Thursday, July 22, 2010

Evaluating My First Six Months in LA

My Passport

What is LA?

Although I have yet to figure it out, there is the City of Los Angeles and there is Los Angeles County and within the boundaries of the city and the county, there are some 80 additional cities all which have independent governments.

It was recently revealed by The Los Angeles Times that in Bell, a city with a population of 36,664 according to the 2000 census, city manager Robert Rizzo was paid nearly $800,000 annually, making him the highest paid city manager in California and possibly the nation. The police chief gets $457,000. Both have lucrative pensions.

In March 2000, a shipment of 55 Oscar statuettes was stolen from a trucking company loading dock in Bell.

LA = Amoeba = LA = Amoeba = LA

Above: NASA view of Los Angeles. Below: Microscopic enlargement of an amoeba.

From the COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, "Amoebas constantly change the shape of their bodies as a result of a phenomenon known as ameboid movement involving the formation of temporary extensions."

In AMERICA DAY BY DAY, with regard to Los Angeles, Simone de Beauvoir said," ... one feels that the most sophisticated city in the world is surrounded by indomintable nature. If human pressure were relaxed for even a moment, the wild animals and giant grasses would reclaim possession of their domain."

My Scorecard / NY vs LA

Above: View of Manhattan from the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building. Below: View of Downtown LA from the Cafe at the Griffith Park Observatory.


I have been reading The New York Times since I began to read. As a kid, we lived in suburban Cleveland. My father was an avid Times reader. A local drugstore would deliver the Sunday edition of The Times throughout our suburban enclave. Wherever I have gone and wherever I have lived, I have managed to read the The Times every day. I am doing the same thing here in LA.

Unfortunately, I can't read The Los Angeles Times. I know that it was once a great paper - at one point, it captured more Pulitzers than The New York Times; however, it is not the case now. The paper's staff has been decimated by the current owners. As a result, The Los Angeles Times is now a tragic shadow of its former self. I read LA Observed, an excellent on line report, as often as I can.

Climate and Air Quality

We arrived in mid-January; since then, there were some mild, cold days in February and March with off and on again rain during what is called "winter." I doubt that I will ever see another snowstorm, nor will I experience 103 degree heat and 100% humidity in the summer. Here, the sun shines every day. In the summer, it gets hot, but there is no humidity, so it is tolerable.

We live in proximity to freeways; there are the contingent issues of pollution and dirt. According to a May 2009 report of the "Most polluted American cities" prepared by the American Lung Association, Los Angeles ranked: fourth in short term particle pollution, first in ozone pollution and third in year round particle pollution. New York did not make it into the first ten on any of these lists.


Police and fire sirens are inescapable in any large urban environment. In LA, they can be heard day and night. Sebastian Junger just returned from having spent months making a film on the battlefield in Afghanistan; he said that he was freaked out by New York's middle of the night street noises.

With regard to to the constant hum of the freeways, my wife, Mary, suggested that we imagine
that we're at the sea shore listening to the surf.


Every major city in the world has a subway - some better than others - some one hundred years old - some brand new. The New York subways system is over one hundred years old. The LA system is brand new. Everyone rides the subway in New York. In LA, mass transit is for the working class; the freeways are for the middle class and upper classes.

LA is developing a new urban mass transit system - subways and busses. So far so good. The trains are comfortable and clean. They run on time. Not necessarily to my taste, some of the stations are spectacular. The signage is good - obviously patterned after Massimo Vignelli's New York subway signage. The buses run on compressed natural gas. They are ubiquitous and frequent.


Central Park - It is pedestrian friendly and bike friendly I have
covered every square inch of it in good weather and bad, in good
times and bad. When Jean Claude and Christo's "Gates" graced
the park in orange splendor, I walked along every single path from
59th to 110th Streets. When we lived on East 90th Street between
Park and Lex, I would ride my bike in the park from April through
to my office my office at Broadway and 57th Street.

Griffith Park - Accessible primarily by car, but offers many opportunities
to experience nature in the midst of the city. I want to explore it and know
it better.
The Wolfgang Puck cafe on the Observatory terrace is pure joy.
Wonderful inexpensive salads and sandwiches with spectacular views - like
the one above.


The New York Public Library - It is one of the world's great libraries
and has been my first stop for research when I initiated a new project. I
have done exhibitions there and spoken there. Although I would love to
have been a benefactor, I could never afford it. I have been a member for
many years.

The Los Angeles Public Library - I know that it is a great resource
which I will investigate and utiize. Although I am not a celeb watcher, I
had one there. Before moving to LA, I was doing research in the photo
collection. As I was standing at the librarian's desk, I looked to my
left and recognized a familiar face - Michael Douglas. I glanced at him;
he smiled and said "Hi."

Book Fairs

NewYork Is Book Country - A stretch of Fifth Avenue in Midtown
was turned over to the publishing industry. I did book signings there
a couple of times. Unfortunately it is not going to happen this year.

