Friday, July 4, 2008

Griffith Observatory

I like to spend the first morning of a vacation getting oriented. Where's the nearest grocery? Drugstore? Free wireless? Coffee is of the highest priority. Fortunately, I only needed to drive a short distance down Fairfax to find all three. O gloria mundi...a Whole Foods!

After assuaging my caffeine withdrawal headache, I drove to the Getty Center Museum. The Center is located high on a hill in Brentwood, with stunning views of Bel-Air and the hills beyond. Although admission is free, visitors pay a parking fee and then take a tram up the hill to the actual museum. I have a number of photos of the complex, but won't include them here. It is a beautiful facility, but for some reason, I found it to be a little sterile. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much beauty or perfection. Still, I recommend the exhibits. Getty was a late-comer as a collector, and concentrated his efforts on eras and genres which weren't as well-represented in museums, such as medieval manuscripts and photography.

After the Getty, I met my friend and former classmate Michael for dinner at a Cuban place on Venice Boulevard. I missed it the first time, and was surprised when GPS lady ordered me to make a U-turn. She seemed to know much more than just geospatial vectors, such as California vehicular law, and whether traffic was slow up ahead. As I found out later, a U-turn was legal at that particular intersection. After a leisurely dinner where we planned our outing for the next day, Mike and I parted ways. It was only 8:30, so I decided to end the evening at the Griffith Observatory.

The observatory is located in Griffith Park, which is, according to my tourist guide, the largest "wild" city park in the country. The park is heavily forested near the crest of Mount Hollywood, where the observatory sits. As I leaned over a roadside fence to shoot the first photo that appears in this post, I heard rustling near my feet. It was a little skunk.

I enjoyed the views of Los Angeles at night, and the educational exhibits. Alas, I didn't move fast enough to catch the last show in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. The Nimoy Theater isn't the only campy reminder that this is a company town. A number of movies have been filmed on or near the grounds. Perhaps the best-known was Rebel Without A Cause. A memorial to James Dean is located just outside the observatory building.

Line outside the big telescope was very long. I don't do long lines, with the exception of Saturday at Hot Doug's. As I was leaving the observatory, I passed a smaller group of people waiting to look through a shoulder-high telescope. The docent caught my eye. "Wanna to see Saturn?" I waited my turn, and looked into the eye piece. "You're shitting me" I said to him, forgetting that there were kids there. I was genuinely amazed: it looked like a tiny photograph of Saturn, almost too crisp and colorful to be believable. "No, that's really it, I promise." I looked at Saturn one last time, and then walked toward my car. It was time to begin my descent down into the city.

James Dean Memorial at Griffith Observatory [Link]

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