Link Party: 11/9-11/13

Echo Park Lake water lilies.
Echo Park Lake water lilies.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. I loved this article about how the world is still interested in the tenants of punk rock.

2. The Four Seasons is offering a round-the-world trip in 24 days for $120,000. It actually sounds terrible.

3. Let’s talk about why people from Southern California, including myself, through the word “the” in front of freeway names.

4. This was an incredibly poignant essay about what it’s like to go to a summer camp for disabled kids.

5. Doc Martens as a sartorial canvas.

And a bonus: If you’re in the L.A. area, you should really visit my new favorite stationery store.

Have a great week.

Think Tank: The $90,000 Water Bill

It's crazy to me that someone would think spending $90,000 on water for the year is okay. Photo cred: Los Angeles Times.
It’s crazy to me that someone would think spending $90,000 on water for the year is okay. Photo cred: Los Angeles Times.

If you’re not a Californian, chances are you might not know that the entire state is in the middle of an historic drought. It’s a pretty big deal that has a lot of people — from farmers to scientists to people who live in wildfire-prone areas — very worried. When I was still a journalism student back in May, I went to city council meetings for school assignments. This happened to be during a time when Gov. Jerry Brown was handing down many mandatory water restrictions, announcing that everyone needed to reduce water usage by 36 percent. I found that the council meetings I went to centered on explaining how everyone needed to save water and that they could participate in rebate programs by pulling out their lawns or putting in energy-efficient toilets, shower heads and faucets.  When I look around my neighborhood, it looks like everyone is trying to do their part: grass varies in shades of brown, or it’s been taken out all together in favor of drought-tolerant alternatives.

But as you can imagine, not everyone throughout the state has adhered to the restrictions. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that someone living in Bel-Air used and paid for 11.8 million gallons of water last year.

You read that right. 11.8 million gallons in 365 days, which is about 1 million gallons a month and 32,000 gallons a day. To add some perspective, the average Californian household daily usage is 360 gallons, a mere 1 percent of the Bel-Air homeowner’s.

The homeowner spent about $90,000 for all that water. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that it could be an unnoticed leak, because 11.8 million gallons is kind of a lot of water that someone would notice flooding the street. Someone is purposefully using that water to keep lawns green or swimming pools full, and seemingly doesn’t see any ill effects. The Department of Water and Power refuses to name names, but the entire neighborhood is one of the leading culprits in excessive water usage.

Throughout the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the implications of both the subject of the story and the story itself. I’ve done research and written about California water on multiple occasions, and find the economics and cultural pull of it fascinating. A drought is more than just having little or no water.

There’s a lot of history about California and its water, and it’s not really a love story.

L.A. in the late 1800s was a rapidly growing town, and one of the biggest problems was that there were no nearby sources of water to sustain the population. The solution that city officials came up with was to divert water from Owens Valley in Central California and build the Los Angeles Aqueduct to bring it south. In the 1970s, the city built a second aqueduct to bring even more water.

The conflict is now called the California Water Wars, since farmers tried to sabotage the aqueduct and keep the much-needed water in the valley. The relationship between Owens Valley residents and L.A. city officials has been pretty contentious ever since, because we have literally been stealing their water to supplement our other watersheds. There’s even a well-known movie based on it. I wrote about a project at my university that was trying to highlight the history and come up with solutions to the problem, which was not easy.

A lot of people don’t know about this slice of California history, but I think it’s important in understanding the root of the problem. This isn’t a brand new issue in the 2010s. This has been an integral part of L.A.’s growth, and a key cause of the Central Valley’s languish. Water will always be a point of interest for Southern California, and the people who spend $90,000 to bring water in contribute to a bigger problem.

The water problem seems to be partly a socioeconomic problem.

Utilities like water and electricity and the ability to pay for them are also a significant issue, even in today’s world. In a neighborhood like Bel-Air, which is home to incredibly affluent people, $90,000 on a utility bill isn’t really that big of a deal. The restrictions must not seem real to the people who really need restricting, because there is no real consequence.

