There was a time, when I was poor and lived in London, when on days when I was particularly down in the doldrums, I dragged myself to the National Gallery and wandered around looking at pictures. Just being surrounded by masterpieces lifted my spirits. Nowadays, nothing cheers me more than a jaunt to Malibu, where, in the 45 minutes or so it takes the Car Wash to restore my car to its former splendor, I can pretend to be rich and beautiful. Well, at least I can pretend to be rich.
Everybody is beautiful in Malibu – the kids playing in the sandbox and minded by their Mexican nannies, the cookie cutter blond girls (why aren’t they in school anyway??) ducking in and out of stores selling unaffordable merchandise, the ladies who lunch and even the older men with a comb over, exuding power and money. In truth, there is no obvious display of wealth, no ostentatious jewellery, no one is overdressed. There is no need – but if you look closely, the cars parked at the Cross Creek lot are not even related to the 90% of sedans that whiz through the rest of the city.
The group of unassuming men, dressed as if they just rolled in from a construction site and sitting at the long table at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf next to me, all belong to the film industry. By listening to their conversations, it’s apparent they just came from a successful meeting, the juicy bits of which are being recounted. They are joined by a woman who slides past me smiling broadly, as if she knew me. And she does look familiar. Do we do yoga together? For once I have the good sense of keeping my gob shut instead of asking where I know her from. By working the neurons of my memory a bit harder than usual I remember she is the lead actress in an intelligent and quirky tv show I happen to watch.
Even the tables and chairs at this particular Coffee Bean are better than at any other location in town, possibly in the country – the tables are teak, surrounded by wide and comfy sofas. I love it here on a winter week day, with no tourists gawking and looking for celebrities and only a modicum of paparazzi waiting patiently for their next prey. “Malibu has such a small town feel!” I overhear one of the men saying, dangling a set of Ferrari keys from his fingers. He failed to mention this particular “small town” is definitely not populated by small town folks as we think of them.
Still, for the 45 minutes I am here I am happy to bask in the contentment of these beautiful people around me, ignoring what I know full well is under the surface of every one of us, rich or poor. Feeling a bit shallow I share my guilty pleasure on the phone with a friend. “I used to cheer myself up looking at paintings and now I draw pleasure from beautiful people and surroundings in Malibu. Does it make me really shallow? Have I lived in LA too long?”
“Bah, it’s all aesthetics” comes the pronouncement. Spoken as a true friend.