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.
S3E18: First-Rate "Second World" Eating with Nicholas Gilman

Colin Marshall sits down in Mexico City's Colonia Roma with Nicholas Gilman, author of the book and blog Good Food in Mexico City: Fondas, Food Stalls, and Fine Dining. They discuss the culinary importance of places like Mercado Medellín; how Mexico City's art, not its food, first brought him here (make a beeline though he did to the handmade tortillas when he first arrived at 18); all the warnings about "what you shouldn't do" in Mexico City — or, for that matter, the New York City of the seventies and eighties in which he grew up; the strides Mexico City has made in the past fifteen years, especially as regards cleaning up pollution and opening up small business and culinary opportunities; his career switch from painter to food writer, and his discovery that you simply "don't have to suffer so much" in Mexico City; his realization that no useful English-language food guides to the area existed, how that prompted him to publish his own, and the great deal of attention it soon drew; what people get wrong when they first go eating in Mexico City, such as understanding the "timing" of the food; the dismantling of the car culture, the institution of bicycle programs, and the conversion of Mexico into at least a new "second-world" country; his eating strategies in a new city, including looking for their markets; the importance of tapping into a city's social knowledge, especially that possessed by taxi drivers; how to convince people you want to eat "the real thing," i.e., the food they themselves eat; bringing a necessary outsider's perspective to another culture; the various misconceptions that linger about Mexican food; the usually unhappy experiences of foreign cuisines that make it to Mexico; and when best to eat huitlacoche.

Direct download: NCC_S3E18_Nicholas_Gilman.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:57pm UTC

S3E17: Youth Is Overrated with Brenda Lozano

Colin Marshall sits down in Mexico City's Colonia Roma with novelist and essayist Brenda Lozano, author of the Todo Nada and contributor to Letras Libres. They discuss the space Spain's troubles have opened for Latin American literature; the passion for Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde she learned from one particular teacher; how she began seriously reading in English, and only later in her native Spanish; the difference in enjoyment of Spanish versus English literature, and how the languages ultimately behave like two different animals; the importance of the pleasure of reading, as well as the acknowledgment thereof; poetry as pure sugar; Mexico City's combination of high culture and bad parties; how, when she began writing essays, she found ways to have a good time writing about even assigned topics, and what it revealed about the general skill of having a good time wherever you happen to go; the three years of her early twenties she spent writing a "terrible novel," and what they later gave Todo Nada; her conviction of the overestimation of youth, which led her to build the novel around an aged character, but a young narrator; what could possibly be the sales pitch for Dorian Gray stockings; the newly widened Mexican generation gap; her need to "close the door" when writing, so literary influences like Jorge Luis Borges or Clarice Lispector can't step right in; her first, worldview-changing encounter with Fernando Pessoa, when she asked, "Is this literature?"; what she felt standing next to a wax Octavio Paz; the current absence of non-wax literary fathers; her Mexico City literary community, a group of argumentative friends; getting to know places through literature, like Japan through Banana Yoshimoto, 1930s Los Angeles through John Fante, or indeed Mexico City through Roberto Bolaño; and, despite her having been born and raised there, her continued excitement about writing in Mexico City.

Direct download: NCC_S3E17_Brenda_Lozano.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:02pm UTC

S3E16: Autobiology with Kurt Hollander

Colin Marshall sits down in Mexico City's Colonia Condesa with Kurt Hollander, photographer, filmmaker, magazine editor, and author of Several Ways to Die in Mexico City: An Autobiography. They discuss his microbiologically informed view of life; the presence of death in Mexico, especially since people there now die developed-world deaths and, to an extent, developing-world deaths; his first enjoyment of Mexico's working-class culture, and his perspective, as an American, on American cultural encroachment; his earlier life on New York's Lower East Side, a barrio which prepared him for the one-huge-barrio that is Mexico City; the importance of "doing New York right" to subsequently spending time in other major cities; what he learned publishing the magazine The Portable Lower East Side; what kind of immigration makes a place more interesting, and what kind of immigration makes a place less so; how moving to Mexico City presented him the greatest learning curve of his life; when, and how, he got sick and didn't seem like he would get better; how danger makes culture, which he considers to be the accumulation of survival strategies; what it means to adapt to a culture, and what bearing doing so has on your survival; his strategies for seeking out the remaining strongholds of working-class culture, such as riding the Metro and exploring the miniature economies that grow in its stations; the importance of the pulqueria, and other places Mexicans warn foreigners away from; and how he has never felt in harm's way in Mexico City, despite respecting nothing, criticizing everything, and always going with the more dramatic story.

