August 24, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

In the LAnd of the Free

I’ll never get used to the cattle-class trips across the Pacific. Purchasing carbon off-sets for this trip might assuage my conscience, but it does nothing for my back. The company I chose, Cleaner Climate, provides renewable energy projects in developing countries that are in compliance with the Clean Development conditions of the Kyoto Protocol. Another box to tick.
Los Angeles has many faces, and over the years my attitude towards it has softened. They now have a metro system, whereas Canberra’s government persists in building road systems that closely resemble bad taste art installation homages to LA. I selected a hotel in the downtown, mainly for its economy and having one bus trip access to the LACMA. That’s the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, always full of treasures. A magazine brags that LA has the most art galleries per capita of any city in the world.
It takes a bit of time to settle into the American mode of relentless commercialisation. Even the take away coffee cups have an extra cuff on them advertising, of all things, four wheel drives. I have to counter all this with a good dose of analysis, in the form of a Paul Krugman book I have brought along for the dual purposes of learning more about his views and perhaps leaving it behind to proselytise any sceptics.
The hotel is a refurbished delight from the 1930s, still a bit seedy around the area, but more than adequate for a jet-lagged traveller. The free wifi was a nice touch, if only I’d had a laptop:
LA pics5.jpg
After a 5 hour sleep, I set off to the LACMA, which is open late. Within minutes of leaving the lobby the shopping trolleys and homeless people appeared. In Rockhampton once I had a similar experience, where the blue petrol sniffing bottles in gutters were immediately apparent. Such reality checks remind you of how far away polite, well-dressed Canberra is. In LA the backdrop for the poor and homeless is often more interesting, with buildings that have also fallen on hard times, like this one:
LA pics4.jpg
The LA downtown is slowly gentrifying, lots of lofts, galleries and cafes. There is an old Broadway which was once their theatre district, and in the morning a breakfast burrito; nothing like a bit of salsa to start the day. The LACMA had an interesting display of streetlamps, and after 4 hours inside, they looked even better at dusk:
lamps evening.jpg
The LACMA is right next to the La Brea tar pits, which have an excellent discovery centre. The mastodons in the photo look real. The sky in LA is often a dull white, but doesn’t seem too dirty to breathe, probably because it is on the coast. This time I noticed lots of bicycles, which apparently are selling well in the US. And because the main part of the city is fairly flat and the avenues are wide, LA would have to be a good place for the European model of short term bicycle hire to take hold. The buses also weren’t bad, and I hesitantly tried a bit of Spanish out with my fellow riders.
LA pics2.jpg
The buildings of LA can be very grand, and when you lift your gaze beyond the tawdriness at eye level, even ordinary street scenes can have strong lines and a feeling of power:
LA bldg2.jpg
One can’t help but contemplate power when looking around LA. I wonder if any of the Hispanics on the bus are reading Paul Krugman’s columns in the New York Times? His book, The Great Unravelling, starts with an explanation of how he has come to be seen as a leftie, when he used to be criticised as a supporter of capitalism and globalisation. Because he is an academic, rather than a Washington insider, and an economist, he can be more evidence-based.
One of Krugman’s themes is that the actions of the Bush administration are so radically destructive of American democracy that they catch the mainstream off-guard. He quotes Henry Kissinger’s PhD thesis as a chilling explanation for how truly ruthless real revolutionaries work. And no doubt about it, Americans are sleeping at the switch if they doubt the intentions of those who currently control the levers of power. Maybe those struggling on the minimum wage with no health care realise this already. A headline tells the scale of the issue: ’79 milion Americans adults have medical bill problems or are paying off medical debt.’
While the general street scape is unrelentingly urban, there are patches of park to remind you that this must have been a beautiful place, about 70 years ago:
LA pics3.jpg
Another too long flight, and I’m back at the family home in New Jersey, happy to see my mother is recuperating. A NY lawyer I chatted to on the plane politely commented that NJ is an ‘armpit’, as if I didn’t know. But tucked away in a leafy yard, far from the maddening malls, I’m grateful for a computer and access to the Internet. Once I get back on normal sleep patterns I’ll venture into NY. Sifting through the endless TV channels is more exhausting than the long haul flying.
Meanwhile, it is late summer here, outside there are lots of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers for munching, and the living is easy. The President of my mother’s German chorus is stopping by, and it is time to make myself presentable. It would not do to look shabby for the still formidable Inge.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 4:11 am | Comments Off on In the LAnd of the Free |
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