Canto XLVI: The Valle is Lovely, Dark and Deep…

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Gentle cabrones:

Apologies for skipping last week — deep in the salt mines. I’ve got three long stories lined up for the Los Angeles Times, about to go on a plane for another one, and crafting a pitch for yet another one that’s already verbally approved.

Writing long stories that matter, that are of my choosing? Swoon.

Things are good at the Times, gracias a Diós.

Okay…there was another reason why I didn’t check in with ustedes last week: I was in Baja California.

My wife arranged a weekend retreat for her staff in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s spectacular wine and culinary region. She sells a bunch of Baja wines and beers at her Alta Baja Market in SanTana, and wanted her young staff to meet with the people who made it happen — the owners, yes, but the vintners, the farmers, the pickers, the everyone.

We stayed at a hacienda, and ate like crazy; others drank (I’m not the biggest wine guy). Had a spectacular appetizer course at Fauna, a great dinner at the Corona del Valle winery, and knocked back chelas at the Agua Mala brewery just north of Ensenada, where I ran into homies of the homie Javier Cabral.

Thanks to my wife’s hard work, we met with pioneers, next-gen gems, and got a privileged look at the Valle others don’t. And as we enjoyed our farewell dinner at Deckman’s (good-great), all of us present — people who grew up working-class and remain blue collar at heart but get to hang out above our stations — marveled at our good fortune.

One of the crew — a Colombian from New York who’s only lived a couple of years in Orange County — wanted to know how my wife and I were able to live a moveable feast. How we remained so disciplined to reach a place where we live to work.

And I had an easy answer for him: “Willpower.” And when temptation tries to stray me from my path, I told him, I repeat to myself. “Will. POWER.”

I blame Robert Frost.

**

The road less traveled in Valle…

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Toward the end of senior year, Anaheim High School, Ms. Sinatra’s honors English class.

We’ve already gone through Shakespeare (love), English lit (I HATE Wuthering Heights, but do like Far from the Madding Crowd). Read Oedipus Rex (awesome).

And, because I was a rebel and always ditched my journalism/yearbook class to hang out with Art when he had Ms. Sinatra for English, I devoured The Catcher in the Rye.

But what ultimately sung to me the most? Poetry.

The Beats and Blake and Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman and Emerson — and through Emerson I found Thoreau, who wasn’t a poet per se but whose books are pure lyricism.

We had a classroom assignment to write poetry, and Ms. Sinatra was so moved by my writing that she said I could make a career out of it (I still have a book a poetry I wrote; you won’t be able to read it until 75 years after my passing)

And we read Robert Frost.

I thought him hokey then. “The Road Less Traveled”? SNORE… “Fences make good neighbors”? Racist.

My lasting image of Frost was remains him reading on Krusty the Clown’s show and getting showered with snow, for chrissakes.

And yet…

All these years later, I always return to the closing stanza of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Even as a high schooler, I was struck by how those verses stood in contrast to the rest of the poem. Nice trees, neighing horse, “downy flake” and all that.

And then:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.

(You can look up the rest: I think I’ve used up my fair-use chits)

What a summation of responsibility! Wouldn’t we all just like to relax, or be hedonistic, or do the things that give us absolute pleasure while stay away from all the stress of the world?

I never did.

From a young age, I grinded. I grinded with the goal that one day, I wouldn’t have to grind so much. That day has yet to come.

But I ALWAYS take stock of where I was, and where I am. Went to Valle. Going to New Mexico. New Orleans, again. Napa. New York City.

That’s just in the next month.

And it’s all because of willPOWER.

If I had succumbed to every forest in my life, no way would I be here. And if I give in to the woods now, who knows what further delights I deny myself in the future.

Restraint and self-discipline: try it, and you just might be rewarded with this view for a day:

The Valle’s lovely, dark, and deep…

And then you go back to work so that you can eventually get two days. Then three. And the beat goes on…

**

Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

LISTENING: “Games,” Dorothy Ashby. I think the harp is one of the downest instruments EVER (right alongside the harpsichord), and Dorothy Ashby is the queen of the jazz harp. Surprised Hollywood hasn’t used her more…

READING: “Interstate 10: A Personal History”  Chapman University professor Tom Zoellner gets too annoyed at me because I’m not a knee-jerk Democrat, but he’s a fabulous writer and this road trip to his stretch of I-10 is a mini-masterpiece of comedy, memory, and history.

Gustavo in the News

“Tacos are like ogres: they’re complicated (étude or essay: what’s the diff?)”:  A profe plugs my Taco USA book

“Will Parents Stand with L.A. Teachers?”: My column about LA’s striking teachers gets a mention.

“L.A. teachers to strike over school funding if talks fail”: My column about LA’s striking teachers gets another mention.

“L.A. teachers join U.S. movement against underfunded schools”: My column about striking LA teachers gets yet another mention.

“5 Things You Didn’t Know About Tacos”: My taco scholarship gets a mention.

“Acapulco in Montclair, Chevys in Ontario say adios”: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist — and my Boswell of the Inland Empire — David Allen interviews me about two past-their-prime Mexican restaurant chains.

“Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic”: Per Kevin Roderick: “Interesting writing hire in Gustavo Arellano, the author and former OC Weekly editor, who isn’t being called a columnist but who I suspect may end up functioning like one.” Kevin: You’re going to be pleasantly surprised…or disappointed!

“Groups battle over renaming Brea elementary school possibly linked to racist past”: Loser Breans can’t accept their KKK past.

Gustavo’s Stories

“Francisco Ramirez, owner of pioneering East L.A. tortilleria La Princesita, dies”: I tell the life of a gigante in the Mexican food world. KEY QUOTE: “In the competitive world of East Los Angeles tortillerias, where entrepreneurs fight for customers block by block, Francisco Ramírez and his La Princesita towered above them all.”

“Two Republicans, Loretta Sanchez Vie for 3rd Supervisorial Seat” and “What will be the Political Legacy of Tony Rackauckas?” My latest two installments of my KCRW “Orange County Line” series.

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc. And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!