But for the farmers who grow our fruits, vegetables and livestock, water is a significant business cost and extreme economic hardship. In “The Botany of Desire,” which is a great book about our relationship with plants that you should read, Michael Pollan says that in 2001 it cost a potato farmer in Idaho about $1,950 an acre on chemicals, electricity and water to grow a crop that maybe earned $2,000 in a good year. The 2012 median pay for an American farmer was $69,300. It’s clear that there is no room to spend extra money on water, even if the prices go up on the produce. Not only is there no money to spend, but the mandatory cuts in usage make it hard to have a profitable business. If you scroll to the end of this page, there are even resources for farmers who are experiencing stress from having to operate under such dire conditions.

A lot of people around the world, especially in SoCal, take the fact that they can turn on the faucet, get water and pay for it for granted.  The farmers who work hard to bring us our produce and livestock are struggling to make a living and provide the world with food. Meanwhile, someone is spending five figures on the water that’s probably serving to quench ornamental thirst. The inequality is incredible.

I don’t think this story is waking anybody up.

This story that the L.A. Times has published in its California coverage is crucial to the everyday function of journalism. This is part of the history of SoCal, and the newspaper is fulfilling its duty to record it. It’s sensational and draws in readership.

I think the everyday person reads this story and realizes how dumb it is for one household to use that much water, but I don’t know how these stories can do a better job of inspiring people and businesses to conserve. Most people don’t have that kind of money to spend on a water bill. But they still run the tap until it’s warm, run a half-full dishwasher, wash cars and laundry, fill swimming pools and water the lawn. They still run businesses that use water to make things. There’s the looming threat of running out of water, but it doesn’t seem real as long as the faucets continue to run. There is no one who is able to enforce restrictions that actually deter people from wasting a precious resource.  That is why a story about a $90,000 water bill is reality, and why we’re slowly inching towards a catastrophe.

What do you think about the story and the California drought? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


Culture Connoisseur: Zoë’s Very Official Southern California Museum Guide

One of my favorite things to do wherever I go is find the museums. In addition to coffee, museums are my thing.

For me, the best thing about visiting these institutions is looking at art that challenges the viewer to confront his or her own perceptions of what art is and what it can do, in both conscious and subconscious ways. It’s really easy for us in 2015 to look at a Picasso and say “that’s great art,” but it was difficult for the audiences who first saw the work to wrap their heads around what was in front of them — mirroring reactions to some of the contemporary art we see today. In the same vein, there are many objects of historical significances that need to be preserved for future generations to learn from. I like thinking about the progression of art history, reading about the artists and coming up with my own interpretations.

However, I know that museums in general sound overwhelming or maybe boring to a lot of people. But I can assure you that you don’t need to know anything about art or art history to enjoy a museum, and that a place you might not think of as a museum can count as one. A lot of people ask me about the best ones to go to in the area, so I present to you Zoë’s Very Official Southern California Museum Guide.

A beautiful, beautiful day at the Getty.
A beautiful, beautiful day at the Getty.

“I haven’t gone to any museums in the area, nor do I know much about art history. What do I start with?”

My initial recommendation is to try some of the bigger museums with big collections you can peruse to find what you like. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as you may already know, is one of my favorite museums. Located on Wilshire Boulevard near the Farmer’s Market and the Grove, it has an incredibly diverse collection spread out over a large campus and fantastic programming. In addition to an extensive European catalog, the museum boasts large Islamic and Asian art collections. Some of the best shows I’ve ever been to, including a retrospective of Tim Burton and the post-impressionists from Van Gogh to Kandinsky, were held at LACMA. If you are interested in art but feel overwhelmed, this is the place to start. If you’re a student, the museum offers a very affordable membership option that pays for itself.

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is also a well-known museum worth attending. The Getty’s collection comprises of a lot of medieval, Renaissance and baroque art — not much in the way of post-1900 works. When I went, I thought the illuminated manuscripts were pretty cool. There are some modern sculptures out on the grounds of the museum, which has a few gorgeous gardens and vistas, but not many. If you don’t like modern art in general, this is your museum.  Admission is free for everyone, but you do have to pay for parking. The only thing I don’t particularly like is the museum’s location — it’s off of the 405 Freeway (yikes) and close to UCLA.

