Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.

In Toronto's Kensington Market, Colin Marshall talks to Corey Mintz, author of the Toronto Star column "Fed" and the book How to Host a Dinner Party. They discuss what makes a dinner party a Torontonian dinner party; the city's "uptight" reputation; how he bottomed out in his initial cooking career, winding up working the kitchen at a dinner theater; how he converted to writing and also found a way to take a friend's advice that he "should host dinner parties for a living"; the time he made lunch for Ruth Reichl, and what his editor appreciated more about the blog post he wrote about it than the actual column he did; his dinner party with the disgraced head of the District of Toronto School Board, pre-disgrace; what it means when some like what you do and some dislike it for the same reasons; the art of mixing personalities at the table; why to recognize that "important people can be blowhards," and indeed that blowhardiness often makes them important in the first place; how he keeps the smartphones in peoples' pockets; "Toronto" versus "Toronno"; how he came to regularly invite the city, whatever the pronunciation of its name, into his home for dinner; his food-paradise neighborhood of Kensington Market, which through accidents of history now exists "outside reality, a little bit"; his questioning of his Councillor at dinner about why the neighborhood doesn't have trash cans, and what he learned from the attempt; how Torontonian multiculturalism translates into food; what took him into the secret VIP room of a suburban Nigerian restaurant; and whether he considers his dinner parties the revival of a lost art.

Direct download: NCC_S4E60_Corey_Mintz.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:40 PM

In Toronto's Church-Wellesley Village, Colin Marshall talks to Shawn Micallef, editor and co-owner of Spacing magazine, Toronto Star columnist, and author of such books as Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto and The Trouble with Brunch. They discuss his first "long, deliberate" walk in Toronto, which happened by accident; what, exactly, caused this trouble with brunch; his youth in Windsor and his discovery of the middle class in Toronto, which brunches routinely; the death threats his anti-brunch stance has drawn; the difficulty of knowing what class you fit into in the 21st century; choosing flights over children; how Oz-like Toronto looked from back in Windsor; those who stayed behind for the "good money," and what potential they may not have realized as a result; how he began "unpeeling the layers" of Toronto, and how he discovered that infinite peelability defines a great city; the "magical lightness" he discovered upon leaving his car at home; how Toronto doesn't quite know what it has, thinking of itself as a midwestern city more along the lines of Indianapolis; how he developed his obsession with Los Angeles (and how Toronto's 401 freeway surpassed any of Los Angeles' for congestion); why Torontonians insist upon Toronto's and "do not own their Toronto-ness"; Toronto and Los Angeles as cities without stories written in stone, because their people write them even now; the ten-year project behind Stroll; why he finds strip malls the most interesting places in the city, and what drove "actual multiculturalism" out to them; Rob Ford as the "kick in the ass" Toronto may have needed; what you learn when you explore a city at walking speed; and his personal mission to get to know his hometown again, not by car, but on foot.

 

Direct download: NCC_S4E59_Shawn_Micallef.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:43 PM

At Toronto's Queen and Logan, Colin Marshall talks with Denise Balkissoon, co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle and writer on a variety of Torontonian subjects from multiculturalism to real estate for publications like Toronto Life, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and The Grid. They discuss her reputation as an astute observer of the multiculture; what happens at the intersection of multiculturalism and real estate; the wealth flowing into downtown, and the resulting push of "racialized communities" toward the periphery; the formerly working class neighborhood around Queen and Logan and its current, rapid gentrification; the appeal of "tiny little backyards"; how the real estate market's "ferocious competition" made it an interesting beat, but may yet make it boring; on what levels Toronto has lived up to its multicultural promise, and on what levels it hasn't; what her Trinidadian family of engineers, lawyers, and medical professionals thought of her choice to go into journalism; exploring neighborhoods through one's own social links to them, or, alternatively, through the oft-joked about "festival every weekend" Toronto offers; the city's reputation for a lack of physical beauty, and what preservation problems have to do with it; what you find "out there" in the suburbs, an essential part of modern Toronto's multicultural experience; the nature of "Toronto's moment," including but not limited to residents' newfound happiness living there and their enjoyment of the Malaysian, Uighur, and Tamil cuisine on offer; what count as things truly Torontonian, if anything does; the always-personal nature of Toronto's appeal, and what a moment like her husband not eating the heads of shrimp and getting made fun of for it says about that; the Toronto articles she fantasizes about writing, such as studies of housing as a whole, a look at the emergence of "generation rent" as a political force, and the interactions between different waves of immigrants; and whether, after the election, people will still feel like they live between "two Torontos."

