Monday, October 18, 2010

Cultural Light In The Tunnel 10/18/10

The cultural wasteland that is Beverly Hills has been manifesting itself this past week in the launch of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (“Real” and “Beverly Hills” – not words you will often find together in the same sentence).

The TV series manages to bring together some of the worst, most vacuous women in various states across America (New Jersey is so far topping the list in terms of grossness), and this lot, like their predecessors, clearly have no idea about the face they are presenting to the world.

Well, I use the word “face” loosely; somewhere, beneath all the surgery and Botox, there probably lurks the semblance of a real face, but it hasn’t seen daylight for at least a decade.

It’s what Beverly Hills is all about – false features, false people, in a city of money-grabbing, intellectual dereliction. It’s a shallow, toxic environment: scratch the surface of the glamorous fa├žade and the hollowness will swallow you up.

As friends had told me, there really is cultural life in LA beyond BH, and the relief at finally finding it has enriched my life here no end.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (whose resident home is London's South Bank) is in Santa Monica at the moment, and their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Broadstage Theater is hilarious. My friend Gerard McCarthy, who I gave rave reviews to during his time in Hollyoaks is in it, and is now sporting luscious long blonde hair.

It was something of a talking point among some Americans in the audience. “Is it real?” they asked him at the after-show party. “Can we touch it?”

Clearly, there had been a busload in from Beverly Hills, because another man asked Gerard: “Why have you all got English accents?” Er, because the play is set in Windsor, knobhead.

Gerard is actually from Belfast, but does a very convincing English accent, and it’s great to see him playing a romantic male after his stint as a transsexual in Hollyoaks.

It’s been something of a cultural week, and yesterday I went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown, to a Dvorak recital (or Der-vorrack, as one American lady pronounced it). My new friend Francois Chouchan, an award-winning concert pianist, delivered a breathtakingly brilliant performance, and I was once again reminded that there really is nothing like great art to transcend the mundane and nastiness in life.

It was rather a special afternoon: a wonderful recital, followed by a champagne tea and “la conversation”. After the less than mediocre performances I am used to in Beverly Hills hostelries, it was, literally, music to my ears.

Friends had also informed me that if I could tear myself away from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, there was a rich cultural life awaiting me in San Francisco.

Well, I finally managed to visit the city I had also been assured was “very European” - an observation that completely passed me by, as no matter which way I walked, I always ended up in Chinatown. And as I was walking over ten miles every day, that was something of an achievement. Or maybe I had just reached Hong Kong.

San Francisco Bay isn’t anywhere near as vibrant as Cardiff Bay back home, to be honest, although a boat trip to Alcatraz was a tad more exciting than Cardiff’s hourly water service to Penarth. Having escaped the Alcatraz that was my Beverly Hills life, however, it felt a little too close for comfort.

It was also a pretty unfriendly city. At the Butterfly restaurant in the Bay, I was about to be given a table, until some couples arrived just behind me. I was then informed that there was room “only at the bar or outside” for one person. Alcatraz was the Ritz compared to Butterfly’s outside, and I would have had to lose two stone to cram myself in at the bar, so I left.

I later left a message on the restaurant’s answer-machine, informing them how appalling it was, being treated like a second class citizen just because I was alone, blah, blah, and I was a journalist writing about the city, more blah, blah, blah.

The manager phoned me the next morning, very apologetic and offering to make it up to me on my next visit. He assured me that this really was not their policy. Yeah, right. Too little, too late.

It’s something I am not used to in Europe, and in particular Paris, where women on their own are treated with respect, even reverence. The Parisians also know that a woman by herself is likely to treat herself to a really nice bottle of wine and stuff her face with three courses, thereby spending a lot more than the family who comes in, orders a mixed salad between four, and a jug of tap water.

The King’s Head in Santa Monica appear to know this, but then it is a traditional English pub, run by the Irish. This week alone, I’ve had their Cornish pasty, their chicken curry and, joy of joys, their bangers, mash and gravy. On Saturday, my French friends went for the pasties, the fish and chips, and the chicken pie. They loved them all.

So, all in all, it’s been something of an adventurous week, which is just as well, because the weather has been diabolical. I’ve been listening to the song Rain, from the brilliant Mika album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much (“When it rai rai rains, when it rai rai rains . . . I hate days like this”), as I look out at the permanently cloudy skies.

But while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance, it’s easy to face the music and dance.

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