They said about L.A.

  • I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” Andy Warhol
  • When it’s 100 degrees in New York, it’s 72 in Los Angeles.  When it’s 30 degrees in New York, in Los Angeles it’s still 72.  However, there are 6-million interesting people in New York, and 72 in Los Angeles.” –Neil Simon
  • “I mean, who would want to live in a place [Los Angeles] where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light?”Woody Allen, Annie Hall
  • Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in, the city of angels. As lonely as I am together we cry. I drive on the streets ’cause she’s my companion. I walk through the hills ’cause she knows who I am. She sees my good deeds...” –Red Hot Chili Peppers, City of Angeles
  • Los Angeles is a microcosm of the United States. If LA falls, the country fallsIce T
  • People cut themselves off from their ties of the old life when they come to Los Angeles. They are looking for a place where they can be free, where they can do things they couldn’t do anywhere else.” –Tom Bradley
  • “I don’t like Los Angeles. The people are awful and terribly shallow, and everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to play the game. I’m from New York. I will kill to get what I need.” Lady Gaga
  • Los Angeles is a large city-like area surrounding the Beverly Hills HotelFran Lebowitz

A short guide to L.A. in five streets – 4) Pacific Coast Highway 1

Big cities often are like non gated prisons. You have the feeling that to get out of them is a tough struggle. At least this was my impression when I lived in London and often I feel the same when in Paris or New York. In Los Angeles it isn’t the same. You get out of it reasonably quick and you are soon really out into almost untouched wilderness be it desert, mountain or beach. Today, let’s get out of L.A. and take the legendary Pacific Coast Highway 1 – well, a short stretch of it – and drive for some 25 highly scenic miles from the Santa Monica Pier to the beginning of Ventura County. And when you are out on PCH – either for a short ride or for a long trip north to San Francisco – never forget that the road is the destination.

From Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, we drive down the California Incline and we are on PCH 1.  First stop just passed the Reel Inn Fish Market and Restaurant – they say they fry Nemo – in a small parking where on saturdays you can meet the Longboard Collectors Club. They hold a fantastic little market where they sell everything about  and for surfing: films, books, posters, swimsuits and wetsuits, t-shirts and shiny and colored longboards signed by the best champions of the 1960s and 1970s. And those who sell are old surfers themselves, you can read it in the rides of their faces.

Soon we are out of L.A., we cross the Malibu city limits and we pass by the Getty Villa, a museum about the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. It is a sort of big neo-palladyan villa but come on who cares about museums on PCH? I honestly don’t. More interesting on the left side, the Duke’s Barefoot Bar: young crowd of surfers and beach people, cocktails, beers and great fish tacos on a terrace by the sea. Malibu has not the shape of a city. It is a stretch of homes, small restaurants and shops, malls, foot massage and yoga stalls between mountains and sea. After the Sport and Fishing Pier, Malibu Country Market is a quite well built mall, apparently extremely good for shopping. In there, the Japanese restaurant Nobu Malibu, a good spot for stars who want to see ordinary people who want to see stars. The huge lawn of the main campus of Pepperdine University is unrealistically green. This is just an unbelievable place for studying, with a dramatic view on the ocean. Then you read that the University is  religiously affiliated with Churches of Christ and promotes christian values and you realize that there is no perfection in this world. It is almost close to perfection Malibu Seafood and Patio Café. They catch fish and seafood, they sell it, grill it, fry it for you. So what’s wrong? Well, you have to bring your own wine or beer and you have to know it before. However it is definitely a great place where to eat your lunch. Just skip Paradise Cove, a gated private beach and restaurant where you have to pay a fortune only to park your car. It’s not worthy especially because we are about to enter in the most spectacular section of this ride. PCH goes up to Point Dume – great views – and then down to Westward Beach and Zuma, a long, wild, windy and open beach. It is one of my favorites, quintessentially Californian and last year we saw whales passing by in their annual migration. Now the colors are even more intense, the dark blue of the ocean, the white and yellow of the sand, the green, the flowers. It is an explosion, the power of nature. There are spots for surfers everywhere. You recognize them because of the cars parked in bunches along the street. They are there, waiting for the right wave in their black wetsuits. From far they look like seals. At the same time, pelicans dive deep into the ocean and come out with their prey. The coastline now changes, more rocks and smaller beach. Still spectacular like El Matador and even better El Pescador. We are in Ventura County now, no more houses, higher and wilder mountains. The landscape is more dry and dusty and less green. We get to the long Thornhill Broome Beach, but the real attraction here is the huge and steep sand dune on the right side of the road. It is tough to climb up to its peak. You’ll be rewarded with a great view.

