The weather has turned here in Los Angeles to crisper temperatures (meaning around 55 at night and 65 in the day), and we've even had a few drops of rain here and there, probably nature's easing us into what promises to be a brutal El Nino rainy season with apocalyptic flooding and slides. Oy. The light right now is indescribable -- although shortly after I moved to Los Angeles eighteen years ago, I read an article about it in The New Yorker that did perfect justice to its luminescence. Interestingly, I had only lived in Los Angeles for a few months, was pregnant with Henry and already noticed the light. The last truly huge El Nino winter storms happened that winter as well -- so much rain and craziness that I remember wondering what everyone talked about when they said it never rained in southern California! Unfortunately, the article is available only to subscribers, but here's a brief excerpt from Lawrence Weschler's L.A. Glows in the February, 1998 issue.
I was recalling McWilliams' comments one morning while breakfasting with the architect Coy Howard, a true student of the light, and he concurred. "It's an incredibly loaded subject -- this diaphanous soup we live in," he said, "It feels primeval -- there's a sense of the undifferentiated, the non-hierarchical. It's not exactly a dramatic light. In fact, 'dramatic' is exactly what it's not. If anything, it's meditative. And there's something really peculiar about it. In places where you get a crisp, sharp light with deep, clean shadows -- which we do get here sometimes -- you get confronted with a strong contrasting duality: illumination and opacity. But when you have the kind of veiled light we get here more regularly you become aware of a sort of multiplicity -- not illumination so much as luminosity. Southern California glows, and the opacity melts away into translucency and even transparency."
I wasn't quite getting it, so Howard tried again.
"Things in the light here have a kind of threeness instead of the usual twoness. There's the thing -- the object -- and its shadow, but then a sense of reflection as well. You know how you can be walking along the beach, let's say, and you'll see a seagull walking along ahead of you, and the wave comes in, splashing its feet. At that moment, you'll see the bird, its shadow and its reflection. Well, there's something about the environment here -- the air, the atmosphere, the light -- that makes everything shimmer like that. There's a kind of glowing thickness to the world -- diaphanous soup I was talking about -- which, in turn, grounds a magic - meditative presence."
This afternoon, while busy working I heard the familiar screech of Sophie's bus come round the corner, and when I emerged from my writing cave, I blinked in the sun and shivered -- both from the chill in the air and the warm sun on my skin. The bus driver got busy letting down the wheelchair ramp, turning to me afterward with a huge smile on his face.
Isn't it beautiful, today? he said, The day, the light reminds me of when I was five years old, running through the fields of my country, El Salvador. Free.
Reader, I don't know why that brought tears to my eyes, but I felt them prick there and could only tell him what a wonderful memory that was and thank you for telling me. Then we both turned to Sophie, busying ourselves with the straps and levers that assured her safety as she descended.
This place I live sustains me.