On this day in 2014, my husband Tim and I exited the LAX immigration offices for the first time as US residents. It was a momentous move that involved selling our home in the beautiful British countryside, leaving all family and friends, uprooting our businesses, shipping our entire house contents and flying two whippets over the Atlantic. A real gamble but one that has paid dividends and we have never been happier. One year in, I wrote a blog piece about how it felt to live in another country after 12 months and so now I continue that tradition with a piece about how things have changed after a further year.
I predicted a year ago that I would lose the awe of the novel, everyday aesthetics I saw (the post boxes, trucks, house styles, etc.) with continued exposure, and alas this has happened almost completely. I can only now appreciate the really new in the same way that I appreciated everything two years ago, right down to the tiniest detail and of course, the new becomes fewer and farther apart. I now just exist in a beautiful world everyday, one that I am aware I take for granted. Even the famous Californian light has seeped into my skin and become a trusted part of me. I have to remind myself that I could be used to a far less beautiful place if I lived somewhere else, I could be soaking in the grey buildings of Croydon, not my peachy home in Pasadena. But there is no getting that level of awe back.
Likewise, I have grown accustomed to the heat, California’s sun that kisses our skins and ripening fruit alike. Where once we pointed out locals wearing long sleeves on sunny mornings, we now take our jackets out with us, just in case. Sometimes you see people in full-length dark clothes at the height of summer and you wonder where they came from, it must be somewhere even hotter than California. Our blood has changed temperature so much I have to ask my mother in the UK what is the “right” temperature to turn the heating on there, to gauge how far things have moved.
Rather ironically, this has happened whilst we simultaneously began to miss the seasons. After a long hot summer last year we were happy to be able to spend some time in the mountain range of Lake Arrowhead, to give the whippets some coated walks in the snow. Our English bones needed some down time from the sun; I’m fussier now. There is a window of about two months of the year where my office (a converted garage) is neither too hot nor too cold to use.
There’s nothing like paying your taxes for the first time to encourage a sense of ownership of a place (and to relieve the fear of the unknown IRS monster). If there is one real change I have noticed in the last year it is how my confidence to shout out when I don’t like something has grown. Where once I might have pottered about apologizing for taking up space – in the swimming pool changing rooms, for instance – I now think nothing of calling out another person’s bad behavior, verbally and on occasion, digitally too. This is a very subtle yet seismic change, one that happened incrementally every day. I am nearly up to my old English level of confidence, as in I feel like a real part of this melting pot of a country and therefore I’m allowed to complain when it is due. Part of this is the ability to be able to say “no” once in a while, whence our philosophy was always to say yes to everything when we arrived. There have been a couple of toxic people in our lives that we finally rid ourselves of this year and part of that feels like developing a level of discernment. We have lots of lovely, genuine people and places in our lives; we no longer have to try so hard. Once the base has been set up wide, it’s ok just to let things happen naturally, to allow things to drop off.
I spoke last year of the maddening variety of choice, especially coming from the UK where there isn’t such a vast array of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues all scrambling for your custom. This has changed. Two years in, Tim and I are actively aware of our pleasure in our ritualistic frequenting of certain places. In Pasadena there is only one place to buy curry (Bhanu’s), one for falafel (Zankou’s), and one for vegan Thai food (My Vegan) etc., and surprisingly few places for slaggy breakfasts considering this is California. We love our favourite haunts and much as we expand our repertoire every now and then, we don’t feel the pressure to do so any more.
On the flight over from Heathrow I turned pescetarian, a year later, vegetarian and I am now moving slowly towards veganism. I’m also swimming 3-4 miles a week and taking occasional massages and pedicures, I take long walks with the dogs and gain great pleasure in beating last year’s cholesterol count on my yearly health check up. I am becoming that type of Californian. Yes, the lager remains, but we now count in 16oz glasses (children’s pints) instead of the UK’s 20 oz. measures, so there has been a residual reduction, like a state imposed health restriction that we have gladly submitted to.
Some things frustrate. If you think your own state and organization administration departments drive you up the wall, try another country’s; the left hand often doesn’t even know the right hand exists when they should be punching each other’s lights out. Don’t get me started on how long it takes to get the palm fronds cleared up off the streets after a storm (yes, there is trouble in paradise.)
Plus I can’t for the life of me understand why there are so few shoe and underwear shops out here. I have to order my stuff over from friends visiting the UK. For some reason the US has not worked out the half way point between fancy/sexy knickers and everyday pants like Marks and Sparks have. You either buy something that resembles something from a seventies Jockey advert or you squidge about in 100% nylon lacy crack munchers, there is no in between. Out of desperation, I actually bought a bulk pack of knickers recently from Costco (a hypermarket), I’m not proud of that, but it happened.
As part of my personal development I am partaking in several short courses including a fantastic one on self-defence (MMA), autobiography writing, and garden landscaping. The cheap access to adult education out here is excellent. I have recently started a course on learning the language of writing music, which involves me travelling to LATTC, a technical trade college situated in one of the dodgiest areas of downtown LA. I knew it was going to be hardcore getting there but I needed to get back my London backbone so I took the Metro. On the first outward journey I witnessed an open drug deal (the guy had a whole rucksack on his back full of packets of weed). On the next train, I sat opposite a young woman with her four year old daughter and a friend. The woman had two six inch Juicy Couture style letters tattooed on either side of her face. The black typefaces stretched from just below each eye to just below the lip and from ear to nose. Apart from this, she donned a pink backpack and cutsie trainers, and when speaking, came across as relatively feminine. What the hell was going on there I will never know. I think face tattoos are illegal in the UK aren’t they? Or was that just when we were younger? Thankfully, I can now say one month in that my London arsiness has returned and such things no longer freak me out.
In contrast, I see some less daunting if no less interesting characters on my daily dog walks around the streets where we live, like the tiny Indian lady, no more than four feet tall whom I meet somewhere in between Catalina and Rio Grande with some regularity. Each time she stops, pats the dogs, smiles a lot and strains to make conversation whilst I worry that one of them is going to bite her face. In the same streets, I sometimes witness an image of an extremely elderly Chinese lady, probably five feet tall but bent double to the height of four. She dresses in monotone to match her Chinese paper umbrella, pale green or blue, depending on the day, and crabs along slowly, smiling but never speaking. Once or twice I’ve also seen a slim, upright man parading around, head held high with a sense of silent purpose and a parrot on one shoulder.
And that is thing with LA, it is a city of opposites, which is why both Tim and I love it. Things are changing for me and I don’t know in which direction. My academic book was published in September, I am running out of money, I haven’t seen my family in over a year and I miss them, we rescued a new dog into the family and I have started a part time job at my local pub, both of which I love. I’ve no idea how these things will pan out and this gives me a lot of anxiety on some level yet I know one thing, we made the right move coming here, all else will eventually pull into line. It has to; it’s in the air.