American Adventure – Part Seven: Los Angeles – Day One

Los Angeles
Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills

My evening arrival in Los Angeles (following an epic railway journey) and subsequent car trip from Union Station in Downtown to my cousins’, Nick and Shannon’s, apartment in Playa Del Ray, was something of a whirlwind experience that afford me a great view of LAX and my first taste of the sheer scale of this vast conurbation.

Waking up on my first morning in the city I hoped to gain something of a sense of perspective of the place so headed out with Shannon to run a few errands. It was during this that I realised Los Angeles is a city where, for much of the time, a sense of perspective isn’t really something that exists as, shortly after leaving the house, we were heading down a fairly standard sized road (six lanes) and passing by three movie studios, including where Gone With The Wind was shot and Sony’s movie HQ.

View from Laurel Canyon to Hollywood
View from Laurel Canyon to Hollywood

That said, it wasn’t long before we were in a haven of green among the city’s sprawl in the form of Laurel Canyon which, while it didn’t seem a neighbourhood in a community sense still had a welcoming feel and some amazing landscapes looking across to Hollywood and within its own steep hills with houses seemingly clinging to the sides. The connections to the entertainment industry remained strong even in this residential area though with the Laurel Canyon General Store being familiar from several films about music in LA and, currently being in my consciousness as one of the major locations in the founding of the Rumours era line up of Fleetwood Mac.

In contrast Downtown LA felt much like any business centre in a major city (albeit with taller buildings and wider roads than I’m generally accustomed to seeing) so arriving here and then heading to the nearby Mexican district for lunch was back on more familiar ground.

Clearly a slightly more tourist-centric section of the Latin communities in the city this outdoor street market was bustling with everything from food to souvenirs to novelty Lucha masks on offer alongside the supposed oldest building in Los Angeles. The combination of genuine Mexican fare with a touristy edge reminded me somewhat of the Grant Avenue section of San Francisco’s Chinatown, albeit with a slightly less intimidating air to the souvenir stalls and restaurants, though I think this may have been due to the pedestrianised nature of the area and its a place I’d recommend checking out for some great Mexican food and if latin novelties are your cup of tea.

Alberto Giacometti sculptures at LACMA
Alberto Giacometti sculptures at LACMA

Whilst driving around in the morning I spotted a sign for an exhibition relating to the work of Stanley Kubrick at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), so we headed there for the afternoon. The museum itself was vast and, in a few hours we only had time to take in a tiny portion of the whole, seeing a range of works including those by the likes of Warhol and the Bauhaus movement, which were fascinating, before heading into the Kubrick exhibition.

Spanning his career from cub photographer to film making titan the exhibition included props and costumes from all his movies and camera equipment used on them, including the custom-made, modified NASA lenses used on Barry Lyndon.

Photo from The Shining
Photo from The Shining

For me the highlight came in seeing the original costumes and props from A Clockwork Orange and The Shining which possessed a surprising power despite being on display in a museum away from their filmic context – especially the photo of the ball at the Overlook Hotel used in the closing shots of The Shining featuring Jack Nicholson.

I believe the exhibition is a touring one that has since moved on from LACMA so, if you are reading this and happen to spot it elsewhere, I would seriously advise you to check it out if you have an interest in movie making or photography.

The early evening took us to Venice Beach which had an odd atmosphere that I can only describe as combining a beach resort with a sunnier, less goth-y version of Camden Town and was worth visiting but in actuality there wasn’t a lot of substance to the place (unless you were looking for a knock off t-shirt).

Canals in Venice
Canals in Venice

More interesting was slightly away from this part of Venice, behind the clearly expensive and elaborate beach front houses, where a series of canals show where the area found its name. Previously I had no idea there were actual canals in Venice, California and seeing them, like streets between houses in a very nice residential area was something of  revelation and found another area that managed to feel away from the near non-stop concrete and tarmac of the rest of the city.

It was a busy first day in LA, that, while not really adding much of a sense of perspective beyond the size of the place, did feature some fascinating places… coming next, its stars of both kinds as I head into Hollywood

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