The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown’

From Sand and Cactus

May 14, 2015 | by

Raymond Chandler the environmentalist.


The wise man, as Biblical lore has it, built his house on the rock, his foolish compatriot on the sand—guidance that mankind has ignored for millennia. In the late nineteenth century, the pioneers, or developers, or “boosters” who founded and promoted Los Angeles as a new “instant city” were among those to lay substantial foundations in what was essentially sand. Not on a desert, exactly—that myth’s been debunked—but perilously close to one, and on the shore of an undrinkable ocean.

Today, it’s not an excess of water—as in the scriptures and children’s song—that threatens Southern California, but a scarcity of it. The state is considering implementing desalination centers. As has been remarked in Europe, the city defines itself against its medieval origins; American metropolises define themselves against the wilderness. In John Fante’s 1939 LA novel, Ask the Dust, his alter ego, Arturo Bandini, revels in his adopted home’s mastery of nature: “This great city, these mighty pavements and proud buildings, they were the voice of my America. From sand and cactus we Americans had carved an empire.” Read More »

An Incident on Canal Street

July 19, 2013 | by


In July of 2001—I was in college at the time, working as a part-time waitress and part-time fact-checker—I found myself on Canal Street on a sweltering afternoon. It had been a long and unglamorous summer, hot in the way everyone knows from New York summer movies, but not, I remember thinking, even remotely iconic, or at least not any frame into which I happened to wander.

I frequently wore a series of enormous house dresses I had gotten at a yard sale, and tried very hard to like certain classic albums by listening to them, intensely, on a loop. Somehow it seemed imperative, then, to fight violently for a spot on the lawn at Bryant Park, no matter what film was showing. I was too young to drink. I was acutely aware of being a total waste of time, and also found this interesting. It is hard to overstate my unsexiness. Two people I knew were involved with Shakespeare productions that were designed as thinly veiled allegories concerning the political situation. Everyone was wearing those mesh slippers, bedecked with sparkly flowers, which you could buy in Chinatown for a few dollars. At home, my dad was fighting with my teenage brother, who had a penchant for stealing the family car. “Your brother,” said my dad, “has a total disregard for the dictates of the social contract, as they apply to him. In this way, he is like Hitler. Well,” he amended, “Hitler and Edwin Booth.”

On that particular day, the street was packed with vendors and workers and tourists looking for bags (although it should be noted that this was prior to the real designer-knockoff bag boom, or indeed, the ensuing crackdown.) This was no country for old men, although obviously it was full of old men. I had detoured through Chinatown in order to get some of the slippers, and also some five-for-a-dollar dumplings, and in the process of acquiring them had learned to add sugar to the soy sauce and sriracha on offer (this is a tip I share with you now) and seen three rats, which one assumes, but is always nice to have verified, I suppose. Read More »


Street Scene

January 3, 2013 | by

Well into my adolescence, New York City began and ended with a single street. For a long time, it did not even seem important that I learn the name of the street; everyone simply called it the Street of the People of Tang. The Tang, of course, were the Chinese, and Americans, foreigners to the street, named it Chinatown.

Of course, strictly speaking, I was a foreigner too. Because my mother worked in a suburban Connecticut town, all colonnaded colonials and frosty-haired WASPs, and spoke halting English, we boarded the Metro-North only when desperation over the last can of aoki mushrooms made it imperative. Later, when I grew to speak better English than she, I became the navigator. “So when we take the downtown green line, where is it that we get off again?” my mother would ask, eyes squinting nervously over the teeming throngs we would soon join at the mouth of Grand Central. Canal, I answered, always the same answer. We get off at Canal Street.

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