March 2008


“Why do cats feel compelled to bring dead prey into the house?
Returning with the spoils of the hunt is their way of proudly bringing back a gift to their guardian. Normally, cats see us as a parent figure, but when they present gifts of prey, they see us as their kittens. Accept the gift graciously and properly dispose of it. Big cats in the wild present prey to others in their den as a social gesture. Perhaps they prefer to share it in safety where chances of theft are slim.” Found on



Photo by Zuade Kaufman for Truthdig.

I read on Truthdig yesterday a very honest rant from Gore Vidal in reaction to a comment made by the son of the late William F. Buckley about his father’s relationship to Vidal. What struck me while reading the story was Vidal’s total lack of concern for the effect his extremely blunt criticism of Bluckley’s character so soon after his death may have on Buckley’s mourning relatives and friends… who, as I think about it, probably don’t have Truthdig in their Favorites websites and may not have heard of the story. I definitely enjoyed Mr. Vidal’s bluntness but is it a case where he could have withheld his anger a little longer? Do we or do we not owe the dead special respect?

To read Gore Vidal’s piece, click here.

Click here to read the full story.


Photo found on

 “Thursday, a large spotted eagle ray jumped into a moving boat off the Florida Keys and killed a woman on deck. Alex Chadwick talks to fish ecologist Tracey Sutton about the bizarre attack.”

Now that’s what you would call an unpredictable death.

Click here for full story from NPR‘s Day to Day.

Pre-Zan days for Rosanna Esparza of East LA.
(This interview was originally published on on March 17, 2008.)

I first met artist Rosanna Esparza Ahrens in early November of 2007 at the El Gallo Cafe when East LA was preparing for Dias de los Muertos. Rosanna is Sticky Rick’s Artistic Director, a business created by her husband Rick Ahrens to connect the world’s stickiest artists and provide them with their sticker printing needs. Rosanna and I met again recently at her home in her native East Los Angeles. This interview is the result of these two encounters.

TACO: By mistake I just went to meet you across the street at the El Gallo Bakery, but as soon as I entered the bakery I realized this was no mistake, I was totally swooned over by the sweet aroma and the welcome of a very unlikely character who tempted me to bite into, not an apple, but a voluptuous piece of bread. There was something blatantly erotic in that act. It was as if Death was challenging me to bite into flesh i.e. live fully! I’ve heard people say Dias de los Muertos is for people obssessed with death but this character seemed awfully alive to me… and definitely naughty!


Rosanna Esparza Ahrens: I hear this too. But death is not something you can avoid, it’s all around us. Look, the El Gallo Cafe where we are sitting right now is an old mortuary! (Laughs)


Blue Calavera by RoZANna.

TACO: There is a puzzling prevalence of skull imagery everywhere in LA, in fashion, bumper stickers, advertisement etc. but most of it is aggressive and charged. Your skulls are so incredibly peaceful. You come from a family of artists whose body of work spring mostly from the Day of the Dead tradition. Tell us about this early influence.

REA: My grandmother made her roots here from Mexico, she never called herself an artist but she truly was one. Her art was cooking and cake-making, she was the go to person for wedding cakes, any kind of cakes. She also drew. She made all these paper decorations, flowers, garlands for her Nativity installations at home. My grandmother made four altars a year, one for was for Sabado de Gloria, the Saturday before Easter and this one was always white representing the Resurrection; one for Dia de los Muertos, the other one was for Our Lady of Guadalupe which is December 12, and the fourth altar was for her Nacimiento or the Nativity installation. Except for the Nacimiento, my grandmother’s altars were not big, they were just little niches up on the wall or on a table but their presence was always felt. On the other hand the nativity scene was a monumental altar which filled the whole living room, with everything to scale from Jesus, Mary and Joseph to dinosaurs and alligators. (laughs!)

My grandma collected figurines, they’ve been in the family for more than 70 years, some were imported from Italy, they’re beautiful. She also had little pieces from Mexico. My grandma would make the nativity scene look like it took place in Mexico. It never looked like Bethlehem, I mean they weren’t Hebrews, they were Mexicans! (laughs) My grandfather would build terraced platforms and lots of little villages. My mom, Ofelia, started painting backdrops on big canvas that looked like the night sky cityscape of Mexico City or Guadalajara.


