Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In the Canyons

LA has been described many ways - usually by people who hate it - but here's my version: LA is like a large Japanese teahouse. Each community, each industry, each ethnic group, is a room. While you're in one, you're vaguely aware that the others exist, but it isn't until you wander the hallways that you get glimpses into these other universes that co-exist in time and space with yours. When you meet someone, you connect to all the other universes they touch, and you are their bridge to your worlds. The trick is to keep roaming the hallways and making those connections - because they can transport you to entire galaxies you never guessed existed without ever taking you out of LA.

Last Saturday, I was invited to a party in the hills south of Pasadena. It's been years since I've been into those canyons. It is a different world. A different LA.

In the canyon, at what I hoped was the right place, I found modest sign beside a nearly invisible flight of stairs. After a moment of doubt, I climbed the stairs and found myself on a steep, winding trail that supposedly lead to a house. The trail was lit by dim tubing, and halfway up (at least I hoped I was halfway up by then) I started wondering if perhaps it was a practical joke. There were some scary drop-offs from the side, and no handrail - a good reminder to be sober when I came back down the trail. A couple turn-backs later, around thick California underbrush, I found a house.

I'd met one of the hosts at the Hollywood Book Fair. He's been a music critic and the editor of a fitness magazine. Other guests included a singer, several poets, and some academics who also write, in their words, "Everything." This is the artistic side of LA, a side I seldom get to see. The movie industry overwhelms all the other arts, but they are here. This time I got lucky and looked into the right room of the teahouse at the right time.

It was fun to sit on the floor and drink wine while people read poetry to me, or sang, or offered a performance art work-in-progress. Creative people have such energy around them and I soak it in. Writers I love most, but all arts feed other arts, so it's good to connect with the creators of other artistic worlds and get a new perspective on the world - theirs and mine.

I need to keep an eye out for this niche and delve into it more often. It's probably everywhere around me. I just need to be more receptive to the signs. Or maybe I'll get lucky and friends will keep pointing to narrow trails leading to the hidden houses where artistic LA lives.

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