Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles" by David L. Ulin

ISBN: 978-0-520-27372-6 University of California Press

"Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles" by David L. Ulin


As a life-long citizen of Los Angeles, I have always loved it here, because here is not here till I'm "here."   This is a place where your imagination can run down the entire Sunset boulevard.  Los Angeles is endlessly fascinating, and never-ending.  For one, whatever mood you're in, one can just hop on a bus, and let it take you to a foreign part of the world.  The beauty of this location is that it has endless possibilities of landscapes that come and go.  There are so many languages spoken throughout this metropolis, one can easily become an outsider, even though you were born and lived here for your entire life.  Not only can I invent a new identity, but everyone here would accept that aspect of my or our lives.  

There are countless books on the culture of Los Angeles, meaning its people as well as its architecture, and a lot of them just go "huh?"    For me, the confusion is the thing, and also makes Los Angeles the most unique city in the world.   David L. Ulin's homage and study of Los Angeles, "Sidewalking" is one version of a New Yorker coming to terms with the city of illusions.  An enjoyable book.   It is very much like sitting down at the top of the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and chatting about why we are here and even more important, what is here, exactly.  

All urban areas change.  Sometimes one cannot notice the change, but believe me, change is happening under your nose.  Los Angeles on the other hand, one can physically see the changes taking place as it happens.  Walking Sunset Boulevard a month ago, is so different now.   New structures are being put up, and even one can notice a different accent or language in the neighborhood.  And make no mistake about the neighborhood.  Los Angeles is a city that for sure has a center and a west coast view of the Pacific ocean.   It expands like a wild weed growing in an industrial park.   Ulin captures the changes that took place in Los Angeles, and meditates on what those changes mean to the Los Angeles citizen and beyond.   He mostly focuses on his neighborhood in the Wilshire Miracle Mile, but also the Grove (outside shopping complex), and Downtown.   As a fellow citizen of this town, I can see his point of view quite clearly.   What he says is perfectly true.  "The Darkroom" structure on Wilshire is for sure a masterpiece storefront.  The theme driven architecture of the early part of the 20th century is very much in the blood of this city.  Sadly, not only that era is gone, but so are the buildings.  Nevertheless there is the idea of parks being built that are actually shopping centers - such as the Americana and the Grove.  They're not fenced in, and gives the illusion that they are public spaces, but in fact very much a private property landscape for the consumer and the retail world. 

So as a fellow who likes to wander around his neighborhood (Silverlake, Echo Park, Hollywood, and parts of Glendale) I can fully understand Ulin's take on his part of the world as well.   Each chapter of the book is very self-contained, so in a sense this book's theme is Los Angeles, but one can separate the chapter from the book.  Very much like the city itself.  Which is its beauty and charm, just like "Sidewalking." 

- Tosh Berman

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