Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Nancy & Rudy's Barrio Newsletter

La Bloga happily brings you news from a couple of friends. I won't do a long bio here; I'll let Nancy's piece introduce her and her old man, Rudy, to you. A few years back, the Chicano Moratorium Committee recognized Rudy as one of the key supporters of the younger organizers in the movimiento. The link above is a video of that, and you'll catch a glimpse of Nancy as the titles roll. Nancy also put together an art show that dislayed their collection of movimiento memorabilia. You can see this at

Enjoy reading about Lincoln Heights, LA. It's Your Town, USA, que no? A ver...

June 21, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Summer!! From El Chicano and La Gringa

Here we are again. No politics this time, just plain ole Barrio living. It took us a little time to recover mentally and physically from the mayoral election, we didn't leave the house for days. So let us share a quieter, calmer side of our life.
Well, we didn't quite make the record of being the wettest season on record in LA. It wasn't because the weather newscasters weren't hoping for it. They were all practically doing the rain dance so they could report about being the wettest season on record. Now, so quickly, we are in the dry, dangerous fire season.
The rains this winter have done amazing things to our tiny garden. The fig tree is heavy with early growth fruit. We just picked our first fig of the season. It was huge. As big as an avocado. Dark, purple brown and so sweet.
The oranges on our tree are larger and sweeter than I can ever remember in my 23 years of living in this house. The Austrian wine grapes vines are loaded with tiny bunches of green grapes. The cactus -- ayee, the cactus -- our nopales are alive and healthy, and giving a good crop of tender, crisp pencas to eat. Lacking a bell pepper or green beans, it is so convenient to go out in the backyard, cut off a cactus pad, scrape off the stickers, and sauté the cut up cactus with eggs, or throw a handful in the salad, or chili sauce -- what ever --it makes a very handy, nutritious vegetable and gives a unique, tart flavor.
Our Swiss chard plants grew to be over 6' tall. We couldn't eat it all, and the neighbors weren't interested in it. EAT YOUR GREENS!! We hope you didn't poison the dandelions in your yard this spring, and instead picked a big bunch to eat. Ours have pretty much gone to seed so now we are waiting for the amaranth (quelites) and purslane (verdolagas) to get big enough to harvest. So many good things to eat -- all coming up wild! I love to prowl around the garden looking for the freshest greens or vegetables to pick and cook each day. (And Rudy follows after me to make sure I don't pick something prematurely.)
A few weeks ago the snails came slithering out of the bushes. They are the largest in memory. They are worthy of a fine French restaurant serving escargot. It's very disappointing though, to come out in the morning and find the tender new plants that were just planted the day before gone -- disappeared --simply vanished. Sometimes there was a silvery, telltale trail leading from the garden back into the bushes where the snails live.
Rudy has developed so many natural ways to fight the bugs, insects. The garden is littered with orange peels. If the artist Cristo can hang orange fabric gates in Central Park, Rudy can decorate his garden with the little, bright orange cups of orange peels. He carefully arranges them around each tiny plant.
We also put tea leaves around the base of the plants. Urine is used to keep the cats away. Whatever works. If the sowbugs are chewing up a squash plant Rudy gives them a corn cob to chew on instead.
And eggs!? Rudy dries our left over egg shells then crushes them for the garden. They add lime to the earth. In fact, Rudy even has our neighbor, Luz, cooperating and saving her egg shells for our garden. She has a unique way of breaking them. She opens one end just large enough to pour out the egg. Then she lines the shells up on top of the chain link fence between our two yards for Rudy to find. Everybody's an artist!! Around here.
The wildflowers coming up everywhere in the garden have been so bright and beautiful and colorful -- pretty weeds! And it's amazing, Mother Nature seems to actually have her own color palette. First the intense yellow and orange poppies and calendulas covered the front and back yard among the cactus. They have gone to seed and there is now a bloom of shades of pink, purple, lavender, blue larkspur, sage, etc. They are all so beautiful but Rudy gets very exasperated and impatient with them. All those pretty flowers growing wild take up space in the garden where he thinks vegetables should be planted. Soon, Rudy. Soon. They will go to seed soon, then I can pull them out. The rain has made amazing things grow. Flower seeds that have lain dormant in the soil for years are sprouting. In fact, in the newspaper there was an article about a flower found growing in one of our California National Forests that had been thought extinct for over 60 years.
