California Culture Shock
Thanks for letting me off the hook for just one week to play a little in the sunshine of Los Angeles with my daughter and old friends. I hope you enjoyed seeing a few of our (relatively) recently past, but favorite Nouvellettres® last week while I was soaking up the rays, California lifestyle and architecture. I apologize in advance for the length of this missive, with so much to tell you after having spent 10 days in the City of Angels.
The experience flying Air France was once again magnanimous. They rarely fail me. With this trip, they were in constant touch with me prior to the flight by text message and email, even asking for all of my Covid-19 related documents (proof of vaccination, negative test, etc.) to be uploaded to their system so that check-in would be sped up. And boy, it was. I had allowed three hours for check-in, but with this new system, check-in literally took less than two minutes. There was no line. An agent helped me through the automatic system and the luggage tag spit out. I took my bag straight to a check-in desk void of any agent, scanned the tag myself, put it on the conveyor belt where it was weighed and verified and off it went. It was that easy.
There was no one (hardly) at Passport Control and then no one (hardly) at Security Control. They didn’t bother to find any of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical things I had in the carry-on bag which might have set off the inspector. The plane left on time. I had four seats in the middle to myself. The trick is choosing a seat in the very back section of the plane as they book it from front to back and pick an aisle either near the windows where there are two seats or the middle where there are normally four. It works well for me nine times out of 10 that there is at least one open seat next to me and that makes all the difference in the world…unless you’re lucky enough to be in Business or First Class. (Not me.) Passport control in L.A. was just as fast and easy. On a scale of 1 to 10, this trip was a 9.5.
REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK
Each time landing in the U.S. after not having been for several months, I experience reverse culture shock. At our first dinner at one of our old favorite sushi haunts (Sushi House [longtime sushi house preparing a variety of rolls in a compact, unfussy setting with reggae tunes] at 12013 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles), the first thing that hit me was the size of the table. It was a whole lot larger than an average French restaurant table, so I felt completely lost. Erica sat opposite me and she was so far away—too far to talk softly unless we leaned in awkwardly. It’s no wonder Americans tend to speak so loudly—they have no choice when there is so much distance between them.
Erica thought the reaction was hilarious and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t appreciating the amount of space on which we could put all the food! But I have to admit, loud voices really do bother me. People on the streets (the few that there are in Los Angeles…on the streets, that is) really do project their voices even when it’s absolutely unnecessary. No one seems to care that everyone else around them can hear everything they are saying, even when they are saying things they might not want others to hear. French culture has influenced me greatly in this respect and I have become very conscious of maintaining privacy while being careful not to disturb others.
Aside from the disturbance and the oversized table, I must say the sushi was delicious. Sushi like this is simply not available (at any price) in Paris: fresh, creative, copious, artful. We kept ordering until we couldn’t eat another bite and didn’t break the bank, even with the tax and tip. California is also tops when it comes to alternative and healthy restaurant fair. This is another one of the things the French have not come close to mastering. It would be impossible for them to let go of their tradition repeating the same classic dishes over and over and over again for the sake of perfecting it, rather than deviating from it…and perhaps improving it.
The Poke Bowl at The Great White was the best I’ve ever eaten…anywhere. Salads in California are their forté. Concoctions made with ingredients I don’t recognize is “de rigueur”…such as “cacioravalo” (a type of stretched-curd cheese made out of sheep’s or cow’s milk produced throughout Southern Italy), “dukkah” (a traditional Egyptian blend of nuts, seeds, and warm spices) or “omega blue kanpachi” (aka Amberjack, a tropical pelagic whitefish found throughout the South Pacific on a clean high quality diet safe from environmental toxins such as Mercury, PCB or micro plastics). Again, I’m like an alien. The menus are written in some other language I never learned. Where is a simple “poulet roti avec frites?” At least, I’m learning a lot of new vocabulary.
