American Culture Reporter

American Culture Reporter TM is new brand by Han Vance (Editor-in-Chief) featuring Vance + other writers and artists.

www.AmericanCultureReporter.com
Copyright 2016 HV

Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in Distrito Federal of Mexico.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but always felt fairly safe.

Mexico City boasts more density than New York City while it is vaster than North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican Cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all this was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.

The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memory of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love. The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches. The taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pink, hot pink, red, orange, all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in D.F., where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffitied Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.

Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of D.F. are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me and introducing himself and his less than pleased date, as we charged down the street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the air from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open air restaurant. The Mexican night felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of D.F., which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious Coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other as they exited our view. The magic of Mexico evident to us.

ART BOX pARTy, Curated by: Han Vance

Kudos CFPP and Atlanta INtown paper. What a great event! Mind blowing poetry by Collin Kelley and FOCUS (and me). ATL’s very own dooGallery is my favorite almost-famous spot. American Spirit Whiskey and Asahi Beer and Sandwich Buddha ~ delicious. June’s ATL ART STARS were bright: Jackie Ducros, Ted Murphy, Charity Lindop, Travis Smith, Jolene Wheeler, Frances Byrd, Stephanie Anderson, Suzanne Bobo, Dan Curran, Jen de Plour, Linda Costa, PaperFrank Dunson, William “KING POP” Floyd, Kendrick “GREATeclectic” Daye of Art Nouveau magazine, and the incomparable Ashley Norfleet:

My Last Hipster Run

(Photo by: Han Vance)

My hair was overgrown, so I took out my peanut and shaved the sides up – way up. I looked a bit like Crispin Glover as I made a deposit in my bank and quickly walked the rest of the way down Ponce to get my haircut. I wanted to make sure the sides were right, and the line was perfect. I trusted only myself. I had the rest done relatively short and usually left it product-mussed. I broke out my dad’s old cover sunglasses, as huge as any they wore in Manchester and Miami. I started wearing bright tight shirts everyday, which almost fit me, as I’d recently lost ten pounds. I longboarded as much as I could and strutted to the transit station or took cabs everywhere else, except on the weekend mornings when my curvy fiancee’ drove me to work at the Euro-cafe’ in Midtown. Those mornings, I would finish a can of Coors Light in the bath to rally. Then we would sit in her car and make out while I swayed about to the space age Athens weirdness of Of Montreal. Then I would walk inside and make myself a double espresso. I was drunk in bars with thirty-somethings, with twenty-somethings to the point of belligerent incoherence and laughed and talked too loudly. I proudly peacocked amongst fellow urbanists whom would never have my flair for extravagantly varied fashions or my honed way with words. I worked a final lunch shift, had a huge late lunch, walked back to the cafe’ and had my free birthday shot, a Strega. Shared a toast with the definitely-old-enough-to-know-how-to-live-way-better-but-still-clinging-to-it-for-some-reason bartender, had a drink with the actor Paul Walker as we discussed Hawaii and my California book and my afternoon pool party planned for the next day. Walked away and had a few drinks in various haunts with a career student. Met my love in our suite. Went out by taxi for sushi and for wine by candlelight. The city glowed around and for me, as we stumbled to the disco lounge without panic or pretense. An off night in the Southern sprawl of summer ATL, but an on one for me, I suppose. My last as a hipster. As she and I had done so many times in the old loft where we deeply fell, we sat perched atop our city as midnight neared. I counted it down like it was New Year’s Eve. Five-four-three-two-one. Suddenly, I was 40. And I went to bed.

