Posts Tagged 'Los Angeles'

Tale of two cities

There’s a reason that I have separate posts for Hollywood and Los Angeles. See, Hollywood is a self-contained little phenomena that just happens to be in LA, more or less content to exist as its own bubbling entity happily guzzling tourist dollars. Los Angeles itself is a very different place.

The city seems bustling and grimy, pocketed with little green enclaves of gardens and small parks. The outskirts are perhaps the most dilapidated, with hurriedly-painted buildings and cracked tarmac crumbling around the roads, but the downtown areas are generally a little more well-to-do. I only had an hour to wander around, with which I traced a broad and circuitous route from Pershing Square to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

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The climate here is warmer than San Diego, the air seems somehow richer, or perhaps its coastal cousin’s atmosphere is thinner, I don’t know. But there’s still that blessed sea breeze that launches an otherwise slightly oppressive heat into a perfectly pitched comfort zone. This is helped of course by the block system, the tall, smooth buildings creating steel-and-glass wind tunnels that sweep up the streets from the shore. It makes moving about the city pretty easy, even with my chunky backpack, and it is perhaps because of this that downtown is filled with human traffic; joggers, teens out shopping, mothers with their kids, business folk taking a break, etc. Even the pigeons seem happy just sitting cupped in the basins of the fountains. Far away on the hills that rise out of the bay, a smattering of houses cling to the scrubland in the sunlight.

The first thing I saw was the Angels Flight, a small tram with a fascinating and somewhat tragic history. It was in the process of being restored as I came across it, but it’s obviously a landmark that inspires a lot of local interest. It sat there, suspended on the tracks, waiting for something.

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After heading through the architectural salgamundi of Pershing Square and the shady inner streets, the path I took cut through the sleek financial district, with men and women leaving glossy black buildings in matte black suits; eating sandwiches on the steps; heading to the park on their mobile phones. There’s the smell of money in the air, and some news stations were billeted outside, apparently in anticipation of something. I couldn’t stop though, so instead admired the audacity of the skyscrapers and office blocks as I circled up to the stunning concert hall.

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Walt Disney is something of a minor god here, and it seems like even those who dislike his methods can’t help but appreciate the enormous brute success of the man. It seems fitting that one of his biggest legacies is a cross between a treble clef and a battle-axe.

The spacious luxury of the theatre district was the last impression I had of LA, but probably not the most distinct. The day before, from my Hollywood base, I traveled west to the Santa Monica beach. LA is so staggeringly huge that it’s best thought of more like London, with its individual areas encompassed by the roaming city limits.

Santa Monica is a hip, slightly commercial little part of town, down near the shore. It has a lot of clothes shops, restaurants, and character. I traveled with an Italian woman I met at the hostel, and after the beach, whilst she was in a yoga class, I let my itchy feet roam. I chanced upon a lively bit of street entertainment – a black man, an indian, and a mexican mixing urban dance, gymnastics, and cutting racial satire in an explosive cocktail of social politics and showmanship. Their act lasted a good half hour, perhaps more, and was really pretty great. They’ve been doing it for ten years, so they say, and I believe them, so if you happen to be in LA, head down to Santa Monica and see if you can catch them.

The beach itself I chose deliberately, as the purported fiesta of Venice beach to the south was, for once, not quite what I was feeling like. I just wanted the sand between my toes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for very compelling narrative. You might just have to accept my word that it’s a very pleasant, clean beach. I did say that Santa Monica probably left more of an impression on me than downtown, and it did – but again, like the previous post, I think that that one is another topic.

I’ll leave you with a photo I didn’t have a chance to include earlier. Say what you like about the man, the one thing that nobody can deny is his impact on the world.

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