It is time for us to go back, but the Pacific Highway 1 continues its long trip north to Oxnard, Santa Barbara and then Carmel, San Francisco up to its end near Legger in Mendocino County. At least this what maps report. I am sure that PCH 1 – which started near Dana Point in Orange County – continues instead towards Oregon and up to Seattle and then Vancouver, and through Yukon and the very north of Alaska. Because the road is the destination.

A short guide to L.A. in five streets – 3) Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive cuts into two parts the big metropolis – actually it is right from Mulholland that you realize how huge Los Angeles is- but it is not at all an urban setting. No gastronomic advice to give, no shopping tips,  but some spectacular views of Hollywood, the whole L.A. basin, the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Park Observatory, Universal Studios and the “Valley”.

Mulholland Drive is a long curvy road on the crest of the Santa Monica mountains. A real beauty she is, a dangerous beauty. It reveals gorgeous views especially at night and people say it is a favorite spot for lovers, suicide candidates and photographers.

Mulholland Drive is home to some of the most exclusive and most expensive houses in the world. Many of these homes, including the one of Jack Nicholson, are set back from the road and offer outstanding views of Downtown Los Angeles. Most of the time you can’t see them from the road. They are hidden by many different kinds of beautiful trees, huge eucalyptus trees – my favorites – pines, groves, oaks…no palm trees though.

Mulholland Drive is also a film, David Lynch‘s masterpiece, a non linear, noir psychological thriller which starts with a car wreck on the winding heights of Mulholland Drive. The film features wonderful performances by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in the lead roles of young women whose lives intersect in various ways. Lynch was awarded the Best Director prize in Cannes in 2001. This film – Lynch had actually in mind a TV series – is a real cult with several fan clubs andI nternet sites about it.

Yesterday late afternoon, I was in Brentwood and decided to go up and watch the sunset from Mulholland. Impossible to even think of getting there through the hyper busy 405. I took Sunset Blvd instead, then Beverly Drive and the beautiful Coldwater Canyon Drive. When I got  on Mulholland, I drove east. It is great fun to drive there, you have to concentrate on driving and only from time to time have a glance at the awesome views. First on the immensity of the “Valley” – Van Nuys, Reseda, Sherman Oaks, Panorama City, Burbank – then on Downtown LA, Hollywood and further west to the Ocean if the foggy layers of pollution were not there. As I said, no “gastronomic mile” on Mulholland Drive. Still, I was hungry. I drove to the intersection with Cahuenga Blvd – by the way, Woodrow Wilson Drive, where Harry Bosch lives, is just there –  and went down to Hollywood Blvd for a Martini and pork chops at Musso and Franks…real beautiful.

So, this was my Mulholland experience, now read what David Lynch says about it“It’s a mysterious road. It’s rural in many places. It’s curvy, it’s two lanes, it feels old. It was built long ago, and it hasn’t changed too much. And at night, you ride on top of the world. In the daytime you ride on top of the world too, but it’s mysterious, and there’s a hair of fear because it goes into remote areas. You feel the history of Hollywood in that road.”

Harry Bosch’s L.A.

(in the old Pueblo de los Angeles. Harry Bosch and Kiz Rider heading to Union Station)

(…) Bosch studied the mud-walled structure behind the musician and wondered if Don Francisco Avila had any idea what he was helping to set in motion when he staked his claim to the spot in 1818. A city would grow tall and wide from this place. A city as great as any other. And just as mean. A destination city, a city of invention and reinvention. A city where the dream seemed as easy to reach as the sign they put up on the hill, but a place where the reality was always something different. The road to that sign on the hill had a locked gate across it. It was a city full of haves and have-nots, movie stars and extras, drivers and the driven, predators and prey. The fat and the hungry and little room in between. (…)

Micheal Connelly, The Closers

A short guide to L.A. in five streets – 2) Wilshire Boulevard

WILSHIRE BOULEVARD is one of the main arterial roads of Los Angeles and runs for some 16 miles from Downtown to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. Differently from Sunset, the landscape is exclusively urban and it represents a very good sample of the finest attractions L.A. can offer in terms of architecture, museum, shopping and food.