The price of everything is shocking. Even with the rate of exchange where 1€ equals about $1.13, just about everything in the markets is at least double the price or more from what we’re used to in France. From what I understand, “inflation has risen much more in the U.S. than the euro area, despite similar pandemic experiences.” (Source) It’s evident. What happened to those days when we could stock up on cheap stuff in the States and fill our suitcases? They’re gone.
Still, there are things I like to buy in the U.S. and bring back to France. Vitamins are one of them, because there is such a large variety and vitamin culture that doesn’t exist in France…so I stock up for the year. I crave American drugstores that have the best beauty products at a bargain and all sort of convenience gadgets that would be impossible to find, or very expensive in France. Take me to a Bed, Bath and Beyond and I could spend hours filling up the cart on all sorts of things we’ll never see in France…at least at a bargain! (This is where the U.S. beats France on price big time—linens!) And don’t laugh, but Hefty zip lock storage bags the kind of useful thing that France has still not gotten right and I use like crazy (best travel packing system ever is to sort your clothing in different bags!).
ALIEN IN BLACK
The first morning we took a walk along the beach front in Venice. Immediately I realized I looked like an alien in a black skirt, black sweater, black tights, black boots, black beret, black scarf and black puff jacket. Where did I think I was? Paris? No one else on the boardwalk dressed even remotely like me. Light-colored jersey knit garments are what Angelenos are wearing, maybe some washed out jeans, almost always with some sort of rubber-soled athletic shoes, often in neon color so the only you thing you take notice of is their feet. That you see in Paris, too, even if totally out of place. The fashionista side of me always cringes.
It was strange to realize that I had once lived in Los Angeles, and was very much a part of that lifestyle, too—now so foreign to me. Plus, within moments of hitting the sunshine, the temperature rose rendering the puff jacket, scarf and hat useless. This is something I didn’t mind at all.
As we walked along the sidewalk on the waterfront in Southern Venice Beach, along the path lined in typical Venice Beach contemporary houses, I was able to take in the sheer visual pleasure of the scene and the architecture. Once I started snapping photos and became more observant, I realized what eye candy it all was and then saw the beauty everywhere. Snap, snap, snap.
We walked back home after lunch the long-way round, via Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, a mile long strip of trendy fashion boutiques (where I splurged on a pair of Fluevog shoes), art and food. I can remember when this stretch was too dangerous to stroll along without carrying mace. Drug dealers and addicts once reigned. Not anymore. It’s as hip as it gets and be sure to have plenty of money if you want to leave carrying a shopping bag. The boutiques are not for lightweights.
OASES IN THE MIDST OF A JUNGLE
Then, we headed home via the Venice canals. People who live in houses along the canals are very privileged to have this paradise inside of Los Angeles at their toes every day of their lives. Just walking the narrow pathways, with the canal on one side, the houses with their magnificently-planted small front gardens on the other, is really an oasis within an urban jungle. Snap, snap, snap—I couldn’t help myself from relishing the serenity and beauty. As a result, there may be an overabundance of photos in today’s Nouvellettre®, as editing the second runner-ups was no easy task —there were simply too many from which to choose.
In the midst of it all, is yet another oasis for Angelenos—the Lake Shrine. This ten-acre park just off the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) where Sunset Boulevard meets the ocean, is part of a “Self-Realization Fellowship” founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. A world unto itself, it offers a lakeside Meditation Garden with shrines and waterfalls, a hilltop Temple with weekly inspirational services and meditations, a retreat for silent renewal, and an ashram for monks of Self-Realization Fellowship. Everyone is welcome, inviting all religions. The only thing one must do is reserve in advance so there’s a spot for your car in the lot. We enjoyed the peace and serenity Sunday afternoon before doing what Angelenos do: drive their cars from one destination to another…what I call “living in a bubble.”
Erica and I toured Bel Air Sunday afternoon in our car bubble just to get a glimpse of some of the homes of the city’s wealthier denizens, of which there is no shortage. Touring the residential neighborhoods of Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, etc., will boggle anyone’s mind when realizing the sheer wealth behind those walls. Just counting the number of Rolls-Royces you pass along the way is a clue. One thing about Los Angeles architecture is that there is no such thing as “Los Angeles architecture.” Every single home, large or small, is different from the neighbor’s in style. Angelenos pride themselves on being unique and eclectic and that it is when it comes to residential style.
