After a 13-hour flight we land in L.A.
The family is getting used to long-distance flights.
MY TRICK TO ENDURE THE SQUEEZE:
Don’t watch the clock, put all your handbags in the overhead compartments, and only take out the stuff you really need – then you can use what little space you have for your legs. (I prefer aisle seats so I can get up without bothering people all the time.)
Walked out of baggage claim, out through the gates, and into the California sun; we were greeted by a representative from Mercedes and presented with the car we'd be using for the duration of the trip: a white GL350 SUV, with all the extras. We stacked our luggage into the back and took off, very much feeling as though we had arrived.
Germans – especially Northern ones – are very critical of the supposedly superficial friendliness of the Americans – they claim the kindness is not genuine. I personally prefer an artificial politeness to the kind of genuine unfriendliness you’re likely to experience in Berlin. I frankly couldn’t care less whether the foundations of true friendship are being forged while I’m parking, shopping, waiting in line, or handling other everyday errands. We are staying with a friend in the Hollywood Hills. Navigating the narrow streets leading up to the house is difficult in our FULL SIZE SUV (this thing is just huge – more of a bus than a car, really). The cars might be getting bigger, but the streets remain the same ... more to come.
We are at the Urth Caffé (8565 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA), which is an organic coffee company offering a wide selection of healthy meals and fresh baked desserts. It is quite an international, European place – you hear a lot of different languages. I look at the surrounding streets and wonder why L.A. doesn’t feel quite as American as I was expecting it to.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been here recently and the stranger no longer seems so strange to me. Or is it because of the cars, which are exactly the same cars we drive at home ...? Los Angeles is actually a very strange city. With a population of three million in the city and 12 million in the surrounding suburbs, it’s the second biggest city in the U.S. after New York, and it’s one of the most populous metropolitan areas. A metropolis with virtually no skyscrapers besides downtown. Almost everybody seems to own a house, which makes it a huge oversized village. Nothing seems to be reachable by foot. Everyone drives a car no matter where. Wonderfully, you can park anywhere, but do not forget to pay. The city needs money, and a parking fine can quickly cost you $53. And be careful, urbanists: If you want to explore the city by foot, you can get a ticket of $250 for crossing the street against the light or in the middle of a block – it’s illegal.
After three days here I’ve been thinking about whether we should spend three months in L.A. during the winter. Everything feels very light and manageable. You live in a big city but with all the advantages of rural life – plus, good weather.
I recently heard an interesting theory. An illustrator who designs characters and futuristic vehicles for movie sets (unfortunately I have forgotten his name) said that people in L.A. feel bigger and more at the center of life because of the small houses. Whereas in New York, with its huge skyscrapers, a man is just a little hamster in a big cage. I also heard once that an unusual number of autistic children are being born in New York. Which brings me to the following idea: an autistic brain doesn‘t process self-centered information like a normal brain. In dealing with other people, it is important to process information about the “I” and the others in the same way. That would mean that a person who is unimportant as an individual and perceives himself only as a chain in a big wheel lacks self-awareness and hence loses the ability for normal self-reflection.
... just a thought.
So yes, a vote for L.A. – I could certainly imagine living here.
The sun-drenched desert of Palm Springs has been the ideal get away from the traffic jams and hustle of L.A. In the 1930s and ’40s Hollywood was booming, making this little oasis the destination for starlets and leading men; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Liberace, Barbara Streisand and James Brolin, all live or have had homes here. It’s little known that Depression-era Hollywood contracts forbid stars from traveling further than 200 miles from the studios. Just 90 minutes away, this glamorous town has been thriving ever since.
The hillsides of Palm Springs are dotted with wildflowers throughout the warmer months and it’s the only place in the U.S. where palm trees are native. While all this sounds picturesque, Mother Nature reveals her wicked side here as well. In addition to almost unbearable summer temperatures, which often reach 110°F, torrential rains cause water to come shooting down the mountains, rushing into Palm Canyons with an unfathomable speed, etching itself way into the hillsides as patterns of erosion. Michael, our guide from The Modern Tour in Palm Springs, explained, “Because it was an ancient lakebed, and because it’s so flat, if you go up 75 feet, the views are totally panoramic. At the same time, if you look at the mountains, you would think that they would suck water up like a sponge when it rains -- but it’s just the opposite.”
