Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On the Road: This is Los Angeles

In the introduction to his celebrated 1971 work, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, architectural critic Reyner Banham wrote that "like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original."

I often continue to think of myself as a visitor here in Los Angeles. I don't know if in the back of my mind I keep alive some delusional idea that we will inevitably return to Brooklyn. Every now and then, I fully realize that I now live in Los Angeles. I had one of these moments of clarity yesterday evening on Third Street, on my way to a language class on the West Side.

I was driving into the sunset in a somewhat strange mood, having had an exceptionally uneventful day at the office; my spaciness was aided by the music was listening to: the pleasant droning and pulsing of The Field's "From Here We Go Sublime" (best reading music of 2007). I was stuck in a line of traffic at a light. In the opposite lane, cars crept by with their windows rolled down, radios blaring. A young woman looked at herself in her rear view mirror. A guy my age held his cell phone up to read a text message. I caught myself doing exactly the same thing at that moment, checking my blackberry for messages as I crept forward, and I felt at that moment very much like someone who lived in Los Angeles. I was with my fellow Angelenos in our one true public space -- gathered together in traffic. We extended each other minor courtesies, allowing people into lanes, letting people pull into traffic from the gas station, as we all continued together on our separate ways.

Banham made a kooky and fascinating BBC documentary in 1972 based on his book on Los Angeles (the 52 min. video is pasted below). He spends much of the documentary in a rented car, visiting architectural sites in the city such as the Gamble House, Ennis House, Watts Towers, and various gas stations, tiki restaurants, and hot dog stands.

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