Confidenciales

Love Seats (Known as Confidenciales) on Mérida’s Plaza de la independencia

Mérida is a city full of little surprises. At first, one is conscious of the heat and humidity, followed by all that goes into making up a tropical city. Then, after a little while, one notices surprising little things that give the city its own charming uniqueness. Ever since the 17th century, the city’s parks have been dotted with concrete love seats called confidenciales. Rarely does one not encounter (during daylight hours anyhow) young Maya couples seated on them and whispering into each other’s ears.

The Courtyard of the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art

In a tropical climate, nothing is more welcome than cool shade. And it’s not too difficult to find it. When I visited the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art, I was so enthralled by the courtyard, that I sat down on a bench and meditated for upwards of an hour. The building that houses the museum used to be the Archbishop’s Palace.

If I owned a house, I would like one that presents nothing but a wall and a door to the street—with no front lawn requiring frequent maintenance. I’d much rather have a courtyard, invisible from the street with cozy benches and a fountain.

Colonnade by the Plaza de la Independencia, Built in 1821

Finally, I loved all the colonnades. like the one above which is two centuries old. It’s good to get out of the sun when it is hot, and there were always shops in the colonnade where you can get a cold beer or some tropical-fruit-flavored ice cream.

Perhaps all these things speak to me of comfort and relaxation, which is always a good thing when one is on vacation. Wherever I went, I found time to relax in the main plaza or a lovely courtyard or a welcoming colonnade. I always made sure that there was some relaxation time wherever I went. I saw a lot of wonderful places, and I had a good rest.

Weekend in the Desert

Looking Up from the Book I Was Reading, This Was the View

It was good to see my brother again after four months of quarantining alone with Martine. Because she hates the desert (having lived and work for two years in Twentynine Palms), Martine stayed behind in L.A. and engaged in several cleaning projects which would have been difficult with me tromping about the place.

Dan and my sister-in-law Lori were, as usual, excellent hosts. Dan went out of his way to cook several gourmet meals including a vegetarian lasagna with eggplant and spinach as well as corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. We didn’t visit many places, because the Coachella Valley is still under a Covid-19 lockdown. But I did manage to read two whole books sitting in Dan’s back yard. The weather was perfect, an even 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius) with an occasional cool breeze.

The photo above was taken from the chair in which I was reading Hilaire Belloc’s Selected Essays and Jon Krakauer’s Classic Krakauer: Essays on Wilderness and Risk. (I love reading essays, as I consider myself to be something of an essay writer, but in a small way.)

My Brother Dan at the Moorten Cactus Garden in Palm Springs

Because Dan lives in the lower desert of California, I would not venture to visit him during the blazingly hot summer months. I hope that he can make it to L.A., or I will have to wait until the fall to drive out again.

Surviving Hell

The Best Way to Beat the Heat: Iced Tea

Every morning, I make a full pot of tea in my little 1.5 liter metal Japanese teapot. Because it has a perforated insert into which I can spoon whole tea leaves without worrying about having to eat them as I drink the tea, I can dispense with tea bags altogether. I buy mostly Indian loose black teas (Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam) by the pound. The general rule of thumb is that one pound (0.45 kilograms) brews some 240 cups of tea. Compare that with the Specialty Coffee Association’s estimate of 48 cups of coffee from one pound of beans.

In a heat wave such as we are now experiencing in Southern California—especially during the coronavirus quarantine—I become positively lizard-like. What keeps me from going reptile all the way is the iced tea I drink. As of 10 pm, there are only a few thimblefuls of tea left in my pot. While I was sitting in my library reading Marie NDiaye’s La Cheffe, I was cooled not only by the iced tea, but by the condensation from the glass sending icy droplets onto the hairs of my bare stomach (as I am not wearing a shirt while inside).

My Indian tea of choice lately has been the Ahmad of London brand, which is popular in the Indian and Iranian food stores in my part of town. At present, I am drinking their Darjeeling tea, which I find to be the best. It also happens to be the most expensive (600 grams for US$36).

I am particularly conscious of the heat because the apartment building in which I live was built in 1945, when insulation was not commonly used. That was before global warming. Now I feel as if I am living in one of those punishment hotboxes from Bridge on the River Kwai or Cool Hand Luke.

If you want to make your iced tea taste particularly good, add a splash of good dark rum, such as Myers’s Original Dark Rum from Jamaica. I also add the juice of a fresh lemon and some Splenda (as I am diabetic).

 

Heat Wave

A Heat Wave with No Place to Go

I thought that somehow, in this first year of the coronavirus outbreak, that somehow me might be spared extremes of heat. Well, it was not to be. As I sit here at my computer, I feel stuck to my chair with the sticky heat. In addition, Martine is suffering from an attack of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, making it impossible to eat almost anything without suffering in consequence.

