74 And Sunny

Esquire's US Correspondent Sanjiv Bhattacharya begins a new column about life as a Londoner in Los Angeles

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It’s a Saturday afternoon, and me and my mate Mike are at this music festival in Topanga Canyon, the old hippy Shangri-La from the 70s. 

Drinks are on the house. There's weed on the breeze. And everywhere we look are pretty girls, all hippied up with tie dye and flowers in their hair. They’re frolicking on see-saws, look. They’re playing Twister. They’re made of sunshine and caramel and they’ve come to save us all.

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“Dude, this is epic,” says Mike. “Are you feeling it?”

He’s talking about the “edibles” we took about ten minutes ago – “Cheeba Chews”, a kind of gluten-free hash taffy Mike gets for his (cough) glaucoma. And yes, I am feeling it. I’m feeling a lot of things right now.

Like: I never meant to start the column this way. When you leave London for LA, the one thing you can’t do is bang on about the weather, the weed and the women.

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Everyone does it a bit – and I’ve been as guilty as the next guy – but these are the “fake tales” the Arctic Monkeys warned us about. A rookie move. It’s all too easy to get caught up with the pretty surfaces of LA and to be dazzled by them is as shallow as it is to be repelled (and few cities are savaged with quite as much relish).

No, I wanted this column to penetrate the surface of the city and get past the clichés - the whole poolside, wannabe, abs and wheatgrass of it all. After 12 years here, I’m the guy who tells the folks back home, “it’s not all tits and pina coladas you know!”

And then all of a sudden, it is. After weeks and months of the daily grind, when the palm trees lose their poetry and you start to notice the traffic instead of the sunset, LA gives you a glimpse of the fantasy that put you on the plane out of Shoreditch all those years ago. A reminder of why you came here and why you stayed.

This particular moment comes courtesy of a colossal denim brand, who pieced this whole scene together. To promote its new jeans, it hired a bunch of LA bands – the “new Laurel Canyon sound” – to play covers out here in hippy country.

So artists like Dawes and Jonathan Wilson are playing The Band and the Grateful Dead. You’ve got Chevy Metal doing the Stones, with Dave Grohl making a guest appearance. It’s quite the line-up.

And the pretty people are here in droves because the brand want to shoot a commercial – we all signed releases on the way in.

So all the cartwheels and frolicking is for the cameras ultimately – it’s not a real party. The President of the company is lying on the floor, his arms spread out like Jesus, and people are putting flowers on his chest. Click click, it’s a corporate moment.

But who cares? Not me, not Mike. Not these two grinning transplants, from London and Dallas respectively. We’ve been here long enough to know there’s no sense in knocking a place for what it isn’t, when you can revel in what it is.

And this is what we’re looking at – a scene of quite startling beauty, something LA does so well. When people rave about the views in this city, they don’t just mean the canyons and the beach, they’re also talking about the other natural wonders, the ones on the swing sets in little Daisy Dukes.

I don’t think the study’s yet been done – the hotness survey, city by city – but it’d be a miracle if LA didn’t run home with the title. I say this not as a gloating expat, because in all honesty, these girls are out of reach. Especially for a couple of married guys on drugs wearing flower crowns.

But what a sight.  They gather for these shoots and happenings around town, like migrating flamingo, and all you can do is gasp and grab your camera. They ought to put it in Lonely Planet – LA’s women might be it’s principal attraction.

The bar’s so high here that when you leave, it takes a while to recalibrate. I went to Ohio recently and it took a full 24 hours to find anyone remotely attractive.

Because you realise that all those small town stunners, they flock here eventually – the catch in Cleveland is the norm in West Hollywood. Your waitress is a goddess. Your barista a perfect 10.

So let’s be shallow, just this once. We can peel back the layers next time. Let a couple of leering old scrotes enjoy the pretty surfaces in this blazing confection of a town, at least until the Cheeba Chews wear off.

(See you in a couple of weeks.)

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