As a relative stranger in Los Angeles, I find it odd that my life is so frequently punctuated by the familiar. As a result of the film and television industries, many of the usually banal markers of everyday life are powerful icons here – certainly instantly recognizable – and despite never having seen them before, they are already well-known. Although this can happen with people (the moment of confused familiarity when you’re standing next to Harrison Ford in the supermarket that compels you to say hello), it’s more common with landscapes, cityscapes, buildings and street signs. It’s actually rare for me to move through Los Angeles without this dislocated sense of recall. As a case in point, my immediate environment is bound to the north by Mulholland Drive and to the south by Sunset Boulevard, both of which spark multiple points of recognition. Serving to blur reality with fantasy – the imaginary and illusionary – it can be an incredibly distracting situation. It can also be a lot of fun.
This morning I decided to visit Beverly Hills, home to many of the city’s most famous (and wealthy) inhabitants, as well as one of the most prominent shopping streets in the world. Even the zip code – 90210 – is a celebrity, with its own television show. But the purpose of my visit was rather more modest, and although it took me along Rodeo Drive, was actually centred on a visit to Sprinkles Cupcakes. Claiming to be the world’s first cupcake bakery, it’s certainly reputed to be one of the finest and has a stream of accolades and awards. Its founder – Candace Nelson – is also a regular judge on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars”, and (again) I already feel as though I know the place. ‘Sprinkles’ is also reported to be an excellent place to celebrity spot, although in reality you’re more likely to be standing in a queue next to their PA than the star themselves.
The shop itself is surprisingly small, with only enough room for a handful of people, but is bright, cheerful and welcoming. Even though it was quiet I had to wait to be served, but equally I wasn’t rushed in my decision and everyone in the store – staff and customers – participated in helping me to select two cupcakes from their impressive range. (If the queue is ever too much for you then you can always try the recently installed 24hr cupcake ‘ATM’ located outside instead). Some flavours – the most popular – are available everyday, while others are only baked two or three times a week. Four seasonal varieties are currently available for Christmas, which means that others are unavailable (I was sorry not to be able to try the ginger lemon, but will just have to go back when it returns in January). They even make a sugar-free ‘doggie cupcake’ topped with a yoghurt frosting ($2.50). The cakes are baked – handcrafted – in small batches throughout the day, and they are all $3.50 each. I eventually chose the red velvet (southern style light chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting) and the seasonal chocolate peppermint (dark chocolate cake with bitter-sweet chocolate-peppermint frosting and crushed peppermint). They packaged them in a nice little box and I brought them away with instructions not to refrigerate them and to consume within two days.
Disappointed that I hadn’t seen any celebrities yet, my attention was drawn across the road to The Paley Center for Media, and their current interactive exhibition: Warner Brothers – Television Out of the Box. After paying my $10 admission fee, I spent a happy couple of hours being entertained by a remarkable display of small-screen paraphernalia marking almost sixty years of Warner Brothers programming. The approach to the exhibit is an impressive beginning, marked by a colourful time-line that includes all their major shows. It’s a list that includes The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo, Wonder Woman, the Waltons, and Dallas…
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…Friends, ER, The Sopranos, The Gilmore Girls, The Mentalist, The Vampire Diaries, 2 Broke Girls and Dallas (again). It’s a remarkable catalogue and every visitor would make a different list of favourites from the exhaustive WB list, which I’ve barely touched-on here. And while it’s easy to be absorbed, it’s also important to look at the opposite wall, which documents monumental moments in television history through newspaper articles, official letters, private correspondence and patents (including for Ludwik Silberstein’s Television Apparatus Invention).
The exhibition itself is delightful, containing props, costumes, original artwork and scripts. Each item has clearly been chosen with the intention of entertaining – once again – the WB audience: you can see the Geller Cup Trophy that was awarded to the winner of the Geller family’s annual Thanksgiving Day touch football game in Friends; sit in the Monk’s Diner booth from Seinfeld, stand behind President Bartlett’s West Wing lectern, and sit on Bill Compton’s couch from True Blood. It’s a celebration. It’s meant to be fun. And it really is. The staff and guides were incredibly knowledgeable, very friendly, and extremely enthusiastic about their real life experiences with celebrities at the WB studio in Burbank. This isn’t an exhibition that’s going to change your life but – like your favourite shows represented here – it will entertain.
And what about the cupcakes? Although they looked absolutely beautiful, I was also fairly convinced that their image and reputation would somehow overwhelm the cupcake itself. So. My verdict? The chocolate peppermint was good. Surprisingly good actually. But the red velvet was – quite simply – the best cupcake I have ever had. The sponge was incredibly fresh, light and soft; substantial but delicate. And the cream cheese frosting was an ideal accompaniment, never dominating the cake but working perfectly to enhance its flavour. And they certainly didn’t last two days.