BLDGBLOG: Ghost Streets of Los Angeles.

I love the idea that the buildings seen here take their form from a lost street—that an old throughway since scrubbed from the surface of Los Angeles has reappeared in the form of contemporary architectural space. That is, someone’s living room is actually shaped the way it is not because of something peculiar to architectural history, but because of a ghost street, or the wall of perhaps your very own bedroom takes its angle from a right of way that, for whatever reason, long ago disappeared.

The Millions : Nobody Hearts L.A.: A Personal Los Angeles Canon

Readying myself for a move to Los Angeles, I naturally turned to literature, but I decided to avoid the region’s richest, oldest, most beloved literary currents: its unflinching examinations of Old Hollywood, its hardscrabble outsider odysseys toward the kingdom of celebrity, its hard-boiled tales of murderous intrigue and complex deceit beneath the palm trees. Those novels became iconic for a reason, but I had to ask: given Los Angeles’ practically unfathomable size and diversity, what other kinds of literature does it offer?

The Millions : Nobody Hearts L.A.: A Personal Los Angeles Canon

Where I live is culturally neutral. If I lived in New Orleans I’d have to embrace the local culture because it’s so good. In California you can be your own person.

Richard Thompson, in the Financial Times.


After listening to an interesting interview with Richard Florida on the “personal economics” of location, I’m not sure this is 100% why I feel so comfortable in L.A. I suspect it’s more a perfect stew of things—the autonomy/anonymity provided by a large metropolis, the proximity to likeminded souls, the insane cultural diversity and, hey, let’s not forget about the exceptional quality of Western light. But yeah, Chicago? Seattle? Portland? (Which would be a strong contender, except for that pesky light thing.) All distinctive. And maybe a little oppressive, because of it.

Warrants thought, anyway. Or maybe I’m just nuts, and really like thinking about shit like this.


“Cultural neutrality” is just the phrase I’ve been looking for. It’s one of the reasons Atlanta has really grown on me as I’ve been able to compare it to other cities.

Dallas and Los Angeles represent two distinct models for successful American cities, which both reflect and reinforce different cultural and political attitudes. One model fosters a family-oriented, middle-class lifestyle—the proverbial home-centered “balanced life.” The other rewards highly productive, work-driven people with a yen for stimulating public activities, for arts venues, world-class universities, luxury shopping, restaurants that aren’t kid-friendly. One makes room for a wide range of incomes, offering most working people a comfortable life. The other, over time, becomes an enclave for the rich. Since day-to-day experience shapes people’s sense of what is typical and normal, these differences in turn lead to contrasting perceptions of economic and social reality. It’s easy to believe the middle class is vanishing when you live in Los Angeles, much harder in Dallas. These differences also reinforce different norms and values—different ideas of what it means to live a good life. Real estate may be as important as religion in explaining the infamous gap between red and blue states.

L.A. is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots. No one’s going to save you; no one’s looking out for you. It’s the only city I know where that’s the explicit premise of living there – that’s the deal you make when you move to L.A.

The city, ironically, is emotionally authentic.

It says: no one loves you; you’re the least important person in the room; get over it.

Notes from Los Angeles

Griffith Observatory
My first-ever trip to L.A. I liked it a lot. I had a feeling I would. I might even like it more than New York, but that’s still to be determined. The weather was perfect. 70° down to 45-50°. Sunny sunny sunny. Great neighborhoods. Some observations not necessarily about Los Angeles:

  • The pleasing effect of variety in terrain is not to be underestimated. One thing I love about Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reykjavik (and to a lesser extent Portland and some spots in Nicaragua) is the quick changes from coast to city to mountain. It’s nice to feel that even if where you are is cool, something very different is nearby.
  • There is a certain joy in seeing stereotypes/archetypes in real life: Homosexual guy walking back from a gym in West Hollywood. Asian tourists with cameras and fanny packs. California girl finishing a coffee on the way to yoga. I think archetype-spotting is a subconscious expectation of travel.
  • I am tired of carrying a camera. I’m getting to the point where a crummy cameraphone snap is near-infinitely superior to toting a separate camera. Speaking of me tending to pack light…
  • If I am going somewhere with multiple others (esp. females, sorry), transitions always take longer than I expect. I tend to be a quick packer and get-ready-er. But for other folks, there is clothing, hair, makeup to deal with; keys, phones, sunglasses and odds and ends to gather. So I twiddle my thumbs and keep the conversation going while the sartorial I’s are dotted and T’s crossed. I wonder how much time, over the course of my life, I will spend waiting for people to get ready, and if there is a better way to use it.


