Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sweet and sour

One of my favorite winter recipes is a hearty Greek beef stew called Stifado. In addition to being delicious and easy, it's also cheap. I make it whenever beef chuck is on sale at the supermarket.

If you watch the ads, you can find chuck roast on sale for under $2 per pound. Everything else that goes into the recipe should be in a reasonably well-stocked pantry, so during a lean time, you can gather up the coins under the couch cushions, the quarters rattling around in the dryer, and the parking meter change in the console of your car and still make a good family meal.

My recipe comes from a cookbook called "The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook" by David Rosengarten that I got on remainder many years ago. I've adapted the recipe with my own lazy shortcuts, but the basic concept still remains. It's a beef stew marinated in a sweet-and-sour mixture of tomatoes and spices, slow-cooked until the beef is so tender it melts in your mouth.

Unlike most stew recipes, you don't have to brown the meat at the beginning - which makes it even easier. Just marinate the beef for several hours, and then pop the whole thing in a slow oven, wait three hours and it's done.

Greek-inspired stifado

2 - 4 pounds beef stewing meat - chuck roast, rump roast, brisket, flanken-style short ribs, etc. - cut into inch-and-a-half chunks. You will get better value for your money if you buy a whole piece and cut it up, instead of paying for the butcher to package meat scraps as "beef stew meat."

Put the beef into an oven-proof covered dish. I use a Le Creuset cast-iron enamel dutch oven.

Make the marinade and pour it over the beef to cover.

  • 1 - 28 ounce can (or 2 - 14 ounce cans) of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of red wine or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of beef broth - I use Better than Boullion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or sugar)
  • 4 - 8 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the blade of a knife
  • Spices to your taste - ground cumin, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, black pepper, flaked red pepper, fennel seed. You can add powdered spices to the marinade or you can put whole spices in a cloth bag in the marinade.
  • 2 - 3 whole bay leaves
  • Dried herbs to your taste - thyme, oregano, rosemary. A twig of fresh rosemary is good in the marinade, too.
  • Orange peel - use a vegetable peeler and take off a piece about 6 inches.
Cover the dutch oven and put it in the fridge, overnight or for at least 6 hours.

When you're ready to cook, heat the oven to 325 degrees, and put it it in, covered, for about 2 hours. I usually remove the cover during the last half hour to concentrate the juices.

You can see how it reduces down with a couple hours of slow cooking.

Onions are important in Stifado, and for this step the recipes vary. The traditional version uses whole pearl onions or shallots; but you could use regular onions chopped coarsely.

During the final hour while the stew is cooking, pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, and turn the heat on low. Add the onions and sprinkle them with a few teaspoons of sugar. Caramelize them until they're golden brown, then add them into the stew.

Check to see if the beef is tender - if it is, it's done. You can add some chopped fresh parsley at the end.

You can serve the stew with roasted potatoes, on rice, or on a bed of noodles. To stay with the Greek-inspired theme, try orzo, rice-shaped pasta, tossed with butter and some grated hard cheese like Greek kefalotiri, or Italian romano pecorino.

I recently served this at a mid-week dinner party for 7 people. I put together the marinade the night before, and we put it in the oven about 5:00 pm. Then I threw together a salad, put out some bread, hummus and olives. One of our guests has a sweet tooth, so I assembled a bread pudding that would bake in the oven while we ate.

After our guests arrived, all I had to do was cook the pasta and brown the onions. It was a big hit. The ticket? $12 for 6 pounds of meat (I doubled the recipe), $1 for the orzo. I went fancy for the dinner party, spending $4 for a bag of pearl onions and $6 dollars for fresh Farmers Market greens for the salad and $3 for a loaf of french bread, but even so, it was still under $30 - for seven people. Everything else was in the pantry.

Plus leftovers!!!

The stew improves in flavor the next day. It also freezes well. You can pack it in tupperware for a delicious office lunch. It will warm your innards on a cold day.

Greek Stifado - comfort food on the cheap.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jack meets a cat

Jack's favorite Auntie, who walks him during the day, lives nearby in pretty little cottage with two cats and a dog. Today Jack paid a visit and met Auntie's Alpha Cat for the first time.

Jack wanted to play, and the cat wasn't having any of it.

Aqua tower

I've been participating in Thematic Photographic, a photo challenge, and this week our challenge was to show our photos of "Water in any form."

