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.

Colin Marshall sits down in Koreatown with Noé Montes, photographer and publisher of El Aleph Books. They discuss what MacArthur Park, that place "beyond any laws or organization," means to him; what difference the much-discussed light of Los Angeles makes for a photographer; the city's sunsets, beaches, palm trees, and the ultimate fact of its being "kind of ugly"; the New Yorker who told him he "just doesn't get" Los Angeles; the pleasures of living in a city that doesn't need defending; the impossible task he once considered upon photographing each and every block; the "synoptic vision" he gained upon seeing Los Angeles as a Borges-style "aleph"; when the LAPD took him up in a helicopter, and what understanding of the city he gained thereby; how Los Angeles works best at two levels, the very macro and the very micro; the "layering of information" in the city's built environment; his work with Metro, an organization now in the process of "actually connecting the city"; how he first gained an awareness of Los Angeles. growing up in the agricultural parts of California, as a place from which others fled; the importance of the desert, not just as a photographic subject but as a boundary to the city; the contrast in pace and sense of possibility he found upon coming here from New York; the feeling that the definition of Los Angeles is happening right now; his realization, after becoming a full-time photographer, that "this is all I could have done"; the "extraordinary access to be nosy" provided by photography (and indeed interviewing) that allows him to discover the unknown "great work" going on in the city; the vast amounts of money he's seen poured into photographic ephemeralities; the African family he once saw holding hands before a giant pyramid of cereal; the "failed modernism" and other supremely photographable qualities of Mexico City; and what we can learn about Los Angeles from the photography it produces.

Direct download: NCC_S4E49_Noe_Montes.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:40 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Jason Boog, former publishing editor a Mediabistro and author of Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. They discuss what freaks us out about the idea of a baby with an iPad; his project's venerable predecessor The Read-Aloud Handbook; the importance of the very act of reading aloud, and especially what he calls "interactive reading"; the fallacy equating amount of books read with intelligence or even knowledge that plagues children and adults alike; how reading became a proxy for well-being; his new appreciation of Los Angeles libraries developed while taking his daughter around to them; how he introduced Mark Twain to the baby; how our generation seems to have proved that kids don't get wrecked by unlimited access to content; when, exactly, digital reading became acceptable; his move from New York to Los Angeles, and the cities' comparative reading cultures; his interest in Depression-era writers, and why on some level we still believe that to become a writer means to become poor; how we've become "cyborgs, in a real, genuine sense"; what we can learn by watching the first generation who could say no to books grow up; and what culture his daughter has already started introducing to him.

Direct download: NCC_S4E43_Jason_Boog.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:10 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Culver City with Matthew Kang, food writer, editor of Eater LA, author of the blog Mattatouille, and proprietor of the Scoops Westside ice cream shop. They discuss the difference between eating on Los Angeles' west side and elsewhere in the city; how he manages to sell that health-conscious region on ice cream; the willingness of eaters, nowadays, to get back to the occasional bit of unhealthiness; how he prides himself on introducing unusual flavors to the public through the friendly medium of ice cream, even when kids' parents insist they "just get the chocolate"; how he got into food writing through Yelp during his previous career as a banking analyst; his explorations of Los Angeles through the Zagat guide and as a "hugely involved commenter" on Eater; what he experienced on his Koreatown days in childhood, an ideal place for him as it provides "Korea, but not in Korea"; what it meant to him when he discovered a time capsule of a greasy spoon buried in a Beverly Hills office building; the parts of town that put up with "a little less B.S." from customization-crazed customers; the balance between "I want it the way I want it" and "Just give me what's best"; the conversations he had with his parents and fellow Asian Americans when he left his banking career behind for a live of travel and food; the shift in downtown's Grand Central Market, and what it says about Los Angeles' wider social and food cultures; how your background matters less here, and how long that might last; food as his conduit for understanding not just Los Angeles but Seoul, Istanbul, Chicago, and Nagoya; how the current coffee-culture boom manifests itself here, where he divides time into two eras, before Intelligentsia and after; how Angelenos can make sure not to provincialize themselves; the exhilaration he feels at certain perfect "Midnight City" moments in his car; and how Los Angeles offers a seemingly infinite variety of places you should eat, but no one place you must.

