LOS ANGELES: Are You Happy?

Before jetting off to Mexico, we spent a few days in my beloved city of Los Angeles. I adore it more every time I visit. It gets more beautiful, more dear to my heart, more magical. This time was another delight. I quite think that I will never get over Los Angeles. The City of Angels satisfies me in a way that nowhere else in America does. The palm trees stretch out high to heaven, the Hollywood sign glimmers like a beacon of hope to all the struggling creatives flocking to the city, the food scene is fantastic, and everybody is attractive. I wonder when I’ll get around to living there? In due time, I’m sure.

The drive from the Central Coast was beautiful, and I grow more and more enamored (and jealous) of people who get to live their lives in such a perfect place. Traffic might be congested, and there might be any number of irritants, but how upset can any person realistically be when they have the azure waters of the Pacific out their window? I found myself, as I tend to do, captivated by the rolling waves, the islands, the trees, the colors of the sky and sea. It was decadent and wondrous, and I would like to drive a shipping truck if it allowed me to have this view every day. How could you tire of perfection?

Whenever I go, I tend to stay in West Hollywood. Nowhere makes me daydream of being a struggling actor in the 30s more than WeHo. I highly recommend walking late at night through the area between Beverly and Melrose. The architecture is varied, there are always people out walking their dogs, you might bump into a famous face, you might see directors brawling — which is always odd — or you might be discovered. I haven’t lost any of my winsome fancies of what Hollywood can be, even if I am better versed in what the modern city is. This understanding was a challenge to acquire, but once I did, I was allowed to love Los Angeles. I can hardly wait for my next thousand visits.

But back to the stories, this time we didn’t stay in WeHo, we were closer to Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t recommend Hollywood Boulevard, but once you get off the strip, the apartment buildings are lovely and there is a grungy atmosphere that I unexpectedly enjoyed. Do you know that thrilling feeling of never knowing exactly who you’ll bump into? It could be a star or a drug dealer or a taco truck or a movie set. The chances are equal.

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This apartment was divine and oddly affordable for what it was. The AirBNB host could have charged much more per night than she did. I mean, glad she didn’t, but that bewildered me. It was decorated in the most eclectic way, but it all felt authentic. Nothing irritates me more than people being quirky for the sake of following a trend. That’s not quirky at all. This woman seemed to be a true eccentric, so it was fascinating trying to understand who she was by the objects she left behind. She liked cheap wine, Canada, had hopes of being an actress, tried and fails to eat healthily, and really enjoys facial serums. She and I would have been fast friends. I’d have to bring a bottle of red wine over though, she only had white. Ew.

Pam and I walked our feet off as we stomped up and down the avenues, looking at the sights, going into the oddest shop that sold earthquake supplies, and eating. I love to eat. I discovered something tremendously exciting on this voyage to LA: I love Thai food. Reader, i am passionate about it.

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Creepiest mannequin I’ve ever seen.

I was slightly terrified when we went to Palm’s for Thai food, because I had absolutely no understanding or expectation. Would there be vegetarian nibbles for me? I was comforted by the large number of people dining, the look of the plates (which you know is supremely important to me — I do need to get around to writing that autobiography of my life as told by gorgeous photographs of my china collection. Did I tell you about that? I’m sure I did. Oh right, I did a blog post kind of outlining the concept. Read it here.), and the menu that was filled with descriptors. I like to be daring when it comes to food, but I didn’t want to inadvertently eat a pig or a cow or something.

Many of the options looked delightful, and I finally settled on a peanut curry made with cabbage, tofu, and potatoes. It sounded really odd, but absolutely delicious. I never considered peanuts to be something I would have as anything but a snack until I went on my first solo trip. Oh that was a remarkable time, reader, really taught me how glorious it was to be alone and away. Anyway, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Disney World, there is a popular buffet called Boma. I had never tried any African cuisine at that point — hard to imagine now — and I was mightily intrigued by something called peanut soup. I was sure it couldn’t be what it sounded like, so I took a ladleful to study. Reader, it was extraordinary. I have never had it since then, but since then, I take advantage of adding peanuts to my food whenever possible. It’s a transformative ingredient.