Jade Lemons and the Crimson Lust at 529

Tommy the Tomcat is back. Jade Lemons, the mastermind behind the Underrated Records label and studio, debuted his new act at 529 in the East Atlanta Village. A few spots around EAV had decent crowds, as a weekend summer night down South buzz was in the air. My sister, Anna and photog friend, Marc were on the scene with me as we stopped in for a quick one at the newly-reopened Glenwood. Then Mr. Lemons appeared crossing the street in Captain’s hat and his signature skinny jeans, blonde beauty in tow all dolled up. He was headlining, and his mom was on hand. His friends and fans were on hand. His new material was ready for its first public consumption. He delivered to the full venue with the help of a band totaling five pieces, counting Jade, and you should because the dude rocks. Sallow, gauntly thin, tall and intensely transposed on guitar and lead vocal against a punk-looking black girl playing bass, a classic-in-delivery accompanying singer, also of color, white dudes wailing on sax and pounding on drums – this is real now Atlanta music. Yet, Ziggy Stardust meets T-Rex’s Marc Bolan again is what I most hear in obvious classic influence. Familiar and good songs, the first time heard. Though this group is worthy of a bigger venue soon and Jade clearly couldn’t hear his monitors well on stage, the short performance came off as well-rehearsed and of crystal clear quality. This band is only a key hit song away from being at least a minor household name, as this new formula for Jade works. I predict a big future for them.

(Photo by: Wizard Smoke)

We are champions, my friends

I have one ring. Well, not really a ring but one team championship. And I won it as quarterback of the Cowboys.

When I moved from the great Empire of Texas to the Southeast, Dad initially settled us into another state with great pride, South Carolina. South Carolinians, like Louisianans and Nebraskans, place value of state above most else.

Scary to think that I could’ve been a USC Cock and never a UGA DAWG. But we stayed in Carolina only one year, netting me my first little brother and Dad a YMCA basketball championship as head coach. I was around that team throughout the season and remember the oversized maroon jersey I wore to their games, and the pride I felt when the title was secured in a close final contest.

Both of my personal sports titles came the next year when we moved to a sleepy suburban Atlanta town called Marietta, GA. I hung around the Boys Club there all the time and won a basketball shooting tournament for my age group. I am and will forever be the 1976 Shooting Champion, and I still have the trophy to prove it – although the ball is no longer attached to the hand.

Before that, I played for the Cowboys. I’m a third-generation, diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, and I planned to play for them up through 8th grade, when I started exploring a few back-up options and stopped practicing twice a day year round. Wide receiver has always been my natural position, but in 1st grade the ball is not thrown much if at all, so Dad suggested I play quarterback that year in football. I did, and we ran the option and won the league. When the season started, Dad must have lobbied to get me on the Cowboys, but he never admitted it and only twinkle-eyed as he – I reckoned – lied in denial.

My best friend in the whole world and sandlot football buddy was an outrageous kid named Duke Lee Sharp Jr.; he went by Boomer. I saw him on weekends, when he visited his (practically our) Granny, in my neighborhood.

During the week, I went to Fair Oaks Elementary where I had two best school friends. A triangle of friends that were by far the top athletes in our grade. Lester Maddox was a descendant of the infamous anti-segregationist politician by the same name. Champ was the nephew of Larry Holmes, then the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world. And I was the offspring of wealthy hippies whom had only recently spent all the money my father inherited from my grandfather.

Dad asked me about my buddies at school. He knew those names and guffawed, then he sang to me: “The times, they are a changin’.” I’d never in a cognizant way heard of the champion of freedom named Bob Dylan, because my parents only listened to the Beatles and classical music. I liked that and much later became a poet myself.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Ponce Crush (and skate and stroll)

CRUSH-CRUSH. So the Ponce Crush – the hot new art crawl that roams in and around Ponce de Leon Avenue in The ATL – unofficially starts with Angel Poventud accidentally redialing me from the International Pillow Fight of Atlanta in Freedom Park. Longboarding down from the high land and then back up Ponce, through the fun seekers, the crack dealers and the cars – way too many cars. Not me. I’m just being free.

First stop is Beep Beep Gallery, fitting since a car just honked at me. I greeted a seated Mr. Poventud, bench outside the cute space on Monroe, right across from where Boulevard is becoming something entirely different, the Old 4th Ward shifting to Midtown. Gallery co-owner Mark Basehore welcomed me with an almost-cold, free can of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, as Angel made a $2 cash donation on my behalf before being called into work.

Mark’s suit and popping bright tie show the seriousness of expression this growing community has for local art. Allen Taylor and Andrea Sanders display a two-person art endeavor, filling the space with color and energy. And the window has a smoke machine meets art screen video montage that invites and excites, while it moves to the music. Sanders’ work was far too dark in subject matter for my taste, but I did enjoy Taylor’s colorful patterned drawings. Co-owner James McConnell offered a warm smile and firm handshake and dressed the part as did his counterpart. Color me impressed with these guys and this space. I believe in space and movement.

