Sunday, July 16, 2006

Searching for Valentino

(As promised, Keziah)

Keziah Hill, an ERWA writer and member of staff, visited from Australia. I don't often get a chance to play tour guide. As fashionable as it is to despise LA, I love it here. Yes, it's a travesty of land management. Yes, if you want to find examples to prove up your worst opinions, you'll find them. Yes, it's crass, harsh, isolating, and unforgiving. So don't move here. But I will take you around when you visit.

The first thing I ask visitors is, "Which LA do you want to see?" It sounds like a silly question, but my vision of Los Angeles is that it's a series of parallel universes occupying the same space and time. There's natural wonders LA, queer LA, botanical LA, art LA, movie industry LA, Mexican LA, Japanese LA, Goth LA, Catholic LA, Historical re-enactment LA, theater LA, street hustler LA, beach city LA, academic LA, musical LA, roller coaster LA.... You can be so absorbed searching for one that you drive past all the rest and don't see them.

Lucky for me, Keziah was into the a la carte LA approach. A little tacky tourism, some art, a smattering of history, and a bit of other things. I like someone with a sense of adventure. And a sense of humor.

My plan was to take pick her up in Santa Monica, cruise PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Sunset, and then drive Sunset into Hollywood - which would have worked if I'd paid more attention and turned on PCH instead of 1st Street. So we got an unintended tour of the Santa Monica canyons and Brentwood, but eventually I got us back onto Sunset.

The city made a real effort to clean up Hollywood, so outside Grauman's Chinese Theater, and the Kodak Theater, was almost sanitary. I remember when it was the textbook definition of scummy. I kind of miss that. The place was packed with squeaky clean American families and tourists from around the world. Across the street is Disney's El Capitan, and they had their marquee tricked out for Pirates of the Caribbean. That got old fast, so we headed for our next stop on the tour.

I first heard about Hollywood Forever when a friend was running a political fundraiser. They set up an outdoor screen at the cemetery and showed a movie. People sat on blankets on the lawn. Kids ran around. Hot dogs and popcorn were eaten. Most Americans are aghast at the idea, but other cultures view cemeteries as places for the living too. I didn't make that fund raiser, but it stuck in my mind as a place to go, so when Keziah said she was up for it, I had to drag her there.

The cemetery is right next door to Paramount Studios, and it has an excellent view of the Hollywood sign, so it was worth going there just for that. I don't know why, but we picked Rudolph Valentino's crypt as our destination. We could have just as easily chosen Bugsy Siegel, or some other celebrity, but we were off to find Valentino.

I used to do some orienteering, and I'm a decent navigator, but the map we had just about defeated us. We hiked outside the huge building. I tried to recall footage I'd seen on the news of the ritual rose the mysterious lady in black used to bring to his grave. Memory told me that it was an outdoors mausoleum. We stepped over squishy newly laid sod (not a grave). Rudy, where are ya? It was 107 degrees. I was tempted to run through the sprinklers spritzing a vast lawn. A flock of ducks gave us an earful when we disrupted their nap. At some point, I realized I'd never even seen one of his movies, so traipsing around a cemetery under the midday sun without a hat or sunblock trying to find his final resting place was sheer lunacy, but that just made the quest into a mission. And damn it, I never fail at a mission! With burning determination, we continued our trek through the cemetery. In the distance, I saw a statue that looked like a guy holding a guitar, but we were in search of Valentino and would not turn from our task. Sweat skidding down my spine. Finally, the light dawned. Valentino didn't have a big mausoleum to himself. That news footage was a dramatic re-enactment - faked! We went inside the huge building. Under the filtered light of a Tiffany-esque window, on a white marble wall, a plaque with his name. And like all sagas, the quest was the thing, not the grail. In other words - total let down. Not even a rose.

We decided to check out the guitar player. Turned out to be Joey Ramone. I wished I had a guitar pick to place with the others in his hand.

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