Saturday, November 08, 2008

La La Land

This is part 2 of Justin and Simon's Amazing American Adventure!!! Part 1 can be found here, my photos of the trip here, and Simon's here.

After another night at Jenny's in Burbank, it was time for our big day out in LA and its environs. Waking up at the crack of dawn (8 o'clock in reality, but that doesn't sound very dramatic) we headed off to get fuel for the day in the form of an excellent breakfast of donuts (we were in America, so I won't say doughnuts) and chocolate milk. This would not be a day for health food...

Fortified, we headed off towards LA, beginning with the place that is synonymous with LA, California, and the USA: Hollywood. We headed up Mulholland Drive to catch a view of that sign. The area lived up to the clich├ęs: hazy, hot, mansions of the rich, and a big sign saying "Hollywood". Joggers went past with little dogs in backpacks, and Jenny & Gavin had no idea what we were talking about when we spotted the Hollywood Bowl and associated it with Monty Python. LA was hidden in the smoggy haze, which added a kind of mystique to the area: we could hear the distant urban noise, but could just see shadows and hints.

Downtown Hollywood was, to be honest, a bit of a disappointment: basically a massive shopping mall enveloping the street with the stars on it and the Chinese Theater. Overcrowded with tourists, it spoke volumes of the modern world that, in front of the Chinese Theater, the hand-prints of George Clooney, Matt Damon, and the Harry Potter cast were crowded whilst Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Sinatra et al were neglected and quiet at the back. The Kodak Theater, transformed on Oscar night into a glamourous-looking lobby and mega-auditorium, was just a wing of the shopping mall. We got out of there sharpish, and abandoned the car, taking the underground to Downtown LA.

Popping up amongst the cluster of skyscrapers, one of the first sights was the plaza from the finale of the first season of Heroes. Whilst I wasn't enamoured with the show enough to carry on to the second series (in short: boring, drawn-out, un-twisty plot twists), this landmark seems to impress the Heroes-watchers that I know.



We then took a wander around downtown LA, which had, to my surprise, a really nice mix of older art deco buildings and modern glass skyscrapers. This is something that we saw throughout the West Coast: for some reason I had not anticipated so much deco architecture, but I suppose it is to be expected when you consider when the explosion of city building was in the US. Popping in past the library (books and an impressive atrium) we wandered through what I suppose was the financial district towards Grand Central Market and lunch.

Grand Central Market was an arresting place: a crowded food hall with a mix of fast-food (in the most positive sense, no McD or BK here) vendors and stalls selling a variety of food, drink, and condiments. We had lunch from a very busy taqueria: I can't remember what the others had, but I had what was described as "pork taco" for $2.50. This is not like the stingy little hard-shell thing that we get here, but a mahoosive pile of barbecued pork served with veg, lime, sauce and some little soft tortillas. I thought about ordering 2 before I saw the size, which would have been a big mistake. It was really good stuff, the only criticism being that a little kick of heat could have elevated it to exceptional food. The outside temperature was getting hot, so it was "large" Cokes all round: they don't piss around when you ask for large in the US, giving us what seemed like 2 litres of the stuff each; these were the largest cups that I have ever seen.

Recharged, we bravely endured the midday sun to take a wander around the rest of downtown: City Hall, courthouses, the cathedral, and the concert hall. City Hall is iconic, the main courthouse a wonderful example of how brutalism can turn almost beautiful, the cathedral an ostentatious show of wealth from the Catholic church (sacrificing character for bombast), and the Walt Disney Concert Hall a modern masterpiece. This is my kind of building: a shimmering castle of outlandish angles and textures; in the hot afternoon the building seemed to angrily glow at you in its attempts to bedazzle. It succeeded.