So, I was off again. This time with my girlfriend in tow, and we’ve slipped into ’bout to elope soon land, so she’s my fiance, I’d have to say as of that day. What a balmy spring first Saturday of April it was for an art adventure in the city too busy to hate. Next stop was Kibbee Gallery, behind Fellini’s Pizza off Ponce. Big, beautiful house filled with art and beer and food and people hiving together in a communal bonding of appreciation. I most-appreciated Yana Dimitrova’s check to-do list paintings. We all have these lists, and I couldn’t help but crack up at what Dimitrova had done on a large physical scale, here in a piece called The Greatest Achievements. “HALFAWAKE” was the title of the show itself, and the range of vision expressed in these paintings moved me. I also just adored Sarah Daly’s small, bright cityscape paintings in the back of the gallery, sadly finding the one I wanted to buy out of my current price range.

Finally it was time to get crushed, and no place better for that than Young Blood Gallery, near the Highland Inn on N. Highland. Now, the freaks were out. Now, the crowd was revved. Now, I could hardly find a place to stand with such a long skateboard. Can someone invent a lock for these please? I digress, to here mention that “Medicina” as a show did impress. Kris D, from the Classic City of Athens, GA, has teamed with David Hale to show that “all things are connected, all things are one.” This mostly neutral-colored show was voluminous in prolificness and expressed its soothing message in figure-after-figure and pattern-after-pattern. My favorite were the birds, and they alone were remarkably numerous. Over 300 total works were on display. I enjoyed meeting merchandising entrepreneur Brandon Craig who does the new Medicina shirts on my way out, as I’ve also been known to dabble in lowbrow fashion and the commerce thereof.

Night was complete with a snack and cocktail from the pretty patio of Cafe’ 640 next door, while I stared into the face of my true love. Thinking to myself: I have to agree with Mr. Poventud’s earlier gruff-voiced whisper of a statement to me, “I love my life.”

Next Ponce Crush is May 7th (FIRST SATURDAYS!), when I’ll be a bit busy – day after I get married in the American Riviera, Santa Barbara, California. But I’ll definitely be there for June 4th. Please help support local art and this movement that matters.

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Athens Burning (and rising)

Man, I saw the Pixies – my favorite band at that time and still one of my all-time favs – at the GA Theatre. And I saw rapper Ice T and the legendary Colonel Bruce and a quirky band called Phish (for $4) and those intense Austinites called the Butthole Surfers and a little hippie band called Widespread Panic. I saw the DAWGS lose and win on the big screen there while Larry Munson gravel-spoke to rally the troops and intensify the pain of the fans. I danced and sweated and laughed and loved. GATH was part of college, and college was a big part of my life. And tonight I walked up the block and saw a great little documentary at the historic Atlanta movie theater, The Plaza, on Ponce. This piece of art, entitled ATHENS BURNING, documented the rise and fall of that classic venue in the Classic City. When it burned, nearly to the ground, a piece of ourselves died. But the Athens community and the dedicated will of those whom would not stop believing have made it happen. Georgia Theatre shall rise again, to new heights. Any fan of the heralded Athens, GA music scene should see this fun film.

My 1st Critical Mass

I used to be a super-sharp dressing and fast-talking parking and transportation regional operations manager, planner and staff writer. Did that relatively obscure mess for eight long years, until I suddenly walked the F out and then wandered Cali for half a summer and wrote a book about it.

I came to know and love trains in that former line of business and had always envisioned myself as this New York-San Francisco-type urbanist, who had never lived outside of the Southern United States of America and lived periodically in suburbs, country, small cities. I’d always liked the notion of not driving everywhere, never drove until I was around 25, and don’t drive now again and am simply much happier and calmer because of it. I guess you could say that I dance to the beat of a different drummer than most of y’all around here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I moved to the Classic City of Athens, GA for school in 1990, I finally found a society where I could fully thrive without getting rides. I walked or rode my bike everywhere I went, and I was constantly on the go and in the know, you know. I managed the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew, threw epic parties, played basketball everyday, ate at T-stand, lived off campus, watched the Dawgs, met a few cute girls and Michael Stipe, made some new friends I’d always cherish, even studied some. More than anything, I had fun.