Don’t laugh, but one thing I love about California is toilet seat covers. They are not required by law, but in California 99 percent of public restrooms have toilet seat covers with a majority of them consistently stocked. It’s a small detail that makes a big difference and manages to keep public toilets as clean as is possible. In comparison to France, there is no denying what a pleasure it is to find clean restrooms. Once, I almost asked a barman “Ou sont les toilettes” then quickly realized it was French and switched, using the word “toilets” instead. It sounded so awkward, forgetting that in the U.S. we say “restrooms” as “toilets” is an unpleasant word Americans prefer to avoid. I must have sounded completely classless.
HIGH ON OJAI
Monday we packed our bags, hopped in the car and drove along the PCH under bright sun and blue skies, turning off inland toward Ojai. This was our answer to a couple of days of pure rest and relaxation combined with mother-daughter time that we so rarely get. I’d never been to Ojai and didn’t know what to expect, although in my mind I had conjured up images of a kind of “hippie” village of sorts. Boy, was I ever wrong!
Pronounced “oh-high,” it’s a small town of about 7,500 people known for its boutique hotels, organic farmed produce, hiking and other outdoor recreation. Health, fitness and spirituality are the town’s “raison d’être.”
I must admit that at first arrival, it was unimpressive. The streets are wide and vacuous. The buildings aren’t particularly old or charming. An interesting tidbit about Ojai, however, is that a city ordinance prohibits chain stores in order to maintain a uniqueness. Other than the lack of commercial signage, nothing seemed special at all and it wasn’t passing the “so what” test. It kept gnawing at me that everyone says they love Ojai, so what was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I getting it? Then we started to get to know it better.
Erica has close friends she had just spent time with in Costa Rica whose mother lives in Ojai. She was just as happy to meet us as we were to meet her. An Argentinian-born woman about my age with almost my name—Adriana—has lived in Ojai 38 years, designing and making jewelry out of a studio in her home. It’s almost a storybook tale for Ojai, and typically she is living in a ranch home with a sprawling outdoor area under canopied trees. From the inside it felt as if the house was situated within a tropical jungle. There were potted plants everywhere, everywhere, everywhere and I wondered how much time and effort it must take in order to maintain them in such beautiful condition.
Adriana Goddard’s bohemian-style jewelry is marketed under the name of “Love Heals.” Every inch of her studio is draped and layered in her beautiful pieces. She and Erica, who also designs and makes jewelry, discovered the similarity of their work. They connected famously, ending up trading jewelry (Adriana’s) for a drawing (Erica’s).
Here’s a great story about her and her family that’s worth a read.
The Blue Iguana Inn was our accommodations of choice. It was lovely, peaceful and an oasis in itself. During our two days in the unconventional town, we ate in all the usual Ojai places, that are mostly situated on the main drag, Ojai Avenue:
If you want a good steak, Ojai is not the place. Stick with France for Steak/Frites, as this is a vegetarian’s heaven. I didn’t understand most of the menus, but on the whole, we ate very, very well.
Like our tour of Bel Air, driving around to see the homes is one of our favorite pastimes wherever we are. In Ojai, they come in all shapes and sizes and budgets. Once a hippie community, Ojai has grown up and out of that identity. Don’t be fooled by the bohemian vibe—the wealthy have landed and are hiding behind cacti and palm trees and under their canopies of greenery in their fairly discrete mansions. It’s tough to imagine that a meager population of less than 7,500 makes up the vastness of the city’s sprawl as it stretches way beyond the groves and groves and groves of orange trees and agricultural fields as far as the eye can see.
