Week # 3:
The only real insight into Los Angeles that I have after spending a week here is that insights into Los Angeles are impossible after a week. It would probably take living here for the average production time of a Hollywood movie in order to get even a rudimentary sense of what this city is all about. My touchstones for comparison are London and Beirut, where I lived for four and one years respectively. LA feels very different to London because for all its massive size and freeways, it feels much less crowded and much more relaxed once you get out the car. But heres an insight for you: LA kind of reminded me of Beirut. I know, lower your eyebrows. Obviously LA is the apex of Western consumer culture while Beirut is close to the vortex of global politics. There are no bombed out buildings here, and MacDonalds has never needed a security guard in LA. But in the relaxed beachfront culture, the obsession with driving everywhere, the glitzy restaurants, the valet parking and the feeling of something southern in the air, I felt that perhaps for a certain aspect of Beiruti society, the aspiration leans towards Los Angeles.
And do you know what else? I like this city much more than I was expecting to. I hate having to drive everywhere, and I get the feeling social segregation is pretty marked (no
different to London really), but it is, in fact, a much more charming place than I thought I would find. Plus its true that everyone seems to know, or feed, or massage, or work with, or work for, or litigate on behalf of or somehow be connected with the movie industry and its hard, even for a complete cynic like me, not to be a bit enchanted by that. Plus it is 82 degrees outside today (yes Fahrenheit you work it out).
Im not sure LA has as much going on culturally as London (either that or the LA Weekly just isnt as good at its job as Time Out, let alone the Ran$om Note) but I have had a busy week of watching, listening, laughing and contemplating. And eating. Ive probably had more meals out here in the last week than I did in the last year of living in Britain: Korean, Thai, Italian, Lebanese (as good as Beirut, seriously), Indian, Japanese, French and its
all been good and not expensive.
Which I guess is part of the reason why the beachfront at Santa Monica and Venice really are overrun (sorry) with joggers, or teenage daughters on bicycles pulling along uber-toned mothers on roller blades, all entirely without irony though not perhaps without a little neuroticism. The bike ride down the coast from there to LAX and back up to Malibu is an excellent place to at least start looking for some insight, along with a medical marijuana certificate (did you know they may be about to legalise California?) and some ethnic jewellery, American Apparel pants or homegrown rap.
Not without irony was Sufjan Stevens tour gig at the Wiltern on Sunday evening. In this stunning art deco venue in Hollywood, with a young and hipsterish-but-earnest crowd in tow, he and his band and his rather endearingly cool go-go dancers, dressed like Seventies
space models, put on a spectacular and generous show. I hadnt listened to new album The Age of Adz so it was all fresh, and made for a fantastic live set with its veering from snatches of folk to looped electronic weirdness to pop-eating-itself synthed mashups to wall of sound grinding guitars and drums. Plus lots of gorgeous, gorgeous brass and incredible visuals. The whole album is heavily inspired, as Sufjan told us in a rambling epilogue, by this guy.
I went to the movies too, obviously. I saw Red in Hollywood on Saturday night, after taking pictures of Peter Sellers and Johnny Depps handprints outside Graumans Chinese Theatre. Fun; I like the comic book aesthetic, its got Malkovich and Mirren in it. Its the kind of film to go and see in Hollywood on a Saturday night. Much more interesting and better acted too was The Social Network. Regardless of its faithfulness or otherwise to events and personalities, this is an intelligent and likeable cashing-in on our own current reality. Finding anything to do on a Monday night was challenging, but we did track down some decent comedy even if, like everything here, the serving was too large: who needs to see 12 comics in one evening?
Downtown is a dreamscape for the point-and-shoot photographer, from the self-reflecting skyscrapers of the financial district to the crumbling stucco of the now dead Broadway theatres. A nice quote on Los Angeles comes from one of the boards provided by the city on its tourist walks (only tourists walk here). Apropos of Frank Gehrys typically zany home for the LA Opera and Philharmonic it says: The Walt Disney Concert Hall epitomizes the citys long striving for stature as a center of high culture, even as Los Angeles became the worlds generator of popular culture. Down the road the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), has a nice permanent collection of abstract expressionists in its more showy and less interesting Grand Avenue gallery, and some of their (mostly) less interesting offspring in its much more exciting Geffen Space.
The midterm elections are coming up. My sisters phone keeps ringing with automated messages from Republican offices urging you to vote this way or that on this Bill or that a winning tactic I think not. Discussion seems to mainly revolve around the quality of the TV ads. But hey who cares; Im gonna have a dip in the pool and go eat some Ethiopian food. This is LA after all
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