Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

One Hundred One

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Back in June my wife and I flew down to Los Angeles to attend the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. This is the annual event put on by the dynamic duo Heidi Durrow and Fanshen Cox, whom I wrote about back in April. The festival took place at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, downtown Los Angeles. Little Tokyo is just one Metro light rail stop away from Olvera Street which commemorates the original site of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula.

CIMG1180Olvera Street isn’t literally the spot where Los Angeles was founded as a dusty little village in 1781 but it’s not far. It does contain the oldest remaining house in the city, the Avila Adobe. The city maintains Olvera Street as its historic district so it is bedecked with historical markers and the look and feel of old Mexico. It’s bustling with tourists, but across the street is a quiet little patch of grass, Father Serra Park.

It is a tribute to Junipero Serra of course and has a statue of El Padre Presidente holding a cross and a tiny mission. A few yards away is an El Camino Real bell. I had a vague recollection that there might be something special about this bell, and when we got home, I confirmed it. This is the first El Camino Real bell.

CIMG1182Sadly that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The first bell was placed by Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes on the other side of Olvera Street in front of the Plaza Church on August 15, 1906. That original bell hasn’t survived but a new bell was dedicated in the same location in 1998. To celebrate the centennial of that first bell, the Father Serra Park bell was erected on August 15, 2006. Read the L.A. Times’ story about the centennial celebration here on the web site of the California Bell Company which continues to forge the bells over a century later. I regret that we didn’t get over to the church to see the original bell site, but this centennial bell is very special in its own right.

As you can see from the photos, it was getting dark while we were in the park and we had to skedaddle before our light rail passes expired. The next day we took the $0.25 LA DOT DASH bus (“dot dash”…get it?) from our hotel in Chinatown back to Little Tokyo for the second day of the festival. I knew the shuttle was going to pass in front of the Junipero Serra statue so I held my camera phone up to the bus window to try to snap a picture in passing, just for fun. As we drove past this is the picture I got:
It’s basically a picture of the sun through a gap in the trees. Somehow the sun, the Earth, me, my camera, Junipero Serra, and the centennial bell all lined up perfectly in the split second my finger released the shutter aboard a moving bus. It’s not much of a photo but it was a thrilling moment. Illumination can come when you least expect it.

Academic Decathlon Gold

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Photo credit: Robert Durell for the L.A. Times, from L.A. Now.

El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California, won the gold medal in the United States Academic Decathlon national championship held in Omaha, Nebraska last month.  With this victory they set a new record for the most championships for a school: six. The competitions have been held since 1982. California dominates this sport, having produced the last eight winners and seventeen overall.

Woodland Hills is a district of Los Angeles, located in the San Fernando Valley. The high school is about a mile north of U.S. 101, A.K.A. El Camino Real. Under Spanish rule this area was under the sway of Mission San Fernando Rey de España, founded in 1797 by Father Fermín Lasuén during a particularly prolific period when he founded four missions in four months to fill in gaps along El Camino Real.

The  U.S. Academic Decathlon or USAD is a grueling competition where teams of nine high school students are tested in ten categories:

  • Art
  • Economics
  • Essay
  • Interview
  • Language and Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Science
  • Social Science
  • Speech

The theme for this season was “The French Revolution.” A surprising twist is that the members of the team must include three with an “A” grade point average (“Honor” students), three with a “B” GPA (“Scholastic” students), and three with a “C” average or lower (“Varsity” students). The idea is to encourage teamwork. This rule is a pragmatic recognition that grades don’t tell the whole story when it comes to a student’s ability, and the effect is to foster a diverse team dynamic that makes the experience more enriching for everyone. Contestants have been known to purposely wreck their grades to compete as ringers and that’s unethical and short-sighted.

America Ferrera Peter BradyEl Camino Real High (“ECR”) is a powerhouse but this is the first championship for these particular students and coaches. There’s something endemic in their program which produces winners. They prepare all year, studying 7 days a week for up to 6 hours a day. The school does well in other academic and cultural competitions too, but they’re not just about the brainiacs. Their notable alumni include America Ferrera and Christopher Knight. Yeah, Peter Brady.

Congratulations to the El Camino Real Conquistadores (unfortunate choice of mascot) for this unprecedented success. It’s really inspiring to see young people work so hard and achieve that level of excellence.