For a columnist who for years has exploited his envious colleagues’ put-downs of Los Angeles, I am worried that the tide has turned.
More and more visitors seem to find Los Angeles exciting, beautiful, adventurous, surprising, exotic and free. Even livable.
I have called Los Angeles the freest city in the world; now Tom Shales of the Washington Post, a distinguished Eastern newspaper, comes along to add a word.
Writing about the faith that underlies the television industry here, he said: “That’s one of the reasons I love coming to Los Angeles and to Hollywood. People here still believe. The sun comes out every day and smacks them in the face and they march off gamely to face insurmountable odds. Los Angeles may be the most renewable city in the world. . . .”
There you have it. Free, and renewable. Of what other great city can those two words be said?
Shales also discovered something I have always known about Los Angeles.
“People who want to complain about Los Angeles say they miss the change of seasons. I think there’s really more changing of seasons here, not less. Every Monday morning, you wake up, and you look outside, and it’s spring again. . . .”
No visitors seem to appreciate us more than the Australians. Leonie Sandercock, a professor of urban studies at Macquarie University, recently returned to Australia after living and teaching here for six months. She wrote of Los Angeles in the Sydney Morning Herald with rare insight and understanding.
“I happen to think that Sydney is just about the most physically exhilarating and sensual city in the world. . . ,” she said. “I have been captivated by the hazy Tuscan light on cypress hills, the colours of the buildings along Venetian canals, the angles of terra-cotta roofs in Florence. . . . What I never expected was to be drawn, physically, to L.A.
“Yet, to my astonishment, I became attached to the view from the freeway of the palm trees floating and receding down empty avenues; attached to the deceptive perspectives of the pale, subtropical light; to the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills, so much like a movie set; to the scurrying sandpipers and saluting sea gulls on Santa Monica Beach at sunrise; to the view of the Milky Way and its shooting stars that you get at 3 a.m. after a two-hour drive to the Mojave Desert; to drinks in the long, summer evenings in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the city as it turns on its fairy lights, and even to Sunset Strip itself, that raucous celebration of popular culture. . . .”
Pamela Fiori, editor of Travel & Leisure magazine, said simply in a recent issue on Los Angeles, “Los Angeles is like no other place in America; at the same time, it seems more American than anyplace else. . . . Right now L.A. is at its best. . . . It isn’t even flaky anymore (well . . . maybe just a tad). And I haven’t heard anyone use the word ‘laid back’ in years. . . .”
Fiori also quoted an observation by another Australian, Clive James, which I have quoted here before:
“The awkward truth about L.A. is that although it dares you to laugh at it, you can’t. No free person can afford to mock Los Angeles, since liberty is its primary impulse. . . .”
Fiori adds: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of pleasure--these are the driving forces of L.A.”
I’m not sure, though, that Fiori is right when she says that we are no longer “laid back,” and that, in fact, the expression has gone out of use.
Consider a letter from Jere Stuart French, a Claremont landscape architect.
“On Foothill Boulevard, near where I live, an Oriental massage, video rental, yogurt shop and a palmistry parlor all huddle nearby, apparently accepting one another with equanimity. Then I have to be reminded by touring relations that this just isn’t the way it is in Iowa. Are we jaded or just laid back?
“And as for license plates, on my way to school one morning a sports car, probably a Z, weaved past me on the San Berdoo Freeway, dashing into and out of my lane and causing all us drivers in the vicinity to hit the brakes. As the car shot past me on the right I caught a glimpse of the driver--the window being down--a resolute smile on her face, long, brown hair billowing, and forgave her. On her rapidly disappearing vanity plate I read, SCUZA ME.
“Moments later I pulled off onto the Cal Poly campus, and as I eased into the 25-m.p.h., tree-lined drive, a bright-yellow VW Bug suddenly leaped into my path from between parked cars, again requiring evasive action on my part, standing on the brake and hoping not to be rear-ended. Then a hundred yards or so later she just as suddenly dove head-first into a gap too small for proper parking, leaving her rear sticking well out into the drive lane (more evasive maneuvering). This time the driver was blond with perky, short hair, and I forgave her, too. Her license? DO I BUG U. . . .”
Not long ago I told my wife that my fondest wish was to have license plates reading FIAT LUX, which means, in Latin, “Let there be light.” She told me later she had tried to get those plates for my birthday, but found out they were already taken. I was crushed.
What I wonder about, of course, since we live in this place of dreams realized and pleasure uninhibited, is whether she’d have bought me a Fiat to go with them.