Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 4 - USA and Mexico

And on the fourth day I was led by the hand of Delores - a 'docent' with the LA Metro. Well-versed in the facts, figures and tales from the underground, Delores took me on a fantastic adventure through the LA subway system for a morning. Each subway station is the collaborative work of the architect and artist. The creative intent was that each station would be an experience in 21st Century branding, where subway riders would recognise each stop by the light, the walls and the art, rather than a sign.

Which might get a little confusing for some. But 750,000 people use the subway each year travelling from Pasadena into 'Downtown' or Hollywood - whisked far below the gridlocked crust of the LA scene.

My favourite part was the lightbox displays in the Hollywood and Highland station. The photos were the work of American-Spanish artist couple Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz who created fantasy or controversial scenes in snowglobes and then photographed them. An excellent interview is here, explaining the thought behind some of the better known pieces.

It's fair to say that I fell in love with these.

After I said goodbye to Delores I traipsed off to Philippe's (pronounced 'Phil-eeps' in the french way). Philippe's is one of the oldest restaurants in Southern California and is home to the french-dipped sandwich. This local delicacy was created one day when Phillippe Mathieu, the original owner, was making a meat-filled baguette sandwich for a customer, and accidentally dropped the bread into a roasting pan with a layer of juices, straight from the oven. The customer said he would take the sandwich anyway. The next day he returned for another 'french-dipped' sandwich, and the day after brought more friends to try the new taste sensation. But on that day in 2009, the cold, grisly sandwich I ate was not so much taste sensation as taste disappointment. I sat amongst families and colleagues and friends all catching up over the wooden tables, in the hectic diner, with sawdust on the floor, and gulped down as much as I could eat of it. An older couple shared the wooden bench with me, and I saw that the lady had chosen potato salad over the french-dipped sandwich which may have been the wiser choice.

After lunch I felt the magnetic pull of Hollywood and used my $8 all-day subway superpass to go back to the Hollywood and Highland intersection - also home to the Ripley's Believe it or not Museum.

Seems there's one of these in almost every major city I have been to in Europe and the US. And I had written them off as being tourist traps. But one tourist's trap is another's temptation and I was happily lost in the kitsch world of Robert Ripley for quite a few hours. He was an explorer of the old-school genre, made popular by characters like Indiana Jones. And while he was more buck-toothed than whip-cracking and debonnair, it was his insatiable curiosity that ignited the public imagination. After the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the 1920's, all wanted to believe only a real adventure stood between them and buried treasure. But it was Ripley that had the desire to share the world's wonders that meant the museums existed. 

When I was little I used to imagine elaborate costumes that the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland would wear - then I saw this:

I liked that he went to Chichen Itza in Mexico, and how pleased he looks in this photo. I was planning to go there in just a few weeks and thought that I would like it just as much - so the fantastic Mr Ripley and I would have that in common.