Travelling north

About five days after mum left I embarked on a road trip (actually train and plane trip) that would take in Paso Robles, Hearst Castle/San Simeon, Monterey, Salinas (all in central California), Portland and Seattle. I was very much looking forward to it as it was going to be all about my own interests; no-one else’s stuff; no compromises. I suppose you might think my entire time here has been like that, but this felt different. I was truly by myself; no-one could reach me or distract me from my aims. I can honestly say that those ten days spent travelling on my own were the happiest time I’ve had since I’ve been away. There is something so pacifying about moving around; I’ve likened it to pushing a baby round in a pram or driving it round the block to calm it down. (That’s what people do right?) Some might say that only feeling mentally at peace when in motion is about denial of feelings or reality. Maybe it is.

The only real moment of stress came early on in the trip. After a tranquil train ride that took in some magnificent coastline, I arrived at Paso Robles (a small town in the wine-making region of central California), got to my hotel, and was told by the receptionist that the tour to Hearst Castle that I’d booked through them did not include transport to the castle. (The castle is a 45-minute drive away from Paso Robles and there is no direct public transport.) Why would the hotel and the castle even have such a tour deal operating if there was no transport? I guess it was all about kickbacks on tickets and room prices. Anyway, I was very distressed, and had to wait till the manager came in the next morning to get it resolved. Probably worried about a potentially scathing review of his establishment on Trip Advisor, he decided that a young girl who worked at the hotel would drive me to and from the castle. Score!

Hearst Castle was built by media magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose life was chronicled in the so-called greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane. Hearst was grandfather to kidnap victim/one time member of left-wing militant group the Symbionese Liberation Army, Patricia Hearst, with whom I have been obsessed for many years. The castle sits high above beautiful rolling green hills and looks out onto the Pacific.

The most interesting thing about Hearst Castle is the collection of art and artefacts WRH accumulated. And I’m not just talking things your average art collector would have; he had things like Ancient Roman portals and Ancient Egyptian statues. Apparently in the early 20th century there were no restrictions on taking such items out of their countries of origin. Crazy stuff.

Indoor pool incorporating real gold!

The girl from the hotel had promised me that after she picked me up we could drive a little further along the beach to see the elephant seals, which she hoped would be out lying on the beach. And they were! Dozens and dozens of them. This little bit of coastline is pretty much the last stop before you hit the famous, rugged stretch of coastline known as Big Sur.

I spent one more day in Paso Robles wandering round town, drinking wine and reading in the park. That night I took the train to Salinas, birthplace of John Steinbeck. I had been reading Cannery Row (beautiful book) and finished it on the train not long before we pulled into Salinas.

My exploration of Salinas was to take place two days hence; early the next morning I caught the bus to Monterey, where the actual Cannery Row is found. It is a pretty town with a substantial history – under Spain and Mexico it was the capital of California, and it was in Monterey that California was ultimately claimed by the US, in 1846.

Cannery Row was quite touristy – the most interesting thing for me was probably the fact that the laboratory of Ed Ricketts (Steinbeck’s closest friend, a marine biologist on whom the character of Doc in Cannery Row is based) was still partly standing.

The next day I visited a museum housed in one of the many adobe structures in Monterey, went to the house where Robert Louis Stevenson once lived (though I couldn’t go inside) and had a look at the Royal Presidio Chapel, which dates from 1794 and is the oldest stone building in California.

After that it was back to Salinas, where I visited the Steinbeck Museum, looked at Steinbeck’s childhood home which is now a chichi restaurant, and went to the cinema (it was getting cold and dark) while I waited for my train to San Jose. Oh, and I also had dinner at a Thai restaurant which full of couples, because it was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t really care. They all looked quite bored.

Steinbeck House

I caught the train to San Jose and stayed at an airport hotel; the next morning I flew to Portland. I got a good vibe about it from the start: it seemed very ‘manageable’ (unlike LA) and had something of a Melbourne feel about it (although it is not as big). Portland is known for its microbreweries, hipsters, PC attitudes, coffee and, best of all, Powell’s – the world’s biggest independent bookstore. I know some of you watch Portlandia – well, it’s pretty accurate. We all like to roll our eyes at hipster/leftie culture from time to time, but it was a relief to be somewhere like that after being in a badass town like LA for so long. You got the feeling that if anything happened to you someone would actually stop to help rather than leave you for dead, which is how you feel in LA.

I stayed at a ‘hipster’ hotel called the Ace, whose foyer (sorry, lobby) was full of coolsies drinking coffee and stuffing around on their laptops. I have to admit I loved the place –  it had some character and felt more like an apartment building than your usual sterile hotel. Right next door to the hotel was famous Portland coffee house Stumptown (Stumptown is Portland’s nickname – I guess it’s something to do with the early logging industry.) I made friends with one of the staff there who gave me a free coffee on my last day to wish me safe travels. Great people in Portland.

I spent my days just trailing around and enjoying it immensely. I spent hours in Powell’s on the first day, and was served by an extremely hot English guy. I explored most of the downtown area, where I was staying, and crossed the Willamette River (which runs through the city) to the SE side to check out the scene there. The Portland International Film Festival was on, and I caught a film based on the early life of Goethe. (The Sorrows of Young Werther is one of my favourite books.) I visited the Museum of Contemporary Craft, where they had an exhibition about artists’ books. Portland was also very coeliac-friendly so there was no stress about eating. I have to say I was really, really sad to leave.

