Urban Desert

Getty Cactuses and LA Skyscrapers

Los Angeles can feel like an urban desert.  Things are far apart, and people are ambitious in a way that makes it hard to break the ice sometimes.  Having a dog helps, but it’s taken me awhile to get my nerve up to try some of the things that I know are out there.

For my birthday, my aunt was visiting from Northern California, and we went to LACMA.  Yesterday, H and I finally went to the Getty.

It is an Urban Oasis.

Unlike many other art museums I’ve been to, LA museums seem to be an EVENT in and of themselves.  I’m not sure if it is because of the climate, or because the ones I’ve visited are on somewhat isolated campuses.

The gardens at the Getty are beautiful and labyrinthine, and the little wheeled cable-car that goes up the hillside turn the whole thing into an adventure, like a visit to Cercedilla.

The courtyard vibrates with energy, and people sit and chat in the breezes next to fountains.  The whole thing is enclosed by the views of city and ocean.  I say enclosed because the location makes it seem wrapped in the surroundings rather than exposed to them.  Maybe it’s the way the courtyards are stacked and interwoven with smallish buildings.  Maybe it’s the way the carven rock walls jut out here and there.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why looking at pre-Renaissance paintings was more inspirational yesterday that it has been for me for years.  But I felt some of my old attraction for the slightly stilted paintings in egg tempera on gold ground.  And even more for the hyper detailed Flemish and Dutch trompe l’œil panels.

Plus the collection is pretty impressive.  A few paintings each by Rembrandt and Titian, plus a lot of unusual more minor painters.  A couple by Bruegel and Van Dyck.  Although it was surrounded by a group of sketchers, I thought I spotted a Caravaggio.  A smaller collection than some, but full of stellar beauties.  It makes me wish I’d spent more time at the Prado when I lived in Madrid.

Instead of riding the tram down the hill, we walked.  Seeing the encinos with their little bellotas* reminded me of walking in the hills of Segovia with W,C, & B.  It provided a nice few moments to process all the visual input of the previous two hours.

Visiting museums, especially places like this, brings out lively ideas in my mind.  Museums activate me and spur me to look more closely at the world, at myself, and at what I can do.

*The Spanish always insisted that they were acorns, and since I’d never seen an encino in the US until I moved to California, I’m not sure that is the correct word, though bellota is an acorn on an oak as well.  


Flower from a mini Palm tree

California is really an amazing place.  There is such a wide variety of plants, that I’m still finding new ones, or at least seeing them in a different season, they look different.

There’s the trees that are green in summer, but that in the late winter sprout enormous red buds that stand out from the end of ham-fisted branches.  There’s the ones that look like bottle brushes in bloom, and have crazy baubles hanging when the red stamens that make up the brush fall out.  There’s the trees that have smooth fluffy bark.  There’s the wide variety of palms, succulents and yucca.

The other day on my walk with Sydney, these primeval pine-cone blooms or sprouts struck me.  They remind me of a bird about to uncoil its wings.

Seeing them, I imagine some remarkable bracelets that are stacked beads like this, giant oddly shaped peyote stitch, or just stacked and couched beads sewn down to a cloth.  I can imagine a crazy folded skirt, with pleats sewn up like this to add texture.  I can also see these used as a roller in ink, to make mono prints.

Their texture is impressive.  And the shock between the dark green leaves and the light colored stamens (or sprouts?) is quite striking as well.  It says, “Come land on me, butterflies and bees, I’m full of nectar.”

It wasn’t just one of these but about 10 planted on the corner of a corner lot.  I’d seen them without the blooms, and wasn’t impressed, but with these accents in late spring, I can understand why the owner planted them.