It was strange to land in LA and find the landscape so familiar; I found myself re-mapping the city in my head, block by block, freeway by freeway, backseat driving before the second day was through.
On the first morning, since the kids were up way before anything was open, we drove to Venice Beach, and walked along the deserted boardwalk. I couldn't help thinking about my first landing in LA almost 20 years ago, and the drive to the beach through the darkness, so I could put my feet in the Pacific Ocean, feeling like I'd just discovered another continent. Pulling our sweatshirts against the wind, my son and I watched the early skateboarders and talked about homelessness in warmer climates.
Later we drove across town, past my old grocery store, past the alley where I was mugged at gunpoint, past my old apartment building where I lived next to a rockabilly couple on one side and a drag queen on the other and upstairs from a large Russian Orthodox Jewish family, past (and later, into) the bakery where I drowned my graduate school sorrows and celebrated triumphs with the best white chocolate raspberry cake on the planet. We wandered around the Fairfax farmer's market, which had gotten a facelift thanks to the new upscale shopping center that colonized it. We parked at the LaBrea Tar Pits--where I'd never been, despite the fact that I'd lived just blocks away--and marveled at bubbling asphalt.
We spent a day at the zoo with an old friend--the one I credit with responsibility for my return to the East Coast--and had a drink with an old boyfriend, who drove across town through rush hour traffic and walked to the end of the Santa Monica Pier in the wintry wind for the meager reward of a margarita and a quick conversation. We drove to Long Beach to hang out at the aquarium with our old neighbor, who was thrilled to see the kids again and to be hug-bombed by familiar arms and faces. And on the last day we drove through the rain up the PCH, stood on the beach in a break of sunlight and collected Pacific Ocean water at Leo Carillo beach, wandered back along the canyons on Mullholland Highway, and ate a huge brunch at Canter's deli.
We're back in the land of snow and hot cocoa now. But I haven't entirely left LA, like I had last time. For everything people say about not being able to go back, it was easier to be there than I thought; actually, it felt oddly like I was tying up a loose end in my past, or bringing closure by returning as a different version of myself. Maybe I'd let enough time pass so that the city didn't have such emotional power over me any more: I'd gotten a different doctoral degree, had a family, put down roots.
The more I thought about it, the more I think I've decided it's possible to go back somewhere (or even to look backwards) while also moving forward ... in fact, sometimes I think it's almost necessary to keep those pieces of our past intact, to remind us of where we've been so we can remember where we want to go, or at least appreciate where we are.
Happy New Year to you all. Look forward to the year ahead. Make plans. Aspire. But don't forget to touch base, once in a while, with the former yous. Because they're no less you than you are now.
Spanish Hot Chocolate
I saw an advertisement in LA for "rich hot chocolate" and was a little disappointed with what I got because I think I was imagining this drink instead. Another remnant from my past; this hot chocolate is the sort you dip churros into on brisk mornings in the cafes of Madrid. Anything else that claims it's "drinking chocolate"? Isn't.
1.25 oz. dark chocolate (60% or more)
1 c. milk
2 t. corn starch (less for thinner, more for thicker chocolate)
2 t. sugar (or to taste)
Pour half of the milk into a small saucepan and add the chocolate. Melt over medium-low heat.
In the meantime, dissolve corn starch into the rest of the milk. (Make sure it's fully dissolved, or you'll get lumps.)
Slowly add the milk and corn starch to the melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in sugar. Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the hot chocolate thickens. Strain into a mug and drink ... or dip ... or eat in small mouthfuls with a spoon.