23 minutes read, 25 minutes if you really study the photos
“Your ideal vacation would be doing things one day, then taking a day off to blog, then doing things again”, Emily observed. While that might be a little extreme, I do think that I could have planned half of the activities and still be very occupied. If I had done 50 % of my program, maybe some more reporting would have fitted into my schedule. Or maybe not, because I blog for fun and it’s (kind of luckily) not my job.
But now I am giving you a condensed compilation of everything else I did in the city of angels. Well, everything I consider remotely interesting to you (personally, I rank the peanut butter eating pretty high too, but it might be less fascinating to outsiders). Are you ready for the longest post ever?
Walking to the Getty Center. Actually walking.
On Easter Sunday, Emily had planned for us to go to the Getty Center. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the place was about because my trip preparation consisted of relying on Emily to know best. This also meant I did not know where the Getty Center was, namely on a mountain. But why worry if you have a seasoned transit professional with you? We would bike, take the train, change to the bus and then to the monorail. Piece of cake!
Except that when we were on the bus, suddenly the driver announced that he would
not be stopping at the Getty Center. “There is a fire”, he informed us and drove past our stop. On and on he went, leaving us kind of dumbfounded as we watched the bus move
farther and farther away from where we wanted to go. And you know in L.A., distances are…far.
At some point, the bus driver performed a u-turn in the middle of the road. Feeling we were getting somewhat closer again to our destination, we disembarked the bus. “We could walk”, Emily suggested. I looked at the freeway surrounding us. “How far is it?” Google Maps estimated us walking for a little more than two hours. The Getty Center would close in two hours, as we already were half an hour behind our planned schedule.
Emily was determined to get to the Getty. That must be quite an interesting place, I thought by myself, as she decided we would call a Lyft and ask the driver to get us as close as possible to the Getty Entrance. We got into the car of a lady that must’ve been an actress judging by her looks and did Lyfts as a side hustle. After only a few minutes in her car, we got to the road stop – due to the fire on the mountain next to the Getty cars were not allowed to pass. The police officer waved to the other side. “Okay, we’re getting out here”, Emily instructed. We stood in the middle of the road. On our one side the start of the freeway, on the other a police car blocking the road to the Getty. Around us, desert-looking mountains. No civilization, really. Was this the end of our quest, time to give up?
Not if you are Emily and Helen and have two healthly feet! We approached the police officer and inquired whether he would let us pass as pedestrians. “The road’s closed off due to the fire”, he said. “But we don’t wanna drive, we wanna walk”. He looked at us as if we were some kind of aliens. “You can’t walk, it’s far”, the officer, who to be honest seemed more like the sedentary type, said. “Like how far?” Emily asked. He raised his eyebrows. “Like you’ll walk an hour”. I shrugged, by now feeling compelled to make this happen. It wasn’t like we had something else to do in that hour. And this Getty thing had to be quite something if Emily went through all this trouble. So we said goodbye to the officer and passed. He shook his head, seeing us go. We walked over what would normally be a busy L.A. road, marveling at the fact that we could actually
now walk in the middle of the road. But we didn’t do that for long because fire trucks passed on the road, coming from the fire. They waved at us, probably amused to see us walking. Because who walks in L.A.?
It did not take an hour. Not even close. After maybe 20 minutes we arrived at the fire – which was almost extinguished – and the monorail. We had made it! Thanks to our feet! (And our persistence.) We boarded the monorail which played music that felt like a movie soundtrack, probably to complement the amazing view we had going up the mountain.
And then there is was: The Getty Center. An architectural landmark, an art museum and most impressive to me, a garden. Just for walking through the garden for 40 minutes the whole trip was worth it.
That Easter Sunday, I felt like I’d been on a pilgrimage to reach what resembled Eden.
I believe readers of this blog know by now about my fascination with supermarkets. Frankly, I don’t even know what I think is so cool about them, because it’s not that I buy so much. I suppose it is just the option to dive into consumerism that already excites me. While this extends to German stores as well (before I left, I treated myself to an hour inspecting all müslis in our local store without actually buying any), I am especially excited by American grocery stores. All the things! The variety! It still amazes me. Emily knows this and took me to several stores, including Whole Foods (which for good reason is also nicknamed Whole Paycheck), Numero Uno (their Mexican store in which you’d better know some Spanish) and Trader Joe’s (German Aldi owns it but it’s so much nicer!). I observed that they do not have Elstar apples, but have cashew nuts that are much tastier than ours. And in California, they have all these veggies and fruits I didn’t know! Emily thought I was hilarious pointing at plaintains and asking “What’s this?” like a small child.