In contrast to the rugged landscape of the desert, the sprawling city of Palm Springs is dotted with mid-century modernist homes. Built mainly from the early 1930s through the mid-1960s, architecturally these homes were a reaction to the European Bauhaus and International movements. Characteristic are simple geometric decorative elements and the seamless blending of indoor and outdoor spaces. The homes often have lush gardens or ponds inside and out paired with low, clean interior lines. Our well-versed guide pointed out that the contrast of the low horizontal homes plays off the rugged verticality of the mountains, resulting in a harmonious relationship between the architecture below and the mountains looming above.
Along the way we stopped at a Twin Palms Alexander – constructed by architects William Krisel and his partner Dan Saxon Palmer, who were instrumental in shaping the post-War SoCal landscape. Some historians estimate that over 40,000 homes were built in collaboration with local developers by Palmer & Krisel in the 1950s and ’60s. Krisel was instrumental in the development of Palm Springs – through housing tracts his constructions doubled the size of the community in the decade between 1955 and 1965 – with names like the Alexander Tract or the Twin Palms Tract.
Two notable features of the Twin Palms Tract are the butterfly roofs and twin palms that still adorn many of the homes. Like other modernist architects, Krisel was detail-oriented, designing everything down to the cabinetry. These homes are highly sought after – once celebrated for their affordability, today — if you’re lucky enough to find one on the market — these homes will probably cost you at least a million dollars.
We hopped back into the car and sped off caravan-style to the next location – The Horizon Hotel by architect William Cody. L’Horizon, as it was originally known, is one of the only surviving mid-century modern hotels in Palm Springs. Cody created the expansively lush residence in 1952 as a weekend retreat for an all around L.A. success story – producer, media mogul, oil tycoon, and hotel owner Jack Wrather and his wife Bonita “Bunny” Granville. You might know her as the actress on the popular Nancy Drew mystery film series. Wrather produced TV shows and films including “Lassie” and “The Lone Ranger,” among others. Much to our amusement, for 15 years he also owned Muzak – the company that produces the maddening “music” usually heard in elevators and waiting rooms. Theirs was a home of relaxation and escape; on weekends they would fly friends out from L.A. to stroll the two-and-a-half acres, soak in the desert sun next to the pool, or yuk it up with other notable celebrities and moguls. The hotel was sold in 2004 and a complete restoration was executed with the addition of a few modern luxuries, such as a Jacuzzi and wireless In- ternet. The Hotel Horizon, now with 22 guest rooms, reflects the Palm Springs-wide dedication to preserving the details of these striking structures.
After trying to picture Mr. Trip and myselfI as moguls who flew friends in for the weekend, we moved on to Donald Wexler’s Steel House No. 2.
Wexler started his career under the tutelage of one of the influential modernist architect Richard Neutra, where he adopted a responsive, no-nonsense methodology to technology and environment. This is one of seven Wexler-designed homes constructed completely of steel. The interior has a pinwheel-like structure with living and sleeping rooms radiating off a central living space – it was also one of the few homes we had the opportunity to enter, and immediately décor envy immediately set in. Two white Barcelona chairs and a daybed assert a commanding presence over the design of the lounge and kitchen area, from which full height sliding glass doors open out to the pool and patio. This is just the beginning to this savvy interior, which evinces a sophisticated level of spatial and material exploration, one rarely seen in any other form of architecture from this period. It’s homes like these that continue to define the California experience.
One of the most striking homes we saw, albeit from a distance, was one of Albert Frey’s residences. Frey was a Swiss-born architect who moved to New York after working with Le Corbusier on the celebrated Villa Savoye on the outskirts of Paris. He headed to West Palm Springs in 1939 after finishing the Museum of Modern Art. Distinguished as the only architect in America who hasd worked with Le Corbusier, his personal residence, Frey House II is “like a Swiss timepiece,” Michael told us. “It’s 700 square feet. He took organic shapes and played them off the geometrics.” The entire home is built around a massive boulder, which is both a supportive and decorative element. Functionally the stone divides the bedroom from the rest of the house, but symbolically it shows man’s conquest over nature. When we asked him who lived in the house now Michael noted, “When Frey died he left the house to the Palm Springs art museum, with the provision that someone had to live in it. He didn’t want it to be a museum house, so the CFO of the museum lives there now.”