It is becoming more and more difficult each year for Rudy to dig up the garden for planting. He says he is now a ruco. He can do a couple of feet of digging a day - slowly, slowly -- but that is enough. Our vegetable garden is more random each year. We let the seeds grow more or less where they sprout by themselves. For instance, four zucchini squash plants crown the compost pile. And there is another unrecognizable plant growing in the compost. Hopefully it is a potato plant. We shall see. The Mystery of the Missing Chili Peppers??? It's funny how the mind works. Our neighbor is following our example and has been preparing a plot in their back yard to plant chili pepper plants. They brought in a big 5-gallon container filled with many chili pepper plants to transplant and left it in their backyard by the fence between our two yards. In the meantime I had started pepper plants (ours are bell peppers) from seed in little pots which we had just transplanted in Rudy's newly dug garden plot. So far so good. But then the neighbor's chili plants disappeared! The neighbors asked us if we had seen anyone come into their yard and take their plants, as they looked over the fence at our 14 newly planted pepper plants.
Oh my, we hope they didn't suspect US! Then we began to feel so guilty, even though we know we didn't take them. Strange how the mind works. Sure hope they solve the mystery soon and let us know.
(Much later we learned that one of the neighbor's daughters took the chili plants. She even said that Rudy saw her do it. Really? But Rudy doesn't remember.) Our Thompson seedless grape vines are luxurious with big green leaves and long tendrils stretching out covering the fence on one side of the yard -- but no grapes. Too much water, do you think? Ah well -- the grape vine makes a great leafy screen between us and the neighbors.
And speaking of leafy -- we have discovered a new, leafy green vegetable growing right here in our backyard. This year we have several brussel sprouts and broccoli plants. The brussel sprouts are a little slow on producing those little round "cabbages" but they have plenty of big dark green leaves and stems. Rudy insisted we try some of the leaves. Now that's not exactly a vegetable you will find in your local supermarket. And few city folks probably grow them. I searched through my cookbooks and garden books but couldn't find anything about cooking and eating the leaves and stems. But they do come from the cabbage family and look a bit like kale. So I cooked up a batch, sort of using ingredients like some old fashioned southern soul food: garlic, onions, sausage, vinegar. Wow -- were they good! And they don't melt down like spinach or chard. They stay sort of crisp (though that's not the right word). And since they are so dark green they are probably loaded with good vitamins. Next we are going to cook up the broccoli leaves.
We don't have many vegetable or fruit plants growing but never the less we feel so wealthy having what we have. We don't need much. Meals are planned around what is currently ready to harvest. Sometimes I get impatient waiting for them to slowly develop but Rudy gets very upset when they are picked prematurely. Sometimes the bugs get there first.
Our garden is so full of life -- maybe too much so. Rudy has been stung several times by the many bees that live in our yard. He seems to be becoming immune to the sting bites.
The tiny green hummingbird flits all around. We have lots of birds coming into the yard this year. For the last several years here haven't been many and we were beginning to think that the birds couldn't survive in our modern day urban setting anymore. Rudy has a bird feeding station and a bath all set up for them which they use.
I was just asked about chayotes. Our vine is producing again. It is such a prolific plant. They are such a unique and healthy vegetable (they are a fruit really) and so versatile to use.
Chayotes are a good source of vitamin C, low in sodium, high in potassium and low in calories.
They can be used dozens of ways but I usually just steam them. Cut one chayote in half with the skin on, steam until soft, - then Rudy and I each have a little boat to eat out of. Just add a little butter, salt and pepper and scoop out the flesh. Very good.
Roxie tells me she puts whole chayotes in the microwave to cook part way (sort of like par-boiling) because chayotes take a while to cook. If you try it be sure to poke some steam holes in the chayote before you microwave it.
Chayotes go great in soup, or sautéed with eggs. Or stuffed. The flavor is subtle but very fresh tasting. Recipes usually all call for throwing away the pit or seed, but really that's the cook's treat. The cooked seed has a nice nutty flavor.
The other day I was talking over the fence to our neighbor's visiting daughter who lives up north in a small farming town. She was commenting on how noisy LA was to her. Yes ' our city, our Barrio, has a vibrating pulse. Here in Lincoln Heights, on Altura Street, there is a rhythm to the pulsing sound.
On Monday mornings we are awakened by the noise of the big, lumbering city dump trucks as they slowly work their way up and down the street emptying each of our trash barrels into their trucks. They come by 3 times on each side of the street ? one time for each of our trash cans. Each household has 3 trash buckets; blue for paper, green for yard/plant stuff, and black for the rest of the trash. Then, every other week, the gardener comes by early to trim the grass all up and down the street. You know when he arrives by the loud roar of his grass cutter. During the middle of the day there is a lull in the noise -- a quiet time -- the occasional car driving by, maybe the noise of an electric saw as someone does some carpentry. Music may be softly playing. Then in the afternoon when the kids get out of school the old Barrio comes alive for a few hours. The kids across the street play ball in the street dodging between the cars. The Chinese kids play their Chinese language videos. And the little ones run and scream, squeal and cry when the older kids knock them down. The fire engines go screeching by. The helicopter drones as it circles overhead.
