The Great God Chac

Chac Masks at Uxmal

From my trips to Yucatán, I became impressed with the one dominant image of Yucatec Mayan art: The face of Chac (pronounced CHOCK), the rain god. You see, Yucatán is a land without surface rivers. Oh, there is plenty of flowing water underground, but none of it breaks the pitted limestone surface of the peninsula. In areas several hundred feet above sea level, such as in the Puuc Hills, the water that sustained the ancient Mayans came from chultunes, underground cisterns. In some years, the cisterns were full; in others, there was pitifully little to sustain the cornstalks that fed the people.

When one visits Yucatán, particularly in Puuc Hill sites such as Uxmal, Kabah, Labna, Sayil, and Xlapak, the dominant image is that of hundreds of Chac masks acting as façades of the Chenes-style buildings.

After the rainy winter Southern California had last year, I was hoping for a repeat, but so far this rainy season, we haven’t received anywhere near an inch, or even a centimeter, of the wet stuff. We have rain forecast for next week, but my fingers are crossed. So often the winds just blow the clouds inland where they go to water the desert.

I am thinking, perhaps, of going to Yucatán again this year. There are a number of Mayan sites I have yet to visit, such as Coba in the State of Quintana Roo and Edzna and Xpujil in the State of Campeche. Despite the heat and humidity of the great limestone block that is the peninsula, it is a fascinating tourist destination, well developed with reasonable accommodations and good food. In addition to Yucatec cuisine, which is quite distinctive with its reliance on achiote, bitter oranges, and Habanero chiles, there are Syrian restaurants (the merchant class of 150 years ago was heavily Middle Eastern), plus the standard Mexican antojitos.

If I go, it will be toward the end of the year, after the rainy season which is also super hot and sticky.


Serendipity: The Rain in Mexico

Thoughts in a Dry Season...

Thoughts in a Dry Season…

I am now reading Eve Babitz’s second book—Slow Days, Fast Company: The World the Flesh, and L.A.—and loving it as much as her first, Eve’s Hollywood. Having been so many moons without rain, I was entranced by the following paragraph:

The rain in Mexico, that humid rain-jungle kind of rain with flashy colors and limes and the idea that if you got jungle rot, the tentacles of the carnivorous vines would cover you up, dead—that Mexican rain, I have to think twice about. I have tried to love all rain, but I don’t know about jungle rain. The tropics are not for me. Birds with flaming plumage and fruits with neon-pink centers in the rain—I bet if I had to have even two unbroken days of that, I’d slip right out of my mind the way that missionary did over Sadie Thompson. I’d rather just be Sadie Thompson and get it over with, but I’m afraid I’d turn into a Calvinist in hot rain, with transparent underlying motives and a worm-eaten, jungle-rotted Bible as my brain’s downfall.

Last year, I saw two incredible jungle storms. The first was while I was waiting to change planes at Sao Paolo, Brazil: I saw this huge front coming fast from the northwest, dumping rain in buckets. By the time my plane arrived, it was all over. The second one was in Puerto Iguazu. I sat under a colonnade by the pool as the storm hit quite suddenly, dumping large amounts of rain and hail. I just sat there sipping a bottle of Quilmes while the hotel staff ran around frantically to bring in the chairs. That, too, lasted about an hour. While it was storming, the air was deliciously cool … but once it stopped, then ….

Thunder and Lightning and Rain

This Never Happens in L.A., Does It?

This Never Happens in L.A., Does It?

It is a well-known fact that I have become openly contemptuous of all he hoopla about this year’s El Niño predictions. Well, early this morning, we were hit by a major thunderstorm that abated just as I started dressing up to go to work. There was, in addition to the thunder, considerable lightning and rain. In Altadena, my friend Bill Korn showed pictures of his vegetable garden under a layer of fall hail.

I guess, better late than never. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of these storms over the next couple of months. We still need to fill those reservoirs and deepen that Sierra snow pack.


