Sunday, July 20, 2008

Believing Eden

Some years ago, while visiting Los Angeles, I drove past a swatch of grass dotted with people lounging on blankets, on lawn chairs, on the bare ground. I imagined they must all be important – writers, producers, directors, actors. Only in LA would I have perceived park patrons as potential power players.

A few years later, my husband and I signed the lease for an apartment at the foot of Griffith Park. After settling in, we set off to explore the famed urban wilderness. At the entrance, I instantly recognized the Lawn of Somebodies I glimpsed a few years ago. We parked along the crowded road shoulder and walked to the top. As the grassy plateau of the Observatory grounds unfolded before us, the entire city stretche below like an open hand, and I felt as if I was looking upon an exalted land, where every inhabitant lives a life of grandeur.

Standing at a fence near the edge of a cliff, I analyzed the skyline. Hollywood sat just below the notorious mountainside letters. Miracle Mile stretched east to west on the right. Culver City and Santa Monica rose near each other at the far right. Downtown ascended in a cluster to the left. From this bird’s eye view, I could pick out the collections of highrises that belong to each neighborhood, but through the haze, I could discern no other distinguishable landmarks. The streets, houses, lawns, cars, and highways all blended together in one mosaic of grey. Within its crevices, my imagination placed the details of my pre-conceived notion of the City of Angels: brightly painted bodegas, fabric outlets, taquerias, people of all backgrounds and classes forming a tapestry of tight communities, a pulse of life, ceaseless activity and opportunity. This is a place where things happen: creativity, entertainment, partnerships, careers, happiness.

The breeze at the top of Hollywood calmed, caressed, like any breeze I’d felt anywhere: always concerned, always caring, always promising to lead its patrons right where they want to go. I followed it along a path up the mountain. Bits of trash hid in the pine needles that crunched under my feet. A hawk circled overhead, unimpressed by the beating wings of two roving helicopters, one in each valley, certainly searching for or following something or someone significant.

The sight of the hawk soaring above the dusty, sepia tone hills on the same wind that shook the sage brought to mind the Wild West of Old Hollywood. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Gene Autry, posses in pursuit darting past the same rock over and over again, giving the impression of great distance gained.

An educated audience would be aware of the reality of the city just below the uninhabited territory conquested on screen. But a truly intelligent viewer would choose to believe the fantasy that Hollywood, filled with heros, angels, and legends, is a land that can be transformed into an Eden suiting any story one wishes to tell.

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