Tag Archives: Sacramento

Colour My World

liberty-cb

The Liberty Coloring Book (Abrams Noterie, $12.95, 112 pages)

Edward Gorey Coloring Book (Pomegranate Kids, $7.95, 48 pages)

Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald (Chronicle Books, $14.95, 60 pages)

The array of coloring books for grown-ups is staggering and inspiring. Here are reviews of three such books that stand out due to their subject matter, intricate details and quirkiness.

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First up is an exquisite offering titled, The Liberty Coloring Book (The Liberty Colouring Book in the U.K. edition). Within its covers are 55 pages of designs from the Liberty of London design archives that span nearly a century of printed fabrics. Anyone who has ever purchased clothing made from Liberty textiles or sewn with the yardage knows the joy of touching and gazing at prints of the very highest caliber – cotton fabric print prices run around $26.00 U.S. per yard and up.

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Each page of the Liberty Coloring Book contains a print design on heavy paper suitable for colored pencils, markers or watercolor paints. The pages can be easily removed for framing in standard 6″ X 8″ frames. This reviewer went beyond the suggested implements and colored with Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll pens as well as Doodle Art Pro pens. The results are nearly magical as the ink in both sets is infused with subtle glitter.

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Second up is the Edward Gorey Coloring Book: The Wuggly Ump and Other Delights. As with the Liberty prints, these pages are printed on one side only. The paper stock has a lovely hard finish and is sturdy. The book contains 22 drawings, the originals of which are printed on the inside covers. The nature of Mr. Gorey’s work being somewhat ethereal, if not otherworldly, calls for colored pencils. I colored with Pedigree Empire pencils with excellent results.

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This reviewer has many of the author’s small, published works in her personal library. The larger format (8.5″ X 11″) of the coloring book showcases the intricate details of his work. Readers not familiar with Gorey’s published work may recognize his style from the opening and closing credits of the PBS series, Mystery!

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The third offering in this group is Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald. The largest of this group, the book measures 11.75″ X 11.25″. There are pictures on both sides of the 26 pages printed on stiff paper. The artist/author has traveled the world and presents his take on the wonders he has seen. There are amazingly intricate overhead views of streets and buildings, close-ups of architectural details and some individual buildings as well.

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Mr. McDonald is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. He infuses each drawing with a point of view, a perspective on the city or the details that best identify the locale. He works on a large scale and his drawings are reduced in size giving them a remarkable feeling of intensity. This reviewer has only used colored pencils in this book; however, some of the drawings would lend themselves to the gel pens – San Francisco Painted Ladies, I’m looking at your page!

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The publisher provided the Liberty Coloring Book. The Edward Gorey Coloring Book was purchased in the gift shop of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Fantastic Cities was purchased at the Whole Foods Market at 450 Rhode Island Street, San Francisco.

All three coloring books are highly recommended for adults and older children. They would make excellent holiday gifts. Just remember to include colored pencils and/or gel pens.

Ruta Arellano

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Movie Review: “East L.A. Interchange” – A Documentary

east la interchange

Does a documentary film about the Hispanic community of Boyle Heights shy away from tackling the major issue of the day?

Boyle Heights, a community just east of downtown Los Angeles, is a very interesting place. When I lived in Los Angeles, I would often head there on the weekend to make use of the parks, eat at the fine hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or soak up the multicultural feel of the community. “The Heights” was once known as the “Ellis Island of the West” because of its multiracial nature (it was once the largest Jewish community on the West Coast until the end of World War II), but tensions have hit the barrio. As the Los Angeles Times (“Gentrification pushes up against Boyle Heights – and vice versa”; March 6, 2016) recently noted: “Once the landing spot not only for Mexicans, but also for Japanese, Russians, Italians, and Jews, Boyle Heights has long been perceived as a neighborhood sitting on the brink of the next metamorphosis.”

Yes, the dreaded Spanish word gentefication, or gentrification in English, has now struck. Like Brooklyn, Sacramento (Oak Park), and San Francisco (The Mission District), Boyle Heights is trying to decide whether it wants to be old, interracial, and comfortable; or hip, progressive, and an expensive place to live. Community activists vociferously argue that there are too many art galleries in the city and they rail against the replacement of neighborhood bars by overly cool brew pubs.

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Against this background, I had high hopes for the documentary East L.A. Interchange, a one-hour documentary film narrated by actor Danny Trejo. It’s a film that’s currently being screened at selected colleges. To my eyes, it’s a missed opportunity.

One problem is the title. East L.A. Interchange leads people to think this is either a program about East Los Angeles – which is just east of Boyle Heights, or about the Los Angeles freeways. A better title might have been La Colonia: Boyle Heights.

