Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

Yesterday on Venice Beach
Today would appear to have lasted forever. I feel sun-kissed and relaxed and like I've used every ounce of the day. 

I had a jog first thing. The mornings in LA since we got here have all been rather misty, so I took myself up the Santa Monica Boulevard to the bit of LA which can't decide if it's a bit gay and sleazy or a Russian enclave. In the present political climate, I'm sure the two communities are living incredibly uncomfortably next to one another, but I suppose the street must come to life when Eurovision's on! 

It is incredibly Russian up there. All the names of the shops are written in Cyrillic script and most of them sell red caviar! There was also a "Russian Jewish community centre" which had my head spinning! I didn't know there were any Jewish Russians any more. (Cue a rush of people getting in touch to tell me that there are more Russian Jews than any other minority community in that fascist nation...)

I came back from my jog and Nathan and I walked about four miles to Hollywood. The buildings in this city are all rather frozen in time. In the UK, people tend to update and do-up buildings as a matter of course. Over here they tend to wait until they fall down, so there are scores of buildings which date from the latter decades of the twentieth century which are literally crumbling. I rather like it if I'm honest. There's an authenticity about them. As you walk along the boulevards you are confronted by the 1970s, the '60s, the '50s..

Somewhere near Sunset Boulevard, an American bloke stopped us and asked if we knew where the other City Bank on that particular street was situated. We told him we had no idea and he did a double take: "you guys have an accent... What is it? French?" French? FRENCH? No, matey, this is what English OUGHT to sound like!

Slightly further up the street, there was a curious prefabricated house with hundreds of cow and zebra hides hanging outside. It was a most curious sight. There we were on the fringes of LA's swankiest district, and everything looked like something from the Wild West.

We walked past Hollywood High School, which has to be one of the coolest-named and coolest-looking high schools in the world. It's a huge Art Deco lump. Fabulosity.

Plainly Nathan sang Sunset Boulevard as we walked along the actual Sunset Boulevard...

I was given the most disgusting brunch in a cafe. Those who know me well will know I have a pathological hatred of stickers. Any sort of stickers, really, but stickers on fruit will actually turn my stomach and make me feel positively violent! The other thing I hate is coriander. As far as I'm concerned it's the devil's herb, which, to me, tastes like pennies and blood pressed into a bar of soap.

Imagine my horror, therefore, when my two poached eggs arrived (tepid) in two halves of an avocado which had a sticker attached to it, covered all over with a coriander sauce. I almost burst into tears, but did the terribly English thing of not sending it back because I felt silly complaining.

We strolled along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which, like everything here, is much longer/ bigger/ more impressive than you'd expect. There are thousands of names written in thousands of stars, stretching along the pavements of countless streets. It's exhausting looking at them all, particularly when you see the same names listed two, sometimes three times to honour their work in different fields.

The streets they're in vary enormously from grubby old sidewalks which look like the Holloway Road, to the swanky pavements outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre and Madam Taussauds where all the really flashy names can be found! I had my photo taken next to plaques honouring Angela Lansbury and my Great Granfather's cousin, Charlie Chaplin. Nathan was photographed with Gene Kelly's star. It had to be done, although Lord knows there was a ghastly bottleneck of tourists outside the Chinese Theatre, all of whom I wanted to smack with the remnants of my avocado brunch. 

Charlie and me...
We came back to Matt's, picked up Luke, and took ourselves on a mega-adventure into the world of cheesy film. Nathan drove Matt's car and we jumped on Highway 101, all the way up through the weird scrap yards and strange out-of-town malls, to the grotty suburbs in the very North of LA to pay homage to the house where Marty McFly lives in the movie Back to the Future.

Now I'll confess: that particular film doesn't have much resonance with me. I've seen it, probably once, and certainly couldn't remember what the house looked like, but to Nathan and Luke it was really special, and it was a great privilege to watch them enjoying the sight. Just to compound our joy, a little hummingbird descended from a tree outside the house and gave us a quick flamboyant show before darting off again.

The next part of the day was my suggestion. We drove down to fourth avenue to visit the dried up river basin where they filmed the "Thunder Road" car race sequence in the film Grease. This particular section of the film is probably most memorable for the bit where Olivia Newton-John sings the immortal lines "goodbye to Sandra Dee" before rushing off into the sunset to have a dodgy perm and squeeze herself into the tightest black trousers ever seen on film!

We didn't know if it would be possible to actually get down into the culvert itself, and our initial attempts to access the river basin were thwarted by railway tracks and high fences. We stood on a road bridge looking over the river, thinking that this particular elevated view of the iconic landmark would maybe have to suffice...

...And then, in the distance, we could see a couple of people actually down by the water's edge. We watched them disappearing out of sight underneath a bridge, and deduced that there must be some sort of hidden entrance to the culvert there.

the tunnel
We drove round in ever-decreasing circles trying a variety of different roads until we stuck gold, and happened upon a little dirt track, which vanished into a tunnel which went under a huge bridge. We parked the car, and tentatively walked down the track, undeterred by a homeless chap with a voice like a pirate who screamed, "Thunder Road is MY home. Do not enter my home." We decided he was the ghost of Kenickie, got a little bit freaked out, but nevertheless continued down the track, through the murky tunnel and out into the astonishing surroundings of the river basin, which is one of the most epically atmospheric locations I've ever visited. 

Thunder Road
...and yes, of course, we all filmed ourselves singing "look to the sky, take a deep breath and cry goodbye to Sandra Dee..." Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay... But it absolutely had to be done. It was a glorious moment.

Frenchie and Sandy
We travelled home through downtown LA, where hundreds of homeless people push shopping trollies around. Some sleep in tents. Others sit in wheelchairs. We watched one man going through the bins and finding a designer handbag, which he seemed rather thrilled with. For me it was an absolute indication of a culture where the gap between rich and poor is as large as it is ludicrous.

We also had the privilege to drive past McArthur Park, which is a beautiful park. Of course we spontaneously burst into a rendition of the Donna Summer song. "Someone left my cake out in the rain..."

We came home and immediately went out for dinner in a restaurant with Matt's witty and very beautiful housemate, Rebel.

A wonderful day. Truly.

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