The “Wilshire One” building on Grand Avenue, which was completed in 1966 and is one of L.A.’s first modern highrises, is the start of this “trail” right in the heart of Downtown. After many years of decline, Downtown is today a quite contradictory and still culturally vibrant area. Next to the high building of the financial center, live together a large homeless community and a young crowd of new residents attracted by the recently renovated lofts and apartments still available at a relatively convenient price. Many of these lofts are often used as set for films and adverts.

We leave Downtown and start moving through Westlake – on the right side of the boulevard, the historic 1926 Westlake Theatre – and cross Mac Arthur Park with its large pond and, on Sundays, lots of Latino children playing soccer. Not far from there, one of the most beautiful building of the boulevard, the art-deco Bullocks Wilshire, once a luxury department store and now home of the Southwestern Law School. Wilshire brings us to Koreatown now (but we’ll visit one other time) and to the affluent and green residential area of Hancock Park.

We continue our drive west through the Miracle Mile and we get to one of the most interesting parts of Wilshire: the Museum Row.  I am not a big fan of museums, but I have to admit that I highly enjoyed my visit to the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Jeff Koons works and Andy Warhol’s soup made my day. It is also time to stop for some lunch and instead of eating at the trendy Ray’s and Stark Bar inside LACMA, I would suggest a little diversion to nearby Fairfax Avenue to the Little Ethiopia district -home to one of the largest groups of Ethiopians in America. Go to “Merkato” or “Messob“, get your injera –  a spongy and sour flatbread used as an eating utensil to eat- and discover one of the most surprising cuisines of the whole world. You’ll eat from a common plate different kind of spicy meat and veggie stews like the fantastic “doro wat” made of chicken stewed in red pepper sauce with eggs and other spices.

The drive continues through the Beverly Hills section of Wilshire across Rodeo Drive and the shopping area. If you are not crazy about shopping – I am not – do not miss the Paley Center for Media in Rodeo. Get into one of their screening rooms and browse through their archive. You could come across an episode of the “Partridge Family” or “Happy Days“, a presidential campaign debate between Nixon and Kennedy or a fight between Ali and Foreman. You’ll also pass by  the Beverly Hilton Hotel where Whitney Huston died recently and then through the elegant residential condos of Westwood, you approach the last long and straight stretch of Wilshire which will bring you to the Pacific Ocean.

We are in the city of Santa Monica, just at the beginning of what I call “the gastronomic mile” of Wilshire Blvd. After Jerry’s Liquor – home of a fantastic variety of tequilas and beers from local micro-producers – and Ukranian Delikatessen – take home their pelmeni – in a rapid succession you find on the right side the Restaurant Rustic Canyon offering”new Californian slow food cuisine”, the Huckleberry Bakery and Café – do not miss their chocolate mousse – the Santa Monica Seafood Market for great oysters, fish from the Pacific and spectacular Santa Barbara prawns and, cherry on the cake, the Michelin 2 star restaurant Melisse, the kingdom of Chefs Josiah Citrin and Ken Takayama. We are almost at the end of the trail; we can already feel the smell of the Ocean and there’s one last stop on the lively Third Street Promenade – a pedestrian oasis full of shops, cafes and musicians. We are finally ready to get the reward of this journey:  the fantastic view of the beach of Santa Monica and the sun diving into the Ocean or hiding behind the Malibu mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Route 66

(…) 66 out of Oklahoma City; El Reno and Clinton, going west on 66. Hydro, Elk City and Texola; and there’s an end to Oklahoma. 66 across the Panhandle of Texas. Shamrock and McLean, Conway and Amarillo, the yellow. Wildorado and Vega and Boise, and there’s an end of Texas. Tucumcari and Santa Rosa and into the New Mexican mountains to Albuquerque, where the road comes down to Santa Fe. Then down the gorged Rio Grande to Las Lunas and west again on 66 to Gallup, and there’s the border of New Mexico. And now the high mountains. Holbrook and Winslow and Flagstaff in the high mountains of Arizona. Then the great plateau rolling like a ground swell. Ashfork and Kingman and stone mountains again, where water must be hauled and sold. Then out of the broken, sun-rotten mountains of Arizona to the Colorado, with green reeds on its banks, and that’s the end of Arizona. There’s California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it. Needles, on the river. But the river is a stranger in this place. Up from Needles and over a burned, and there’s the desert. And 66 goes on over the terrible desert, where the distance shimmers and the black center mountains hang unbearably in the distance. At last there’s Barstow, and more desert until at last the mountains rise up again, the good mountains, and 66 winds through them. Then suddenly a pass, and below a beautiful valley, below orchards and vineyards and little houses, and in the distance a city. And, oh, my God, it’s over. (…)

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

A short guide to L.A. in five streets – 1) Sunset Boulevard

This is something I have been thinking about since I arrived. The main attraction of Los Angeles are its never ending streets. They cut across the big galaxy, they bring you through many different continents, different worlds, different solar systems actually. They offer great views and experiences. They surprise you, they scare you sometimes. Just take the time to drive slowly and stop anytime you feel like it. This is by far the best way to fall in love with the city of Angels.