Portlandia

Weird art installation in the side of a building

The Ace

Next it was on to Seattle. The further north the train got the more water there was: so many lakes! We went through famous riot grrrl town, Olympia, which made me smile to myself, and shortly afterwards the train pulled into Seattle.

I don’t think I expected Seattle to be so scenic. It’s built in between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and is home to another huge lake, Lake Union. In the distance you can see snow-capped mountain ranges – the Cascades and the Olympics – and there is one huge, fuckoff stand-alone mountain, Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier

Space Needle

I happened to arrive on the weekend of Kurt Cobain’s birthday, which was weird. I had actually wanted to go and see his house and the famous bench in the park next door on which fans had scrawled their tributes to him. And guess what – I did. You know me! There were a few other fans there paying their respects.

Kurt's house

After that I went to the famous Pike Street Market, and on the Sunday I visited the Experience Music Project, housed in a Frank Gehry building that looks not unlike the Walt Disney Concert Hall here in LA, but more colourful. It is basically a museum dedicated to the history of popular music; there is a also a sci-fi museum in the same building. It was ok – a little dorky I guess – lots of interactive stuff. I did get to see the guitar Kurt used in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video, though.

EMP

That is pretty much my trip. I returned to LA absolutely exhausted, promptly started getting sick and didn’t do much for about a week afterwards.

On another subject completely: a few of you have expressed interest in seeing what my place looks like and now I finally have some pics for you. I’ll only be living here for four more days – very strange.

And here’s a photo of me in Venice today.

 

So, what insights can I offer about my very serious and important personal development during my time here? Nothing too earth shattering, really – I think I know myself pretty well these days, which I’d want to, given that I have spent a hell of a lot of time and money looking deep into my psyche over the years. I didn’t have any expectations of this trip – maybe some hopes, but not expectations – and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that it is what it is, or has been what it has been.

The one thing that has come out of it for me, though, is that I realise I need to be much, much more proactive in getting personal stuff off the ground. Some women dedicate their whole lives to this shit! (Though I’m secretly pleased I’m not one of those women.) Part of this involves being more open with my friends about the fact that I would like their assistance in this regard. So, some of you can look forward to me hitting you up for help when I get home! (Single friends, you’re exempt.)

George and Alison arrive tomorrow and I’m  looking forward to the rest of my time in the US being about silly fun and rock ‘n’ roll. I’d love to say that I’ll do a post on SxSW but I know I won’t. I’ll have to tell you about it in person, when I see you, in a few weeks’ time!

So, thank you all for reading. I hope you’ve been entertained and maybe even feel you know me a little better now. Remember that apart from love, art, pets and trying to be an OK person, life is about experiences. You know, having them. I truly believe that.

Love, Ro.

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A small tale of Echo Park

A quick ‘surprise’ post from me.

I’ve been feeling quite unwell but, conscious that I have barely any time left in LA, I decided to venture out to Echo Park today to see an exhibition on LA punk and check out the area properly.

I took the bus a little further than I needed to and got off in a section of Echo Park called Angelino Heights, where I came upon this gem of a motel/motel sign.

After visiting the exhibition, which featured gig flyers, photos and artworks relating to rabble-rousing LA/CA scaries like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, the Circle Jerks, X, the Germs and the Minutemen, and then stopping for lunch at one of those vegan/organic places that also tend to be gluten-free aware, I stumbled upon a crazy shop called the Echo Park Time Travel Mart. Its layout resembles that of a traditional convenience store, but it sells some highly unusual and amusing products. I didn’t get any photos myself, but check out this to see what I mean.

Turns out that the purpose of the store is to raise funds for an organisation that teaches writing skills to children and teenagers. The workshops actually take place in the back room of the Time Travel Mart. The whole thing made my heart flutter and my soul soar … um, yeah, I liked it and I think it’s cool. I took to Google when I got home and discovered that it is part of the Dave Eggers empire, which would explain the display shelves heaving with copies of The Believer and McSweeney’s. They are looking for volunteer teachers, and if I was staying in LA longer I would definitely offer my services.

There are some striking buildings and some unbelievably steep streets in Echo Park. I came upon some stand-alone units (maybe early/mid 20th century, blocky, but with a Spanish Mission flavour) that were built on a steep incline. Quite mind bending and I should have taken photos.

I also walked past these fabulous structures.

I suppose this quiet story is just to illustrate how there is always something new to discover here, if you put in a little effort.

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I’m still here

People! I know it has been a while, and I apologise. But I guess it is better to be too busy to blog than to have plenty of time to blog because nothing is doing, if you know what I mean.

I’ll rewind back to late January, which is when mum visited. We managed to cram a hell of a lot into the ten days she was here. Our first outing was to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park on Hollywood Blvd, perhaps the only Frank Lloyd Wright house anywhere that you can actually go into. The house was owned by a woman named Aline Barnsdall, who ran theatre companies, travelled a great deal and who generally sounds like a feminist hero. Her favourite flower was the hollyhock (hence the name of the house) and you can see Wright’s interpretation of the flower, mostly in concrete form, throughout the building. The house was left to the City of Los Angeles, was semi derelict for some time and is now about three quarters of the way to being completely restored.

