Movies tend to depict America as outdoor-stock blue-white in the upper regions - the cold crispness of an Insomnia, the white-balanced snow-tones of a Fargo - moving into warmer tungsten-grades as you move down the country. (It's a shame Dorothy Gale's Kansas wasn't depicted in the lurid tones of Oz, as its position in the exact center of the whole affair ought to mean that no other state would be as gorgeously technicolour-realised. The only recent movies I can think of set in the American heartland are true-crime stories like In Cold Blood and The Laramie Project, suggesting that the Flyover States aren't really interesting until someone gets killed there in scandalous circumstances).
By the time you reach movies set along the bottom of the States, the palette has gone out the freaking window for warm tones. Miami is required by law to be depicted as swaying between blood-red and neon-flamingo-pink; Texas is all red bricks and Presidents' brains; to my (lack of) knowledge there are no buildings in Arizona, just majestic and forbidding geological structures, looming into a background offset by a solitary cow-skull and/or rattlesnake in FG.
However, while lots of things in movies aren't true, it certainly is true that LA is yellow. Not only the light, but every window of every transportational vehicle I have been in is yellow. Looking out the window as you pass by the various suburbs, it looks almost like everything's under the honey-toned filter from the opening of Zabriskie Point; but on foot, the effect isn't much less. Yellow and impossibly bright. Step out of a doorway and your retinas blow out like 9mm film; it takes some time before the glow of yellow sunlight on white objects isn't an act of ocular aggression. As the sun sets on the Hollywood Hills, the Valley divides into the orange light and purple shadow that, my host points out, form the LA Lakers' team colours.
Cinematographers ought to welcome this violently bright light, as it should mean they could close the aperture right down and see for miles; however, the other thing that is a true truism about LA is that the smog is ridiculous. On the ground it serves as a diffuser - sending ubiquitous yellow everywhere, be it sunlight or street-lamp - but get up out of it, on Mulholland Drive or the Getty Centre or Griffith Observatory - and it's almost hard to credit so damn much smog. My host tells me that LA is sometimes actually rated the cleanest city in the US in terms of air pollution. This strikes me as a bit like how people with nits always say only people with clean hair get nits. (My host does not have nits).
On my first day here, I do not wear sunscreen. I forget; halfway through the day, I think to myself, "oh, well, the hole in the ozone layer back home is what makes the sunlight so deadly; I'll be fine here". I am not fine. On my second day here my face is more sunburned than it has ever been. I look like Freddy Krueger. I don't blister, because that would imply that the edges of some of my skin are healthy; I just melt.
Many clever locals carry umbrellas to combat what I am experiencing. I have never seen people carry umbrellas when it's not raining. (This is odd because I am from Wellington, where if it isn't currently raining, it was two hours ago). Curiously, the areas where people are cleverest w/r/t umbrella-carriage are Koreatown and South Central. White people don't seem to be clever enough to work out that an umbrella can shield you from the sun. White people tend to be either utterly obsessed with matters dermal (moisturiser, shaving balm, insisting they don't notice skin colour) or utterly oblivious (carrying an umbrella when it's sunny).
The neighborhood I'm staying in has Gungans, but not many white people. Having lived in Christchurch, I know what white people look like and how bad they can ugly up a place, whereas Hispanic folks make a fairly good go of carving a decent enough suburb out of the solid yellow smog-and-sunlight miasma.
Whereas I come from a country with
But the glut of Spanish advertising I've seen would seem to be a positive spinoff of the libertarian ethos that plenty of Americans would have agreed with, before libertarianism got a capital L and became Applied Selfish Cluelessness. The market demands that Big Whatever make itself available to this large market; said market would prefer to communicate in its native tongue; hence, McDonalds' speaks Spanish now where appropriate. Is this the Free Market doing something culturally progressive without noticing? There are a lot of factors at play, and I'm sure I don't know enough about any of them to comment.
In the spirit of engaging in things I know very little about, I ate at a pupuseria the other day. The streets of East LA are studded with pupuserias and carnicerias: the former serve pupusas, which are basically little corn pikelets filled with meat and cheese; the latter, I am informed, are just the Latin version of butchers. "Pupuseria" always puts me in mind of pus and/or feces (hence the strong desire to eat at one, obviously); "carniceria" seems like it should have something to do with cancer, but it doesn't, because whenever anything has anything to do with cancer, a large, severe black-on-white sign will tell you, "THIS AREA CONTAINS CHEMICALS KNOWN BY THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER". Airports, cafes, toy shops: they all got cancer! Whereas carnicerias just have the dodgy direct-to-video-grade chicken that is the least impressive thing, thus far, about America.
Anyway, so, a pupuseria will, in my experience, be more helpful to new orderers than a Taco Bell, though the young man in the Dimmu Borgir shirt will not look as wholesome as he brings you your complimentary jar of slaw; the pupusa itself will not be as satisfying as a Taco Bell taco, but then again, the meat will be more likely to be what it says it is. I have been favoured by the Critter populace of LA thus far, having seen both an opossum and a squirrel (a lifelong dream of many New Zealanders), but let's be honest: having sampled Taco Bell, Jack in the Box and Carl's Jr, I've done far more than see those animals by now.