“The Fair Breeze Blew”

The Boat Channel from Chace Park

Whenever the summer heat of Los Angeles becomes too unbearable, I pick up the book I am reading and head to my magic peninsula, Burton Chace Park, which is surrounded on three sides by the boats in Marina Del Rey.

There is a Hungarian expression from my youth that aptly describes this week’s weather: dög meleg, or, in English, damned hot. Although the temperature has been in the low 80s Fahrenheit, the humidity has generally been over 50%, and there has been no cooling breeze.

Even when the area even a few hundred feet inland is like a blast furnace, there, for some reason, always a cooling sea breeze blowing at Chace Park. Unfortunately, the secret is out, especially on the weekends. Even if it can get crowded, it’s always nice to have a respite from the dög meleg.

The title of this post comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free:
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea. 

Keeping Cool

Pigeons at the Marina’s Burton Chace Park

At a time when most of the United States and Canada are burning up in the heat, I decided to spend the afternoon at the one place that is always almost preternaturally cool: Burton Chace Park in the middle of Marina Del Rey. No matter how hot it is in Los Angeles, there always seems to be a cool sea breeze at Chace. Today wasn’t particularly warm along the coast, but I was in the mood for a good breeze.

So there I sat at an isolated cement picnic table, finishing a French noir novella by Pascal Garnier entitled Boxes. As I had my new Kindle with me, I decided to sign in to the county park’s wi-fi and check out if Jeff Bezos was actually discounting something I wanted. Well, he wasn’t, but that’s okay.

I took a short walk around the tiny peninsula looking at boats and trying to see where the sea lions were. I had heard them while reading, but they had disappeared by the time I took my walk. I did, however, find these pigeons.

All in all, I spent three hours at Chace, returning home to my apartment, which is infested with fruit flies. Martine and i threw out a lot of the pasta they were feeding on, but somewhere they are being nourished by something else. As I sit here typing this post, they are landing in my hair, and I am reaching up to squeeze their little lives out.

I Might As Well Be Back in Cleveland

Southern California Is Being Buffeted by Winds

When I lived in Cleveland and in New Hampshire, I was the plaything of various seasonal allergies. There was the sneezing (and the bloody noses), the itching eyes, and borderline asthma. Now with the Winterspring Complex we are now experiencing, it’s back again. Not only do my eyes itch, but the discharge is sticky, such that I have to open my eyes with my fingers in the morning. And I am going through handkerchiefs like they’re going out of style. (I don’t use Kleenex because I feel bad about destroying trees just so I can blow my nose in them.)

As my friend Bill Korn says, these winds are usually accompanied by winter rainstorms, but we have had precious few of those. The current rainy season, which will end soon, is another bad one—just a few inches of mostly occasional showers and only one thorough wetting.

California is well on its way to becoming the next Atacama Desert, which is the world’s driest desert, clocking in at less than 3 mm of precipitation a year. That’s not even as big as one of my sneezes.

The Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru

When the weather starts getting hot, my allergies will gradually disappear. But then I’ll start complaining about the heat.

More on That Wind

Ontario CA Airport Terminal

The day before yesterday, I posted a description of driving back to L.A. from the desert in a big wind. In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, I discovered just how strong those winds were:

The powerful winds, which included gusts that topped 80 mph in at least one location, toppled big rigs in the Inland Empire [San Bernardino and Riverside Counties] and forced officials to briefly close Ontario International Airport. Don Gregorio, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Diego, said gusts at the airport on Monday had clocked in as high as 70 mph.

I was just south of Ontario Airport on Archibald Avenue when I encountered the worst of the winds.

“How Close to the Edge We Are”

Desert Wind Bending Palms

It was L.A. author Joan Didion who said, “The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”

After spending a weekend in the desert with my brother, I drove back to Los Angeles in a veritable windstorm. The worst of it was in Ontario, where I pulled off the freeway to pump gas and use the bathroom, the rest area at Calimesa being closed.

When the wind blows from the north, it whips through Cajon Pass and pummels the communities adjacent to Interstate 15 with an intensity which at times could be frightening.

So it was for me at the Shell Station off California 60 on Archibald Road. I had difficulty opening the driver-side door: It was as if the wind had nailed it shut. I knew better than to try to wear my cap and end up chasing it to San Diego, but little did I suspect that my eyeglasses were in the process of being yanked off my head and sent swirling into the blowing leaves and dust.