The next day, still on the architecture tip, mum and I took a tour of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. A tour with a guide, that is. We were the only people on it, which was actually to our liking. We saw homes/buildings by the likes of Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright and Lloyd Wright (the son), a crazy house in Beverly Hills that was built for a film made in the 1920s that I can’t remember the name of now, and some other interesting things such as an early structure by Frank Gehry on Melrose that is now a gallery/studio.

Crazy movie house from 1920s

Moorish-inspired house in Beverly Hills, c. 1980s

Frank Lloyd Wright shopping/office complex, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

Detail from Frank Lloyd Wright shopping/office complex

Frank Lloyd Wright house, Hollywood Hills

That weekend we went to the extraordinary Getty Center in Brentwood. We took the scenic route there, up into the Hollywood Hills and along Mulholland Drive, passing through Laurel and Runyon canyons. You can see down into the huge expanse of the San Fernando Valley as you drive along Mulholland.

Designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Center is set high on a hill and affords magnificent views of (some of) LA and surrounds. The art housed there is ok; the point is really the whole experience, I think. Definitely one place you simply must go if you are ever in Los Angeles.

Gardens at Getty Center

We also headed out to Santa Monica one day; unbelievably I still hadn’t been there up to that point. The beachfront is attractive and is home to the Santa Monica pier and its famous fun fair. The residential/shopping areas seemed pretty bland to me; I’m glad I didn’t capitulate to pressure to live there. It is ages away from Hollywood, the east side, downtown and anywhere someone like me might care to go.

Loved this Sears building in Santa Monica

Towards the end of mum’s time here we went to Las Vegas. The bus trip there was fantastic; early on there are amazing views of the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains (home to Big Bear, the resort made famous by Bold), then you move into the Mojave Desert – very desolate apart from desert ‘tufts’ and Joshua trees. And, at times, strange religious-oriented signage. We zoomed past ten signs set about 30 metres apart from each other; each one had one of the Ten Commandments written on it. Very ‘weird America’.

Vegas is, well, a trip. I think anyone with a soul would become hysterical if they spent more than a few days there. We were pretty sure we had the worst hotel on the whole strip (The Imperial Palace), but it was part of the tour package so we were stuck with it. The room was actually okay, but the casino there was pretty depressing. We checked out some of the other hotels while we were there – their casinos didn’t reek quite so heavily of desperation.

One for the Crüe fans

Pool area at the Bellagio

Part of the tour package was a trip to the Grand Canyon; specifically, the south rim, which is in Arizona. The trip there took about five hours. We had been warned it would be extremely cold there, and it was – the only other time I have been anywhere near that cold was in a shack in the Northern Territory at night. I was convinced I had frostbite – I had unbearable pain in my fingertips but they were also numb, if that makes any sense. The Grand Canyon really is an unbelievable sight, though, and I’m glad we made the effort to see it. According to our guide, Indian tribes still live in the bottom of it. Two things I had running through my head the whole day, because I am a sad product of 20th century popular culture, were the Brady Bunch’s trip to the Grand Canyon and ‘Arizona Sky’ by China Crisis.

That is pretty much mum’s trip; we did a few other fun things in LA like have a drink at the Chateau Marmont and dinner at the Bar Marmont, and we saw a gig by Olafur Arnalds at the Echoplex, where mum got asked for ID.

Mum left on a Saturday and the very next day I did another tour run by Esotouric, the people behind the Bukowski tour. This one was of South Los Angeles, somewhere I’d never been and where most people would have no reason to go. In other words, my favourite kind of area. The tour was inspired by English architectural critic Reyner Banham, one of the first critics to really love, appreciate and attempt to understand Los Angeles. He taught the main tour guide at the University of Santa Cruz.

I found this tour so interesting; we headed down into areas like Vernon (one of the few places you could legally drink in LA during Prohibition, apparently), Bell, Bell Gardens (which has some community housing designed by Richard Neutra), Gage, Santa Fe Springs (where we visited a home by Irving Gill that our guide believes to one of the earliest modernist structures in LA – conventional wisdom is that Neutra and Schindler brought that aesthetic to SoCal).  Really, none of these areas are conventionally attractive but they were teeming with life – we saw Hispanic families having streetside barbeques and went to the Gage Bowl where everyone seemed to be having a whale of a time.

Irving Gill House, Santa Fe Springs

Cool sign

The last stop on the tour, and the one I was most excited about, was Downey. Most of my excitement stemmed from the fact that Downey is where the Carpenters came from. The area is a quintessentially Californian, Carpenters-esque, summery, 70s suburban dream – quiet, green lawns, sun-drenched. (I believe there is gang activity in Downey, as there is everywhere in LA, but that there have been huge community efforts to quell it.)

We visited two apartment blocks commissioned by Richard and Karen – one is called Only Just Begun and the other is called Close To You. Apparently a graphic designer friend of the tour guide said that he has never seen this font used anywhere else, ever.

We also went past the Carpenters’ high school.

Sunny Downey

Here is the third ever (and oldest existing) McDonalds in the United States and therefore in the world. I wish my pictures of it were better; it really was extremely cool. Oddly, this McDonalds is now not part of the overall franchise. I don’t really understand how that works.