Well, this isn't my photo. It's from, which I encourage you to visit. This is a rendering of a design for a building in downtown Chicago, called Aqua tower, by architect Jeanne Gang of the firm of Studio Gang. There are more images at the site that show how the concrete terraces on the outside of the building are contoured to undulate and shift and transform a typical glass box into an amazing shape through a relatively simple idea.

Another benefit of the rippled surface created by the balconies is that they break the force of the strong Chicago winds, dampening the stress on the building, and making it possible for people to enjoy balconies even on higher floors where, in conventional buildings, the wind is too fierce to withstand.

Go read more about it in this article at The New Yorker.

What do you think? Cool, crazy, wonderful or ugly?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Water in any form

Each week Carmi at Written, Inc. has challenged readers with a theme for photographic inspiration. This week the photographic challenge continues with the theme WATER IN ANY FORM.

It was one of those misunderstandings that happen between people of two different cultures. The first night we were in Paris, we'd bought a bottle of white wine in the store, and wanted to chill it for an evening apertif.

We called down to the concierge to ask if there was an ice machine in the hotel. No, he said, but he would be happy to have some brought up. Ah, merci! we thanked him.

Within minutes there was a tap on the door, and the bellman brought....a glass with a few cubes.

Not what we had in mind, we said, and showed him the bottle of wine, gesturing and trying out our poor French. Could he bring an ice bucket?

He went away. Time passed. Much time. We called the concierge again and explained that we had asked for more ice, and wondered if our request had been forgotten. Non, non, we were told; the bellman had to be sent out to get it, that was the reason for the delay.

More time passed. The tap came at the door. This is what was delivered.

We gave up. We were learning.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pure Evil

Circus Liquors in North Hollywood. There's something creepy about clowns, right? And especially when they're selling liquor. You don't want to walk past this guy to get your booze, do you?

Does anyone know why so many liquor stores in L.A. are called "Jr. Markets"?

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Small Place

There's something about Los Angeles I don't remember noticing in other cities. There's a prevalence of little food shacks operating out of tiny, almost makeshift buildings. In downtown L.A. these are really common, and are almost always found in parking lots.

Tiny, almost playhouse-sized structures hug the side of venerable old Beaux-Arts style office buildings and hotels. There's room for a kitchen, and maybe a couple of lunch tables inside. Some places are so small they're just a lunch counter - you place your order and eat outside or takeaway.

They're not just downtown - Here at La Playita in Venice, people line up for seafood tacos, burritos, and ceviche tostadas. There are two makeshift benches next to the tire repair shop, if you want to have it "here" instead of "to go."

Photo from Yelper Pamela

There's a little place near UCLA that was so famous for its cheap sandwiches it was known as "Buck Fiddy" by hungry students. It's now under new management. I wonder if it will still sell sandwiches for $1.50, and an Orange BANG! for a buck.

Operating hours are usually tailored to the working population - that cup of coffee or breakfast burrito in the morning, or a burger at lunch. You can see office workers or custodians and hotel maids. In today's downtown, there are a lot of construction workers on residential loft remodeling jobs. Outside of downtown, the shacks cater to car wash and auto shop workers, and folks taking buses to work.

Photo from Los Angeles Public Library

Why are there so many of these little lunch joints? Unlike major East Coast downtowns, Los Angeles began tearing down its old downtown buildings and replacing them with parking lots as early as the 1930s. Some of the little food shacks date from those days - as seen in this news photo of a car accident right in front of the Snak Shak in South Central Los Angeles.

Does it have something to do with Los Angeles' climate? Maybe it does. Why spend money building a full-size joint with room indoors for tables? In our warm climate, the sidewalk can be your dining room.

The shacks are brightly painted, and usually reflect the creativity of the proprietor.

The prices are always cheap. Mai's Super Tacos recently had a new paint job, but the tacos are still just as good, and still $1.60 each.

Downtown can be a rough neighborhood, and the proprietors are serious about security.

You can usually tell a good food shack by the lines out front.

There's a wide range of ethnic menus.

Little food shacks. They're everywhere in L.A. There's something charming about these small, homey kitchens, in the midst of the big city.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bubble-wrap appreciation day

The last Monday of January is officially Bubble-wrap Appreciation Day

Where do they make bubble-wrap? If I breathe the air in the bubble-wrap, whose air am I breathing? Is the air in the bubbles different depending on where the bubble-wrap was made?

Please share your bubble-wrap memories. No, seriously. Share. It's the least you can do.

