One week ago, I moved from London to Los Angeles. Here are a few thoughts from the past seven days.
The first thing that strikes me about LA is the words. For a town built on moving image, there is an awful lot of reading to be done in Los Angeles. Words loom over you, pop up out of nowhere, demand your attention as you drive down Sunset Boulevard. In a car-dependent city where people relentlessly traverse the freeways, written words on roadside signs replace spoken words between strangers. You engage in a constant dialogue with traffic signs, real estate ads and billboards for Matthew Perry’s new show on NBC (doesn’t look great, in case you were wondering).
LA’s wordiness isn’t the only thing that takes me by surprise. People always talk about the infamous ‘LA sprawl’, but it’s something that you really can’t prepare yourself for if you’ve grown up in a city as integrated - in every sense of the word - as London. As the car weaves around corners and crosses intersections, I find myself subconsciously anticipating the bit where we reach all the action – if not a Soho equivalent then a Wardour Street at the very least. But it never really comes. There are frequent clusters of yoga studios, boutiques, and patio cafes, but for the most part it’s strip malls. Lots and lots of strip malls.
For every gridlocked freeway, though, there is a slice of aesthetic wonder to neutralise it. The giddying scale of the sun-bleached mountains in Topanga Canyon. A mesmerising view of the city from the vantage point of a Beverly Hills terrace, blinking up at you through a strata of smog. Pastel cottages framed by explosions of fuchsia bougainvillea. A crisp, cool breeze on Zuma Beach, Malibu, that cuts straight through the 100 degree heat of a late September day. When LA is good, it is idyllic. There is a dreamy, cinematic quality shared by all its varied landscapes that makes you understand why they make movies here.
And, of course, there are those aspects of LA that come as no surprise whatsoever. Daily sunshine, ubiquitous palm trees. The unabashed wholesomeness of the food, and the sudden compulsion to eat it (within the first 48 hours of being here, I’d consumed kale, quinoa, coconut milk, agave syrup, chia seeds, seaweed and tempeh. Willingly.) And then there’s that famous ‘Hollywood’ sign, ever conspicuous from its hillside nesting point, and a welcome point of reference in a still unfamiliar town.
There’s no denying that LA is a disorienting place. But there are enough signs and signals to indicate the possibility of a really good life to be led here. I just need to learn how to read them.