1) SUNSET BOULEVARD – There is no need to be original at all costs. If you are in L.A. just for one day or in any case if you have just landed, you have to live the Sunset experience. In our cultural and visual background Sunset Blvd means Hollywood, but it is actually so much more. It is the most iconic L.A. boulevard – immortalized by Billy Wilder in his masterpiece – which stretches for 25 miles from Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway in Palisades. My advice is to start right from there “where Sunset meets the PCH” as the sign of the restaurant Gladstone (decent, great view, overpriced) suggests. As you leave behind the big blue of the Ocean, the route starts climbing up to the heart of Pacific Palisades, a quiet, beautiful and rich retreat, home of many Hollywood stars and writers. Once you cross Temescal Canyon Road, you’ll see on your left the Will Rodgers State Historic Park which lies in the Santa Monica Mountains. The trails of the park offer vistas of both the sea and the mountains. In this part of Sunset there are many numerous curves and crests, it is a pleasure to drive while you just sense the fantastic mansions hidden in the greens. You pass Brentwood now and after crossing the 405 – the highway that goes north to Pasadena and Sacramento and to Long Beach and San Diego southbound – in the Bel-Air district, you long the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the two big education institutions of this city. With about 27,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students from the United States and around the world, it is the largest university in the state of California. UCLA is a public university and The Princeton Review listed it as a “Dream School” selected by both students and parents in 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you enter West Hollywood, you get to the  best-known one-mile-and-half long portion of Sunset. The so-called Strip embraces billboards, boutiques, restaurants, hotels, rock clubs, that are on the cutting edge of the entertainment industry. I would definitely make a (long) stop by Book Soup (8818 W Sunset), one of my favourite book shops in L.A.. It has the right dimension, a discrete and competent staff and a lot of authors events. And as you’re there, let’s drink or eat something on the charming, wooden, semi-covered terrace of Everleigh. In this area of Sunset there are many legendary places from the “Whisky a go go” where Jim Morrison and the Doors made their debut in the sixties or the “House of Blues” to glamorous hotels such the Mondrian, the Andaz or the Chateau Marmont.

Sunset runs now straight just a couple of blocks west of Hollywood Blvd. The atmosphere is less glamorous, the neighborhood a little run down, but hey, we are in Hollywood. This part hosted a sort of red light district in the 70s, now most of the business has moved online. Stop at “Catalina Bar and Grill” if you look for live jazz and burgers and definitely do not miss “Amoeba Music” a fantastic shop – great building too – where you can find any music CD you want (used or new) and a lot of films at unbelievable prices.

Sunset crosses now the 101, the “Hollywood Freeway” and adventures itself into Little Armenia, Silver Lake and Echo Park. The environment changes again. The students and a crowd of former hippies, radical-chic, writers of Silver Lake, gets mixed with a Latino community in Echo Park. At the number 1716, Stories is another book shop well worth a stop. Choose a book and read it while sipping a coffee in their outdoor patio. Nearby, you’ll find many restaurants specialized in cuisine from Mexico, El Salvador (pupuserias) and even Cuba. You can also grab bread and pastries at one of the several Oaxacan bakeries – the bread is simple and good like it used to be in Italy 40 years ago.

Sunset Boulevard turns south, crosses its third freeway, the 110, the “Harbor Freeway” and finally comes to an end into North Figueroa Street right before Chinatown. Now, if you want, just make a u-turn and head back to the Pacific Ocean. It does not matter how slow your journey through Sunset has been. For sure, you have missed something unbelievably interesting.

East of the river, south of the border

Moving east across the Los Angeles river is like crossing a border. I have never been to a Mexican city but I can’t really picture it much differently from East L.A.

East Los Angeles became a popular immigrant destination during the early 1900s for Russians, Jews, Japanese, and Mexicans who were working in nearby factories. After World War II, it became more and more Latino and now exclusively Mexican. Today, it is the largest Mexican-American community in the United States and home to over one million people in an area bigger than Manhattan or Washington D.C.

