Sunday, March 03, 2013

Plum blossom, portobello fries & everyday magic

There is an element of adventure to downtown Los Angeles on a Saturday night. The drive there, through the twilight of the city, the lights, the blue sky darkening, the red brake lights of cars, the twinkling of circling planes, a glimpse of the moon, past the Knickerbocker and the Capitol building on the Hollywood freeway, the Silverlake asylum, the San Gabriels to the east. And you're wearing lipstick and heels and a black dress and listening to John Fullbright who makes you tear up (I admit I love Prairie Home Companion. Every time I listen I wonder why I love it, but I do). Coming off the freeway next to me in a Toyota is an elegant couple in black tie on their way to the opera. He has his hands firmly on the wheel, leaning forward towards it, and she is pointing out the way. Everyone is adventuring to downtown. It's a new city, a forgotten place, there is anticipation, sizzle, expectation, a sense of the unknown.

Los Angeles is spread out like a handful of small towns connected with highways, each town with its own character and inhabitants. Downtown is downright foreign to Westsiders. The buzzing crowd at Bottega Louie -- families with babies, hipsters, moms buying their children's breakfast croissants, elegant women buying pink boxes of colorful macarons -- feels nothing like Los Angeles.  They're spilling out onto the dark street. A lone light in the darkness, like a Hopper diner. "This feels like Paris," I said to my Parisian friend. "It feels like a kitchen" he said. "Buy the pain de mie for your children for breakfast, spread it with honey" he said as we looked through the glass of the bakery counter. There is jostling and an hour wait for a table, but we drink martinis with a twist and I listen to other people's conversations and covet their paper flutes of portobello mushroom fries. KB is here in here animal print shirt, drinking gin & tonic. She threatened to take the Metro here but didn't, despite my praising her pioneering spirit (how strange that public transport feels so unknown to us).

flowers I liked at Bottega Louie

A man begging outside is wearing a Giants shirt. He has a few dimes in his plastic cup. I say, "look after yourself" as I always do, wishing, in fact, I could be more direct, that I could ask him about his addiction and why he's sitting on a street corner on a Saturday night with a cup full of change in the dark, just a few feet from the light and laughter and glitzy-boxed sweetmeats.  But I don't.

On the way back I eschew the freeway for 8th Street and then 6th Street, through Koreatown and Mid-Wilshire, past karaoke bars and barbecue restaurants, airline ads and beauty shops. I wonder about all the places there are to visit and whether there will be time to see everything in one lifetime.

And back home there are owls and swooping hawks and white plum blossom.

I could make a case for Los Angeles being a microcosm of the world, but you could probably make that case for anything. It's not what you think, this city. It's never what you think it is. Once you think you've got it down, it changes, something else is revealed.

A new friend and I shared eggs and coffee this morning on Little Santa Monica Boulevard. Both of us are English transplants, she to Australia, me to Los Angeles. "I feel the landscape of England in my bones" she says. "I don't feel that way about the outback." It is a quintessentially English thing, feeling the country in your bones, or believing a part of you to be woven into the backbone of England. I'd love to know whether Americans feel this way...I'm not sure it's been expressed before that way.  There is something about walking in the downs of the Chilterns that reminds you of the chalky remains of people who have come before and over whom lays a carpet of green, English grass.  Walking in the mountains and the canyons here, beneath the ancient evergreen oak trees, listening the hawks, there isn't a sense of it being peopled. Unlike England, it isn't well-trodden, except by deer and finches and the owls that come out at twilight when the canyon gets cold.

I've been thinking a lot about magic and what it means to me. Not magic in the conjuror sense of the word, but everyday magic, the stories we tell ourselves to make things better or more special or to keep us sparkling. My favorite book is this one:

It's about ley lines and dowsing and herbal remedies and alchemy, and of course Druidry. It's also about stemming homesickness. Just a tiny bit.


Lost in Provence said...

I drank all of this down with my morning coffee and it warmed me right up. It took me to a place so different than what I see but was so clearly painted that I felt as if I were right next to you.

I will have to think about what my everyday magic is.
Wishing you a wonderful week ahead,

Miss Whistle said...

Dear L-I-P, Thank you for being such a lovely and stalwart commenter. It means a lot. I'm a-visiting your blog now. xx Ms W

Marcheline said...

I'm an inverted transplant. Which means I was meant to live in Scotland, but was born in New York instead. Or something like that. I must get hold of a copy of that book. Thanks for this wonderful post. I feel about New York City the way you do about L.A. And magic does exist, even though some people feel more comfortable calling it by other names.

Janelle said...

a wonderful piece of writing yet again...i really feel like i am there...i can even smell the stars and the flowers..i love your sense of place...spirit of place, rather. something lawrence durrel captures, or perhaps understands, so well.

Susan Champlin said...

I always love the way you appreciate L.A., Ms. W. I, too, felt that sense of adventure every time I went downtown (even though I was usually on the very unlovely Santa Monica Freeway, not the more colorful and historic Hollywood Freeway). It seemed like the grownup part of L.A., where lawyers and judges did important things in the courthouses, as opposed to the freelance-writery, kvetchy Westside where I lived. (As you say, we tell ourselves stories to makes sense of an otherwise random and chaotic life among the traffic jams.)

Thank you for taking us with you to the twinkling lights. It's a pleasure to be in your company.

AQ: said...

LOVE this post.

Not wanting to seem nuts, but thought I'd mention I've been really into herbal remedies lately- particularly flower therapy and flower essences- and I feel like you'd appreciate it because of your fondness for nature, flowers and EVERYDAY MAGIC!