Over the years, I have had more than one East Coast acquaintance imply that Los Angeles "Just doesn't have culture." I hated to admit they might be right. Sitting on the 405 freeway, I looked around and saw droves of other people sitting in cars that simultaneously balanced a Starbucks Mocha Fudge, Frappiccino concoction and an overly loud cell phone conversation at the same time with a thumping bass line in the background in gridlocked traffic. I asked myself, "Is this culture?
I would then later find myself in a yoga class stretching my cares away on a piece of purple foam rubber, known as a yoga mat, surrounded by organically driven health conscious people who would later indulge in yet another Mocha latte backed by a green tea shooter. Was this culture?
With the Los Angeles culture debate in mind, I just recently attended an event that may truly reflect what California culture, and perhaps US culture, is all about. I attended Pagan Day Fest at Whittier Narrows just 20 minutes outside of Los Angeles. It is exactly what you might imagine. Men wearing black kilts and women wearing purple velvet dresses and pale face make up. Tarot cards were read and wands to make Harry Potter proud were sold. Conversation swirled off earthly planes and chili dogs were available at the snack stand brought everyone back to the material universe. Druids, Wiccans, Ceremonialists, and Chaos Magicians abound and performed ritual.
While it would be too easy to simply make judgments about the folks who actively live a Pagan lifestyle, most people I met at Pagan Day Fest are just nice. They do what we most of us do: go to work, pay taxes, and obey the laws of this country. Mostly they choose to express themselves, via freedom of expression, by honoring life by a hybrid of new and old traditions. I allowed myself to take nothing too seriously and, most importantly, had fun. Then I weaved my way home through Koreatown, Chinatown, Olvera Street, and Little Armenia.
I thought about how Los Angeles is home to 140 different languages and I can walk out my front door and enjoy the tastes of Ethiopian, Thai, Cuban, Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Jamaican food within a couple blocks whenever I want. There are more choices if I am willing to walk a little further.
So what is the culture in Los Angeles? Is it prepubescent street vendors selling maps to stars homes or the guy who dresses up like Darth Vader in front of Mann's Chinese Theater or the lack of 15th Century Gothic Cathedrals? Hard to say. If I had to guess, I would call it a culture of tolerance, where those 140 languages, great world food, and Pagan festivals can all thrive together.
It pains me to admit this, but when I had first envisioned In The Know Traveler, I never considered offering stories about the United States. How could I be so unpatriotic? I suppose I have gotten used to all of the charms and diversity that surround me. I forgot how easy and open Los Angeles is. I forgot that Los Angeles culture is real and worth exploring.
Written and photography by Devin Galaudet
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Interesting story… as a transplant from the Northeast I question Los Angeles’ cultureâ€”or lack there ofâ€”often. Sure, there are too many cellphones, plastic surgeons and more latte-jacked Bentley drivers than anywhere else in the world; sometimes it is hard to understand the city’s pointless preoccupation with style, “hotness” and money.
As you mentioned, there is also the side of Los Angeles that is real. The rich heritage of so many cultures, all mashed together and for the most part, living in some sort of harmony. The people that don’t drive Bentleys or live in iron-gated fortresses, those that actually get out and hike, surf, swim, dive, eat great food from all over the world, and try to broaden their horizons and those around them. This is Los Angeles’ true culture.
As a transplant, I find the toughest thing about LA is the lack of a city focus; there is no Central Park, Wrigley Field, or Fisherman’s Wharf. “Pop culture” eclipses the side of Los Angeles that is full of internationalism, great architecture, art, music, film and outdoor splendor. But maybe a central place is unnecessary: maybe Los Angeles is an amalgamation of city-states that thrive independently within the bigger context of “LA”, and in that, it is like living in a mini-Europe with so many opportunities for free culture right here under our noses.
I would agree. However, I think there a few good focal points: Farmer’s Market, Mann’s Chinese Theater, and the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art are all good stops.