Harlem Book Fair - A stretch of 135th echoes its midtown predecessor.
As the Fifth Avenue event feels like Fifth Avenue, the one in Harlem
echoes the dynamism of the community. I did a book signing there, too.

The LA Times Book Fair - I will never forget my first day at the Book
Fair on the UCLA campus;. It was invigorating and inspiring. It
obliterated many of my negative preconceptions about LA.
I wrote to
David Ulin, the LA Times book editor, "It was excellent and opened
my eyes to LA's vibrant intellectual life. Orchestrating a blend of high
culture with populism, the festival demonstrated that the two could
be joined effectively without condescending. Organization and
management were outstanding."


I never went to the 92nd Street Y lectures. Disinterested in dinner party circuits, I had no need for an inventory of witty remarks from famous people. I went to lectures where substance prevailed: NYPL. NYHS, The Met, MCNY and similar institutions.

My first LA book author lecture was a riot. I had gone to an opening at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. As I left, I heard a lot of racket across the Bergamot Station courtyard.
I walked in. There was food and wine. I helped myself and sat down. Then, I asked a stranger
if he could tell me what was happening. He said that Jane Smiley was going to interview Dave
Barry. What a team! I was in stitches for an hour.

LA ALOUD is first class. I have gone to several programs including Bill Boyarksy and Peter Jones on "Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times." Boyarsky was an important cog in the
machine for many years, He spoke with authority. Peter Jones made an excellent film. Pam
Morrison is a great interviewer. For someone who had no background, I was introduced to the history of major players in the history of LA and the vicissitudes of the paper that I refuse to read.

Film Forum

In a series of dark cavernous spaces with uncomfortable seats, poor projection and unsatisfactory sound, it provides the best film programming available on the East Coast.
It appears that there are dozens of venues where good film programming is available in LA. I
have gone to several. I know that a plethora of good film programming awaits me.

Municipal Art Society

I have been involved with the MAS for forty years as: a member, speaker, program organizer,
consultant and grants administrator providing funding. Under MAS auspices, I took a group of
architects and planners to Paris to examine it as an evolving global city.

I joined the Los Angeles Conservancy, an organization with similar objectives.

Farmers Markets

To my mind, the Greenmarket in Union Square remains the pen ultimate fresh food market in the United States. I have gone to several neighborhood farmers markets in LA, but have not been too impressed. I have heard that the Santa Monica farmers market is exceptional. I hope to get there soon.

Dean & Deluca

There is nothing else like it. Joel Dean died and Giorgio Deluca opened a restaurant. What they
created, revolutionized food merchandising in this country. Fortunately, the current corporate
owners want to preserve the authenticity of the brand.

Years ago, I asked Giorgio if he had a model. He said that it was Peck in Mllan.

Even though I much admire Dean & Deluca, I have to admit that Peck outclasses it. Peck is the most extraordinary food store that I have ever seen. In truffle season, I had the audacity to inquire about fresh truffles. They had them all. It was an exercise in frustration.

Maybe there is something like Dean & Deluca in LA. I don't know and hope that I discover it.


Swami Satchidananda has been my guru for over forty years. The IYI on West 13th was my sanctuary. I even managed to get to Yogaville when Swamaji was still alive.

Having discovered the Vednata Society in the Hollywood Hills,

both Mary and I have found our sanctuary. At least once a week, we
meditate for an hour and a half and leave as new people.

Off Beat

I have become a groupie at Farmlab's Metabolic Studio Public Salon Series.

The brain child of Lauren Bon, creator of NOT A CORNFIELD

They begin every Friday at noon with free lunch. They have provided me with
insight and connections to creative spirits whom I would otherwise never meet.


From a friend, a native Angeleno living in New York:

"I find LA (like NYC), because it's so large, to be more mysterious and those surprises make it more pleasant. Roma verso Firenze."

We live at Hollenbeck Palms in in Boyle Heights. We go to the Mariachi Plaza farmers market. I have met Councilman Jose Huizar and he recognizes me when he pushes his kid in a stroller through Mariachi Plaza. I have a card at the Benjamin Franklin Branch of the LA Public Library at 2200 East First Street. I am a member of Corazón del Pueblo, a community arts collective where I am taking free Spanish lessons.


  1. Dear Allon,

    I love your new blog. I have been to Los Angeles many times but always as a "tourist from NYC".

    I now see LA in a whole new light and am very eager and excited to return.

    I do agree with you that the Union Square Market is the best in the Country. Santa Monica and San Francisco are excellent and have the benefit of a year round growing season but to me USQ is the best.

    Robert Dentice

  2. I think a major difference between LA and NYC is size. I am sure there is fantastic stuff to do in LA. It just takes more searching since everything is so far-flung. I look forward to learning about your discoveries.