Saturday, October 6, 2007

Chillin' in da BLQ

The Militant was driving home after work on Saturday evening when he passed in the vicinity of the landmark Agaean blue neon sign bearing the name of the community's name: "Byzantine - Latino Quarter." Having not been here in a while, the Militant figured, "What the Hellas?" and decided to drop by for a visit.

The hungy Militant got a bite to eat at the most popular eatery in the area, Papa Cristo's Taverna, where, seated at a table with an Agaean blue checkered pattern tablecloth, he enjoyed a tasty gyro and a spanikopita while reading this week's LA Weekly (and finally coming to the conclusion that the only thing worth reading in that paper is the Pulitzer prize-winning Jonathan Gold). He also bade his time watching the Metro Local line 30 and 31 buses zip by through the window like a moving picture frame as well as observing the fellow clientele getting their Greek grub on - A Filipino couple, a trio of middle-aged Greek dudes having a chat, visitors from the La Brea Tarpits' Page Museum (still wearing their museum guest stickers), and a table of black, Asian and Latina women, all sharing laughs and exchanging stories with one another...okay, so the Militant had his eye on one of them.

After leaving the restaurant and its adjoining market, C&K Importing Company, which has been at the Pico-Normandie corner since 1948, the Militant wanted to take a little walk around the neighborhood and explore more of the Latino side of the area. Walking westbound, he passed a large Central American market, a taco truck parked on the corner, and another market, sharing the sidewalk space with the cris-crossing pedestrian traffic - 40-something men at the taco truck chatting in Spanish, a group of teenagers standing in front of a market chatting in English, all during that crucial time of the day when the setting sun yields way to the purplish sky, ready to transition into the dark of night. But here in the city, the sky remains bright.

Before even venturing a full block, the Militant headed in the other direction because the amount of streetlife, and open businesses, suddenly tapered off at that point. The Militant crossed Pico to step into the aesthetically-pleasing (and rather immaculate) pocket park, built about a decade ago as part of a Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative project, which helped name the area and furthermore develop empowerment among its residents and revitalization among its businesses. But though the BLQ name is a known entity among the neighborhood and in the state (Caltrans put up freeway signs for the BLQ off of the 10's Normandie exit), it is not an officially-designated community in the City of Los Angeles, or at least yet.

The park (pictured right) had locals sitting on the dark green street furniture, some waiting for the Metro Local line 206 bus, others just chillin'. A four-sided clock stood as a practical landmark for the park, which looked like something straight out of Europe (okay, more like Mediterranean Europe, because of the palm trees), or even Latin America., or any other country really where public space is celebrated and not disdained. The park lies in the shadow of an eight-story public storage building (of which the neon sign is situated upon) and bears a large "angels" mural with the neighborhood's motto:

"We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other."

On the other side of Normandie stands two churches - St, Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and St. Thomas The Apostle Catholic Church, both quiet on this Saturday evening but will be ready for a busy day tomorrow. On the north side of Pico in that direction, the Militant strolled by another market, an El Salvadoran pupuseria, a small Mexican restaurant, a religious bookstore and a sporting goods store. There were even some Korean businesses along Pico and a few Korean locals walking down the street as well, adding to the cultural mix of the neighborhood.

As far as pedestrian activity, the BLQ has it down right. Next time, the Militant will visit the area Militant-style (it's both a bikeable distance and the 206 runs not too far from the compound) and check out some of the other restaurants. In the meantime, the Militant bids the BLQ a kalinishta and a buenas noches.


Laurie said...

They used to call it Pico-Union and it had a bad reputation. Thank you for a new picture of the neighborhood.

Militant Angeleno said...

Laurie: There's still a Pico-Union, which is located closer to...the intersection of Pico and Union. The BLQ was considered part of Pico-Union but has since forged its own identity because of neighborhood activism and awareness/appreciation of its existing institutions. Besides, it's rather far from the real heart of Pico-Union - a couple miles to the east - which is working on its own sort of revitalization.

philpalm said...

Actually the area used to be a part of Mid city. Joseph Wambauch described the Greek area in one of his fictional books.

Speaking of crime one store west of the Greek restuarant, a Guatemala styled store had a customer boasting of his crime. The other customer scoffed at him so he returned with the grisly evidence...