What was once forbidden territory for a pair of deeply entrenched New Yorkers has become something of a paradisiacal new beginning. Author Lesley M. M. Blume recounts her family’s new adventures in Hollywood .
We probably weren’t the most obvious candidates to move to Los Angeles. I am what people often describe as a quintessential New York character, for better or worse. Consider the evidence: I am invariably clad in black; I am addicted to my work; I am more inclined toward cheese plates than canyon hikes; I practically lived at Bemelmans and the 21 Club. I also happen to be a fifth-generation New Yorker (on my dad’s side); my husband is third generation; no one from either of our immediate families has ever made the pilgrimage west.
But Los Angeles began to beckon us several years ago. The siren song had nothing to do with the exodus of creative New Yorkers who’d begun moving here, thanks to the extreme expense of dwelling in our city (someone quoted in the The New York Times recently aptly described contemporary Manhattan as “Dubai with blizzards”). In fact, I was fairly annoyed when I realized that we were inadvertently following a trend—but there was no avoiding it. Whenever New York becomes untenable—either because it gets too rich or too poor—Los Angeles is a beneficiary.
The fact was that we simply loved it out here in L.A. Things that killed me about this city: the view of the sunbaked hills and sea from the terrace restaurant at the Getty; the smell of orange blossoms that hangs in the air; the Old Hollywood section (and chocolate assortment!) at Book Soup; the ride up Beachwood Drive to Beachwood Café, the crooked, iconic Hollywood sign looming on the hills ahead. With each trip here it got harder and harder to go back to New York.
You can see the Hollywood sign from our library. (Please understand that this is a big deal for New Yorkers. If we can’t gaze at the Chrysler Building every day, we damn well want to see the Hollywood sign.)
Finally, we saw our opportunity to make the leap west: Last fall, I finished and delivered my upcoming Ernest Hemingway biography, Everybody Behaves Badly, and signed with talent agency UTA. My husband is an attorney for Disney/ABC (he’s a reformed journalist; we met at ABC News’ Nightline a hundred years ago; our first date was a biochemical warfare training session), and his job was transferred to the Disney lot in Burbank. We looked at quite a few houses here—including Marilyn Monroe’s notorious former home in Brentwood—but ultimately picked a charming 1926 hacienda in West Hollywood, whose second-floor terrace is shaded by bird-of-paradise plants. You can see the Hollywood sign from our library. (Please understand that this is a big deal for New Yorkers. If we can’t gaze at the Chrysler Building every day, we damn well want to see the Hollywood sign.)
At first we didn’t know what to do with so much space, but we heaped the balconies and terrace with citrus trees and bougainvillea; our 3,000-book collection commandeered many of the other rooms. Sometimes we forget that we even have a backyard (still New Yorkers!); the grill has remained untouched, but we’ll work up the courage to approach it eventually. Suddenly we own curious objects like beach towels, watering cans, outdoor cushions, and most curious of all: cars—including an astonishing truck-like thing that we call the Terranimal (this beast is used by our nanny—a true L.A. creature: Valley-raised, agent father—to tote our city-child to the beach, where she marvels at the sand and the sheer size of the sky above).
There is, of course, a learning curve for immigrant New Yorkers. Certain lessons must be mastered, stat: Obvious impatience or urgency must not be demonstrated, even in business matters; the word “vehicle” is a film term, not an automotive one; one must not make fun of canyon hiking, as it is apparently a religious experience for people here; assume that everyone you meet at a party is likely an actor and you should pretend to recognize him or her, lest you mortally wound that person’s feelings.
Once you’ve reconciled yourself to such truths, you’ll probably be fine, and there is a real heaven to be found here. My moments of bliss come when all of our windows and doors are open and the warm breeze scatters bougainvillea blossoms across our floors; or when the high-noon sun bathes the terrace as I’m writing, wearing a huge straw gardening hat; or when my daughter paints on her easel, surrounded by lemon trees, with our ancient French bulldog lying and panting next to her, his black fur hot from the sun.
Now, if only I could get Bemelmans to deliver dinner here, my life in Los Angeles would be perfect.
Photography by AMI SIOUX.
Written by LESLEY M. M. BLUME.
Edited by KENDALL CONRAD.