diana writes:
Street Art: Barcelona

Catalonia is not Spain

Graffiti Garden

Silhouettes on Balconies

Dancers: Interiors Exposed

Shopfront during Siesta

The Magic Gate

Stacked: Changable Art

Heartthrob: Under Construction

Cows on Balconies, Figueres

Singing in the Rain

Guns and Butterflies: The Big Lebowski

Kukuxumusu

Head cold

Urban Canvas is Free

** PHOTO ESSAY BY DIANA PHILLIPS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED **

On the Road to Graceland

I’m all shook up! After visiting Graceland, it’s official. I love Elvis Presley! I must preface this post by confessing that I was never big on Elvis. The Beatles. Yes. Michael Jackson. Guilty. But Elvis was always kind of a joke…

Bejeweled jumpsuits? Elvis Impersonators? Really?!?

Unfortunately, Elvis Presley died before I was born. So I only ever heard about Fat Elvis, Vegas Elvis - the guy who curled his lip, shook his hips and ate Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches. I never got to see him perform. I never understood or appreciated how supremely talented he was until now.

Passing through Memphis I thought, We have to stop at Graceland. This’ll be a hoot. I was expecting over the top tacky décor and a bunch of voyeuristic crazies wandering about. What I encountered was a lovely estate preserved like a time capsule from 1977 and a moving tribute to a man who changed the music industry.

Elvis’s wardrobe was particularly impressive, especially the black leather suit he wore during his televised 1968 Comeback Special.

Check out those boots…swoon.

And I loved his wristbands. I was totally tempted to buy these in the gift shop.

There were MANY gift shops:

And it was Christmastime, so I couldn’t resist this pic:

You can almost hear him singing now…

I-I-I’ll h-h-have a Blue Christmas without you

This is the living room. Love the piano and peacock stained glass.

This room was especially moving. In addition to an impressive collection of The King’s jumpsuits and a dizzying number of records that were mounted floor to ceiling, there was a video of Elvis performing (I think in Hawaii.)

To set the scene, there were about 20 of us snapping away, creating a cacophony of cameras clicking and flashes popping. Suddenly I noticed that everyone had stopped and everything went silent except for Elvis. I looked around the room and found every single person staring up at him on the screen, mesmerized. One woman behind me was red-faced with emotion, wiping tears from her cheeks. For the first time I understood Elvis and the power he had over people. He didn’t strike me as saccharine or ridiculous like his impersonators seem to portray. He truly moved people.

He moved me.

Respect.

…More stories and photos from the road to come.

On the Road…Misadventures Edition

What kind of road trip would it be if you don’t see the red and blue flashing lights of a police cruiser closing in on your vehicle at 11PM while driving through a dense fog somewhere in the middle of the Texas panhandle? Not my kind of road trip!

“DON, WAKE UP! I’M GETTING PULLED OVER!” I shout over Jeff Buckley’s rising falsetto.

White-knuckled, I veer onto the shoulder as my mind races with possible offenses. The last posted speed limit said 70 - 65 at night. I’m going no more than 69 mph. Could I really be getting pulled over for going four miles over the limit?? Is it illegal to drive with your rearview mirror completely blocked? Trucks don’t use rearview mirrors. Gahh! Calm down. Just see what he wants.

The officer approaches on the passenger side and shines a long flashlight through the opened window.

License and registration,” he says in a no-nonsense kind of way.

I remove my California driver’s license from my purse and hyperextend my body over the passenger seat to fish my registration out of the glove compartment. With the glovebox open it’s clear that we’re not packing any guns or drugs – but just about everything else. Behind us is a wall of stuff – everything I own that hasn’t been sold, donated or left at the dumpster has been strategically wedged into the trunk and back seat. Using every last inch of space, my backpack is shoved on the floor between Don’s legs and his backpack is on his lap.

I pulled you over because you have a taillight out,” the officer says.

Oh no!” I exclaim, aghast. “I just took the car in for service last week. I even had a bulb replaced. What a bummer.”

