DICKENS IN LA
But first San Francisco:
An uncomfortable city; absurdly steep streets, like techtonic plates buckled up against each other, from recent seismic upheaval. A spiky, jagged uneven urban fabric; A keen wind; not the sybaritic atmosphere I am anticipating.
And then there is this wretched wholesomeness. As I realised when I went into my first bar; this was a Fu Manchu like den with rich tattered hangings, dark walls and 50 Chinese men drinking beer; and yet, wait, what was wrong here? not one of them was smoking.
Yes of course I knew about the new smoking regulations applying in California; but this was positively shocking because I could never actually believe in the truth of such legislation. But here was evidence enough; because if you can stop the Chinese smoking then you have one hell of a law.
I knew therefore that whatever other place of refreshment I sought it would be the same story. Resigned to a smokeless evening, a beer unaccompanied by smoke! I set out and of course then realised that there was another hurdle to cross; finding a not too gay bar. I ended up in a bar that had women in it; but it was gay; so I found myself discussing Buhle furniture and the Bonnard Exhibition in London with my refined new friends. In gay joints I find it useful to mention my son, en passant; my interlocutor starts and says
"Oh you mean you're not gay....(pause, and he puts his hand up to my brow) "and you have such pretty hair"
Curiously enough I do get to smoke in this bar, at about midnight, locked in with the barman and a couple of his regulars and we smoke dope.
I am now in the Sunset Suite, Hotel Cadillac, Venice Beach, Los Angeles. The Sunset suite is not grand in any way; sitting room, bedroom, bathroom. with a fabulous view over the dazzling white beach and the glittering pacific. Ten miles down the coast I see planes peel away from LAX, curiously in twos, mounting into the hazy blue sky side by side and then veering subtly into their respective trajectories, London on one hand, perhaps, Beijing on the other.