USA (c’est la même chose): L.A. CA an analog 20th Century note.
Americans, we have long been a happily ignorant, self-inflated people of avarice, violence and carelessness, and are damn proud of it.
A few years ago as I was working a book project on 1970s California (now abandoned) I came across a sheaf of yellowed typewritten notes made during the terminal bleedout of that decade, a gem culled from Stewart Edward White’s 1910 novel The Rules of The Game. White, a popular author of Western novels and spiritualist sagas featuring his wife Betty during the Twenties, describes Los Angeles through the eyes of his Midwesterner protagonist, Bob Orde. In this passage White foreshadows the maximized all-available inside-your-head oneright-swipeshort con we live today, a digital version of the horseshit laden LA streets of 1910….
“Each extreme of costume seemed justified, either by the balmy summer-night effect of the California open air, or by the hint of chill that crept from the distant mountains. Either aspect could be welcomed or ignored by a very slight effort of the will. Electric signs blazed everywhere.
Bob was struck by the numbers of clairvoyants, palm readers, Hindu frauds, crazy cults, fake healers, Chinese doctors, and the like thus lavishly advertised. The class that elsewhere is pressed by neccesity to the inexpensive dinginess of backstreets, here blossomed forth in truly tropical luxuriance.
Street vendors with all sorts of things, from mechanical toys to spot eradicators, spread their portable lay-outs at every corner. Vacant lots were crowded with spielers of all sorts–religious or political fanatics, vendors of cure-alls, of universal tools, of marvelous axle-grease, of anything and everything to catch the idle dollar. Brilliantly lighted shops called the passer-by to contemplate the latest wave motor, flying machine, door check or what-not. Stock in these enterprises were for sale–and was being sold! Other sidewalk booths, like the those ordinarily used as dispensaries of hot doughnuts and coffee, offered wild-cat mining shares, oil stock and real estate in some highly speculative suburb.”
California; An Englishman’s Impressions of the Golden State — Arthur Tysilio (A. T.) Johnson, 1913
“Here you may dine, if not sumptuously, for ten cents, or the more fastidious may lunch quite delicately for two hundred. A box in a theatre may be secured for a shilling, and it is not worth any more, a volume of Oscar Wilde for a few cents. For a nickel you may purchase a Sunday newspaper which weighs pounds, and the number of whose columns runs into three figures. From almost every open door in Main Street issue the beguiling strains of the gramophone and the automatic piano, each of which eternally strives with the other for the honour of becoming the national instrument of America. If I were a betting man I would stake my bottom dollar on the former’s success. It is, if anything, a more soul-stirring instrument, while the brazen trumpet suggests a martial spirit to the passing eye. Then, of course, there’s the little white dog with his head on one side. ” My ! ain’t that just ‘cute,” the ladies still exclaim when they see him sitting there. But I digress, and must return to Main Street, to the painted ladies in the glass pay-boxes of those popular, clutch-you-by-the-throat, melodramatic picture shows ; to the alluring senorita from Brazil, dark, seductive, and soft of speech, who will tell you all you desire to know, and sometimes a little more, about your dim future, for a modest dime. You can be hypnotised, seated on a chair on the public sidewalk, before a wild, hysterical-looking gentleman for the same little sum. Step inside one of the palatial ” shaving parlors/’ and you can have your chin lathered and shaved by a lady barber who wears an evening dress of a morning, which in itself is an achievement of no mean order. It will cost you a mere fifteen cents. A hair-cut by the same gentle fingers will cause you to part with a quarter (a shilling), but as it includes the shaving of the back of your neck and a not altogether unpleasing halfhour in conversation with one of the ” buds 99 of the Golden West, who could be niggardly enough to question the cost ? Here, also, the stranger may witness a ” continuous performance of the drama of the Garden of Eden, conducted by Darwin, Jr, in which our first parents do their parts with becoming modesty, and wherein the largest snake in captivity (stuffed) exercises his sense of humour by sometimes swallowing the apple himself, much to Eve’s disappointment and Adam’s chagrin. To judge by the crowds who press in to this novel entertainment, it would appear that the earliest romance in human history still grips the public taste. Then, for the price of a morning paper, you can pass the moments being humbugged by a quack naturalist.