I’m gonna let you go with a warning,” he says firmly. “You’ll need to get this taken care of first thing in the morning.”

Oh, thank you! Yes, we will. First thing. Thank you, officer,” I reply.

The officer hands me back my license and registration and returns to his vehicle. I take a moment to compose myself, heart still racing. Yes, I did actually just say, “What a bummer” to a police officer. WTF. I am not a rule breaker. I’m not accustomed to run-ins with the law.

To take my mind off of the incident, Donovan and I invent car games that occupy the next two hours. We take turns naming the 50 states, mammals, fish, birds, and match actors with their films. As we approach Oklahoma City, our destination for the night, we encounter another snafu. We’d programmed Brenda, the female voice emanating from my GPS – which is British, of course – to take us to 100 Main Street, Oklahoma City.

This is Brenda. Or, this is what I imagine Brenda would look like, if, you know, she were real. (In fact, this is a sketch by a British artist, Hannah Barnes, called Portrait of a Woman with Rosy Cheeks.)

Following Brenda’s instructions, we exit the I-40 and end up on a toll road which, as it turns out, will lead us 24 miles out of our way - to Main Street - which was just a place marker we’d punched in because you can’t just type in a city – you need an actual address. Quickly realizing how far off course we were being led, we exit the toll road, get back on I-40 and search for the next sign that boasts Lodgings.

Brenda is no help locating the nearest Super 8. She’s recalculating at every turn like a dizzy broken record. “Recalculating. Recalculating.” I no sooner pull into the parking lot of a Waffle House to enter our new destination when I see the red and blue flashing lights behind me, again. Geezus! It’s now 1AM. We’ve been on the road for 10 hours. I am tired, frustrated and beyond frazzled. Luckily officer #2 is nice and also lets me off with a warning after running my license to see if I have any priors.

In two hours I was pulled over in two different states. Helluva night.

The next morning we manage to find a NAPA Auto Parts store (no thanks to Brenda) where I buy a taillight and Donovan installs it in the parking lot. Good thing he’s handy. (above: his rendition of the broken taillight and “wall of crap.”)

Then we continue on through Oklahoma…

Dine at Big Whiskey’s on President Clinton Ave in Little Rock, Arkansas…

…before stopping at the most run-down Super 8 of the trip in Memphis, TN. The door lock was jammed so the only thing keeping it “secure” was the latch. The window was also busted, remaining slightly ajar, allowing the cold wind to whistle in.

Donovan managed to rig a towel into the crevasse so we wouldn’t freeze to death in our sleep. Good times. 

More stories and photos from the road to come…

The Last Days of La-La

I visited a few of my favorite spots in the days leading up to my departure from LA. I got my Chicken Tikka Masala fix at Agra Café on Sunset Blvd in Silver Lake, indulged in a Double-Double Animal Style with a Neapolitan shake at In-N-Out Burger, and scored one last croissant sandwich from the neighborhood joint located in a strip mall on the corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd/Moorpark St.

When I first moved to LA nearly four years ago, my roommate, Becky, turned me on to these sandwiches. I lived close enough to walk to the shop (a rare thing in LaLa) and I treated myself to one of these babies nearly every Saturday for months until I moved across town and scaled back to only the occasional treat.

The woman behind the counter, the owner and presumably a Buddhist, kept a small shrine of food offerings to the Buddha. She was friendly, always greeted me with a smile and knew my usual order by my third visit - Turkey and cheese on a croissant with mayo, shredded lettuce, tomato, and jalapeños; hold the onion. She knew me as “No onion” and I loved this. She made me feel at home. “Classic Donuts Coffee Croissant” was my “Cheers.”