Blue skies

Today the storms are gone and the skies are blue. It's clear, crisp, and cold, except in the sun.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What a score!

In an industrial area of North Hollywood, we drove past massive tiki-gods and tall glazed urns, and a big sign that said SALE.

Quick, go around the block, let's check it out!

Jackalope Pottery, on Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood, sells imported pottery, furniture, and folk arts and crafts from Mexico. There were beautiful glazed jardinieres, some fashioned into fountains. There were arrangements of teak garden furniture, Buddha statues, and inside the tin-roofed shed there were fabrics, carved wooden figures, and tin-framed mirrors.

But then I saw a shelf piled high with crockery in wonderful colors - deep blue, golden yellow, and orange sherbet. And a big red sign that said "50% off."

The plates and bowls were large, substantial, and looked like they cost something. At 50% off, I figured, maybe I could afford a bowl - the colors were so pretty it would be worth a splurge.

I picked up one of the bowls and turned it upside down to see the price. $1.99.

I asked the woman at the counter, "Are these already marked down?"

"No," she said. "It's 50 percent off the marked price."

$3.50 a place setting. What do you think?

I bought eight place settings. If you live in the Los Angeles area, check this place out.

Pink Saturday - Pink Contract

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

I've written about my work backstage for touring theatrical productions. For just about 20 years, I was a member of Local #15 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (no, that's not a typo in the last word, that's the actual name of the union), and in addition to working for my home local as a dispatch stagehand, I worked for theatrical producers as a member of the crew for several touring theatrical productions.

These jobs were union jobs, but workers were represented by the main office of our union, not our union locals. A touring production hired union crews, and agreed that in each city an attraction played, they would hire crews from the local affiliate of the union.

I don't know how many of you work in jobs where you are represented by a union; and if you do, I don't know how many of you are familiar with the contract that governs your work conditions. But most union contracts are pretty lengthy documents, full of legal language and lots and lots of specifications. The contracts that Local #15 negotiated with our local employers were that way. The contract that governs my current job with a public employer is that way.

Not so the contract that covered my work on tour. The "Traveling Stage Employes' Contract" issued by the International was a single piece of paper. The worker's copy is printed on pink paper, and because of that, it is universally known as a "Pink Contract."

People would talk about a "pink contract job." Or about somebody being "on a pink contract."

As Advance Electrician I only worked when the show moved. I had a new contract every time I joined the show, every ten weeks or so. My contract was for a term of one week each time.

Being one page, you could fold it up and put it in your wallet. Which was handy, because in every city an attraction played, there was always a little ritual where the local Business Representative would visit the theatre and ask to inspect each traveling crew member's union card and Pink Contract, to make sure that we were legit. It it's easy to pull your Pink Contract out of your wallet along with your union card for inspection.

The Pink Contract has very few work rules, with almost no protections. We got paid a weekly salary to work our asses off. The conditions under which we were entitled to extra pay were so extreme that few productions ever achieved them - and if they did, they were in such big trouble that you might as well get a little extra dough out of it, because the show was surely doomed.

And even the weak, vague rules in the Pink Contract were seldom enforced. One example? Condition number 8) :

"Drunkenness, drug abuse, dishonesty, or gross incompetence shall be sufficient reason for the immediate cancellation of this contract."

Never saw that one enforced, not once. Don't ask me how I know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thematic Photographic - I'm Hungry!

Each week Carmi at Written, Inc. has challenged readers with a theme for photographic inspiration. This week the photographic challenge continues with the theme I'M HUNGRY!

Who doesn't like french fries? These fries were served with the mussels at Blueplate Oysterette in Santa Monica. Moules frites, everyone!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


We Angelenos typically get overly excited when it rains, but this week, the series of fierce storms we've had since Sunday has made life inconvenient and dangerous. The ravaged hills where this October's fires raged are flooding, causing mudslides and evacuating whole neighborhoods. We Topangans worry about rockslides blocking our only exit road. Even in relatively urban parts of town, intersections are flooding and tornado-like gales are flipping SUVs over like toys.

It's such a serious storm my mother called from Chicago to see how we're doing. My mother-in-law also called - and she's in Florida experiencing record freezes!

Even some readers have written with concerns - for which humbly I thank you!

This morning I was scheduled to drive to Burbank to attend a seminar for my job - some 30 miles from my home. The storm predicted for today was supposed to be the Big One, but when I went out today, though the sky was overcast, it was dry and we seemed to be in a lull. I figured could make it to Burbank, attend the seminar, and be back home before the storm hit.

