Archive for the ‘Expat’ Category


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The Telegraph, Expat Life

Since arriving in Los Angeles a little over five months ago, I’ve been amazed at the wide array of diverse communities from differing cultures who call LA their home, adding vibrancy to this place often referred to as “culturally flat”.

Beyond the more obvious Chinatown and Koreatown, there is the Armenian community in Glendale, and the Russians in West Hollywood (the most concentrated single Russian-speaking region in the US outside of New York), all adding to a rich tapestry of culture and style that imbues this sprawling metropolis.

Each community brings diverse cultures, customs and – in some cases – leave indelible marks of their contribution to this city. None more so than individuals arriving here from the UK, who have made significant additions, not just creatively in the entertainment industry in the studios of Hollywood and beyond, but contributions that have shaped the very fabric and physical manifestation of this city.

William Mulholland (1855–1935)

Many will be familiar with Mulholland Drive – the scenic road of twisting turns and hairpin bends that runs through the hills of Hollywood, Beverly Hills and beyond, providing breath-taking views of the city on a clear day. Mulholland’s name was given to this road after his role in bringing much-needed water to the city along this pass in the form of The Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mulholland arrived in Los Angeles in 1877 after a period with the British Merchant Navy. Settling here, his career never ventured far from water and on his way to find work on a ship, he took a job digging a well.

From there, he rose to become the head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where his work in acquiring water for the city was not without controversy. The water was sourced from the Owens Valley – both the lake and the river – creating anger amongst the farmers who depended on it, and triggering the “California Water Wars”.

His career ended abruptly in 1928 after the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, which killed hundreds and is often cited as the worst US civil engineering disaster of the 20th Century. Those that have seen the iconic Roman Polanski film Chinatown will recognize the familiarity of Mulholland’s history in the character of Henry Mulray, which was based loosely upon him.

Griffith J. Griffith (1850-1919)

Born in Bettws, South Wales, Griffith settled in Los Angeles in 1882 after living in Pennsylvania and San Francisco. After a career as the mining correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, Griffith earned his money though employment by various mining companies, keen to acquire his knowledge of the industry.

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles he purchased 4,000 acres of the Rancho Los Feliz Mexican land grant, and later donated over 3,000 acres to the city of Los Angeles for use as a public park in 1896. To honour the donation, the park took the name “Griffith Park”. It is a space five times that of New York’s Central Park, and where the Hollywood sign resides.

His good name was tainted in 1903 when he shot his wife at the Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica, leaving her alive but disfigured after the loss of an eye. A heavy drinker – and subject to paranoid delusions – the reason for his attempt on her life was due to his belief that his wife and the Pope were conspiring to poison him.

After two years in prison, Griffith returned to Los Angeles and, attempting to make good again his name, offered money to build a theatre and hall of science within Griffith Park. Although initially rejected, the city eventually took the bulk of the $1.5 million estate bequeathed in his will, using it to build the Greek Theater (1929) and the Griffith Observatory (1935), which remain popular facilities to this day.

John Parkinson (1861-1935)

A celebrated architect who created the iconic Los Angeles City Hall and Central Station, Parkinson was born in Scorton, Lancashire and began his life as a builder in Bolton, before coming to North America at the age of 21. Settling in Los Angeles in 1894, he established his architectural practise in Downtown Los Angeles.

Parkinson brought the first skyscraper to Los Angeles – the Braly Block at 408 South Spring Street, standing some 175 feet high and completed in 1904.

However it was City Hall that dominated the Downtown landscape from its completion in 1928 (co-designed with Albert C. Martin and John C. Austin), until the law stipulating it should the tallest building in Los Angeles was changed in 1956, making way for the high risers that now occupy the area.

David Hockney (1937 to present)

Hockney’s visuals are as typically LA as the Hollywood sign or Sunset Boulevard. The ability to capture the area’s unique colours, the bright blissful blues of the sky and swimming pools especially, are what have helped define this enfant terrible of 1960s pop art culture. He sometimes refers to himself as an “English Los Angelino”, saying of LA:

“There’s a quite sophisticated city out there, yet you can live privately in it.”

Born and schooled in Bradford, he has lived in the Hollywood Hills since 1978. He now spends a lot of his time in Yorkshire, as he prepares for an exhibition at the Royal Academy, due to open in January 2012.

Christopher Isherwood (1904– 1986)

Isherwood, born in Cheshire and settling in Los Angeles in 1939, remarked in his diary that it was “perhaps the ugliest city on earth” and that he was “amazed at the size of the city and its lack of shape”.

Isherwood came to love the place eventually through the interesting characters he met and socialized with there – Tennessee Williams, Bertholt Brecht, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo amongst them. He would later say that he felt there was no point justifying the allure of the city to people: “either they understand it’s the only place or they don’t”.

Although his observations of California don’t feature in the early works for which he is most known, he did create some of his finest material here including A Single Man, a semi-autobiographical work.

Aldous Huxley

Similarly taking an immediate dislike to the city on first arrival, Huxley called Los Angeles the “city of dreadful joy”, where “thought is barred” and “conversation is unknown”, in his essay Los Angeles. A Rhapsody. He also talked of the strange religions and assembly-line movie making which permeated the city.

However, he was amused by all the differences and interests, “There is everything in Los Angeles…like Venice in 17th century – where East and West would meet and everything would happen here.”