I was madly in love, of course, so I went back again the next day for the same dish only a bit spicier. It was just as good, if not better. I am just obsessed with the culinary traditions of Asia, particularly those in southern continental Asia. It’s so rich and flavorful, and I feel really good eating it. Nutrition plays such an instrumental role in health, of course, so with multiple sclerosis, I’m always trying to find foods that make me feel good. This stuff does, the usual stuff available does not. I need to find a good Thai restaurant near me…bear with…just found one, going to go just as soon as I can!

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Next on the itinerary was The Museum of Death. I never knew about this place until I read an interview in Rolling Stone with Paris Jackson. They conducted their interview as they wandered through the exhibits. It sounded fascinating, and it’s firmly established that I have macabre interests. So I had to go.

Along the way, though, I stumbled upon a place that I thought had met the wrecking ball many decades ago: The Florentine Gardens!

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This wouldn’t have thrilled me usually, but I have a personal connection to the Florentine. When Grandma Betty took the train out to Hollywood in her youth — a journey that inspired me to do the exact same — she spent a night on the town here.

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How wonderful it was to see, I love making these connections.

But now it was time for the Museum of Death!

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Reader, it was not what I expected. It was completely overwhelming and awful and deeply interesting. The museum is densely packed with memorabilia and the crowds shuffle slowly through the stuffy rooms. It adds to the intensity of the moment. The first room featured the artwork of serial killers. This was disturbing, and yet I couldn’t help but wonder about these people and their artistry. Some are terrible and some are utterly fabulous. It reminded me of the Museum of Criminal Anthropology in Turin, Italy. There was a room dedicated to the arts and crafts of the criminally insane. It was terrifying. This was much the same. And I had to wonder what would happen if these killers had pursued art instead of slaughter, much like Hitler who was a mediocre watercolorist. Odd.

The next gallery displayed a severed human head, which is something I never thought I would see. It was particularly fascinating because in addition to being some serial killer’s dismembered cranium, he was the victim of the guillotine. I’ve always considered myself Parisian, since I lived there to attend pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu, and every time I’m near the Place de la Concorde, I can’t help but wonder what it was like to watch somebody get their head lopped off. Awful, but it drew tremendously large crowds. Humanity does love violence.

I noted the name of the guy who had his head in a cloche so that I could learn more about him. Turns out he had quite a history. His name was Henri Landru and was also called Bluebeard for reasons I don’t know. He would publish ads in the papers saying that he was a comfortably positioned widow looking to meet other widows so that they could marry. He wasn’t ugly, allegedly, and he managed to lure a score of ladies to his lodging where he wooed them, took all the valuables he could from them, killed them, and then burned the bodies in his kitchen oven. He even killed the son of one of his victims. It was a bizarre story. It was hard to catch him at first because the police didn’t find the remains of any of he victims. He must have had quite a powerful oven. Awful.

To me, the most disturbing area was that dedicated to cults. The owners of the museum have a tremendous amount of items from Heaven’s Gate. This story freaks me out. Cults in general disturb me tremendously so I don’t research them. I don’t understand how people can give up their own autonomy and give their faith in a leader that they see as divine. This isn’t the same scenario in every cult, but there is a cult mentality. Scientology is often called a cult, and it’s hard to argue either side of that belief, but this is the reason that it weirds me out. It was unsettling to see recreations of the bunk beds where people willingly killed themselves to unshackle themselves from their fleshy prisons and join their alien overlords. I mean, can you imagine? Life is too much fun to join a cult. I guess I just don’t have the behavior characteristics that would make me want to join or lead such an organization.

I really did enjoy a room dedicated to mortuary science. This is a field that fascinates me. I once considered being a mortician, but I never did pursue the mortuary sciences. I got distracted by my intention to make the best baguette in the world which sent me to France. I don’t regret not readying corpses for cemeteries. But still it was great to see the tools and the methodologies of corpse preservation. It was modern day mummification, which is probably why it intrigued me so much. Televisions around the room were playing educational videos on embalming. It was insane. Bodies are just piles of meat.

The last thing that has really stuck around with me since leaving and which continues to haunt my memories, is the huge number of images that were framed and displayed. There were pictures that are rarely seen from the Black Dhalia killing. Images of the corpses of President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe are viewable, though their validity is questioned. Less well-known deaths are there. I was horrified by one set that was taken of the crime by the murderers showcasing themselves cutting a body up. It was dark.

