This city, this big sprawling dream of a city, mighty and misunderstood Los Angeles, is often defined in terms of tired cliches and sweeping generalizations. Soul-less and a-historical L.A., they say. A city where nobody walks, they lie. A far-reaching enigma going on for miles and miles, they all nod and agree, baffled.
Los Angeles will reveal itself only if you let it. Slowly at first, like a shy lover. This process requires some kind of reciprocity, open up and it will too. But give it time, patience is required. Patience and good shoes.
Before Los Angeles existed there was Yaanga, place of the poison oak, a small settlement established by the Tongva – the people of the land, the original Angelenos. It grew alongside the embankment of a meandering river.
At the very center of Yaanga there stood a tree, a sacred sycamore that grew for 400 years and served as a place of gathering for the Tongva. The tree is long gone now, in place of this hallowed hallmark there is the Alameda ramp for the 101 freeway.
Freeways are a different kind of sacred symbol for the modern Angeleno. Jammed in a river of rush hour traffic, we come together under the forgotten shadow of El Aliso, that ancient navel of a tree who brought a city into existence. We gather there, unknowingly, heeding to the mysterious pull of Yaanga.
I find myself tethered to the memory of a forgotten tree. I hear the rustling of its leaves and I begin to drift, knowing that the vastness of time can only alight momentarily upon the body of a city.
This is all so very fragile, so temporary. This too will disappear. I too will be forgotten.
A different city will grow out of this one. Different stories will be told, or maybe there will be silence. The silence of long gone trees.
I roam and I dream, trying to get to the hidden roots of this place. I let time do the rest.
I remember the first time I laid my eyes on Los Angeles, it wasn’t love at first sight but it certainly was lust. Love would come much later. First, I lusted.
I was hopscotching hemispheres: hopping south to north, from EZE/Argentina to LAX/USA. I remember spending the 15-hour-long flight staring out the airplane window, trying to imagine what this new place would feel like, equally terrified and excited to think of it as my new home.
I stared at the empty sky and turned the name, the only name I knew, into a mantra of sorts:
Los-Angeles-angeles-angeles, Los-los-loss, Los-Angeles-angeles-angeles
I remember not blinking much—you try not to when you feel yourself being drawn into the unknown. Suddenly there it was, swoosh, the city’s bejeweled body. Sprawled, lit.
Ah, there she was indeed. Yaanga’s shimmering skin twinkling under the night sky; stretching over the wide basin for miles and miles, a vast expanse teeming with life, metabolizing light and speed in constant streams of white and bright red ribbons.
I would learn the name of these light ribbons later—the 405, the 10, the 101, the 110, and all the other freeways crisscrossing the city’s massive body, the main arteries of a system keeping Yaanga’s body thick and sluggish, and the width of her rings forever expanding.
(I would also learn, decades later, that the 405, that behemoth of a freeway so well-hated by most Angelenos, was built upon a path carved by centuries of foot traffic as the Tongva moved through the Santa Monica mountains. Maybe the 405 has always been there, serving as a conveyor belt, cutting through the Sepulveda Pass and carrying bodies to and fro through the centuries, even cutting through time. Now and forever, warp and weft.)
As the plane circled and prepared for descent, I peered at the city from above. I recall being acutely aware of my own body, taut and alert. Decades later, I can still feel the sensations that ran through my body that night.
Strong currents flowed through my tensed limbs, my skin prickled with anticipation. Below me, the limitless expanse of the city was about to encircle me. I felt myself free-falling through my body, surveying the length of my own skin, testing for limits but pressing on.
Los Angeles and I, skin to skin, almost touching.
The electrifying nearness of it, the unbearable intimacy of it all, I remember that more than anything. The physical memory of that first encounter is encoded in one of my own growth-rings, I suppose. It is there, a notch in time, tingling.
Foreplay. Frottage. Bodies at play.
Bodies encircling each other, mingling in space like motes of dust, deeply entangled.Time is entanglement and a kind of dust too—it swarms, suspended in space, and is made manifest under bright conditions.
Once we were wild under the vastness of this bright sky. Once we were free.
Or perhaps we were only dreams being dreamt under a sycamore tree. I wonder. I roam, steeped in light.
Yaanga, my love.
Yaanga, my skin.
Where do you end? Where do I begin?
Los Angeles’ skies are part dream, part illuminated gnosis.
I’ve roamed this city at length, enraptured. I’ve buzzed in light so clear, I thought I would dissolve and become part of the dream. These are radiant affairs, you see.
Sometimes the light is so sharp it can cut things in half at high noon.
And there goes time.
All of a sudden you might find yourself inside a blue dream cycle, the visual field buzzing with light, each scene rimmed with an almost imperceptible flicker. Things come into sharp focus, it can even hurt to look. Every form is outlined with vicious precision, resplendent, alive.
In this city that dreams out loud, objects thrum and push against their own limits.
One is bound to follow suit, bewitched.
Perhaps all cities are dreams we inhabit only momentarily.
I can walk in a daze for hours, my skin prickling and alive under the bright sun.
Entranced. Lusting. Wildly present.
The sky becomes a giant mood ring turning colors as the day progresses: saturated cobalts, layers of smoky lilacs and mauves spreading like bruises, bright pink flames over smudged violets and indigos, orange plumes and glowing embers.
As the sun approaches the horizon time seems to slow down and come to a crawl, the late afternoon light thickens like syrup and encases the basin in rich sunlight. So rich. I like to call this The Golden Hour, a small window of time where you become a fossil embedded in amber, suspended for a beat or maybe aeons, privy to the mysteries of time.
As the night creeps in Yaanga’s shimmering dark skin becomes alive. She uncoils. The length of her body stirs, full of awareness. Perhaps she doesn’t dream, she just lies there remembering.
Eyelids flutter, impressions flash. It is never the same configuration.
You can never step into the same street twice. It’s never the same Los Angeles.
From Mid-City to the edge of the glittering Pacific.
Santa Monica. Venice. Coasting down PCH all the way to Malibu.
South L.A. K-town. Little Armenia, Los Feliz.
East Los. Downtown. Chinatown. Frogtown. All along the river.
Hollywood. Echo Park. Silverlake Hills. Fairfax Heights.
Up and down Runyon Canyon. Under and over the Aqueduct.
Sunset. Vermont. Pico. Crenshaw. Leimert Park. Slauson.
East to West. North to South. All directions spinning now.
Up and around Griffith Park. Zipping through the Canyons. Gliding down Mulholland Drive.
The circles become wider and wider. Time overlaps. This is a city always in the process of becoming itself.
Foreplay. Frottage. Bodies at play.
I have rubbed my skin against yours, Yaanga.
Have you felt me? All these years? Do you remember me now?
Yanina Spizzirri is a Los Angeles-based artist and experimental prose editor at minor literature[s]. All the photographs above are hers.