November 23, 2015

Photo Essay: Stained Glass Crawl Through a Cathedral Crypt

I took a tour of LA's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels before I'd heard of Judson Studios' stained glass. I didn't know that Saint Vibiana was a Roman martyr, or that there had been a cathedral named after her, or that Our Lady of the Angels was the successor to the Cathedral of St. Vibiana.

And during that first visit, I was in such a rush to take the next tour somewhere else, I didn't stay there long enough to really experience the cathedral.

So, three years later, I went back and spent some time.

This time, I had a couple hours to kill and a new camera that could better capture the low lighting conditions of the crypt.

The 19th century stained glass windows that were rescued from the earthquake-damaged and decommissioned St. Vibiana's Cathedral...

...are now artificially illuminated...

...and glow, whether it's day or night.

Although they were initially designed and fabricated by the Franz Mayer Company in Germany...

...their installation in LA's newest and most modern cathedral required the know-how of LA's own Judson Studios...

...whose artisans painstakingly and lovingly restored them to their prior glory.

For centuries, windows like these have told the stories of the Bible without requiring anyone to read.

Although the literacy rate is exponentially better now than it was in the 13th century...

...non-native speakers and early readers of English can still follow the religious storylines easily through the light, color, and lines of images like The Winged Man of St. Matthew...

...The Lion of St. Mark...

...or The Bull of St. Luke.

This particular version of Catholicism is very familiar to me. It feels very German.

Though I don't remember a lot of the Bible stories depicted on these windows, like Jesus and the children in the garden...

...where they offer Him bunches of Lily of the Valley...

...their underlying messages of peace, love, blessings, and forgiveness still come across.

Other images are indelible and effortlessly familiar. Even if I weren't raised Catholic, I'd probably recognize the nativity scene...

...or The Good Shepherd finding his lost lamb...

...or the sacrificial Lamb of God.

Walking around the underground mausoleum, while mass was being conducted upstairs, I followed the entire life story of Jesus Christ from his official presentation in the temple... The Garden of Gethsemane and his ascension into heaven.

Regardless of whether you believe that Jesus was a man, just a man, or actually the Son of God, these windows are a thing of beauty and inspiration.

And the stories they tell are compelling, whether or not their characters—like St. Cecilia, patron saint of music—

...and their heavenly achievements are a work of fiction.

The windows that were rescued from St. Vibiana's include nine "lunettes"...

...each shaped as a quatrefoil and designed in the Versailles style...

...which pale colors in the background with bold jewel tones surrounding each window's unique symbol.

Among the nine symbols there above the mausoleum's central aisle are a bishop's mitre, a flaming heart, and the Holy Spirit, represented by a white-winged dove.

The art and the stories represented are worth more than just a passing gander. And walking through them felt like a meditative ritual, like following the Stations of the Cross, but taken at my own pace, with my own thoughts and feelings as my companion.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Updated for 2015)
Photo Essay: Judson's Historic Glass Studio

November 20, 2015

The Cult of the Happiest Place on Earth

I've caught the bug.

The Disneyland bug, that is.

When I went for my birthday, we only visited Disneyland proper and not its neighboring California Adventure amusement park, which is a whole other thing.

Sure, it has its sections dedicated to classic and contemporary Disney characters, but it's a theme park inspired by California itself—its landscape and landmarks, its towers and terrors.

The big draw for me was The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Hollywood Tower Hotel is modeled after several historic LA area hotels, from the Biltmore to the Mission Inn. But when you check into the HTH, the bellhops usher you into the bowels of the hotel, straight to the service elevator.

There, you're taken on a wild elevator ride that seems like it can't quite be legal. Once again, I found the production value just spectacular—beyond compare. And while you can visit the hotels that inspired the Tower of Terror, none of them will give you an elevator ride like that. (Or will they?!)

This is a California of another era—of noir and nostalgia, riding the Red Car distances that are close enough to walk.

Somehow, California Adventure has managed to recreate and preserve a version of California I never got to experience first-hand, but it feels more authentic than other "thematic" re-creations of other places, say, at Epcot or in Vegas.

It made me wonder what a "New York Adventure" theme park would be like. Would you roll through the neon-lit Times Square in a yellow checker cab, turning down offers of sexual solicitation? Would you tiptoe your way through the Meatpacking District, trying to avoid the blood and guts that pool in the cobblestone streets?

