flaminga in salzburg

notes from the couch

There's nothing quite like a cold to make me feel that autumn and its attendant aura of stately decline have finally arrived.  Not that there's anything stately about the drifts of used tissues that accumulate around me in my current state, or the way I slouch around the apartment in search of juice or soup or decongestants, more often than not forgetting what I'm after by the time I get to the other room.  But the decline part I think I have covered.  

Or maybe it's just the waiting.  I'm not great at waiting for important news - I have a tendency toward single-minded focus which is useful for things like writing novels but seriously unhelpful when turned toward the outcome of events over which I have no control.  

But whatever the cause, the heat and freedom of summer seem far away now.  Between my unemployment and Mr. B's academic schedule, we had a nice long time to romp around together, and romp we did.  There was a lovely month in Boulder with cute_anarchy and Mr. M - early summer is the time of dandelion fluff in the Colorado mountains, with flurries of seeds and fuzz floating over the streets in the slow breeze.  The air was so dry it gave me nosebleeds, but I didn't mind.  We strolled out to used book stores and ice cream shops and listened to baseball games and ate farmer's market salads and wished we never had to leave.  But on we went to North Carolina and Oregon and New York, visiting family and eating too much and leaving behind a trail of recently-read books that no longer fit into our luggage.  Then up to Vermont for a few weeks with Mr. B's mother in a lovely but poorly-maintained rental house, where we ate pie and diner burgers and drove up and down the river and tried to stay away from the downstairs bathroom with its soggy, crumbling walls.  The end of the summer was punctuated by Hurricane Isaac knocking out our power for almost a week, which I spent in Portland on an unexpectedly extended visit to my brother, and which Mr. B spent alone eating cold pasta and reading by flashlight.  

So now the semester is well underway again, and I'm trying to figure out how soon I'm going to want another job, and trying to get back into a writing groove after months of editing, and in the mean time of course spending too much time working on other people's projects and playing video games and reading MetaFilter.  So it goes.  I'll be more productive tomorrow.  Unless the cold gets worse, or distraction gets the best of me, or... you know how it goes.
flaminga in salzburg

don't make me come to Vegas

I've been feeling nostalgic for Las Vegas lately, maybe because of the novel I'm editing, much of which takes place in a version of the city, maybe just because I haven't been in a few years.

Despite growing up only four hours away, I was seventeen the first time I went to Vegas, the summer after I graduated from high school, in a rented boat of an American car (Cadillac? Lincoln?) with my dad and stepmom and big brother and his then-girlfriend.  We got in for a late buffet dinner and after a few minutes of desultory gambling the parents headed back to the motel, giving us kids twenty bucks each as a down payment on the rest of our night.  

Back then the MGM Grand casino floor was dressed up like Oz (years later, I returned and wandered around looking for the strange trees and flying monkeys and was eventually told it had all been taken down because kids liked it too much).  

An hour into a college-prep drinking game (Q: You meet a senior who invites you back to his dorm room to talk about Nietzsche.  What do you say? A: Fuck off! Q: Correct!  Here's a drink!), the whole gaudy Strip was Oz, a neon-bright adults-only world to which I had been granted a temporary pass.  I had worn slacks and a silk blouse and put my long hair up in a bun, which always made me look older.  It was enough to fool the bartender at Caesar's Palace, which I took as a minor coup.  

The then-girlfriend gave me specious advice on getting drunk ("Try not to pee for as long as possible") as we wandered north, slowly losing money at nickel slots.  We got to Imperial Palace before the sun came up and broke the spell.  In the morning light, it was just an ugly city street.  We stumbled back to the motel suite.  Bad traffic on the way back to LA, the three of us hungover in the back seat of the boat.  The parents tried a shortcut that wasn't.  

If there was a single thing that made me feel like I wasn't a kid anymore, it was either that night or the first time I went grocery shopping by myself.  Vegas was more fun than the supermarket, though.

After I moved back to LA in my twenties, I'd go for a weekend every year or so, with my then-boyfriend or with friends, once by myself.  It's still my favorite place to drink.  I like how it tries to be everyplace else, like a kid playing dress-up.  I was a kid who liked to play dress-up.  