Rounding out the category is the Norton Simon in Pasadena. What I really like about the Norton Simon is the diverse range of art on display. From South and Southeast Asian art to Flemish tapestries to contemporary photography, the Norton Simon has it. The museum also has a great sculpture garden and lily pond, which brings back memories for me of Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. The Norton Simon is much smaller in scale compared to LACMA or The Getty, which makes it a good museum to start out with and soak in. It’s also feasible to spend an hour or two at the museum before going down the street to Old Town Pasadena. Admission is free for students.

The Rothko exhibit I went to at MOCA had so many Rothkos I could have died of happiness.
The Rothko exhibit I went to at MOCA had so many Rothkos I could have died of happiness.

“I want to see conceptual art.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has some pretty interesting, but weird stuff. You can see your standard Warhol or Lichtenstein, but MOCA has a large collection of pieces that incorporate aspects like film and sound into painting and sculpture. I went to a great Rothko exhibit here, but I really enjoyed just walking around MOCA and seeing what was on display. It’s not a big museum, and has free admission for everyone every Thursday.

If you find yourself in Palm Springs, you should definitely stop by the Palm Springs Art Museum. For being a small museum in the middle of the desert, it has an impressive catalog that includes some Warhol, Ruscha and Abramović. Granted, the museum does have a lot of Native American and Mesoamerican art worth looking at. However, the architecture of the museum itself lends for a really interesting postmodern experience. There’s one piece there that definitely freaks everybody out. I highly recommend making it part of your Palm Springs excursion.

“I really love the outdoors.”

The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino is one of my favorite Southern California spots. It’s kind of hard to describe the Huntington because of how vast the grounds are, but the beautiful botanical garden envelops buildings that hold true treasures. The Huntington collection is especially famous for Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie, but also hosts a Shakespeare first folio, a Gutenberg Bible, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and more. The Huntington offers a really rare collection in a beautiful setting, and SoCal residents are really lucky to have the access.

The view of L.A. from Griffith at night is truly spectacular.
The view of L.A. from Griffith Observatory at night is truly spectacular.

“I’m not really into paintings or sculpture.”

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles can be considered a kind of scientific museum. Much like the way traditional art museums educate the public about art history, planetariums and observatories educate the public about scientific history. Check out the observatory’s exhibits about the solar system and devices used for measuring and viewing the universe. Griffith’s public star parties are also fun to attend, but a nightmare for parking. Admission and parking are free.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles is really awesome, and I’ve been going there since elementary school. (Zoë fun fact: my senior prom was held there.) It’s more of a museum of science than a museum of art, which still counts! It’s a great place to take kids because of how many hands-on activities there are and living things to see. My favorite exhibit I’ve seen there is the one they had about mummies from around the world, but I really want to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. You can also see IMAX movies in 3D about science here, which can be pretty fun.

Next door is the Natural History Museum. The museum has a lot of  taxidermy, gems and minerals, fossils and insect-related stuff. Again, it’s a really awesome place to take kids — including big kids (you know who you are) — who are interested in dinosaurs or animals. This museum is also part of a group that’s responsible for the La Brea Tar Pits, which is another kind of natural history museum we’re lucky to have in L.A. That spot, which includes a museum I’ve never been to, is next to LACMA.

“I’ve been to all of those places. Where else can I go?”

In addition to some of these big institutions, I’ve also visited some smaller niche museums of note. If you’re interested in learning more about the Holocaust, you should really go to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. (Warning: A trip to this museum can be very emotionally draining, as you might imagine.) The next time you go to the L.A. County Fair at the Pomona Fairplex, walk through the NHRA Motorsports Museum and take a look at its vintage racing vehicles. The Autry Museum in Los Angeles also has a renowned collection of Western art that chronicles the birth and growth of California and Native Americans.

