By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Based on the classic 1919 play by S. Ansky and set in an Eastern European shtetl in the late 19th century, Der Dibek is a tale of disconsolate spirits, frustrated passions and untimely deaths. Poor Leah, the young bride-to-be, is possessed by the spirit of her dead lover, the young scholar Khonen, who’s been dabbling in the forbidden texts of the Kabbalah. The film’s subtitle is Between Two Worlds. Ansky, a prominent socialist, Yiddish and Russian journalist and avid folklorist, was himself an illustration of that in-betweenness: comfortable neither in Russian secular society nor among traditional religious Jews.
I also was mediating two worlds: the ghostly images projected on the cemetery wall and the presence of my dead parents, grandparents and cousins in a vault in Hollywood Forever’s adjacent Jewish section. In the film, Leah goes to the cemetery to invite her dead mother to her wedding. In reality, my own dead mother is buried in this cemetery. A reason to drink more red wine.
Meanwhile, with a red-glowing Mars above flickering black-and-white images of Polish rabbis performing exorcisms, those around me were experiencing their own epiphanies and discomforts. A friend kvetched about the film’s stereotypical and kitschy depiction of shtetl Jews. Another friend said that the people assembled on the cemetery lawn reminded her of everyone she’d ever known in her life who had died. A third, a refugee from the NYC blackout, gleefully noted how she couldn’t wait to tell her Brooklyn friends how she spent the night sitting in the dark in a cemetery in the middle of Hollywood. A fourth muttered, “Hey, the goyim have a duck pond. That’s not fair!”
Despite creeping damp and inevitable leg cramps from sitting on the ground for two hours, an informal solidarity built up among those gathered. Collectively witnessing the gradual shift of light from afternoon to evening was a tribal rite, inherently calming. Hearing the actors on the screen speak in Yiddish was disorienting to some, comforting to others, poignant to many.
When the movie ended, no lights came back on. It was dark. Real dark. A partial moon hung overhead. Ducks quacked. Mexican fan palms loomed as eccentric silhouettes. Car headlights cast intermittent shadows, transforming pedestrians into apparitions, illuminating the inscribed names of the dead.
After attending too many family funerals, the last thing I have ever wanted was to join my ganse mishpocheh for eternity in the middle of Hollywood behind a strip mall. Mellowed by red wine and klezmer, however, surrounded by visiting peaceful souls, listening to my grandparents’ mother tongue, and with the prospect of more nighttime screenings, I began to seriously consider the possibility.
On the Friday before Labor Day,restaurateur Steven Arroyo strides into the dusty interior of Malo, the new Mexican restaurant he hopes to open in Silver Lake within the week. The dining room of the restaurant is still mostly unfinished — 100 metal chairs are stacked in the center of the room, a carpenter is trimming out the far wall, and in the corner Arroyo’s 3-year-old son, Luca, sits on a dirty banquet playing with a cash register, punching on the keys and grinning whenever it prints out another blank receipt.
“We’re calling this a Mexican restaurant, but I feel like I’m taking some poetic license,” says the 34-year-old Arroyo, whose other restaurants are Cobras & Matadors, Hillmont and Cobra Lily. “It’s really going to be Chicano food, or Mexican-American food. It’s the kind of food I grew up with.”
“We’re fairly proud of the fact that we’re not going to have nachos on the menu,” says Malo’s executive chef, Robert Luna, whose thick sideburns and burly physique make him look like a Latino Elvis. “When you think of Mexican food, why do you feel like you need superhuge amounts of refried beans?”
Arroyo lists the standards that diners won’t get at Malo — mole, enchiladas, soft-shell tacos, free chips and salsa on every table.
So does that mean there won’t be any margaritas either? “Oh, no, no, no,” says Arroyo. “We’re definitely doing margaritas.”
In order to re-create the sort of food he grew up eating, Arroyo invited his family to help him shape the menu and break in the kitchen. Today, Arroyo’s 88-year-old grandfather, Patrick Holguin, is making red chile–encrusted pollitos with fresh rosemary. Arroyo’s mother is boiling stock for menudo, and Arroyo’s cousin Latecia Arroyo, who will be Malo’s head chef and kitchen manager, is making sure everybody has all the cow’s feet and fresh chiles they need to make their dishes. Arroyo’s sister-in-law Nikomi Arroyo, who will be Malo’s floor manager, drops by to see how things are coming, and Arroyo’s wife, Cristina, comes to pick up Luca and chat with the family.
Arroyo’s grandfather used to own a famous taco stand called Bea’s El Burrito on East Third Street just below Ford Boulevard in the 1950s and 1960s. He looks much younger than his 88 years — “I know, I look great even for 70,” he says. Arroyo’s mother grew up working in the kitchen of Bea’s during her summers off from school. So in some ways, Arroyo’s Mexican restaurant is a return to family tradition. But only in some ways. The green chile that Arroyo plans to put on Malo’s menu may be similar to the recipe that Holguin used at Bea’s, but the sea salt and lime chicken grilled under a brick has more in common with the heavily spiced Spanish food that Cobras & Matadors tends to serve.