My little '99 Volkwagen is becoming increasingly less trusty, but it had just been serviced a few weeks ago, and it was running fine. There's been a little problem with a balky defroster, but as I headed up to the San Fernando Valley my windshield was clear and I crested the Top of Topanga summit by 7:20 am.

The Ventura Freeway looked like it was moving, so up the ramp I went. We were moving fine, even passing the 405. A brief cloudburst, then it cleared. I was cruising along just shy of the fast lane, passed a sign that told me I'd be at the junction to the 134 in 15 minutes, and then it happened.

You know how you can almost feel it in your hands, through the steering wheel when something's wrong with the engine? My "check engine" light came on and I felt the car weaken. I flicked on the turn signal and changed lanes, at another break changed again, skirted merging traffic and changed again and then only my forward momentum carried me out of traffic and onto a broad shoulder which - magically - just began right there.

I wasn't at all afraid when I was negotiating my way off the road, but once the car stopped I felt a rush of adrenalin so strong my hands were shaking.

I called AAA. A truck would be out in 25 minutes, they said. I sat in the car and read a book I'd stashed in my purse, and right on the money Monty's Club Service rolled up and pulled my little Volks up on the flatbed.

You can see from the photo how I managed to roll off the freeway right where the shoulder broadened out.

Monty took me to an auto repair shop in North Hollywood, where the proprietor gave me a cup of coffee, and started to work on the car. I called [The Man I Love] and let him know what happened. I knew he had a busy day. I figured I could find a restaurant or coffee shop down the street to wait out the day. But he said he could cancel some meetings and come pick me up.

The proprietor came back and rolled a small space heater by my chair and turned it on. "It might be a while before we can fix it," he said, and turned the TV on to CNN.

As I sat in the cramped little office, warmed by his kindness, I noticed hanging over the doorway to the garage three good luck charms.

A blue glass eye, a downward turned horseshoe; a sequin-and-bead saint's charm with a dangling cross (is it Saint Christopher? Saint Sebastian of Aparicio?). Above the door a piece of unspeakably shredded and melted metal adorned with a medallion of the Virgin and Child.

Luck. I'd certainly had some luck this morning.

A dry road. Light traffic with breaks to merge. A broad safe shoulder. A fully-charged cell phone. A kind tow-truck driver, and a warm cup of coffee. A husband able to change his schedule and come pick me up.

We're back home now, and by the time we pulled into our driveway, the storm let loose. We're inside and cozy. We don't know what's wrong with the Volkswagen, or how much it will cost, and we haven't even thought about the logistics of driving back to North Hollywood to retrieve it.

But as the voices on the radio read out accident reports and sigalerts, and warnings of flooding and injury accidents, I just thought about how very grateful I am for the good luck that had blessed me this morning.

Thematic Photographic - I'm Hungry!

Each week Carmi at Written, Inc. has challenged readers with a theme for photographic inspiration. This week the photographic challenge continues with the theme I'M HUNGRY!

I thought since I write a lot about food, it would be easy to find a good photo for this theme. But it was hard to choose. How do you evoke that feeling of ravenous anticipation when you sit down, order, and wait for your meal to come?

How about some cha gio, hot out of the fryer, to wrap in crisp lettuce leaves with pickled daikon and carrot, and a sweet pungent sauce to dip them in?

A steaming hot bowl of pho is on its way!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deja vu

Another great neon sign - Deja Vu Liquors on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. If you're going to have a liquor store named after a paranormal phenomenon, you might as well rent the upstairs room to a psychic.

After all, how can you predict when you'll want a cocktail?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

King of Kings

Click to embiggen

I took this photo from the window of a moving car. The old Olympic Auditorium south of downtown L.A. was sold a few years ago, and has recently become the home of a Korean-American Christian church. The church has painted the walls of the building with a huge mural of Jesus.

The arena, built for the 1932 Olympic games, was the home of championship boxing, wrestling, and roller derby athletic events. In the '80s it was a notorious punk rock concert venue. It hosted more mainstream pop acts, and served as a filming location in recent years, before being sold to the church.

We drove west on Venice Boulevard and caught the Olympic and its mural against a changing January sky.

Click the image to "embiggen." I think I caught an interesting shot. What do you think?

Thematic Photographic - White

Each week Carmi at Written, Inc. has challenged readers with a theme for photographic inspiration. This week the photographic challenge continues with the theme WHITE.

