First Rain

Our Rainy Season Began Today

When I first arrived in California, I thought it was odd living in a place that had a distinctive rainy season. Mind you, there are many years when we see only a few inches of rain; and others, where we get inundated. At this point, there is no guarantee that we will get more rainfall any time soon. Given the massive wildfires of the last month, it is probably just as well: A heavy rain at this time would result in heavy mudslides in the burn areas, mudslides that may very well destroy more homes than the fires did.

Today’s showers were light and, near the coastal area in which I live, over by one in the afternoon. The way I (informally) measure rain, it was enough to clean my windshield of insect and bird waste accumulated since my last car wash. Anything less, I count as a “dirty drizzle,” one that serves to dirty the windshield because the wipers serve only to smear the muck.

It is predicted that the rain in L.A. will be over by tomorrow morning, well over for the coastal areas. There may be a few light showers in the eastern part of the county.

 

Bad Toenail Karma

Toenail Edges Growing Into the Skin

I think it all started with my father. He had thick toenails that tended to curl inward as they grew. The end result: a tendency toward ingrown toenails. I remember once going with him to my podiatrist in Los Angeles. He was in such pain from the cleaning out of the ingrown toenails that he resolved never again to visit a podiatrist.

It was my misfortune to inherit my father’s toenails. Mine, in fact, are so thick that I could probably slice through heavy sheet metal with my bare feet. The difference is that I go to a podiatrist regularly to clip my nails and dig out the ingrown ones. And I tend to have at least one or two a month. Yes, it is painful; but catching them early is less painful than neglect.

Is it my shoes? I don’t believe so, if only because my toes never hurt when I walk. The only time I feel I have an ingrown toenail is from the weight of my bedsheets brushing against my toenails.

What can I do about my ingrown toenails? Since I can’t control how my toenails curcl as they grow, I just have to grin and bear it.

 

Garcetti-Ville

Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti

Although Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti is a Democrat, I see him as something of a failure. I take issue with him on two counts:

  • He is one of those weepy progressives who are unable to deal with the burgeoning population of the homeless because he doesn’t know how to talk about it. “Let’s build housing for the poor homeless” is no answer when most of the homeless are unable or unwilling to follow rules because it violates their independence.
  • He is a tool of the real estate interests as he embarks on a spree of building high-rise housing along the light rail lines. You can be sure that very few of those units will be reserved for the homeless.

Artist’s Rendering of High Rise Housing Project

In the end, the streets of L.A. will continue to be littered with homeless encampments and the streets will be clogged with increased automobile traffic that no one seems to be planning for. And no, most of the people who will live in these high-rise Garcetti-Villes will probably not be interested in taking public transportation to work or entertainment.

Politicians like to make common cause with real estate developers because of the myth that tax revenue will thereby increase. Far from it: The city will be stuck with older apartment structures that will be vacated to move into these new high-rent districts, turning them into largely vacant slums, while the streets will be choked with cars.

Of course, I like the new light rail lines and the subways. But then, I am not a typical Angeleno.

Fêtes Galantes

“The Italian Comedians”

Today, Martine and I took the bus to the Getty Center (to avoid paying the $20.00 parking fee). Each time I visit, I make surprising discoveries. Today’s surprise was two paintings by the French Painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). In the 36 years of his life, Watteau combined two themes again and again in his fêtes galantes, both of which figured in paintings on display at the Getty Center.

On one hand, there are theatrical characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte. To serve as contrast, they are usually outdoors in natural settings. According to he museum’s description:

Five comedians have just finished their performance in a verdant park on the outskirts of Paris and look expectantly at their audience. Pierrot, the clown in a baggy white suit, is already holding his hat in his hand, hoping that a few coins might be thrown into it.

Flanking Pierrot are four other performers dressed as characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte, which enjoyed great popularity in 18th-century Paris. Brighella wears a splendid greenish-gold suit and shoulder cape trimmed with black stripes. Mezzetin strums a few chords on his guitar, while Harlequin in a black mask with its horsehair eyebrows and moustache peers over his shoulder. A mock Spanish costume of black velvet with a white ruff identifies the figure on the far right as Scaramouche.

The actors penetrate our world with an intense humanity and vivid reality, far removed from the theatrical artifice and caprice of the stage they have just left.