James Aldous, who works in communications, recently moved to Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The TelegraphExpat Life
Expat Briton James Aldous says the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to Los Angeles was an undeniable success.

The arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last week in LA – for three days after their tour across Canada – caused a great deal of excitement in America. For a city like LA where celebrity culture often dominates, how did the city’s residents and British expat community respond to the visit of the celebrity couple of the hour?

Sadly missing from their itinerary was an opportunity for them to meet the masses. There was no drive by parade or meet-and-greet opportunity through the streets of LA where they could meet the city’s public. This trip was kept very contained, tightly controlled and strictly for those with tickets or access to the small number of events on the pairs’ packed schedule.

For those that were fortunate to see them at one of the events they attended however, it was a chance to be part of history, for this was the first official visit of the couple to foreign soil. It was also a chance to glance at the future King and Queen of England and see them participate in some of the organisations and causes close to their hearts. They managed to pack quite a bit into their brief trip here, including an event promoting London’s Tech City initiative at the Variety Venture Capital and New Media Summit, a BAFTA event celebrating up-and-coming British talent, a charity polo match in Santa Barbara, a visit to Inner City Arts in Downtown LA and a veteran jobs fair at the Sony studios in Culver City.

Indeed, during the Duke’s speech at the polo match he hinted at his harsh schedule over the previous 12 days, and suggested that he was pleased to be able to let his hair down and have a great time playing polo. This, despite being tackled by the only girl on the playing field during the match, and being referred to as Prince Charles on more than one occasion by the match commentator.

Craig Young – a British actor who has been here for 12 years and is one of the organisers of Brits in LA”, an expat group which put together California’s largest live viewing party for the Royal Wedding back in April – attended the polo match and said how the crowd went “nuts” when the Duchess presented the cup and kissed her husband on the cheek.

“The whole field of people attending in the cheaper ticket area rushed over to the presentation stand to get a glimpse,” he said.

Their enthusiasm and eagerness to see the couple clearly paid off.

“The presentation stand trailer was actually brought closer to us so we had a better view than those paying for the $4,000 tickets with the sit-down lunch included.”

The coverage of their visit in the US media was intense, with live footage of their every appearance and move. As they stepped foot into camera shot, journalists would immediately be issued emails detailing everything the Duchess was wearing. It seems that her fashion choices throughout the trip were widely hailed as a success – proof that the money on her wardrobe was well spent.

But what of the legacy of their trip? For me, there was too little attention placed on the detail of the organisations they visited. Inner City Arts – an organisation that teaches skills and tools to children in some of LA’s poorest neighbourhood they need to succeed personally and academically – lacked the attention it should have been given and the valuable work it does. KTLA – one of the major local news outlets – met with and spoke to some of the homeless in the Skid Row area, many of which had no idea the couple were visiting. What real effect did their visit into this extremely deprived area of downtown LA have? The same too for their trip to the veteran jobs fair in Culver City, where ex-military personnel were seeking employment options after their military service.

But for a great deal of people the couple’s visit did help highlight British interests on a global stage. Young believes they ”did Britain a hell of good by coming here” and believes there will be many Americans planning trips to the UK as a result.

“People in California were really pleased they came,” he added.

James Aldous, who works in communications, recently moved to Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The TelegraphExpat Life

I am finding that emigrating is sort of like being sucked into a spiralling tornado: you’re not quite sure how everything is going to look when you arrive at the other end, wherever that may be.

When I lived in LA... James explores his new home

As anyone who has relocated to a different country knows, it is one of the most exhilarating and nauseating experiences you can put yourself through.

Start with the paperwork. As I explained to friends, just have a think about how many letters arrive through your letter box in an average month and then start to build a mental picture of all the mailing lists you need to end, contracts you have to cancel, accounts you need to transfer, utilities you need to tie up…

When I received my United States work visa in late January, after months of immigration hurdles to jump over, the start date of 21 March for my new job in Los Angeles seemed an age away.

Little did I appreciate at that point the level of administrative paperwork I would have to go through before I left. At times it felt like I was tying up all my finances and commitments in preparation for my own funeral, especially when I laid everything out in front of my mum so she had a record of everything should she ever need it while I’m abroad. And the truth is – there’s no guide for what you need to do when you leave the UK. In the absence of a handy ‘out of the country’ auto-responder on all enquiries as to your whereabouts, who are you supposed to tell that you’re no longer around?

Paperwork and Wizard-of-Oz-style continent-shifting aside, I’m already two weeks in and so far the move has been a reassuringly good one. One key thing I’ve learnt already is to just assume that everything will take a lot longer than you think it might, and cost a heck of an amount more than you think it should. Keeping that at the forefront of your mind means nothing will be too much of a challenge.

One of the upsides is the transition in rental offer. Everything I own that once squeezed into my tiny room in West London now occupies barely more than a corner of my rather sizeable flat by Griffith Park, rather like a Mini rattling around an empty freeway.

Another is that people endlessly find my accent quite the entertaining overture to a conversation about my reasons for being here, particularly when I say the words ‘photo’ or ‘arse’.

Another truth about emigration is that it opens your eyes to the possibilities of what your future will look like, and makes you think of all the variants you’ll use to finish the sentence you inevitably utter in years to come when speaking to friends and family: ‘when I lived in LA’.