And the whole place was just creepy. I couldn’t help but wonder about the people wandering through the crowded rooms with me. Were they disturbed or delighted? Were they killers? Were they seeking inspiration? Were they finding it? I shudder at the thought.

There was one gentleman in particular who worried me. He was indescribably plain with curly hair and wore sandals. I can’t recall his face now, but there was an intensity in his eyes that made me wary. I was in a very small room alone with him for a spell, and I felt so uncomfortable. He could well have been the nicest person in the world, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I studied him out of the corner of my eye as I was pretending to look at pictures from car wrecks — awful, by the way — and I watched him look at the pictures with what I can only call a loving devotion. I did not like him. I later saw him sitting in a parked car just staring out in the distance, which was perhaps one of the most unsettling encounters I’ve ever had — and I’ve had machine guns pointed at me on two separate occasions.

Inevitably I began wondering and speculating…how many killers have I been in a room with? I’ve seen something about this on the Internet before. It was something like statistically you’ll encounter at least two serial killers in your life. What a traumatizing idea! Hopefully it’s something like them being your waiter at Applebee’s and not your boyfriend who’s chopping your leg off. I’m done with this topic now.

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Recovering. 

The Museum of Death was fascinating and I highly recommend a visit if this is something that intrigues you. However, if you are a sensitive soul or somebody who is easily disturbed by the darker sides of humanity, give it a pass!

To lighten the mood, Pam and I visited the La Brea Tarpits. This is one of the iconic tourist destinations in Los Angeles. On my first visit, I went to see one of the pits, which was interesting, but I never bothered going to the museum. It was quite interesting and you could see replicas of all the fossils scientists had excavated from the pits. I also discovered that this would be, quite possibly, the worst place to be a researcher. The tar sticks to everything. I don’t even know where I picked it up, but as we were walking from pit to pit, I found the skin on my palm to be feeling odd. It was covered in tar! This did not wash off easily and I spent an incredible amount of time scrubbing my hands in a public restroom — not recommended, by the way.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around town, but there are few things that I find more delicious or exciting. I’ll simply never be over Hollywood. There’s always a new street to explore, a mew coffee shop to sample, a new museum or something to see. So it’s never dull. And I love to pick apartment buildings and dream of living there. Such as these:

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When we were walking along Santa Monica, I admired a building that looked like it was done in the Egyptian Renaissance architectural style, so I had to stand there ogling it for a spell. As my eyes scanned the area, I noticed what looked like a movie studio, and something in my historical oriented mind clicked. This was familiar to me. I saw the scene in front of me in black and white. With a thrill, I googled what I thought was in front of me, and my suspicions were confirmed. This was Desilu.

Do you know what that means, reader? Do you know how exciting that is for me? Desilu was the studio of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. This is where I Love Lucy was filmed! For my sister and I, this show has been a staple of our personal comedic brand since we were very young. It’s probably the greatest sitcoms of all time. It is timeless and the jokes will be funny until the end of days. Nothing is better than watching Lucy in one of her ridiculous situations. I was utterly delighted.

Nighttime fell and I had to head out to my usual haunts. I wandered all around town, gazing up lovingly at the Chateau Marmont,

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avoiding cars that tried to hit me, sipping martinis at Musso and Frank,

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and living my best life. If I lived there, I would be broke, but I would be so full of life.

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A soundstage very near our apartment.

Before I left, I had to return to Schwartz Bakery on Beverly Boulevard. This is my favorite bakery in Los Angeles, and other than the one my best friend owns and operates, this is my favorite bakery in the nation. I’ve described it lovingly to you every time I visit, and this trip was no less special. I ordered my cookies, I thanked the old woman that I worship in Yiddish, and then she told me something fabulous. It summarized my life. “Are you happy today? Good. You should be happy.”

I cry at the remembrance. She is such a character, such an icon. Like the woman at Miss Manon in Paris, this old Jewish woman is Los Angeles for me. It’s a city with a tough exterior, but once you get to know her, she has a heart of gold.

I packed my bag up with melancholy, but I wasn’t too depressed. Los Angeles was always going to be there waiting, and besides, I had a brand new adventure to go on in a few hours. I was going to Mexico! I didn’t know I was about to fall madly in love with that strange new world.

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