I am aware of the seasons passing, and writing a blog marks the occasion better than any journal or garden calendar. Last January, I posted about these modest white flowers, some of the earliest of the little spring bulbs to bloom.

These are Leucojum vernum, the Spring Snowflakes. They are, of course, white. Delicate, nodding, bell-shaped white blossoms, with curious green dots at the end of each petal.

This year they began blooming on January 13th. I was lucky to have captured their delicate white-and-green delicate bells before the week of rains that will descend upon us for the next week.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Interlude between storms

About 1:30 pm the power went out. Well, we thought, why not go out and run errands now? We could get some lunch, too. We drove down the canyon road, through the mist and wind, and although the clouds were still glowering, the rain eased up.

We ran our errands - library books to return, buy some more flashlight batteries, pick up dry-cleaning. And as we headed back down the Coast Highway, suddenly the sky was bright. The wind was still high and cold, and the waves rolled in, and there were small clouds that scudded along the horizon.

This evening another storm is supposed to roll in. But for a brief interlude, the sun was brilliant, and so, suddenly, was the ocean.

Rain - we're in it now!

The local weather reporters spent the last three days warning us about this week's storms, in that heightened sense of hysteria that Los Angeles exhibits whenever it's supposed to rain.

The first raindrops started to fall yesterday, but it was a slow and steady drip. Today is a different story. This is a gullywasher. Sudden gusts of wind rush up the canyon and the leaves of the jacaranda move like a woman tossing her hair. It's as if someone threw a bucket of water at the windows and on the flat roof of our house. The gutters fill and overflow.

Our house, porous as it is with jalousie windows and chimney flue, breathes as the wind does, changing the pressure so that doors pull shut, and cold current runs along the floor. It smells like charcoal from the fireplace, wet dog, wet leaves.

The southwest corner of our house reminds me of a boat the way our floor-to-ceiling windows ringed by a narrow deck, jut out over the falling away hillside below. Today as the rain swirls around us it reminds me of an ark, as if we're riding wave-tossed on storming seas.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Passages of Paris - What's for sale?

Passage des Panoramas

In Paris's 2nd Arrondissement, the ancestors of our modern shopping malls remain today. Called "passages" or "arcades" - they are narrow walkways, lined with shops and covered with iron-framed glass roofs, that meander between two buildings and offer a short-cut through urban boulevards.

Great-Uncle George's Baedekar guide to Paris, published in 1900, showing the Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, and Passage Verdeau.

Scholar and writer Walter Benjamin was fascinated with the way the covered shopping arcades of Paris contributed to the rise of consumer capitalism in the 19th century.
The arcades are the center of commerce in luxury items. In fitting them out, art enters the service of the merchant.

Housewares shop in the Galerie Vivienne

So I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what's on sale in Paris's covered passageways.

Bookseller, Passage des Panoramas

By providing a sheltered place where commodities could be displayed and admired, where even those who couldn't buy them could still see them and envy them, the very architecture of the arcades spurred a new era of consumerism.

Art Gallery, Passage Joffroy

Benjamin called the passages "temples of commodity," and noted the vast array of items for sale all in the same place. He likened the glass shop windows one gazed at to:
those great encyclopedic works World and Mankind, New Universe, The Earth, wouldn’t our gaze always fall first on the color illustration of a “Carboniferous Landscape” or on “Lakes and Glaciers of the First Ice Age?” Such an ideal panorama of a barely elapsed primeval age opens up when we look through the arcades that are found in all cities. Here resides the last dinosaur of Europe, the consumer. On the walls of these caverns their immemorial flora, the commodity, luxuriates and enters, like cancerous tissue, into the most irregular combinations. A world of secret affinities; palm tree and feather duster, hair dryer and Venus de Milo, prosthesis and letter-writing manual come here together as after a long separation. The odalisque lies in wait next to the inkwell, priestesses raise aloft ashtrays like patens. These items on display are a rebus; and how one ought to read here the birdseed kept in the fixative-pan from a darkroom, the flowerseeds beside the binoculars, the broken screws atop the musical score, and the revolver above the goldfish bowl – is right on the tip of one’s tongue. After all, nothing in the lot appears to be new. The goldfish come from perhaps a pond that has dried up long ago, the revolver will have been a corpus delecti, and these scores could hardly have preserved their previous owner from starvation when her last pupils stayed away.

