A Tale of Two Cities

I like LA. There I said it.

When Europeans come to America they are supposed to be divided into New York or Los Angeles types. When the English writers W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood crossed the Atlantic in the late 30s Auden stayed in Manhattan and Isherwood went to LA where he remained for the rest of his life. Auden was the arch New Yorker, restless, edgy, sceptical and cosmopolitan. Isherwood was more prone to mysticism and mellow introspection. When I am asked if I like LA and reply that I do, it is common for my interlocutor to say, “Really? I would have put you down as a New York type.” But you see I AM. I had an apartment in Manhattan for many years, I go there as often as I can. I adore the city. But I love Los Angeles AS WELL. And I have found I can sustain these two supposedly opposite and mutually exclusive affections without tearing myself in two or exploding in a fireball of self-contradiction. In fact I’ll go further, if there’s one thing that gets my goat, curries it and serves it up on a bed of flaming indignation, it is this habit of dividing the world in two. Which reminds me of an old geek joke. “The world is divided into 10 types of people. Those who understand binary and those who don’t.” Pause to allow you to wipe the tears of helpless laughter from your weeping eyes. But damn it bothers me when the choice of one thing is interpreted as a necessary repudiation of the other. People are always doing it. “You’re either a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person” I’ve heard them say. Tummyrubbish. Balderpiss. Arsegarbage.

A couple of months ago someone asked me what I was up to and I mentioned I was making a documentary about Richard Wagner. “Oh, I would have thought you liked Beethoven,” they said. I was too polite to pick them up by their scruff of their necks and shake them violently back and forth, but I mean WHAT? “Why’ve you got a Norwich City shield on your Twitter avatar? I thought you liked cricket.” “You just quoted Family Guy” – I thought you liked The Simpsons”, and so on and so on. I mean, really.

Another joke. A Jewish boy on his birthday is given a pair of fine silk ties by his mother. He comes downstairs next morning proudly wearing one. His mother looks at him, hands on hips and says, “So what was wrong with the other one?” Imagine if every time you ordered chicken in a restaurant someone said, “Oh, so you hate lamb, do you?”

I like LA and I like New York. And it is the fact that they are so very, very different that makes me like each all the more. They each serve and satisfy a different part of me. As do town and country, wine and beer, swimming and walking. Seems mad to define oneself, to limit oneself, doesn’t it?

One thing that New York can never offer is the sight of a great Hollywood Sound Stage. This is the one I’ve been filming in today. Marilyn on the wall. I mean, what’s not to like… Plus there’s Clarence, the security guard on one of the gates to the Fox lot. Every time I come in he reads me one of his poems and tells me and my driver that he loves us. As does Jesus apparently, which is nice of him. Well I certainly love Clarence – incredibly hard not be cheered up by such optimistic bonhomie and unconditional friendliness. “Oh but Stephen, I thought you were an atheist. How can you like someone who isn’t? Surely that’s impossible?” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

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85 comments on “A Tale of Two Cities”

  1. Whirlochre says:

    I always thought there were those who divided people into two groups and those who didn’t.

    But I’m easy with LA or New York — a bit like my feelings towards Marmite.

  2. Delicious Pundit says:

    This (along with Lawrence Weschler’s New Yorker piece about the light here) is my favorite essay about LA. Money quote:

    “It’s the most ridiculous city in the world – but everyone who lives there knows that. No one thinks that L.A. “works,” or that it’s well-designed, or that it’s perfectly functional, or even that it makes sense to have put it there in the first place; they just think it’s interesting. And they have fun there…..”

  3. Rachel_Stone says:

    Here’s a Jewish jokes a bit like the one you told:

    A woman gets onto a bus, buys a ticket, but before moving off to sit down she looks the bus driver up and down, and says “You’re not Jewish are you?!”
    The driver says “Excuse me, you’re holding up the whole bus. Please go and sit down.”
    The woman keeps pestering him: “are you Jewish, are you Jewish?!”
    Again, the driver says “Please stop asking me questions – go and sit down!”
    But again, the woman says “Just tell me: are you Jewish?!!”
    The driver says, “Yes, ok, I am Jewish. You were right.”
    The woman looks him up and down and says “Funny, you don’t look it.”

    And there are plenty more jokes where that came from!
    Rxx

  4. Gaina says:

    I’ve never been to LA or New York but I’m quite sure I’d find something to like about both of them.

