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Los Angeles

USA | Saturday, 11 July 2009 | Views [476]

Many people, but especially Calvino, have written of the formlessness of Los Angeles; the endless centreless sprawling web of streets and roads and sub suburban housing. And indeed at many levels this is true. There is no single plaza train station or park to which you could say ‘meet me there’ and it be a central point. Instead there are many points, strung like cowrie shells on a Polynesian navigation chart. Many centres, many thoughts, many ways of living. Or this is what G___ said when we met in Pasadena, that old money suburb of eucalypts, green lawns and salt water pools. She spoke of the rhythm of flyovers and concrete rivers, a not quite established downtown, high rise towers and uninhabited loft apartments. At walking pace the city is absurd, though never empty. As you head down Wilshire or Venice - vast streets whose numbering begins at zero and ends at the ocean in the tens of thousands - you pass clothing stores and textile factories, taquerias and graveyards, federal buildings and small cafes. The parks are full of the not quite employed, a soup kitchen in one corner serving vegetables and rice on polystyrene plates. By car the distances compress, become practicable. The signage and street facades, vulgar at slower speeds, become glossy and bright. Palm trees punctuate the sky, the radio plays and traffic weaves and flows. The bus is different again, social class at work to divide those who drive from those who are driven. As a consequence fares are cheap, routes vast, and services regular throughout the day and night. Though it is frequently said that public transport is bad in this city so in thrall to the motor car there seemed few places I could not go by bus. And so it was the bus that finally delivered me of this city. The blue number three rapid from Santa Monica down Lincoln and Sepulveda to LAX. To another kind of public transport, one whose vestiges of exclusivity are matched only by the tension of the security apparatus that surrounds it. The ferocious roar of jet engines hurls us all into the sky. Looking down you see the tangled grid of the city stretch endlessly on, blinking lights from cars and the fixed points of street lamps. The plane banks above the city’s orange glow and we disappear over the dark waters of the Pacific, land sliding out of view behind us.

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