Before the official road trip began, Donovan and I spent one last day sightseeing:

We ate breakfast at the popular Aroma Café on Tujunga Ave…

Drove to Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway…

Dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean (it was freezing, btw…)

Captured our shadows in the sand…

Rode the Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier…shared a Churro…walked along the 3rd Street Promenade…sat in traffic for 2 hours on our way into Hollywood for dinner at Sunset Thai…

Swung by Amoeba Music where Don stocked up on rare hip-hop CDs and I picked up The Clash’s “London Calling” for the road…

Made a pit stop back at my apartment to pack for an hour — you may notice that my dishes and glassware were wrapped with back issues of The New Yorker…

Then headed to Canter’s Kabitz Room on Fairfax for Tuesdays with the F.O.C.K.R.s (Friends of Canter’s Kabitz Room) who were celebrating Morty Coyle’s birthday. I literally rubbed elbows with Morty’s baby mama, Jodie Sweetin (a.k.a. Stephanie Tanner of “Full House” fame) as she was handing out slices of birthday cake.

It was a perfect day; we even caught the sun tucking itself into the seam in the horizon.

The next day we (and by “we” I mean Donovan) packed up the car, chock-a-block full of everything I own, minus the Boho-chic writing desk and bookshelf I sold, the sofa I donated to the Salvation Army and the pile of small appliances and cleaning products that simply wouldn’t fit.

I dropped the keys to my apartment in the building manager’s mail slot and said goodbye to Aqua Vista Street.  So long, La-La. It’s been real.

More pics and stories from the road to follow…

On the Road

“What?! You’re leaving LA to move back East?? In wintertime???” was one friend’s perplexed response after learning my plan to pack up the ol’ green Chevy and hit the road to Philadelphia. No one leaves Southern California, especially not in December. “You know that it snows on the East Coast, right?”

Last week I said goodbye to the clear blue skies of perpetually 83 degrees and sunny for the muted gray blanket of winter, driving cross country from Los Angeles to Grand Canyon, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico, through Texas, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas. It was 27 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of 8°F by the time we reached Middle Tennessee. And it was snowing.

Having spent four years living in Syracuse as an undergrad, a region I half-jokingly refer to as the frozen tundra of Central New York, I am acquainted with harsh East Coast winters. Yet, somehow, cold always feels colder than in your memory, especially after four years blissfully unaware of such things out west.

I enlisted my cousin, Donovan, as my road trip companion. We’re both travelers, creative types - a writer and an artist - currently in similar places in our lives – on the threshold of some new phase, contemplating our next steps.

The seven days we spent on the road were transformative; both of us could sense that the journey marked the beginning of something. For one week, everything extraneous to our personal growth melted away and we existed in a pocket of the universe reserved for time travelers shedding old skin. The days blurred into one another as we passed through Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern Standard Time.  

The route was mapped with target cities and requisite mileage to cover each day before we retired at the nearest Super 8 off of the Interstate 40, but we took our time exploring each new place. We sampled the local fare at Mom & Pop diners, reveled in Southern hospitality, invented car games, exposed one another to new music, talked for hours learning things about each other we otherwise wouldn’t, and left time each day for documenting our adventures in our journals and sketchbooks.

Donovan is a painter, printmaker and musician. Amused by his compulsive need to turn every surface into a canvas, I snapped several candid shots of him at work including drawing an intricate design on his pancakes with a syrup bottle at breakfast and sketching with a fingertip on the frosty fog-daubed window of our hotel room one morning.

In case you were wondering, that little guy’s saying, “HELP ME!!!” to passersby in the parking lot below.

More stories and photos from the road to come…

Departures & Arrivals

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the past, and also about the future. For most of this year I’ve been static, motionless, not knowing my next step. I decided that I needed a change of scenery to clear my head and refocus. What better time and place to turn over a new leaf than the East Coast in autumn with the vibrant changing of seasons.

A few days ago while catching up with a dear friend, I learned that a classmate of ours from high school recently passed away. This news left me stunned. This was someone my age, someone that I knew. We’d lost touch after graduation, but we’d been friendly since our freshman year when we worked together on the school newspaper.

We once wrote an article together and shared a byline.

