15 July 2007

Los Angeles

Growing up anywhere on the West Coast, you are raised to hate everything about Los Angeles. It's portrayed as an ugly, sprawling, polluted, hedonistic cultural wasteland, a stereotype to which I have always wholeheartedly subscribed. However, since I've been enjoying life in Santa Barbara so much, my outlook on Southern California has improved remarkably, and I was even beginning to worry that I might find myself feeling kindly disposed towards LA. I put that to the test yesterday when we made a trip into town, and I'm proud to say that those fears were unjustified: I still hate Los Angeles. It's still ugly (with a few admittedly nice areas like 3rd Street in Santa Monica and Beverley Hills), it's sprawling more than ever, its skies are still gray with smog, and it's still rife with self-indulgence (though some of this hedonism takes an almost pathetically banal form, most glaringly evident in Hollywood, which is shockingly seedy and seems to have more strip clubs and porn stores than movie theaters).
This all may sound very negative, but I do have a few good things to say about LA. First off, it's the only city that I know of that has a fossil site of international importance within its borders (the La Brea Tar Pits). Being paleontologists as we are, the entire purpose of our trip was to see the tar pits, and it was time well-spent (I especially like the wall of dire wolf skulls pictured at right, one of the cooler fossil displays I've ever seen). The park in which the tar pits are located is an experience in and of itself, especially when you come across a spot where an asphalt seep is bubbling up in the middle of a lawn; it's not the best place for a nap. You can also get good food at almost any hour in LA, which was very nice after our previous night's experience of trying to find somewhere to get food after 9:00 in Goleta.
Those last couple of items might sound like platitudes, but LA does have one thing that no other city in the world can match: the Getty Center. The center is an art museum and institute sitting on a crag of the Santa Monica Mountains above Beverley Hills, and I can honestly say it is one of the most amazing places I've ever been. The art is very nice, of course, but the structure is the real reason to visit. It's an acropolis of white travertine accessible only by train and surrounded by fantastic gardens. Needless to say, the views are outstanding as well. I'm fairly certain that my words can't do it justice, and my photos fall well short of capturing the full effect too. Suffice it to say, it's worth going out of your way to see if you ever get the chance. If nothing else, it proves that even if LA is still ugly, sprawling, polluted, and hedonistic, it at least can't be considered a complete cultural wasteland anymore. So there you go, something positive about LA. Maybe I am getting soft after all...

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