Lots of people are going to choose their college based, in some part, on location. Townie charm or city bustle? And if you want a city, what reputation do you want it to have? What’s going to have the cultural cachet, saying that you bumped into someone nice on a New York subway or that you drove to Graumin’s Chinese and saw those tacky handprints in the cement? Do you really want people asking you if you’ve seen George Clooney? Asking if you’re trying to be an actress? Director? Or worst of all, and I shudder to type this, a reality tv writer?
Our reputation is that of LaLaLand, where the the vapid go to stop thinking, but I’d like to tell you about a Night at the Opera I had a few months ago that disproves those misconceptions. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll see Los Angeles like I, a local, see it: as a monument to the cosmopolitanism of California.
I like (not love) opera, have since I was a kid. I love the staging mostly, the costuming, so LA Opera, which holds its 30th anniversary season this semester, has always held a dear place in my heart. Through the LA County Arts Commission, an internship I received in no small part due to my affiliation with Pomona’s prestige, I received discounted tickets to their double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci. I drove into Los Angeles one sunny Sunday afternoon with my friend Francesca, one of the coolest people I’ve met in my sponsor group.
I love driving in Los Angeles. Sun through windshield. Something good on the radio. Long and winding conversations with friends. If you want to get to know someone–and I challenge new freshman to test my theory–drive to LA with them. It takes forty-five minutes each way and as you wind past the SoCal landscape you learn to chat at length. Maybe that’s why people in Los Angeles are so sociable; they’ve learned the breezy tone that comes with carpooling, that makes the drive the main thrust of conversation rather than the destination.
Though, of course, when the destination is one of the funniest operas you’ve ever seen (not that I know that much about opera) in one of your most beloved cities, the conversations always end on the high note of stepping out into the urban landscape. We parked and walked around Grand Park for awhile–we arrived early; always account for traffic–amblingly chatting about our past colleges. The both of us are transfer students, she from New York, I from LA. We began talking about Vladimir Nabokov, writer of Lolita, of whom we were both fans. Back at my old school, no one would talk Nabokov unless homework forced them to. The honest intellectualism here felt refreshing; austere, humble, never pretentious but always present.
Filing into the Opera House, we met up with my high school friend Dustin. There’s something nice, for me at least, in having gone to college near home, even though I sometimes long to get out of the state and experience the rest of America. But I’d also say, for people in California who may feel reticent about staying close to home, that California is far from the worst place to be stranded, and that the occasional visitation by a high school friend can have value equal to a night at the opera with a new friend. Besides, there’s nothing better than introducing two friends to each other, be they new or old.
Opera Houses are cold and dark, guaranteed to lull you to sleep unless the opera is top notch. Which is to say, we stayed wide awake for Gianni Schicchi, a comedy about an Italian family trying to change their deceased patriarch’s will, but fell asleep during Pagliacci, a tragedy about (like most operas) killer clowns. We didn’t mind; those are the benefits of discounted tickets. But LA Opera’s Gianni Schicchi was brilliant, laugh-out-loud level funny.
Before going back to Claremont we stopped at a little ramen shop called Men Oh Tokushima. This place is my favorite in the world. Men Oh’s a hole-in-the-wall in Little Tokyo with the best vegetarian ramen around. That night reggae played on the speakers, though sometimes they play Kendrick Lamar. As I ate my veggie ramen, (lovingly warm, doused in ginger), I thought about just how Los Angeles this whole ordeal was. We went to see centuries-old opera straight out of Italy, then we drove just a mile to eat amazing ramen, and soon we would drive down to sleepy Claremont, where famous Mexican muralists have left their mark and where mountains as old as any I know would loom over us. This city is cosmopolitan, and the fact that it’s right here, with its wealth of museums, its Opera houses young but audacious, only makes Pomona that much better.