    That kind of narrow-mindedness in humans is very irritating to me and probably explains why I generally prefer the company of animals. :-).

  5. ladyfromhamburg says:

    It’s such a great pity. Stereotyped thinking always separates, constricts, confines.
    Loving one thing does not mean hating another thing. If I like young people, I won’t automatically dislike the older generation, if I like foreign languages it won’t mean that I automatically condemn my own one. If I like the guy with tattoo and long hair it does not mean that I hate the guy wearing suit and tie. My adoration for a certain colour doesn’t eliminate all other colours.
    Those who try to persuade me of making such differences, decisions, of doing limitations – I just want to tell them : Dear, dear people – as different as we all are, as different as your moods are, as different as we all develop – why shall we do these arbitrary limitations, why shall be choose black or white when we can have a rainbow. Who wouldn’t decide to have a look in the kaleidoscope? Be courageous – how will you discover the world, discover your neighbour if you always keep one eye closed? Try it, open both eyes and it will enrich your life.

  6. sugarglider says:

    I think it’s a matter of the breadth of your perspective. If you have a very narrow attitude or limited experience of something, you tend to make comparisons which are more black and white, because you’re basing your judgment on a limited set of criteria. So we shouldn’t be angry and annoyed with people who think this way, because they’re not bad people really, just hopelessly ignorant, narrow-minded and well, a little bit sad.

    Speaking of making judgments based on very limited experience, it just so happens I visited New York and Los Angeles last year, and spent about a week and a half in each, just farnarkling around with no particular agenda. So based on the limited perspective of someone who’s basically just a happy wanderer, who likes to happen along, gawk at something momentarily then move on, the best city is….

    New York! No question!

    New York is vast but amazingly compact. You can walk around all day and everywhere you go there’s fantastic architecture, museums, shops, theatres, music, art, places to eat, the park, the river, horses, squirrels, baseball games, people doing interesting things everywhere you look … At the end of the day if you find yourself 30 blocks from your hotel and you don’t want to walk all the way back you just jump on the subway.

    As for LA, it’s the most pedestrian-hostile environment I’ve ever encountered. Everything is very spread out, so you have to walk through endless wastelands in the blazing sun to get to anything worth getting to (not fun, even for a highly blaze-tolerant Aussie like me). The shops don’t have awnings, and no-one will let you use their toilet, not even Starbucks! Basically, if you don’t have a car, or if you’re just too scared of LA traffic to drive, you’re stuffed. (and for anyone who’s never been to the US, they all drive on the wrong side of the road, it’s terrifying) The public transport is virtually non-existent (and I live in Sydney, so my public transport expectations are very low). I’ve been told that once upon a time LA had trams like SanFran (how cool!), but the system was sold to Good Year (the tyre company – no conflict of interest there!), who promptly ran it into the ground then shut it down. Not sure if this is true, but wouldn’t be surprised!

    So anyway, I whole-heartedly agree with Stephen’s argument, but even so, if you find yourself with a week or two to do a bit of wandering in the US, go to New York!

  7. Duane Storey says:

    Stephen, thank you very much for the video you supplied for my presentation for WordCamp Portland. It was extremely well received, and meant a lot to the people in the audience, many of which were new to WordPress and were also new to the concept of a WordCamp. The contributions from you and Andrew were very much appreciated, and went a long way to making yesterday extra special for everyone who was there. I’m very glad you enjoy WPtouch, and am hoping we can add some new features in the future that you’ll be able to make good use of here.

    Many thanks,

    Duane Storey

  8. niksargent says:

    So, Stephen – are you a red Smartie or a blue Smartie? Well, neither good sir: you are a rainbow. As are many. I eventually left a job of 17 years because the employer could not recognise rainbows. Thank you for celebrating multi-coloured rainbowness! :) nik x

  9. barkerletter says:

    Well yes, it may indeed be acceptable for someone from London to like New York and Paris. Aren’t they all the same anyway? I believe they even had their own airline for awhile, those guys who flew the Concordes. But when the Paris/London/New Yorkers start drifting out into the hinterlands of the civilized world, which is really just plain everywhere else, people get their noses out of joint. “Aren’t you out of your territory,” someone from Chicago may sniff, rather suspiciously, which could even be interpreted as yanking the welcome mat from under their feet. I think that’s fair dinkum. C’mon guys, you have your world, let us have ours. Sunshine and bikinis and earthquakes. Stupid country. It’s ours…

  10. chrisphin says:

    It was only when our tech-savvy sub-editor changed that decimal joke when I make it in a column to read ‘only ten kinds of people in the world’ – to match our style, in which 1-9 are numerals, and ten plus is written out – that I realised quite how niche and geeky it was; if it was going over even her head, I worried how few of our readers would get it as well. Still, I caught it and changed it back before we went to press; it still amuses me much more than it ought.

