Caught between the moon and a new city

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My ritual is this: Get to any event at Disney Hall early and hike all the way around it until I reach the highest point. The place is usually deserted at this time of the evening, and I’ve never once had to share my secret spot with another person. From up here I watch whatever’s going on—sunsets, wildfires, planes drifting to LAX—for a few completely quiet moments high atop my silent mirror-tiled oceanliner, my Frank Gehry-designed crow’s nest overlooking the city.

The last two times I’ve been to events at Disney Hall there have been concurring events concerning the moon and I have adjusted my ritual accordingly. Last time, when the Fella/McFetridge show opened at REDCAT there was to be a total lunar eclipse. Knowing what I knew then, I set my phone alarm to precisely 7:20pm, rushing out of a conversation, and up into its metal folds, where I was rewarded with a solitary viewing platform and a moon that turned dark orange, then blood red, when—I swear—I saw Los Angeles in black and white.

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On Tuesday, as I made my way to see Antony and the Johnsons, it was under the light of your standard full moon, but something about the wildfire smoke that banded across the sky made it feel more magnified and monumental. Or maybe it was the Santa Ana dryness, the kind that makes your lips crackle when you inhale, that made it feel closer, like no cloud could ever come between us. I jumped off the 2 bus on Temple between Grand and Hill, where the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was playing its external-light orchestra, bands of bulbs flickering on and off, tuned to the melody of some silent organ. I headed uphill to Grand, where I was planning to wander alone, just me and the moon, through the newly revamped Mark Taper Forum, then over to Disney Hall.

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What was I thinking? I was imagining a quiet moment as I admired the preserved Welton Becket curves, its relief exteriors mirrored silently in the reflecting pool. But the Mark Taper Forum is home to three theaters, including one that was hosting the debut run of 9 to 5: The Musical. And, honey, it was almost showtime!

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As I rounded the theater-in-the-round, more of the scene revealed itself. An a capella group spit out syncopated rhymes; a trio plucked through its jazz repertoire. Couples leaned against walls and lit cigarettes; plumes of smoke puffed out from a Pinot Grill outpost. My lunar reverie was replaced by this sparkle of energy from people making the most of a hot October night, digging back into the highlights of their summer wardrobe for a night of drinking tiny bottles of wine outside. I saw two pairs of leopard-print pants.

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The fountain between the Forum and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion bounced mischievously up and down, every few minutes drowning out every bit of jazz-laughter-clatter with its surging spray, tangibly moisturizing the plaza. As I took this shot, I stood mesmerized and puzzled at this scene before me. Was I suffering from temporary full-moon madness, or is the Department of Water and Power building normally this beautiful?

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Of course I had to investigate. Had I never noticed that the fountains bubbling up from their pedestals in the plaza are color-coded to the lights ringing the roof? That underlit fin that rings it like a flipped-up collar, 3/4ths the way up? That this ultrabusy corner with stoplights flashing and cars streaming felt every bit like the on-switch for the entire city? Water and Power, indeed.

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From this perspective, I was perfectly positioned to begin my pre-event ritual at Disney Hall. I start in the gardens around back, heading around and up, up, all the way up—do not be deterred by the dead-end-looking alcoves, they contain secret passageways—to the top, once again to my moon-viewing perch, every surface reflecting rings of white light like drifted silver snow.

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The moon was beautiful. But giving it a perfunctory gaze, I realized that after my energizing urban adventure, what I really wanted to look at from up here was behind me. I turned around, and snapped this shot (quickly, as you can see) looking down Grand. It wasn’t quiet or meditative or peaceful or my private lookout sanctuary anymore. It was my little slice of a city, more alive than I’d ever seen it before. I watched for a moment: shuttles delivering diners from downtown restaurants, people flooding out of subway stations, and bikes being locked up outside—bikes! Thrilled, I dashed downstairs, plunging through the steel skin, the twisted skeleton spilling its metal guts, and into the hall just in time for one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen in my life.

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  • Fluzzknee

    Although my lack of erudition (and laziness in using this internet- meta-brain-thing) keeps me from naming the actual designers of the building, its construction date, or its style, I’ve always believed the building to be among the most beautiful in modern downtown Los Angeles. It lends a dark subtle glory to the misshapen music center mall thing while fully eclipsing it (at least in my mind).

    I don’t know were you grew up, Gelatobaby, but you may not have seen the DWP building (renamed the “John Ferraro” building) in its holiday glory when they used to (perhaps still do?) leave ALL of its indoor lights on with none of the shades drawn at night! The giant black block of a building became an incandescent beacon by night and the effect was awesome.

    They justified this seasonal theatric by asserting the building’s energy efficient design-philosophy (what with it’s all-fluorescent lighting system and its floor to ceiling windows to let in the daylight): even with all the lights on, it still used less energy than normal office buildings.

    I don’t know if that holds true, or if it ever was true, but I hope to see the building fully lit again someday.