Monday, May 12, 2008

L.A. Without a Car: Day Four

A day of long bus rides! I had a 10:00 am ticket for the Getty Villa in Malibu, which turned out to be more than 20 miles from my motel. It involved only two buses, but the first one was 25 minutes late, so I missed the ideal connection with the second bus. The relatively new and efficient light rail system doesn't extend in that direction, so the bus competes with all the rest of the traffic on the congested streets and freeways.

The Getty Villa, a reproduction of a first century Roman villa, houses the Getty collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan art. There is also a research institute and a conservation institute on the site. Admission is free, but you need a ticket, and cars pay $8.00 for parking. I'd assumed that the ticketing process regulated the flow of people into the villa, but my being a half hour late didn't seem to make a difference. I'm not sure they really looked at our tickets.

Those of us who arrived on foot where shuttled from the entrance up the hill to the villa. It's on a magnificent site, perched on a hill high above the ocean. The villa itself is extensive, with an entry atrium and an inner peristyle (garden and pool) surrounded on all four sides by two story galleries. The outer peristyle features a very long pool, statuary and landscaping. In addition to the villa, there's an entry pavilion, a cafe, a store, an outdoor theater and an indoor auditorium. The whole site is beautifully planted with varieties native to the ancient Mediterranean world.

I felt like I'd entered a high-brow version of Disneyland. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic place and well worth the visit. It's very well staffed, efficiently and pleasantly run and spotlessly clean. And it's free. Even the food in the cafe was fairly priced. There's a separate section for school buses and picnic tables for students to eat the lunches they've brought with them. I enjoyed an elegant lunch in the cafe: brusccheta mista and a glass of white wine. However, the wine was not good for my concentration while viewing the rest of the exhibit.

The ancient art collection is beautifully displayed with plenty of descriptive labeling and there are orientation films and tours. The gardens are perfect. Maybe that perfection is the reason it all seems a bit sterile. As one critic wrote, you expect to see Roman architecture in ruins, not all new and pristine.

One temporary exhibit touched on this issue. We admire Roman and Greek sculpture for its purity. The bare stone allows us to see the subtleties of surface modeling, and admire the skill of the sculptor in realizing living flesh from cold marble. In ancient times, many or most of these sculptures were painted in realistic colors. Reproductions in the temporary exhibit demonstrated the sometimes garish effect. We have not been acculturated to this aesthetic. I think the same disjoint was influencing my feelings about the villa as a whole. Some weathering, visible repairs, a few crumbling bits and maybe even some noise and smells would make the place more alive, more "picturesque".

Anyway, don't avoid the place on this account. A visit is emphatically worth the effort.

My second visit of the day to the house of designer Charles Eames and his wife, Ray, was a completely opposite experience. First of all, I approached the house by a steep climb up a heavily trafficked road with no sidewalks, nothing like the smooth shuttle up the hill to the villa. I was the only visitor for a self-guided, exterior only tour. One staff member of the Eames Foundation was in the office. She greeted me in a friendly and informal way, and opened doors so that I could see into (but not walk into) the house.

The house, built in 1949, consists of two cubes, mostly glass, nestled into a hillside. The larger cube housed the living quarters, the smaller cube was the office. The interior is furnished with Eames' simple contemporary furniture and cluttered with interesting objects arranged here and there: a collection of glass candlesticks, a stack of tea cups and saucers, curious objects artfully arranged on a low table, lots of books, worn furniture, and many, many potted plants, still watered and maintained. In fact, the house was a little dirty and looked like the residents were not expecting company and had just stepped out for a moment.

The only "landscaping" outside the house was a huge collection of potted plants arranged in the two patios and along the path on the up-hill side of the house. Very 1950s. Otherwise, the yard was left wild, primarily meadow grass under old eucalyptus trees, and a big patch of orange nasturtiums.

A Santa Monica Big Blue Bus took me to Wilshire Boulevard and it was a LONG ride starting from from within sight of the ocean into central L.A. Fortunately I had a seat all the way. Passing Pershing Square, I heard police helicopters overhead and saw security people in bright purple t-shirts, walking bicycles. A few blocks further, and we encountered a rank of riot police with bullet-proof helmets and vests and big weapons. I think they were still on duty following the May Day labor and immigration demonstration, though most of the people had dispersed.

It was the kind of day where I felt hot in the sun, but needed a sweater in the shade.

Oregon pedometer - 9911 steps


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