  11. Humph says:

    I have every sympathy with Stephen’s exasperation in terms of having ones life predetermined by (some)others and then treated with incredulity when you dare to like or have an interest in something else.

    However, as a West Ham United fan I am not prepared to open my mind to the possibility that I might like to support Chelsea, Tottenham and Millwall with anthing like the same verve. Like Stephen, I also have the temerity to like cricket (Hampshire and England) and have experienced comments such as “but I thought you were a football fan?” when mentioning it in conversation. Strange.

  12. Akhen1khan2 says:

    Have you ever noticed that when you are flying into LAX, LA looks remarkably like a circuit board for a computer, every suberban street neatly layed out north,south,or,east,west. I love both LA and New York. It’s the bit in the middle that I’m not to sure about!!

  13. hannahskolnick says:

    are there two kinds of people?
    those that ask this kind of question, and those that don’t?

  14. Amanda C Cox says:

    As I’ve never been to the US, I cant comment directly. But I work in art in London and Brighton and there always seems to be some sniffiness about each city from the other, one accused of being Provincial by the other.. for example. Silly. Any self respecting adventurer should appreciate all that every city has to offer. These two I mentioned are great for the flaneur at large in their own sweet way! I look forward to roaming the streets of US cities (although what they call a city looks to be little more than a crossroads with a collection of shops!) – I was to spend 3 months in San Francisco with my aunt and uncle when I left school but sadly there was a family tragedy over and the last thing they needed was a teenager hanging around like an over-excited puppy..

  15. Radon says:

    The false dichotomy, one of the commonest and most glaring logical fallacies.

  16. NLMA says:

    Just love the way you say things, the way you tell your stories.

  17. betttyb10 says:

    As Edgar Allen Poe said!!!!!!!!!!!!MMMMM

  18. betttyb10 says:

    How come Loss adjuster,s always undercut you, do they gain your privalages!!!!

  19. betttyb10 says:

    Im really quite “thick” but i dont know it. Is there a syndrome for this?

  20. JamesFrobisher says:

    I once managed a day trip to LA when Virgin open the route with a £99 return promo. The opportunity to travel without any luggage whatever apart from a copy of the FT, turn up around midday, have lunch and business meeting, and then head straight back at 6pm was one of life’s great experiences. There is no better way to see any US city.

    I even got an upgrade to Upper Class for my trouble.

  21. Ghost Code says:

    Restless

    Impossible binary shield
    Satisfy necessary introspection
    Sustain tears of optimistic eyes

    Remained opposite to binary
    Dividing habit mysticism
    Helpless laughter limit

    Indignation

  22. fidelbistro says:

    Stephen I know you get messages from freaks and geeks and sharks and spivs but I really have started up a tiny little vulnerable independent publishing company (sans funding from Arts Council or even Norfolk Arts) based in the fair city of Naaridge and have just published a splendid little subversive caper called SOUTHAMPTON DADA by Nick Rogers. Will Self and Tibor Fischer are amongst his fans…please let me know if you would like a copy. We would wet our collective underpants if you came to our launch at BOOK HIVE on London Street in norwich on 22nd october as you are Mr Celebrity from Norfolk. Novel concerns a band of brave women who attempt , in 1918, to set up an anarcha-dadaist utopia on the south coast, inspired by the writings of Sir Joshua Reynolds… No it is not Richard & Judy book of the month fodder. Sorry to intrude, best wishes, Daniel Pounds xx http://www.cantbooks.co.uk cantbooks@gmail.com

  23. racheldavis7 says:

    Seeing as I grew up in New England but now live in Louisville, Kentucky, I definitely get you. People don’t seem to understand why I don’t know where I’ll find myself in a few years….it’s because I love them both, and I just can’t decide between them. Poo on people who assume you can’t like both the northeast and the south in the US (or those that, in a post about appreciating diversity, make sweeping judgments about vast swaths of the country).

