What's our problem?

I met the other day with curators of the county's Natural History Museum who are working on a long-term exhibit that will try to explain (in multiple dimensions) what Los Angeles means. They have a big problem. And they know it.

Los Angeles has been summed up in marketing slogans and real estate sales pitches since the late 1870s. But what L.A. might actually mean to the millions who live here has become more and more elusive.

I'm not sure I had anything useable say. The curators had already talked to the real experts on Los Angeles (their numbers grow each year). They had already tried on brisk, inclusive phrases suitable for a banner to go over the exhibition entrance. I gathered from their perplexity that nothing had fit exactly. Los Angeles: city of _________. The blanks still remained to be filled in.

I suspect that part of the problem - a part the curators had already considered and set aside, for now - is the difficulty Angeleños have in calling this place home.

As we continued over lunch, the idea of home, of being settled, dropped out of the conversation in favor of metaphors for Los Angeles attached to movement - movement along edges, across boundaries, or through intersections.

I got a lift back to the Blue Line station at Grand Avenue and thought about where our coversation had begun and then trailed off. I went back home.

I presume that we long for a home here, probably because that's what I want. I know we depend on our place, but so many dislike its claims on us. And no place in Los Angeles is ultimately immune from the peculiarly American certainty that something better is just beyond the next block.

We are not at home in Los Angeles - too many of us aren't, anyway - and the consequences are more profound than the quandary the curators face in assembling five or six ways of looking at Los Angeles.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Kansas Sebastian. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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