Direct download: NCC_S4E48_Matthew_Kang.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Jim Benning, travel writer and co-founder of World Hum, home of "The Best Travel Stories on the Internet." They discuss why Mexican food on other continents sucks so bad; the nature of a "weather lifestyle" site he previously edited; the old question of travel versus tourism; his relationship to the label of "travel writing"; whether hatred or love for a place can produce anything but uninteresting writing; our need for "hidden gems"; how Los Angeles offers the world within it, yet rewards travel outside of it; that feeling you get upon first waking up in a completely unknown city; the American traveler's anxiety about entering a foreign McDonalds; his multimedia production "Starbucks Versus the Traveler"; the English and American traditions of the travel writing of ignorance; the rant for a single-language world he found in his old diaries; the lost world of the Pan Am vacationer and the United States' "new humility"; LAX and the many other ways that Los Angeles seemingly hasn't internalized its own status; the obsessions, like surfing, that take you places you wouldn't have known to go otherwise; having a relationship with a place as you would a person; his mid-1990s Orange County "Drive-Thru Life"; his search for the stories that make him feel like he feels when he's traveling; and where in town he currently goes for his tacos.

Direct download: NCC_S4E47_Jim_Benning.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:44 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in the Hollywood Hills with Geoff Nicholson, author of such nonfiction books as The Lost Art of Walking and its more recent follow-up Walking in Ruins as well as novels like Bleeding London, Gravity's Volkswagen, and the new The City Under the Skin. They discuss which cities contributed to his concept of "the city"; the resonances between the novel's fictional Telstar Hotel and the LAX Theme Building, as well as the significance of their restaurants, revolving or otherwise; the failure of our intention to "build our way out of any problem"; when he first saw the "fading Hollywood" of the late seventies, and its process of de-ruination; how to take the "subway" to Stonehenge; whether cities ever develop except through bubbles and busts; how The City Under the Skin dramatizes the ever-present struggle for a city's future form; what everyone would draw if everyone had to draw a map of Los Angeles by hand; when all the murders, tattoos, and kidnappings got into the novel; his time at the glorious ruins at the Salton Sea; the "haunted house" nearby that turned new again; how elevation became an advantage in Los Angeles, at least notionally; what kind of building you get under the ideas of the American dream and "the Englishman in his castle"; why the deed to his house includes the phrase "no Hindus"; and whether he envisions even new developments as the ruins of the future.

Direct download: NCC_S4E46_Geoff_Nicholson.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:42 AM

Colin Marshall sits down at UCLA with Jon Christensen, editor of Boom: A Journal of California, the recently re-launched magazine from the University of California Press. They discuss the meaning, if any, of the phrase "he lives in California" in an author bio; whether California's east-west divide bleaches out its much discussed north-south one; why we think so little about water, and whether Los Angeles actually has a problem with the stuff; how to see the world not just in this city, but in the whole of California; Boom's "What's the Matter with San Francisco?" issue; when a city's insecurity becomes useful; the axiomatic "brokenness" of Los Angeles, but the frequent elusiveness of that alleged brokenness; why Californians feel so pessimistic about high-speed rail; why it has become so difficult to sell the future to Californians, and indeed Americans; the changing idea of the role of the state, and what that would mean if California became its own country; the peripatetic life that led him to jump into Los Angeles, "the ne plus ultra of global cities"; why the true dream of the Southern Californian megalopolis feels so long deferred; how he chose Venice as a place to live, and whether it can remain weird; and whether California could use twice as many people — especially twice as many urban people.

 

Direct download: NCC_S4E45_Jon_Christensen.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:34 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Culver City with Matt Novak, author of Paleofuture, a blog that looks into the future that never was. They discuss what goes through is mind when he sees LAX's Theme Building; why 1960s visions of jetpacks and flying cars have kept their hold on the American imagination; whether we only remember the wrong predictions of the future, or whether all predictions got the future wrong; why you always have to hedge about who predicted or invented what; how a society's visions of the future reveal that society's vulnerabilities; the problematic notion of "invention" itself; why we love the Nikola Teslas of the world, who give us a chance to tell "great stories" instead of messy history; Uber and Lyft as symptoms of a "broken society"; how their generation seems to have grown up on dystopias, not utopias; the technological signs of a new Cold War in the news; how "face-burning" technology ends up working for us in consumer electronics; Los Angeles' as a "city of reinvention that can somehow feel stale" full of freeways as works of retrofuturistic sculpture; his three carless years here; whether current visions of future Los Angeles seem more plausible than past visions of future Los Angeles; his search for the "relaxed version" of the city; and how he deals with "a society that does not consider itself a society."

