So Much for This Rainy Season

I Doubt We’ll See Another Drop for Many Months

The rainy season of 2017-2018 turned out to be something of a bust. Oh, we had one good rain that killed a lot of poor people in Montecito. That whole range of hills that abuts the Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Gaviota is subject to mudslides whenever there is a short period of intense rain. It happened to the pretty little coastal town of La Conchita in 2005, and this time it was Montecito’s turn.

I just looked ahead to the forecast for the next 10 days. On Thursday, April 19, there is a 20% chance of rain—which probably just means a few droplets in the mountains and foothills. Most of Southern California will continue to be bone dry until the end of the year, if not longer.

The term “April Showers” doesn’t have much meaning in a Mediterranean climate zone such as the one I live in. If you were to drive for an hour and a half east of here, you would wind up in the Mohave Desert. Drive eight hours north of here, and you would be in the wetter Northern California zone. There are some 20 climate zones of 24 possible classifications to be found in California. I just happen to occupy one of the drier zones.

 

 

The Face of L.A.

By Now, he Majority of L.A.’s Population is Hispanic

Probably one of the reasons our Presidente hates California (other than the fact that we all pretty much despise him) is that there are so many Hispanics here. And I mean Hispanics of every variety, from Mexicans and Central and South Americans to Cubans and Puerto Ricans and even a few real live Spaniards. And here in Los Angeles, we pretty much get along with one another. I mean, after all, the city was founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula, long before there were any gringos in evidence. It was then part of Spain, then part of Mexico, and eventually part of the United States of America, who stole it fair and square from Mexico. We even got the papers to prove it.

I remember vividly when my brother and I had our first tacos. It was in New York City, of all places, where we were attending the World’s Fair of 1964-65. We bought it at the Mexico Pavilion. The real reason I was in the Big Apple was to check out New York University’s graduate school in film. Well, I wound up not going there because I didn’t like Haig P. Manoogian, who was top man there. I don’t think he liked me very much either. (Michael Scorsese, who attended NYU, thought Manoogian was hot stuff; but then he was a filmmaker, and I wasn’t interested in making films.)

When I finally picked UCLA as the place to go, I thought I would prepare myself by buying frozen food that purported to be Mexican cuisine. It really wasn’t. In fact, it was about as bland as any other frozen food available in Cleveland. It was not until I took the train to L.A. that I encountered the real thing. And I liked it, and I still do.

I’ve lived here now for more than fifty years and haven’t been raped once. Will someone please mention that to the Tweeter-in-Chief?

 

 

On Angel’s Wings

Angel’s Wings Cactus aka Bunny Ears Cactus

On Wednesday, I drove down to the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The garden admission price for seniors was only $6.00, and I wanted to go somewhere where I could take a nice walk and sit down to read a book.

There is an interesting story behind the garden. At one time the land around there was under the ocean, and a layer of diatomaceous earth formed. This mineral substance is used for filtration and for insulating or strengthening building materials. Consequently, in 1929, the Dicamite Company began strip-mining the diatomaceous earth, followed by the Great Lakes Carbon Company. By 1956, the mining activity came to an end; and the site was sold to the County of Los Angeles, which used it as a sanitary landfill.

Those days fortunately are over. It was decided to turn the property into a botanical garden, which it is today. There is a road around the property which makes for a nice mile plus walk, and there are numerous trails that cut through the center. There used to be a lake, but I suspect it was allowed to sink or evaporate during the recent California drought.

California Poppies (Our State Flower)

Nowadays there ever more interesting plants on display, from the monstrous Moreton Bay Fig Trees to California Poppies—not to mention Angel’s Wing Cacti. I like the idea of properties being returned to nature, even if it is under manicured circumstances. That’s what happened on Vancouver Island in Canada, when a disused quarry outside of Victoria became the world famous Butchart Gardens. The South Coast Botanic garden isn’t quite there yet, but I have high hopes.

 

The Moorten Botanical Garden 2

A Dense Array of Cacti

Ever since I first started spending time in the desert, back in the 1970s, I have loved cacti. Mind you, the beauty of the plant is a little harder to appreciate when the temperature goes into the high nineties and above. At such a time, I tend to avoid the desert: It’s just too damned hot. My first experiences were in Desert Hot Springs (just a few miles north of the Moortens Botanical Garden). I used to stay at one of the motels and go back and forth from the sauna to the cold pool. I even took my parents there, and they enjoyed it as much as I did. Of course, what made their enjoyment peak was a decent Hungarian restaurant in town named, I think, the Budapest.

Opuntia Cactus with Purple Coloration

The Moorten cactus collection was so good that I can see myself visiting it every time I go to see my brother in Palm Desert. Dan has driven by the Garden at various times and even stopped to marvel at it—though from the outside only.

