This post is accidentally part of an accidental Blog Series on Wandering Footsteps – the Christmas In… series. For, over the years, I have titled many a posts this way: there’s Christmas in Kathmandu; Christmas in Zimbabwe; Christmas in Lalibela, and Christmas in Morocco. Maybe I should try to make this a yearly tradition!
On Christmas Eve morning, Bruno and I woke up to a flat tire and rain in a Planet Fitness parking lot, airplanes from the next-door airport whizzing over our heads.
On Christmas morning, we woke up in a charming cottage with leafy garden views and toasted with mimosas while streaming Christmas music on a high-tech sound system.
Over two weeks later, I still cannot believe how wonderfully Bruno and I managed to rescue Christmas.
Bruno had been sick – like I had never seen him in the nearly-five years we’ve known one another – for days. We were caught in a series of the craziest rain storms I had seen since Zimbabwe’s rainy season. And we couldn’t find a decent place in Los Angeles to park our home-on-wheels for a few nights, while we checked out the used vehicle selection in town. We’d already spent one night getting kicked out of a Planet Fitness parking lot and ending up sleeping along Venice Blvd among a few beat-up RVs, and we’d only managed the second night by pleading for special permission with the parking lot security guards.
In all the time Bruno and I have traveled in Totoyaya together, we’ve only ever broken down and gotten a hotel once. We were in Port Sudan, and had been camping in the Sahara Desert for a week. I was itching for a proper shower, and the sand storms had become challenging. With Bruno’s birthday coming up, I managed to secure an amazing 2-night deal at the Port Sudan Hilton, and we took it. Funnily enough, we slept terribly, and were both quite happy to return to our tiny home-on-wheels.
The conditions in L.A. were more desperate (IMO), as I was much closer to the end of my tether (but I’ll leave that story for another post), so I turned to a resource I’ve only ever used as a property owner: Air BnB (plug: the link to our own Air BnB property, in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea is here.)
It wasn’t only our vehicle search that made Bruno and I decide to stay in a city that had no boondocking or camping options for us over the holidays – it’s that, frankly, Los Angeles seemed like a glamorous setting for a holiday (and one I’ve always wanted to visit). We had entered the city from the highway (where, by the way, Totoyaya reached her 600,000th kilometer!) and had come down from lush hills into a valley overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. We had driven through the Hollywood Hills past the renowned Bel Air neighbourhood (yes, I rapped The Fresh Prince of Bel Air the entire drive – and poor Bruno had no clue what I was doing), where the homes and views were just as luxurious as I’d imagined. We had passed the string of high end shops in Beverly Hills and pulled up at red lights beside Bentleys and Rolls Royces (which we’d also done, to hilarious effect, in Dubai).
It is not surprising that so many Americans have flocked to southern California over the years in search of “a better style of American living.” Los Angeles is the American Dream, all wrapped up into a single city.
The Air BnB cottage we booked offered us a better style of American living for a few days, too. On Christmas Eve, we ordered pizza (a total luxury for people who almost never have a fixed address or an abode near enough to a restaurant to do delivery) and drank prosecco (a welcome gift from our Air BnB hosts) while soaking in the private hot tub in the back yard. After days of chilling rain, the stress of not knowing where to sleep that night, and general holiday-induced anxiety, this luxury was all the more sweet.
I didn’t need to unwrap any gifts on Christmas morning. The gift was waking up in this quaintest, cosiest of cottages. Bruno and I ambled down the ladder from our loft bed into a warm, sunny room. I turned on the Roku, searched for Christmas music, and sang along to the tunes while Bruno prepared breakfast. I poured him his first mimosa. We talked to my family for over an hour on Skype, another heart-warming luxury that my usual internet-limited self never takes for granted.
By the time we stepped outside after lunch to take the bus to Hollywood, I was glowing from the inside out.
Yes, Bruno and I went to Hollywood on Christmas afternoon. It was our first opportunity to be tourists in Los Angeles, and this was the perfectly clichéd place to go.
Of all the reasons for Los Angeles’ growth and fame, Hollywood is probably the primary. The motion pictures industry, which grew out of Hollywood almost one hundred years ago, quickly flourished, becoming the 5th largest industry in the United States by 1926. It drove the city’s population boom more than any other industry – more than transport, oil, or agriculture – and helped transform Los Angeles from a little Hispanic cattle town to the 5th largest American city by 1930.
