NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT NEW MEXICO: NEW BOOK CHAT WITH THE LATINA DAVID SEDARIS

This article originally appeared on Pyragraph.com

Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 12.11.46 PM.png

In 2007, Marcella and I ran the Daily Lobo culture desk together in Albuquerque, NM. She was technically my boss and we turned our pages inside-out with our adventures in creative content. We once scored VIP tix and backstage passes to a Gypsy Kings concert down in El Paso and ditched out early from the paper to drive down — in an auditorium of makeshift seating, we were literally the only two people in a room of a thousand who were authorized to dance standing up. We really wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible behind the rigid training of a student-run University of New Mexico beacon of journalistic excellence (ha. ha.). Today they don’t even publish physical papers every day, and I’m pretty sure its descended into madness, but that’s what every outgoing staff member thinks of their successors.

I’ve since turned my zine The Nightly Noodle Monthly, formerly based in Albuquerque, into a publishing company and our first book we’re publishing is a debut essay novel by Cuba, NM native Marcella Ortega, who, based on how she wraps her home life in self-deprecating dry humor and colorfully illustrates the charm and depravity of a one-horse town, we’re billing as the Latina David Sedaris.

Eva Avenue: Why are you writing this book?

Marcella Ortega: It’s mostly just to entertain myself and my friends. I’ve always gravitated toward people who are caricatures of themselves and I really enjoy recounting experiences that aren’t necessarily funny in the moments of their happening, they could even be painful or really embarrassing but ultimately they’re strangely satisfying to look back on.

What is your “unfair advantage” in writing this book?

Obviously, I’ve never seen a New Mexican woman my age accurately portrayed in any form of media, ever—Not that I can  even claim I’m accurately portraying New Mexican women my age cause I don’t think most of them have an inclination towards anxiety and picking up hobos and getting fired from jobs and partaking in such debauchery yet I also feel like New Mexicans have a very rich sense of humor cause we are pretty much nothing in mainstream culture, there’s kind of a certain level, in being excluded, we’re not self-conscious. We don’t worry about how we’re being stereotyped, all we are is ourselves. Our culture here, it’s so specific and the isolation forces you to have a strengthened sense of entertaining yourself. A strengthened sense of comedy. Like, you can’t take yourself seriously when you’re a Northern New Mexican who lives in the mountains and our history is just so strange. But I guess some people do take themselves too seriously and that makes it funny as well.

Hobo vodka smaller cover.jpg

How is New Mexico’s culture unique from both Mexico and the United States?

Its’ funny, in terms of its culture, and I’m referring strictly to Northern New Mexico, it doesn’t have any Mexican influence. There’s no “Mexican influence.” We have Spanish and Native American influence, and the Spanish influenced Mexican culture simultaneously, like at the same time it was influencing ours. So this is really confusing to people and when I explain I’m not Mexican they think I’m trying to put Mexicans down and front that I’m Spanish. It’s just that I’m literally not Mexican; it’s as inaccurate as referring to me as a Puerto Rican. My great-grandparents are a mix of Native Americans from local tribes (Apaches, Navajos, Pueblo, etc.) and Spaniards. To put it simply, our culture is distinguished by the traditions of the native cultures of the area as opposed to those of South America, as well as the fact that the Spanish settlers remained isolated in this region for nearly two centuries. The Spanish my mom and grandparents speak is a completely different dialect that is more formal because it didn’t evolve much since the settlers came to the region.  

With your whole family on the mountain, do you worry about it being too personal?

Absolutely. I’m nervous about this even promulgating through social media. I am, I’m nervous about it spreading and getting a life of its own. I’m worried about people in this area reading it. I’m not excluding myself, it’s pretty humiliating some of the stories about myself. It’s my life, I’m the most humiliated but I’m holding a mirror more toward the debauchery and the absurd, it’s not like we never have serious moments in this area, but I’m recording stories from my life that I find most entertaining and maybe it’s at the expense of other people but I’m not using anyone’s real name. I am a bit worried how I’m portraying myself and my family reading it cause I think they’ll be scandalized or concerned by it. Like I don’t think my grandmother needs to read about me drunkenly having sex in a tent.