A World of Cactuses

Sometime this spring, I will also re-visit the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. What I like about their cactus collection is that so much of it comes from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

 

The Moorten Botanical Garden 1

Cashier and Gift Shop at the Moorten Botanical Garden

Last Friday, I visited three museums and a botanical garden. The first museum was Ruddy’s General Store, followed by the McCallum Adobe (home of the Palm Springs Historical Society) and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum , which had a display of Cahuilla Indian pottery. Since the latter two did not allow photographs to be taken, I have chosen not to write about them. All three museums are adjacent to one another and can be visited in under two hours.

Most interesting of all was the Moorten Botanical Garden, a few blocks south of the museums. The only collection of succulents I have seen that could compare to it is the Cactus Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden in San Marino. The Moorten is much smaller, but it shows the guiding hand of a dedicated collector, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us.

Cactus Close-Up

If I were a botanist, I would regale you here with the names (in Latin and English) of the many varieties on display, but all I know about cacti is that I love them; and I love photographing them. I find the cacti to be astounding, growing as they do under such hostile conditions.

Rare Cactus Species in the Moorten’s “Cactarium”

There is a greenhouse with rare cactus species which the Moorten calls the “Cactarium.” I wish I could regale you with more pictures of what I saw. Wait a sec, I can continue this post tomorrow!

 

Ruddy’s General Store

Ruddy’s General Store Museum in Palm Springs

When I have to take a long drive somewhere, I generally prefer to leave early in the morning. Last Friday, that meant I would arrive in the Coachella Valley several hours before my brother Dan got off from work. So I decided to visit several small museums clustered along South Palm Drive in Palm Springs.

The first was the Ruddy General Store, whose sign indicates they are “A General Store of the 1930s.” This is one general store in which the goods on the shelf are not for sale. It was originally the private collection of the late Jim Ruddy. For a token admission fee of $1.00, you can see the thousands of items on the shelves and even take flash photographs if you want.

Rubber Jar Rings for Home Canning

The collection can be viewed in an hour. You can take longer if you talk to the nice ladies behind the counter, who can tell you the story of what you are seeing.

 

Cities That Are Hard To Read

Los Angeles: A City That Is Hard To Read

The New Yorkers are at it again. In the pages of the New York Times, two reporters—Tim Arango and Adam Nagourney—referred to Los Angeles as “A City That Never Quite Came Together.” That reminds me of that old chestnut about Los Angeles being seventy-five communities in search of a city.

From the time I heard I was accepted by the UCLA Motion Picture History and Criticism graduate program, I scoured the Cleveland Public Library for books about Southern California. One of them wrote at great length about mudslides along the Pacific Coast Highway (California Route 1) in Pacific Palisades and Malibu, and posited a fictional type of super-salesman called a “Pro-Cal,” who regarded L.A. as the best of all places—diametrically opposed to the boo-birds from the East who were intent on digging up dirt about the Golden State.

This kind of thinking negatively affected what I thought about L.A. when I first moved here in 1966. All those stucco apartment buildings painted in pastel colors struck me the wrong way. Why couldn’t they use good red brick, like we had in Ohio? Then I endured my first earthquake in 1971 and understood why they used stucco: It was the brick buildings that collapsed. Only in the 1970s that I began to actually like California. The fact that that coincided with the way I felt about myself was no accident.

My friend Lynette—who was born in California—sent me a reference to a Los Angeles Times article published on February 8, 2018  and written by Christopher Hawthorne. In it, he compares L.A. to Houston, Texas:

If I had to put my finger on what unites Houston and Los Angeles, it is a certain elusiveness as urban object. Both cities are opaque and hard to read. What is Houston? Where does it begin and end? Does it have a center? Does it need one? It’s tough to say, even when you’re there — even when you’re looking directly at it.

The same has been said of Los Angeles since its earliest days. Something Carey McWilliams noted about L.A. in 1946 — that it is a place fundamentally ad hoc in spirit, “a gigantic improvisation” — is perhaps even more true of Houston. Before you can pin either city down, you notice that it’s wriggled out of your grasp.

People who are accustomed to making quick sense of the world, to ordering it into neat and sharply defined categories, tend to be flummoxed by both places. And reporters at the New York Times are certainly used to making quick sense of the world. If there’s one reason the paper keeps getting Los Angeles so spectacularly wrong, I think that’s it. Smart, accomplished people don’t like being made to feel out of their depth. Los Angeles makes out-of-town reporters feel out of their depth from their first day here.

This is not a city on a hill, such as can be found in Tuscany. You can’t just take it in at a glance and say, “Yeah, this is Los Angeles, all right!” I like to surprise visitors with forays to ethnic enclaves like Koreatown, Little Tokyo, and East Los Angeles (or “East Los”). Then there are mountains within the county boundaries that are two miles high. The fact that there are mountains here at all is a surprise to most people.

L.A. no longer wriggles out of my grasp. I recognize it as a conglomeration of landscapes, cultures, and even architectures. So don’t think you can spend an afternoon on the Sunset Strip or the Bel Air Hotel and think you’ve scoped out the city: You haven’t even begun.