Monday, November 26, 2007

The Building of Los Angeles, One, Two, Three

There's a thing some chefs like to pull off, working a course that's three variations on one main ingredient, a trio of ways to exercise all their cleverness edging out repetition and variation of flavor and texture. Of course, doing such a thing isn't anything new, for the simple fact that there isn't really anything new--we're all left trying to figure one more way to kick start any art we mess in. That's a highfalutin way to say Amy and I got served a terrific trio of architecture this weekend, as we spent Friday, Nov. 16 in Los Angeles taking in a catalog of wonder-full buildings that each time capsule their eras so well they might be stand-ins for an entire decade. And that's leaving out finally visiting the Bradbury Building, which is brilliant in its "demure exterior, you'll never guess what I'm hiding" extravagance, yet a tad disappointing, too, as the fantastically filigreed lobby iron-work is in a distinctly narrow atrium. It seems so much bigger in Bladerunner.

Not much seems bigger than Union Station, though. The last great U.S. train station, built in 1939, it's also one of Art Deco's last gasps, something way too hopeful for a second world war so soon after the war to end all wars. Yet while it's Deco, it's also Noir, and a bit Mission--it seems totally LA. Like the Bradbury Building, if it didn't exist to be a film set, Hollywood would have had to build it. Opulent and rich, it's a cathedral to our nation as movement, to LA as a place to arrive. We had dinner at Traxx, and that too, was fine. Not much gets risked at Traxx, but it simply nails simple dishes like a crab cake that's all crab and perfectly fried, or lamb chops done to a perfect medium rare with some creamy canellini beans. That Traxx Martini--Hendrick's gussied up with a splash of dry vermouth and a float of Dubonnet Rouge--is beautiful to the eye and the tongue.

We moved on to other sorts of beauty--Neko Case performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gehry's curvy aluminum is already sort of cliche, I know, but it's one pretty building, sort of looking like it swooped out of the sky to land near the otherwise moribund Music Center. Inside, the richness of all that wood, set off by the colorful prints on the seats, makes the space sort of dance, too. It's all about movement.

Turns out we are totally behind Neko Case, we're such fans--our seats were directly behind the stage. I got them as my pledge to KCRW, so on some level can't bitch, but it still seems odd something called a "premium" is less than that. Case also needs to get some pants that fit--she hiked them up prior to every song, it seems. The hall made her amazing voice even more so--the moments when the band would drop out and it would be just her were almost chilling in their beauty. And she did "The Tigers Have Spoken" and "Maybe Sparrow" back-to-back, enough to leave me a happily, emotionally wrecked man. ("Sparrow" got me from the first listen with that last cracked note, but since then I've somehow freighted the song's sadness with both my parents' deaths, as if the poor sparrow needs more, so the song really hits me. There's that refuge of how goddam beautiful sadness can be that makes it almost bearable.) somehow the acoustics that served her singing so well didn't help her patter, though--maybe part of that is not seeing the mouth words come from--but before launching into "Sparrow" she said, "Here's another animal song. Don't know why I sing about them so much--guess I feel sorry for them. Not that keeps me from eating them."

After the show we walked (yes, we walked in LA) from Disney to our hotel, the Westin Bonaventure. On some level this is a monstrosity, a five tubed, metal and glass paean to all that was wrong in the 1970s, including the outside glass elevators made famous by The Towering Inferno. But I grew up in the '70s, not only seeing The Towering Inferno but reading both The Tower and The Glass Inferno on which the movie was based. Staying there was like being plunged into my leisure-besuited past. It's actually quite fascinating, an age when what they wanted to be futuristic became almost instantly silly. The place does have views, though; our 30 floor room looked down upon Disney Hall and out to points east. More importantly, the place has a 35th floor rotating bar, because if you're going to be ridiculous, don't forget the maraschino. We upped the rotating bar ante by ordering cocktails that came in programmatic glasses you keep as souvenirs (because you'd steal them otherwise). Which means we now have one ceramic that looks like California and one that looks like a 45 record (I wisely opted not to drink enough to build my own Capitol Building out of them--the room was spinning when we began, remember.)

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Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Growing up in San Diego, I was indoctrinated with a fear of LA. Man, I was missing out. Now I have a couple of those well-earned 45 glasses myself... yum, LA...

8:04 AM  
Blogger theaverageman said...

Same thing growing up in the bay area! My parents considered LA just a giant freeway to be driven through as quickly as possible. So naturally I went there for college.

It's nice to read about the kinds of things I might be doing if I wasn't changing poopy diapers, G. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

Thanks for the architecture report and the terrific Case study. In addition to the station, I have fond memories of Olvera Street market across the street and what remains of the Avila Adobe, the oldest house in Los Angeles, built by Don Francisco Avila in 1818 when LA was part Mexico. It's a great place to stock up on your Day of the Dead supplies, sip horchata, and nibble on carne asada tacos!

10:42 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I, too, can envy your trip to L.A. (by train?) for architecture, music, food, drink, all that Traxx. Yet I am compelled to curb the "I love L.A." enthusiasm waxing more in these comments than in your post.

The architecture is indicative of my L.A. ambivalence. The Bradbury Building and Union Station stops on your downtown tour epitomize the classy possibilities of old L.A.--human scale, neighborhood fabric, signs of promise and confidence in community. The Disney Concert Hall and the Westin Bonaventure are both eye-popping implants unrelated to the rest of the city, each a world unto itself in a city with too many self-contained worlds. The Westin is especially typical, its round towers like so many middle fingers raised to its neighborhood.

Don't get me totally wrong. When I came to Santa Barbara ten plus years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by L.A.: lots to do and see, plenty of intersting mini-locales, an abundance of cultural energy. It can be a great place to visit, a world-class suburb. But I wouldn't want to live there. I grew up in suburbia and have been fleeing placelessness ever since.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Hm, so you're suggesting that something Disney related is actually decent? Curious...

(Rickey is a big basher of all things pertaining to the Tragic Kingdom).

8:58 AM  
Blogger Tessitura said...

I am and will continue to be terrified of L.A. its just not for me.

11:38 AM  

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