The last stop in Downey was a diner that was central to the kustom kar kulture that certain types in Melbourne are in love with and which was born in Southern California. Completed in 1958, the diner was originally called Harvie’s Broiler and then Johnie’s Broiler. Hot rod aficionados would come from miles around to cruise its parking lot. It was nearly completely torn down (illegally) in 2007, but was saved at the eleventh hour by the Bob’s Big Boy chain. The current building incorporates elements of the original structure (most significantly the sign).

Sooo Cal (geddit?)

Our tour group happened upon a few grizzled, tattooed hot rod guys in the parking lot who told us tales of coming to the diner when they were younger and who let us have a good stickybeak at their cars. One of them had a record player in his car and started playing some ace 60s soul for us. I should have Shazamed it.

You might recognise the interior of the diner from one of the California episodes in the last season of Mad Men (Don and Megan take the kids out and one of them spills a milkshake; Megan deals with the situation in a calm, non-Bettyish fashion).

I’ll do another blog post about my trip up to central California and the Pacific Northwest before the girls arrive on 11th March. It’ll probably be my last, as I don’t think I’ll have much time to blog between SxSW and my return home. The post may or may not incorporate something about ‘wot I have learned’ – depends how expansive/reckless I’m feeling at the time.

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Lightening up

I am pleased to tell you that this post finds me in a much better state of mind than my previous one. I finally have a friend here, and it has made all the difference to the way I see things. Well, some difference, at least. I still think LA is pretty bizarre, but I don’t feel quite as off my tree as I did before. I think the biggest thrill is being able to take the crazy LA public transport with another person; it makes it so much less scary and of course weirdos target you less when you’re with someone else.

(This friend [Hannah, an Aussie actress who is over here to try her luck in Hollywood] was ‘provided’ by Melbourne friend and blog reader Jules [waves] and I must thank her profoundly for that.)

But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to backtrack to Christmas Day (I won’t bother talking in detail about the lead-up to Christmas – in short, it rained a lot and I felt pretty awful.)

I was actually quite nervous about volunteering on Christmas Day, but even so I was determined to get a job on the floor rather than in the kitchen so I could actually talk to some of the people who were there for a meal. I ended up being on dessert duty at the back of the hall so I was able to do so. Most of the people we served seemed to be Hispanic families who had fallen on difficult times, and there was a small proportion of people who obviously slept rough and/or who had a mental illness. There was a live band playing Christmas songs and easy listening hits, and the overall vibe was pretty upbeat. An adult father and son (who had a little dog) told me they had come all the way from Inglewood and said ‘bless you’ for what I/we were doing. This caused me to become rather emotional and I had to fight back tears. What a soft touch, eh?

The whole experience really brought home to me the insanity of the situation – how, in a country so rich, can this possibly be happening? My tendency is to lay the blame squarely at the feet of capitalism/the insane American terror of socialism, but I know a few of my readers will probably disagree with that. And I like the pretty things provided by the market so I probably can’t go too far down that road without arriving at hypocrisy-ville.

After all that heaviness I must admit that it was a relief to be able to swim in the shallow end of the pool on New Year’s Eve. Hannah came over here for drinks at around 7.30pm; once we were socially lubricated we made our way to the Standard, a boutique hotel on Sunset Strip, where the Raveonettes and Autolux were playing a show. Behind the cloakroom desk at the hotel was a huge fish tank in which swam a real, live woman. I felt as if I was in an episode of Entourage. The gig was in the central courtyard/pool area, and people who had booked rooms for the night could look down on everything from their balconies. The atmosphere was very convivial and we made a lot of new friends, one of whom has the honour of being the first person here to pick my accent as an Australian one (Americans always tend to think you’re British).

After the bands finished we went inside and danced to DJs and made more friends. Things were a bit blurry by then, I have to confess, then the night got even more surreal; suffice to say we ended up at a party in a hotel room at the Chateau Marmont. I had only seen Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere a couple of days before, so scenes from that were swirling around in my head. Anyway, I categorise this night as A Classic LA Partying Experience and I’m extremely glad it happened.

Unfortunately my photos from the night are pretty bad as I had my phone camera on a bad setting, but here is one (slightly weird, over-exposed, featuring a random fatty) photo of me and Hannah at the Standard.

… and a pic of the inside of the room at the Marmont

I also took this one on New Year’s Eve as I found it darkly amusing; boulevard of broken dreams indeed.

On January 2 I left for Palm Springs, rather nervous about the weather; I could see that my fantasies of lounging beside a pool in the midday heat in a light summer dress and Biba-style hat were probably not going to be realised. (I don’t own a Biba-style hat, anyway, so it was probably for the best.)

Palm Springs, as you may or may not know, is a desert town in the Coachella Valley and is surrounded by mountains (the closest range being the San Jacinto Mountains). One of the first things you see coming into town on the train is the thousands (or so it seems) of windmills at the foothills. A truly extraordinary sight. The photo below was taken from the visitors’ centre.

I felt relaxed as soon as I got into town; it brought home to me more clearly than ever how tense LA makes me. My hotel was a peaceful, Spanish-style place called Casa Cody that was home to a friendly cat called Mama who jumped up on the reception desk to greet me. My room was a glorious little oasis of cuteness and calm.

