When I arrived a month ago, one wouldn’t believe LA was suffering a major pandemic. The roads were still busy with fast cars, the freeways choked when we ventured on to them, all vehicles seeming to be dodgem cars, zooming across the lanes with ferocious abandon. There was a major accident recently in front of my building. I looked out of my window at a speeding sports car, which had been careening down the boulevard at 120 mph and had crashed into another expensive car (as well as a few others on the way). It had been cut in half and exploded into flames. Both drivers died. Sadly, there’s an epidemic of young rich boys playing speed games on the wide boulevards. I hear, from members of their social group, that their pathetic excuse is that because the clubs are closed and there is nowhere for them to go at night, this is how they ‘let off steam’.
The streets of Beverly Hills are similarly thronged with people, all dutifully wearing masks, as it is mandatory to do so outside. There is a wonderful feeling of freedom after being in lockdown for the better part of a year. People look happy and are delighted that shops and hospitality venues have started to open up again. Most restaurants and cafés are functioning with ingenious ways of making them Covid-safe. Some bistros are out in the open air while others are enclosed by thick plastic, with just a sliver of air allowed in. Customers wear masks to enter but remove them once they sit. Although it is suggested that no more than six people dine together, sometimes younger groups ignore this advice, and the restaurants turn the other cheek. After all, they need the money.
All restaurant staff, by contrast, still must wear three face coverings. A disposable paper mask serves as the base, which is then covered by a cloth mask and finally topped by a clear plastic visor — voilá! Le Masque Bombe. In a dimly lit restaurant, I felt like I was in a science fiction movie. The experience is only heightened when the waiter attempts to announce the specials, which is hopeless. It’s like being served by Darth Vader.
Nevertheless, each restaurant had its own original and charming ambience. As a devoted ‘eater outer’, I patronised restaurants several times a week pre-Covid; so, after London’s lockdown, LA was Disneyland for me. Our first dinner was at Craig’s, one of the most popular and trendiest spots in LA. The owner, Craig, had taken over his parking lot and transformed it into the sort of brown wooden barn that would not be out of place in a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical. Instead of his usual suave lounge suit, he sported jeans and a western shirt, explaining that it befitted the casual look of his ‘saloon’.
The legendary Wolfgang Puck, whose restaurant Spago is famous world-wide, escorted us, George Hamilton and Alana Stewart (his ex-wife, with whom he’s close friends) to a cosy table beside a roaring outdoor fire. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, the music soft jazz, and as usual the food was delicious, especially Wolfgang’s legendary pizza topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon and caviar.
The fabulous Beverly Hills Hotel didn’t disappoint either, as the outdoor garden Polo Lounge was open and thriving and looked exactly the same as usual. ‘We’re only 45 per cent capacity in the hotel,’ the manager Pepe informed us. ‘But we hope that European and British tourists will come soon.’ Since both Europe and the UK are locked down tighter than Prince Harry’s mouth regarding the royal racist, I admired his optimism.
The Grove is a fabulous shopping centre for tourists, with its magical musical fountain spouting in time to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald numbers. It was thriving when I went shopping and lunching with my friend the stylist Rene Horsch. The big movie complex was still closed but I was delighted to find Barnes & Noble open, as well as most other stores, and I was able to browse at last!
As America’s vaccine rollout continues apace and the infection and hospitalisation rates drop, in the very near future hospitality and retail are expected to return fully to normal. But sadly, there are an inordinate amount of homeless people and tents lining many of the roads; a stark reminder of the devastation that the pandemic and continued economic shocks have caused.
Crime, too, has spread like wildfire. Shortly after the kidnapping of Lady Gaga’s dogs, a shooting a block away from the shopping paradise that is Rodeo Drive shocked this august community. It appears some dimwit with more money than sense had just purchased a $400,000 watch and boasted about it on social media. He then told the world where he was having lunch. To no one’s surprise, the robbers showed up at the restaurant and in the struggle a gun went off, injuring a bystander.
The by-product of social media can be terrifying, inviting not only criminal activity but a digital version of the ‘pitchfork brigade’ that casts judgment on any opinion or activity one decides to share. Caught by the paparazzi on my first evening out, I was sad to see I had been trolled by Instamoaners about ‘breaking the rules’. I would like to point out I am allowed to travel for work and business, and my husband is American and allowed to travel back home.
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