Usually we get this type of Mexican Monsoon heat in July, but I guess we can’t rely on data from past years. The earth is sufering. The United States is suffering. I am suffering.

 

 

The Best Laid Plans…

Chace Park Seen from the Air

In my post of July 3 entitled “Plotting a Holiday Picnic,” I wrote about my plans for a 4th of July weekend picnic for two (Martine and me). It’s sometimes laughable how circumstances can change. I decided to choose today, Sunday, July 5, for the picnic—because I suspected that there would be too many people with too many fireworks on Saturday.

Martine wanted to go to Chace Park in the Marina because, regardless how hot the weather was near us, it always had a comfortable sea breeze. Originally, I thought of getting a picnic lunch at Chick-Fil-A, but I forgot that the restaurant is closed on Sundays. So we headed to Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica, but saw a humongous line waiting to get in. Ditto for Trader Joe’s in Marina Del Rey. So on Martine’s suggestion, we got our lunches in the deli and produce sections of a nearby Ralph’s Supermarket.

The only real negative about going to Chace Park was that parking cost ten dollars on this holiday weekend. No matter, I paid the fee and resolved to make myself comfortable with the peninsula’s sea breezes. There were no seals in evidence today, but we were able to eat our lunch and take a walk around the peninsula.

There were a lot of young males who flouted the social distancing rule, but we managed to keep our distance from them as they attempted their abortive “herd immunity” practices. I kept thinking back to my days working with U.S. Census data. In the United States, there are 21 males born to every 20 females; but, by around the age of 18, the number of females exceeds the number of males. Why? Because young American males find their way to an early grave through sheer stupidity.

 

Nostalgie de Banlieu

Recent History from L.A. Northern Suburbs

If you’ve ever seen Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), you have some idea of how the City of Los Angeles annexed most of the San Fernando Valley after William Mulholland’s aqueduct brought water several hundred miles from the Owens Valley to L.A. In the period of the movie, the Valley seemed to be mostly orchards. Today, some two million people live there. Its period of greatest growth was in the immediate postwar period when aerospace was king. Today—well, today much of the gloss has vanished. During the summer, the Valley is almost as hot as the floor of the desert: Today the temp reached 91º Fahrenheit (33º Celsius) as we left in mid afternoon.

The reason we were there was to visit the Valley Relics Museum at Balboa and Stagg in Lake Balboa. The museum pays homage to the Valley’s glory days during the 1950s and 1960s, when it seems everyone was buying property there because it was cheaper than the more liveable parts of L.A. adjoining the Ocean.

Ash Trays from Bygone Restaurants and Clubs

The Valley is still an interesting destination. For one thing, there are many excellent restaurants, both ethnic and American. (Today, for instance, we discovered a great place on Ventura Boulevard at Burbank called Hummus Bar & Grill that we will no doubt be visiting again.) There are several interesting historical sights such as the Leonis Adobe and Los Encinos State Historical Park, plus museums like the Nethercutt Collection. So the Valley is still a target-rich destination, though it is no longer the fashionable locale it used to be when I first moved the Southern California in 1966.

The museum had fight posters featuring Mohammed Ali and Cassius Clay, film stuntmen memorabilia, old restaurant menus with pre-inflation prices, neon signs from clubs and restaurants like the Palomino, and even an interesting selection of working pinball machines—particularly one featuring Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a former TV horror film hostess.

 

Don’t Go Here in August

Ruins of the Bank Building in Rhyolite, Nevada

In January 2008, Martine and I spent a few days in Death Valley. It is a totally fascinating place, surrounded by ghost towns (such as Rhyolite, above) and mining shafts. The fascination wears off somewhat if you should try to visit in the summer, as the rangers tell us that German tourists tend to do. When the thermometer hits 130° Fahrenheit (54° Celsius), tourism is secondary to survival. Crawling up the mountain pass of the Panamint Range, your car will pass several water tanks to replenish the fluid in your radiator. Should you not pay attention to your radiator temperature, you had best just pull over and crawl under your car with several gallons of water, preferably cool—at least to start with.

Death Valley was the site of my first ever camping trip, back in 1979. We made it to Furnace Creek campground after midnight. Too weary to pitch our tents, we just lay our sleeping bags over groundcloths and dropped off, only to be awakened by early by a overactive flock of birds that landed in the campground or circled above our heads. The desert was starkly beautiful, and I fell in love with it from the start.

Ubehebe Crater in the Northern Part of Death Valley

I got an altogether different picture of the desert around 1995. Martine was working at the Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center as a civilian employee. I would visit her several times during the summer, when it was REALLY, REALLY hot. I had to use an oven mitt to open my car door, lest my hand merge with the handle. I don’t know how Martine stuck it out there as long as she did. Eventually, she quit and moved in with me.