I will return to the problematic issue of gentrification. What Interchange does well is to deal with the history of Boyle Heights, as heard mostly from U.S.C. professors. And one of the intriguing points made in the documentary is that social discrimination issues began to ease as the predominantly Mexican-American students at Roosevelt High School began to learn about the history of their city: “One of the cradles of Mexican-American culture in the U.S.” Knowledge precedes pride.

To its credit, Interchange is not only well researched but beautifully filmed. And yet its Achilles heel is that the documentary refuses to take a stance on the key issue of gentrification. We learn that Jews first left the community, then Russians were forced out by freeway construction, and now the low to middle-income Hispanics who live in Boyle Heights are threatened by newly prosperous Hispanics and rich hipsters.

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In order to afford a typical new housing unit in the area, one needs an income of $90,000 and above. Yet the median household income in the Heights is $41,821. It’s a big problem and results in stress, grief and anger. As one current resident states, in Spanish: “I would like it to stay just as it is.” Gentrification, of course, will make this impossible.

The creators of Interchange, after illustrating how the poor have been displaced from the area in the past, inform the viewer that 1,187 affordable housing units are scheduled to be destroyed and replaced by 4,400 new and pricey units. And yet, even after imparting this information, they remain neutral.

The documentary asks the question, “What constitutes beneficial (versus harmful) development?” but fails to answer it. Instead, at its conclusion we hear an elderly Jewish gentleman assure us that, despite recent changes in the neighborhood, everything will be alright. It’s hardly convincing.

Boyle Heights

One key statement heard in Interchange is, “We’re not trying to get out of the barrio. We’re trying to bring the barrio up.” Fine, but in life one must ultimately choose between stasis and change. In electing to support neither the status quo nor change – neither the past nor progressivism, East L.A. Interchange loses its raison d’etre.

Joseph Arellano

The reviewer was provided access to a press screener. The film was directed by Betsy Kalin.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

Movie Review: ‘East L.A. Interchange’ – A Documentary

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A Raisin (City) in the Sun

Fresno Growing Up

Fresno Growing Up – A City Comes of Age: 1945-1985 by Stephen H. Provost (Craven Street Books, $24.95, 230 pages)

Anyone who grew up in Fresno, California, or who has lived there for a period of years, should enjoy perusing and reading the coffee table book Fresno Growing Up. This is a 230 page biography of the Raisin Capital of the World accompanied by beautiful color and black and white photographs. The first two-thirds of the book is strong as it fondly examines restaurants and movie theaters that used to exist, the once prominent Fulton Mall downtown (similar to Sacramento’s K Street Mall), TV and radio personalities, and the offerings for adults and children in Roeding Park.

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Fresno also provides a detailed look at the past noteworthy music scene. Stephen Provost’s argument that Fresno gave birth to “the Bakersfield Sound” in country music is not fully convincing, but worth considering.

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The book flounders in its third section which focuses on sports. Readers who are not fans of bowling, baseball, college football, boxing or hockey will find that it stretches on for far too long. This space might have been better devoted to the history of dramatic arts in the area, bookstores that once flourished (like the Upstart Crow Book Store), family businesses, etc. And the growth of greater Fresno-Clovis from west to east, and south to north might have been visibly charted. Still, this work might serve as a template for future efforts looking at the modern history of Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Chico and Bakersfield.

Go, Bulldogs!

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Fresno+Sign

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: The finished product I received contained a large number of typos. Hopefully, these will be caught and corrected in future printings.

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Perfect World

The Fragile World: A Novel by Paula Treick DeBoard (Mira, $14.99, 415 pages)

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Synopsis:

The Kaufmans have always considered themselves to be a normal, happy family. Curtis is a physics teacher at a local high school. His wife, Kathleen, restores furniture for upscale boutiques. Daniel is away at college on a prestigious music scholarship, and twelve-year-old Olivia is a happy-go-lucky kid whose biggest concern is passing her next math test. And then comes the middle-of-the-night phone call that changes everything. Daniel has been killed in what the police are calling a “freak” accident, and the remaining Kaufmans are left to flounder in their grief.

The anguish of Daniel’s death is isolating, and it’s not long before this once-perfect family finds itself falling apart. As time passes and the wound refuses to heal, Curtis becomes obsessed with the idea of revenge, a growing mania that leads him to pack up his life and his anxious teenage daughter and set out on a collision course to right a wrong.

