For the first thirty-six years of my life, Los Angeles was where my grandmother Tamara lived. When she died in 1998, I had few reasons to go there. Prior to that I had visited Los Angeles maybe a dozen times, first as a child, when she and her second husband, the lawyer Alexander Fishman (aka the novelist Alexander Moskoyov), lived at Pacific Palisades, and then as a young man, when she moved to 2nd and Wilshire in Santa Monica after Alex passed away and she resumed the work she did in Shanghai before her marriage to my grandfather, Jack Turner, in 1935, a year before my father John was born, and four years before their interment at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
The apartment at 2nd and Wilshire (in the Mission-moderne style, long since torn down) was up a flight of twenty concrete stairs: a suite to the left and a studio to the right, where babushka practiced massage and reflexology. Many of her clients were TV actors, but she also worked with musicians like David Bowie, whose autographed Station to Station album (cassette) lies somewhere in my abstracted box of treasures. When she died I received a number of letters from those who knew and loved her – TV actors, but also politicians and theosophists, shop owners and health care workers. Many of these letters used words like “unique” and “extraordinary” to describe her, while some spoke of how important she was in helping them chart a life that never would have occurred to them had it not been for her “guiding presence.”
Yesterday, on our second day in Los Angeles, Judy and I stopped for lunch at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica en route to Malibu so we could burn our bodies at the appropriately named Carbon Beach. Prior to that I had suggested we go across the street and see if the camera obscura was still in what is now the Santa Monica Senior Recreation Centre, the one constant in all my trips to Los Angeles, something that, upon stepping into its darkened room, activates a feature-film’s worth of memories, yet something I would have missed had I not seen it out of the corner of my eye while looking for a place to park.