“The Surprise”

A smaller painting is the same artist’s “The Surprise”:

In a verdant park at sunset, a young woman abandons herself to her tousle-haired companion’s ardent embrace. Coiled up in a pose of centrifugal energy, the impulsive lovers are oblivious to the third figure: Mezzetin, sitting on the same rocky outcrop. Drawn from the theatrical tradition of the commedia dell’arte, this character represents a poignant foil to the couple’s unbridled passion. Introverted and with a melancholy air, he tunes his guitar, knowing that his serenading will mean nothing to the lovers and serve only to heighten his own sense of lonely longing as he gazes upon them. His costume, a rose-coloured jacket and knee-britches slashed with yellow and adorned with blue ribbons as well as a lace ruff and cuffs, is reminiscent of the paintings of Anthony van Dyck. The small dog at lower right, a quotation from Rubens, watches the couple with considerably more appreciation than Mezzetin can muster.

Curiously, both paintings share a sense of sadness. Common to both paintings is the character of Mezzetin, both times strumming on a guitar. In the commedia productions, he plays the part of a schemer and trouble-maker, one who tries to flirt, but frequently comes across as a little creepy in his efforts. He is a frequent subject in Watteau’s paintings, perhaps personifying a kind of talented loneliness.

A Little Bit of Wales

A Welsh Tea House in the State of Chubut, Argentina

Today’s post is the result of finding a business card in Spanish for one of our 2011 Argentina destinations. It was part of the best day on that particular trip. In the morning, Martine and I went to the giant Magellanic penguin rookery at Punta Tombo where we saw baby penguin eggs hatching under the watchful eyes of hungry shore birds. Then we drove to the Welsh settlement at Gaiman where we had high tea at the Ty Gwyn.

Although we were many thousands of miles from Wales, it was as if we were in the Old Country. The tea, sandwiches, and cakes were absolutely delicious. In fact, we had such a good time that we took a bus from Puerto Madryn back to Gaiman and had another high tea.

High Tea at Ty Gwyn

The State of Chubut was originally settled by the Welsh who settled in a number of communities, including Gaiman, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Dolavon. At the souvenir shops at the Trelew airport, a conspicuous presence were the packages of Torta Negra Galesa, the dark Welsh Cake that is the highlight of a Welsh tea.

The only other places where Martine and I had high tea were at Blenheim Palace in England—the birthplace of Winston Churchill—and Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is interesting that the Welsh in Argentina were easily on a par with the other two.

 

Uxmal

The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal in Yucatán

I may have to delay my trip to Mexico until I know what’s happening with the pain in my knee. To refresh your memory, there is some sort of muscular pain in the crook of my left knee, initially diagnosed to be a Baker’s Cyst or some sort of tendonitis. With luck, I will be able to go at some point in January, unless the condition requires surgery.

In all, I have been to Uxmal twice, in 1975 and 1992. Both times, I have been impressed that it is the most beautiful of Maya ruins. It is built in the classical Puuc (named after the range of hills where it is located), with smooth rectangular limestone blocks interspersed with images of various Maya deities. It looks even better today, after archeologists have cleared away much of the foliage. Below is an image of the same structure around 1840 when Frederick Catherwood drew it:

Frederick Catherwood’s Illustration of the Pyramid

The city of Uxmal was occupied only up to some point in the 9th century AD, when it is speculated that drought made the ruins in the Puuc Hills uninhabitable. There are no above ground rivers in the limestone peninsula that is Yucatán, and the underground rivers would have required digging through hundreds of feet of rock. Instead, rain water was collected in chultunes, underground storage chambers that circled the ruins.

I was sold on Uxmal from the very start. The van that took me there stopped close by the Pyramid of the Magician. The driver bowed his head and did the sign of the cross upon setting eyes on the pyramid. It is still considered a sacred site by the Maya, even though they have not inhabited it for over a thousand years.

 

A Proof of Immortality?

Anglo-Saxon Facial Armor

Once again I turn to the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges who in so many ways replicates my thoughts. Perhaps, it is because he has influenced me so much over so many years?

Poem Written in a
Copy of Beowulf

At various times I have asked myself what reasons
Moved me to study while my night came down,
Without particular hope of satisfaction,
The language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.
Used up by the years my memory
Loses its grip on words that I have vainly
Repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
Weaves and unweaves its weary history.
Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
Has some secret sufficient way of knowing
That it is immortal, that its vast encompassing
Circle can take in all, can accomplish all.
Beyond my anxiety and beyond this writing
The universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.

This translation is by Alastair Reid from Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems 1923-1967, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.