Katsuya, by Philip Stark. I’ve driven by this restaurant on Vine and Hollywood Boulevard countless times, and never even thought about going there. It just looks too expensive… the dresses worn by the women, the cars driven by the men… it’s not something you can afford if you are working two jobs and struggling to make it to the end of the month.
I’m at home, relaxed, reading a script, ready to go to bed. My roommate Tom is getting ready to go out. I ask him where. He says: Katsuya, you wanna come? I think to myself: I’m not going, it’s too expensive… fuck it, I’ve seen that place too many times, I might as well spend all the savings I don’t have dinning there, at least once.
An hour later we show up, late, but very well dressed. Two girls and a gay couple are already there, waiting for us. We get in. Its’s fancy, but not that fancy… It’s expensive, but not that expensive… I look at the menu and I feel slightly afraid, but I also think I may survive the bill. However, it’s a Japanese restaurant, so when we start ordering everybody gets two or three courses, plus the dirty martinis that are already circulating around the table… and the rest of the martinis that are coming after them… At that point I think to myself: fuck it, we are probably going to en up splitting the bill evenly anyway, so I might as well keep up with those martinis and lobster rolls… By the end of the dinner I’m drunk and really worried about the bill. One of the girls goes to the bathroom and when she comes back she says: “Ok guys, let’s go! Everything is taken care of”. What? Did she really pay the ginormous bill? Yes. Ok. I thank her effusively and move on to our next stop, the W hotel, where the gay couple actually lives.
While we are having drinks at the spacious lobby of the hotel, one of the guys approaches me to say that I would look much better without dreadlocks. I kind of saw that coming… but what surprises me a little more is when he tells me that I would also look much better without my mustache, and that with it, I look like a rapist. Nice.
I ask him about his life, how did he end up living at the W with a guy almost 20 years younger than him… He tells me that he grew up in Scotland, that his father was an alcoholic, and that he left as soon as possible because he had nothing to do there. “Now I live in one of the best hotels in LA with the Johnas Brothers and Justin Timberlake, and nothing compares to that”. He proudly pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of the sunset from the swimming pool at the rooftop. He is absolutely right; LA is the perfect place for someone like him.
I look around me. All I see is people posing. A cult to image. Hollywood. The topic has finally won. I don’t belong here, I have a background, I didn’t have to burn my ships anywhere before arriving to LA. Mine is a story of trying to go beyond image, and I need to believe there is something more than facade… At that point I realize it’s time to leave, and I tell that to the Scottish guy, who doesn’t care, and afterwards I tell my roommate, who does care. We go out, have a whisky on the rocks, smoke a cigarette and go through the year and a half we’ve lived together in this city of angels. I see that LA has been good to me, and I love her, but it’s time to move on.
After work I often go to the LACMA, it’s free every day after 5 for residents. I spot a Duchamp and a Picasso, one after the other. I think about the repercussion of their work in the XXth century art, which has been enormous. Picasso, one of the most prolific artists ever, and Duchamp, the absoulte opposite. The Frenchman however, spent all his time thinking about his artistic moves. Meliton, the man who used to play chess with him in Cadaquès, once told me that the conceptual artist was always taking notes while playing, and it was in his Café where he conceived the “Don’t forget: Marcel Duchamp”.
I’ve always been amazed by the fact that some people seem to be able to go through life doing almost nothing, just giving a few ticks to the direction of their boats, whereas others have to be changing it all the time… Who has more merit, the Lumière brothers by simply putting a camera in front of a factory, or Georges Méliès creating elaborate fantasy worlds on the moon and under the sea? Do you really have to think a lot to be able to get by doing almost nothing? Or does it take as much rational as it takes practical effort to create a great body of work? Is it just a matter of mental strength and contempt to be on the conceptual side? An intuitive (and elusive) answer would be: try not to have too many ideas… compartmentalize your psyche.
Ellsworth Kelly, not an artist I’m particularly fond of, has a huge space dedicated to his paintings at the LACMA. I walk by his exposition rather quick and accidentally hear a few words from a video about him: “Creating art is like making yogurt, you have to apply the same formula in new contexts”. I probably completely misunderstood his words, but however misguided I may be, I think that they make quite a lot of sense. Artistic creation has a lot to do with sticking to one’s own principles and being consequent, which Kelly certainly does. I don’t really connect with his sense of aesthetics, but I have the utmost respect for him.
Before leaving the museum I visit the bookstore, where I find a wonderful catalogue of all Cy Twombly’s complete works. There are a few volumes, each of them several hundred pages long. I end up spending the whole evening there. I scan each of the paintings, I reconstruct Twombly’s quest for the minimal expression, his constant over posing of lawyers of white paint, his contained force. There’s always something about to explode on the canvas, and also enough space for the detonation, that’s why his paintings have a cosmic quality. No wander why many of his themes are dedicated to spring… and to the classics, that endless source of inspiration, of archetypes and mythology.