My first full day in Palm Springs was overcast but mercifully the rain held off for my modernism tour, which I had been looking forward to immensely. It was run by a highly knowledgeable guide, Robert, and is very much worth doing if you ever find yourself in the area. The next section of this post will be pictorial; where I can remember who the building is by and any other info I will include it in a caption. Remember to click pix to enlarge them.

Architect: Walter White

Architect: E. Stewart Williams, 1954

Kaufmann house by Richard Neutra, 1946

Kaufmann house by Richard Neutra

Kaufmann house by Richard Neutra

Elvis and Priscilla honeymoon house by Palmer and Krisel

Palm Springs Art Museum, E. Stewart Williams

Visitors' Centre (ex gas station), Albert Frey, 1965

Later that day I wandered down to the mid-century modern stores in town; I nearly bought an original Art Deco brooch but ultimately decided against it (it was $275). I don’t regret not buying it, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

The second day dawned bright and sunny.

In the morning I went to the Palm Springs Art Museum, which was just behind my accommodation. The permanent collection featured some surprisingly good stuff, and there was also an excellent Richard Avedon exhibition on. In the afternoon I did the main tourist activity in town – a trip on the aerial tramway. It was fine but I don’t know … maybe a little bit boring. I guess I have been on a cable car before so perhaps that was part of the problem. Oh so jaded. Here are some pix, anyway.

Top aerial tramway station, 6000ft … or something

Since I’ve been back in town I’ve been taking it fairly quietly. Hannah and I went to see Blue Valentine on Friday night and then had dinner at Katsuya; on Saturday morning we had a brunch at a cafe on Santa Monica Blvd called Hugo’s which was meant to have amazing gluten-free breakfast options (and it did – yum!) I had been wanting to go there for a while but of course had no-one go to with and didn’t feel comfortable going on my own.

Today I had my first acupuncture session in about four months (I have found acupuncture to be crucial for keeping the crazy at bay). The clinic was in a lovely old area called Hancock Park and I had a little wander round after my appointment.

On Thursday Hannah and I are going to do the Downtown Art Walk, and soon after that mum arrives. I get the feeling this next section of my trip is going to be a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the first part.

By the way, I locked in my return date this week – it’s the 31st March, which is basically when I originally planned to/thought I would be coming home, whether or not that was home for good or home temporarily to sort out any visa things if I had had a job offer. I suppose I haven’t made it explicit in any of my posts, but it’s probably obvious – I have decided I do not want to stay here long term. This means that I am not actively looking for jobs in LA; I really just want to enjoy the rest of my time here and the small trips I will be doing and the visitors who are coming to see me.

I’ll try to squeeze in another post before mum comes, but don’t get mad if I can’t!

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Inside out


Apologies for the long gap between posts. I’ve been struggling with internal issues again and there has been no energy left for recording ‘external’ experiences. I know it’s important to keep this blog, though, as memories fade so easily. Details never survive; some of them are already gone forever because of my shilly-shallying. And what of those fleeting impressions that are lost almost as soon you have them? It’s an endless source of frustration and sadness to me that you can never pin such feelings down. But perhaps that’s not the point; maybe it’s only supposed to be about the moment.

I can’t completely separate the internal and the external, really, for my interests – those things outside of me – sustain my inner world (well, a large part of it) and I turn to them when I need solace. Sometimes I think they’re the only things keeping me vaguely sane. I’ve really had to push myself to do things during the last couple of weeks; the getting ready, the getting there, the being on my own just seems more than I can cope with. But when I do make the effort I feel pleased that I did, and I come away energised.

I actually didn’t find it a particular struggle to get myself to the Jonathan Richman gig last Tuesday. Some of you will know who he is; those who don’t might want to look at this. He is the one remaining musical artist in the world it was really important to me to see live. He played at the legendary Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard (see here for a rundown of its extraordinary history). I was amazed at how small the venue was inside, but thrilled because I knew it would mean I could get close to the Great Man. He is a funny and poignant artist/performer; his songs get to the heart of the matter in the most simple way. I was so close to the stage that I could see every expression on his face (and what a sad, and now wizened, face it is). At times I caught myself grinning like a loon, or with face contorted in embarrassingly earnest recognition or understanding. I thought about the gig for days afterwards, which is something I rarely do anymore. I considered taking photos but I felt JR would have been offended by flashes going off in his face in such an intimate space. I did get a picture of the marquee outside, though.

Later that week I decided to go for a walk along the Sunset Strip, which I hadn’t done since I came to LA for the first time in 2002. I love this part of town; you’re right at the foothills and there are some great views down into the city. It’s also kind of chi-chi I guess, so there isn’t so much of a sense that something random and bizarre is going to happen like there is in other parts of the city. The Chateau Marmont is at one end of the Strip.

Upon arrival back in Hollywood proper I noticed that there was a bit of a hoo-ha going on outside Madame Tussauds. Apparently Perez Hilton was about to unveil the new Lady Gaga wax figure inside (identical Gaga figures, but wearing different outfits, were being launched at other Tussauds locations around the world on the same day). I thought “what the hell” and went in. There were many teenage Gaga lookalikes inside and a palpable sense of excitement, which would have been understandable if the real Gaga had been there, but she wasn’t. Kids, eh? I’m probably just jealous of their ability to give a shit. Check out Hilton’s ridiculous outfit.