By the way, they tell you…we are not Latinos, we are not Hispanics. We are Mexicans. And that is not hard to believe it if you take a stroll in Boyle Heights, in Cesar Chavez Avenue for example, where English disappears from shop signs and you walk across panaderias Oaxaquenas, tiendas de juguetes, botanica o pieles. You can not miss the “Mercado de Los Angeles” on 1st Avenue and Lorena. On Sundays, Mexican families shuffle in to buy campero boots, religious items of various nature, miracolous herbal remedies, music. And food of course: some hundred different types of chile, beans, tortillas, quesos, tamales, moles of four or five different colors…a real feast.

No wonder the best, by far the best, Mexican restaurants in L.A. – and therefore in the whole world but Mexico itself –  are here. Together with dozens of Mexican families, I have been waiting outside for almost one hour just to have the privilege to sit and eat at “La Parrilla“, a 30 year-old institution in Boyle Heights. Well, it was absolutely worthy. Two women are busy preparing and cooking on the spot the best tortillas I have ever tasted. The same is valid for guacamole. Avocado, cilantro, lemon, chili, onions, everything is mixed directly at your table. Then parrilladas or molcajetes. Drink a Victoria or a Pacifico with it and finish the meal with an extraordinary “café de olla” with cinnamon and honey.

Yes, I am always enthusiastic about good and authentic food. Still, I’d like to remember that East L.A. was home of Olympic and World Boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya. And finally gangs which are also one aspect of East L.A. culture. La vida loca, or the crazy life, is what they call the barrio gang experience. In the last ten years the situation has improved a lot and life in East L.A. is reasonably safe. Still, gang wars continue and East L.A. – for very long  a neglected neighborhood – has one of the nation’s highest drop out rates from schools and teenage pregnancy is at an all time high in this community.

L.A. is like your brain. You only ever use 20% of it. But imagine if we used it all.”This is the text I read on a wall in Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights and it is absolutely true. Tourist or visitor or citizen of L.A. would hardly come to this area…well, too bad for them, they miss it.

La migra

(…) It was crazy to refuse treatment like that, just crazy. But he had. And that meant he was illegal – go to the doctor, get deported. There was a desperation in that, a gulf of sadness that took Delaney out of himself for a long moment (…). He tried to picture the man’s life – the cramped room, the bag of second-rate oranges on the streetcorner, the spade and the hoe and the cold mashed beans dug out of the forty-nine-cent can; Unrefrigerated tortillas. Orange soda. The oom-pah music with the accordions and the tinny harmonies. But what was he doing on Topanga Canyon Boulevard at one-thirty in the afternoon, out there in the middle of nowhere? Working? Taking a lunch break? And then all at once Delaney knew, and the understanding hit him with a jolt: the shopping cart, the tortillas, the trail beaten into the dirt-he was camping down there, that’s what he was doing. Camping, living. Dwelling. Making the trees and bushes and the natural habitat of Topanga State Parl into his own private domicile (…).

T.C. Boyle (The Tortilla Curtain)

PS : In 2011, for the first time in many years, data suggest that more Mexicans exited the United States than entered it.

 

Gay marriage and Socialism

The long awaited words have finally come. After one year of reflection, President Obama unequivocably endorsed gay marriage yesterday. “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important  to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC News’ Robin Roberts. He added that he arrived at the decision by talking to gay friends, staff members, his two daughters and his wife, who shared his support. He said also that it is not a matter of religion but of  how we treat other people. This happened the very day after North Carolina voters approved a highly restrictive amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman and consequently bans gay marriage. By the way, until 1971 North Carolina state constitution prohibited mixed race marriage.

Mitt Romney who was an outspoken leader of the drive to ban same sex marriage after a court legalized the practice in Massachusetts made it very clear. “My view” he said “is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that’s my own preference.”  Honestly, I am quite puzzled by the fact that most of those American people who despise the “Obamacare” health reform as SOCIALIST and do not accept the public administration interfering in many aspects of their life including the way decent health care is guaranteed (or better NOT guaranteed) to all American citizen, are at the same time ready to accept the intrusion of the government into their bedrooms.

And what about California? After a 2008 decision of the Supreme Court of California in favor of this right, now the possibility for same sex couples to get married is temporarily on hold due to a series of appeals and ruling. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the chairman of the Democratic party’s convention, was among the first to call on Democrats to add support for same-sex marriage to the party platform. And yesterday, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to rename a two-block street for gay activist and civil rights leader Harvey Milk.