Los Angeles

I would have appreciated the 90 degree weather a bit more had I known that a few days after we returned from a weekend in Los Angeles, Portland would find itself in the middle of a "true Portland winter". I'm talking about clouds so thick and dark that my once thriving paperwhites--buds formed and flowers about to burst out--are now starting to yellow around their leaf tips, seeking a non-existent sun.

Each day follows a similar course: a completely pitchblack morning sky gives way to a grey, rainy, and often windy mid-day, only to fade to black well before dinner time. Winter is obviously a necessary season--not only does it give plants, trees and maybe even humans a chance to slow down, decompress, and hibernate, it makes those spring tulip and daffodil bulbs that are currently nestled in the soggy soil all the more important and mesmerizing when they do bloom.

I'm not interested in trading Portland's four seasons, and all of the fantastic plants and foods that thrive here, for Southern California's sun, cacti and succulents. But of course it felt good to be wandering around Los Angeles (in between long bouts of sitting in our rental car) in steamy heat, dressed in light weight clothes and having to remember to apply sunscreen. I'd never visited Los Angeles before, but after a lifetime of media saturation about and from this city, I was curious to see if my apprehension of too many cars and too much "fake" could be moderated with a closer look at the city's culture and reality.

We were in the city to visit a few Portland friends who moved there in early July. In between visits with them, we did our best to give ourselves a broad view--driving up to Griffith Observatory, going to Santa Monica and quickly putting our feet in the ocean, and driving downtown to marvel at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Central Market. As usual, we had a few bakeries and restaurants we wanted to visit, most notably Sqirl, a place that more than exceeded my already high expectations. We also had a chance to check out a newly opened bakery called Lodge Bread in Culver City and grab coffee at the truly friendly and delicious G & B Coffee in Grand Central as well as Silver Lake's Dinosaur Coffee. Our friends live in West Hollywood, so one night we also drove down Sunset Boulevard, almost immediately passing the Chauteau Marmont.

I left LA with mixed feelings: on one hand, we had truly incredible experiences at the places I already detailed. And the sun! And ocean! But, we must have sat in the rental car for hours. And despite getting around to much of the city, we never walked much. The weekend felt like a collection of sporadic experiences that I've now merged in my head as a cohesive LA. I do believe that much of LA culture is unsustainable and image-focused--but I also believe there are many regular people living, working, and pursuing their passions, which makes LA an enigma that bears a repeat visit.