  • Traffic wasn’t as bad as I expected. I think this is partly because I wasn’t doing a morning or evening commute, and partly because I’m used to trafficky Atlanta. Even so, not that bad.
  • Los Angeles looks bigger on a map than it feels in real life. I get the opposite feeling in Manhattan.
  • The Getty is really great. That said, here’s a tangent: When I’m in a museum, I prefer to stroll on the quicker side. I’ll glance at everything, but usually while in motion. The ones I like, I’ll linger for a few minutes. This is most definitely a museum burnout-avoidance technique, but also simply could be a way to avoid boredom, the pressure to feel edified. Would I enjoy more the ones I tend skip in a different context? Setting up high filters the way I do, what kind of art has an easier time getting through? What do I like more when I’m alert vs. when I’m tired? Hmm.

Scientology compound

The Hungry Metropolis –

I’m to make my first trip to Los Angeles in just a couple weeks. I will bring my elastic pants.

Manhattan may boast the highest concentration of high-end restaurants in the world, and Singapore hawker centers may pack more joy into each square inch, but Los Angeles is the best place in the world to eat at the moment, a frieze of fine dining overlaying a huge patchwork of immigrant communities big enough and self-sustaining enough to produce exactly the food that they want to eat.

The Hungry Metropolis –

Bicycle Diaries (review: 3/5)

Bicycle Diaries
I like David Byrne, but I feel really ambivalent about this book. On the one hand, there are some great gems and little thought-bits that come out of a curious mind. On the other hand, as the title so clearly points out, it’s diaristic. There’s a good amount of day-to-day humdrum “this is what I did here, this is what I did there” stuff to wade through. With that said, here are some parts I especially liked:

On the meta-ness of ringtones:

Ring tones are “signs” for “real” music. This is music not meant to be actually listened to as music, but to remind you of and refer to other, real music… A modern symphony of music that is not music but asks that you remember music.

Although he praises Europe’s cultivated, park-like landscape, in particular the “manicured” blend of man and nature in Berlin, he finds it

a bit sad, I think, that my visual reference for an unmediated forest derives from images in fiction and movies. Sad too that the forest in this preserved area was once quite common, but now lives on mainly in our collective imaginations.

Early in the book he talks about a number of American cities in brief. On the town of Sweetwater, Texas:

I enjoy not being in New York. I am under no illusion that my world is in any better than this world, but still I wonder at how some of the Puritanical restrictions have lingered—the encouragement to go to bed early and the injunction against enjoying a drink with one’s meal. I suspect that drinking, even a glass of wine or two with dinner, is, like drug use, probably considered a sign of moral weakness. The assumption is that there lurks within us a secret desire for pure, sensuous, all-hell-breaking-loose pleasure, which is something to be nipped in the bud, for pragmatic reasons.

And I liked this back-of-the-envelope theory on mating and signaling in Los Angeles:

I don’t know what the male-female balance is in L.A., but I suspect that because people in that town come into close contact with one another relatively infrequently—they are usually physicall isolated at work, at home, or in their cars—they have to make an immediate and profound impression on the opposite sex and on their rivals whenever a chance presents itself. Subtlety will get you nowhere in this context.

This applies particularly in L.A. but also in much of the United States, where chances and opportunities to be seen and noticed by the oppsite sex sometimes occur not just infrequently but also at some distance—across a parking lot, as one walks from car to building, or in a crowded mall. Therefore the signal that I am sexy, powerful, and desirable has to be broadcast at a slightly “louder” volume than in other towns where people actually come into closer contact and don’t need to “shout”. In L.A. one has to be one’s own billboard.

Consequently in L.A. the women, on the face of it, must feel a greater need to get physically augmented, tanned, and have flowing manes of hair that can be seen from a considerable distance.

Summarizing a conversation he had about the creative impulse:

People tend to think that creative work is an expression of a preexisting desire or passion, a feeling made manifest, and in a way it is. As if an overwhelming anger, love, pain, or longing fills the artist or composer, as it might with any of us—the difference being that the creative artist then has no choice but to express those feelings through his or her given creative medium. I proposed that more often the work is a kind of tool that discovers and brings to light that emotional muck. Singers (and possibly listeners of music too) when they write or perform a song don’t so much bring to the work already formed emotions, ideas, and feelings as much as they use the act of singing as a device that reproduces and dredges them up.

In a later part, in the London section, he talks about a new wave of appreciation for the late artist Alice Neel, and touches on the convoluted ways we evaluate and reflect on creative works new and old:

Maybe the work looks prescient? Maybe it looks prescient every decade or so, whenever a slew of younger artists do work that is vaguely similar to hers? In that way maybe she’s being used to validate the present, and in turn the present is being used to validate the past?

And lastly, on PowerPoint:

A slide talk, the context in which this software is used, is a form of contemporary theater—a kind of ritual theater that has developed in boardrooms and academia rather than on the Broadway stage. No one can deny that a talk is a performance, but again there is a pervasive myth of objectivity and neutrality to deal with. There is an unspoken prejudice at work in those corporate and academic “performance spaces”—that performing is acting and therefore it’s not “real”. Acknowledging a talk as a performance is therefore anathema.