He got a racing car, a Bugatti, and when he was very nervous and tired he would go out in it and drive 95 miles an hour and come back looking 19 years old and perfectly relaxed.
--Carlotta O'Neill describing her husband, playwright Eugene O'Neill
For Los Angeles residents who take after Eugene O'Neill in that they are soothed by racing engines, life must be one long swing in a hammock. Likewise for anyone who finds relaxation in the music of car alarms and garbage trucks.
The rest of us need to shut out the roar now and then, particularly during the holidays.
The consensus among a small sampling of Angelenos is: You can never truly shake the hubbub within city limits. The search for serenity in Los Angeles, then, is a search for artificially created tranquillity.
Here are some places where men and women have painstakingly manipulated sights, sounds and smells to temporarily banish the multi-stimuli of the city.
Since it opened to the public in 1950, the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, three blocks from the ocean on Sunset Boulevard, has offered visitors free samples of "divine peace" in the midst of a busy beach area.
The fellowship, a nonprofit organization, was established in 1920 by the Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda. Because Yogananda believed in the underlying unity of all religions, there are shrines to the world's major religions on the grounds, and people of every faith are welcome.
A husband and wife from Bel-Air come twice a week to stroll the path around the lake, said resident monk Brother Ramananda. "They claim it's like a transfusion," he said. And on a recent morning, Sister Mary Austin, a Catholic nun from East Los Angeles, had brought a visiting nun, Amy Baybay of Chicago, "to experience the peace of the place."
Said Sister Amy: "This really is a place for prayer."
The 10-acre site, open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. every day, is laden with birds of paradise, hydrangea, lantana, fig trees, hawthorns, begonias, calla lilies, geraniums and roses. "The roses really bless you when you walk in here," Ramananda said.
The most imposing sight on the grounds is an enormous temple on the far side of the lake, whose columns are topped by golden lotus blossoms (symbols of divine unfoldment). There are swans placidly bobbing on the lake; numerous benches to pose on; and statues of figures such as Krishna and Christ to contemplate.
New condos and a shopping center are under noisy construction across the street from the Lake Shrine. But Brother Ramananda says they'll just plant more trees to erase the sight of the new buildings. And the waterfalls on the grounds are like white noise, muting the beep of tractors backing up, he said.
The Robert O. Anderson building at the County Museum of Art is too new and busy to have developed a patina of tranquillity, museum spokesperson Pam Jenkinson said, but the Ahmanson building has entire rooms--such as the sky-lit 17th-Century Dutch gallery--that are hushed and reposeful.
As much as the paintings, it's the controlled environment of the museum that makes it a sanctuary--the muted walls, the carefully placed lights, the lack of clutter. "And art in general is really calming," Jenkinson said.
Perhaps the most popular serenity-inducing painting in the building is Winslow Homer's "Lost on the Grand Banks," said Jenkinson. There's a comfortable padded bench in front of this painting, which may have something to do with its restfulness quotient.
Alice Archambault, a visitor from South Sarasota, Fla., chose this bench for a rest on a recent morning. Archambault removed her glasses and regarded Winslow Homer's 1885 painting, which shows two sailors looking apprehensively over the edge of their small boat into the deep teal waves of a violent sea.
Archambault said she has visited most every major art museum in the world and finds them--along with public gardens--among the most serene places in any city.
Call the museum for information and hours: (213) 937-2590.
The Bodhi tree is a sacred fig tree under which the Indian philosopher Siddhartha Gautama was said to have sat in meditation until enlightenment came to him and he became Buddha. At the Bodhi Tree bookstore at 8585 Melrose Ave., there are always a few aspiring Buddhas sitting on benches that line the walls and on chairs tucked into small nooks. In an atmosphere one customer described as reverential, they contemplate books on topics such as Native American shamanism and neuro-linguistic programming and graphology.
Esther Wagner, a visitor from Tacoma, Wash., had spent an entire hour sitting in an alcove in the "Saints" section. The 69-year-old English professor at the University of Puget Sound said she found the experience "very agreeable," despite the Christmas crowds filling the store.