Here, in this idyllic version of California, there's a lot of glitz and glam... at the Carthay Circle, a beautiful restaurant and lounge whose exterior was modeled after the Carthay Circle Theatre on San Vicente in LA, where Snow White saw its premiere screening.

Every detail has been carefully planned. And even though California Adventure opened long after Walt Disney's passing, there is the sense that everyone involved in its design and construction has asked themselves, "What would Walt do?"

California Adventure is not just one theme park, but many different smaller themed amusements clustered together—much like how LA isn't just one city, but a conglomeration of 80+ different municipalities. You have a different experience in each one.

In CarsLand, you get to mosey through Radiator Springs, the Route 66-inspired town from the movie Cars, including its Wigwam-inspired Cozy Cone Hotel, tire shop, gas station, diner, and "body art" shop...

...before getting on the track and racing through the winding desert landscape, the mesas of sandstone looming above. It goes so fast.

This time of year, everything is decked out for Christmas. There seems to be a parade at least once an hour. But the celebration doesn't seem overreaching—I mean, it's Disneyland. What would you expect?

You could probably entertain yourself for a whole day without riding one ride, but I always insist on getting on every tiny train and ferris wheel I can.

From the top of Mickey's Fun Wheel, you can see the entire compound sprawled out before you.

I just kept saying, "Look how beautiful it is!"

And I didn't want to leave. I was like a little kid, declaring, "I would like to live here."

Maybe it's a cult. But I'm in. I've got my mouse ears, embroidered with my name in hot pink thread.

California is known for its openness to alternative spiritualities. But why would anyone choose Scientology, when you could have Disneyland?

Related Posts:
This 40 Year-Old Princess Has Found Her Kingdom
No Single Riders
Ride the Wave

November 18, 2015

Under a Sleepy Surveillance

I've been curious about getting a sleep study for a long time, but it never actually occurred to me that I might have a sleep disorder—until recently.

Despite falling out of bed repeatedly as a child (sometimes not waking up), having lots of weird dreams, seeing people in the room whenever I was a bit sick, and being able to fall asleep anywhere from a park bench to the subway and even a nightclub (without the influence of alcohol), I thought I was just a "sleepytime gal," as my father would put it.

It didn't occur to me that I might be sick.

It didn't occur to me that I might have a disorder.

In fact, as the nighttime, waking hallucinations got worse, I just figured I was haunted. Or possessed. Or "accompanied" by something.

Medical professionals disagreed. I got diagnosed with PTSD, but even that didn't seem to quite fit the bill. Although I've been taking medications that have helped the nightly visions subside, it still seemed like a good idea to find out what the underlying problem was.

If it wasn't a ghost.

So, upon describing my symptoms to a sleep disorder specialist—a litany of visions, terrors, paralysis, twitches, fainting spells, and daytime sleep attacks—I was promptly scheduled for a sleep study. And not just one of those overnight ones. They wanted to see me sleep through the night, wake me up early, and then have me nap every two hours throughout the next day, to see if I could fall asleep, and if I would go into REM.

8:45 p.m. I arrived shortly after the sleep center opened, having worked a part-time job for five hours and then having killed time working on my laptop in a local restaurant for another four hours. I was exhausted and ready to sleep, despite the early hour.

I started giggling upon my arrival. I was nervous for sure, but I found it funny and slightly unsettling that it smelled like a dentist's office. The sleep center was in a high-rise building in the middle of Century City—amidst law firms and talent agencies and highfalutin corporations—and here I was with a duffle bag slung over my shoulder, pillow and red blanket spilling out of my arms.

My accommodations for the night were reminiscent of a hotel room, but one outfitted with lots of wires and equipment, and drawn black-out curtains. "What time do you usually go to bed?' my technician asked me, to which I groaned and said, "One a.m....?" She warned me that she'd be waking me up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and I would have to stay up for at least two hours then, so I should probably try to fall asleep by midnight.

The technician started strapping me in, hooking me up to electrodes on my legs, chest, chin, temples, forehead, and scalp—all of which were connected to a central control that was like something on a space shuttle. She was going to monitor each twitch of my eye, clench of my jaw, inhalation, and exhalation over the course of the night. And, just in case I did something really weird, she'd be watching my every movement thanks to a camera mounted on the ceiling of my room.

It's funny how when someone tells you that you can't have caffeine or alcohol, that's when you want it really bad. Or that you can't change your clothes in front of the camera or touch yourself for a little self-pleasure because you're being watched. Everything is off-limits. It's just you and the wires, and the very bright white fluorescent overhead light.

