Saturday, 7 January 2012

Growing Pains

Last week The Bodhi Tree.

Next week Angeli.

Pioneers on Melrose that came to be iconic.

When I first first came out to LA from NY (oh, you know this is a long-term wrestling match), The Bodhi Tree was the place I felt at home.  The only place I could breathe.

I don't remember how I found it, but I went often.  I went to see people.  I went because they always had tea in a thermos with little paper cups.  I went because you could pull a scholarly book on Eastern religion out of the shelf and sit and read it in a chair.  I went because it smelled good, because they had trinkets, and because it was soulful in a city severely lacking soul.

I don't know who told me I had to try Angeli.  Melrose was like part tourist trap, part Camden town, part 8th Street and a good place to get boots.  In a world of In N Out Burger I was looking for some food.  My first trip to Angeli - well, I don't remember who it was with, either.  I remember the hot fresh baked breads they put on the table.  I remember perfect marinara sauce.  I can still taste it.  I was surprised by the space - the colors and angles, the closeness of the tables - so un-LA - but as soon as the food arrived, you were in your own world.

Why do I think these institutions are closing?  Because, I think, they succeeded too well.  What was radical when The Bodhi Tree opened forty years ago is mainstream now.  The Bodhi Tree went from having to get people interested in alternative philosophies and spirituality, to finding a niche, to - well, The Secret.  There isn't a bookstore you can walk into now (assuming you can find one) that doesn't have an Eastern Religion or Philosophy section.

The New Age and Self-Help books that used to be the province of The Bodhi Tree are everywhere.  No one replicates the environment they created - the places to get lost in the store, the old wooden caess, the seats, the art - and certainly you won't find another bookstore that will carry Henry Miller, Bukowski (yes, i think I got all those there first), and everything you ever wanted to  know about every religion.  The Bodhi Tree never succumbed to political correctness - it was a place for exploration and curious minds.  There was always something to find there.  Like the Traveler 99 CD I picked up there that is long gone to Amoeba, but I can still here every track in my head.

 Angeli staked its claim in LA food culture early on.  It held it's spot on Melrose, anchored a few equally good places that have come and gone, and kept doing what it did best - serving impeccably prepared simple foods at unbelievably reasonable prices.  I took one of my youth poets there for a grown-up dinner, and I expect she will remember that for a long time.

Like Bodhi Tree, Angeli made LA safe for other places like Angeli - which led to a trend, which led to the emerging foodie culture LA is embracing now.  (Yes, LA, you are emerging.  Seriously, if you doubt it, go to the Bay, or Seattle or New York, or anywhere else.)  I think their closures are natural in the cycle.  It's a different Melrose; a different Los Angeles.

There are those of us who've staked our claim in burgeoning LA culture - with words, with beats, with rhymes, with music, with paint - and I feel our time will come soon, too.  We made LA safe for art and culture, we gave it homes and voice, and we created an audience.  The ones we've been mentoring come at it fresh, with new opportunities, new agendas, and a demand to be taken seriously, and not left on the fringes of pop culture.

And that's okay, too.  It means we did our jobs well.

LA - you might just be growing up.

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