Needlepoint shop in the Passage Verdeau

He wrote about the collectors shops - taxidermists and shell shops and a shop selling only buttons. Commemorative spoons, lingerie, hairpins. There were cafes, hairdressers, bookstalls, and wax museums - the Musee Grevin Wax Museum is still in the Passage Jouffroy today.

The line between art and commodity was blurred. The shopping arcades were a habitat much like one's own home, wrote Benjamin:
glossy enameled shop signs are a wall decoration as good as, if not better than, an oil painting in the drawing room of a bourgeois; walls with their “Post No Bills” are its writing desk, newspaper stands its libraries, mailboxes its bronze busts, benches its bedroom furniture, and the café terrace its balcony from which it looks down on its household.

Passage Jouffroy

Walter Benjamin was intrigued by the artificiality of the decor style, which aped other worlds and eras, and mixed it all up without discrimination.

Bicycle in the Passage Verdeau

He quoted his friend Franz Hessel, who called the 19th century the "dreamy epoch of bad taste."
Yes, this epoch was wholly adapted to the dream, was furnished in dreams. The alternation in styles - Gothic, Persian, Renaissance and so on - signified: that over the interior of the middle-class dining room spreads a banquet room of Cesare Borgia's, or that out of the boudoir of the mistress a Gothic chapel arieses, or that the master's study, in its iridescence, is transformed into the chamber of a Persian prince.
Antique store, Galerie Vero-Dodat
Antique and secondhand shops were common. So were specialty shops, like one that sells fancy canes.

Le Bonheur des Dames, Passage Verdeau

Benajmin was interested in the names of shops, like "La Fille d'Honneur," "Le Page Inconstant," "La Chamiere Allemande" (The German Cottage), "Au Coin de la Rue" (At the corner of the road), and "Au Mamelouk." Some of the names reflected the popularity of theatrical revues and operettas of the day.

Toy shop at the Palais Royal

Benjamin wrote about how fashion created the need to purchase each new item, that it "prescribed the ritual by which the fetish Commodity wished to be worshipped." Both buyer and sellers were constantly watching one another, selling themselves as surely as if they were prostituting themselves.

Boutique in the Palais Royal
Women here look at themselves more than elsewhere, and from this comes the distinct beauty of the Parisienne. Before any man catches sight of her she has already seen herself reflected ten times.
He quoted Karl Marx, who wrote how the "murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion" led to the formation of the factory system of exploitation in the Industrial Revolution. The constant need to have the latest thing kept the system going.

Passage des Panoramas

By the end of the 19th century, the passages were also where less seemly commerce took place, including prostitution. Prostitutes were, perhaps, the ultimate expression of the commodity fetishism, since they browsed in the passages for clothing and jewelry to enhance their ability to sell themselves to the men who frequented the passages.

Contemporary accounts, including the novels of Emile Zola, describe the world of the passages and the excess of commerce conducted there. In "Nana," a novel about a theatrical courtesan, he describes her stroll through the Passage des Panoramas:
She adored the Passage des Panoramas, still obsessed by the passion she had felt in her youth for fancy goods, fake jewelry, gilded zinc and cardboard made to look like leather. She could not tear herself away from shop windows any more than when she had been a street urchin in down-at-heel shoes, lost in wonder over a confectioner's wares, or listening to a musical box in a neighboring shop and above all going into ecstasies over cheap gaudy knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes, ragpickers' baskets for holding toothpicks, and thermometers mounted on obelisks....
Confectioners in the Passage des Panoramas

Walter Benjamin worked on his study of the shopping arcades for over ten years, amassing a collection of notes, quotes, and interconnected essays. It was his obsession, and if he'd been able to publish it, it would have been his most important book.

Instead, in 1940, Walter Benjamin died while fleeing the Nazis. His death by supposed suicide in a mountain town on the border between Spain and France is still a mystery. So, too, is the fate of a lost manuscript he carried with him. Was it his finished "Passegenwerk," on the arcades of Paris?

A collection of his notes - perhaps his unfinished manuscript - was hidden by a friend in the Bibliotheque Nationale. It was this fragmentary, montage-like collection of writings that was finally published in 1980.

Rotunda, Galerie Colbert

Today the Galerie Colbert is part of the Institut Nationale d'Histoire de l'Art, a training and research center. Its beautiful rotunda now restored, it houses reading rooms, seminar rooms, and exhibit space. One of the seminar rooms is named after Walter Benjamin.

"Even the eyes of passersby are veiled mirrors", Walter Benjamin wrote.