Like the film Ordinary People, The Fragile World is a story about imperfect people, beset by tragedy, doing their best to get by. It’s a story narrated by both Curtis and Olivia. Not many writers would base the events of a novel in Sacramento, California or Oberlin, Ohio but DeBoard uses both locations. It’s a risk, and it works. It enables her to realistically paint the Kaufmans as a humble family – a family whose breadwinner drives an over-used Ford Explorer with a bad transmission. There’s nothing glamorous to see here, people.

The story is about a father and daughter road trip, from Sacramento to Omaha. Olivia thinks that the purpose of the trip is to reunite her with her mother, Kathleen, who could not live with Curtis’s unending mourning of Daniel’s death. But Curtis plans to deposit Olivia with her mother while he travels to Oberlin to confront the person he believes was responsible for his son’s death.

Initially, the reader has the impression that he or she knows how this tale will play out. Don’t bet on it. DeBoard throws in some unexpected events – such as having Curtis show up at his hated father’s death bed in the Chicago area – before the denouement in tiny Oberlin. Curtis finds the man he’s looking for and he’s got a gun in his hand. Knowing this does not provide a spoiler because DeBoard tips the chessboard over. The book is worth reading to discover how DeBoard wraps things up.

The Fragile World is also worth reading because it perfectly examines the imperfections of family life. There’s a father who hates his own father so much that he’s never communicated with him during his adult life. There’s a daughter who blames herself for not being what her brother was. There’s a wife and mother who cannot accept or understand why her husband and daughter are unable to simply move on with their lives after a tragedy. These are ordinary people who are hurting, people who feel pain. They inhabit a fragile world, one with which many readers will identify.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Emotionally powerful… This bold and moving story is absolutely unforgettable.” New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf

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Once More, With Feeling

A review of You Should Be So Lucky, an album by Benmont Tench.

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A review posted in the April 30, 1971, issue of the UOP Pacifican newspaper (“CSN&Y Present New Album: 4 Way Street is Dishonest”) dealt with the issue of honest and dishonest recordings. Although that article dealt with the release of a band’s carefully selected and edited live recordings, the discussion might be expanded to include solo recordings. With his first solo album, Benmont Tench has defiantly issued an honest record.

From Tench’s days with Tom Petty – days that began before they formed Mudcrutch, Tench has been experiencing life and the mysteries that come along with it. Touring with Bob Dylan in 1987 and his subsequent work with Mr. Dylan certainly added to his musical experiences.

Those listening to a concert or album bring their own baggage and then try to incorporate their thoughts, feelings and emotions into a composer’s work. Some cannot enjoy a Nick Drake album while others will play it over and over. When it comes to You Should Be So Lucky, I offer the notion of sitting back and leaving the analyst’s hat on the table. Jump on the musical roller coaster, put your head back and just listen. Sit back and enjoy the ride as this album is a good one. Tench’s album is an honest recording – one free of tricks and unnecessary adornments, that should be experienced for the pleasure and enjoyment it brings.

Well recommended.

Robert Gorham

Mr. Gorham is a Sacramento resident and a past president of the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library.

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Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)

A beer review: A look at two India Pale Ales.

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rubicon-ipa

Rubicon India Pale Ale from Sacramento is a High Quality Product.

India Pale Ales (IPAs) originated when English explorers had to transport hearty hops to the West Indies that could survive the journey, thus providing a flavor distinct from traditional pale ales. The West Coast of the U.S.A. has long been the forerunner in the craft beer craze, and Rubicon Brewing Company of Sacramento, CA, has brewed a fine IPA.

This reviewer’s journey through craft beers has consistently led him to settle on IPAs as far and away the favorite. Usually, the hoppier the better. However, Rubicon’s IPA is neither excessively hoppy nor overly fruity. At 6.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), it is instead instantly refreshing. That is the initial impression on the taste buds.

I am told that Rubicon will now be releasing this beer in six-packs. I first sampled it in the traditional 22-ounce bottle. As a Chicago customer, I am not sure if it will be available in the region, but if one can get this on draught at a bar or restaurant, it is highly recommended. I am speculating, based on the regional pricing, that the beer would go for about $9.99 to $10.99 for a six-pack if available.

The ever reliable Beer Advocate website rates Rubicon IPA as an 83 on a 100 point scale.

Sam Adams Rebel IPA

By virtue of comparison, Boston Beer Company has recently released Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, it’s version of a West Coast IPA. Rebel is also 6.5% ABV. Upon release, my local store sold it for $13.99 per 12-pack – a steal and well worth the price. Now that consumers have had a chance to taste it, the price has risen and a six-pack of bottles goes for $8.99 (a fairly typical price for decent beer in this area). Beer Advocate ranks this beer as an 82.