We took a few different trails for a bit of “hiking” old-lady style—meaning smooth paths that I could easily maneuver without killing myself. Erica would rather be on a trail in the woods by herself than anywhere in the world, whereas I just find it utterly boring…with the exception of the views of the valley below once we got high enough (as in “height,” not “euphoric”). (You can take the girl out of the city, but not the city out of the girl.) My saving grace was a light lunch at the Ojai Valley Inn followed by a stroll around the estate along the golf cart paths. This is my idea of “nature” and “the wild!,” Erica cracked-up at the thought.
The Inn, established on 220 acres and developed in 1923, is considered one of the top 100 Hotels and Spas in the world which claims to “combine the region’s unspoiled spirituality with 21st-century modern luxury.” I will admit, it’s magnificent—the golf course and grounds are first rate and stunning. Little shuttle buses come by every few minutes to take you from one spot to another, as it’s so vast, but we “hiked” just like we had in the woods an hour earlier. One could easily come to the resort and never leave it, just taking in all it has to offer under “one roof” (or the many different types of abodes on the property).
PEDESTRIANIZED STATE STREET OF AFFAIRS
We drove back to L.A. taking a slight detour via Santa Barbara where we breakfasted just at Jeannine’s, just at the entrance to Stearns Wharf. From the wharf, if you head straight into town via State Street, the street that connects to the wharf, you’ll discover it’s been pedestrianized for several blocks, which was a blessing for me to see…that an American city is starting to catch on to eliminating the car traffic, as they did eons ago in Europe. Paris and other cities in France are pedestrianizing more and more, moving the cars out and the bikers, scooters and “piétons” in. Everywhere this has happened, life has come out, cafés blossomed and the merchants boomed with business. It’s what I kept wishing for when we were tooling around Ojai—the city center desperately needs to become pedestrian in order to really make it a fun place to visit.
In Paris there are plans to pedestrianize all of districts one through four and that includes my own street. I can’t wait! It will reduce noise, pollution and danger, not to mention enhance the beauty. Nice is doing more and more of it, too, adding lots of greenery along the way and with each visit, the city grows more beautiful.
GETTING OUR FILL OF THE GETTY CENTER
One of my very closest and oldest friends in Los Angeles, is a docent at the Getty Villa. This gives her certain privileges, such as parking in the lot on the top of the hill at the Getty Center, also known as the J. Paul Getty Museum. We took advantage of her privilege and her knowledge to spend an afternoon together up on top of that hill, visiting the museum’s collections, but even more important, the campus itself, which is extraordinary on every level.
When we moved to L.A. in 1987, we lived in a condo very near to what later, in 1997, was developed as the Getty Center. Architect Richard Meier outdid himself with this campus, at the cost of $1.3 billion, which also houses the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, and the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Center’s design included special provisions to address concerns regarding earthquakes and fires.
The Museum’s collection includes pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and photographs from the 1830s through present day from all over the world. In addition, there is an outdoor sculpture display on terraces and in gardens and the large Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin. Among the artworks on display is the Vincent van Gogh painting “Irises” that was purchased for an undisclosed sum. The last time it had been at auction in November 1987 at Sotheby’s in New York, it had yielded a record $53.9 million. It hangs among the other impressionist works as if it’s “just one of the gang.” So much so, that I failed to take a photo of it and chose to photograph other works of note, including a large portrait of Louis XIV, from just after 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaud.
A visit to Los Angeles, without a visit to either or both of the Getty museums is like a trip to Paris without visiting Le Louvre, or the Musée d’Orsay or Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower. Even if you don’t even visit the galleries of their collections, filled with amazing works of art and objects, Meier’s brilliant architecture will wow you. The views of the buildings, the gardens and the city below are absolutely breathtaking, regardless of the layer of smog, so evident from atop that hill.
DEMYSTIFYING THE FRENCH
Saturday morning Pacific time I was one of four on a panel to “demystify” the French. Hosted by the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA and led by Janet Hulstrand, author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, And Make Them Love You. This was our second webinar of its kind, openly discussing the cultural differences between France and North America. The idea was to understand, appreciate, and best deal with the sometimes bewildering, often admirable, nearly always fascinating ways of the French!