Church, or Should I become a Methodist?
Other people I know go to the U.S. to see famous sights. While I enjoy those, too, part of my special focus lies on the daily life in America that I can’t get enough of. This includes, as mentioned, grocery shopping, but even ordering pizza, watching regular TV, visiting the library and, featuring prominently this year as I was there during Easter, church. We went to church twice: On Holy Saturday, we attended a bilingual Easter Vigil close to Emily’s home. It was both similar to a Catholic Easter Vigil at home and different. The similarity was mostly that it was dark the first hour and they read lots of readings from the Bible. The difference was it was in Spanish and English. And the major contrast became apparent when the part of the vigil where the lights go on (symbolizing that now Christ has risen). Blinding us, the light suddenly went on, music played and the people went wild. The joy! Everyone danced, clapped and sang. Halleluja, He is risen! I felt very non-Hispanic as I awkwardly tried to clap along.
Because why go to church only once a weekend if you can go twice, we continued our holiness the next morning by going to Westwood Methodist Church. Two of Emily’s friends attend that church and they pitched its service so skillfully to me that despite my decision to only go to only one service they had me revise my plans. And boy was it worth it! There was so much to take in at that church. For starters, I had never been to a Methodist church. It turned out, they actually masked the word “Methodist” in their name everywhere recently because the United Methodist Church conference had strengthened its ban against same-sex relationships. This church was fiercely advocating for tolerance and diversity, putting up banners stating this and displaying the trans flag and the rainbow flag in their so called Loft, where the service took place. They actually had two services at the same time, one at the Loft which was “an innovative approach to Christianity” and a more traditional one downstairs in the traditional church building. As we came in, there was tea and coffee and everyone sat in small groups in the large room. A gospel choir was performing, exactly in the way Europeans imagine that American gospel choirs perform. The service started with the pastor reminding everyone that Jesus calls his people to hang out with those that society excludes, “that is our calling!”, probably referring to the whole anti-homosexual movement. The energy was totally new age Christian and I of course loved it. Everything was extremely professional (I assume their volunteers all work in either graphic design or media or music.) and quite a great show. But there was also spiritual encounter: the set up of the service is such that after the Bible text are read (and projected on a screen which makes it so much easier to follow!), the pastor gives out a question regarding the texts and people form small groups discussing this question. At the end, announcements were not simply read – no, they had slides with elaborate designs inviting everyone to e.g. “Jesus loves tacos!” which was a gathering to say goodbye to the pastor who left for work elsewhere. I enjoyed it so much I immediately googled if I should convert to Methodism, but I fear in Germany, Methodists might not be as cool as in The Loft.
The Place where no one can live, except Arnold Schwarzenegger: Santa Monica
Emily and her fiancé Scott work for the City of Santa Monica. Also, that’s where the nearest (or most accessible) beach is. Near in L.A. means a little more of an hour away. I went there on my second day and I loved it so much I came back a few days later. Santa Monica flaunts it wealth. Not in an unpleasant way – it just is apparent pretty much everywhere that this city has money. Everything is beautiful, the stores are expensive, the residential areas are basically a sight in themselves, even the busses are pretty and clean and their city hall looks like a movie set. Also, no one can afford to live there except Arnold Schwarzenegger (he really lives there!). I especially liked it because it’s small and walkable and made me feel less forlorn. Also, of course, the Pacific. So impressive!
Warner Bros Studio Tour, or I don’t watch enough TV
What’s L.A. known for? That’s right, Hollywood. I should probably go and catch some movie glamour, I figured, and booked a tour at the Warner Bros studios. What I only realized when I got there was that I don’t watch enough TV, or at least not the shows Warner produces. So I couldn’t really relate to the house of the Gilmore Girls or Dexter, and I have no emotional connection to the Friends sofa. But I did enjoy the Harry Potter exhibit (though maybe not as much as the Australian kid on the tour that was even dressed in a Potter gown!) and the costumes from Crazy Rich Asians. We also saw the crazy Batmobile cars – did you know their motor is the one of a lawn mower and literally only goes 20 miles an hour?
I was the only person alone on the tour which elicited kind of strange pity from the staff. When I got there and showed my ticket, the girl said, “Just one? That’s not a problem!” Yeah, why would it be a problem? When the guide figured out I was by myself, she repeatedly offered to take photos of me. I almost wanted to say that I do have friends, they’re just at work right now.