Direct download: NCC_S4E58_Denise_Balkissoon.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:01 PM

In Toronto's Bloordale, Colin Marshall talks with Russell Smith, author of such novels as How InsensitiveNoiseMuriella Pent, and Girl Crazy, as well as style and culture columns in The Globe and Mail, the book Men's Style: The Thinking Man's Guide to Dress, and the e-book Blindsided: How Twenty Years of Writing About Booze, Drugs and Sex Ended in the Blink of an Eye. They discuss whether characteristically Torontonian style choices exist apart from women with business clothes and incongruous running shoes on the way home from work; what got him writing about his cases of retinal detachment; how and why, years before that, he became the novelist who defined young urban Toronto in the 1990s; the internationalist element of Toronto that still remains "electrifying"; whether anyone still longs for the crack-dealing days of gentrifying neighborhoods like Bloordale; the effect of a Starbucks location on house prices (and his own presence as an indicator of coming price hikes); how he got from the academic track, writing on "feminist approaches to symbolist poetry," to the nightlife track; his brief time as a "terrible restaurant critic"; his readers' eagerness to hear him correct common men's style blunders; how much the Toronto of 2014 resembles the one he first came to from his native Halifax; the rise of private, members-only clubs in the city and the importation of "wealthy urban anywhere"; Toronto as Canada's magnet, challenged only by Montreal at first and only by Vancouver now; his view of thus "spectacularly ugly" city and his years in the presumably more attractive Paris; why he thinks hipsters inspire such ire; fiction's near-entirely female readership, and the problems that poses for the "ardent heterosexualist"; the unwritten Toronto books he'd like to read; and what stories don't get told because of the "prim politics" instilled in university-educated writers.

Direct download: NCC_S4E57_Russell_Smith.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:14 PM

Near Toronto's Danforth, Colin Marshall talks to Dylan Reid, senior editor at Spacing magazine, former co-chair of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, and co-founder of Walk Toronto. They discuss whether the term "pedestrianism" has become as unappealing as the term "classical music"; the nature of the Danforth and its Greek roots; spatial ways to think about one's walks; the quintessentially Torontonian things he's noticed only while walking; the controversial practice of "façadism" and what it offers the city; the slow process by which Toronto offers up its joys, none of which seem apparent across the rest of Canada; what someone eager to grasp Toronto will find when they open Spacing; how to photoblog in a "not obviously beautiful" city; how he got to know Toronto by talking group walks by night, seeing such sights as a still-active slaughterhouse; how the city represents, in some form or another, every current of the modern conversation about developed-world urbanism; how Spacing got its start in the argument around an anti-postering bylaw; walking as the fabric that connects all modes of transportation; what Toronto's lately ever-more-robust downtown population has meant of walking; what makes him ask "Why is this here?" and who he asks for the answer; the fifty objects that symbolize Toronto; the city's relative lack of empty spaces and "dead zones"; what walk to take that can help you most quickly understand Toronto; and why one might visit Toronto Island.

Direct download: NCC_S4E56_Dylan_Reid.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:44 PM

Above Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop, Colin Marshall talks to Jaime Woo, writer, game designer, co-founder of the Toronto video game festival Gamercamp (the next edition of which happens this month), and author of Meet Grindr: How One App Changed the Way We Connect. They discuss taking the measure of a city by firing up Grindr and examining its men; things people have figured out how to use the app for other than hooking up and sending "a slew of dick pics"; how such apps have illustrated the decreased yet increase importance of living in particular places; the changing signifiers of queer culture, offline and on; how he views the must-touted "multiculturalism" of Toronto; what his 13-year-old self growing up in the suburbs would have thought about Grindr; the app's stark limitations as advantages that counteract our impulse to too-narrowly define our desires; how to learn about Toronto by observing the couples in its advertisements; the ever-present "distance" in the city, which guards against trends that miss but also prevent the ones that make homeruns; Grindr as a video game, his history with gaming, and what let him to co-found Gamercamp; his mission to bring the novelty and "whimsy" back to gaming, included but not limited to his creation of a new physical game based on the idea of social distance"; how a set of rules forms a system, how that system makes an experience, and when we call that experience a game; and the strategies one can follow to better understand the "rules" of a system like Toronto.

Direct download: NCC_S4E55_Jaime_Woo.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:37 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Studio City with Mark Frauenfelder, founder of the popular zine-turned-blog Boing Boing, founding co-editor of Make magazine, and author of Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects. They discuss whether he still thinks about Los Angeles dingbat apartments, and the extent to which their owners have customized them today; all barriers falling for the modern maker except for the one asking who's interested; how his daughters' fascination with card tricks preceded their interest in making things; what kind of project kids can complete under their own steam; Los Angeles as a place for makers, the current state of its maker spaces, and the making heritage offered by its historical hot-rod culture as described in Tom Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby; his history with this city, which goes back to 1987, albeit one interrupted by periods in Japan, on a South Pacific island, and elsewhere; the semi-agricultural life- and making style Los Angeles affords him; how growing your own food allows you to think more clearly about food, and making your own media allows you to think more clearly about media; how his grasp of media improved as he engaged in every stage of the D.I.Y. publishing revolution; learning through mistakes, as opposed to school's pressure not to make mistakes in the first place; the debilitating world of the "smart kid"; the "freedom to be foolish" offered in Los Angeles; the dueling temptations of broadminded generalism and singleminded obsession; his role in the cyberpunk culture of the 80s and 90s, and to what extent we live in the utopian and/or dystopian future it envisioned today; his hope for an increasingly tech-focused San Francisco to continue exporting progressive ideas; the rise of meta-making, and the promise of large-scale decentralized making of solving some of "the world's problems"; how he deals with the firehose of amazing stuff to feature on Boing Boing and in Make; and what his daughters have taught him about making while he's taught them about making.

