My sister Joy (good humored as her name, gregarious, and a fine golfer who looks a little like Julie Andrews) and her husband, Michael (wry, wise, a gentle man and a superior golfer who looks a lot like the late Duke of Windsor), spent a 30-hour weekend in Los Angeles recently.
They were breaking that enormous stretch from Europe through Hawaii to Australia and Singapore.
Joy was happy and curious because she has never visited the Pacific and Australasia. She wanted to see where Charles Lindbergh is buried alongside his monkeys on Maui and whistle inside the acoustical miters of the Sydney Opera House and eat rock oysters.
Michael was even, quiet. The dramatist in me presumed the ghosts of Singapore where he had been captured in 1942. The Japanese sent him to work on a bridge over a river named Kwai.
Joy and Michael have traveled well and widely. They have poked around New York and Washington. They know a little of San Francisco and San Diego. But they've never quite understood Los Angeles.
They know it's not the Hollywood sign and "Helter Skelter." Nor is it frippery and Frisbees, palimony and the Polo Lounge.
So it fell to me to show and tell on the real Los Angeles of pungent eucalyptus and scrolled corbels of older times and architecture. I had one day, a truncated weekend to sound the city and its echoes of Dashiell Hammett. I had bare hours to explain by showing; balancing glamour against substance to catch a personality.
I decided against a visit to our art and antiquities . . . because Joy and Michael know the Tate, the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert and the Prado.
I did not take them to Rodeo Drive . . . because Beverly Hills boutiques are but branch stores to a couple who shop Jermyn Street and rue du Faubourg-St.-Honore.
But I did take Joy and Michael to tea at the Westwood Marquis because it is dusty pink wingbacks and paneling and trompe l'oeil and there's a harpist at one end of the salon and the tea is brewed in a samovar. Tea with Harvey's Bristol Cream. Tea with scones and clotted cream. Darjeeling tea, Earl Grey tea, English breakfast tea.
"I like this room," said my sister. "There are so many cultures here." Another culture was added when Gene Hackman strolled by.
We drove Sunset Boulevard from the exorbitant mansions of its past-tense to Union Station, which daily becomes more of a museum. Then north on Coldwater past homes on stilts clinging to canyon walls. Tudor with black beams. Art Deco with blue railings. Chalet. Chateau. Hacienda. Schloss.
No two alike, observed Michael. Absolute freedom of residential choice. An architectural bazaar.
They felt the extraordinary ease of our ordinary weekends. A drive along Pacific Coast Highway when, for that moment, everyone can afford Malibu. They walked on sea-laundered beaches that belong to all Californians until Memorial Day. Joy said she felt the start of a tan. Imagine that. In March.
They rode the cheapest, noblest and most nostalgic ride in the nation and it costs just 50 cents for a saddle aboard a wooden horse on the Santa Monica Pier carrousel.
We dined alfresco at the Inn of the Seventh Ray in the tummy of Topanga Canyon. Music was Elizabethan madrigal and the tape-recorded ring of Patrick Ball's Celtic harp. The beef was pure, the vegetables market garden. Local wine. And coyotes still walk the crick past your table.
They found Los Angeles as azaleas blazing before spring. Pyramids of apples polished to wax in 24-hour supermarkets. Car phones. Joggers and surfers and hikers and the Los Angeles Marathon. The Goodyear blimp. A Lamborghini Countach driven by a woman. Mile-a-minute freeways crossing one of the world's largest cities.
"I like your Los Angeles," said Joy. "It is a very civilized city."
Then she saw the white limousine whispering down the San Diego Freeway. It obviously was a studio car. The vanity plate read: DYNASTY.
Said big sister: "Even your funeral cars are more luxurious than ours."