My first day in LA – I stepped out the door in blazing sunshine, and a green parrot flew over me. I did a doubletake, was this just the blurred vision of jet lag meeting David Hockneyesque harsh stark sun? No, I heard its distinctive chatter and then saw two dog-walkers equally transfixed. Then two other parrots swooped down to join the first parrot, exposed against the cloudless blue sky on a telephone wire. The three of us humans were all amazed and pleased by the start of our day, and for me the start of the first day of my trip here.
A good omen.
I confess, none of these pictures are from this visit. Without wheels on this trip, I’m not going to be able to make it to my favourite seaside places this time. But they capture for me the most positive aspects of Los Angeles. Here are my jet-lagged ramblings.
This was home a long time ago. Now it is a place on the other side of the world I have to visit from time to time, and every time it feels stranger. Skyscrapers with small bits of manicured and manufactured green are about as natural as it gets in the city itself. Sometimes I go for a little refuge to sit in the cemetery where my mother’s ashes were scattered; it rests between massive skyscrapers and near a car park, it’s also where famous people like Marilyn Monroe are commemorated with wall plaques. My mother rests in esteemed company, not that she was ever a MM fan.
But this trip feels different.
Going ‘home’ means for me a quite limited regime. I walk to the public library which connects me with the world and which is adjacent to the yoga studio where I have the pleasure of working with Jasmine Lieb, one of my favourite teachers whose sympathetic rigour and intensity is unparalleled. It’s a shame I’m nearly always jet-lagged when I work with her since it means I’m in some sort of limbo state unable to appreciate fully what she has to offer. It engraves itself on me at some deep level, the level of impressions, dreams and memories.
From there I go to Whole Foods Market for their amazing salads or a great vegetarian restaurant like Real Food Daily. It’s mad to travel halfway across the world for the food, but sometimes that’s what these trips feel like. There is nowhere in Britain (that I know) that has such amazing vegetarian food. Basic needs become everything on these trips.
The plane was half-empty on the flight here, a luxurious and strange experience .It brought home to me the impact of the recession and I whiled away as much time as possible on the flight reading just about every newspaper that exists, all full of confusing reports of the supposed, possible recovery. Surrounded by accents in unfamiliar tongues – Greek certainly one of them – I drifted in and out of a half-conscious state riding the waves of the rhythmic sounds, and trying to ride those sound waves on the intermittently very rough journey we experienced that made me feel, all over again, I never want to do this trip again.
‘Do you have to go?’ a friend asked me when I was explaining to her what it is like. That question shocked me, though I’ve been asked it before. Yes, I feel I do. There is some sort of duty engrained deep in my being I feel it would be a transgression of who I am to override it. Do I enjoy it? I’m always sure I don’t in advance, that I feel disconnected from my self while here. I feel a sense of dread leading up to the trip, and recovery is full of relief and also exhaustion. Yet I also sometimes experience once I’m here, a sense of huge relief – and also escape! Escape from the cold of Britain, not just climactic, economic, but also how the people are.
From the moment I arrived – after I was submitted to an excruciatingly bureaucratic Customs search (because I had too little luggage!) – when I met my father’s Phillipino carer at the airport, I was struck by the liveliness and energy of Americans all over again. It takes a year in Britain to make me appreciate this huge cultural difference. When we went to a delicatessen in the evening and all the serving staff (American, Scottish, Australian, Asian and Mexican) joined in genuinely friendly banter with us, other customers and each other (at one stage bringing my father a birthday cake for Grandma – his birthday is tomorrow) – I felt a corresponding energy rise despite the fact I’d been up by then for more than 24 hours. On one level it seemed like a caricature of American life and could have been a scene from a movie – in the same way that the film I’d seen on the plane caricatured Britain with its coverage of the Henley Regatta. But I’m happy with the caricature, it meets my needs.
On the flight out I watched Social Network about the creation of Facebook. I have so taken against Facebook without having any real data, I wanted to know more. It was fascinatingly horrible. I have no idea how accurate the characterisation was, I assume the story was factually correct, but what interested me was that my gut feeling about the facile type of connection Facebook provides was so confirmed through the film, and it also seemed quite a misogynistic foundation – basically undergraduate superficial connections, largely built around sex, parties and drink. And the apparent betrayals, dishonesty and deceit in the business dealings provided a shifty foundation for any kind of genuine communication vehicle. How can such a corrupt medium support a good message? (I know I’m being unreasonably harsh but bear with me!) I read a survey about the use of Facebook recently courtesy of Michael Langlois’ newsletter, and I was interested in his comment that connection is not the same thing as emotional engagement. For me that says it all, and I now feel comfortably confirmed in my intuitive response to the medium which encourages a kind of abbreviated staccato communication that’s all about soundbites and not at all about enquiry, thinking, dialogue or understanding. Maybe this is the other side of the American character, the one I spend much of my life running away from.
I was also prompted by one of the characters in the film who is a real charmer, to think how I am currently being drawn in by (male) charmers in the world of work and activity. Even when I know they are perhaps not motivated by a fully conscious agenda they are nevertheless still some form of ‘conman’ – still I let myself get energised and drawn in. I have had two work disappointments recently built on these insubstantial foundations. And all along I could see it coming, and yet was still saddened when it did. It’s like I want to believe I’m wrong but I know I’m not. My vision is as clear as when seeing those three parrots. I need to learn to trust it more.
And then I’m also noticing a trend with women in the current workplace, where I’m observing the survivors are shrill, forceful, full of bravado (are these the human parrots?) – one of you described one of them to me like someone who could have rounded people up for concentration camps. And the casualties who are losing their jobs (women I like) have vision, idealism, hope but lack that hard edge.
(I base these comments on extremely small samples of two each, so am prepared to have my theories shot down. Jet lag is a carte blanche for stream-of-consciousness thinking!)
What does that say – a world full of conmen and macho women, with discarded ‘weak’ females littering the curbs?
Well, as I venture back out into the harsh light but lovely warmth of the California sun I will look out for these characters and ponder more.