At age 40, I’ve finally seen my ATL gain some ground on the rest of the world in terms of becoming a bike-able city. I recently purchased a new-used bike myself, and on my first free Friday in, like, years, I joined up with my dear buddies Angel Poventud and Jason Jarrett and a cast of hundreds at Downtown’s Woodruff Park for my first ever Critical Mass.

My bike’s back wheel didn’t hold up as well as my rickety-old-still-an-athlete body did, as we rode long and far and saw nearly every neighborhood this urbanity has to offer. Beautiful homes, rundown shacks, smiling faces, confused stares, honks, children greeting us warmly and feeling a part of something big while watching from their yards. Happy Friday is the call and the response is universally pretty good, though some people did want us out of their always SUV automobilized wrong of way. Even that’s okay; they are getting an education at least. We are here. We care. We ride. Happy Friday, indeed.

Appliance Smashing Party

I was famous in Cobb County for my graduation party.

Hanfest was – and by all known accounts still is – the largest graduation party in county history, so I understood the spotlight a good party could shine on a host and his host committee before I ever attended the nation’s oldest state chartered public university in Athens. The spotlight has benefits.

We, my three roommates and I, lived in an old rundown grey tarpaper house simply called Chase. In Athens, GA, party houses are affectionately entitled after the streets they are on, and Chase was nothing if not a party house. Chase eventually became synonymous with a row of several houses that shared a common gravel backyard, but back then it was primarily just us: Neilma, Weiss, Boggs and me.

Over a year before, Rogers had brought me by Chase after my first day of classes at UGA and introduced me to his roommates. It turned out I’d met one of them on a previous visit to the Classic City, the former Washington DC diplomat brat Chris Boggs – still to this day one of my closest friends.

For a year, I bounced around from Nantahala to Boulevard, to back home in Marietta with an overdrawn bank account, maxed out Discover card and a myriad of minor health issues stemming from a freshman year of college noteworthy mainly for an abundance of excesses.

Two months in Marietta was more than enough to recover and return in time to collect my financial aid and start back at work with the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew. Consistently depressed and seeking, Rogers decided he’d had enough of the roommate wars at Chase and moved out, following the lead of his longtime Statesboro friend Kevin. Two rooms had recently opened up at Chase. Mookie had claimed one and I eagerly claimed the other. Boggs and Mookie and I had a mostly good time as roomies, until the collections agents were after the Mookster so hard for his rampant purchases that he figured it best to flee the scene and change addresses.

My good buddy from Marietta, Dave Weiss, was new in town and needed a place to stay, so he took over for Mook. And his friend Neilma desperately wanted in on our fun, so he moved into a large closet behind the yellow couch in the living room. Had to knock to be let out.

That part of town, you see, what is now called the Historic Boulevard District, was full of houses with revolving doors. Roommates moved in. Roommates moved out. Rent was cheap and every situation was temporary.

Resultant, the appliances were everywhere. You weren’t sure if the old toaster worked or where it came from, but you knew it must belong to one of your roommates, so you let it be. Then a funny thing occurred to me. I was watching a video by the Art of Noise called Close (to the Edit), an old favorite where they smash up pianos musically with power tools. Great stuff. We could gather and smash some crap for fun, make a theme party of it.

So we spread the word around the neighborhood and gathered stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Washers, dryers, toasters, microwaves, a whole wall of broken television sets. And we cleaned our house and went out and recruited an assortment of friends and casual acquaintances and hot girls to join in or at least watch, and later perhaps sleep over.

And the Butthole Surfers was heavily cranking through my open bedroom window as the melee ensued. A freak in safety goggles pushed a broken lawnmower through the crowd of exhibitionists destroying the old appliances. An empty keg found its way into the TV screens. I was kicking my thrift store wingtips into this and that hunk of junk until there was nothing left but rubble. Rubble. We smashed it all into tiny bits of rubble. It was pure poetry.