Los Angeles

Los Angeles is an unusual city.  Unlike other cities of its size, it’s not particularly known for its landmarks apart from Hollywood (see below).  As I flew over the city to land at LAX on a sunny afternoon, I could have been flying over a vast suburb – the flat expanse of the city stretched for miles with its straight avenues and boulevards lined with two-storey buildings dwarfed by palm trees. The only tall buildings were a cluster of skyscrapers that made up Downtown

From 1904 to 1956 there was a 13 storey limit on buildings in the city, to keep the streets sunny and encourage outward, rather than upward, building construction.  When the limit was repealed, tall buildings shot up in the Bunker Hill region.  However, a law put into effect in 1974, (literally) shaped the way skyscrapers were constructed.  The Emergency Helicopter Landing Facility Law required that buildings have space for a rooftop helipad, giving the flat top to L.A.’s skyscrapers, in contrast to the spikes of most other major cities’ silhouettes.  In recent years Hollywood has been the focus of legal building-planning issues since the Hollywood Community Plan was drafted in 1988, approved in 2012, and then stopped in 2013 due to a lawsuit by neighbourhood residents.  If the plan gets sorted out and implemented it will mean a big change for the Hollywood area, which is pretty grotty for one of the top tourist attractions of the city.  Though that does add to the faded glamour of the boulevard.

Grauman's Chinese TheatreL.A. has some great museums and galleries (the Getty, the Page museum at the La Brea Tar Pits), but my favourite was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  I could have spent days there.  There were exhibitions of historical art from all over the world, housed in different buildings of different styles.  There are your regular monochrome vertical walls for some of the exhibits, but other regions get creative.  The walls of the Japanese pavilion are made to look like paper shoji, which gives a lovely soft, uniform light to the room.  Also, in order to view what’s on display, you walk up or down a spiral ramp to get different views of the display sections.

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I can understand why some people might find the design for the Art of the Ancient Americas garish and distracting, but I loved it.  The colours really complimented the ceramics and made the silverwork shine.

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Not only the buildings themselves but what decorates them is subject to some legal issues, as you can see from the video above.  I was glad that I re-watched Exit Through the Gift Shop on the flight over.  The shop and street art in L.A. really made the dull boxy buildings and car parks a lot more interesting.

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One thing I would highly recommend is a walking tour by the Los Angeles Conservancy. They run tours around historic and interesting areas in the city on weekends, but I was lucky that they had some midweek evening tours during the summer because I was away at the weekends.  I took the Art Deco tour which took us Downtown.  As well as the beautiful Art Deco buildings from the ’20s and ’30s, we saw some older ones like the Beaux Arts PacMutual building from 1908 (below), as well as more recent, but more decrepit, movie theatres.

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I could never picture Los Angeles as the setting for Film Noir because it’s just so sunny.  But once night fell and I went from one former Downtown speakeasy to the next, I was able to get a sense of it.

This was not a former speakeasy, but a beer and hot-dog place in the Arts District where a lot of the street art was.

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Now this is where the speakeasy was.  It was actually in a room in the back where it was too dark to see the person’s face in front of you, let alone take a picture.

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And on to a Cuban speakeasy where I drank rum from a coconut by firelight.

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But as fun as it was to bar hop like a P.I. on the hunt for a cagey witness, it was pretty sobering to accidentally skirt by Skid Row.  While many parts of the Downtown area are pretty run down, the trend towards gentrification is clear, and what’s good for the surrounding residents and businesses, may or may not be good for Skid Row.

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California

…fra le vaste californie selve
nasce beata prole…

Giacomo Leopardi Inno ai patriarchi

Since I arrived back in Japan in August, every so often I’ve looked over my photos from my American trip, wondering if I should blog about it, being daunted by the prospect and putting off making a decision about it.  I think the photos I uploaded to my tumblr Golden to Silver give a good round-up of my trip, but before I move on to writing about Japan again, I thought I’d do a couple of posts about it with the pictures from my real camera, because it was too great of an experience not to add to my online scrapbook.

Two years after my first visit to America, I was back again thanks to the good friends I made in Japan.  K&M were in Kanazawa for two years and we spent many an evening eating and drinking together, as well as climbing a mountain from time to time.  Although California had not been high on my list of places to visit, when they invited me to their wedding and I started to do some research, I was excited for another epic American adventure.

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Which I made my students learn all about when school started back in September.

I flew into Los Angeles and the wedding was two days later; beautiful, well-planned and with excellent food and drink, as I expected.  When I first moved to Japan I did not expect to be at a wedding in LA three years later.  I did not expect to make the kind of friends who would not only invite me to their wedding, but also plan a honeymoon with me! I had booked my flights to spend three weeks in America, because I wanted to make the most out of travelling all that way, but I expected that I’d go off travelling by myself after the wedding to give them some time with all their other friends and relatives who were going to be in town, and then try not to get in their way too much when I was in LA. But they planned a whole trip with me for the week after the wedding to take a road trip around California. Not only that, but the weekend after that we took a road trip through the desert. It wasn’t their ‘official’ honeymoon, but it was definitely version 1.0.

Two days after the wedding, we took a train up to Santa Barbara to meet some other friends from our time in Japan. M used to live in Santa Barbara, and he took us to a little Mexican supermarket to get some things for breakfast the next day.

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We didn’t buy a piñata unfortunately.

One thing I loved about my trip, was how multicultural California seemed, more than any other place I’ve visited so far.  A lot of K&M’s friends had families that came from all over the place, and because the two of them are such foodies, they made sure I ate food from many different countries.

My cultural experience was biased towards Mexico, however, because M was born in Mexico and Mexican food is delicious.  It’s also a country I know very little about.  On my first day in LA, M’s mum (also called Maria) drove us around to help prepare for the wedding. Maria only spoke Spanish, M knew both Spanish and English, K could understand Spanish and I only knew English so there were many levels to our conversations!  My first dinner in California was enchiladas verdes, cooked by M, and my first breakfast was a breakfast burrito and horchata, a cinnamon rice drink, that’s my new favourite beverage.

Anyway, back to Santa Barbara.  We were picked up by their friend C, who I had met when he came to visit them in Japan, and who was moving from Texas to Santa Cruz at the time.  He graciously made room for us in his car, and we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping off at Big Sur to swim in the Pacific and hike among the redwoods.

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We saw some of Steinbeck country and went to the Steinbeck House in Salinas for lunch.  I was reading East of Eden and I picked up Travels with Charley at the gift shop there for good measure.

San Francisco was cool, literally and figuratively, yet it was the only time I got sunburned on my trip because I forgot to put on sun cream for cycling through the fog.  We ate delicious food, drank at swanky bars and even did karaoke.

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We drove up (across the Golden Gate Bridge) to Point Reyes on one of our last days.  It gets so foggy there that the lighthouse had to be built half-way down a cliff to be visible below the fog.

The fog didn’t delay our flight back to LA (although disruptions at LAX did), and that city will be the subject of my next post.  Stay tuned!

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