'You will hate Los Angeles.'
That's what English people said to me when they heard I was heading west, to the land of low-fat milk and sugar-free honey. You'll hate it, and be back in a week.
Some of them, I suspect, were showing off their worldliness. They'd been to Los Angeles many times, seen through its glitter, tired of its ways. Others inflected their prediction with a sort of menacing imperative. You WILL hate Los Angeles, if you know what's good for you.
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You can see examples of this same imperative all over the British press. Leaf through a colour supplement on any given Sunday, and I guarantee you will find an interview with a young popsy, promoting her latest film, under the headline: 'She's the toast of Hollywood, but she prefers Hackney!'
Whether the popsy prefers Hackney or not (and they only chose Hackney because of the H — if she were the toast of Los Angeles, she'd prefer Luton, if California, Cardiff — this is all laid out in the Sub-Editor's Handbook, Vol 13), that's what newspapers need to be true. They need, to an often-cringing degree, the approval of Los Angeles, only for the chance to spurn it.
I love you, I hate you: you might call it a mixed message, if the message weren't so unmixed. You're allowed to love Paris, up to a point, New York, more or less, Dublin and Glasgow, definitely, but loving Los Angeles is just plain wrong. Oxymoronic, in fact — if you promise to go easy on the oxy. Los Angeles, and especially the abbreviated LA, has become a byword for the shallow, the ephemeral, the vain — and it is the duty of any right-thinking Englishman, properly cask-aged in rainwater, body dysmorphia and sarcasm, to scorn it. And it's not just the British press who feel this way. The rest of the world, and much of America, treats Los Angeles with the same weird mixture of envy and snobbery — qualities that ought to contradict each other, but somehow never do.
Well, I warn you now, I'm heading in the other direction. I'm sticking up for the beautiful city of Los Angeles. That's right. Beautiful. Never mind the flimsy petrol station architecture — that's nothing but mascara — look at the bone structure underneath. Look at that mountain, look at those trees (thank you Randy Newman), look at the lush, almost-wanton fecundity of the place — although admittedly, the fecundity requires a lot of diverted water. If nature is mother here, then the Colorado River is the absent father. Without it, California reverts to the surface of Mars in about a week. But, thanks to those precious emissions, the desert blooms like nowhere else I've seen. In Los Angeles, watching grass grow is really quite entertaining.
Then there's the odd, particulate nature of the place. Los Angeles' reliance on the car means it simply doesn't cohere the way other cities do. There's no strolling down the street to get a newspaper, raising your hat to the cycling vicar, chatting to Mrs McGillicuddy in the butcher's about her hernia, nipping into the Bull and Lunatic for a half of shandy and a game of darts with the same, familiar crowd (yes, that's an absolutely typical day for me in London). While Parisians ping off each other in social Brownian motion, human contact in LA requires arrangements, forward planning, rendezvous.
Way to go
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