Art and people posing with art
Despite my ignorant idea of L.A. being a city consisting of only cars and freeways, there are lots of museums in Los Angeles. Emily signed me up for two art museums: The Marciano Foundation and The Broad. The Broad is not pronounced like the word broad (as in Broadway), but more like broode. This make me so self-conscious I didn’t dare to ask someone for directions to the place. The Broad-Broode is interesting for its architecture itself and displays a “challenging collection” of modern art. I found the selection to be somewhat eccletic, too. The most interesting part was the visitors interacting with the act though. I wonder if academia has already started studying this phenomenom. In museums of classical art, like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I noticed people taking photos of every picture instead of looking at it. In these modern art museums, they go one step further and take selfies with the artwork. I understand this partly (it’s hard to resist photographing yourself in a Yayoi Kusama exhibit!). What kind of disturbed me though was when one girl, or should I say instagram influencer, posed in front of “African’t”, a cut paper silhouette piece by Kara Walker full of black stereotypes, sex and violence. It shows the brutality that black people have endured including violence, sexual and otherwise, and slander.
The Marciano Foundation is located in a former Masonic Temple. That alone made it worth seeing. But even the exhibits were really nice. Ai Wei Wei was displayed as well as above named Kusama, and quite many children roamed the gallery. It was definitely a gallery I would recommend. In their museum store, they had the sequel to “The day the crayons quit”, one of my favorite books.
The Egg House
When I googled to prepare my stay in L.A., I stumbled upon The Egg House. How fitting for Easter!, I thought. It was advertised as a pop-up “offering a multi-sensory experience” with “multiple rooms of immersive installations and interactive experiences” that would transport you into a world of dreams and fantasies. I was expecting an art installation centering on eggs. Sure, a more fun one than what you’d see at a museum, but still something that would give you eggcellent food for thought (all puns intended). Emily, however, apparently more knowledgable in this field than me, saw right through it. When her fiancé asked where we were going, she said, “Basically to a place where you can take good instagram photos”. And boy was she right. There was zero artsy inspiration but quite som fun involved.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Spoiler alert: Do not read this text if you intend to go see this museum. Actually, I will build in damage control by making you click on this link to read it: I swear I don’t wanna go experience the Museum of Jurassic Technology by myself.
Being fooled by bus schedules aka hiking to the Griffith Observatory aka Helen marveling at southern fruit
When outlining our plans, I asked to see some nature around L.A., so on my last day, Emily took me to the Griffith Observatory up on the mountain overlooking the city. Or, well, she tried to and just like with the Getty Trip, public transit tried to keep us from getting there. This time, it was first technology who tried to fool us. Standing at the bus stop, Emily’s app informed us the next bus would leave first in 45 minutes, despite it earlier telling us we would only have a ten-minute-wait to connect. We kept walking to another stop to take another bus to get at least a little closer. After waiting there for ten minutes, our bus – by the formidable name “Dash” – swooshed pass us. Eh, whaat? We boarded the other bus, attempting to catch up at a different stop with the Dash. This time, we would be sure and consult Google Maps and Emily’s app. Once at the bus stop, we waited. No Dash. L.A. doesn’t have bus schedules posted at the stops anymore, but you can text and get the real time information about the next bus. That source would be accurate, we figured, and texted. The result: we now had three departure times, all different from each other. And none was an acceptable wait. “How about we just walk?” Emily suggested and I agreed. Guess what? We walked for five minutes and then…saw the Dash pass us by again! By now, we had abandoned all hope to use the bus to get up there and as we came closer, we understood that our transit trouble was actually not that bad: Due to construction work, the road to the Observatory was closed and the bus would not go to the stop anyway. For pedestrians, the road was closed April 24, 25, 28 and 29. But not 27, which was today! On our hike up, I frequently stopped to smell to roses, eh, photograph the fauna (and marvel at the mansions). At some point, I looked up and said, incredulously, “Is that an orange tree?!” Emily nodded. “I’ve never seen an orange tree in real life!” I exclaimed, pretty amazed. To Emily, who grew up in California and Florida, my excitement was funny, probably as funny as someone thrilled to see snow would be to me.
I believe this is the longest blog post I ever wrote. It took me two days to finish it. How did I find the time? Oh, you know, jetlag has me waking up at 4 a.m. since I came back…
Spoiler alert: Do not read this text if you intend to go see this museum.
On one of the “Top things to do in L.A.” lists I consulted, I found this museum. It didn’t say much about it, “the place needs to be experienced”, it advised. When I suggested it to Emily, she enthusiatically added it to our activity list. But she, too, did not want to inform me further on what was there to see. As you understand by now, I trust Emily’s judgement on these matters fully, and just tagged along.
