Victoria Jelinek

Homage to Los Angeles

Los Angeles Reconsidered

When I moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons, I was prepared to dislike it intensely.  I brought with me from my native New York many unfavorable assumptions and negative stereotypes about California and Californians.  I believed that LA was full of self-absorbed, superficial people; a cultural wasteland that existed as a city but was really a sprawling suburb; a horizontal city rather than a vertical one.

Initially, LA met my low expectations: it is a sprawling wasteland with Wal-Marts and K-Marts next to small streets of cafes, shops, residences and strip malls; and there are so many Mercedes, Ranger Rovers, and Hummers that I thought that people were automatically given them once they attained a certain income.  I’d go to barbeques and have six-minute conversations with people I’d meet about what we each did for work and who would then offer to show me their headshots or resumes and get vacant-eyed when I changed the subject.  Working in the film industry, I discovered that it could be, as I had thought, self-absorbed, unjust, and harsh.

Then about a year into living there, I began to see LA differently: I started noticing that the desert life is beautiful and courageous; the succulents, such as the Joshua trees and cacti, are resourceful, keeping water in their hard, leaves and stems; the Oleanders grow beside the dirty highways without any encouragement; the vines of pink, red and purple flowers are everywhere; there are birds singing in every neighborhood, in palm, lemon and lime trees.  I started turning towards the dark, dusty hills that surround the city and took walks and horseback rides through them, seeing coyotes, skunks, and bobcats; and every time I’d come over a westward crest near the ocean, I’d find myself catching my breath with the first glimpse of the breaking waves.


Buoyed by the city’s natural beauty, I started exploring further.

Cinema venues, of course, abound: there are the American Cinematheque and the NuArt, that run festivals from various countries and themed screenings in various genres; there is the El Capitan, where an organ player rises from the floor and plays while you’re being seated; there’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with its grand architecture and the footprints from the silver-screen actors of Hollywood to today’s superstars out front, combined with its supersonic sound and fine picture quality inside, is a movie cathedral.  There’s the Arclight, where ushers wear nametags with their favorite movie characters and introduce the films. There’s the Kodak Theater special screenings of classic movies and where the Oscar ceremony is held.


There are free tennis courts everywhere, public pools for a dollar, and skating, bike-riding, and skateboarding activities along the long coastline from Malibu to Hermosa Beach.  Tolerable skiing is only an hour away, and good skiing is a five-hour drive through the desert. The desert is also great for camping and visiting motels and hotels hidden away in the Joshua tree forest, or near Barstow or Palm Springs, where there are natural aquifers allowing ranches and settlements to seem like oasis’.


I saw anew the colorful contributions of immigrant Mexicans: murals everywhere, little stucco churches with tall, simple steeples, colorfully painted houses terraced into the hills of Silverlake and Echo Park, and I was fascinated by the fact that Mexican families use the parks on the weekends en masse, having picnics and playing games with their extended families.  I found a Korean town, a Japanese town, a China town, a Thai town, and an Armenian town, in each of which the people have retained their own culture’s foods, clothing, shops, and lifestyles, despite the inevitable move toward assimilation into the general culture, which is enhanced by this diversity.

Writers, directors, actors, migrated en masse to LA at the turn of the 20th century for a variety of reasons, and stayed. They still do. The long list is, in itself, a testimonial to the appeal, financially, symbolically, and topographically of Hollywood-Los Angeles.

Most people focus on the exploitive business practices of the many unprincipled executives in the film industry, which creates the negative stereotypes of LA, but there’s a well-developed infrastructure in the city, its highways, its airports, its businesses, its cultural scene, as well as the tropical climate.


In time, I learned the subtle fact that Californians know and outsiders don’t: Hollywood and Los Angeles should be evaluated as two cities, which are separate but symbiotic.  I then learned the history of the region that put the present day city in context—a place of easy money and easy ways, a place that cashed in on gambler’s luck, first with the Franciscan padres finding artesian wells in the late 19th century that made the region a veritable Garden of Eden, then the Gold Rush to Northern California, the influx of oil Sheiks of the 1920’s in Southern California, and finally the boom of the film industry. All of these events carried out the theme of California as a place that promised the American ideal of riches. I considered the harsh reality of those working in film, and the “truth” of these stereotypes – it’s a difficult city to penetrate, because it seems to exist on the surface, but it does deserve to be considered more fully.


I was, and am, still aware that there’s a sharp contrast between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles. And the sentiments I held when I first moved to Los Angeles – basically that it’s a cultural wasteland that exists as a city but is really a sprawling suburb – still holds truth. But it’s not the whole truth.

I’ve since moved to Europe, and I often think of California. It’s to its credit that it convinced this skeptic of its charms. So much so, that I become defensive when listening to many stereotypes about Hollywood-Los Angeles uttered by people in my adopted country (and despite having held them myself at one point!), especially statements about the negative television and film images exported to the rest of the world (but eagerly seized upon, I may add) as the sole purpose of the city and examples of its offerings.