Last weekend I went on the big, scary Charles Manson tour. I was anticipating a tour bus full of creepy guys in Matrix-style coats, but funnily enough it was all women and one gay man. There were three middle-aged sisters from Orange County who used to scare themselves when they were younger by driving up to Cielo Drive, and everyone else was in their 20s/early 30s. All seemed perfectly normal.

The first stop was the LaBianca house in Los Feliz. The LaBianca murders actually took place the night after the Tate murders in August 1969, but we stopped at the LaBianca house first as it was close to where the tour began. Apparently Manson had attended a party at the house next door to the LaBianca house and one theory goes that Mr LaBianca had complained about the noise, so Manson and co came back to take their revenge. There are many other theories about connections between the Manson Family and the LaBiancas but the official story is that the house was chosen at random.

LaBianca house, Los Feliz

After that we made our way to Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, which is up beyond Beverly Hills. The tour guide told us many stories on the way which I won’t go into here, suffice to say he has a wealth of knowledge about all things Manson. 10050 Cielo Drive was the address of the Tate/Polanski house, where a pregnant Sharon Tate and some of her friends were murdered on a Saturday night in August 1969.

The original house is no longer there; it was pulled down in 1993, not because of the murders but because the owner (the same person who owned the house when the murders took place) had got an offer he couldn’t refuse for the house/site. The original house was actually quite small and modest; the new house is more ostentatious.

The number of the house was changed because of the murders; it is now 10066 (I think). Here is a picture of the Cielo Drive street sign. It’s blurry because the bus started moving just as I was taking it, but I feel that this gives it an appropriately sinister feel.

After that we stopped at a house where the Family members washed the blood off themselves with a garden hose, the spot where they chucked their bloodied clothes into the canyon, and the house where a 10-year-old boy found the gun used in the murders in the backyard. We had a nice drive through Laurel Canyon, where many 60s rock stars lived. Here is a picture of Mama Cass’s house, which was also owned by Natalie Wood and Dan Aykroyd at various points, and which is now owned by Beverly D’Angelo.

The next day (Sunday) I ventured downtown to go to an independent designer market. I didn’t particularly enjoy my walk to the market building from Pershing Square Station; I took Broadway, which is full of cheap and nasty shops and old theatres and kind of smells like potatoes. Yuccch. The theatres are actually quite interesting in their faded grandeur; here is a pic of the exterior of the Orpheum, which is featured in the film In Search of  a Midnight Kiss.

Downtown is also home to the famous Bradbury Building, the interior of which film buffs might recognise from Blade Runner and more recently from 500 Days of Summer.

Here are some pictures of the famous Angel’s Flight tramcar, which used to take people up Bunker Hill back in the day. It was closed down at one point and reopened in the 1990s; this location isn’t the original location but it isn’t far from it.

I went downtown again two days after this to interview someone from the LA Times about their work, but I don’t think I’ll be going back again unless I can find someone to do the Downtown Art Walk with me one month.

The final interesting thing I did recently was attend a screening of the new documentary Let’s Spend the Night Together: Confessions of Rock’s Greatest Groupies, in which Pamela Des Barres travels around America to talk to 60s groupies about their experiences with rock stars. The screening took place at the Bootleg Theater in Silver Lake, a cool theatre/gallery/music/cinema space. Here are some ‘ambient’ shots.

The film was so-so, though it was a nice surprise to see Tura Satana from Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! interviewed (she once dated Elvis). Pamela des Barres herself attended the screening, along with fellow groupies Michelle Overman (whose big love was Robert Plant) and Catherine James (who apparently lived with Mick Jagger).

Pamela Des Barres

Pamela and Michelle Overman

Michelle, Pamela, Catherine James (terrible photo, sorry)

Michelle

During the Q&A I asked the women whether they considered themselves feminists; Pamela and Michelle said they did; Catherine said she didn’t but didn’t say why not. I have mixed feelings about the whole groupie thing. I’m sure they had a huge amount of fun – probably more than we do nowadays – but at the same time I don’t see how it could ever be enough to attach yourself to someone else’s creative bandwagon but not do anything creative yourself. I suppose Pamela is now a writer – she runs writing workshops, even – so presumably that gives her some kind of fulfilment.

Next things on my agenda are feeding the homeless at the church down the road on Christmas Day, going to the Raveonettes at the Standard on New Year’s Eve and then going to Palm Springs for a few days shortly after that.

I have to admit that writing this post has felt like a huge effort so I probably won’t be revisiting this blog till after the Palm Springs trip. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

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One month in

I don’t know if it’s partly because of the short days (it’s getting dark around 5) but the time seems to be flying by. It’s a month today since I got here, and it’s funny to think about that first night, arriving at the Beverly Laurel in the dark, dumping my suitcases, texting mum to tell her I’d arrived safely, then walking down the block to the servo to get some orange juice so I could soak the gluten-free muesli I had brought from home and some milk for the tea I would make with my travel boiler. Beverly Boulevard looked so desolate on that Sunday night and I felt a little scared.

I still feel a little apprehensive when out on the streets here, though I’m getting more used to it. I think LA would probably feel completely fine if you were always in a car, but I have to walk and catch the bus so I see a lot of strange things. Mostly it’s not scary stuff, just sad stuff, which I think it is important to see. I did get insulted by an African American woman on the bus stop this week though: she was calling me a bitch and telling me to stick with my own kind. Somewhat unpleasant.