  24. purps says:

    Sounds like how I justify my bisexuality!

  25. You see, there we are — I’ve no real fondness for either Los Angeles or New York. I spent a century one decade in L.A., toiling in The Industry, and frankly, it did me no good in terms of either health or sanity.

    New York I’ve been to a number of times, mainly on business related to my writing. What might put me off there is the tendency towards windy cold, as I do like New York folks, especially those in the Boroughs.

    So you’re back at Fox? Another Bones episode?

    The Wagner documentary does sound intriguing…and I have a good friend who would love to see it, I’m sure, though she vacillates between adoration of the old dead bastard and proclaiming that Wagner trufans should be shot on sight for crimes against humanity.

    Just incidentally, I’ve now gotten my mother into the Adoration Of Fry, with the result that she’s spotting you during cricket, bemoaning missing episodes of In America on its Aussie debut, and buying me Fry merchandise, though she’s secretly relieved that I still like Girls (my being in Tucson makes it hard for her to send women at me in the hopes that I’ll finally settle down for once and for all.) That you’re my Evil Twin somewhat alarms her, you know. Ah well.

  26. russoz says:

    Ahhh… blogging. So ya hate twitter now, do ya?

  27. famn says:

    He.. he… love the Binary joke… have seen it done by an idiot (ID10T) IT Manager once… always doubted his credentials.. but when he retyped the joke and forwarded it with TEN… I lost the plot.. I think the modern IT ‘kiddy’ doesn’t get what binary is.. too much of the friendly GUI stuff on offer… Only those of us old enough to have used punch cards, assembly language and the scarey Mainframe’s at school/university.

  28. Alicia Merrie says:

    Haha, this made me laugh! :) It’s very true though, isn’t it? The way people seem to think it is not possible to equally enjoy two different things that is.

  29. Alicia Merrie says:

    … and Jesus Does indeed love you, Stephen! He lives in heaven and prepares a place there for all who believe in Him.

  30. CallumMc0 says:

    Hello. It seems rude to me to write something without a proper introduction, but I am in a hurry, so hello will have to do. It all comes of trying to be sociable.
    I’ve never been to America, or New York, or LA, or Los Angeles for that matter. But I understand what you say, Mr. Fry (I’m Mr. Mcleod – you may never read this, but it is always nice to be formal). I never understood people’s desire to be either City people or Country people. You can’t be both, you know. You are either eulogising about the open air in the country or dribbling over the thought of Canary Wharf (a helicopter is not necessary for this). It never occured to them, of course, that the City air isn’t exactly closed, so it is the same as Country air, and the plants in the country need all the dribble they can get, what with the droughts and so forth.

    Oh, it is a dilemma.

    Goodbye.

  31. mycroftt says:

    Stephen…oops sorry for the capitalization screw up..it is God’s will not to correct these things you know..anyway… I look forward to your next podgram,,as this was THE FIRST podcast I have ever brushed up against..some weeks back..I learned to access via the zune site.. and after the I-tunes conference you I imagine went BACK TO WORK as it were..anyway..the things i find interesting is the interesting behind the curtain exploits from the Blackadder series and also from the Jeeves series..just a thought !!

  32. liverpool49 says:

    Steven
    How profoundly disappointing is you attitude when you go to Glacier National Park. Falling over yourself to find a way to say that the 350,000,000 people of the USA would do anything to defile, at will, this and any other area within this land. Let the british filter go and open you eyes.;
    Have you lost your mind??????? The USA is not a devastated, filthy, polluted wreck of a nation??????? The same way that is was, as was Britain in 1945.
    More money, energy, resources have been expended in the last 35 years on cleaning this country than have been expended in the history of humans.
    Our water, air and soil are clean, are forests healthy, our fishery good and are people well.
    Tell me why you feel a pathological need to bring us down to the level of idiotic rubes stumbling in the dark????
    Sad, sad, sad and very disdappointing.
    Vincent McEwan
    Sacramento, California

  33. BarryMartin says:

    LA maybe good or even great but Norfolk is home.

  34. juired says:

    I like LA and I like to be here.

  35. cakesy says:

    I always thought there were 3 types of people in the world, those that can count, and those that can’t.

    Loved New York, hated LA. LA is the only city I have been in, in the US, that I really did not like. Partly because you really need a car to get around there, and everything is so spread out, and very little actually downtown.

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