It’s unfair to LA to cling only to the negative, to the stereotypes – LA has various storylines – urban and suburban sprawl, ‘high’ and popular culture, sun and sand, mountains and trees, diverse languages and people. It’s all of these wonderful and unexpected elements of the city, in contrast to the pretentious and often tawdry goings on, that function as a chorus, and sometimes principal character, in the story of LA.

Cannes Film Festival

It’s an amazing party like nothing you’ll see anywhere – not Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, nowhere. It’s everyone in World Cinema and the European industry combined with everyone in the US industry, combined with super super stars, combined with international wealth that one doesn’t usually see (arms dealers, for example), with huge yachts on the harbour, sparkling at night along the Croisette, and folks decked out in Chanel, Dior, Gucci for the premieres (black tie only, and its very cool as you walk down the red carpet and it all seems so celebratory! For film!). The main gig is along the Croisette (the main road, bordering the water) with Old Town providing the places for nice, relaxed dinners, and the beaches farther along the harbour for those who want some ‘peace.’ And most of the action that’s not private happens behind the “Grand Hotel”. It’s a lot of fun and it’s gorgeous. I enjoyed the work and the partying, but it was exhausting. I felt like I had Rose wine streaming through my veins by the time I left all times. However, it is impossible to get into parties, on the beach, in the villas up in the hills, on the boats, anywhere, without being on guest lists, and it’s near impossible to get into most films without a pass, and absolutely impossible to attend a premiere unless you know a distributor who can give you an invite, or you go with an A-list star. The villas, the parties on the beach, all heavily guarded, as are the premieres, where even if you do have a ticket, you may not get in and it’s a real mess (see A-list bringing an entourage and over-issuing to insure packed houses). It’s gorgeous, blue sparkling, French Riviera, and its silver-coloured sea with the sparkling lights at night… However, even when you are working, or are with an ‘important’ person, or are ‘beloved’ by those you’re around, everyone is always looking over your shoulder as they talk to you, and around the room, to see who else is there, eager to make that next important contact, that next big impression. Overall, it’s exhilarating in the setting of the silver, sparkling sea, and all the commotion about film when you are a lover of film, even as it’s also heartbreaking.

London Shoes

I revisited London this past summer for the first time in years. In a pensive mood one day, I walked among the crowds in order to sort out my thoughts, head bent looking mostly at the ground, down at Oxford Street. Suddenly I noticed what a wonderful array of footwear!

Plastics with cotton…linens with leather…canvas with metal…and of course wonderful variations on leather shoes from sandals to thigh-high boots; I saw all of the different textures, fabrics and style that are so splendidly unique.

Londoners don’t wear splashy outfits to match these spectacular shoes, either: a wonderfully bowed, glass-like slipper in a bright fuchsia can be seen with a plain skirt and t-shirt. Multi-colored boots that zip up the side are put with a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt; linen with leather sandals that have a wedgie cork sole can be worn with the most casual of shorts; and fabulous, stiletto-heeled, elaborately woven leather shoes are a contrast to conservative business suits.

What a sense of style the Londoners have! I ducked into a shoe shop and bought a pair of shoes. Later, as I stood waiting for the train and the inevitable breeze through the tunnel that signals its coming, looking at my feet and new shoes, I felt satisfied, and no longer a bit melancholy. All I had needed was a great, new pair of shoes, and they are: ruddy brown leather sandals, with a strap around the ankle, and a modest heel about two inches high, convey the subtlety, individuality and the great sense of style that I so appreciate in London.

Fanelli’s Cafe – NYC
April 23, 2006, 11:37 am
Filed under: Published travel writing | Tags: , ,

It’s owned and operated by a guy that boxed against Joe Lewis. It was featured in State of Grace with Gary Oldman and Ed Harris. But for some reason, many New Yorker’s don’t know about Fanelli’s, even though it’s on the corner of Prince and Mercer in the middle of Soho, and it’s always full.

There’s a tiny little neon sign over the place. Inside, there are small tables with traditional red-checked clothes crowded into a long, narrow space. Black and white photos of boxing matches cover the wall. Across from the tables is a long bar, with stools filled with old timers, who might be Teamsters, or Mafia, polished, young executives, a few hipsters and the odd foreigner. Smoke floats to the ceiling.

This is home to the best Bloody Mary in New York—not too spicy but it has a bite. Not too strong, but enough to relax you. The burgers rival any burger in the city and are cooked at medium rare—whether you like it or not.

Their best food is a dieter’s nightmare—chicken wings and cheese sticks—and the drinks flow even more heavily. If you’re looking for something immaculate and minimalist, this ain’t it. It’s a place that you go to because it’s easy to get to. It’s got that sense of time when cabbies in NY knew the city like the back of their hand. This is one of the places they’d tell you to go eat. It’s charming. It’s not trendy, but it sure is hip.