I was passionate about basketball but didn’t know the game as well as he did. Although I’d been going to high school games with my dad since I was four, I never played hoops myself aside from the occasional game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway. He was on the freshman team so he was connected, in the know. The thought of interviewing the players and coaches was intimidating at first; they were local celebrities. I was shy and soft-spoken. It was journalism that brought me out of my shell and gave me an identity, a voice. With our steno notebooks in hand, the two of us broke into sports reporting by getting quotes from each player on the team then crafting the article together after school. Of all my memories of him, that is my favorite. He was someone who helped me develop the self-confidence I needed to become a journalist.

All week I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around it, to reconcile the image I have of him as a sharp, witty, and charismatic teenager who always had ruddy cheeks and a wide smile, with the knowledge that he is gone. I never would have imagined that he would be the one member of our graduating class who wouldn’t live to see the 10-year reunion. His passing leaves me immeasurably saddened. I have nothing but fond memories of him.

Tonight I held my cousin’s newborn son in my arms. He still has that intoxicating new baby smell. He was wearing blue footed pajamas and tiny mittens on his hands to stop from scratching his face. His eyes looked around the room with wonder. I remind myself to keep looking at the world that way.

Thoughts about John Lennon on his birthday

"Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No Hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today // Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace // You may say that I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / And the world will be as one // Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world // You may say that I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / And the world will live as one"

– John Lennon, Imagine

I was 13 years old when I discovered The Beatles. I wasn’t alive for the British Invasion back in 1964 when they first rocked The Ed Sullivan Show. I experienced the new wave of Beatlemania in 1995 when they released The Beatles Anthology, a documentary series chronicling the history of the band’s epic contribution to music and their lasting influence on pop culture. I logged countless hours listening to The Beatles, watching A Hard Day’s Night, Help, and every televised interview and VH1 special I could get my hands on at a time when YouTube didn’t even exist.

The Beatles Anthology album artwork by Klaus Voormann

I escaped into a world ruled by John, Paul, George and Ringo, developing a special affinity for John. I was born a year and a half after his death but something about John Lennon’s creative genius resonated with me more than the other Beatles. John was a musician, but also a poet and an artist. I wanted to be just like him. I wore glasses and desperately wanted a pair of the wire-rimmed circular Windsor frames that he made so popular in the 60’s. I also begged my mother to drive me all over town looking for a black hat like the one John wore in A Hard Day’s Night.

John with a copy of his book, In His Own Write (wearing the hat that I wanted but could never find!)

I read John’s books and many of the biographies written about him.  I memorized all the important dates – John Lennon’s birthday (9 October 1940,) the date he died (8 December 1980,) and the date The Beatles performed All You Need Is Love via live worldwide telecast (25 June 1967.) In 8th Grade I wrote a story based on the lyrics of A Day In The Life, a song John was inspired to write after reading the newspaper.  

While I was living in London after college in 2005, I made the trip north to Liverpool to visit the birthplace of The Beatles. I rode on a Magical Mystery Tour bus that stopped along Penny Lane and the gateway to Strawberry Fields. I visited The Beatles Story Exhibition at the Albert Dock, a museum that recreated iconic locales such as the interior of the Yellow Submarine and the white room at Tittenhurst Park where John recorded Imagine, my favorite song of all time.

I also visited John’s childhood home, Mendips, where he lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George from 1945-1963. I walked through the same door as John Lennon, stood in his kitchen, his living room, his bedroom. I felt something electric just being in the physical space he once occupied. It felt as if I’d stepped back in time. It was a very powerful experience and is now a cherished memory.

Mendips - John Lennon’s childhood home in Woolton, Liverpool

I remember once as a teenager waking up from a nightmare, my heart racing, tears inexplicably running down my face. It was early morning and still dark outside. Frightened and alone in my bedroom, I listened to Strawberry Fields Forever and let the lyrics wash over me. Instantly I felt better.

"Let me take you down / ‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields / Nothing is real / And nothing to get hung about / Strawberry Fields Forever // Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see / It’s getting hard to be someone / But it all works out / It doesn’t matter much to me" – Strawberry Fields Forever  

 

The gate is all that remains of Strawberry Fields