Given a choice between the two, Rubicon is slightly better, though Rebel is no slouch. For a slightly higher price, Rubicon’s distinctive IPA is probably worth it, assuming you can find it. If not, Sam Adams’ latest effort – which is well recommended – will easily do the trick.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Note: The ugly, garish label on the Sam Adams Rebel IPA should cost it at least a few ratings points on Beer Advocate and elsewhere. (Joseph)

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Coming Up Next…

rubicon-ipa

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A beverage review! We take a look at how Rubicon India Pale Ale (IPA), from Sacramento’s Rubicon Brewery, stacks up against another brewer’s new IPA.

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Goodbye

This Is How You Say Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir by Victoria Loustalot (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 240 pages)

This is How You Say Goodbye (Nook Book)

Everyone I dated felt like a hotel room – clean, organized, empty and everyone the same. Nothing less, nothing more.

Victoria Loustalot lost her father, who’d been living a double life, at the age of 11. Her bedridden and HIV-infected parent died at the age of 44. Three years before his death he offered her a trip around the world, with stops in Cambodia, Stockholm and Paris (places that had been important in his life). In this memoir Loustalot embarks on a trek to visit Angor Wat, Stockholm and Paris as an adult in an attempt to find the man she never quite knew: “Everything I was seeing I imagined my father saw, too.”

The book will appeal to those who have traveled to a new place and found it to be magical – “I was unprepared for how (the towers at Angor Wat) were going to make me feel.” What’s a bit strange is that the writer, who grew up in Sacramento, has little love for the California valley town. She describes Sacramento winters as “wet and dark” and adds that her father “had no love” for the place.

In the end, Loustalot may not have come closer to locating her mysterious father’s true character, but she does complete a fulfilling journey of self-discovery. This memoir may lead some readers to fashion a similar journey.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: Loustalot begins her account by describing how hard it was for her to learn to smile. There’s a reserve about her. It’s this reserve that keeps this entertaining true story from becoming a completely engaging and enthralling account.

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Reflections of My Life

Young nowWaging Heavy PeaceWaging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 497 pages)

“I think I will have to use my time wisely and keep my thoughts straight if I am to succeed and deliver the cargo I so carefully have carried this far… Not that it’s my only job or task. I have others, too. Sacred things I need to protect from pain and hardship, like careless remarks on an open mind.”

Joan Didion has said that we tell stories in order to live. In Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, he tells stories to document the things he has accomplished in his life, to admit his failings as a fallible human being, and to remind himself that there’s still a lot he wants to accomplish before he departs this world. It’s far from a hippie dream, as Young uses cold, calm and thoughtful Didion-like language – the lines above are a splendid example – in the re-examination of a life. At times, surprisingly, I was reminded of Didion’s Where I Was From, a look back at the early years of her life spent in Sacramento; and an acceptance of the fact that – at least in Didion’s case – one cannot go back home again.

When Young refers to the cargo he has carried in his life, I presume it’s a reference to his musical talent. But here he comes to the realization that he’s inherited some writing abilities from his famous Canadian sportswriter father:

“I am beginning to see that the rest of my life could conceivably be spent as an author, churning out books one after another, to the endless interest of, say, fourteen people with Kindles. Seriously, though, this is a great way to live. No wonder my dad did this… Writing could be just the ticket to a more relaxed life with fewer pressures and more time to enjoy my family and friends – and paddle-boarding.”

Yes, Young equates the precious time he spends with his beloved wife and children with the sport of paddle-boarding, which he learned in Hawaii. It’s a reminder of his honesty, and more documentation of a statement I happened to read in an article in The New York Post: “Everything in life is big and small in equal proportions.” Indeed.

One of the charming things about Heavy Peace is that it comes across as an unscripted conversation with the artist. There’s no agenda, no script – Neil simply tells his stories as they come to mind. This is what happens when we meet an old friend or classmate for lunch, say, or for libations (alcoholic or not) at a tavern. Some readers may be troubled by the fact that the true tales about Young’s career in music are told in non-chronological order. To which my response is, “So what? He’s still given us some inside information on his times with Buffalo Springfield; CSN&Y; and on his solo career and work with, and without, the members of Crazy Horse.”

If there’s one thing about the account that becomes a bit tiring, it’s his often-repeated rants about the poor audio quality of today’s music…“I am a pain in the ass now… I can’t go anywhere without the annoying sound of MP3s… This used to be my life, music. So I need to find or create a solution. Let everyone live, including those who crave quality. Mostly so I can stop ranting about it.”

(With music CDs) “…audio quality took a dive, with a maximum of fifteen percent of the sound of a master (recording).”