Direct download: NCC_S4E54_Mark_Frauenfelder.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:27 PM

Colin Marshall sits down at the University of Southern California with School of Architecture professor James Steele, author of many books on architecture and architects, including, just over twenty years ago, Los Angeles Architecture: The Contemporary Condition. They discuss the how the city's conflict with "autopia" has gone since then; the obsolescence of not just the freeways, but the city itself; whether Los Angeles has gone from too architecturally crazy to not architecturally crazy enough; the evidence for downtown's non-revival, and what a fatal inertia and incrementalism may have to do with it; the Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) mentality as expressed not just in Los Angeles but the whole of America; how creative individuals can somehow add up to an uncreative city; what the Case Study houses meant to Los Angeles architectural history, and why they failed; whether the "L.A. School" of architects like Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss every really cohered into a movement; how current Los Angeles architecture doesn't express the zeitgeist, possibly because the city no longer has one; what he would change in a new edition of Los Angeles Architecture (and how much more grim his assessment would become); the emergence of a dense, connected city within a less dense, less connected one; the most fascinating architectural ideas to come out of USC; what he sees in his students' attitudes toward Los Angeles' built environment; the "excitement combined with confusion" he feels on his increasingly frequent trips to Asia; popular fantasies of changing Los Angeles, like halving distances or vastly increasing its transit; and how we nonetheless feel curious about what lies ahead in the city's future.

Direct download: NCC_S4E53_James_Steele.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:56 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Pasadena with Pete Mitchell, visual artist, game designer, zombie enthusiast, and lead singer and co-founder of the band No More Kings, whose latest album III came out this year. They discuss now as an opportune time to be into zombies; how his mom got him into not just zombie movies but Dungeons & Dragons; the "love letter to the 1980s" he wrote with the first No More Kings album; his early forays into game design, typing in code line-by-line and saving it on a tape drive, later struggling against the limitations of software like Game-Maker; Game-Makerish limitations as the true drivers of art; the experience of growing up in Rhode Island, and who thrives there; being a big fish in a small pond, being a small fish in a big pond, and the appeal regardless of the ultimately more interesting big ponds; the eternal struggle to finish projects, and what we can learn from the examples of such "obsessive" creators as Francis Ford Coppola, Shane Carruth, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jiro Ono; the things you make as diamonds compressed from the coal of your time; the wide reach of No More Kings' "Sweep the Leg" music video, which reunited the cast of The Karate Kid and continues to win the band most of its fans; his anxiety about becoming an "80s pop culture" act; specialized interests and the even more specialized places they overlap as the new stages for subculture; his time in Japan, motivated by the thought that he "can't be the guy who only knows one language"; how, to learn languages or make things, you have to give yourself no choice in the matter; the "electric sense of potential" and "ambient ambition" in a city like Los Angeles, not often felt even in "nicer" places; this city as the most internet-like actual place yet established; and the reasons not to want to go back to Old Economy Steve's economy, or to the days of a powerful cultural mainstream — even if, as in the 80s, that mainstream produced a lot of neat stuff.

Direct download: NCC_S4E52_Pete_Mitchell.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:28 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Highland Park with Javier Cabral, the "food, booze, and punk rock" writer formerly known as The Teenage Glutster, and currently known as The Glutster. They discuss his mission to change the official punk rock food of Los Angeles from the Oki-dog to the taco; the reasons for the taco's current surge of general popularity; the reputation Mexican food has, even among the otherwise culinarily aware, as "just Mexican food"; the humbling his Mexican-food expertise received at the hands of his girlfriend; the singular form of "tamales"; what the bean-and-cheese burrito stands for in Los Angeles Mexican cuisine; his Korean food outing with Matthew Kang; how punk rock got him exploring Los Angeles first, and how looking for punk show listings exposed him to the food writing of Jonathan Gold; what kind of music develops in the backyards of east Los Angeles; the pots of food his mom made for the attendees at his free 21st birthday punk show; how much he enjoyed comped meals (and drinks) on La Cienega as a young, broke food writer, and why he swore off them; why the eastside and westside continually accuse one another of having no food; the cultural overlap he's found between food and punk rock in the most logical city for those two to come together; his long-form Saveur piece "Mexico Feeds Me", which took him back to his family's home state of Zacatecas (and which finally got his parents understanding his job); his love of street food, and his refusal to write about it for fear of getting its purveyors shut down; how both street food and punk rock always come back, no matter who tries to stamp them out; the burden of listicle-writing; and the etymology of the word "Glutster".

Direct download: NCC_S4E51_Javier_Cabral.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00 AM