Artist Ofelia Esparza in front of the altar she designed for the 2007 Pico House’s art exhibit: “Sacred memory: honoring the dead across cultures.” Ofelia told me the altar wasn’t truly completed until you lit the candles. But the fire regulations of the ancient Pico House prevented her from lighting them.


eebo.jpg“By the late 1880s, the boom had peaked, and some of the dream of a new city East of Los Angeles had given way to concessions to certain other kinds of settlers. The black labor force settled into the East side, as did Italians, who would build much of the houses during the time, Germans and French, followed by the Russian Molokans and Armenians, who were fleeing the horrors of terror and repression in their respective homelands. The small pockets of Chinese and Japanese families that didn’t live in Little Tokyo or new Chinatown were also in East L.A., and Mexicans who had survived the push east were still very much a growing presence. Several years before, during the height of the first wave of xenophobia, the city fathers found it appropriate to move the local graveyard, far too close to the civic center, and for sanitation purposes, out to a then remote locale in East Los Angeles. Thus, the Evergreen Cemetery was established, and remains the resting site of many of the new settlers of East L.A.” From

It’s Sunday afternoon and I feel called to walk among our brave “early settlers” at the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles County as if one of them extended a personal invitation in my sleeping hours. As soon as I get out of my car and follow the paved road I wonder what I’m doing here. Suddenly I feel ashamed of my own oddity when I realize there is no one around., except a few young men who park themselves around a tomb with folding chairs and stereo. I say hello but I shy away from my desire to connect with the 3 in a city of millions who, like me, choose to spend their Sunday afternoon in a place which feels at this moment terribly empty when you have no living or dead one with whom to share it.




I want to take a closer look at this beautiful statue I see in the background. I yearn to console and be consoled too. Whoever called me in to visit this place didn’t stay to welcome me.

Click here for more.


January 01, 2008

“The nineteenth century was an era of significant change for Santa Catalina Island. The Island was host to Spanish ships, Native Americans, Russian and Aleutian otter hunters, miners, ranchers, and a company of Union soldiers. As the century drew to a close the Island’s history took an interesting turn when the fishermen and sheepherders were joined by entrepreneurs with the foresight and vision to develop the Island into a resort community. ”



“At the time of first European contact, it is thought that the people living on Santa Catalina Island called their island Pimu and themselves Pimungans (or Pimuvit). They were excellent seamen and paddled their plank canoes skillfully across the sometimes treacherous channel to trade. After Spanish colonization, their apparently flourishing population declined drastically with the introduction of new diseases to which they had little immunity. As the mission system altered the economic landscape of Southern California, the Pimungans’ trade and social networks were disrupted.”




“In the aftermath of this enormous culture shock, their society could no longer sustain itself. By the mid-1820s, the few Pimungans left had migrated or were moved to the mainland. The Pimungans, along with other Native American groups that were in the sphere of influence of Mission San Gabriel, came to be referred to in the European community as Gabrielinos. There are people living in the Southern California area today who have Gabrielinos among their ancestors. Some are actively involved in researching and preserving their traditional culture.”

Click here for full essay.


Keirin Brown (L,) Olya Petrakova (standing), Bryan Brown and Ilana Turner. All photos by Taso Papadakis.

After literally feeling your way to a seat in the pitch dark theater, you hear actors moving about on stage, feeling that anytime now the lights should shine. The performers sound like they’re shoveling dirt, but you really don’t know, as you can’t even see your hand one inch in front of your eyes. Strangers next to you are antsy. “Lights please!” Despite a few audience complaints, whoever is on stage goes about their dirty business, echoing machines from the dawn of the industrial era or maybe the monster hiding in your closet, whose sole purpose is to get you.

“TURN THE LIGHTS ON!” spectators are now shouting. Sharing my peers’ mounting anxiety, I also jubilate in witnessing the house stand up for its rights, holding cell phones over their heads like torches. The American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory has struck again!


These 10 minutes of revolutionary theater was ARTEL’s way of kissing 2006 goodbye. Last December, the provocative ensemble folded 2007 with a two-night presentation of their work-in-progress: Variation #50 (the memorable adventures during the legendary times of Mikhail Afanesievich Bulgakov) at Highways Performance Space.

Click here for the full review.