The view from Los Angeles

View of Los Angeles' Financial District, from Getty Museum

In 1876, the mayors of Los Angeles and Montréal were brothers named Beaudry. I’m not sure how much else we have in common, though there are certainly a lot of Canadians in Los Angeles. In any event, I recently had the good fortune to spend a week relaxing with excellent company in Hollywood, and the experience, my first in ‘la-la-land’, was certainly something to write home about (though post-cards were prohibitively kitschy). Here are a few observations about life in the great western desert:

a) Los Angeles has been described as ‘a hundred neighbourhoods in search of a city’ (originally it was 72, but that was back in the 1930s, the author of the article I read in the in-flight magazine updated the quote for the new millennium). I couldn’t agree more, as the various neighbourhoods I saw had very distinct characteristics, none of which were easily shared. The disparities between rich and poor in the United States only re-enforced this view, with the constant reminder from my acquaintances out West that the dividing line between upscale bistros and Skid-Row (an actual hobo-town) was often little more than which side of the street you were on. That and the car culture only served to enhance the divisions – in essence, what’s between points A and B seldom matters, as your car is an extension of the comfort you live in. As you can expect, this is not a pedestrian friendly city.

b) The Financial District, in the photo above, is considerably smaller than I would have expected, significantly smaller and less vibrant than Chicago or Toronto. The biggest factor seems to be that very few people actually live in LA’s ‘downtown’, though apparently this is changing as some Angelino’s have been making the move into the city for the last few years. Either way it was a bit strange to see a downtown so vacant after 5pm – not unlike Calgary.

c) The public transit system is well-developed though lacking in certain areas. For instance, while we had no trouble getting from Hollywood to Santa Monica to visit the jaw-dropping Getty Museum, the LA Metro website’s trip-planning program never worked. Though this was a bit of a problem, once on-board the expressbus making its way down Sunset Blvd, we realized that once on-board it would be difficult to get lost, as the bus is equipped not only with automated stop-calls, but an interactive map broadcast on flat-screen TVs, showing riders where they are and what’s around them. Made me wonder why we can’t have the same thing here in Montréal. Once on-board it also became quite clear who takes public transit in LA, as about 90% of the on-board signage, including the TVs, was in Spanish. LA is very much a Spanish city, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn their are more Hispanics than Caucasians, so as you can imagine, there’s a fair bit of visual bilingualism. However, unlike here in Québec – where language is regulated by the state – there, its regulated by capitalism and the realities of American society. Needless to say, we received more than one incredulous look while on-board.

d) Food – all I can say is ‘Asian-American’ fusion cuisine. If you haven’t had a Peking-duck taco, get on it. That shit’s delicious!

e) View – a good friend remarked that the city was built for great perspectives, and I wholeheartedly agree. Whether on the highway, on zipping around the ‘spaghetti-streets’ of Hollywood (thanks to J. Foster for that one), in the hills or wherever, the city affords many excellent views. This makes driving around on the highways and main boulevards very exciting, and as you can imagine, Sunset Boulevard is really exceptional in this respect. I’m not crazy about car-culture, but this is one reason I would consider getting a license. Of course the varied topography of the city allows for so many spectacular perspectives, and the fact that we were in Hollywood meant the view was always pretty spectacular.

That should be it for now – more to come later.

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