Victorian Los Angeles

The Ford House at Heritage Square

On Saturday, Martine and I re-visited the Heritage Square Museum in Highland Park. We had been there many years ago, when it was a struggling attraction in the process of coming into being. Most of the old Victorian houses that had been moved to their location just off the Pasadena Freeway were not yet furnished. In the intervening years, we would pass by the site visible from the Freeway. I am glad that Martine suggested we give the place another chance.

We don’t think of Los Angeles as an old city, despite the fact that it was founded as a Spanish pueblo in 1781—some fifteen years before Moses Cleaveland founded the city of my birth. But whereas Cleveland has shrunk into relative obscurity during my lifetime, Los Angeles has become one of the great cities of the world, and the second largest in the United States. One of the reasons we think of it as a new city is that we have made too liberal use of the wrecking ball to clear away old building to replace them with new ones.

The Main Entrance to the Hale House at Heritage Square

The only real way to visit Heritage Square is to take one of the tours that begin on the hour. The ours themselves last upward of two hours and are quite informative. Our guide explained how, even after they have been moved, two of the houses are subject to paranormal phenomena. Most of the incidents were in the octagonal Longfellow-Hastings house, at which an apparition appeared during one daytime tour. There have also been occurrences of table-tipping; and, one time, a latched door opened by itself just as the tour guide was planning to release the latch. No spirits made a ruckus during our tour yesterday.

 

 

When the Desert Blooms

A hill at the California Poppy Preserve in Los Angeles’s Antelope Valley in Spring 2003.
The California Poppy Preserve in the Antelope Valley Spring 2003

In a post I wrote a few days ago, I remember saying that tulips and California poppies are my favorite flowers. This rainy season has been unusually good, with the result that the wildflower bloom this month is utterly spectacular.

That was also the case in March 2003, when Martine and I visited the California Poppy Preserve with its gentle hillsides blooming with millions of orange flowers.

On Monday, my friend Bill Korn and I hope to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument in rural Santa Barbara County, where there is another spectacular set of blooms. We had hoped to do it in previous years, but so long as I was racing to prepare tax returns in time for the April 15 deadline, that was a virtual impossibility. For the last twenty-odd years of my accounting career, I typically worked seven days a week in March and the beginning of April.

Close-Up of California Poppies 2010

Never having been to the Carrizo Plain, all I know about it is that it is in a remote area and does not even have paved roads throughout. Several of the roads in the park are currently closed due to mud. Its best known physical feature is that the San Andreas earthquake fault runs right through the middle of it.

Seven Years in Siberia

My Grandfather’s Obituary in the Cleveland Papers

The story of the Czechoslovak Legion was one of amazing heroism and almost unbelievable feats. I had always heard that my father’s father was a member of this fighting force and was captured and served time in Siberia. Today, going through some old papers, I received confirmation from his obituary in a Cleveland newspaper.

In World War I, the Czechoslovak Legion fought on the side of the forces arrayed against Germany, in hopes that after the war, their efforts would result in a free Czechoslovakia. The unit to which Emil Paris Sr belonged did its fighting in Russia. When the Bolshevik Revolution occurred late in 1917, they fought for the Whites against the Red Army. As the Germans invaded the Ukraine, they found escape through Europe blocked and elected to fight their way across Siberia along the line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Vladivostok, from where they would find ships back to Europe.

Men from the Czechoslovak Legion in Vladivostok

Emil didn’t quite make it. He was captured by the Red Army and interned in Siberia for seven years, before he was released. During that time, my father Alex, my Uncle Emil Jr, and my Aunt Margit were on their own in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia in the middle of the postwar famine, just trying to survive.

I have a few memories of my grandfather and his wife before he died some time before my brother’s birth in 1951. I remember his funeral, and I remember visiting him before Irma died in 1947. During that visit, I was given a toy boat. It must have been one of my earliest memories. I was two years old at the time.

Czech Stamp Honoring a Battle Won by the Legion

My grandfather might have been heroic, but he was famed for being a mean man who once sued his son, my father, over a five dollar debt.

I am one of the three grandchildren referred to in the obituary, the others being Emil Jr’s children Emil and Peggy. My brother was to join that company in April 1951.