What’s strange for me is that when I listen to the recent releases of Young’s work that are supposed to be vastly improved audio editions of his earlier works, I don’t hear the improvement. In fact, some of the “new and improved” reworkings – as with the song “Cinammon Girl” – sound a bit dead when compared to the original, energetic recordings. But let’s not be a pain in the behind over it.

Conclusion

When Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One was released, the world was pleased to find a new and distinctive voice on the printed page. The same is true, no doubt, with the release of Waging Heavy Peace. Young’s voice is as seemingly unique on the page as it is in the recording studio.

Let’s hope that Young continues to write, for his own sake and for ours. His reflections on the successes and failures of his life are valuable reminders of the need to reflect on our own back pages every now and then; yes, to re-examine where we came from in order to see where we might be headed.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Tequila Sunrise

Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano (Scribner, $25.00, 320 pages)

“Americans: unite under Mexican food, just like your ancestors, just like your descendants!   It doesn’t matter your dish choice: it’ll sometimes be derided, sometimes mysterious, oftentimes scorching, and not always good, but always, always eaten.   A lot.”

I can guarantee you one thing about this Mexican food survey book by the finely-named Gustavo Arellano.   Read it and you will feel…  hungry!   Of course, it’s probably politically and factually correct to say that this account is about Mexican-American food, although Arellano does often clarify which foods had their creation in Mexico – before being adopted north of the border – versus those foods that are known as Mexican but are purely American/Mexican-American creations.

A trip through the table of contents shows the order in which the food topics are discussed.   They are: the burrito, tacos, enchiladas, Mexican cookbooks written by Anglos, the late Southwestern cuisine, the virtually doomed and much-attacked world of Tex-Mex food, Mexicans cooking food for other Mexicans (really?), the arrival of Mexican food in our supermarkets, the tortilla, salsa and tequila.   There’s also a bonus chapter on the five greatest Mexican meals served in the U.S.; at least it’s one man’s humble listing of the meals that are “just bueno.

“Mexican food had arrived to wow customers, to save them from a bland life, as it did for their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.   Again.   Like last time – and the time before that.”

The author has great fun in praising the heroes of the Mexican-American food movement (or revolution, if you prefer), such as Larry Cano who developed the El Torito chain of restaurants.   He even praises Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill (the second-largest Mexican food chain in the U.S.), and Glenn Bell, the founder of the ubiquitous Taco Bell food stops.   If you’ve ever wondered where Bell got the recipes for his tacos, the answer is found in Taco USA – and it happens to be a hole-in-the-wall taco shop in San Bernardino, California.

On the flip side, Gustavo names names when it comes to finding villains.   Two of them are Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy who have repeatedly called out for “authentic” Mexican food while allegedly – by Gustavo’s account and others – being somewhat less than authentic themselves.   And then there’s Tex-Mex:

“Tex-Mex.   Tex-Mex.   A hyphen separates two cultures that faced off in blood but are forever linked around the world.   Each exists on its own, each is fine separate from the other, but together the phrase now conjures up something almost universal:  culinary disgust.”

On this, we shall leave the details up to the reader – and an opinion on this much-appreciated or highly-despised cuisine.

What Arellano does quite well is to present us with the scope of the popularity of Mexican food in this country.   For example, you may have heard that more salsa is sold than ketchup, but were you aware that the sale of tortillas is now an $8 billion a year industry?   It’s mind-boggling, and thanks to Taco USA the facts are now literally on the dining table.

“Is the (Sonora) hot dog truly Mexican?   Who cares?   In Tucson, the birthplace of Linda Ronstadt, Americans became Mexicans long ago; it’s now the rest of the country that’s finally catching up.”

Yes, Gustavo’s listing of the five best Mexican meals in the U.S. includes the bean-wrapped Sonora hot dog that’s served only at El Guerro Canelo in Tucson, Arizona.   And while it’s not a bad list (which includes stops in Oklahoma, Arizona, Southern California, Texas, and Colorado), I think he missed one place that I’ll gladly take him to the next time he’s in the Capitol City of California – which is Emma’s Taco House in West Sacramento.   It’s been in business at the same location since 1953, and there’s a reason why this is true.   It is one of the most muy bueno taco houses in all of Taco USA!   And as the fans of Emma’s like to say, if you don’t like “real” Mexican food, there’s a Taco Bell right down the street!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Taco USA is available as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.   Gustavo Arellano is also the author of Ask a Mexican! and Orange County: A Personal History.

Note:   Gustavo would and does argue in Taco USA that ALL Mexican/Mexican-American food is “real” and “authentic”; probably as real as “Chicken Nuggets” from McDonald’s. (Which part of the chicken does the nugget come from?)

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