It wasn't a very long stay. Most of the time we were sequestered in a very specific block of downtown. We were without a car, which makes most of the greater Los Angeles area inaccessible without either a great deal of time and difficulty or a great deal of money.
All the same, it was a trip that stirred memories deep within me.
Los Angeles is a town with which I have more than a passing acquaintance, having had two grandmothers by marriage living there during my first marriage, and then marrying someone who had moved to Los Angeles at age nine and whose family still mostly lived in the greater LA area during the duration of that marriage. As a result, I have never seen Los Angeles as a tourist and still do not think of it as a tourist destination.
This trip was no different.
We arrived the afternoon before the conference started, which gave us just enough time to go out a little bit. Dodie and I took the Metro (the LA subway, fabulously underused and very limited as to its routes) to Hollywood, and did some star hopping (the Walk of Fame and Grauman's) in the hot afternoon sun. While in Hollywood, my longtime blogging friend Ellen met up with us and took us on a whirlwind tour of parts of the city.
It was about then that the memories started raining down on me.
Ellen wanted to show us Cantor's, a deli-bakery-restaurant and longtime fixture of the Los Angeles Jewish community. As we were parking on Fairfax near Cantor's, I suddenly realized that I had been there many, many years earlier—not only to Cantor's but also to a number of the small shops nearby specializing in Judaica. I bought a mezuzah at one of those shops a lifetime ago, the very one we parked by.
Ellen gave us a choice of the Griffith Park Observatory or the Pacific Ocean. Which did we want to do, where did we want to go? I was torn; both hold memories. Water won out over height, and she headed to Venice. Soon we were out of the car and I was hearing the boom of the ocean for the first time in too many years, tasting the salt air on my tongue and in my heart.
Los Angeles was in bloom. The bougainvillea was in bloom, spilling deep purple blossoms over fences. The jacaranda was in bloom, dotting the landscape with light purple clouds caught in the trees. Dodie sighed and said, "I love the palm trees."
What I did not realize and had not prepared for was the overwhelming presence of my older son Ben on this trip. Ben spent almost all of the first five years of his life in California, and trips to Los Angeles to visit family were frequent. On this trip, I could all but reach out and hold him in my arms again, now an infant, now a toddler, now a little boy. Ben at the La Brea tar pits, Ben learning to walk in Abuela's apartment, Ben playing with his cousins. The LA Zoo, Zuma beach, Tommy's, Porto's.
Ben everywhere I turned.
There was so much I could not see or do this trip. I was there for a conference (an excellent one, at that), not for a vacation. It was not a time to go seeking out distant memories. Seeing my boy everywhere was enough. I wrote friends postcards, saying how I found it both enchanting and unsettling to be in Los Angeles again.
The poet Rilke wrote, "Rich in memory are those places from the past that can never be revisited." Oh, I can visit LA again. But I will never again have baby Ben in my arms, taking in the sights, reaching out to the future.