There is a rhythm to life.
Then as evening nears the Mexican/Chinese music begins across the Barrio.
Nighttime is quiet as everyone sleeps -- this is a neighborhood of people who are early to bed and early to rise.
The lonely quiet of the night is broken by the thunder of the freight trains as they bring cargo into LA. The sound echoes for blocks across the sleeping barrio. Occasionally there is the sound of gunfire in the wee hours of the night, then the helicopter wakes us up as it goes round and round endlessly looking for the source of the gunfire.
The constant hum of the nearby freeway flows behind all the other sounds, but then, very early in the morning before the sun rises, the hum grows louder and louder as people begin to drive to work. A new day dawns and the cycle repeats.
Layer upon layer of sound -- vibrations. Chirping twitterpated birds, howling cats, barking dogs, children calling, people talking, cars rushing by, sirens blaring, trains wailing, drills drilling, phones ringing (who's phone is that ? is our phone ringing?), helicopters droning, Pop goes the Weasel over and over (from the ice cream truck), the tinkling bell of the corn vendor when he walks by, the Lincoln High school band practicing (boom, boom, boom), city maintenance trucks rumbling, the sound of a window opening or closing (our neighbor has come home), the neighbor's toilet being flushed, the refrigerator humming, the freeway ?.. We are alive! The sounds escalate until they are all blended into their own melody -- a rhythm, a pulse of our daily lives.
So is it noisy? Gee, I don't know -- I would have to stop and listen.
All that background of sound can be comforting. I do know that it is eerie when a fog blankets the LA basin and deadens all the sounds. Now that is spooky.
So close your eyes and listen. What is the pulse of your life?
We went to another Clanton Social Club dance recently. That is the affair held 3 or 4 times a year for the 80+ year old group who all grew up together in South Central LA. Rudy and I have missed the last couple of dances because he wasn't feeling well. But for this dance all the rucos were calling each other to see who was going.
Rudy wanted to go but was just not feeling up to the effort. Finally he pushed himself to get ready and off we went. Rudy had to go see the Homies. I drove.
The dances have been held in the social hall of St. Hilary Catholic Church in Pico Rivera for the last several years. The music for the tardeada dance (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. so no one has to drive in the dark) has been provided by Bob Bergara and his band all these years. Bob, his long, grey hair in a pony tail, has aged along with the dancers. All the folks, Rudy and I among them, all come limping slowly up to the hall, arthritis/pacemakers/stints/hip-knee replacement -whatever. But when the band starts playing those old tunes from the 40's and 50's the old bodies of the rucos and rucas begin to vibrate, swaying to the music. Soon the juices are up and flowing, the dance floor is filled with elegant old couples doing the Swing, spinning the ladies around like tops. True, they move a bit slower than they used to, but the rhythm is still there.
The years literally slide away.. Then there is the romantic music, dancing cheek to cheek. The saxophone wailing. "Unforgettable". (That's a song, you young folks.) During breaks in the music everyone reconnects, testing each other's memories about people and places from their youth. But sadly conversations about the old neighborhood are becoming more limited as time passes and memories fade away.
Rudy came alive and wanted to energetically dance almost every dance. The adrenaline was flowing throughout the room.
But, oh those aching bones the next day!!! The committee of original Clanton members who organize the dances has dwindled -- there are only about 20 some folks left and they are mostly women. Remember, they are all over 80 years old. In fact, we noticed that attendance at this dance was down. Usually the hall is so crowded that it is difficult to find a table to sit at. As the years have gone by the Clanton dances have been attended by folks from all the barrios of Los Angeles and by the younger generations. There is no “Clanton” area of LA anymore, or the “Hooper Ave.” boys that Rudy was part of, or the “7th Street” or “Mateo” barrios. Those old neighborhoods are long gone and many of the homeboys have gone to meet their maker. They are only a shadow of a memory fast fading. The neighborhoods are now industrial areas.
The dances lift the spirits of the rucos and rucas. They talk, reminisce, and listen and dance to the music of their era. They go back in time and relive their past and temporarily forget their aches and pains.
Here it is still June but the neighborhood is already gearing up for the chaos of 4th of July here in the Barrio. Fire works go off sporadically here and there. One of my neighbors has contacted our local City Councilman's office about the fire danger to this old neighborhood so we shall see what happens. We will be here with our garden hose ready. HAPPY, SAFE & SANE 4TH OF JULY to you all.

Love and peace, Rudy and Nancy Tovar


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Anonymous said...

Varrio Clanton won't never die out,too many loyal camaradas that make this varrio unique,varrio Clanton gave life too other varrios.

Anonymous said...

Varrio Clanton won't never die out,too many loyal camaradas that make this varrio unique,varrio Clanton gave life too other varrios.