| Sure, L.A. Is a Cliché--Let Us Count the Ways.
|Note: This piece
appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 4, 2001.
Why deny repeated clichés about Los
Angeles when those derided aspects, viewed correctly without
prejudice, testify to the city's greatness?
Among the entrenched clichés:
The city has no defining center, no identifying personality.
Unwound, its freeways stretch 597 miles, the distance between Los
Angeles and Phoenix with 200 miles to spare. Why would such a
spectacular sprawl need a center? No identity? A city of multiple
personalities, it has "cities" within the city: Bel-Air,
mansions, forest of trees; downtown Los Angeles, glass structures
over revolutionary murals surrendering to East Los Angeles; Venice
West, seven canals, pillared forums, reminders of the attempted
replication of the Italian city, its beach featuring a year-round
circus of jugglers, magicians, impromptu bands; Forest Lawn--a
village within the city--shrugging off death with glamorous
statues; Sunset Strip, a winking, blinking, moving gallery of
modern art.... A city without the drama of seasons? There is the
season of roses, the season of wildflowers that lace even the
broad shoulders of the freeways, the season of bougainvillea that
drapes everything with purple mantillas. And there is snow, when
jacaranda trees shed their petals and cover the ground with
A city obsessed with narcissism? Extended summers and miles of
beach invite unapologetic exhibitionism that in turn invites a
celebration of physicality. Exposed flesh and cultivated bodies
extend throughout the city a radiant sensuality (even sad
derelicts have tans), to which an influx of new immigrants adds
other vibrant strains, old ways, new ways, new knowledge, old
superstitions. No other modern city draws more enduring attention.
In Rome, London, Paris, mention California and intrigued questions
pour out, along with repeated expressions of longing to come here,
where there is still the offer, at least the offer, the illusive
hope, of dreams fulfilled.
No definitive literature? That is not expected of any other city.
Literature that defines all of New York, all of Chicago? The
city's lack of incestuous literary associations inspires
individualistic art, unpredictable, not easily categorized, urgent
A city of extremity within which fringe cults flourish? It is a
city of promiscuous spirituality; it may be viewed as a metaphoric
place of exile for defiant angels expelled from heaven. Still
restive, they project an urgency to live, to feel, to be.
The resultant courtship of extremity is intensified by intimations
of doom in this city of daily apocalypse--you're aware of fate
swirling about you every time you're on the freeway--a city
constantly preparing for yet another excitedly predicted disaster.
Santa Ana winds, fires, earthquakes, floods, sliding cliffs--no
tiny disasters, they're grand, dramatic, melodramatic--and the
city overcomes with intact glamour, always pushing closer to the
And Southern California exists on a literal edge. The last
frontier--the last chance--it gathers all the dark and bright
energies of the country, which ends here. Miles of coastline
emphasize that; abrupt cliffs jut along its coastline before land
surrenders to the vastness of the ocean, at the edge of which, on
certain twilights, lithe bodies often gather to perform a graceful
dance of tai chi, motions that acknowledge, while challenging, the
approaching night; and then, that graceful dance of acknowledgment
and challenge seems to capture the very soul of the city of
Los Angeles, California
Back to top
Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.