Written by Cameron Lange
A Londoner’s Anti-Home, 2012
"Nature is unfriendly, dangerous, utterly aloof," said [Christopher] Isherwood in 1940. "However hard I may try, I can’t turn her into a stage set for my private drama. Thank God I can’t."
Perhaps that’s what thrills Brits like me most about this place. There are cougars in the mountains, coyotes in the hills — animals with names so romantic that they make Los Angeles seem untamable, forever malevolent. Raymond Chandler, another Angeleno raised in England, said that the Santa Ana winds made "meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks." At times the boy in me feels like a cowboy in a frontier town just waiting for the desert to reclaim it.
Much has changed from the city Isherwood knew. The orange groves he so loved have long since disappeared from L.A. life, but in their place a steel orchard of skyscrapers has grown over Bunker Hill. If there is tragedy in the former’s extinction, the rise of the latter has provided a cityscape that ranks amongst the world’s most beautiful. One sight I will never tire of is that of the San Gabriel Mountains, smothered in snow, towering above downtown like a chain of sentinels ready to protect and punish the city in equal measure.
But of course, much of what L.A. presented to its first British settlers has remained the same. The city is still afflicted by a pervasive atmosphere of disrepair and decrepitude; it has, according to everybody, been falling apart since 1781. This is a city superimposed on the desert, perpetually losing its Sisyphean battle with the dust and sun. But for the Brits who have always loved this sickly corner of the Golden State there is honor in the absurdity of the attempt, the hopelessness of the cause.
Earlier this month, my university friends and peers in York donned their caps and gowns to celebrate graduation. Because of the Olympics and temporarily hiked flight prices in July, I left early and couldn’t attend the ceremony. It’s a shame, and I will miss England, but when my family greeted me at LAX and the place was heaving with the day’s heat, I knew my post-college life was beginning where it should.
When we reached the onramp that merges the 105 with the 110 and those familiar mountains came into view, I shed the vestiges of my airport stress, stretched my legs as far as the car allowed, and relaxed. At that point, I was hardly bothered by the traffic. It was part of the ritual, the communion; an interval in which to disparage or extol the slew of films I had watched on the plane’s miniature screen. It’s been five years since I first made that journey from London to LAX. I am no longer an exile in Los Angeles, this sad flower in the sand, this pretty town.
© 2012 Cameron Lange; Zocalo Public Square (July 30, 2012)