10 p.m. I was getting used to all the tape and goop and sensors that had been adhered to me by the time I really started to settle down and get sleepy. I'd had two EEG tests as a child when my fainting spells set off the alarms for a potential case of epilepsy (which I turned out not to have), so I kind of knew what to expect. The only really annoying thing was listening to my fellow sleep study subjects arriving after me, and feeling the heart rate monitor clipped to my left index finger. My heart was pounding, but it pretty much always does when I go to bed.

12:30 a.m. I was warned that I would be able to roll over on my own despite the wires, but that I would need help going to the bathroom. I can usually make it at least five hours without having to get up to pee, but after a couple of hours at the sleep center, I woke up with the urge, so I pressed the "Call" button at my bedside. I was freaked out about not being able to sleep at all, and not giving the technicians anything to observe, but I managed to fall right back to sleep. I was hoping for the onset of night terrors, just so they could see what I've been going through, but I got off easy last night with only a case of night sweats.

5:20 a.m. I was awakened with a "Good morning!" from my technician, who started removing some of the electrodes that would no longer be needed during the daytime study. I was awake, but I wasn't alert. Although I couldn't wait to go back to sleep, I would have to wait until 8 a.m., when the daytime technician would set me up and send me on a series of naps, two hours apart, 35 minutes each.

8:50 a.m. I awoke from the first nap, unsurprised that I had been able to fall asleep again. After all, it was still before my normal waking time. But I would have to stay up for more than an hour more before I could take my 10 o'clock nap, so I wandered out into the waiting room in my gray pajama bottoms and red tank top to add some hot water to a cup of instant oatmeal for breakfast. I noted the framed, autographed headshots of Ed McMahon and Forest Whitaker hanging on the walls, as though this were the dining room at Sardi's.

"Is it just you and me today?" I asked my day technician.

"Oh, pretty soon, the doctor will be here seeing patients, so it's going to get a bit noisy...." he said.

10:50 a.m. I woke up from my second nap even more tired than after my first, and still hungry. It was getting hot in my room, so I changed out of my long pants and into a pair of shorts, and stumbled barefoot out to the waiting room for some more hot water and another oatmeal packet. This time, the room was full of patients, and here I was with all my electrodes stuck to my face and in my hair, carrying my control panel like a purse.

"Hi," I said to them, as they tried to avert their eyes.

I slept again at 12, 2, and 4 p.m., awakened each time by my technician just when the sleep was starting to get good and I felt like I was actually asleep and not just lucid dreaming. Each time he put me down for a nap, he put me through the same routine of opening and closing my eyes, looking up and down and left and right, blinking really fast, and clenching my teeth. Supposedly, this sets a baseline parameter so they can tell when (and if) I actually go into REM, but I found it exhausting, and easy enough to fall asleep afterwards.

4:45 p.m. "OK you're done!" I heard the technician say, just as I was committing to the long haul of sleep. I sat up, and before I knew it, he was dabbing some kind of alcohol-based solvent all over me to remove the adhesive that I'd been wearing for about 20 hours. "You can get your things now," he said.

I wasn't exactly ready to leave. I needed a few minutes to wake up. I needed to be lucid enough to make sure I didn't leave anything behind. I was not only sleepy, but downright exhausted from a full day's worth of sleeping and waking, an endless cycle of somno interruptus. 

I just hoped I'd performed well. I felt like an actor walking away from an audition, pleading, "But I can do it better!" I knew my sleep could be a lot freakier than it was. I just didn't know how to force it to happen at a precise place and time. It always seems to creep up on me unannounced.

There's a certain narcissism in medical testing. It feeds our need for self-awareness, but in many cases, it presents a diagnosis that we can't do much about. If it turns out that I have such-and-such sleep disorder, I'm not sure that my life will change all that much. I guess it'll just explain some of the mysteries of the past. And it'll mean that I'm not lazy; I'm disabled.

But I'm already disabled. Between fibromyalgia, depression, and PTSD, I have all the disabilities I can handle—not to mention whatever residual brain injuries I have from my past head traumas. I'd really rather not have yet something else wrong with me. I grieve for the life I might've had, had I not had a disability. Or three. Or, now, four.

We'll see what the report says, when it comes back in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I'm already ready to fall back asleep again.

Related Posts:
That Which Haunts Me
These Terrors of the Night
These Creatures of the Night