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European Impressions of LA
By Fern Johnson
from Brussels, Belgium,

3/27/2003
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The possibility of a visit to Los Angeles presented itself when I discovered that I could make a stopover there on my trans-Atlantic ticket at no extra cost. I immediately made a list of friends who had been to the city, and started to call around.

“LA’s not worth a detour unless you like really gay people,” my Belgian friend, Pierre, said as soon as I announced I was thinking of including it in my forthcoming North American holiday. Bachelors for different reasons, 36-year old Pierre, who is straight, and Joël, his 38-year old gay brother, share a big house in Brussels not far from where I live. They spent a week in California last year, and I’d called on them in the hope of getting a few tips and insights. Nothing had prepared them for the ostentation of the gays in LA, I learned. It was all great fun, but too intense for the more restrained Europeans. Both men advised me to visit the Getty Museum.

I came away from that conversation with a name to mention when I called Marie-Anne, who’s French. I was thinking of going to LA. Had she been to the Getty Museum? Was it worth a visit? “The Getty Museum is fantastic,” she said, “but you have to book about a week in advance to get a car parking space.” No car? No problem! Public transport is comfortable and clean, and prices are on a par with our own. “Give yourself plenty of time, though,” she warned. “The buses don’t run as frequently as they do here.” Also, I’m to remember to wave when I see the bus I want; Metro drivers don’t stop just because there’s somebody standing at the stop.

Gerry, a pragmatic, well-traveled Englishman, was next on my list. “What do you want to go there for?” he asked. “I just want to go to LA,” I answered. “Nobody goes to LA just to go to LA,” was the dismissive response. Gerry believes that people go to LA for the beaches outside the city (my figure won’t stand scrutiny in a swimsuit these days, I said), or on their way on down to San Diego (I won’t have the time, I said), or to go to the parks to the west of the city (ditto, I said). Gerry doesn’t see any point in my going to LA!

Famke from Holland shopped on Rodeo Drive, an experience that nearly bankrupted her. “But you’re more disciplined with money than I am, sweetheart, so go there and look!” She and the fifteen members of the organized group she traveled with found LA obsessed with TV and film, and image in all its forms. “Even the waiters and the cleaners in the hotel were actors,” she announced, exasperated all over again at the memory. She then launched into a very interesting explanation of the origins of local names: Fresno, Alamo, trees mostly. I left her fired with the urge to see some, so I went to the local arboretum on my way home.

“It was impossible to have a nice relaxing meal,” lamented my Swiss friends, Julie and Mathis, pouring over holiday photographs. “Everywhere we ate, there seemed to be a race to see who could get the diners through quickest.” Coming from a continent where a meal in a restaurant can be a four-hour affair, this was bad news indeed.

Fortunately, they were not my only friends to have been impressed by food in LA, though all the others were British and made their judgments according to somewhat different criteria. Jenny and John are red meat lovers, and ate a lot in places where steak features largely on the menu. They printed a map for me, covered in Xs to mark the most memorable establishments. Bill and Sally, on the other hand, are vegetarians who especially liked the reasonable prices and the amazing breakfasts. “You could survive on breakfasts alone if you had to,” Bill said by way of enthusiastic encouragement to one living life on a limited budget.

Having quizzed my friends, I surfed the Net for a while. This supplied the information that LA is a city about seven times bigger than Brussels, the Belgian city where I live. It is vastly more spread out, more colorful, bursting with more energy. Whether I’m looking for culture, arts, sights to see, or any combination of the above, I will have no trouble finding plenty to interest me.

Come to think of it, maybe I’ll stay in LA for two nights and rent a car. After all, I may only get there once in this lifetime.


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