Monday, February 1, 2010
I walk out the front door and smell California.
The scent of wet green leaves wraps around honey-scented lupine and dirt-covered stone. I bring my daughter close enough to touch the pointy end of a leaf and she blinks in disbelief as a rain drop runs from it and attaches to her finger.
"Sadie, this is California."
Los Angeles isn't notorious for this. The quiet. The rain. The way all of its beautiful nature jumps off the page when wet.
The sticky dry smells of the Los Angeles I love most are constantly upstaged by their celebrity cousins Smog, Fuel and Pavement. But in our Mandeville Canyon hideaway, Sadie knows nothing other in her California. In the six days we would spend there, she would become acquainted with the eccentric cottage known as The Stone House and its Tahitian masks, six-foot Asian vases, hidden cassette decks and its lovely escape of a backyard, bedecked in every shade of green. Each made more vivid by the rain.
She would also introduce herself to a palm tree, experience her first beach sand, and take a glimpse at daddy's big blue mistress who we lovingly call Lady Pacific.
These greetings were cordial and brief, but memorable enough. At least for me. I won't forget.
We boarded a plane a bajillion hours before, headed on a direct flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. We remained flexible and willing, both Dave and I doing our best to conceal first-flight-with-a-baby jitters. Point-zero-one percent of our daughter's life later, we were buckled up in our black Patriot, the rain beating wildly against our rental wipers on the rental windshield of our rental car.
It seems to me that on this trip, we are also borrowing the familiarity with this place that we both used to enjoy. The steady and all-at-once broken rhythm of the 405. The relentless chatter spilling out of our car stereo. Signs and advertising grow legs and kick through our windows. EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL. EVERYONE IS UGLY. The daily fodder of old is now invoking a small but undeniable bout of visitor's indigestion.
Fascinated, stunned and nostalgic, we drive on in the rain.
To our left, Lady Pacific. Lapping relentlessly. Beckoning the weak and the strong. Seducing with her shooshing sounds and white-tipped waves that fold over again and again. She's dancing happily in this storm.
Without words, Dave and I shudder. In a moment, I forgive her ability to swallow someone whole and decide it's nice to see her again.
Farther still. Winding past mansions and homeless people, I can't discern which is less beautiful. Dreams for sale on every block. The rain slows the blood, but the heart still beats for the break around the corner. The Holy Trinity of coffee joints every few hundred meters. Small outdoor malls boast donuts and nail salons. A taco truck parks within sight at the side of the road.
I can't wait for the sunshine when people come back out into the open and talk, run and scurry around in trendy workout clothes and chic trainers. Business suits and aviators. Micro minis conceaing the privates of a perfect long-legged specimen.
Like waiting for a polar bear to come out of his hidden bedroom at the zoo, I am holding my breath for a peak.
San Vicente to Kenter. Kenter to Sunset. Sunset to Mandeville Canyon. Almost home.
We're here to honor two lives. One that has lasted seventy years and counting. One that lasted thirty seven years and then ended. Ironically, the daily desks of these two men were only feet from each other.
"See, Sadie? This leaf is the smallest. This one is a bit bigger. And this one...THIS one...is the BIGGEST...But they're all green, aren't they? Chlorophyll makes leaves green. Can you spell 'chlorophyll'? C-H-L-O..."
In the past three months, I can't tell you how many conversations like this I have had with my wide-eyed little doppelganger. We've talked about the colors on a can of Pringles. We've talked about how dishwashers work (or at least how I think they might). We've talked about the value of being charitable. We've talked about escape mechanisms.
Heck. We've talked about just about everything.
So far, the conversations have been mostly one-sided, save some drippy gurgles and occasional hiccups of agreement. But I'm convinced that all of this fascinating banter is going into her intellectual piggy bank and that some day, she will simply open her mouth and provide a compelling solution to the problem of our laundry sometimes smelling like must. Or maybe she will once and for all explain photosynthesis to me in a way I will understand and never forget.
If we go to the market, I tell her both the Dutch and the English words for cucumber, hamburger, coffee creamer and whatever else lies on my boodschappenlijst. If we're reading "Duck Ellington Goes to the Zoo," I tell her about the majesty of the in-the-flesh Duke. If we walk by a dog walker, I try to identify each type of dog in the pack, forcing myself to be honest with her when I don't know if the bulldog is French or American.
My role as educator-to-go is one I imbue with integrity and detail. And for every event, from tying shoes to flying over the ocean, there is teaching.
But as to why Alexander needlessly no longer exists, I can't concoct a lesson. I haven't a clue.
And understanding how someone like Jon who has lived hard, gone through two marriages, and simultaneously managed to make a mark on world architecture AND lives to know his grandchildren (in the presence of his amazingly happy and well-balanced children) is also beyond me.
Los Angeles. What a place. It tans the skin. Skims the fat. Launches careers. Welcomes imagination. Creative possibilities of the highest order lying in wait. It's a place that doesn't sit still and is always seeking for the Next. It can provide inspiration of the highest order.
It can also catch you on the wrong side of a treadmill. Going 65 in a 35 zone. Linear paths zig zagging, twisting and rambling on. Possibly bumping into great fortune. Possibly encountering some shade of financial ruin. Possibly tumbling down a rabbit hole.
I think constantly of Alex and Jon. Two geniuses. Two people who I love and admire. And two who could hardly be any more complex and private. Victories and losses come in extremes for both of them. And I wonder what the City of Angels has said to them both along the way.
Alex also had a relationship with Lady Pacific. He died in her arms, whispering his final thoughts in her ear.
EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL. EVERYONE IS UGLY.
Seven days in Los Angeles. Dave and I can love this city so easily. At times, I wonder why. At other times, I wonder how we talked ourselves into leaving.
We drive to the airport, our windshield wipers happily cat-napping in the warm California sun. The streets and sidewalks taunt us quietly as we pass the multi-colored gateway at LAX. And now, another long flight home to Amsterdam.
The purser speaks and I hold my daughter in my lap, her little infant seat belt looped through mine. I stare out the window as the city gets smaller and smaller, until only a speck in the distance.
"Sadie, this is California."