Anyway, I need to backtrack. The Dawes gig was so-so; it was good to be at a show with ‘indie’ types, but it was very couple-y and the band’s music had descended into MOR dreck by the final quarter of the show. The venue, the El Rey on Wilshire Boulevard, was lovely though.

El Rey Theatre

The next day I decided to make the trip to Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. I’d been to the Amoeba in Berkeley in 2002, which was great, but this one was even better. In fact it’s possibly the best record store I have ever been to. I download a lot of music nowadays but now and then there are things that you can’t find online – Amoeba, of course, had them. The exterior is pretty cool too.

Here are some other pictures I took in the area that day. The interior with the pineapple-themed columns is Hollywood/Vine subway station. Nuts!

Last Sunday it was the annual Christmas parade on Hollywood Boulevard. I wasn’t sure whether to go or not – generally I hate that kind of thing – but it was so close to my house that it seemed churlish in the extreme to not even nip down and have a quick look. So I did. I ended up standing next to an Australian family and the mother and I tut-tutted at a Scientology float obviously designed to appeal to kids. Trying to get them early, I guess. (Apologies for the quality of the photo but you get the idea.)

The TV build-up to the event had promised ‘celebrity guests’, and while there weren’t many that I actually knew, there was one that I know just about as well as I know myself. In fact, he is a constant in the lives of the whole Robertson family. Yep, Ronn Moss – aka Ridge Forrester from The Bold and the Beautiful. These pictures are terrible too – there was no light and he was in a moving car and ok, maybe I was trembling a little – but I think you can tell that it’s him. His ex-Playboy Playmate wife was by his side.

Some other pics:

Larry King was the king of the pageant; that’s him in the Santa hat (below)

Stefanie Powers posed beautifully for me while she was waiting on the sidelines:

All that excitement was almost too much for me to bear, so I ended up having a fairly quiet week last week. I did some freelance work and some other writing, joined a yoga class and went walking in my area, which is actually quite charming in parts. In my last post I didn’t make explicit the fact that my place is right at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills, so there are some lovely green, steep streets near here with all manner of interesting architecture. I generally don’t take my camera or iPhone with me when I’m walking for exercise but I will try to remember one day and get some shots for you.

Thursday night I went to see Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti play at the Music Box, which is very close by on Hollywood Boulevard. Again, it was comforting to be among music fans. I moved towards the front just before APHG came on; an attractive young man sidled up to me and started chatting. He had some friends with him, who were hanging around in the background. Anyway, he was San Diego born and a sweetheart, but sadly he was young enough to be my son, literally – he was eighteen. Anyway, he kept me company for the whole gig. After the show we said our goodbyes; as I was exiting the building, an older guy approached me and engaged me in conversation. He kept emphasising how he ran a record label and he generally seemed pretty hyped up; in fact I couldn’t follow half of what he was saying. He made me take his number, which I won’t be using.

Yesterday I went to the New Beverly cinema again, but not before making a Bold-related stop, at Insomnia cafe, which is just down the road from the cinema. Of course the interior you see on the show is just a set – it’s narrower and a wireless hotspot/gallery-cafe in real life – but here is the very recognisable (well, to Bold fans) exterior:

I really like the section of Beverly Blvd between Fairfax and La Brea; I hadn’t really explored it before. There are lots of eateries and some great boutiques. I bought a pair of short boots from Remix Vintage Shoes that I love to bits.

Anyway, that’s the factual stuff up to date; there are a lot of other things I could ruminate on but I’m tired and I want to go to bed (as Moz would say). Next week should be an interesting one: Jonathan Richman gig on Tuesday night, Downtown Art Walk on Thursday and Charles Manson tour on Saturday (no judgement please!)

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A home, solitude and Bukowski

The day after I wrote my last (first) post – the one in which I lamented my homeless state – I found a home. Loife, eh? It’s an apartment in a block on Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, just near the Kodak Theatre (where the Oscars are held), Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame and other such touristy sites. Some might look down their noses at my choice – it’s not hip like Echo Park or schmick like the west side – but it’s actually a very suitable position for me in that it’s close to the music venues and bars that I plan to hang out at and shopping areas that I am already familiar with.

After moving in I discovered that my building actually has some some cool cachet of a rather sinister type – Charles Manson once ran a prostitution ring from apartment 306 (I’m in 310) and also shot someone across the road. Some may have quaked in fright (I really wanted to write ‘quaken’ there) at this revelation; I got a kick out of it as I am a bit odd that way.

So, the last week or so has been spent trying to fashion this house into a home. I think I have done a pretty good job; I just need a couple of posters for the walls and it should be done. And … then what?

Motivation is a little hard to come by right now. Exhaustion is one reason, (anticipated) existential angst of the ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ variety is another, and the less-than-satisfactory reality of the situation re contacts here is a third. It’s pretty obvious that someone I hoped might be a fun person to go out with is in full insular-couple mode, and another, who I think would have been up for doing things, unfortunately won’t be in town for big chunks of the next couple of months. There are others I am supposed to look up; I suppose I still might. I do enjoy solitude for its nourishing effects, but it can be taken too far.

