Graffiti and Grace

Here’s another couple of photos from the new bit of Los Angeles River bike path that passes closest to Flying Pigeon LA.

People often rag on the LA River because of its concrete walls, and I can sympathize with them. Yet to me the river in its hard white walls takes on a grandly sculptural quality, a mysterious resonance of space and shape that lies hidden below the sightlines of the everyday world. I love as much the echoing spaces of the river downstream from downtown as I do the soft-bottom, almost bucolic channels in the Glendale Narrows and in Frogtown.

And why not? We love the twinkle of city lights we see on LA’s shadowed hills as we ride along them at night, and that is no more artificial than the cast-concrete symphonies of silence that imprison our once-wild river. And while i fully support the long-running effort to green the river, replacing riprap with native stone, a hardpan bottom with silt and reeds, and warehouse yards with parks and bikepaths, I’ll miss the present river when it’s restored to a more natural state, as Friends of the Los Angeles River envisions.

Of course, there’s an industrial ambience to much of the river, with factories, railyards, graffiti, freeways, hulking bridges, and more. But coexisting with all that, at least in the part of the river near Pigeonville, are vistas of extraordinary grace, such as the one pictured above.

For me, though, there is equal though vastly different beauty in the photo below, which brings to mind H. G. Wells’s assertion that “There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.”

The river presents many faces to us, sometimes simultaneously, and the new bike path, while also being a fast means to pedal from Elysian Park to Griffith Park, is also a means of access to these two disparate categories of aesthetic passion that this simple and oft-insulted watercourse offers us.

It’s contradictory, in a way: the bike path gives us a means to ride fast along the bank, unimpeded by traffic, stop signs, or red lights…but it also gives us reason to stop and look, and see this unheralded interplay of the world we’ve built out of iron and cement, and the older world of water, leaf, and stone that underlies it.

Try it out the next time you’re headed to or from the Pigeon. You can hurry along it if you want, but you might find that, on the riverbank, the slower you ride, the farther you go.

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  1. […] of using online media to tell a story. Meanwhile, Flying Pigeon blogger Rick Risemberg looks at the graffiti and grace of the Downtown section of the river and its bike […]

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