On Saturday, I started feeling a little guilty about how much I’ve been writing about my recent visit to New York. I’d written two very NewYorkophilic (new word?) blog entries and was on my way to writing a third when I stopped myself and decided I needed to step away from the computer and you know, stop spreading the news…
I had the afternoon free, my morning swim done, a backyard barbecue to attend in the early evening. And I know this sounds nerdy, but I wanted to go on a little date with my other city love, my main squeeze, Los Angeles. So, I drove downtown to one of my favorite haunts, the Central Library. I parked my car in the garage, since parking is only $1 all day on Saturday and Sunday, during library hours. And lucky me, as I was stepping into the grand entrance, I saw a sign that said a free tour of the Maguire Gardens was starting in front of the gift shop at 12:30. I looked at my watch. 12:28. I scurried to the gift shop where I found a petite woman, a little older than myself, in comfortable shoes and a sensible straw hat. She was standing alone.
“Are you here for the tour?”
“Yes, I am.”
“It’s going to be a good one because you’re by yourself.” And we were off, and her words were prophetic. We toured the gardens for some 45 minutes while she shared the history of the library, pointed out key architectural and artistic features, including the friezes of Herodotus, Virgil, Socrates, Da Vinci and Copernicus, the Ceramic Fountain, Jud Fine’s Spine Sculptural Installation, the Grotto Fountain, the World Peace Bell, and much more. And because I was an eager student of one, she took me inside and gave me a little history about the Rotunda, the card catalog elevator, and the Therman Statom chandeliers, too.
While we were walking around, I asked her how I might find some old pictures of my neighborhood, Larchmont Village and specifically, the street I live on. “Oh my goodness, I used to live on that street.”
“Which building?” I asked.
And she gave me my own address. “That’s my building!” She told me that she had lived there 11 years in the 70s and 80s. She remembered Mae West living just down the street. I told her that I’d lived there since 1998 and she said, “Wow, you’ve been there a long time too!”
And our bond deepened, she asked where I was from and I proudly told her I was from Kansas. She told me that she had been raised in Pennsylvania. As she told me more about the Central Library’s history, I must confess, I was probably equally interested in her personal history. I mean, she didn’t paint a mural or build a fountain or import Italian tiles or anything, but I sensed that her story was part of the fabric woven into the story of the Central Library, too. Here it was, Saturday afternoon, and this kind woman was giving the tour of the century to an attentive party of one.
Later, she took me to the section of the library where I hoped to find old pictures of Los Angeles and specifically my neighborhood. She introduced me to a gentleman (“He’s supposedly retired, but this place couldn’t function without him.”) who kindly set me up on a computer and instructed me how to find photos with specific search words. My friend the tour guide told me I was in good hands and disappeared not unlike a fairy godmother.
And I spent another hour or so, sleuthing the library’s databases, finding old pictures of the El Royale and the Ravenswood, and Wilshire Country Club. I hoped to stumble across a picture of my old building, but alas, I did not unearth one on my first effort. I kept sending pictures to myself and pictures to Eric, who was at work. He’d text me, “Love the photos!”
And reluctantly, I had to leave, I had that barbecue to attend and I had to go home and walk the dogs first. I paid my $1 at the kiosk and drove down a quiet Wilshire Boulevard, past MacArthur Park and the Talmadge and the HMS Bounty, on my way home.
I walked my dogs and put on a white linen shirt that flattered my summer tan and I went to sit in a leafy backyard with old, dear friends where we ate grilled meats and drank my friend Traci’s signature cocktail.
Really, not a bad way to spend a Saturday. It was a quintessentially Los Angeles day. And you know what, you might be reading this and thinking, that’s not MY ideal Los Angeles day! Well, that’s one of the magical things about the City of Angels, it really is whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t take it personally when you complain about traffic or come back from vacation tittering about how amazing New York or Cabo or Portland is. It’s always changing, evolving, but also, always distinctively it’s own. It welcomes all, our crowded freeways remind you of that. It’s everything and nothing like the city you dreamed about when you grew up watching The Brady Bunch and Beverly Hillbillies and Knots Landing. And I love it, I do.