We got to the museum that didn’t look very museum from the outside and entered a very dim-lit room with a for American standards quite not friendly cashier. (I today believe it is part of the concept.) We bought our tickets and went into the still very dark exhibition that started with declaring what the museum’s mission was, namely, to provide “the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities. On the other hand the Museum serves the general public by providing the visitor a hands-on experience of ‘life in the Jurassic’.” Hmm, okay, I thought, why did Emily think this would be something I should see? But I was trying to be open and wandered through the collection in which it was strictly prohibited to take photos or use one’s phone. In the style of a 16th century cabinet of curiosities, the museum displayed a a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic items, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits. The connection to the Jurassic age was extremely unclear to me.
We looked at Collections from Los Angeles Area Trailer Parks, micro-miniature sculptures, each carved from a single human hair and placed within the eye of a needle (currently on display: Goofy, Pope John Paul II, and Napoleon I.), decomposing antique dice and an oil portrait gallery of the heroic dog cosmonauts, among others. All displays came with an elaborate explaination. After reading those and applying my historical knowledge, it dawned on me. Their seemingly scientific interpretations sounded pretty credible at first but when pondering what it actually said, I started noticing thing didn’t add up. Skillfully, they had presented information that almost could be true (in a text about a (probably alleged?) medieval German polymath they mentioned his visits to lots of German cities that were definitely relevant in the era, but then here and there things were just off or just a little too much to be true). As we went further through the exhibition, it grew more and more abstruse – and at the same time thus entertaining. “It’s basically a giant elaborate prank”, Emily mused. She also explained that one of the donors to the museum is a well-known comedy writer. This made total sense to me: The Museum of Jurassic Technology (I mean, the name alone? What technology in the Jurassic age?) is part comedy, part art installation to challenge visitors’ critical thinking. In the age of fake news, I find this a brilliant institution!
My favorite part of the exhibition was probably “Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition: An exhibit of pre-scientific cures and remedies”. There, they claimed that there used to be a ritual in which you had to inform the bees if something happened. If the matriach died, you needed to visit the bees and say “Little brownies, little brownies, your mistress has died”. If they hummed, it meant they consented to carry on living. You also had to formally invite them to the funeral. If you think this is an obviously made up ritual, consider the duck cure: If a person had bad breath, they claimed, people in former times put a duck’s beak into their mouth to cure it. Sounds totally crazy and implausible? Well, as a historian I can tell you that in the late 1800s, they put little German Prince Wilhelm’s disfigured arm into a dead rabbit daily because they thought it helped. You never know when the Museum of Jurassic Technology is fooling you or not…
It was last Wednesday. A week into my stay, I had finally overcome jetlag and mastered the transit so much that I can ride the bus home without frantically staring at Google Maps. And then it happened: As I stepped out of the subway at Hollywood/Vine, tourists came up to me and asked me for directions. Man, was I proud.
I will admit that the level “other people who know nothing mistake me for a local” isn’t my ultimate assimilation goal. But for only having been here for a week, I must have looked pretty knowledgable! So what do I actually know about L.A. after my first visit? Let’s see.
Los Angeles is…
When I asked people who had been to L.A. or the West Coast what I should not miss, they mostly told me to get out of the city and drive six hours somewhere else, claiming that L.A. is not much to see. To tell the truth, I find that a rather disrespectful statement. It is also totally not accurate. Los Angeles is very interesting! There is so much to explore. I had eleven fully planned days and constantly felt like I need more time to look at this, too and check out that as well. I could easily spend another eleven days before needing to go anywhere else. One reason there was never enough time in a day might, however, also be rooted in the fact that L.A. is…
I gradually wrapped my mind around the city’s size and structure. Once I started thinking of it like of the entire Rhein-Ruhr area where I live, I found it acceptable to be travelling ninety minutes to a place I wanted to go. (Or 120 minutes if it is the Dressbarn store.) L.A. is not really one city with one city center, it’s more like several centers and “in between burbs” (not even suburbs). It takes forever to get anywhere. Especially when you don’t drive. Now that I’ve reconciled myself with that fact, I start seeing all these opportunities for apartment hunting in Hamburg. I just have to trick my mind into thinking Hamburg is L.A. and a sixty-minute-commute will be totally fine.
3. hot and then cold
On my second day, I finally bought myself a little backpack. It might have been the best investment of 2019, and I say that while there are still eight months of the year left. Not only can I now bring things with me without a hurting shoulder, I can also bring more – and in Los Angeles I need more, namely at least one cardigan, a jacket, a scarf and actually, pack those gloves. Because when I leave the house in the morning, the sun is out and the weather is in the 70s (which is 20-25 Celsius), but then in the afternoon clouds can suddenly come out and make it ten degrees colder. When the sun sets, you better be home – or you have those gloves with you.