Why did you choose to release it with the Noodle?

It is difficult enough for me to be sharing such personal stories despite the fact that i want to and it’s entertaining, it’s still difficult and I started writing at a pretty young age in newspaper and in that process it was very collaborative and for something so personal, I feel more comfortable collaborating with people I know understand me and my creative sensibilities and my sense of humor and my voice—people who’ve been longtime friends of mine I know are good writers and editors, it’s easier for me to function that way.

Also, I feel like the voice, the objective and the visual creative side of the Noodle really aligns well with what this book is aiming at which is to be entertaining and enjoyable and to not take the world so seriously.

$20 subscription for one year of audio, digital and print zine releases every month from April 20, 2018 through May 20, 2019. The full book will also be available upon completion of this project.

NOODLELOGOWHITE.jpg

I'M FILM CURATING FOR THE GIGANTIC BICYCLE FESTIVAL OUTSIDE SEATTLE IN SNOQUALMIE AND I NEED YOUR SHORT BICYCLE ART FILMS! SEND THEM TO EVA@THELEVEEBREAKING.ORG

I don't know how I end up doing these things but I've been bestowed the title of FILM CURATOR by the Levee Breaking in Seattle FOR THE GIGANTIC BICYCLE FESTIVAL OUTSIDE SEATTLE IN SNOQUALMIE AND I NEED YOUR SHORT BICYCLE ART FILMS BY THE END OF APRIL! SEND THEM TO EVA@THELEVEEBREAKING.ORG. By the end of April.

Especially if you live in the NW - Washington, Idaho, Alaska, B.C., Oregon and Northern California. But if you don't, send them anyway and I'll work as much magic as I can!

Films can be any length, but under 15 mins is great, is best. I've been told they get mostly documentary-type submissions and animations too. If we can get some cool artistic, more experimental, more poetic films involving bicycles, bicycle parts and/or bicyclists or anything involving a bicycle, I'd be really really REALLY excited to get your submission. 

The Gigantic Bicycle Festival also has bands, art and films but it's mostly about bicycles. Bicycles in all their glory, light and dark, old and new. 

IF YOU KNOW AN ARTIST, A FILM MAKER, A WRITER, ANYONE who has made or has been thinking of making a cool short bicycle film incorporating bicycles, please forward this blogpost to them, or just tell them about it and email me at eva@theleveebreaking.org. Send a file or have it on Youtube. However you like to do it.

Really looking forward to see what comes into our email box by the end of April. I'll be working the film tent/film room the nights of Friday Aug. 24 and Saturday Aug. 25 in Snoqualmie at the Gigantic Bicycle Festival!

Obama Portraits: Eva Avenue Unveils Her Feelings

by Philip Fletcher Payan

 Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Barack Obama alongside Amy Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama  after their unveiling at the the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. on February 12, 2018.

Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Barack Obama alongside Amy Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama  after their unveiling at the the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. on February 12, 2018.

Last week, I was making lunch when the news program cut over to the unveiling of the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. I'd just been talking about portraits the other day with Eva Avenue as we wrapped up our talk about her new project - The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine. She'd mentioned she was working on a portrait of a St. Pete artist and here I was watching a breaking-news portrait unveiling. Struck by the timing, I was so caught up in the perfect Baader-Meinhof phenomenon that I never formed a real opinion on the latest additions to the National Gallery and I simply didn’t know enough about portraits to do much more than nod and utter an approving, “Hmmm.”

I knew who could give me some insight. I asked Eva Avenue if she’d talk about the recent unveiling at the National Portrait Gallery. Lucky for me she was free, with trademark enthusiasm.

Philip Fletcher Payan: I think I like the portraits, but I'm not sure. What do you think?


Eva Avenue: Outside of politics, as people, I think Barack and Michelle are just really cool. So when I saw that Kehinde Wiley was doing Barack’s portrait, besides it being an obvious choice for a black man seeking the perfect painter for his regal portrait, I was like, “That’s so current of Obama to pick this guy.” 

I had seen Wiley’s work at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. years ago. It's so big and so magical and majestic and insane. It is just next level.