Other museums in SoCal that I have not been to yet (but heard good things about) include the Getty Villa, the Hammer Museum, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the U.S.S. Iowa or U.S.S. Midway and several cultural heritage museums. Once you start going to museums and seeing what you like, you’ll find places all over the world you’ll want to go. And along the way, you’ll build your own knowledge of history and art history. It’ll be great. I promise.

Do you have museum recommendations for me? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Culture Connoisseur: Zoe’s Very Official Southern California Coffee Awards

Smirking emoji.
Smirking emoji. (Also, we should talk about Special Agent Dale Cooper if you know who this is.)

One of my favorite things about living in Southern California is the close proximity to so many good coffee places. I appreciate the convenience of Starbucks (or making my own iced coffee) just like anyone else, but there’s nothing quite like a drink from an independent cafe. I’m no Yelp Elite, but I can enjoy a damn fine cup of coffee. So much so that I thought I should come up with arbitrary awards for the places I like that are relatively local. So tonight, I bring to you the inaugural Zoe’s Very Official Southern California Coffee Awards.

Best drip coffee that isn’t Starbucks: So I’m bending the rules a little bit on the independent cafe thing from above (and just this once, I promise), but I really enjoy Einstein Bros Bagels drip coffee. There’s an Einstein cafe at school that’s much closer to my work building than the campus Starbucks, and it tastes great with any bagel. Sometimes you just need an afternoon carb pick me up that isn’t Starbucks (¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)

I wish Klatch was closer to where I live, but it's probably a good thing because otherwise I would spend all of my time and money there.
I wish Klatch was closer to where I live, but it’s probably a good thing because otherwise I would spend all of my time and money there.

Best “treat yo self” coffee #1: Klatch. I started going here in high school with friends, and it is one of my favorite spots. I usually get coffee with a humongous slab of the coffee cake. It has a good atmosphere and lots of light. 10/10 would recommend.

Best “treat yo self” coffee #2: 85 C. I am not a humongous fan of Asian bakeries, but I love love love 85 Degree’s sea salt coffee. The first time I had it I got a huge first sip of salt, but I learned that shaking it is the secret. I still don’t really get the plastic film lid and having to puncture it with a sharp straw thing, but it tastes great.

Best enjoyed with breakfast: Some Crust Bakery. The last time I was here I got an iced coffee and a raspberry pinwheel, and it was a fantastic decision. My favorite thing about Some Crust is actually the waxy paper bags with the bakery logo, but I’m a nerd. Tl;dr get the iced coffee.

A honey cinnamon latte from Augies. The baristas know their latte art.
A honey cinnamon latte from Augie’s. The baristas know their latte art.

Best enjoyed with a friend after Thai food or a Eureka burger: Augie’s. It can be ultra-crowded in here — it’s in the same storefront as an ice cream place — but the honey cinnamon latte is a great after-dinner treat. Yellow metal chairs and cute baristas are pluses.

Best $5 latte that tastes like $5: Dripp. It is a really pricy place to go all the time, but every time I go I haven’t been disappointed. I recommend the vanilla latte. I also like that Dripp gives you a to-go cup that’s corrugated. If I’m paying $5 for a latte, I need all the hipster accoutrement.

A hand pie from N7 Creamery is basically a grown up Pop Tart.
A hand pie from N7 Creamery is basically a grown up Pop Tart.

Best enjoyed with a hand pie: N7 Creamery. I’ve been here twice — once for ice cream (which is also good) and once for coffee and a hand pie. I don’t know what was in that hand pie (apples and crack, probably) but the coffee was what really made it good. It was thick without being sledge-y.

4.5/5 stars, tbh.
4.5/5 stars, tbh.

Best enjoyed in Los Angeles: Philz. I went here on Sunday and I’m still thinking about this mint mojito iced coffee. You wouldn’t think that mint and coffee would go together, but it definitely does. My only complaint is that the barista made it hot and used a ton of mint, so the ice took a while to bring it to the right temperature. When it was cold enough, though, it was excellent. Again, corrugated cups are where it’s at. It’s probably the most hipster coffee place I’ve ever been to. Take that as it is.

I’m always looking for new cafes to try. Any suggestions? Leave a comment for me.