Friday, 10 July 2015

The old zoo

We had breakfast in a little cafe on Santa Monica today, and realised we were surrounded by people talking about film and television. Not a single person in the place was having an ordinary conversation! I found it incredibly alarming.

LA revolves entirely around the entertainment industry. Everyone I've met here has supported that particular infrastructure somehow, from agents who deal specifically with celebrity endorsements, to people who advise actors on good investments in the field of fine art. In other towns and cities, the bankers are the ones frittering their cash away and attracting leeches, but here, it's the actors and directors who have the power.

Dope is as good as legal in Southern California, so the air is heavy with the smell of the stuff. There are even "green doctors" who will provide pretty much anyone with a medical certificate which allows them to use the drug. I think the process goes something along the lines of, "why do you want to use marihuana?" "Because I can't sleep at night." "That's fine. The certificate costs $40. You are now licensed to get stoned..." Bam!

The other thing which makes me laugh about Americans is that they are allowed to take pets on flights with them (for free) if they have a doctor's certificate which says their animals provide them with "emotional support." Isn't that hideous?! I think the dogs have to be small enough to fit in a basket which can fit under a plane seat, so it might be difficult to fly a pair of Weimaraners across to New York, but then again, very few people from this city have anything but the tiniest, silliest dogs!

We walked for miles along Santa Monica after breakfast, and then took a taxi up to the old Los Angeles zoo which is up at Griffith Park. The zoo opened in the 1920s and closed in the 60s, probably when the animal rights lobby deemed it too small and too cruel! A replacement zoo was subsequently set up further into the park.

In true American style, the ruins of the zoo have been left to slowly disintegrate, thereby offering us an amazing insight into the way animals were kept in the early 20th Century. 

It's a fascinating place with a deeply eerie, yet somehow rather calming atmosphere. I bet it's a tremendous place to visit at night. I think I read somewhere that they do ghost tours up there and there's a Shakespeare play being performed in the grounds tonight. Daytime visitors, of which there are surprisingly few, are able to wander around the site, past all the old cages and enclosures. Many of the doors are bolted shut, but there are plenty that you can enter to get a sense of just how tiny and claustrophobic those cages actually were. It can be somewhat overwhelming. More intrepid and foolhardy visitors can climb through holes in fences into even more unusual pens. You can even squeeze yourself into the little corridors and chutes with trap doors either end used by zoo keepers when feeding tigers and lions. The whole place is graffitied up to the eyeballs, which a lot of travel writers seem to think is a shame. I didn't mind in the least. It made it seem more real somehow: more genuine and less like some sort of tourist destination. What's less for the feint-hearted, however, is the fact that many of the enclosures reek of ammonia. I'm not sure whether this is as a result of the previous animal inhabitants or modern day tourists and vagrants being caught short. 

I think the place probably looked rather lovely in its heyday. The setting, in the sandy hills above Hollywood, is stunning, and the pens, though tiny, are beautifully landscaped to look like they've been cut into the rocks. There's even evidence of a huge man-made waterfall and river system snaking its way through the site. 

It's a must-see location for anyone with imagination. If you don't like walking, or if you like your tourist sites to look rather pretty-pretty, give it a big miss! 

This evening we went to the launch of OutFest, the LA gay and lesbian film festival. They're apparently screening 166 LGBT films from across the world in locations across the city, so it struck us how ludicrous it was that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical wasn't one of them. Everyone wanted to talk to Matt, of course, and, much as I wanted to tell people that Nathan and I had done something rather important for gay rights on the other side of the pond, I knew no one was ever going to be that fussed. People are so obsessed with celebrity here that, if you're standing with one, you might as well be invisible, which of course makes you feel and act invisible in a viscous cycle sort of way!

We were thrilled to see John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig fame) winning a fellowship award for services to film. We were re-introduced to him briefly before the event, Nathan, as someone who'd actually performed the role of Hedwig, and me as the god father of Philippa's children. Philippa has co-written his next film, which everyone here seems very excited about.

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