By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
BEST PUBLIC PLACE TO PERUSE YOUR PROUST OVER A PANINO
Who needs pretentious overpriced coffee when you can peruse your Proust with the real intelligentsia — and a panino — at the Santa Monica Public Library, home to the best library café in town. After checking out your reading fare from this borrower-friendly, architecturally uplifting, parking-plentiful institution, visit the library café for a quick snack, late lunch or caffeine kick. And what better place to browse your newest fiction than the tranquil courtyard patio and garden? Walkways flanked by shallow reflecting pools and cacti create a truly inspiring setting — and you might learn something while you’re there. 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 458-8600, smpl.org.
—Mara De Luca
BEST SIDEWALK CACOPHONY
Loads of L.A.’s Latino brethren (and sistren) are flocking to emerging forms of neo-Pentecostal religion because, for many, it eclipses the staid rigorousness of traditional worship in a Catholic church. And how. Catholic mass never got this many feet a’stomping and tambourines a’janglin’. The most musical of the week’s events (and, yes, noise complaints do occur) usually happens on Friday evenings. Catedral de la Fe (formerly the State Theater) downtown is bigger (and louder) than most storefront Pentecostal churches around town, and the folks here definitely make the funkiest ruckus. By day, the rundown exterior of the formerly grandiose theater sits quietly, like a defunct storefront shell — even though some of the original 1921 filigree still shows through — but then the sun sets and the marquee glows, chandeliers flicker on, the house grows crowded, and spare seats are hard to come by. Arms raised, keyboards twinkling, drums crashing and Hallelujahs filling the air: The building practically rocks back and forth on its foundation in the spirit of Jesucristo. Whether you’re passing by outside or stomping inside the church, on Broadway and 7th, it’s hard to ignore the power of the Lord. 703 S. Broadway, dwntwn.
BEST POLITICAL-OBSERVATION PERCH
L.A. City Council meetings will either enrage you or increase your trust in politicians (though we doubt that), but they’re nothing if not entertaining, as the council chronically tries to cut, censor and shush the “public-comment” period. Led by City Council President Eric Garcetti — the young, ever-smiling Golden Boy with an Ivy League education — these often bizarrely comedic meetings take place in a one-of-a-kind, high-ceilinged venue: the ornate John Ferraro Council Chamber. Once inside, you take a seat in a pew, as if you’re attending church, but what unfolds is anything but worshipful. Frequent public commenters such as Zuma Dogg, Noel Weiss and John Walsh let it rip, with television cameras capturing their often witty and noisy protests against political corruption and ineptitude. For first-timers who venture downtown with the notion of commenting in the naive belief that the 15 council members actually listen to citizens who show up, the show is usually a bit of an eye-opener. The newcomers don’t always understand why their fellow citizens are so completely outraged. But the newbies listen, watch and begin to realize that the political system is closed to them, which has spawned L.A.’s version of Speakers Corner. Well, it’s not really on a corner — you stand at a microphone facing a semicircle of politicians who utterly ignore you. The grand-staircase entrance to City Hall on Spring Street is permanently closed (they’re worried about terrorists), so enter on Main Street. John Ferraro Council Chamber, Room 340. Tues., Wed. & Fri., 10 a.m.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST VOLUNTEER OP
Finally, a reason for a kid to take a break from texting, hanging at the mall or wasting yet another two hours on an inane holiday blockbuster. Instead, Jewish middle and senior high school–age teens can now volunteer their time as mentors for Jewish special-needs children — befriending, mentoring, teaching and having fun via arts and crafts, Judaic education, sports programming, camps and field trips. The local Friendship Circle chapter (the umbrella organization began 20 years ago and has 70 chapters worldwide) has for the past six years encouraged young people to give of themselves to their community. The opportunities are plentiful and fit most individual schedules, according to Gail Rollman, FC director of public relations. If students can only commit to a biweekly visit, or working on Sundays, or as part of the winter camp program, it’s a match! “Teens choose an activity and program that works for them,” Rollman explains. But once they’ve volunteered with the Friendship Circle, their commitment will likely grow. “It’s contagious. It feels so great to give to another human being that the kids ask, ‘What else can I do?’ I’ve seen kids change their career paths as a result of their volunteer experience, opting for professions as psychologists and speech therapists.” No one sinks; everyone swims, as volunteers are trained to be with children who may have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or behavioral issues, for instance. “Training sessions throughout the year include an expert in the field, who offers volunteers additional tools: How do you respond to a situation with your child? What kind of language, or redirection can they use to enrich the experience?” The program is enhanced by effective communication. “We pride ourselves on keeping in touch with the volunteers. We ask how the match is going, if there are problems or concerns, and then address them,” Rollman adds. The year-end banquets, awards and scholarships to thank the volunteers are indeed rewarding, but reaching out to new friends is probably the icing on the cake. 9581 W. Pico Blvd., #102, L.A. (310) 277-FCLA.