My Vegas is lemon cake and pear brandy, brunch at an indoor plaza under a false blue sky at 2 a.m., gondolas in the basement and playing roulette while pretending to be a secret agent (I sent my friend a lock-pick kit for her birthday and she wrote a thank you note in Morse code), photos with Elvis and Joshua trees under a burning hot sky.  Deep fried Twinkies are better but deep fried Oreos are worse.  During the day there's sleep or Red Rock Canyon.  At night there are yard-long daiquiris to be consumed, all the lights and all the people mugging for the camera, all the fun all the time, all you can eat for $9.99, and all the skirts are short and all the bartenders pour generously.  

Once I had a really good hand in video poker but I panicked and pressed the wrong button and threw it all away.  

Underneath my Vegas there's another city, where people live and work and raise their kids.  But even there, there's a slot machine in every convenience store, and the summer sun still pours down heat until it melts you into something new.  

The heat is different here in New Orleans.  It's the humidity.  Instead of a purifying crucible, I think of festering, of virulent growth.  On a bad day, the air hangs still and heavy.  Smells linger.  I wish people picked up after their dogs more.  I wish for an ocean wind, or for the desert, the thin clarity of Nevada air through an open car window on the I-15, with a friend and the radio cranked up and Vegas ahead, over the horizon, not waiting for us but already happening, all the time, ready.
  • Current Music
    Scarlet's Walk
flaminga in salzburg

I am my own behavioral psychology experiment

So, it's April now, which is to say early summer in New Orleans.  It's 85 and humid here, with little prospect of significant cooling for the next five or six months, and I am once again pleased to have selected an apartment primarily on the basis of its insulation.  R and I only wish it kept out sound as well as it keeps out heat, what with our bedroom window being across the street from a rather unfortunate bar.  We've been in NOLA for ten months now, and while it doesn't feel like home, it does feel like a place I have lived for a kind of long time. 

A few months ago my boss talked me into moving to the City administration with her, so I now have the distinction of working at the most dysfunctional municipal government in America.  On the one hand, it took a week and a half for me to get a working phone line and over a month to persuade a variety of individuals to drop enough hints about how the travel expense system might work to actually get a report submitted (you might ask why I didn't just read the policy - I did, it's just both incomplete and incorrect).  On the other hand, I at least do get the feeling that we're doing some good, if only because we're doing things and it couldn't really get much worse. 

One thing I really like about living here, though, is the writing group I joined.  I discovered it through an ad in the local indie paper, and we meet every week and get useful feedback in a friendly way.  Of course, in order to be part of a writing group you actually have to write, and that bit was not going so well for a while as new job stress and exhaustion was making me pretty useless.  I decided that I would start using my lunch hour to write, as this would both give me a window of time without distractions such as R or the TV, and prevent me from sitting endlessly at my desk doing extra hours of work I don't actually get paid for.  At first I thought I would just carry around Word files on a USB drive and use my work computer.  But it turns out there are many distractions when sitting at one's desk, such as work, and the interweb.  So I obtained a netbook to carry around with me, which would be offline and thus unable to show me either the New York Times or my work email.  But even with the netbook in my bag I found I would go to the office kitchen, fix myself a sandwich, come back to my desk, and then mysteriously lunch would be over.  So I decided I would have to leave the office in order to write.  The problem is that the area around City Hall is pretty grim.  There are no coffee shops, for example, nor does City Hall itself have any pleasant public areas where one could sit undisturbed, and the few nearby restaurants are pretty lousy.  So there is nowhere I like to go for its own sake.  But I then discovered that if I don't bring any food to work, hunger will eventually drive me out of the office, and once I am at the Subway I will crack open the netbook and get some writing done, even if only to compensate myself for having to eat the disappointing sandwich.  Thus I manipulate myself into doing what I had wanted to do in the first place, like a rat building its own maze.  With substandard food pellets. 

