Have you ever marvelled at the majestic splendour of Big Sur from Cone Peak? At the verdant hills dividing into fractal hills into fractal hills till eyes loses them, transmogrifying into shining surf and silver beaches at the Ocean’s rim? Have you ever pondered the Pacific fog flinging itself over Golden Gate bridge? Or diffuse, tender stormclouds shrouding Anza Borrego’s vastness into an unearthly image of light and shadow from your vantage above the gullies and ravines of the Borrego badlands? Have you even meditated on LA’s pulsating vastness from Mulholland Drive, the rivers of light glistening gossamer into that inky night sky, Downtown’s skyscrapers a beacon on the horizon. Or driven down the Pacific Coast Highway drowning in the stunningly perfect vistas? Mile after mile of sea spray and sea cliff, sun sky and beaches. You may have even gazed upon Salvation Mountain, a mesmer, an image that could only take shape in the abandoned vastness of interior California, a place removed from all, where the creative energies of the decontextualized West, the free spirit of Los Angeles and the ethos of the South intertwined and gave birth. At Slab City, where Confederate flags fly and a self governed community lives out the Wild West. You may have gazed upon the massive bulk of Telescope Peak rising out of Badwater Flats, a solid 10,000 feet of mountain, crowned by the snow peak, ringed by Death Valley’s hollow vastness whereupon for a moment, you feel dwarfed and drowned. You may have experienced all these and more living in Los Angeles.
Have you viscerally felt the caress of a golden sun hung amidst a gorgeous azure sky, its courtiers white, fragile tessellations of clouds gently arrayed about its person? Have you sworn on a perfect June morn that weather could simply not get better, until the next day your skin is kissed by a zephyr so gentle and pure that you swear the same oath, until every morn has a little more empyrean in it, that the Gods are teasing you with this joie de vivre that fills you, and you simply want to lie outside, letting the air soak into you.
Have you been entranced by the bright oranges and mauves of the heavenly sunsets lighting the clouds of the Pacific, sparking colours you did not even know existed? Like living a painting. Have you ever walked down the Venice boardwalk for no other reason than to soak in Los Angeles? Shaken your head, amused, at the botox shop next to the marijuana shop right on the beach? (Only in LA!) The waves gently lapping at the beach, the Santa Monica mountains gray and mysterious, seemingly rising from that Ocean into spires of smoke, the sun a golden orb suspended above the horizon, as if placed there by the artist that is Nature to crown the perspective? Have you driven through those very mountains of Santa Monica under a full moon, and discussed the meaning of life with complete strangers at midnight, while the San Fernando Valley glows below you and tiny flecks of light edge along the streets below? Have you ever been struck by the people Los Angeles gathers into her bosom? People who want to express, create, live, experience, fulfill and be free. That is, everyone. Did you realize that global culture is made here? By these people? That our shared global language manifests in Los Angeles. Have you ever stood atop the Hollywood sign and realized that this is something the world aspires to. And here it is.
Have you marvelled at how many ethnic enclaves you could experience in one day? Have you ever had to decide between Korean barbeque that could feed an army, Mexican food that saturates your senses, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Persian, Ethiopian… Every cuisine, every ethnic enclave a microcosm of that culture, carefully transmuted and planted in the soil of Los Angeles. You want to go to Iran? Go to Tehrangeles! China? Monterey Park! Korea? Koreatown! India? Norwalk! Culture lives and breathes in Los Angeles. Have you ever counted the sub-cultures in Los Angeles? Have you seen skateboarders, bikers, goths, ravers, hipsters, neo-hippies, baseball fans share a city? Have you been amused, nay bemused, by the constant self-expression, whether its a guy skateboarding down the street pulled by his dog, or the car casually parked at the supermarket with the ridiculously overwrought artwork. Or perhaps you walked down Crenshaw and much to your delight discovered Little Africa just when you thought Los Angeles had no more surprises. Perhaps you dived into rave subculture? You went to a warehouse rave in Chinatown and emerged tired but happy at dawn, unsure why you danced all night with a hundred strangers, the benevolent gaze of multi-hued laser beams watching over you. Or have you been to raves, nay gatherings, out in the California-scape? Tribal gatherings where modernity is a strange bedfellow to some semblance of a more primal humanism, where music somehow intertwines with love and expression to create experience. In the Mojave or in the Sierras have you ever danced the night away under an adoring sky to the steady kickdrums and melodies of rhythmic music, surrounded by people who feel the same thrum of intensity you do, playing out the ancient human drama of ritual again, as it was played out and as it will be played out?
Perhaps you were enchanted by the pretty houses of Echo Park, by the quietude of her gentle, rolling hills, by the Belizean lady who gave you haircuts for 8 bucks while making merry conversation with you or the Mexican place where you got home-made burritos for 4 that put life on hold. But Echo Park was only one in a patchwork of neighborhoods, separated yet stitched together by freeways. Have you got breakfast in Echo Park, lunch in Pasadena, coffee in Downtown LA, dinner in Venice and then hung out around Hollywood and finally ended the night at the beach in contemplation of it all? Has sampling half a dozen neighborhoods in a day been normal? Has taking for granted cheap Mexican food that is manna from heaven but really made homestyle in tiny, holeinthewall kitchens become normal? Did you just get the best Pescado you’ve ever had for 6 bucks? Have you been to Chichen Itza and just wallowed in the food there? Or gone to Aladin and eaten the best Indian food in Los Angeles in disbelief because it was so cheap it was essentially free? Or been to the most nondescript restaurant imaginable, called “Palm Grove Ethiopian restaurant”, and then been treated to gourmet ethiopian food? Have you ended the night perched atop Mulholland Drive or Griffith Observatory? Letting yourself drown in the sweep of Los Angeles laid bare at your feet, the rivers of light twinkling in the distance, dissipating into the ocean, Palos Verdes glimmering faintly, the towers of Downtown marking our human stamp on the land, the mountains quiescent and dark, whereupon you felt the vastness of Los Angeles creep up on you and swallow you in, from Palm Springs to Malibu, from Santa Clarita to Orange. Have you escaped the all encompassing-ness of LA for the cosier retreat of San Francisco, glad to switch to the delights of that fair city, and equally glad to return to the unfathomable embrace of LA? Have you felt-succumbed to the pull of the South-West, and seen canyons, the ravines, the mesas, buttes, plateaus, cliffs and mountains for yourself? Have you felt the continuity between that context and Los Angeles? The infinity of barescapes stretching onwards, forever, into new horizons. It was here before you and will be here after you. Have you seen places where there will always be nothing but Nature’s vastness dwarfing the human condition? The Mojave – Death Valley – Big Sur – Anza Borrego – Canyonlands – The Painted Desert – Grand Canyon – Mongollon Rim – Sequoia – Yosemite – Joshua Tree. So much nothing. So much nothing.
Have you simply been glad for the mental clarity that LA espouses? Glad that there are no chains of history to tie you down, that no one ascribes context to you, that there is no ‘custom’ and no ‘tradition’. That change is all that exists because nothing existed before. Have you seen what happens when millions of people of every colour and origin make an empty place their home, in the most beautiful part of North America? Los Angeles happens.
Have you ever lived in Los Angeles?
If you liked the photography in this article, you may want to take a look at my other photographs.