Honestly, I always wanted to paint Obama’s portrait. I was like, “How do I get to be the one who paints Barrack’s portrait?” He was leaving office and all they had was that photo and I wondered are they not doing the portrait? Helloooo? Is it just going to be a photo? Then they announced Kehinde Wiley and I was like, damn it! Too late! But then I said, “Oh, of course!”

I’ve heard some people going on about the background of Barack’s portrait. Could you share your thoughts on that?
Here is what I think about that. I mean, have you looked at Wiley’s other work?

No. I haven’t.
Oh my God! Well here is the thing, let me just tell you, he makes these beautiful wallpapers. These rich backgrounds; succulent, opulent, larger-than-life, just beautiful designs. Very colorful. The background of leaves is in keeping with his style. 

I don’t know how objective this is but, when you see a really strong piece of artwork there is, like, this sensation you get in your body. It’s a physical sensation. The artist brings some sort of spirit to it. Like when the artist is infusing this pigment on a canvas but you feel like the sum is greater than the whole. That is is more than just pigment and oil.

I can't believe you just described paintings like that! That's how I described seeing the Taj Mahal! I'm jealous you get that feeling from paintings. That’s amazing.
However, when I looked at that painting, it was dead. I was not turned on. There was not that feeling. Wiley did not apply that feeling he usually puts in there. He has his wall of leaves. There is no openness. The was no opening. He didn’t create any air or flow. Barack is totally swallowed, and all of Wiley's other paintings breathe a lot better.

My brother sent me something. I was like did someone make this or was it from an actual thing? What is this? It’s this picture where half the Obama portrait is outlined like paint by numbers to highlight where the leaf pattern has been repeated. 

 Boxes highlighting the areas that some believe may have been drawn up in a graphics editor before being painted.

Boxes highlighting the areas that some believe may have been drawn up in a graphics editor before being painted.

So, it’s like he built in photoshop and then… painted it. There is this idea that, like, when this person was brought in to paint the most esteemed goddamn man in the nation he couldn’t pull it together? Which is kinda what I am wondering about Amy Sherald?

Yeah?


I mean, if it's not your strongest suit to paint people, but you're going to paint the First Lady, can you take a refresher portrait class? You’re going to paint the president's wife. I mean, it’s not that it didn’t just look like her but there was a line that cut halfway up her face, under her nose, that went around, that went up her face. I was just like, “Dude! Wha-?”

I get it. You can say that, “This is my style,” but sometimes people will use a style to cover up they lack a certain ability. And it’s like, can you just pull it together for this one lady? Can we not use this as an opportunity to argue about what constitutes a successful portrait? It’s so maddening. 

Wow. Really? I had no idea it was getting this level of reaction.
Listen, I know there are no standards and everything is postmodern but please. It's like, when you paint the portrait - you’re capturing the person. You’re elevating them. It is why someone has got a sculpture of themselves on a horse in the park.
 
I am getting a better understanding of why I wasn’t blown away when I saw them on TV.

I was so excited to see their work! I was number one rooting for it. Like, fuck yeah, they are so ahead of it. The Obamas are picking real artists.

Then I saw this post of the past presidential portraits. Which, however stodgy and stuck-in-the-office, they’re open. You know, the person is in a space and there is this sort of elevation. I know they are trying to make Obama look worldly and casual, maybe? And still elevate him? It doesn't work. I don’t know what he was going for.

When you see it in context next to those others he really looks swallowed up. The lighting looks like a washed out photo almost. Wiley painted it well but I am really wondering if he outsourced it. And I am like, why would you outsource a job like this unless you’re not painting your own work or something?

What? You can do that? I did not know that was even a thing.


So, apparently he does send some of his stuff to China to get painted. A lot of artists who work on a big scale do that. Literally, they don’t have the time or the physical space to do that. It’s just too much. You just need assistants. And some artists, yes, once they have got their designs down will just outsource it to China. But I'm not saying he did this for this portrait.

It just doesn’t make any sense. Something about this doesn’t make sense to me.

Looking at Wiley’s previous work and then this, I’m just like, there is no way. There is just no way. You get better over time not worse. They weren’t wrong for picking the artists they picked based on what they saw. Based on what they might have expected out of it. 