The topic is so popular that we had more than 750 registrations, with more than 500 people actually showing up, breaking all records for the federation! Clearly this is one of our favorite topics…Franco-American cultural clashes.
We, the panel, had a lot of fun discussing the subject and from the busy “chat,” it seemed the audience, did, too. The good news is that if you didn’t catch it live, you don’t have to miss it, because the AF USA makes the recording of the event available to everyone right here.
Saturday turned into a marathon day after the webinar, traveling one hour across town to meet old dear friends in Los Feliz for lunch at the Alcove Café—a friend whose husband died of Covid-19 just over a year ago, and she having weathered it in the hospital for weeks, keeping us all on the edge of our seats waiting for recovery. She’s back in the saddle now and telling the tale of what that experience was like. I wasn’t leaving L.A. without seeing her.
This gave us a chance to spend some time downtown, scoring a front row parking space on the street in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, my number one favorite building in the world. It doesn’t matter where you stand to view it, every angle is a sculptural wonder. Frank Gehry designed it, the master of such architectural wonders as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. The Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Next door is the Broad Museum, enabling us to duck into it the last hour it was open, talking our way in by flashing our press and health passes. The works on display as part of their permanent collection are mind-blowing, featuring such artists as John Baldessari, Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Andy Warhol and a host of other contemporary greats. The work must be very large to pass the test for the museum’s curators…to fill at least one large wall or it doesn’t make the grade.
I had run to see the Cindy Shermans, but was most intrigued by a special exhibit of “The Visitors” by Ragnar Kjartansson, a nine-screen HD video projection filmed at the historic Rokeby farm in upstate New York. The story goes that “Kjartansson invited a group of friends to stay with him for a week at the ethereal, yet decrepit estate, culminating in the ambitious performance.” One of the museum guards insisted we not miss it before the museum closed its doors for the day, and he was right—it is not to be missed.
With a bit more than one hour to kill before getting good seats at The Virgil in East Hollywood for a stand-up comedy line-up, we had snacks and drinks at the luxurious and glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, representing classic Hollywood dating back to the Golden Era. Located on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” the classic hotel offers nothing but the best of lavish accommodations with the experience of another era, as well as now. It was a perfect repose before getting ready for one great comic after another at The Virgil.
Erica is friends with one of the comics—Ali Kolbert—an NYU graduate who has worked on shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. We were on the second row, and that put us in direct sight of Ali, who did an entire routine just making jokes by working off the audience. She pointed us out and even plugged my House Hunters International shows, something I certainly wasn’t expecting. She was hilarious, as was all of the comedians who were really top notch and had the audience in the palm of their hands all throughout the evening.
On the long drive home, after having had a marathon of a day getting to know many facets of the City of Angels, parts of the city I had never seen before, we both felt very sated by all we had accomplished in just a few hours. As my vacation in the city in which I once lived came to a soft landing on Sunday, I realized that I had spent 11 perfect days in sunshine with my favorite person on the planet, my daughter, reconnecting with old friends and taking in all that L.A. has to offer.
Would I live here again? In all honesty, it’s the only place in North America I’d consider living, but would I want to? No. I never want to live full time in that “bubble” kind of existence, where movement is dependent on going from place to place by car, without the natural communion of being a part of a greater public like you can be in just about any European town. I was yearning for pedestrian city centers, sidewalk cafés, easy public transportation. Eleven days is all I needed to rejuvenate from the intense working pace of this past winter.
When you read this, I will have gotten on a plane headed for France, with one change in Paris at Charles de Gaulle for a flight to Nice. Air France offered the additional flight for a mere 26€ so that I will land on Tuesday in the sunny Riviera town. This way I can get ready for “Artichoke Day” (more about this later) on February 2nd and taping another House Hunters International episode on the 4th.
So stay tuned for more to come…as if this wasn’t enough!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
with daughter, Erica, at the Lake Shrine
P.S. Curious about who will be presenting at our next Aprés-Midi? You don’t have to wait until we annouce it, you can look into the future right now! Visit our Aprés-Midi page to who will be there in 2022.