I’ve always wanted to go to Montreal to see in real life how a bilingual North American city would be. Now I can skip that trip because I already know. Every sign and most announcements are bilingual in Spanish and English. (More than 40 % of L.A. inhabitants speak Spanish as a native language.) It makes me happy to notice that my school Spanish often is good enough to follow the basic information. Sometimes the Spanish helps me to understand the English. Like at “Ross Dress for Less” where they call a section “Women World” in English which means nothing to me. In Spanish underneath it reads, “Talle Grande” – much more descriptive!
Street names are also very often in Spanish and it’s fascinating to see how easily they’ve been anglicized. I always thought Figueroa was hard to pronounce – until I heard it roll off the American tongues with ease. Same goes for La Tijera, La Cienega (my favorite because that is where the Target is), Centinela and Sepulveda (actually the longest street there is here).
This city is an acoustically very stimulating place. There is no way of getting home without a least two dogs loudly barking at you. They also like to alarm everyone at night when a car is passing by. Every afternoon, three ice cream trucks circle around the neighborhood, playing Christmas songs. On the bus, there is constantly something beeping and the announcements are never-ending. “Approaching Jefferson and Main, followed by Jefferson and Hope, for your own safety mind your step as you step from the bus, approaching Jefer and Trinity followed by Jefferson and Hope, we are on this ride together so please do not play loud music; to help us get you there on time, please do not block doorways, for your own safety mind your step…” The good part is that the announcing voice sounds like someone from an action movie that makes me chuckle inwardly every time he speaks. Which is like every ten seconds.
Okay, okay, that headline was obviously clickbait. It should read: “Four reasons why the U.S. is one of my favorite three countries” because naturally Sweden and Germany are also my favorites. Why the United States though – with their crazy president, gun laws, poor conditions for employees and social inequality? Because, as (probably not only) we Germans say, “Where there is light, there will be shadow”. Everyone talks about the American shadows (even the Americans themselves). But when I’m here, I encounter a lot of light, too. So here is my list of highly subjective reasons what’s awesome about America.
Americans have a reputation to be friendly and to engage with others. “You look summery”, “How’s your day going?”, “I like your shirt!” Other cultures often like to remark that this is just superficial friendliness and that’s probably true. But what’s the alternative? I have not yet been to a country where people at a fleeting first encounter display deep friendliness and entertain sincere conversation. And if I can chose between friendliness that is superficial or unfriendliness that is superficial, I will chose the American way. (Oh, and customer service is a part of this. Few things can compete with American customer service!)
2. Traces of History
So the U.S. is a super young nation and their ‘historical’ buildings on the West Coast are 200 years old, which make a European laugh. But what is extremely fascinating is how you can feel history’s impact everywhere you go. Everyone and everything here is a proof of living history. Names, customs, holidays, cultural attitudes – everything reflects the history of this place in a direct, hands-on way. From services with gospel music that originated in the black community to bilingual signage because this was a Mexican city not too long ago, it’s all there.
Americans don’t want the state to interfere with their lives? Ehm, well, that’s the very reason why they came here back in the day. Instead of having just Protestant and Catholic churches (and the occasional Muslim), there is a vast array of confessions, including ‘creative denominations’ – because 250 years ago, British, Swedish, German people left for the U.S. to finally be able to exercise their faith as they wished to. The list goes on. If you want to see the results of history in real life, go to the U.S. and look around (or keep reading).
Needless to say, that kind of history leads to diversity. Different races, different religions, different traditions, different styles. Media might still portray the all American white girl or guy, but real life gives you all the options. (And media is starting to catch up on that.) All this diversity in at least the big cities also means you are never the odd one out. You can wear what you want, do what you want and be blonde, brown, black or whatever. Because everyone else is also special, you don’t stand out. What a relief.
4. Entrepreneurial spirit
You don’t settle in unknown territory and fight for independence from the Old World if you’re not a daring character. Americans get stuff done. At our potluck dinner, I learned about Emily’s friend’s business, a subscription service for parents and teachers. What I didn’t understand was that she did this on the side of her real job. She had a good idea and just did it. Non-Americans would probably find 100 reasons why this would not be feasible. Maybe the idea won’t work out. It might not be generating enough money. Tax declaration could become more difficult. And, eh, working a side hustle, so exhausting. In the U.S., there’s overall a stronger entrepreneurial spirit, Americans are characterized as optimists – and, frankly, that’s just inspiring.