D.E. Steward

The Getty Center as though astride the 405

In deep dusk outside on the haughty lofty terrace of the South and East Pavilions

Above quadruple taillight and headlight capillary trains on the slant north up Sepulveda Pass leading toward the Valley

Turn fully around to look way below at the pattern, and the quadruple capillary, four lanes of red, four lanes of white reverses, flips

Taillights bound for the Valley and Van Nuys become white, headlights heading south for the 10 toward Westwood and Santa Monica turned to red

The rubber-on-the-road sound river too far down and away to hear any distinctions, only steady humming freeway roar

The direction reversal to do with the unique perspective of the night-sky Getty complex and common twenty-first-century inversion turn-over

On to off

0 to 1

– to +

Flip to flop




Right to left, left to right

Our binomial measure of now

Binomial shifts analogous to a freeway stack

Enter in one direction, out in another

Each intersect a determinate stage

The 405 from up here high above, a paradigm of all freeways

Below, the bi-directional taillight headlight red-white symmetry broken infrequently by the slippery capillarity of the amber lightbar flashes of emergency and ambulance, and by LAPD strobe LEDs blue, red, white


The switch

In West LA

The season now of Santa Ana gravity wind pitched against the coastal effect

Heat from the desert against the cold ocean air drafting in

Happening dramatically like a lilting nocturne with the ascending dusky-rose evening smog mantel lifting off the Santa Monica Mountains

Off above the 405 as autumn’s Coast Range chill settles in over the Getty’s plazas

The museum’s warm beige fossil-laden travertine glows in evening light

The stone of the whole complex is exactly the stone of stalactites and stalagmites in limestone caves

The same stone here as that which built Rome

From the quarries in Bagni di Tivoli on the Aniene, the mountain river that was the source for Rome’s aqueducts

Limestone springs cascading over moss, algae, crystallized

And recrystallizing over eons, with the warm color of sulfur and iron within

Paul Getty a fait l’acquisition du site de 26 hectares de Malibu en 1945. En 1954, Paul Getty a ouvert le premier J. Paul Getty Museum pour y exposer sa collection, constituée en grande partie d’antiquités grecques et romaines.

 La villa Getty a ouvert ses portes au public en 1974 et a fermé à cause de renovation en 1997, six mois avant l’ouverture du Getty Center de Los Angeles

 All that defining architecture, all that intent, all that money, taste and expertise

The noblesse oblige

Getty’s Ozymandian insistence on the significance of his monument

But other than the classical collection in the Getty Villa, there’s a paucity of excellence in the museum’s huge inventory

Only occasionally is there the best in the halls and majestic galleries of the pavilions

But relish the Getty’s spectacular plazas and terraces, site, gardens and pavilions, and enjoy the art

If Getty had been collecting concurrent with Isabella Stuart Gardner and the other American richlings he would have soared

As it is the Getty is grandiose, intense, hip, all-there

And part of all West LA

Like Venice Beach Skateboard Park opened in 2009 dead center Venice Beach Park, steps up as to view a zoo pit without moat or fencing, down into the Snake Run Smaller Flow Bowl Section with Channel Drop In

Where an active beach-curfew issue hangs now to keep every one off the sand at night

People always come out here to the ocean, but with the Big One, or a Los Angeles 9/11, people could arrive here in the millions to escape

Clustered at the ultimate, before the grand Pacific façade

The end of the line

Where there’s a knack for doing things differently

Something else, distinctly of the century’s second decade, the people, the cool, the earnest attitudes

Finish up and then leave up the Pacific Coast Highway, Topanga Canyon, Fernwood, 101 then the Moorpark Freeway to State 23 and Fillmore

West of Santa Clarita, the Simi Hills, the Santa Susanas

Santa Paula on the Santa Clara River

The canyon oak golden-grass country overflown years ago with Eric piloting a seasoned old Piper Supercruiser out of little El Monte Airport on the way to Santa Maria

Strawberry-buoyant Santa Maria

We dropped low over Midland, Eric’s old ranch school, and over Michael Jackson’s Neverland, kiddie roller coaster, zoo, floral clock, and all

Eric came East two years ago, he was wobbly, left blood in the bathroom – “I tried to clean up as much as I could”

He wanted to do nothing more than go somewhere for lunch on the river and sit and talk, stayed two days, drove off to EWR, did not see him again before he died

He was real pushing up US7 into Vermont, muffler gone, flashes in the cold night from the manifold sparking through the floor, headed for Bennington, going for broke

A next-century misty morning now on the way up State 150 by Santa Paula Ridge, singleleaf piñons on the lonely pass, magnificently grayish pinus sentinels with some of the best pine nuts of all

Make the top, the desert to the east, the San Joaquin to the north, the Pacific to the west, LA behind

With the peculiar, eager emptiness of small-town California laid out toward the Bay Area way off ahead

Two full-inventory Santa Paula department stores with momentous piñatas in the windows, run by Pacific Asians for Central American farm-workers

Santa Paula’s multicultural historical murals all over town depicting a derbies-on-the-penny-farthings welcoming fruit-packing railroad town that may have never been

Next, Ojai’s faux-mission plaintive counterculture masque

All the Ventura County Santa Barbara-tending towns seeming to be waiting for LA’s sprawl to advance and transform them

Open up out of Ojai, feeling in the zone on State 33, the Maricopa Highway, in easy range all day of all of Santa Barbara, Kern, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties

Big California

Climbing through Sespe Gorge in the Los Padres National Forest, the Sespe Wilderness Area on the right, Matilija Wilderness on the left, only forest roads