 

Direct download: NCC_S4E44_Matt_Novak.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:41 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Sawtelle (also known as Los Angeles' "Little Osaka") with Eric Nakamura, founder of Asian-American aesthetic culture and lifestyle brand Giant Robot. They discuss the differences between the Sawtelle he grew up in and the Sawtelle he finds himself in today; how and where he got his doses of Japanese pop culture growing up; Los Angeles as a "gateway to Asia" then and now; the days when Giant Robot began as a photocopied zine, and what zinemaking means in 2014; Giant Robot's various manifestations, from shops to galleries even to a restaurant; the local titles applied to him including "Mayor of Sawtelle" and "Sawtelle Shogun"; what he learned about other cities like San Francisco and New York from operating Giant Robot branches in them; the first trips to Japan he remembers, and the American cultural exchange he saw going on in them; his "just hanging out" style of travel, sometimes with stray cats; how Los Angeles' lack of connectedness may have made it a more interesting place; (former Sawtelle resident) Shunji Iwai's Vampire, Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights, and what happens when Asian directors work in the West; how Asia has come together in films like Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe; what it means that more artists want to depict Los Angeles these days; and his preference of a role as new guy over a role as elder statesman.

Direct download: NCC_S4E42_Eric_Nakamura.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:42 AM

Colin Marshall sits down in Venice with Geoff Dyer, author of books all across the spectrum between fiction and non-fiction on such subjects as jazz, photography, travel, World War I, and Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker. His newest book Another Great Day at Sea follows his two weeks aboard the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, and his first two novels The Color of Memory and The Search have just received their very first American editions. They discuss why America needs to land planes on boats; the call he received from Alain de Botton asking what institution he'd like to visit as a writer in residence; place as the nexus of interests on which his diverse body of work converges; his specific desire to write and reside on an American military ship, a place not full of Englishmen already "born worn down"; The Color of Memory's late-1980s London, "oily, dark, and full of harm"; the idyllic Brixton life he once led amid the city's near-total brokenness; how many "Geoff in Venice" jokes he's heard since moving from London to Los Angeles; the contrast between his Venice life and his last extended American experience, which offered "blissful months in Iowa city"; the comparability of Venice and Brixton's ramshackle countercultural years; when, exactly, the personnel on the aircraft carrier started talking about Jesus; what Effra Road feels like today; his uncanny knack for living in the right place at the wrong time; how he would write The Color of Memory today, and whether he would feel quite so afflicted with a need for "ideological soundness"; the system of discipline he forced upon himself in his twenties, and the system the soldiers on the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush sign up to have forced upon them; when Another Great Day at sea "became a Geoff Dyer Book"; and what comes of the collision between his sensibility and that place, including the ability to ask. at the right moment, if the whole enterprise means anything at all.

Direct download: NCC_S4E41_Geoff_Dyer.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:34 PM

Colin Marshall sits down in Mar Vista with Streetsblog Los Angeles founder Damien Newton (and his young daughter). They discuss what Los Angeles transportation culture looked like from a distance before he came here (nonexistent); how he found himself covering the city's "turning point"; the advantages to getting around from just where chose to make his home, and the disadvantages that include having to take "the bus to the bus to the train to the train to the train" to Pasadena; the Expo Line's approach to his neighborhood, and what it has made him think about the ways communities can take advantage of new transit; Santa Monica as "basically paradise" (despite the rumors floating around there of  coming "soul-crushing traffic"); the relative prevalence of "kind-of car-freeness" in Los Angeles, and what makes the difference between it and other cities allowing absolute car-freeness; the city's early attempt at a bicycle network, like the time it put down "twenty miles of weird sharrows" over a weekend; the benefits of stoking a pretend infrastructure rivalry between Santa Monica and Long Beach; why Los Angeles simultaneously produces complaints about "being forced to drive" and "being forced out of our cars"; the importance to no longer building based on the effects on cars, but the effects on actual people; the generational change that has led some commentators to label young people unmotivated for their lack of driver's licenses; what has made bikes so much cooler today; Los Angeles' first Ciclavia, the initial dread that nobody would show up to it, and the instantaneous dispersal of that dread; the questions of how many times you can just report "This is awesome!" about an event like Ciclavia, and whether its future routes can "give South Los Angeles its due"; the difficulty of every firmly saying "this is Los Angeles," and the non-existence of most Los Angeleses seen in popular culture up to now; and the availability of something culturally new to learn every day in the city, even just on its surface.

Direct download: NCC_S4E30_Damien_Newton.output.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:56 PM