Ajax, Achilles, Diomedes hang out in his cosmology with total freedom, ultra-revolutionized and with complete freedom to let their instincts go. Twombly’s work is somewhat idyllic, even utopist, it accepts the crudeness of existence as something inherent to it, and it celebrates that circumstance in a nietszchean way… He also made yogurt, he applied the same aesthetic cosmogony to flowers and men, because after all we are not so different. As Homer might have recited: “Like the leaves, such is the nature of men”.
Be a man, and a child again, but a wise one, a child who once visited manhood and came back… The concept of “manning up” is still bothering me, the same as “toughening up”. Why? Why not “noble up”? Why do people need to push you and explore the limits of your endurance… and on top of it, the moment you show character they suddenly shut up, and even retract themselves. It is an absurd game, primitive, testosteronic, that’s why I want to go back to childhood, innocence, to the good will of the person who trusts, because believes in other people’s nobility. A mature naïveté, a doct ignorance from where to appeal the others’ categorical imperative. Noble up ladies and gentlemen, noble up!
It’s another sunny day in LA. As I drive to work I listen to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I start Chapter 7 and suddenly: “it was a cold night and I thought a man would die if he slept out there. I thought about how lonely he would feel looking at the stars, so cold…”. The feeling of darkness and coldness is nothing but accentuated by the contrast with such a warm and bright day. I can’t help thinking about Kant, and his amazement for the shining stars above his head and the moral law inside his chest. The warmth of the moral law seems so helpless compared to the vastness of the universe and how lost we are in it. Only us humans can make this world a place worth living at, even though the external conditions are often against us.
Morality is such a fuzzy concept though… it takes so little to question the fundaments of any principle, that the only real question is: Why are we even moral? Or at least tend to be? The ethical principles don’t really matter, most people will easily agree on them, the Golden Rule… But why do we want to be good? That’s the real question.
Just a few days ago I red an article about E. O. Wilson’s biologically-based moral theories in which human morality is approached from an adaptive perspective. We are moral because the individuals with tendency to help their group have survived, therefore, it must be an evolutionary quality, particularly in islands and blood-related groups… But the paradox comes when one realizes that there is no pure altruism or morality whatsoever if the group’s survival also benefits the individual’s welfare, and at the end, altruistic acts are ultimately egoistic in a twisted way. The good Samaritan can wash an unknown person’s feet, but that action may be inscribed in her genes, and on top of it, regulated by her religion…. This will sound so megalomaniac that it’s making me blush just to think about it, but I would suggest Kant to modify his epitaph for: “there are two things that have always amazed me: the stars above my head and the paradox inside my brain”.
Today I feel too good… I’m getting shitfaced:
1- Ainoa’s party. West Hollywood. Everybody wears fake mustaches. I wear my own, home grown. Loud Spaniards + smoking outside = Police. I fall on the kitchen’s floor trying to open a beer and, as a consequence, I hurt my back really bad. Huge bruise. About an hour later, I fall again, this time knocking down a table full of drinks. A big mess on the tile wood floor. I give up and go to sleep in the first bed I find. Next day I wake up at the living room couch, with two more people.
2- A friend of a friend’s party. West Hollywood again. Huge terrace with views all over LA, including the Variety building, where I was working just a couple hours before that. The party ends soon, but the drunken elite takes refuge in Julian’s apartment, somewhere in Koreatown. Much more beer and whisky are poured and we end up singing like hooligans. Final image of the night: Jon trying to feed beer to the tiger printed on Julian’s t-shirt.
3- My farewell party: Carnapau. We spontaneously came up with that “concept” at the previous party. The next day Julian set up the event on Facebook, and then Xavi designed the poster. Result: my house, which is huge, almost out of capacity. Many of the people I have met in the last year and a half are there, which makes me so happy that I can’t stop drinking, smoking and talking. Many people I don’t know show up too, and the party gets slightly out of control. The police shows up and they hang out around the corner for the rest of the night. The party culminates in the living room eating very spicy rice with my roommates… I dropped half of the bottle of Korean hot sauce while cooking. We are surrounded by beer bottles, everywhere.