Condor, bobcat, black bear country, wild

Chumas Wilderness and Dick Smith Wilderness ahead

Dropping into dry, wide, high Cuyama Valley

Empty mountains to the west, the Sierra Madre, lift hard out of the bajada

Pistachio groves and carrot fields

Cuyama Peak, almost six thousand feet

Line of sight distances like Nevada, the Pampas, Western Australia, Botswana, southern Namibia, Chad

You see all the way to the edge in these places

The Cuyama pistachio harvest is early October, when still green they slip out of their skin, then out of the shell, then out of the husk

Aphrodisiacal early-season green pistachios, in demand by magnificent, busty Iranian women in LA who buy them at the Westwood farmers’ market

Take lonely CA166, the Santa Maria to Maricopa and Taft road, then off into the wild Carrizo Plain National Monument on the narrow asphalt-heaved road to Soda Lake

The first miles of its up-and-down temblor heaves follow exactly the San Andreas Fault

No other traffic in either direction the whole fifty miles across

A profusion of migrating horned larks, thousands in the late afternoon, they lift barely higher than the car, rushing the dusk, flushing reluctantly, running not hopping, flying off low, grayish, pale

Serial flocks of hundreds, speed up, then another flock, and on and then another

Dazzling in the road dust’s gilded sunset glow

California Valley crossroads and on across San Luis Obispo County

Long hills and dips of the Carissa Highway Simmler, Syncline Hill (2438 feet), La Panza Ranch, Eddy Camp, Camatta Ranch, Camp 8, French Camp, Pozo Summit, Wilson Corner, Upton Ranch, Walters Camp, and into Paso Robles

Toponymy’s sonority and truths

The camps and ranches, the La Panzas, of the West

Like the Baxter, North Baxter, South Baxter, West Baxter, Baxter Springs, East Baxter, Baxter Flats, Baxter Centers of New England

Like the layered intricacies of Europe, the mysterious and colonial-tinged place names of Asia, South America’s dramatic Indio-Lusio-Hispanic toponymic mix

The big, proud plaza of Paso Robles that must have had a boastful Spanish name is now called “City Park,” the old, thundering, pre-5 spine of Anglo California, US101, is three blocks behind

Paso Robles, the name, the wine, Sideways, expected interior live oaks, expected even possibly vaqueros instead of fat Republicans in Ford 350 pickups

Out 24th Street early direction old Camp Roberts, Nacimiento, Bee Rock that is a lone general store on the Monterey County line

At Jolon, Fort Hunter Liggett, one of the Army’s drone centers in the Homeland, linked with Moffitt AFB on San Francisco Bay

The launch teams in camo fatigues eagerly run around drones poised for takeoff exactly like goofy model-airplane clubs

Death and surveillance

Surveillance and death

Pilots sit here in California killing people in other hemispheres and then drive home

Here in the canyon oaks, yellow-billed magpies, acorn woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers, a pair of unidentified ducks leaving a vernal pond a quarter of a mile away

West across classic live oak country for the ocean into the Ventana Wilderness Area of the Los Padres and into the eastern canyons of Robinson Jeffers land

Tight, very rough country, that coming to the ocean through ventanas between the peaks becomes high-vaulted sky dramatic and vertigo steep

And there it all is, the California edge again, four thousand feet down, wave-break, kelp-bed silence visible many dozens of miles each way

Henry Miller country in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, in his explicit, peculiarly conventional, didactic, deeply pre-1950, even Booth Tarkingtonesque, prose

But then the Big Sur of Jeffers, Miller, Esalen, New Age, Zen, Gestalt, Joan Baez, the smooth-shifting hydromatics of the sixties, was freedom “…a whole generation with a new explanation…”

And obdurate bloviation

Dropping down to Highway 1 south of Lucia from the last high ridge below Cone Peak, a switchback passes near the “New Camaldoli Hermitage Contemplative Retreat Experience”

Still Big Sur with resident richlings, crows begging on the spectacular café terrace overlooks, and sage sparrows, brush rabbits, voles venturing from the coyote bush and California sage below to snatch the tourist nibbles thrown off to them

Quizzically hungry like the self-realization full-mooners who come for the Big Sur experience

Stopped on the coast here in sunny fog headed for the San Francisco Spring Mobilization in April 1968, “Gentle people…” the roadside and cutbanks, in places crowded, “If you’re going to San Francisco // Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…”

At Point Lobos the crowds are dense, clambering over the rocks, confronting the maw, the ultimate edge again

With overcrowded parking lots behind

Out beyond at wave-break, the black oystercatchers, wandering tattlers and surfbirds

Canvasbacks, brants, chestnut-backed chickadees

Skim through the fizzling old town of Monterey

The charm of Canary Row already gone two generations ago

The hills and some of the flats covered with subdivision clusters, but Castroville, Moss Landing and Watsonville still farm

Stop in Santa Cruz and then up the Peninsula on the Junipero Sierra Freeway and through Daly City

Through the Sunset on 19th Ave

Park on 21st and walk Irving where Sunset’s east-west streets seem to reach over the ocean to Asia

In Golden Gate Park, with the Presido the only urban space in North America as fine as Washington’s, the mocha-wafer colored sheath screening of the Mayan grandeur of the de Young with its earnest, scanty collection in the Getty mode

The rolling intricacies of glass and green, the swaled roof of the California Academy of Sciences building opposite

California nation is at thirty-eight million and it shows



About the Author:

With many hundreds of publications, way beyond what he hoped to accomplish as an independent writer, D.E. Steward has never had a pedestrian job since college, and never published anything he’s ashamed of. He has never studied writing, didn’t even major in English, the only thing he has ever taught is swimming, and he tries to feed respect for the printed and pixelled word.

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