Thus the weeks toddle by, differentiated by little but the rising temperatures and the varying number and dosage of the allergy medications necessary to sustain me.  Soon R's classes will be done for the semester, and we will have been here a year.  Then I will consume a gin and tonic the size of my own head, and the next year will start.  
flaminga in salzburg

life in the sauna

So we've been in New Orleans for about a month now, and I have to say that whoever decided to call this place The Big Easy was sadly mistaken.  It is more like The Big Inconvenient, or possibly The Big Hassle.  The whole experience of moving here and trying to get set up with an apartment and furniture and utilities and so on was much less like moving to a mid-size American city and much more like moving to the developing world than anticipated.  Locals trying to cast this in a charming light say things like "You just have to understand that this is really the northernmost Caribbean city," but they seem to have not spent enough time in the real Caribbean (outside of beach bars and all-inclusive resorts) to realize exactly how unfortunately apt the comparison is.  Yes, like many Caribbean towns, New Orleans features pavement consisting mainly of potholes, and a lackadaisical approach to many professional activities, and a love of seafood and live music.  It is also, like much of the Caribbean, economically stunted, racially segregated, culturally isolated, and casually corrupt.  It has a white, affluent historic core surrounded by a sea of black poverty, where the after-effects of Katrina remain visible less as scars than as festering wounds.  Significant stretches still look like war zones -- abandoned retail strips, half-collapsed buildings, vacant lots, empty apartment towers slowly sliding from disrepair into ruin.  It is unlike anything else I've seen in America, even in Detroit, which I'd previously thought was our most depressing city.  Professionals from property managers to university bureaucrats to delivery people are routinely incompetent and unhelpful, forgetting appointments, refusing to return phone calls, giving out false information, and so on.  Not that we haven't met a few very nice and highly skilled individuals, but it's kind of problematic when even a basic ability to do one's job as advertised stands out as a remarkable accomplishment. 

It's summer, of course, a long season in these parts, so the weather varies between hot, sunny and humid, and warm, rainy and muggy.  Given this, it seemed reasonable to expect that people might insulate their dwellings to keep in the cool.  This, as we learned during our week of intensive house hunting, is not the case.  Out of about forty properties that we visited, only three or four had anything in the walls.  When asked about air-conditioning bills, landlords without exception told us "under a hundred a month."  The tenants we asked reported it was more like three hundred a month through the summer.  So we rented a recently-built condo close to campus with thick walls and few windows, and have not looked back.  Natural light and traditional architecture are nice, but not having to keep the AC cranked up day and night is nicer.  We like our little cave.

Having secured a lease, we then set out in search of furniture.  This was harder than expected, as there's no Ikea for three hundred miles, and the local stores, lacking the competition provided by a thriving economy, offer mediocre goods for exorbitant prices.  Fortunately there's a guy who runs a small business undercutting Ikea's shipping by making weekly runs from here to the store in Houston, so we now have nice things like a bed and couch and table and so on. 

We've also, of course, been trying to explore the city a bit, though we've thus far kept mainly to our Uptown region with the occasional excursion to the suburban mall-lands.  We have, however, learned that we are ill-suited to the local cuisine.  Despite what a wonderful eating city this is for many folks, the regional specialties are almost exclusively based in seafood and pork, which neither Mr. B (vegetarian) or I (allergic to sea creatures and unwilling to eat pigs) can even taste.  For us, New Orleans dining mainly involves Vietnamese food and pizza, finished off with treats from the nice patisserie down the street.  It's not a bad life, but it does make me miss LA sometimes. 

Aside from the settling in process, not much is afoot.  Mr. B's official hire date isn't until July 1, so for now he's without even a library card to help with his research.  I'm starting to plan out my next novel, and am relieved to have gotten to a point where the new story is more engrossing than the last one (this will help with all the rejection letters I expect to receive).  In another week we'll be heading out to New York and Ohio, which will be a nice change of scene as well as an exciting opportunity to eat dumplings and visit with friends.  Mmm, delicious dumplings.  Please excuse me, I have to go salivate now.
flaminga in salzburg

Not Dead Yet

If anyone is still reading this, hi.  It's been a while, I know, and I offer no guarantees that this blog is not still slinking slowly into the night.  But I thought, upon the eve of another move and another road trip, I'd send a few lines bobbing off onto the interwebian sea.  Mr. B and I have spent the last few seasons in a little house in the mountains, keeping mainly to ourselves, without many happenings of note besides the comings and goings of the local turkeys and deer and newts and so forth.  I finished several drafts of a novel, and am now contemplating what to write next.  Mr. B taught me to bake bread and watched a bunch of DVDs with me, though this has not notably diminished his near-daily shock and horror at the myriad films I have still not seen, or in some cases heard of.  And now we're in LA again for a few days visiting friends, family, and taquerias (and in my case getting a much-needed haircut), before heading to New Orleans to look for apartments, as Mr. B will be working at Tulane next year. 