I feel like people are coming up with a justification of how to appreciate it or they really don’t know.

Like me?


Also, one of my best friends - she works at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. Do you know the Magic Gardens?

No. I don’t.


It’s the crown jewel of South Street. It's this building that in the '70's this folk artist bought up and just started on. You know in old Europe how they cement broken wine bottle shards up on the castle walls? Well ,he just stuck all this shit in there and it's like tiles and faces and spoons. It’s all patterned and paint and color. It’s like a casual maze and there are mirrors everywhere and you just go explore this building and explore the outside. 

 Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a non-profit organization, folk art environment, and gallery space on South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a non-profit organization, folk art environment, and gallery space on South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

So, my friend works there and she said that everyone there was freaking out over how great this portrait was. She felt alone and didn't want to say anything and get made fun of. On that first night we saw this, I texted her at like ten-thirty at night saying 'We need to talk about these portraits.' We went on for like twenty-four minutes. That was our phone call! Twenty-four minutes of us going “What the hell?!”

I know we're all going to die in a big heat burst in the end and nothing matters but right now on Earth this matters to me! I just want to have some nice portraits of our former president. Hahaha!

Sounds like you’re a bit of a nihilist? Good to know.


I’m an optimistic nihilist. I am a rose-colored nihilist. Ha!

With all this talk of portraits, didn’t you say you were working on one?


Yeah, I am painting one of those muralists I mentioned to you. I worked on it just last night. If you want, we can talk about that another time.

To be continued....

Behind The New 'Florida Coffee Zine'

by Philip Fletcher Payan

 As of February 16th. these zines were mailed to around FL to coffeeshops such as Mountaineer Coffee in Brooksville, Subculture Coffee in Delray, Undergrounds Coffee Haus in Fort Lauderdale,  The Haus Coffeeshop, Open Mike's Coffee Lounge in Melbourne, Panther Coffee in Miami, Growers Alliance Cafe in St. Augustine, Black Crow in St. Pete, Cafe Hey in Tampa, Austin's Coffee in Winterpark, Black Dog Cafe in Tallahassee. 

As of February 16th. these zines were mailed to around FL to coffeeshops such as Mountaineer Coffee in Brooksville, Subculture Coffee in Delray, Undergrounds Coffee Haus in Fort Lauderdale,  The Haus Coffeeshop, Open Mike's Coffee Lounge in Melbourne, Panther Coffee in Miami, Growers Alliance Cafe in St. Augustine, Black Crow in St. Pete, Cafe Hey in Tampa, Austin's Coffee in Winterpark, Black Dog Cafe in Tallahassee. 

Besides a mutual sculptor acquaintance, the only real connection Eva Avenue and I have is that my girlfriend is her former employer. 

There are more than a few stories there and, as we talk for the first time over video chat, she filled me in on the details of the stories I’ve heard about her. However, the reason we dialed each other up wasn’t to talk about New Mexico art galleries or being bitten by a viper while traveling the Iberian peninsula. I contacted Eva to interview her about her latest project - The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine, published by its forbearer - Eva’s acclaimed underground zine The Nightly Noodle Monthly.

 That's actress Emelie O'Hara's hand holding all those Noodles in NYC!

That's actress Emelie O'Hara's hand holding all those Noodles in NYC!

The Noodle, as its friends call it, started as little more than a fever dream while recovering from that viper bite in a Barcelona hospital. It was intended as a fun, odd, unifying local publication for Albuquerque, New Mexico’s "Student Ghetto" as people immediately south of UNM call the area. Made with the materials Eva had on hand, a pair of scissors and a copy machine, the Nightly Noodle Monthly quickly became a beacon of inspiring creative possibilities. Within four months of its inaugural publication in October 2009, The Noodle won a “Best Local Zine” award from The Weekly Alibi's 'Best of Burque,' Albuquerque’s original reader's poll.

Eva carries that same torch of expert passion which ignited the Albuquerque zine scene forward into her latest project, The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine.

