Africa · California · Creative writing

the edge of nature and the city

I live in one of the most industrialized places on earth. A city covered in concrete and six-lane freeways, where people live in their cars. This city is also one of the most nature filled. There are thousands of trees everywhere in Los Angeles, and the city is constantly overshadowed by one of the most devastating natural phenomena. I’m talking about earthquakes.

In LA, you always think of drought and water, rain and lack of rain, water restrictions, air quality and smog, a clear day and a hazy day, the non-native skinny palm trees define one of the most urban of cities, as much as the sprawling lit grid from Mulholland.

I live in a city where I feed squirrels on my balcony, where doves wake me up in the morning, and hummingbirds feed on the flower bushes along my pool.

I love this city probably more than any other city. It isn’t my favorite place on earth. That spot is occupied by a variety of neck-in-neck spots in this world, that rotate and vie with each other for the number one place in my heart with no clear winner and no real loser. They are secret geographies of my heart, places I visit when I need to escape and return to in my waking and dreamful hours. But this city is my city, I see that now. More than Paris ever was, and probably because Paris is so easy and obvious to love, and those are never the things I love the most. I love the hard things to love. The places and things that require effort to love, and a willingness to overlook faults, that require inner vision to really see.

Even now, part of the reason I love this city so much is the fact I don’t fit into its cliche, the image people have of Los Angeles that don’t live here, the artificial veneer of the city that it wants to be but really isn’t.

Two of my final projects for classes (photography and screenwriting) were odes to LA. My script was a love story centered around an East LA taco truck, and my photography final was a series of night shots of Pasadena between 2 and 5 AM. In the photo essay I studied the interplay between nature and the urban landscape, choosing lines and long exposures with wide depth of field to chronicle the loneliness and desolation of the Western city, its non-humanity and industrial design, the struggle between nature and the city, the unexpected beauty that arises from this battle, often lost by nature as it was by the LA River.

Most of who I am was molded in the African landscape and weather of Zaire in the 1980’s, and the African people I still love more than any other people in the world. As a whole, the African people are my home. And African landscapes, even city scapes are overtaken by nature and humanity, in its rawest, stinkiest, most glorious, busiest form. Urbanism cannot win in a continent where weather is harsh and humid, beating down sun and rain through the entire year.

Driving around this city as I do often in those late night/early morning hours, I see the loneliness that is masked by our glorious sunshine. People have no space in this smooth concrete and tarmac landscape, the trees are covered in coiled Christmas lights, planted in lines, the sky is overtaken by city lights erasing the moon and stars, the trees are sped past in cars that never see what is around.

All these things are beautiful in their extremes, the LA River, the San Gabriel mountains, the Pacific Ocean from the Santa Monica pier, neighborhoods planted with a mishmash of exotic trees, hummingbirds and squirrels, doves and coyotes, like that scene in Collateral, where Tom Cruise, driven by Jamie Foxx in downtown LA stop, in the middle of a deserted street while coyotes cross in front of them. The strange contrast of wild things in the urban lansdcape, and familiarity of that experience are part of what I love about LA. In fact, its ambiguities and idiosyncracies define the city for me.

One thought on “the edge of nature and the city

  1. I tried to gobble these words down, reflective of my hunger, but the meanings didn’t come to me that way. So I started again, and read slowly. All the adjectives, all the comparisons. Thank you for this, this musing on Place. Living in American Suburbia I have been thinking along these lines too. Also how just the memory of stone paths in Haifa quiets my breath.

    love you very extremely much.
    leila

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