Little Z’s reaction to all this modernism? “It’s all really pretty.”
According to the website the place is an “acoustically perfect tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geo-magnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert.” A quote from a local newspaper elaborates: “Whether you’re interested in space aliens, sound baths, or local history of the strange kind, the Integratron is a can’t miss Morongo Basin landmark.”
The creation of American paranormal researcher George Van Tassel, the Integratron is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and, supposedly, telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. The one-of-a-kind non-metallic structure was originally designed by Van Tassel as a rejuvenation and time machine. Thirty-eight feet high and 55 feet in diameter, it is the only all-wood, acoustically perfect sound chamber in the U.S. If you are interested in going there, you should make an appointment beforehand. Otherwise you might miss the Sound Bath, “a 30-minute sonic healing session with nine quartz crystal bowls played live in the Integratron’s highly resonant, multi-wave sound chamber” (aka kindergarten naptime for grownups in a dome). Because of the busy spring break season we unfortunately can’t get a date during our stay. However we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit this energetically charged, magical place. So we appeal to the kindness of our friend Ali and are soon heading to Landers, California, home of the Integratron.
The story of the site goes like this: Van Tassel, renowned aeronautical engineer and test pilot working for Howard Hughes Aviation and supporter of the UFO movement, built a domed structure in the middle of the desert. One night, in August 1953, a saucer from Venus landed there, woke Van Tassel up, and invited him onto the ship. There, the aliens showed him the technique for rejuvenating living cell tissues. In 1954 he and his family began building a structure they called The Integratron to perform the rejuvenation. George described his creation this way: “The Integratron is a machine, a high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure.”
As we approached the fenced off site, after miles and miles of nothing, we see that the gate is closed. There’s a sign saying that a treatment is currently in process and one should wait with the car outside. Mr. Trip gets out of the car to explore the area. Suddenly, a blonde lady drives down to us on a converted golf cart costumed as a covered wagon. She opens the door, waves me in and disappears. I start to follow her. Then, remembering Mr. Trip’s worry that I will travel along with the aliens back in time, I run out quickly to get him. In any case I will not travel back in time without him. A very relaxed couple greets us in the chilly little courtyard. “We are friends of Ali’s,” we open the conversation. “Oh, I love Ali,” the woman answers with a smile. Check! We are in.
Still no chance of a Sound Bath – it’s already booked out – but before the bathing guests arrive we are allowed to have a quick look at the magic halls for about five minutes. “To get in you have to take off your shoes … and watch your head when you climb up the ladder,” they call to us from behind. I’m surprised that they allow us to inspect the building alone. That’s how they are, “the spirits,” always deeply relaxed. Inside nothing exciting awaits us. Just a wooden dome structure decked out with hippie-classic decor. Aside from a little exhibition about the emergence of the Integratron, there is not much to inspect.
The main room is located up the ladder on the first floor where sound therapies obviously take place. The acoustics are really amazing. Next to yoga mats and pillows I see white crystal bowls and a table topped with esoteric potpourri, devotional objects, yogi portraits, toys … and anything else visitors might consider important and worthy of adoration. The view upwards shows a round window in the middle of the dome. Based on my knowledge of feng shui, my guess is that the opening is meant as an approach flight path for dragons entering by bundled energy flows. I remain shortly under the opening to draw off at least a little of the energy, but then I have to leave. I donʼt want to impose on the hosts in their hospitality. Back outside the covered wagon is rattling past me, led by two plastic horses. The host shows a friend the grounds. There is some chattering about the possibilities, the energies, recent trends in the esoteric business, and somehow I get the feeling that even here, there is a lot of humor involved. My kids are swinging in the hammocks in the garden. We continue swinging four-way and then we set off.
It’s very nice over here. Unfortunately I haven’t met any aliens or maybe I have. We get into the car, I connect my iPhone and start some music on shuffle. The sacred sounds of a meditation CD come out of the speakers, we push skip and burst out laughing.