Los Angeles is on the world's cultural itinerary like never before

Matthew Jaffe

A rainy Sunday in Paris would seem an unlikely place tobegin a story about Los Angeles, but here goes.

About a year ago, my wife and I ducked into the venerableCafé de Flore along Boulevard Saint-Germain for a late lunch.Our server was a handsome young guy in his 20s with flowing hairand a relaxed manner that was in marked contrast to the famouslyimperious bearing of most Paris waiters. When he brought the check,he asked us where we lived. And so I told him: California. LosAngeles.

His face brightened. "Los Angeles! I want to visit there somuch. The sun. All the architecture. Frank Gehry. Hollywood. It allseems very American, so exciting and new there. So different thanParis."

I bring up this moment not as some Old Europe seal of approvalfor this most New World of cities but rather to state the obvious:L.A. is not Paris. Nor is it London, New York, or San Francisco.And that's exactly what intrigued this guy about Los Angeles, whathe presumed to be the very bearable L.A.-ness of its being. Theless traditional, apparently, the better. Los Angeles may be theleast understood of major world cities, the result of its sprawlinggeography, an avalanche of stereotypes, and the tendency ofotherwise informed people to flaunt their sophistication bydismissing the city - that is, without really understanding it.

With the opening of two innovative downtown landmarks, JoseRafael Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and FrankGehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles is on the world'scultural itinerary like never before. These buildings join adecade's worth of projects - including the Staples Center arenadowntown, the approximately $1 billion Getty Center for the arts,and a growing subway and light-rail network - that have helped LosAngeles rebound from the earthquakes and riots of the 1990s.Meanwhile, Hollywood - not the industry but the historicentertainment district - has launched a comeback. Restaurants, newretail projects, and restored theaters are drawing a young, artycrowd to an area that had previously been ceded to starstrucktourists.

If, as it has so often been said, Los Angeles is 19 or 100 or1,000 suburbs in search of a city, then maybe, at long last, thatcity has been found.

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