I am trying to buck up and carry on, though: I have bought tickets to a couple of gigs and I have discovered a great repertory cinema, The New Beverly, that I think I will be frequenting regularly. Thankfully, going by my first visit, Johnny-No-Mates like myself are pretty common there. On Saturday I saw an Antonioni double; I especially enjoyed the second film, The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. I am no film wanker and I have been dubious about Antonioni in the past, but I would go so far as to call the film a profound meditation on the nature of identity. So there!

I have communed with one human in the last few days, the aforementioned person who is going away for the large parts of the next couple of months. On Sunday night he picked me up in his BMW (I’m not into cars at all; I just mention it as it amuses me) and took me to the Chateau Marmont, which I had been dying to check out. We went to the bar in the main part of the hotel; it was dark and moody and opulent and everything I’d hoped it would be, really. I hope to go there many more times before I leave LA.

The Bukowski tour seems very far in the past now, but I think it’s still worth writing a little about it. It is run by a company called Estouric, which I discovered when I was back in Australia doing my LA research. They have many other fabulous-sounding tours and I hope to go on a couple more of them. The Bukowski tour interested me not so much because I am a huge Bukowski fan – I have read one of his novels and some of his poetry, but his work bothers me because of its misogyny – but because it is mostly centred on the Downtown area, which I’d never explored and which has fascinated me for ages. Downtown is the historical heart of the city; it was LA till everything started moving westward post WWII. In the last few decades downtown has undergone a regeneration – or a raping, depending on your perspective – with many corporate headquarters now based there and a vibrant arts culture.

The two people that run the touring company, a couple, are no fans of the changing face of Downtown. Indeed, it was frustrating to be on Bunker Hill, the stomping ground of Bukowski’s hero John Fante, and not see any of the old homes-turned-boarding houses like the ones Fante would have lived in as they have all been pulled down. I felt a little embarrassed craning my neck to look at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall as we drove past it; a no-no to show interest in things like that on this tour. Still, it is an amazing building.

First stop was the Terminal Annex (post office) where Bukowski worked sorting letters and which provided the inspiration for his first novel, Post Office. It is an extraordinary, imposing building that is now, prosaically, home to a server farm, though I suppose there is through line there in that the premises are still being used for the purposes of communication. (Click photo to enlarge.)

United States Post Office Terminal Annex

We then moved on to the Central Library, where Bukowski first discovered the at that time out-of-print Ask the Dust by John Fante, a work that resonated with a truth and a simplicity he had not found in other writing. Bukowski would become instrumental in getting Fante back onto the public radar, and Fante would become the most significant influence on Bukowski’s work. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Interior, Central Library

From here the tour went down Broadway, where we stopped at a cafe called Clifton’s, a huge, multi-storey building whose owners would often feed the poor for free, and where Bukowski was a regular patron. This was a short distance from Skid Row, which I had built up in my mind to be completely terrifying, but which from my bus window didn’t look too bad. Bukowski is often referred to as the Poet Laureate of Skid Row, but the tour guides were obliged to point out, as Bukowski’s widow Linda had specifically asked them to, that Bukowski never actually lived on Skid Row.

After that it was on to East Hollywood and Bukowski’s one-time home in De Longpre Ave. Apparently in the post-Post Office period hot Scandinavian women would regularly turn up on his doorstep looking for action, according to our tour guide. After a long tussle with with philistine authorities who wanted to pull it down, the building has now been officially deemed a historically significant site.

Exterior of Bukowski's bungalow in De Longpre St, East Hollywood

Sign explaining site's significance

Next stop was Pink Elephant Liquor, Bukowski’s favourite liquor store in the area. A news report of an incident that took place there a couple of years ago, where one homeless person killed another and put them in the liquor store’s dumpster, was shown on the bus prior to our arrival there. Unfortunately I really needed to put some rubbish in the bin by the time we got there; I glanced over at the dumpster and decided that while all traces of dead human had probably disappeared from it by now, I still didn’t want to touch it. My rubbish remained on my person.

The Pink Elephant

Pink Elephant was a break stop, and a person from the tour struck up a conversation with me in the parking lot. He was a navy man with a vulnerable expression who had been to Melbourne a couple of times and loved it, mostly for its food culture. He was a also a music fan and was urging me to go to some shows at the Troubadour, and to check out the Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard, which is actually pretty close to my new home.

The last stop on the tour was the Royal Palms, where Bukowski stayed for a time and whose facade was used in Barfly, the film based on Bukowski’s life. It is now an alcohol rehabilitation centre, and the day we went there was an event being held there for people who had graduated from the program. I felt a little apprehensive when told about this prior to our arrival there, but everyone was extremely courteous to us stickybeaks.

The Royal Palms, East Hollywood

And that was pretty much it. It was wholly worthwhile, not just for the insight into Bukowski but because it illuminated and to an extent demystified a misunderstood part of the city. I think it is vital to stray from the well-worn tourist paths to really get inside a place; indeed, a desire to understand LA better was a primary motivation in my coming here.

It is Thanksgiving today, and I have spent it – you guessed it! – by myself. I am pretty sanguine about it given that as an Australian the holiday means nothing to me. Tomorrow night I am going to a gig by the band Dawes. Let us join hands and pray that there will be someone attractive there who will speak to me.

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