What follows is purely in the interests of finishing the story of my trip to Los Angeles. All opinions are mine and are based on that tiny part of the city which I actually got to see. They should not be construed as applying to the USA as a whole, it being a country almost as big as Europe, and probably about as diverse. I apologise in advance for the lack of witticisms: I still have the Lurgi and just want to sleep.
I survived my stay in Los Angeles, in spite of those 12 hours in a plane to get there turning my snuffle into full-blown, can’t-say-a-word laryngitis for the stay. Well, I got my voice back the day before I left, which was better than nothing, but hardly ideal for all the serious stuff we needed to discuss as a family. Like “What will you do after you qualify?” and “When are you getting a job?” and stuff like that. But Los Angeles is a strange place: plenty of lovely sunshine, lots of obviously well-off people, and homeless folk everywhere. A poster proclaims that 1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger. It’s like visiting a third-world country, an uncomfortable feeling. It doesn’t help that we don’t have much money ourselves, having plundered our savings to spend what may well be our last holiday together before work and families take over. Still, we manage to get some tourism in, by dint of careful calculation of bus routes and much walking. I rediscover long-lost muscles. Ouch.
Weird. You turn a corner and the area goes from poverty-struck to opulent. Indecipherable signs in exotic languages abound. The tendency to what feels like ghettoisation (Jewish quarter, Korean quarter, Hispanic quarter etc.) worries me: how can anyone learn tolerance of those who are different if there’s de facto segregation? When everyone stays within their social comfort zone, all of society loses out. People are friendly here, but it seems very superficial.
Venice beach: well, we had to wander through there, didn’t we? Full of loonies, with a high level of psychics and medical marijuana stands. We enjoy the show by some young acrobats: impressive feats and some well-worn jokes. Then onto the beach proper for sunshine, sand and seagulls. There’s a nice view of the pollution oozing out to sea, both to the north (where it’s a thick yellow fog) and to the south. Coming back after sunset, we see the Mormon temple in all its festive splendour. The building itself is bathed in a golden light. Every bush and tree in the extensive grounds is hung heavy with electric garlands, all in primary colours. Now that‘s bad taste for you.
Food: not an unqualified success. Has anybody here heard of balanced, affordable meals with reasonable portions? I try burritos, made by real Mexicans. Delicious. I take the vegetarian option and can actually stand up afterwards. However, I have an attack of WTF in front of the ice creams at Trader Joe’s. What is it with this obsession for eating oily, salty seeds ground into a gooey paste? Also, why do Starbucks have a reputation for good coffee? This stuff is foul, gimme the hot chocolate instead. America, America, why must you perpetuate the stereotype that Americans can’t make good coffee? Plus your fruit is too unripe to have any flavour. Why does the Sunshine State have Fun-Free Fruit? And it’s sold piecemeal. What’s wrong with selling fresh, ripe fruit by the pound?
Against my better judgement, at one point I am coerced into eating a burger. Burgers are boring. Beef is the most boring meat in the world (not specific to the USA, this time). Do not eat burgers. They are boring and fattening. The frozen yoghurt at Pinkberry was good though.
Bullied into shopping. My god, is this the Victoria’s Secret everybody talks about? It must be a new experiment in contraception: the most repulsive lingerie ever detected by science. Trashy would be a step up. Ill-assorted, vomiferous colours assault our eyes and we all make a note to purchase a really good pair of sunglasses. Elsewhere, I see my first uglydoll. It’s the one which happens to be @arclight’s avatar, but I resist the temptation to do a bit of ID-heisting and buy a pair of socks with puffins on instead. I like birds. California provides me with my first wild hummingbirds and considerable frustration at not having the right equipment to take photos of them hovering around the red-hot pokers (it’s a flower, smartass).
A trip to Hollywood, we see the Muppets film. It’s OK, a bit twee, but it contains plenty of amusing moments: Bunsen and Beaker at the LHC, Animal at anger management classes, Dave Grohl in a silly wig, Neil Patrick Harris, that guy from Big Bang Theory singing, Jack Black tied to a chair and forced to listen to Fozzie’s jokes… My favourite bit is possibly the cheeky rendition of C-Lo Green’s – um – ‘Cluck You‘ by Priscilla and the hens.
The natives continue to amaze me by their overall lack of inches. There are indeed tall people, but there are far more gnomes. In many cases, some very rotund gnomes: people around my height, or less, but carrying up to an extra 60 kg (150 lb) seem to be the norm. How do I know about the 60 kg? We spent a day at Universal Studios theme park, which has weighing machines everywhere for some reason, and people were quite happily using them in public. On the plus side, it severely curtailed my appetite, although the awakening abdominal muscles may have had a hand in this as well.
I think what bemused me most – apart from the Jewish Rasta café glimpsed from the bus – was the strange mixture of cutting-edge and obsolete technology on display everywhere. ATMs that can read cheques, yet washing machines haven’t changed since the 60s; electronic fingerprint-reading machines, but you still have to sign credit card chits and produce ID because PIN numbers are apparently unknown; electronic cards can be stored on smartphones, but buses and trucks are as aerodynamic as bricks. Definitely a country of contrasts.
Did I enjoy myself? Yes. Would I live in LA? No: too much pollution, too much poverty, and terrible but expensive food.
- On Location: Venice Beach rides Hollywood wave (latimesblogs.latimes.com)