Cultural Shock with a Capital C for California
When we moved to Los Angeles in 1987, it was because I wanted to be in the most progressive place on the face of the planet. And it was just that. Now that I’ve lived in Paris for so long, being in the most progressive place on the face of the planet has become my own personal culture shock.
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, was picked up at the airport by my daughter, then promptly stopped at Erewhon Market in Venice. Our goal was to bring prepared foods to to my friend, Marcia, where I am staying for the sojourn. The infamous health food chain has been around since the mid 1960s, when healthy food was just the glimmer of an idea and the store was a tiny macrobiotics health food shop in Boston. The name is “nowhere” spelled backwards, but the “w” and the “h” were switched, which comes from Samuel Butler’s book of 1872 by the same name, a satire on Victorian society. SeriousLA.com wrote: “By 1969, Erewhon had grown into the first natural foods distribution and wholesale company in the United States!” Today Erewhon is all over L.A. after a roller-coaster ride of bankruptcy and different owners.
For me, this stop to Erewhon was a major culture shock. The store is HUGE. The lights are bright. The shelves are filled with things I didn’t recognize. The prepared foods department is simply overwhelming. Erica took a number to be called and served. The servers (loads of them) work at the speed of light, so we had to get ready fast. They prepared an entire meal made up of three choices and the choices of foods were beyond comprehension. Again, I didn’t recognize most of the foods on display — they didn’t look like anything I’d seen in a French “traiteur” showcase.
Help! I couldn’t deal with it, threw up my hands and told Erica to choose for me. She accused me of being a “drama queen” while all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there and go back to my little haunt on rue de Bretagne where you patiently wait for one person to calmly discuss the ingredients, wrap each item beautifully, and serve it over in a package fit for a king or queen, etc., etc.
Oh man. I had arrived in L.A.; no bones about it. And that was just the beginning. The whole experience was a bit terrifying, at least, to my now less progressive default mode, “a la Française.” (BTW, the food from Erewhon turned out to be really good, too, and not at all expensive.)
The next day I took an Uber to meet Erica for lunch at The Butcher’s Daughter on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. (It’s much less expensive and easier to Uber it all over L.A. instead of renting a car. I highly recommend it when visiting L.A. — and also, there is a lot less traffic this time of year during the holiday season.) When I was living in L.A., my business partner had a previous agency in an office on this very street, but it sure as heck wasn’t the hip neighborhood it is now. In fact, it was on the edge of slum and crack houses where we didn’t feel all that comfortable walking around. Things have really changed!
On route, we passed a poster that advertised “Mass Shooting Insurance.” Seriously? My eyes popped out, and couldn’t grab a photo fast enough. It turns out that the ad isn’t “real.” (Thank goodness.) There isn’t anything like “mass shooting insurance.” Instead, it’s a campaign to end gun violence launched by the mayor’s office (Eric Garcetti) and his Youth Council in partnership with the creative agency, “Omelet,” to show how taking action can create real change and save lives.
The shameful statistics is that every single day in the U.S. about 100 Americans are killed by guns: mass shootings, homicides, gang shootings, suicides, school shootings and accidental gunfire. This is a creative and innovative solution to educating the public. There’s that progressive part I like so much about L.A — open-minded way of looking at the future.
The Butcher’s Daughter is a plant-based restaurant, believe it or not. I thought she was acknowledging my love of a good French steak, but instead, it’s a “vegetable slaughterhouse.” What does that mean to my French cultural mind? According to the restaurant, they “treat fruits and vegetables as a butcher would meat: we chop, fillet and carve fresh produce into healthy vegetarian dishes and press them into pretty juices.” I was as lost at the Butcher’s Daughter as I was at Erewhon. I even had to apologize to the adorable wait person about being such a pain in the butt since there was nothing that looked very appealing to my Whole 30 diet, although I was dead wrong — every single thing on the menu worked, even if it was as weird to me as if I were traveling in the backroads of some other planet. (I don’t advise drinking their coffee, however…undrinkable!)
Even better than the food, however, was the people watching. (There are many times one must simply comment, “Only in L.A.”) Two women came in who sat at the bar. One had on cut-off jean shorts that were so short her cheeks were virtually entirely exposed. (It wasn’t a good look.) Her friend had on jeans that had that torn-up style designed to make you think she had worn through them, but of course, it’s all a big lie. Her flesh was oozing out of them, but that wasn’t the part that struck me as out-of-kilter. It was the black patent leather stiletto heels that somehow didn’t fit the picture, especially on Abbot Kinney Boulevard where the concept is supposed to be natural and healthy. Were they “working girls?” Probably, or just wannabee porn stars? No matter, it added to the cultural clash of which I was in the midst.