The City of Dreams was the epitome of the American Dream. It was the final destination of the famed Route 66 (a fun road trip we just finished) and the place where ordinary people could, by skill or chance, become rich and famous. Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the only little girl who placed her hands and feet in the moulds of stars that had come before her and saw that her own hands weren’t so different from theirs.
My friend, Adam, is one of many people who’ve moved West to make their dreams come true. He had often shared with me his dream of being a screenplay writer between our philosophy classes at Lake Forest College. An unrealistic dream, many told him, and perhaps they are right. But a few years after college, he made the bold move out to Los Angeles, and has been working hard ever since, writing tirelessly and trying to make the right Hollywood connections. It’s a tough game, he would tell me when we’d meet up a few days after Christmas for dinner, but if you don’t play you can’t win. His biggest success so far? A screenwriting and production credit in the award-winning but little-known film, Nightlights.
Most of us, though, just visit Hollywood to pose for photos with their stars and handprints.
Bruno had been to Hollywood almost a decade earlier (just after shipping Totoyaya from South Korea to L.A. on his first trip around-the-world), and he was surprisingly excited to revisit. He was positively giddy to show me the Walk of Fame and to point out the stars of the many famous Hollywooders he knows (demonstrating how pervasive is the influence of Hollywood, for France has a strong movie-making culture, too). I had fun searching for stars I particularly like and deciphering signatures on the concrete plaques outside the infamous Chinese Theater. We caught a glimpse of the infamous Hollywood sign and a few sideways glances of the costumed star-imitators on the streets.
Satisfied that we’d left the house at least a little bit, Bruno and I scurried back to our cozy abode for a Christmas Feast (ordered from Whole Foods, thank you!), a Christmas movie (on a big TV!) and another hot tub session (complete with thick white bathrobes, my-oh-my).
The morning after Christmas, we received a surprise gift from our Air BnB hosts – an extra night’s stay at no charge. They had made a slight booking error and this was their way of making it up to us. This gift was like waking up to Christmas a second day in a row! I had been absolutely savouring our stay at Tweet Loft Guesthouse and Hot Tub, and was already counting down the hours until our unfortunate departure, so I counted my lucky stars to get to stay another day.
What did we do with our gifted time? I headed for a couple yoga classes up the street. We took a walk through the neighbourhood, admiring the unique mid-century homes and even more unique mix of tropical plants and arid succulents. We ate spicy roasted corn among the too-cool hipsters at nearby Echo Lake. And we did a lot of chilling at home, tea-drinking, ordering in, sitting in the hot tub, and taking luxuriously long, hot showers.
There was an achy, naggy voice in the back of my head urging me out into the streets. You’re in L.A., it said, and there’s so much to see. Go to Venice Beach! Go shopping in Beverly Hills! Do something – just get out of the house!
I realized, though, that what Bruno and I needed most of all was not to be tourists in Los Angeles. We need a nest. A place for Bruno to get healthy, and for me to spread out after weeks of feeling cramped in Totoyaya. A place that would keep us warm, would protect us from the inclement weather. The gift of this Air BnB was to be a reset, a recharge. And so I silenced the voice in my head by telling it we would return to L.A. another time to be tourists.
Besides, we’d already had the quintessential Los Angeles experience – a close-up encounter with a Hollywood star. Driving in the hills above L.A. a few days earlier, Bruno spotted an old car behind us.
“Check it out,” he says, “it’s Al Capone’s car!”
I, as usual when it comes to car-spotting, react with lackluster. But then the vehicle pulls up beside us and the driver motions us to roll down our window.
“That’s a really cool vehicle!” he exclaims.
“Yours is pretty cool, too!” Bruno replies over the hum of two old engines. “I know a family with three kids who travels around the world in a car like that!”
“That’s very French,” replies the man before wishing us happy holidays.
Bruno waves, rolls up his window, and I turn to him, heart racing, “Oh my god! That’s Jay Leno!”
“Who’s that?” my Frenchman replies.
Two weeks later, I sit and write this post from the Pahrump Public Library (a small town just west of Las Vegas, Nevada). We’ve had two below-zero nights, and even the days are cold and grey. I’m at the library primarily to stay warm, and so that we’re not cooped up inside Totoyaya all day.
Writing this post brings me back to Christmas at our amazing BnB in Los Angeles. I long for that hot tub again, that charming warm space. I’m a bit bummed I’m not there now. But mostly, I’m just infinitely grateful for the time we did have there. It really was the perfect way to spend Christmas in L.A.