Thoughts in a Dry Season

Descanso’s Rose Garden on New Years Weekend

Descanso’s Rose Garden on New Years Weekend

Today, Martine and I went to visit Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge. Despite the drought, I thought at least the camellias would be in bloom. There were camellias all right—two blossoms looked pretty fair. Most of the camellia bushes had not yielded any flowers. The Rose garden (above) looked as if it were ready for some cactus plantings.

I report with a smirk that rain is predicted for most of this week beginning tomorrow night. I have already gone on record about the unjustifiably high salaries TV weather persons earn for telling whoppers to their broadcast audience. Oh, it will probably rain—a few millimeters in the mountains. But I rather doubt I will be getting wet soon unless I take a shower.

The oak trees at Descanso (below) looked all right, but most are over a century old and will eventually have to be replaced by another type of shade tree to encourage the camellias.

Pacific Coastal Oaks at Descanso

Pacific Coastal Oaks at Descanso


Lots of Heat—But No Power!

Three Power Outages in Two Days!

Three Power Outages in Two Days!

For the last several days, the mercury has topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The result? Southern California’s air conditioning habit has led to rolling blackouts. Last night, we were blacked out from eight to midnight. Today, the first blackout occurred around noon and lasted until 1:30 pm. The second outage we can only infer from the settings on our own electronics.

I have come to the conclusion that weather forecasts are like clickbait: They want you to keep tuning in. If there’s a 10% chance of rain, the forecasters will be beating the drums for rain. But it almost never occurs. But when we have a heat wave—which is far more common—the weather always says it will be getting cooler tomorrow. And it almost never does.  The weather is getting to be like the news, merely a form of entertainment, usually of dubious veracity.

Martine and I are wondering whether we should even bother buying food for the refrigerator until it does cool down. While we were driving back from seeing Everest (highly recommended, especially if you are suffering through a heat wave) at the Arclight Theater in Culver City, we noticed a stretch of several blocks just south of us which are blacked out, as well as two traffic lights that were dark.


Turtles—But No Rain

Turtles at Mulberry Pond

Turtles at Mulberry Pond

There is a Native American rain ritual involving turtles, which, being a Hungarian American, I feel would not work if I performed it. So I watched the turtles at Descanso Gardens, which seemed to be having a population explosion. Maybe they’re doing the rain turtle ceremony themselves; and maybe, later in March, we will have a proper inundation.

I have come to suspect, however, that weather forecasters are evil sorcerers. Whenever we get some measurable rain, and we’ve had more so far than last year at this time, I believe that the forecasters suck it all up for filling their swimming pools. They take such pleasure in telling us after every rain that it did nothing to relieve the drought: In fact, it probably made it worse.

Then, whether the weather gets hot and dry, they take even more pleasure in announcing how lovely the weather is, what with all the surrounding brown hillsides with are bound to catch fire in the fall.

There’s more here than meets the eye!

Land of Little Rain

Is This Where We’re Headed?

Is This Where We’re Headed?

The title for this post is the same as a that of a classic book by Mary Austin about her life in the Owens Valley. While there is little doubt that deserts can be starkly beautiful—as for instance Death Valley or the National Parks of Southern Utah—it can be frustrating to have forecast rain turn into little more than a dirty drizzle.

I call it a dirty drizzle because there’s only enough rain to smear my windshield when I run my wipers. As my windshield wiper reservoir is leaking and its replacement costs a small fortune for my twenty-year-old Nissan Pathfinder, I spend a good part of .L.A.’s so-called rainy season driving around looking through a coating of dirt.

I have no faith in weather forecasters. Why? Because they are only intent on selling advertising. Therefore, they tend to wildly exaggerate any rain forecast. Even if there’s so much as a 10% chance of showers, newsmen will spend hours telling us to look for the forecast in the next fifteen minutes, er…, half hour, er… hour. What usually happens, the mountains to the north of us get the rain, or the deserts beyond the mountains. What we get, at most, is a pittance.

People in the Northeast must be looking at us with ill-suppressed envy, as they struggle with snow and cold and “polar vortexes,” whatever those are. In the meantime, we continue to dry out. Our state’s agriculture, once the envy of the nation, is looking at a potential dust bowl.