3.1- Next day, an intense headache wakes you up but it is partially diluted by the great feeling of satisfaction left by the Carnapau. The hangover drills your brain and you spend all day in bed going over the episode of your life lived in LA… the little room full of light, from which you can see the street through the palm trees in front of the window, reminds you of your previous apartment, which also felt like a spacecraft… All those moments of whiteness and sun come back to you, moments in which you were satisfied with life, almost happy, and all you could think of was: let yourself be. All that Samuel Barber music in repeat, the endless Adagio for strings… and that thick white carpet where you used to lie down all the time… All the time you spent reading El Quijote by the swimming pool, and then went running, and then to the gym, feeling “mens sana in corpore sana” for once in your life, getting a little closer to the Greeks… “Let yourself be, things will find their way”, you used to think, “life is good, it all will eventually make sense”. Remember how far you were from the Pau you are now? You lived in a limbo…
I leave those memories behind and return to the room. I drag my body to the kitchen to get some water. Aside from some isolated destruction here and there, it looks like the house kept its original structure after the Armageddon… I drink some water and as I walk back to bed trying not to hit any of the bottles that cover all the flat surfaces, I think about how lucky I was, not only for the party, but also for having sealed both my jobs with a beautiful hallmark. I then remember a Spanish proverb that goes like: “bien está lo que bien acaba”, which means that if something ends well, it was good. That makes me feel extremely privileged to have bidden farewell to this city surrounded by the people I love, the people I’ll miss, and the people who after all, made it all worth. As in any film, the ending is the most important part, it infuses meaning to the rest of the story… I have the impression that LA has been a good catharsis, and I’m grateful for that.
In my last day, I promise myself I will walk from the Kodak Theater to the beach. 12 miles… Come on! You can do it!
My roommate Sam drives me to the Kodak Theater and drops me off there. I suddenly become aware that I have like six hours of walking ahead of me, and ask myself why am I doing that… Because that’s how I want to remember the city, by it’s real dimension. Forrest style.
The first thing I see is a bunch of people dressed up as all characters imaginable: Batman, Superman, Power Rangers, Cat Woman, Michael Jackson… all asking for money in exchange for pictures. I see the Chinese, the Capitan and the Egyptian theater, I remember the closing party of the Latino Film Festival celebrated there, the premieres of Herzog’s Into the Abyss and Von Tier’s Melancholia, both at the LA Film Festival… and just a few blocks away, the Roosevelt Hotel where I snuck in after the last two Oscars ceremonies.
I keep walking, in a slow pace and with Haendel’s Sarabande playing in my head, as in Barry Lyndon. It’s a good melody to walk on Sunset Boulevard. I hit the Chateau Marmont and the Sky Bar, with its huge static doors. In both places I’ve been partying with my suit. The Standard Hotel and The Andaz, where I once had a glass of white wine by the swimming pool at the top floor, with splendid views of LA. Next, the House of Blues goes by, the Laugh Factory, the Key Club, Whisky a Go Go, Roxy, Rainbow… more memories…
Then I head downhill till I come across the Ivy, the mythical restaurant where famous people go when they want to be seen. Santa Monica Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Sprinkles Cupcakes, with its usual long line outside… the really expensive shops and cars… And I keep on going, I’m already pretty far, but there’s still a long run left. As I get deeper into Beverly Hills, the already low density of the city decreases and there’s much less to see, except for palm trees and beautiful gardens. I pass by the Four Seasons, the CAA Building, the Electric Fountain and the Beverly Hilton, where I went to an awesome white party last spring… and where Whitney Huston died just a few months ago.
I take a little break sitting on a bench under some trees in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. By then I already accept that I won’t make it to Santa Monica before sunset, so I take my time and start walking again, slower, to the rhythm Profokiev’s Dance of the Knights. I pass by a couple of parks, UCLA and Culver City, without ever stopping. Since I don’t care about how late it gets, I do a little detour to buy an ice cream at the Sweet Rose Creamery, one of the best I in town. Two scoops: Salty caramel, and vanilla with cookies and orange. Good snow…
It’s already dark and I still have more than an hour ahead before I arrive to the beach. I walk San Vicente Boulevard, which is almost pitch black. It’s a residential area all the way to the sea, so there’s almost no light and I eat my ice cream alone in the dark… Walking in the middle of the night I think about my journey throughout Arizona and New Mexico following Coronado, the first Spanish explorer who set up an expedition from Mexico to North America looking for el Dorado, and finally got completely lost. I remember that month of April spent driving through inhospitable lands in the Mid West, completely lost, sometimes sleeping in the car, sometimes driving in the dark… Not only Coronado, but also Cabeza de Vaca, Carbillo, Alvarado, Cardenas laying eyes on the Grand Canyon… After more than three years roaming around the US I feel closer to those explorers than I ever did before. Probably because I’m about to start a new adventure soon, another journey towards the unknown.
The final apotheosis comes when I cross a bridge over the PCH and go down to the beach. There, I take my shoes off and get into the water. I feel like a little kid, playing with the sand… the kid that I wasn’t being able to see in me anymore.