Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Dogs, death and downunder disgrace

With thanks to Viking for this trip
Today was mostly free of commitments, so I Ubered away along Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards this morning to do an Airbnb Experience I had organised before leaving home. As a contrast to all that wealth and luxury I was being driven through, it was about spending a couple of hours walking shelter dogs up Runyon Canyon. We met up just inside the park: despite her four dogs on leads, Candy the guide wasn't immediately identifiable simply because there were so many people just like her. The Canyon is very popular because it's the only place for miles in the city where dogs are allowed off-leash - it's owned by a public trust, and the local residents defend it fiercely against regular proposals to develop what is prime real estate.
I was introduced to my charge, Joey, a cute little Italian greyhound cross. Others in the group took control of Honey, an eager Jack Russell cross, and Eddie, a chihuahua cross; Candy had also brought her Labrador, Lulu. Despite her name, and having lived here for 30 years, Candy was clearly English, and I got close to pinning her down, thanks to her saying "lorra" instead of "lot of" - it sounded Liverpudlian to me, but she's from Birmingham. 
She is a member of Free Animal Doctor, a non-profit set up to help people pay for veterinary care for their pets, but soon roped in to help shelters with the same thing, and also to organise these walks to give nervous, shy rescue dogs a way to become confident with people, and increase their chances of being adopted. So, it's a feel-good experience every way you look at it.
We set off up the canyon's fire road, a steady climb, overtaken all the way by Lycra'd fitness freaks and other dog walkers. Honey was desperate to get - literally - stuck into the gopher holes that were all around and, after we got to the top and had our photos taken against the distant Hollywood sign, they were all finally allowed free to dart about and have some fun. We were having fun too, chatting, enjoying the outdoors, watching all the dogs and people, getting some long, if smoggy, views over the city, and hearing about the celebs who are sometimes spotted, despite their sunglasses and hoodies: Justin Bieber is a regular, apparently, and a bare-chested Matthew McConaughey has been seen.
Afterwards, finding I was only two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, I headed along to the Walk of Fame and was surprised to discover how apparently unexclusive it is. I mean, there are so many! And plenty still with no names yet. But it was a small thrill to wander along and spot so many famous names - although it's an odd concept, and watching locals and even other tourists trampling right over them without even a glance at the names, I did wonder how much of an honour it was. Trump's star, by the way, looked distinctly scuffed and grubby.
Apart from odd places like the Chinese Theatre (which I didn't realise has the famous handprints, so I missed that), Madame Tussaud's and so on, it was a fairly tacky stretch of road well focused on tourists like me, but it did get me to another good story source: the Museum of Death. This is a series of rooms crammed full of macabre stuff to do with every aspect of death - naturally, this being Hollywood, the more sensational the better. So there was a lorra serial murder stuff - stories, photos, drawings they'd done in prison and on death row - and an electric chair, video of a guillotining, coffins, spivs. Manson featured strongly, and the Heaven's Gate cult, and there are a lorra, lorra very gory crime scene photos from all sorts of bloody crimes.

There's a mass of stuff in there, a lot of it too closely-written for me, but also video and skulls, taxidermy, an autopsy table, embalming information, and a reconstruction of JFK's head showing the damage done by the bullet that killed him. They're very strict about no photos, so I have none to include here - probably a good thing, for your peace of mind. "I didn't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't that," said a girl leaving just ahead of me, looking a bit dazed.
Tonight was the big event we'd all come so far for, from the UK too, and all over the US: Torstein Hagen, the Viking founder and chairman, announcing to everyone the building of two new expedition ships to explore both the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the Great Lakes. Viking is hugely successful - their boats dominate the river cruise world, and they swept very rapidly to the top of the polls when they started ocean cruising. They do more laid-back luxury than fussy Silversea, with a very attractive Scandinavian overlay, and the expedition ships will be more of the same - plus interesting (included) things like submarines, and internal ramps for getting into the RIBs and zodiacs and so on. He did a great job of selling it - the reception was very enthusiastic, and we're all now eager to have a go ourselves.
The event, after a reception in a marquee with an over-the-top (but nonetheless much appreciated) seafood buffet, took place in the International Ballroom where the Golden Globes are held, so it was fun to imagine who might have sat at our table and maybe won a prize. Our dinner was very delicious, and it was just a tragedy that, when the dessert station was afterwards revealed when a huge screen was dramatically whipped away, I had only a very short time to taste just a few of an amazing range of elegant little treats before the media Q&A. One of our NZ/Australian contingent was brash enough to ask how much it costs to build ships like the Viking Octantis and Polaris but, just like with the Hilton driver yesterday, the question was brushed aside. We downunder types clearly have no class.
And then, like a proper journalist, I went back to my room to file a story about it all for Stuff back home (which they then took three days to publish) and didn't turn the light out till 1.30am, lying in the dark for ages afterwards with a full stomach and a buzzing brain.

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