Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tar Pits and Chinese Theatres

So, I wrapped up my business early on Friday, which left me on my own in a strange city with an afternoon and evening free.  Having earlier realized this might be the case, I'd wondered what to do in L.A. -- a place a-swim with possibilities but which there was only time to do one to two properly without having to rush through things. I decided to be true to my inner paleontologist: the seven-year-old me, faced with such an opportunity, wd not have hesitated to plumb for the La Brea Tar Pits.

Accordingly, that's where I spent the afternoon. Despite a little trouble getting there (my cab driver having first taken me by what seemed an oddly circuitous route to a Target store on La Brea Street), it was worth it. I had plenty of time and the place wasn't crowded, so I got to set my own pace and spend as long as I liked looking at each exhibit, from the La Brea stork and a small condor whose skeletal beak strongly reminded me of Tenniel's dodo (a more recently extinct bird), to the Saber-toothed Tigers. The camels, western horses, and ancient buffalo were all interesting, but I found particularly striking the juxtaposition of a woolly mammoth ('Zed') -- not much bigger than an oversized bear -- nearby a massive Columbian mammoth, the latter a true Mumakil which the other mammoth could have walked under.  It was stunning just how many bones they've dug up here: one wall had a display of 404 dire wolf skulls ( less than half of the total they've unearthed here). They have so many preserved bones that one docent actually has a Saber-toothed Tiger skull you can touch (which, of course, I did) for an upclose and personal look, as opposed to the replica most museums wd use.

And yes, they do still have tar pits -- in front of the museum is a natural pond about three blocks long and maybe a block wide with tar bubbling up at a good rate here and there, just like water in a spring (looking at it made me hear "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" playing in my head). And this is merely the largest of several tar seeps on the grounds, some of them active excavation sites and others small tar-springs (if that's the right word) in the grass, surrounded by what are clearly new and temporary barriers. I put my finger in the tar from one, so I came away with a tarry fingerprint in my pocket notebook as a souvenir of the occasional.

So I've now seen Saber-toothed tigers. It was just as good as I thought it would be. I'm sorry not to be able to see one in the flesh, and I hope the present-day real tigers don't follow it into extinction. I'm one of those who think the megafauna of North America were hunted into extinction by the PaleoIndians; it'd be a pity to repeat their mistake.

Many thanks to Lori for setting up the taxi service to get me there and back again, as well as all the other help expediting things during this trip, and to JC for helping me make back-up plans that it turned out I didn't have to use but which I was happy to have to fall back on if need be.

As for the evening, after an uneventful cab ride back to the Roosevelt (the hotel where I was staying turns out to be where they held the first Academy Awards ceremony back in the day), I got a ticket to go see Godzilla in Grauman's Chinese Theatre (the one with all the footprints, handprints, and signatures in concrete in the courtyard in front of the theatre), had supper at a place I'd scoped out the night before in the tiered mall next door (right under the huge replica of the gates of Ninevah, featuring Pazuzu), and showed up for the show in good time. I'd assumed I'd be watching the movie in the six-screen multiplex next door to the original theatre, but to my surprise by chance I'd gotten a ticket to the actual original building, so I got to see a bad movie in one of the world's great original theatre palaces.

After that it was back to the hotel to wind down, which I did by reading more of Leiber's ADEPT'S GAMBIT, then (for me) a relatively early night -- what with tomorrow being a travel day, and a mound of pages needing proofreading awaiting my return.

current reading: ADEPT'S GAMBIT by Fritz Leiber, w. commentary by H. P. Lovecraft (ed. S. T. Joshi)
today's song: The Garden of Allah by Don Henley

1 comment:

David Bratman said...

You realize, of course, that "the La Brea tar pits" translates as "the the tar tar pits".