Now my brother lives in the desert, in Palm Desert, to be exact. Of course, he has air conditioning and a swimming pool to take some of the sting out of the climate. But I will likely not visit him until the temperature cools.

 

It Never Lets Up

California Appears To Be A-Changing

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there seems to be a serious discrepancy in weather forecasts, especially with regards to the duration of heat waves in the coastal area. A three-day heat wave was predicted for Zip 90025 beginning July 5 of this year. The first day of the heat wave was indeed a scorcher, with the mercury at nearby UCLA topping off at 111°, a new record. Then we were supposed to go down to the Seventies (Fahrenheit), but every day since then, for six weeks and counting it has been in the Nineties or, at the very least, in the high Eighties.

My apartment was built in another era when there used to be cool summers. Therefore, we have no insulation. We are on the top floor, and the roof superheats and makes the inside temperature 10-15 degrees warmer than the outside temperature until the middle of the night. I have slept atop the blankets for six weeks, burrowing under the covers in my sleep when it finally cools off.

What is worse, when it gets hot in Southern California during the early summer, the humidity is much higher than normal, making the heat feel more oppressive than the temperature reading. The reason is that, for the deserts of the Southwest, this is the rainy season, with monsoonal moisture coming up from Mexico and causing humidity and, in the deserts, rain.

Two or three days a week, I head for the Westfield Mall in Culver City to enjoy their air conditioning, read a book, and eat lunch. By the time I return home, around three or four in the afternoon, it is hot and muggy indoors. But at least I have had some comfort.

For those of you in the metric zone, here is a translation of the Fahrenheit readings mentioned in this post:

  • 111° F = 44° C
  • Seventies F = 21-26° C
  • Eighties F = 27-32° C
  • Nineties F = 32-37° C

My brother thinks that the weathermen deliberately underestimate the length of a heat wave just to keep people coming back to their news station for current updates. But then, why do that on the Internet, too?

 

At The Mall

The Westfield Mall in Culver City

As the heat of summer has descended on Los Angeles, I have increasingly been spending more time at the air-conditioned Westfield Mall in Culver City. There are places to sit and read, plenty of perfectly acceptable restaurants, and—very important to me—not a large number of smelly bums. Oh, did I sound not too terribly Progressive with that last line? Perhaps it’s because I¹m not 100% Progressive.(Especially as there is a bum encampment across the street from my apartment.)

If you think I should be ever so much more understanding than I appear to be, I urge you to see a 1932 French film director by Jean Renoir called Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux). A used bookseller played by Charles Granval rescues a tramp (played by the great Michel Simon) from drowning in the Seine. Out of a total lack of gratitude, Boudu opens a rare edition of Honoré de Balzac, spits in it, closes the book, and returns it to the shelf. If someone were to spit in one of my Balzacs, I would gladly perforate his spleen and any adjacent internal organs.

One interesting thing about sitting in a mall is the variety of people who pass by. It is incredible to me how many Americans are grossly overweight. Also, since the mall is located in Culver City, I am amazed by how many drop-dead gorgeous young African-American women there are. Also, at least during the day, people are unusually nice to one another.

Among the restaurants, there are some interesting Asian choices, such as Bibigo (Korean), Dot Saigon (Vietnamese), 101 Noodle Express (pan-Asian), and Panda Express (Gringo Chinese). If I wanted to go more upscale, there is an Oliver Garden and a Wokcano at the ground level.

Next week, the temperature is supposed to be particularly heinous (with temps going up as high as 108° F in the interior, probably higher given the unusual Southern California conservatism in predicting high heat).

 

In the Blast Furnace

I Am Dreading the Next Few Days

As a giant high pressure area is setting up over the Southwest, we are expecting two days of high nineties (36-37º Celsius). Although the weather forecasts show a ten degree drop for Sunday, I am predicting the heat will probably persist, as it is wont to do. Santa Ana weather conditions almost always last longer than predicted, sometimes even for weeks.

Oh, but then there’s always the ocean, no? Not in this case. The winds blow the heat and smog westward toward the ocean. Sometimes we can see the smog hovering a few miles off the shore, waiting to be blown back over Southern California. Not only is it ungodly hot at the beach, but one’s feet burn in the superheated sand. Not a pleasant experience?

What to do? I will try to find a movie I can see during the afternoon. My comfort will depend on the theater’s air-conditioning system remaining in good working order. As for our apartment, we have no air conditioning. If there is a power outage (and our little area is subject to at least one or two a year), I will just have to go to bed early.

There are two bad aspects to living in Southern California: heat waves and earthquakes.