The Threat of Calamity

Volcán Agua Seen from Antigua

One thing my visit to Guatemala in January convinced me of is that certain places—perhaps all places—are susceptible to calamity. These include floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, avalanches, and typhoons. In the highlands of Guatemala, there were several times that I was within sight of three volcanoes. One of them, Fuego, had erupted twice in 2018, causing 159 deaths and 256 missing persons, not to mention thousands of evacuations.

I frequently think back to the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971 and the Northridge Earthquake of 1994 and to the fear that both events caused me to feel. After the 1971 quake, we were screening Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film Sabotage at UCLA’s Melnitz Hall showing a London power plant being attacked by a terrorist. At the same time, we felt an aftershock of the main quake followed by a power outage. The entire audience erupted in nervous laughter, with some feeling genuine alarm.

Although I have complained numerous times of drought in California, a bigger danger is a hundred year flood. In December-January 1861-62, there was a massive flood which, if repeated, woulod cause death and destruction on a scale large enough to challenge California’s aura of prosperity:

Beginning on December 24, 1861, and lasting for 45 days, the largest flood in California’s recorded history occurred, reaching full flood stage in different areas between January 9–12, 1862. The entire Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys were inundated for an extent of 300 miles (480 km), averaging 20 miles (32 km) in breadth. State government was forced to relocate from the capital in Sacramento for 18 months in San Francisco. The rain created an inland sea in Orange County, lasting about three weeks with water standing 4 feet (1.2 m) deep up to 4 miles (6 km) from the river The Los Angeles basin was flooded from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, at variable depths, excluding the higher lands which became islands until the waters receded. The Los Angeles basin lost 200,000 cattle by way of drowning, as well as homes, ranches, farm crops & vineyards being swept-away. [Wikipedia]

Me Atop the Icelandic Glacier Vatnajökull, the Largest in Europe, Under Which Sits the Volcano Grimsvötn

Iceland is one country I have visited which has come close to being destroyed several times in the last thousand years. The Vatnajökull glacier sits atop a massive volcano which, when it erupts, causes a massive flood rushing to the North Atlantic. That’s in addition to the lava, of course. Nearby Lakagigar erupted over an eight-month period beginning in June 1783, pouring out some 42 billion tons of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide that led to a famine in which a quarter of the island’s population lost their lives.

We all live under the threat of calamity of some sort, much of it caused by our fellow man. Sometimes it feels like a bloody miracle that we survive at all.

 

The Way Forward

It’s Time to Plan Ahead for a Presidency Without Trumpf

Now that the Mueller Report is out, and our Presidente has apparently dodged yet another bullet—for now. I discuss here, in brief, my attempt at a pragmatic look at the way forward.

Impeachment and Conviction

Any concerted effort to impeach Trumpf at this point will lead to wasted effort. Two U.S. presidents so far have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. According to the Constitution, the House of Representatives is charged with impeaching a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But to remove a president, it is the Senate that decides whether the president is guilty. Moreover, a two-thirds majority of the Senate must vote for conviction. Article I Section 3 of the Constitution says: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.”

When (and if) the vote is for conviction, the president is out of a job and may possibly be sentenced to a jail term.

There is no doubt that Trumpf could be impeached by the Democratic House, but there are nowhere near enough votes in the Senate to convict. The result: The business of this country is held for ransom while a political battle royal ensues. Probable outcome: Trumpf emerges triumphant from this “witch hunt.”

The Election of 2020

The best way of getting rid of Trumpf is to vote him out of office in 2020. He knows that, and that is why he has been trying hard to stroke the egos of ignorant voters in small states, most of whom remain solidly in his camp.

For the Democrats to win, two things must happen:

  • Instead of the usual circular firing squad, the Dems must come together behind an attractive candidate, of which there are currently several possibilities. In the months to come, we shall see who survives.
  • Democrats must engage with the enemy. That involves interviews on Fox News, visiting Red States, and in general going beyond the bubble. That’s why Hillary lost in 2016.

