Behind the scenes of Los Angeles.

I’ve always been indifferent to visiting the States, mainly due to the idea that television glamorizes the destination already. But when having to attend a conference in Los Angeles, I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I decided to open myself up to a possibility of discovering the City of Angels that isn’t spoken of. Or at the very least, experience the alternative intricacies that are.

After the conference, I had four days to explore the valleys of the U.S. West Coast. As a tourist, it was only appropriate to see the luminescent nightlife of Sunset Boulevard, paying homage to legendary venues, like Johnny Depp’s former club (and where River Phoenix met an unfortunate end) the Viper Room and Roxy’s Theatre.

Amongst the celebrity hotspots I found an underrated alternative in The Red Rock, where it was easier to converse with regular Angelenos. It was here that I experienced the international diversity of the city. There were the locals along with a diversity of European UCLA students and one particularly energetic Australian horticulturist consulting on crop growing of the “medicinal” type.

I was adamant on visiting Venice Beach from the onset. Contrasting the glitz of Hollywood, Universal Studios and the Sunset Strip, Venice Beach would be, I hoped, a bit more real. The boardwalk remains home to eclectic, counterculture. Tattoo parlours, medical marijuana shops and the expected, stereotypical bodybuilder with the tiny Chihuahua attracting the attention of bikini-clad girls.

Friendly and divine diversity...
Friendly and divine diversity of Venice Beach’s many eclectic characters…

Film shoots, Leather-skinned elderly in leopard-skin bikinis, the legendary Harry Perry inspiring optimistic musicians to push their five-dollar demos onto anyone passing the Muscle Beach Gym, make this one of the most colourful culture hubs in the world. On one side of the walk is a kaleidoscope of artists, performers and craft sellers. On the other Venice Beach’s staple transport rentals (i.e.: bicycles, skateboards and surfboards) restaurants and numerous gift shops.

Harry Perry’s “moving” music has long been part of the Boardwalk’s stars.

Seeking hydration in the hot, sea and lotion scented air, I stopped at the Venice Ale House, for their craft beer and the best shrimp tacos I’ve ever had. With Sublime’s “Santeria” spilling out of one of the gritty surf shops, I came to realise that, though it’s nothing I hadn’t seen on some Californication episode, television only stimulates sight and sound. The real thing however, the environment and its momentary uniqueness, stimulate the heart and mind, turning the fiction into reality and a worthy experience.

A great selection of beer of local beers to chill out with.
An understated vibe and an extensive selection of Californian craft brews.

2011/03/11 – and a media tsunami

As I sit at my office desk at 15h39 on a Friday afternoon in the sunny city of Cape Town, 18 562 Kilometres away on the islands of Hawaii, anonymous residents are watching the shoreline for a tsunami. Live video feeds of pre-dawn morning and unfamiliar shorelines as the water recedes some 200 feet and exposing the reef at Diamond Head. Tweets from residents, urged by sirens to head for higher ground, keep feeding emotions and news to the rest of the world. The world is practically there, as most are out of harm’s way. The same, however may not be true for Japan, having experienced the fifth biggest recorded earthquake in the past one hundred years.

Tsunami Hits Japan after M8.9 Earthquake
Video: Tsunami Hits Japan after M8.9 Earthquake

Earlier reports today claimed figures of tens and twenties of casualties. A few hours later, reports of some 200 – 300 bodies being found along the Japanese shoreline following the tsunami that hit earlier today. The true devastation though may not be calculated for the next few days, as aftershocks and receding surges expose the power of earth and ocean.

While, my heart and prayers go out to those in the affected area (which is almost the entire Pacific Ocean now) guiltily my thoughts gravitate more towards the unsurpassed level of digital communication that we now have access to. How in real time we experience a natural phenomenon on the other side of the world. The anxiety and suspense as real as if we were indeed there.

While this is nothing new to talk about and as awesome as it may be to watch and experience (practically) first-hand the power of nature through media, it’s purpose extends beyond that. With the communication technologies available to the average citizen in the street today, reports and information and warnings can be issued globally to assist in rescue and planning. The statistical data being fed to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre‘s headquarters from instrumentation spread throughout the ocean allows local and national news stations to estimate tsunami arrival times down to the minute!

While this tragedy will certainly unfold more and more over the next few days, with Japan only gearing into action hours after the disaster and Australia, New Zealand and some 50 other countries are on high alert for possible tsunamis, it’s good to see the technological age and media being genuinely utilised, notwithstanding the need to sift through the exaggerations and hype that unfortunately gets hits and clicks on links and which are just as important as ratings.