After lunch, Erica and I stopped into MedMen. This is one of L.A.’s premier cannabis dispensaries…yep, it’s a weed store: culture shock with a Capital C for California! While the use of cannabis in California has been legal for medical use since 1996, and for recreational use since late 2016, the industry has blossomed and MedMen is a prime example of capitalism at its best. The store is a supermarket of marijuana in every form one can imagine. Talk about my jaw dropping open! Where does one begin to sample its offerings?
The store was not filled with young people looking for a good time. Nope, most of its patrons were people of my generation who came into age during the era of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. The sales staff were fully knowledgeable if not high (actually, I doubt that…just making a joke). Still, the choice of plants, oils, edibles and gadgetry blew my mind…far from what I remember as a “head shop.” I wonder when MedMen will come to France? How much fun would that be?!
Erica is now living in Marina del Rey on one of the major canals and just a short walk to the beach in a shared apartment that was a real “find” for her at an affordable price. She gave up New York City life in exchange for this new L.A. lifestyle living in the sunny outdoors next to a wide and sandy beach. She walks there almost every morning with a big cup of coffee to take in the rays and energize her day. It’s clearly easy to see why that could become addictive — a similar feeling I have living in Nice next to the Mediterranean. The homes along the water’s edge are the cream of the crop, contemporary homes of which dreams are made, with large windows and ocean views, adorned by xeriscape gardens of cacti and succulents and tall palms.
Saturday afternoon, she and I drove about three hours to Palm Desert (past thousands of wind turbines that fill the landscape on either side of Interstate 10, taking advantage of a natural wind tunnel) for one overnight to visit with old friends and have dinner at a brand new restaurant. The mission was first to have time with two of our longest-standing friends from Los Angeles. They now have a magnificent home (more like a mansion, really) in a gated community in the Riverside County city that’s just 14 miles east of Palm Springs (and a Chevrolet SSR [Super Sport Roadster] retro-mobile in their garage in which I fell in love). Palm Dessert is one of the state’s fastest growing communities — a popular retreat for “snowbirds,” but now more and more “full-timers” who have come from the coasts and urban centers of California, such as my friends.
I wanted to introduce them to two friends who I know from Paris who moved to Palm Desert not long ago, knowing they would really enjoy each other’s company. Coincidentally, my L.A. tax attorney, Fabienne Struell, who is French by birth and upbringing, but living in L.A. most of her adult life, just opened a second restaurant with her family in the area — the first is located in La Quinta (about 10 miles from Palm Desert) and now a second one in Palm Desert: The French Rotisserie Café. Our luck was for all of us to have dinner there Saturday night and as it turned out, it was its opening night. Fabienne was there to greet us all and treat us like royalty.
The report from every single one of us was that the food was exceptionally delicious and for me, a menu I understood and relished…French bistrot cuisine at its finest. It was here that I had no culture shock whatsoever. If and when you go (and you MUST), do not miss the Pommes Frites…they were THE BEST FRENCH FRIES I’ve ever eaten IN MY LIFE! Not sure how they double crisped them, but you will be thanking me for telling you about them for years to come. I had roasted scallops topped with fresh asparagas and a side of roasted brussel sprouts, while snitching Erica’s fries at every opportunity. At the end of the meal, Fabienne brought out an array of their desserts for us to sample: chocolate mousse, crème brulé and tarte tatin…oh la la!
All in all, a great time was had by all. New friends were made in Palm Desert while we reveled in our long-standing relationships telling stories about the past and exchanging news from our present. That’s what California is for me…a mix of the past and the present and a way of balancing life within different cultures. The two cities, L.A. and Paris, couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to one another. And that’s why having them both in my life is so ideal. The balance is the equilibrium that steadies life’s foundation.
One friend wrote me recently after the news of the strikes in France to say: “France is a paradise where people think they’re living in hell. And America is a place where people are living in hell and think it’s paradise.” In some ways perhaps this is true, but either way, living somewhere between heaven and hell is the earth I prefer.
A la prochaine…on Christmas Day,
Adrian Leeds Group
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