A Week in the Golden City


Entering L.A. on the 10 from the desert

I just spent a week in Los Angeles. On my own without E or J. It was my first trip outside of Montana since July 2014 unrelated to the death of my mother and father (I don’t count my parents’ funerals, nor clearing out their house as a break). This trip was about taking time out to think, to walk, to see the desert, to glut on art and sushi, to stare at the ocean and to catch up with friends. I hadn’t realised how crucial a week away can be if the timing, the geography and the company are just right. I returned to Missoula restored, not just to my middle-aged self, but to another much younger self. The twenty-something self who didn’t plan much and ended up in strange situations often with strangers.



Some classic Los Angeles fonts










So it was that I managed to go to East Jesus in Slab City, Salvation Mountain, the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach with a friend who is as mad on Outsider Art as I am. We also went to Palm Springs which is a bit like Vegas minus the gambling but just as surreal. No one should ever golf in the desert. Another friend took me to the most perfect rooftop bar in Downtown LA where we watched the sun bounce off the buildings before sliding behind the montains and where someone bought me a beer because he had knocked my bottle over and a tiny dribble fell out (“I need to buy you another one”, he insisted, “you lost at least three sips!”). I visited Pitzer College where my Outsider Art friend teaches the History of Sport, and where I found out he is a proper, serious, generous writer (how did I not know this?) and where he gave me a copy of one of his books (thank you David). And I walked to Santa Monica pier from my friend Alex’s apartment—a friend whom I have known for almost 25 years who has seen me—we have seen each other—though some difficult life situations. And I got time with another London friend who worked in the Film Shop in East London with me. We nerded out on films and I got to hear about her work and her life full of push and pull in the Golden City.


The brutal Modernist lines of the Getty Center


Flowering cacti in the garden of the Getty Center


Ring-necked doves on the roof of The Museum of Jurassic Technology







The LA Farmer’s market with its perfectly coiffed dogs

And I went to the desert with my friend at Pitzer College and a mutual friend of ours whom I met almost twenty years ago on the very same picnic where I met my husband. And I finally got to Watts Towers which I have been wanting to see all my life, and I drank a perfect Mojito, and walked through Skid Row thinking it was like a demented, apocalyptic version of Dante’s Hell, where the friend from the picnic picked up a woman, who was lying on her back in her own vomit, so she wouldn’t choke. And I had a meeting with an editor at the LA Times who is wonderful and says nice things about my writing. It was a trip on the move, full of strange juxtapositions and contradictions, yet it was perfect, fluid, easy and a necessary reminder that life can be all these things.


hito steyerl

Hito Steyerl’s film, ‘Factory of the Sun’ at MOCA Downtown



The Broad Museum in downtown LA with its concrete navel

And I discovered a new writer called Eve Babitz. I started reading her book, Eve’s Hollywood while I was there. She says stuff like this: ‘Culturally, L.A. has always been a humid jungle alive with seething L.A. projects that I guess people from other places just can’t see. It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A., anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in L.A., to choose it and be happy here. When people are not happy, they fight against L.A. and say it’s a “wasteland” and other helpful descriptions.’ She is like a corporeal version of Joan Didion and her godfather was Stravinsky. She is my new literary  love.





Watts Towers created by the visionary artist Simon Rodia (1879-1965)



Santa Monica Pier





The Salton Sea


The picnic area at the Salton Sea



A mobile phone mast disguised as a palm tree at the Salton Sea



Salvation Mountain created by the visionary artist Leonard Knight (1931-2014)



A dance performance on Salvation Mountain. Below are some of the grottos with gifts left behind. The photo is of Christopher McCandless who spent time in Slab City before his fatal trip to Alaska.



















David with the copy of “In Cold Blood” he found in the desert.



Wall of TVs in East Jesus, Slab City



6 thoughts on “A Week in the Golden City

  1. Dinah

    Joanna, this is fantastic as always. It sounds as if you were there for a month! I love the photographs, my favourite of course being the three dogs. Dinah xx

    • Thank you dear D. When I was writing the piece (quickly, too quickly but I wanted to get it out) I realised that I really did so many things. Yet, it all just flowed so wonderfully easily! That white poodle was just so LA. xxxx

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