Hotel California

The sun was beating hard as I was walking down the streets of Los Angeles, gripping at my coffee, tip toeing amongst my emotions. I knew they were there, hiding in the hazy morning skies, weaved in the fibers of a palm tree or the swinging step of that yoga girl passing by.

Really, I didn’t want to face them.

Emotions are overrated, I told myself. Why do we need to let ourselves feel all of them?
Can’t we sometimes, just for a moment, brush them off and move on?

I could have stayed at my house, but I chose a hotel.

How can we be so attached to a place and yet leave it? It reminded me of the few times I had to leave my dog behind for extended periods of time. The tear in my heart would be so painful that I couldn’t stand looking at photos of her, talking about her, thinking about her.

Maybe a part of me is actually cold.
Maybe what we see as coldness in others is an inability to face emotional pain.

People have always asked me about my capacity to leave and start over, and I never really understood their questions. When you’re ready, you just pack up and leave!, I would say.

Now, I see why people stay.

The hotel was one of these magical Los Angeles mansions that I have never seen anywhere else but in this infinite sprawl of a city. A Spanish-inspired miniature castle full of mystery, bohemian vibes and broken dreams, it used to be an apartment building where people lived in small communities.

A Hotel California.

I left LA because another life called me. But I also left it because the city overpowered me. It was doing to me what it has been doing to softer souls like mine for decades. Lull you into a dream, catch you in its fantasy. I was so happy here, so light and so blithe and so… Empty.

I loved the hotel, but I couldn’t sleep much, so at Emily’s recommendation I started watching The Offer, a series about the making of The Godfather. The Godfather, one of the best movies ever made, was born in Los Angeles. Made by souls stronger than mine—those able to harness the mystique of the city and the powers that make its backbone. They had conjured a movie, against absolutely all odds.

It made me want to embark on impossible projects, to fight for stories, to smoke cigarettes, to be ruthless and to dedicate my days to making people see the incredible poetry of the world, whatever the cost to my personal life. But I never had it in me—that drive, that fire.

In Los Angeles, fortune doesn’t favour the softer souls.

To the ones like me, it will give an absolutely lovely, infinitely pleasing, magnolia scented life which can delight, or imprison you.

I spent a whole night watching the show as my body was convulsing in cramps. My period had showed up. The jet lag was intense. I couldn’t sleep. I just let the energy and the blood flow through me.

One other thing Los Angeles, the city of green juices, gurus and spiritual journeys, had taught me: When I swallow my tears, when I refuse to see them and get cold… My body will find its own way to shed tears.

Never had I bled like this. My period kept me awake for one whole night.

I visited a friend I love dearly and held her long in my arms. She had just had a baby, a perfect, quiet and joyful little girl. We had a passionate conversation, drinking each other’s words, intoxicated by each other’s presence. Her husband wasn’t far, he had just come back from surfing and still had sand on his feet. He put the baby on his shoulders. Her dog jumped on my lap. Her home was small and still. She had just put in a pool.

We sat in the shade, under the pergola. The light at the end of day was ideal, filtering through the poinsettias. We shared a soft rosé and I recognised one of these suspended moments of grace I so often felt in Los Angeles. On the ride back to the West Side, the city was radiating all its glory. Los Angeles is like one of these women with complicated faces. It might be forbidding the first time, but once you see its beauty, it strikes you at every corner.

I thought about my friend. She was living the dream I had had for my Los Angeles life.

I was so happy for her, she looked so fulfilled.
And yet, here and now, there was nothing I wanted less than what she had.

It wasn’t jealousy. It wasn’t self-deception, it wasn’t acceptance. It was the profound realisation that the perfect life I had wanted so much had never been for me.

Los Angeles is a city of beauty and of broken dreams, I was telling myself as I was strolling down the streets of Santa Monica, on my way to buying another pack of period pads. The streets were empty, maybe because it was the Fourth of July weekend and everyone was out. The receding tide of people had left on the shore of the sidewalks those who stay, the poor, the homeless, and the mentally ill.

Or maybe it was that, as so many say, the city had changed.

A man accosted a woman on the other side of the street, shouting insults at her. She took refuge in a coffee shop and he started rushing towards me. I ran like hell. I was terrified.

I found myself out of breath, two long blocks later, scared out of my mind of this madman who was brutalising passersby. And that’s when I finally allowed myself to see some of LA’s harsh reality. Skid row. Tents under the bridges. Drugs. The things you lament about at dinners, in the safe bubbles of the perfectly designed homes, the things that make you give up walking and give up looking—the things no-one ever quite gets used to.

When my stay was cut short by a change in my future husband’s kids’ calendar, I realised I was incredibly relieved to go home early.

Hear me talking. Me, soon to be married. My step kids. My way home. My adored dog probably peacefully asleep in that home.

Unnoticed, a life other than the one I had so wanted had been sprouting under the surface. It was now my joyful and messy life. 

And this is how we flew back on the 4th of July, such a symbolic day for a departure from the country I so love—all the family on the plane, my heart full of grief and of gratitude for my broken dreams. I finished watching The Offer. As most American stories do, and as you already know, it ends miraculously well. But it shows one thing: the best movie ever made was born out of total chaos.

Yet when you look at the end result, all you see is art, grace and posterity. Choices that erupted out of frustration now appear to have been guided by divine intervention. People that were the villains are now the heroes of the story. A movie too weird, too dark, too long and too complicated made people cry in unison, all around the world.

Maybe it helped them free emotions which, like me, they had kept inside for way too long.
That’s what stories are for, after all.

Life is a conversation between our will, our fortune and our fate. It is in the balance of things. In the moments when we decide to push towards our ambitions. And those when we decide to let go, allowing broken dreams to become the soil of new, and astonishing destinies. Magic is everywhere. And once you see it, it strikes you at every corner.

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