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Neighbors Make a Blanket Statement

June 11, 1989|DICK RORABACK

When you get right down to it, what could be quainter than a quilting bee? Oh, in Iowa, maybe, or in Vermont during the sugarin'-off season, but in Los Angeles? In the softness of spring?

"Why not?" asks Donna Mendieta, part of a 30-family co-op that runs the Neighborhood Nursery in Silver Lake. A raffled quilt was a fund-raising tradition in the '50s, when the school was started. Last year, the revived practice proved so popular that they did it again in '89. Rather than the usual flowers or patterns, this year's theme was "heritage," each family sewing a 12x12-inch square symbolic of its own background.

With the nursery the mini-melting pot that New York City used to boast but that has long since shifted westward, the quilt turned out a many-splendored gallimaufry of races, religions, nationalities and occupations that could serve as an ensign for the whole of L.A.:

"One square has a Japanese woman in an exquisite kimono, standing in a stylized garden," says Ilene Thompson, parent and winner of the raffle. "An Italian family centered their square on a big pizza. The Thompsons? We're from New Orleans, so we have a Bourbon Street scene with piano, sax, some keynotes. . . ."

"This is not a real Yuppie neighborhood," Mendieta says. "We're from all over the world, which is great for the kids' education. One of the squares has a llama for the Ecuadorean father and a shamrock for the Irish mother. There's Russian nutcrackers, and a set of Shabbat candles. Ours has an Aztec pyramid--my husband's Mexican--and a castle flying the Union Jack, for my side." Finally, all the families got together to fashion the squares into the quilt that now reclines on the Thompsons' bed (which seems a shame until Ilene volunteers somewhat hesitantly that "Anyone can come see it").

The gala, meanwhile, raised $8,000, which covers annual operating costs, and all's well in Silver Lake, a microcosm of the coexistence that's at the core of America, or should be. "It's a real community here," Mendieta says. "Oh sure, we complain about it--chronically--but in the end, we love it."

Rafting in Soviet Union Breaks the Ice

"What it was," Mike Grant says, "was the Woodstock of river rafting."

Limbs intact, bruises receding, enthusiasm undiminished, Grant is back from the Chuya Rally, a bold bash down a river in a remote purlieu of Siberia. "It snowed; it sleeted; both sides of the river were blocks of ice; it was extremely cold," Grant says. "It was great!"

Assisted by Project RAFT--a California-based group sponsoring Soviet-American white-water expeditions to promote mutual understanding--400 youths from 19 countries tackled the trek, "a huge success," says project director Grant, 28. "At any given time there were at least 1,000 people camping along the river, counting friends, interpreters, villagers from the mountains along the banks.

"Dancing around the fire, sometimes until 4 a.m. Folk-singing in the snow (from the Americans: 'Rollin' on a River'). Camaraderie. And an invitation from the Smoky Mountain team to do it all over again next year in North Carolina."

It was called the Peace Camp, and it was a departure for RAFT, which specializes in more intimate (20-youth) treks as well as trips for older people ($3,950 for 15 days, to finance RAFT). "Out in the middle of nowhere," Grant says, "it's easier to break down the barriers. We're in the same boat, both physically and metaphorically; sooner or later we have to learn how to paddle together.

"And there's a ripple effect. This August, we're hosting a Russian group on a trip down the Grand Canyon. We've invited Gorbachev and Bush. I know it sounds crazy, but can you imagine the two of them in the same raft, hurtling through Lava Falls? It could change the world. . . ."

Paper Work: Giving Garbage a New Life

Paper is paper, right? You read what's written on it, or dump what's packaged in it, and either throw it away or--if you're a good kid--bale it for recycling.

Elli Myers, though, has a novel use for the junk mail, invitations, notices and grocery bags that invade her Thousand Oaks home. She cuts it up; boils it; whirls it in a blender; mixes in an original and endless skein of skins, seeds, lint, petals, fabrics; dries it out in the back yard, and makes out of it something entirely new: paper.

Myers' paper is like nothing else you've ever seen. It isn't even like itself . Each batch has its own color and texture. Here's a pale-aqua sheet with random blips of lavender and a funky texture that turns out to be milkweed pods. Here's a cream-colored swatch with self-contained calligraphy that started life as pine needles; a lint-streaked pink bolstered by sawdust and zinnia petals; an off-yellow of corn husks and yucca sawdust. . . .

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