What similarities can you get between a chaotic city with the attitude of a small community and a small community with a chaotic character? Starting from the fact that these two apparently dissimilar places are on the same latitude, one can confirm some basic similarities in climate, flora and, of course, the light. From the very first moment of my first visit in Los Angeles, the afternoon light in the city gave me an inexplicable sense of familiarity. It was not based on references from the countless films and television series that have been shot in LA, nor was it a metaphysical thing; besides, I do not believe in previous lives. That feeling was the same as the one I got from many spring afternoons in the Rethymnon of my teen years.
Los Angeles is for many people a ‘sinister’, solitary place. It is vast, yet if you were bold enough to go around on foot (there is no way you can walk to your destination—but then no one really walks in Rethymnon, either, and it is tiny!), you would see that the locals’ behaviour reminds you more of a small neighbourhood than the second largest city in the United States. Strangers give you friendly greetings in the streets, department store cashiers show you photos of their children or grandchildren, crowds swarm the beaches every day, and in the evenings various fledging artists who work at the bars of West Hollywood or hang out there try to find ways to advertise their work. Recently I heard Jen Clark (a character in the TV series 90210) saying in a scene that “LA is a very small town”. Well, so is Rethymnon. The size of a city is always determined by several parameters, including the attitude or the prior experiences of the one who attempts to measure it.
The Spanish-style villas in parts of Los Angeles like Los Feliz and Echo Park are not much different from the houses at Kastelakia, the neighbourhood where I grew up here in Rethymnon. The same vaults, the same quasi-Baroque iron railings, the same sepia tint on the walls and all this surrounded by palm trees and opuntias in tastelessly decorated gardens, just like most gardens over here. More telling of all was the region of Venice Beach, where in every tourist shop, in every café, in every point on the beach I saw similarities with the areas of Platanias and Perivolia.
In his documentary Los Angeles plays itself, filmmaker Thom Andersen says that unlike New York, Los Angeles does not really have a specific character. Various parts and spots of it could be anywhere else in the world, and this is one of the reasons why the city is the cradle of the film industry. Countless outdoor scenes for films that take place in another city must have been shot there; in fact, it would be all too easy to shoot in Los Angeles a film that was set in Rethymnon!
Can Rethymnon become the “New Los Angeles” (not necessarily in the same ironic mood in which the people of Agrinion used to call their town “Little Paris”)? Maybe yes, maybe not. The one truly reliable finding of my investigation is this sense of familiarity, which may be explicable, after all. It can be the sense of familiarity derived from illusion, which goes on to produce its own illusions.