With the same renegade vibe and analog feel that endeared readers to The Noodle, The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine aims to position the Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company in Gainesville, FL as a cultural point of reference for artists and coffee drinkers across the state. As Eva puts it, “it’s got a lot of love and attention put into it. I think it just produces something great. The writers have a lot of freedom. It’s something for Sweetwater’s customers. It’s something to give the company more of a voice. But beyond association with their roastery, I want it to be a general a unifying publication - as it's passed around Florida, it’s automatically going to create a lot of avenues to make more connections within fairtrade coffeehouses and the arts scene.”

pull SW pull out Feb.jpg

The Florida Coffee Zine, while more wholesome than its mothership, still radiates that underground-press, ransom-note, vintage punk aura from its pages. 

"Whether you’re reading it, whether you own a coffee shop, whether you’re contributing to the zine, whether you just love coffee," she said, "you can pick up a bunch and give them to your friends so they think you’re cool."

SMM Coffee Roaster Late.jpg

Their first issue includes pieces such as “How To Properly Enjoy an Art Show: A Comprehensive Guide.” written by St. Pete mural artist and curator Aurailieus Artist, who helps paints Wynwood murals during Art Basel. As we talk, Eva walks out onto her porch sporting a cropped t-shirt in the warm St. Pete air. In a cruel juxtaposition, I am wearing two layers and a hoodie and staring out my window at a foot of snow in Chicago. I silently lament to myself that I live in a place where the air hurts my bearded face while she effervescently elaborates on St. Pete's mural scene for me during our hangout.


“St. Pete’s a mural town. Before Sebastian Coolidge started painting murals, we did not have murals concentrated along Central Avenue,” Eva says pointing to a Sharpie drawing of a pair of breasts in a window that Sebastian drew on her stomach during an art show last night. “He kinda started the mural scene. Now we have an annual mural festival and everyone is making murals. And there's mural wars. There’s sabotage. It’s a whole art world, high-noon showdown out here.”

As Eva gets back to the other first issue features, I hear a birds chirp somewhere behind her and out of frame. Meanwhile, a snow plow finally rumbles down my street.  


“We have a piece from coffee educator Hannah Mercer where I talk to her about the feelings a cup of coffee should evoke," Eva says. "She’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Association and now offers the same kind of training condensed into one place at Cafe Campesino's Training Lab in Americus, Georgia campus and she has all these courses. She’s just this badass coffee person and calls herself a ‘Coffee Magician’. Then there's “A Brief History of Coffee Houses," this great piece I found online by Stefanie Spencer and chopped it up into excerpts. I got the OK to use it from the guy who runs ineedcoffee.com. He thought this was a ‘really neat project’” Eva says laughing.

IMG_20180207_180950.jpg

As we wrap up our talk, Eva tells me how she skidded to a halt on her bike outside a local bar on her way home with the first printing with the first issue of The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine when she saw this psychedelic Sweetwater truck parked outside.  Over a beer and while sharing Sweetwater stories, the delivery driver sat at the counter and helped Eva fold the first issue. A good omen from the coffee gods if ever there was one.

The Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine is already at Black Crow Coffee in St. Pete, Florida and is rolling out at funky coffee houses across the state now. One barista just wrote an email: I'm a barista at Black Crow and was wondering who was running this and if I could help! :---) I need a creative outlet. The monthly publication will eventually have an online presence as the new project hits its groove. Eva tells me she’s been carrying copies around with her too and and has interested artists and coffee people asking after them.

So if you find yourself in and around sunny St. Petersburg, Florida and are lucky enough to chance into Eva on her bike; ask her, “Can I have one?” Then be sure to ask for a couple more copies of her new zine so you can give them to your friends and make them think you’re as cool as Eva Avenue.

 A stately Mr. Cohen with the Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine at St. Pete's Arts Xchange. His wife Nancy Cohen has a painting studio there, where she regaled visitors on the difference between how light falls on a bagel versus how light falls on a donut, as we admired her new painting of a glazed donut. I'll write a post about that painting sometime. 

A stately Mr. Cohen with the Sweetwater Morning Monthly Florida Coffee Zine at St. Pete's Arts Xchange. His wife Nancy Cohen has a painting studio there, where she regaled visitors on the difference between how light falls on a bagel versus how light falls on a donut, as we admired her new painting of a glazed donut. I'll write a post about that painting sometime.