Gavin had endured enough of our high-paced tour, so left Jenny, Simon, and I to reclaim the car and hit a few more big-name streets. From Hollywood we went down Santa Monica Boulevard towards Beverley Hills. Here we stopped for cupcakes and commercialism. Cupcakes were covered by Sprinkes Cupcakes, who we were told were at the heart of the craze which is sweeping the US at the moment. Jenny was tickled when we said that, as we were telling her that cupcakes are not generally available in the UK, we would class them as iced fairy cakes. After being assured that people of any sexuality are able to eat them, we tucked in to a selection that included chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and peanut butter. Yum. On a sugar high, we took a deep breath and headed down Rodeo Drive. This was a ludicrous frenzy of brands, bling, and bad taste both fascinating and horrifying in nature. Nowhere else in the US was their version of a money-based class system more apparent: it was clear that, even if we had wanted to go in and purchase something, we would not have been very welcome in many of the shops. I was imagining a hip-hop soundtrack as we walked down the street: money, cash, hoes seemed somehow appropriate...

Escaping from the madness, we headed back onto Santa Monica Boulevard to the eponymous city. This was literally a breath of fresh air: a chilled out seaside resort so close to the oppressive heat and hustle of downtown LA. We took a wander through the streets and headed to the pier. On the way we passed an awesome-looking post-modern churro shop called xooro, which was unfortunately (for my sweet tooth but not my cholesterol) closed. This was yet another example of all the superb food options that they have across there: I am really jealous of all the choice and variety that they have, but glad for my waistline that I live quite far away. I'm annoying already, but just imagine my horrific personality mixed with a wheelchair-bound obese man constantly cramming his face with food. Think Jabba the Hut without Princess Leia on a chain: not very pleasant, is it? Anyway, we took a wander along the pier, a lovely old thing containing an amusement park, tacky souvenir shops, and real fishermen.

Braced by the sea breeze we negotiated LA evening traffic to meet our final food challenge: the Bear Pit BBQ. I love BBQ, and this didn't disappoint. Big hunks of soft, smokey meat were served up to everyone. I, of course, had pork ribs: they were at least twice as meaty and twice as smokey as any others that I had eaten before, and the day's eating caught up with me as I struggled to make it halfway through the portion. Simon genuinely impressed me by polishing off his "sampler" platter which was, in reality, a huge pile of what looked like 10kg of MEAT. Not meat, MEAT!!!! The venue was fun, with sawdust on the floor; the food was excellent; and the company great: most of Jenny's family came along and we had a fun meal before heading back to hers, making a ham-fisted attempt at playing Rock Band, and collapsing into bed.

The next morning, after a meal of takeaway cupcakes from the day before, we headed across town to the Warner Brothers studios to have a look around. To a fan of TV and film it was overwhelming to see the history that we were able to almost (and often actually) touch and stand in: the piano from Casablanca, the costumes from The Matrix, a miniature set from The Corpse Bride, County General Hospital from ER, exterior sets from many legendary films and TV series (including Seinfeld), and the actual Central Perk set from Friends. This was the real, dazzling Hollywood deal. Simon and I were in a competition to see who could be the first of us to spot a celebrity: apart from a Depp-a-like, the disappointing victor was John Stamos' parking spot at the ER production office. Rock and Roll!

So that was LA: a dizzying mix of cliche, famous places, and food. Does LA have a soul? Either we didn't have time to get to the heart of it, or it is genuinely "all surface, no feeling": San Francisco and even Portland had more apparent "life" to them. We had an excellent couple of days there, though, expertly guided by Jenny. Our whirlwind tour around Southern California was over. It was time to leave the deserts, mountains, glimmering cities and heat behind to head up north, towards deserts, mountains, glimmering cities and heat. But first, Yosemite beckoned. Tune in next time for a racist taxi driver, roads that nearly made me cry, and Apple HQ.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Jenny said...

I had forgotten about the churro shop--good memory.

re: Is there a soul to LA? After thinking about it a little bit, I think you have to be willing to find the soul. It won't jump out at you, as it will in other places, so the people here either harvest the soul of LA or simply skim by without a thought of it.

Also, your taco was called "carnitas", which is shredded pork. I think. Or, maybe you had "al pastor", which is barbecued pork.

6:06 pm  
Blogger swishfish said...

Carnitas: that was definitely it. And if it's food, I remember it. I had a good feeling about that churro place, and the website makes their stuff look great.

Interesting comment on the soul of LA. If that's the case it may be more rewarding to find the "inner" LA than in places like London and NY where it is all out in the open.

6:33 pm  

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