Eight years and three children later, Matthew Garrahan is leaving Los Angeles for a new posting as global media editor for the Financial Times. He summarizes his observations in a piece for the paper that opens with colleagues bemoaning his exile to Southern California eight years ago. "I am delighted to reveal that the doomsayers were wrong," he writes. "The city is not the Botoxed, gridlocked, cultural wasteland they warned me about. It is, in fact, a glorious place: a collection of distinct districts, like Venice, or Los Feliz, each with their own flavour and character. The traffic is no worse than London (with its straight, long boulevards LA is easier to navigate), there is stunning architecture everywhere, the beaches are beautiful and the sun shines most days."
We wanted to live near the beach and found a townhouse in Santa Monica, a 15-minute walk from the beach. It was idyllic: lofty palm trees lined the streets and in the evenings the smell of eucalyptus plants would waft through the air on a warm breeze. People were impeccably polite and cheery strangers would say hello to us in the street – initially bewildering for a couple of Brits from London used to avoiding all eye contact with passers-by....
Los Angeles is a celebrity-heavy city and although the novelty of star-spotting wore off, I initially got a kick out of bumping into a quinoa-toting Harrison Ford at the supermarket. Or the time in a Mexican restaurant when we found ourselves next to a paparazzi-fleeing Jennifer Garner (she commiserated with my coughing son, who had narrowly avoided choking on a partially chewed tortilla chip).
The tone was set early on by an odd hotel party we stumbled into on Sunset Boulevard in our first week in town. In attendance were Chelsea football club’s first team, the rapper Snoop Dogg and, most bizarrely, Tony Blair, fending off well-wishers and autograph hunters of the pre-selfie generation with a grin.
Entertainment touches everything in Los Angeles. After one long and extremely dull interview with the then mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at City Hall, I asked a passing police officer if he knew where the exit was. He looked at me blankly. “Sorry pal, I have no idea,” he said. Didn’t he work there? “No, I’m an extra for those guys.” He pointed down the hall, where a camera crew was preparing to shoot a scene with Donald Sutherland, who was poring over his script.
Finally, he concludes, "Most of the people in Los Angeles are from somewhere else so it is easy to make friends. And there is always something to do, from evenings outside at Hollywood Bowl concerts to the one-off live performance of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction script that we saw recently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
It is a vast, sprawling and diverse city with canyons to hike and state parks to explore. It has the best Korean and Mexican food in America and, in the case of In N’Out Burger, the best hamburger chain. Of course, it can occasionally frustrate: the film business often sucks the oxygen out of a place that has much more to offer and which other big, global city has no train line running to its airport?"