Direct download: NCC_S3E16_Kurt_Hollander.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:58pm UTC

S3E15: The Mexican Reality with Diego Rabasa

Colin Marshall sits down in Mexico City's Colonia Roma with Diego Rabasa, co-founder of Sexto Piso press. They discuss why this might make for the most exciting moment in Mexican, or even Spanish-language, literature; Mexico's past era of invincible intellectual giants, from whose shadow writers now emerge; these writers' response to their country's "total social meltdown"; how Mexico City got more secure as Mexico itself got less secure, a process that has by now made Mexico City the safest place in the country; his dull but well-off childhood in a PRI family, his university studies of engineering, and his subsequent discovery of literature, culture, and books; what Juan Rulfo revealed to him about his country; Sexto Piso's early mission to translate foreign writers, and its publication at first of hardly any Mexican writers; who, given Mexico's high illiteracy, supports Mexico City's cool bookstores; the correct pronunciation of "Donceles", the finest street for used books; Sexto Piso's presence in Spain, a much more conservative literary market; the upside and downside of taking government funding; the importance of throwing parties unlike the standard dull publishing cocktail affairs; having, as a publisher, to cover for only semi-professional booksellers and journalists; what to read to best understand the Mexican reality; how Mexico City became a "completely different place" from where he grew up, with its citizens now "getting the city back"; the enduring need to keep an eye on the politicians even as arts movements offer encouragement; and how he gets his mind off the corruption by reading Bruce Chatwin.

Direct download: NCC_S3E15_Diego_Rabasa.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:43pm UTC

S3E14: New York, Tokyo, and Back Again with Roland Kelts

Colin Marshall sits down in Echo Park, Los Angeles with Roland Kelts, lecturer at the University of Tokyo, co-editor of the literary journal A Public Space, and author of the book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. They discuss whether Japan has yet really figured out how to sell its pop culture abroad; the success of; his time growing up as a partial outsider in the white northeastern United States, and how anime and manga's focus on the outsider thus resonated with him; the commission he received from the Coppolas to write a story about Japan, which had him live in Osaka for a year; the subsequent offers that came his way to write about Murakami, Miyazaki, and Japanese youth culture; why the Wachowskis like anime so much;  what his youthful Anglophilia revealed to him about the parallels, especially aesthetic, between Britain and Japan; how we even have sushi in American convenience stores, yet nothing like Japanese street vending machines; whether he felt, as did novelist Todd Shimoda, a not-fully-foreign presence in Japan; how he splits his time between New York and Tokyo, and the importance of maintaining ties with his native land; how the geographical oscillation provides him perspective on both cities, and what escapes his attention (Lena Dunham, for example) when he's away from each; the relative lack of coded engagement and easier physical flow of New York; his understanding of American psychology coming through a cross-country drive of vast spaces and non-major cities; and the passing of Donald Richie, which raises questions of how best to write about Japan, a country which must now return to doing more with less.

Direct download: NCC_S3E14_Roland_Kelts.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:50pm UTC

S3E13: Negative Appeal with Vincent Brook

Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake, Los Angeles with Vincent Brook, teacher at UCLA, USC, Cal State Los Angeles, and Pierce College, and author of books on Jewish émigré directors and the Jewish sitcom as well as the new Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles. They discuss the difference between Los Angeles obsession and Los Angeles chauvinism; his time in Berkeley, when Los Angeles became the enemy; the Christopher Dorner incident and the old racial wounds it has re-opened; Gangster Squad and the cinematic abuse of Los Angeles history; the city's tendency to repurpose rhetoric about it, no matter how negative, and Reyner Banham's role in that; Los Angeles as Sodom, Gomorrah, and whipping boy; what the German word Stadtbild means, and how Los Angeles lacks it; the great power ascribed to the city by its criticism; whether or not we only use twenty percent of brains, or of cities; hidden places, including but not limited to Barnsdall Park; the work Los Angeles requires from you to master it, and whether that counts as a desirable quality; how technology enables you to watch Sunset Boulevard as you cruise down Sunset Boulevard; Watts Towers as the key to Los Angeles; the city's far-flung museums, and their 21st-century tendency to roll large objects through the streets; how he came to teach a Rhetoric of Los Angeles class, and what his students have taught him; the truth of most local legends, even when contradictory; and how best to see the Los Angeles palimpsest.

Direct download: NCC_S3E13_Vincent_Brook.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:08am UTC