is, the only entry to this short street is a right turn from the direction of Smith St., and the sole exit is a right turn in the direction of Smith St.

There are other such streets in the area, but they usually stretch among longer blocks and look very much like their neighboring streets: same kinds of brownstones, mostly, same types of trees, cars parallel parked for the full lengths of the blocks. The street above, however, differs from its surroundings in two essential ways. First, its narrowness prohibits on-street parking and the buildings lack garages, so there is little, if any, car traffic. The street is thus a near-perfect place to play. Except that: second, there are no trees and therefore no shade. This latter distinction was felt acutely on the day I walked by.

Practically speaking, none of these details occurred to me when I took the picture. What did I have my eye on? My eye was on the game at the middle of the block which I had photographed from the opposite end of the street not long before. It was only while editing this photo that I noticed the boy with the placard and unseasonable Sherlock Holmes hat. And so he emerged as the image’s walker.