As I got back on the road to the freeway on-ramp, I had difficulty keeping my Subaru in my lane, driving as I did between 18-wheelers.

The worst of the wind was there, but it was also pretty wild at Cabazon, which sits on the low pass connecting San Jacinto Peak with Mount San Gorgonio.

My brother made a point of calling me around noon to see whether I was able to navigate the gusts without mishap. He said that it had gotten equally intense in Palm Desert, where he lived.

Devil Winds for Halloween

Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween

At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.

The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?


“Wind, Water, Stone”

A Poem for a Very Windy Day

As the lights are going out in parts of Los Angeles because of high winds, I am reminded of a poem by the Mexican Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz (1914-1998) entitled “Wind, Water, Stone.”

Wind, Water, Stone
By Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

for Roger Caillois

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.

The poem makes me think of the game of Paper, Stone, and Scissors. I love the final stanza which brings the three elements together into a satisfying whole.

I Am Blown Away

I Thought It Was Curtains for me....

I Thought It Was Curtains for Me….

If you read about the places to visit in Iceland, you will hear about the bird cliffs at Látrabjarg, the westernmost point in Europe (if you except some of the lesser-populated Azores Islands far to the south). Some nine miles in length, the cliffs average over 1,300 feet in height.

It was not easy to get to Látrabjarg using public transportation. Three times a week, a Sterna bus left Isafjördur at 9 a.m., returning twelve hours later. More than half the trip was over bumpy volcanic cinder roads between Þhingeyri and Brianslækur and between Patreksfjördur and Látrabjarg. Along the way, it stopped twice for the arriving Baldur ferry from Stykkisholmur and Flatey. I knew it would be a bear, but I took the bus a week ago today.

Some days in Iceland are beautiful and clear. Last Saturday was not. As the bus parked at the foot of the cliffs, we all learned we had a mile to hike to the top. A gale-force wind was blowing with light rain, from east to west. As I climbed the trail to the top, I felt the wind tugging me toward the edge.

Twice, I was blown down by strong gusts—each time distressingly close to a plunge to my death over the cliffs. (It happened once last year to a German backpacker.) To protect myself, I dropped down, being unable to make any forward motion in the wind.

Eventually, I made my way back to the bus. The Icelandic driver obligingly let me in an hour before the rendezvous time and informed me that it was like this about half the time. Other times, it was beautiful; and the cliffs abounded with puffins and razorbills. Today, the birds knew better than to try to fly into the teeth of the wind.

Do I regret the trip? Was it a wasted day? By no means: I saw parts of the West Fjords that—in an entirely different sense of the word—took my breath away. And I got to see the wedding-cake-like Dynjandi Falls twice. Just for the record, here is my best photograph of it:

Dynjandi Falls in the West Fjords

Dynjandi Falls in the West Fjords

In all, I saw the falls three times. It was worth it. Sure I got tired out. When we rolled back into Isafjördur around 9 p.m., I stumbled into the nearby N1 Gas Station and ordered a pylsur (that’s hot dog to you) and skyr. Then I somehow tottered over to the Gamla Hostel across the street and fell into a deep sleep.


Iceland 2001: Surviving the Fierce Winds

In a Land of Fierce Winds, Corrugated Steel Siding is Required

In a Land of Fierce Winds, Corrugated Steel Siding is Required

How windy is it in Iceland? For one thing, there are no tall trees on the island. The joke among the natives is the answer to the riddle, “What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest?” The answer: “Stand up!”

More of the land used to be forested, but centuries of sheep herding and gathering wood for charcoal and building had depleted the original forests. In the medieval sagas, most of which were written in the thirteenth century, much is made of who has the legal rights to claim driftwood that has washed up on the beach. (Cf. The Saga of Havard of Isafjord.)

One of the things I found most curious when I landed in Reykjavík were all the houses with painted corrugated steel siding. The above house is in Heimaey on the Westman Islands, but the general principle holds: Protect it with steel or the wind will blow your house in, if not away. The same goes for the roofs: A shingle roof would not last a month.

The painted corrugated siding does add quite a bit of color to a land which would otherwise tend toward the grey and gloomy. The following is a photo of the Bautinn, my favorite restaurant in Akureyri:

The Colorful Bautinn Restaurant in Akureyri

The Colorful Bautinn Restaurant in Akureyri

Whole neighborhoods in Reykjavík and other cities feature buildings whose siding has been painted in bright colors.