And Then the Magic Happened…

Three scholars sit at a dining table overlooking the coast

Nothing can be usual when you are in the city of dreams. For us, it was surely an unusual day in Los Angeles when we started to explore America’s westward expansion. It was a day of stories unfolding — stories of surprise, of joy and of sorrow, but certainly with a magical happy ending. And here the stories begin…

Welcome to Hollywood, the land of dreams

Pretty Woman (1990)

Story 1: The Evacuation (from the museum)

All of the scholars pose for a group photo in front of the Autry Museum of the American West
Evacuation: Group photo in front of the Autry Museum, from which the scholars had to hurriedly evacuate not long after

The enthusiastic group of 18 SUSI scholars with their leading lady Dawn (don’t mistake it for ‘don’) took public transit to the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park. So far everything was going smoothly. Dawn provided the group with an introductory discussion of America’s westward expansion and its impact on the evolution of representative democracy in the US, and representations of the American West in media. It was really interesting to know the history of Native American Indians during the transition through the exhibits. We were all deeply engaged looking at the 19th-century costumes, pictures of Tongvaland, transitions through the horse-rides to the sparkling motor bikes. And suddenly, a siren wailed. “There is a fire in the building… we request that everyone exit the building immediately.” Within 2-3 minutes everyone visiting the museum could be seen coming out of the building. “There can’t be any fire, I don’t see any smoke,” muttered a suspicious visitor. Can you guess what happened next? He was actually right! It was a mock drill that is conducted at the Museum once in a month. And that’s the end of the story. What was ‘happy’ in the story? Well, for some of the members it was a happy ending as they wanted to experience the ‘expansion’ outside the museum. 

Story 2: Trail Lost and Friendship Found (on Mt. Hollywood) 

Two women hold up drinks in a toast to the camera
Carmem and Mariana forged a strong friendship during the program–but didn’t always come equipped with necessary drinks

Mariana from Ukraine and Carmem from Brazil met during the program and decided to hike the Mt. Hollywood trail. They were happy to start their journey to make beautiful memories (a photo with HOLLYWOOD in the background). They braved the hot harsh midday weather. They were walking up together, sharing their stories from the respective countries. “I am feeling thirsty, do you have any water?” Mariana asked Carmem. Carmem checked her bag but there was no water bottle. They looked at each other with a feeling of despair. Carmem looked up the hill. “Hollywood is still so far away!” she said, Looking at Mariana, she asked, “Do you think we will make it?” Mariana shook her head ‘no’ and they started back down the mountain. Seeing Mariana’s hopelessness, Carmem was resolute. “Don’t worry, we will make it,” she declared. Suddenly a taxi stopped nearby. Carmem said, “Look, we are still going to see the sign!” While taking the taxi to a nearby spot, both of them knew that the sign was not in their reach as they had initially desired but they were happy to have each other’s friendship, the magical one!

Story 3: Homecoming at the Griffith Observatory (PS: read the full title to avoid any confusion with the Spider-Man Series) 

Rachna from India (yes, that’s me… how can I end up telling stories without making room for myself as a heroine? However, there are more heroines, multiple stars cast in the story, because that is the trend nowadays. I can’t afford to avoid that!) started with the group going up to the Griffith Observatory. As an intelligent decision, everyone thought it to be a great idea since you can see the whole city of Los Angeles, you can experience space and the HOLLYWOOD sign is directly in your line of sight. Sitting in the taxi, Rachna started fantasizing about the experience. “It is going to be great… what an exciting moment!”

A group of scholars pose with the Hollywood sign in the background
Scholars having a Hollywood moment

But, wow, what was that? After reaching the top, she had a strange feeling. She wanted to be happy but was overcome with homesickness. She started to feel lonely amidst the crowd. She was wandering alone, when Eman from Egypt and Tirse from Turkey called to her, “Rachna, come here, let’s have a picture.” After snapping a photo with them, Rachna again began to sulk. Elira from Kyrgyzstan asked her for pictures, too. But the same thing happened again… Rachna was not present in the moment. She started to wander down a path alone. She reached the starting point of the trail down to the hill, considering what she should do, and just then, she heard a voice. “Hey Rachna, where are you going?” Rachna looked back. It was Anida from Bosnia-Herzegovina sitting on the edge of the Observatory staircase. Quickly, she came over to Rachna and said, “Let’s take the trail together.” They were talking to each other when Rakib (Bangladesh), Alejandro (Costa Rica), Elira and later Elastus (Zambia) joined them. It was a feeling of homecoming far from home. While returning to the hotel via Santa Monica beach, Rakib asked Rachna to play some Bollywood music, as if unconsciously realizing that Rachna was missing her home. And it was a perfect happy ending with sunset on the beach.

A group selfie with multiple scholars
Home is where the heart is

I can’t stop myself from mixing a Bollywood moment into the Hollywood dream as Rakib reminded me of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, meaning you have one life to live, so live it to the fullest! 

(Are you wondering about the length of the last story? It is my story, It can’t be short, right!)

So, those were the stories. We all want to reach Hollywood one way or another because we all love to dream and live up to those dreams. Hollywood sells the dreams, and here, I am selling them too!