It’s awkward. Singlehandedly I must be reinforcing more images of the uptight, reserved, absent and stiff lipped Englander than Downton. I may have become conversational at bars, on trains, in queues and met a range of people with a story to tell in a culture much more amenable to hearing it than my own, but cafe boys still get the better of me with a ‘hey there, how’s it going with you today?’ An automatic and cursory ‘fine thanks,’ of many a Bulldog Starbucks, is all I can muster. Not the immediate and interesting conversation starter of the guy behind me, in front of me, next to me.
But, I can see a light at the end of my shell. With all the leisure time of a traveller, to listen and loiter, the tales of a West Coaster born in New York, her mother’s trips to England and the canal ways to which she returned again and again, the well groomed Spainard with more places to see and San Francisco City Hall’s security guard’s love of Vegas are all memories of fleeting encounters one will miss back on the grindstone. Impending grind.
Hollywood. Single storey and sprawled, along boulevards and before a backdrop of shrubbed mountain, hilltop villas and – that sign. Two days was not enough but it felt right – Beverley, Sunset, Santa Monica – a stroll along such iconic strips is sweltering, long and daunting. The former, for all the faux classical shop fronts housing the world’s most exclusive brands, browsed by the tanned, the pampered, the low fat, felt the more enduring. These people are still as rich and famous as they ever were, whereas on Hollywood Boulevard, in front of all the theatres and hotels, Capitol Records and the stayed bars are tour operators, waxed Monroes, terribly unlookalike lookalikeys and photo booths for photo shopping a fan into a snap with their favourite celeb. It is another world, but to see the stars of Astaire, Brando and Bergman overshadowed by plastic Oscars and $5 key rings is a little disheartening. But the heart remains, the famed sleaze persists and unabashed glitz, glamour, eye popping character, continues to infect everyone – dancing, singing, always performing on the off chance. Kareoke night at a bar and every singer blew me away. All the hopes and dreams, broken, in limbo, over realised, can be felt with a hair tingle. A layered history of personality upon personality, crushed together with such force a distinct essence has filtered into the air and ether of the place. Placing one’s hand into the imprint of Nicolson’s before stepping into the Eygptian Theatre to watch Chinatown, on location, is a thrill and a joy.
We may not drive but our train, the Southwest Chief, has whizzed us alongside 66 all night. Neon truck wash signs a plenty.
Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime.
Edmund Burke’s conception of the sublime, the power of a fear-inducing, imperfect, vast and brutal sensation that pangs with a beauty more visceral than aesthetic.
The grand Canyon simply mind boggles. We are small. We are nothing. A speck on the rim of a monstrous chasm, on the edge of a void so completely infinite to the eye that everything else is forgotten, instantly. Sandstone against red over grey, dried up tributaries of ancient waters feeding into the Colorado river a mile down, cutting up the hole and churning up a city of rock within. Stone formations rest next to each other endlessly, each unique and colossal.
Being able to walk right along the edge of the Canyon, with few safety rails, is quite a rush. Up early and out onto the further reaches of the trail, we had it to ourselves for hours. Every step is a new view, a different perspective. One becomes used to it being there, by your side and ever ready to provide an experience. Like the B.F.G. Dormant. Almost calming, unless you were to fall into its belly. One can feel a looming sense of the end that lies deep down, the unforgiving sublimity of an irrevocable and deadly fall.
Off to bed, ready to face its wonder once more tomorrow. To be continued.