The Electoral College

The United States is no longer a sparsely populated agrarian nation. Of course it is manifestly unfair. The Huffington Post expresses the situation well:

But the biggest vice of the Electoral College is its blatant unfairness to voters in the bigger states. As a resident of the largest state, California, I look at the residents of the smallest state, Wyoming, with particular envy during election season. Each vote cast in Wyoming is worth 3.6 as much as the same vote cast in California. How can that be, you might ask? It’s easy to see, when you do the math. Although Wyoming had a population in the last census of only 563,767, it gets 3 votes in the Electoral College based on its two Senators and one Congressman. California has 55 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot more, but it isn’t when you consider the size of the state. The population of California in the last census was 37,254,503, and that means that the electoral votes per capita in California are a lot less. To put it another way, the three electors in Wyoming represent an average of 187,923 residents each. The 55 electors in California represent an average of 677,355 each, and that’s a disparity of 3.6 to 1.

How do we change that? It is not likely that we can do anything about it. Here is Article V of the Constitution in its entirety:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

I do not think that, as presently constituted, the House of Representatives and Senate could produce a two-thirds majority to say that water flows downhill, let alone amend the Constitution. And as for a three-fourths majority of the State Legislatures—Fuggedaboutit!

 

Serendipity: Dante’s Inferno Circa 2015

Gustave Doré Engraving from Dante’s Inferno

The following paragraph comes from John Banville’s excellent novel The Blue Guitar (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015). It expresses perfectly the vision of Dante translated into the godless world of the 21st Century.

When I consider the possibility—or perhaps I should say the prospect—of eternal damnation, I envisage my suffering soul not plunged in a burning lake or sunk to the oxters in a limitless plain of permafrost. No, my inferno will be a blamelessly commonplace affair, fitted out with the commonplace accoutrements of life: streets, houses, people going about their usual doings, birds swooping, dogs barking, mice gnawing the wainscot. Despite the quotidian look of everything, however, there is a great mystery here, one that only I am aware of, and that involves me alone. For although my presence goes unremarked, and I seem to be known to all who encounter me, I know no one, recognize nothing, have no knowledge of nwhere I am or how I came to be here. It’s not that I have lost my memory, or that I am undergoing some trauma of displacement and alienation. I’m as ordinary as everyone and everything else, and it’s precisely for this reason that it’s incumbent on me to maintain a blandly untroubled aspect and seem to fit smoothly in. But I do not fit in, not at all. I’m a stranger in this place where I’m trapped, always will be a stranger, although perfectly familiar to everyone, everyone, that is, except myself. And this is how it is to be for eternity: a living, if I can call it living, hell.

 

Tulip Time

Red Tulip Blossoms Close Up

Today, despite the vaguely threatening weather, Martine and I went to Descanso Gardens to see the tulips, which are at peak bloom right now. They were magnificent! For Martine, it was even better, as we dined twice at her favorite Glendale eateries: Sevan Chicken and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant.

If I were asked which are my favorite flowers, I would answer tulips and California poppies. Roses are nice too, but I have too many memories of having to pick off and kill Japanese Beetles from my parents’ tree roses in Parma Heights, Ohio. Moreover, roses never look quite so perfect as tulips and poppies do.

This Tulip Reminds Me of a Venus Flytrap with Its “Teeth”

Next after poppies and tulips come camellias. At Descanso Gardens, this has been a bumper crop year for the camellias, which are still at peak bloom throughout the park. We have had a relatively wet and cool winter, and the camellias has responded in great profusion.

Descanso was more crowded today than I can recall from any of our previous visits. The parking lot was full, and hordes of people were positioning themselves in front of the tulips with plastic smiles while others pointed their smart phones at them and clicked away.

Purple and White Tulip Blossoms

I have always hated posed photographs, particularly in front of flowers. Is it because my mother and father always had me positioned in front of flowering plants with an artificial smile? Ever since I have started taking pictures, I have avoided posed pictures, preferring always to shoot candids. One gets more natural facial expressions when they are not expecting a picture. In the end, I got even with my mother. When we were visiting the former Marineland in Palos Verdes, I posed my mother to the right of a sign pointing to the right with a large arrow, with the sign reading “To the Walruses.”

By the way, if you like tulips as much as I do, I highly recommend that you read Alexandre Dumas Père’s novel The Black Tulip about tulipmania in Holland.