I'm trying to think of what other news I should report, and coming up a bit blank.  For others, life continued apace - my niece is a year old now, and cute_anarchy 's getting married in July.  But for me it's been a kind of slow, inward-focused year, a sabbatical from the larger world, in which the weeks blurred together, differentiated by little but the procession of books on my bedside table and number of allergy medications I happened to be taking.  And now it's time I suppose to dig out some less scruffy clothes and update my resume and try to remember how to interact with strangers.  But maybe not until tomorrow.
  • Current Mood
    lethargic lethargic
flaminga in salzburg

(no subject)

After half a year of mixed feelings, it took all of about two days to get used to unemployment. Now it’s been a month spent moving and another month driving – the longest trip across the country I’ve made, both in terms of distance and time. Here’s the abbreviated version:

New York: so many kinds of deliciousness that I’m allergic to
New Jersey: the good news is it doesn’t take that long to drive through
Delaware: easy to miss, if it weren’t for all the tolls
Maryland: ah, the strip malls of yore
District of Columbia: good bookstore in Georgetown, and look, it’s another motorcade
Virginia: jealous of my friends’ proximity to one another, and also to the yummy Vietnamese at the Eden Center
North Carolina: kind of like a real place, as long as you don’t leave the Chapel Hill area
West Virginia: turns out you can’t actually get lunch (or anything else) in Charleston
Ohio: all the fat, half the flavor (except at Graeter’s)
Indiana: Bloomington – it’s like a real college town, but more Midwestern
Illinois: all the ugly, twice the traffic
Wisconsin: land of cheese
Minnesota: it’s like a giant cult of niceness and overeating
South Dakota: lovely landscapes, pity about the people
Wyoming: they’ve got nothing, but they sure do have a lot of it
Montana: a good dinner in Bozeman, then a hundred miles of smoke and mountains
Idaho: a lunch stop with some scenery
(eastern) Washington: flatter than you thought
Oregon: Powells! Also, is it raining again or is that just baby spit on my sweatshirt?
California: trees so tall they make your head spin and scrumptious pastries at the Brio Café in Arcata

It was, all in all, a good trip, full of impressive scenery and congenial company. Thanks to all the friends who shared their homes or just a meal with us, Teddy Roosevelt for some awesome national parks, and the independent bookstore proprietors of America, without whom we would have arrived with much lighter bags. Still, I have to say I’m happy not to be driving further than the grocery store for a while.

Also, my photos are now up at Flickr:

flaminga in salzburg

I'm a quitter!

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving my job of the last couple of years (voluntarily, yes, even given the economy). So this is one of those “about to jump into the unknown” moments, and I find myself fixating on the close-out details of my life in LA (health insurance applications and moving logistics and all that), no doubt as a way to avoid thinking too very hard about what comes next. I remain convinced that my exit from Los Angeles is for the best, and if anything somewhat overdue, and I have no imminent concern about bankruptcy or homelessness, but this does not entirely mitigate the knee-jerk dread of the underdetermined future. I like to think of myself as someone comfortable with change and confident enough in my ability to provide for myself that I don’t need to be stuck in an unsatisfying life for the sake of security. Perhaps the fact that I'm doing all this supports that to some extent. But as the moment of unemployment looms large, I find my excitement about free time and new things and sleeping in tempered by this niggling “but then what?” anxiety. It isn’t particularly rational – I can’t even pin down exactly what eventuality I’m worried about – so I think it’s just that it’s so much easier to picture what I’m giving up than to imagine what I’ll be getting in exchange. No more evenings at cute_anarchy ’s place or Saturday morning farmers’ markets or meals at a favorite restaurant, no more coffee in my kitchen or eighty degree January days or discovering new music at the Hotel Café. And I don’t know yet what I will love about the next place. In place of the solid pillars of my days here I have only hopes. But that’s just how life works.

Other than imminent unemployment, I don’t have much excitement to report. Mr. B has been spending the summer with me, as he is temporarily free of the Ivory Tower, which has of course been extremely nice. As a native New Yorker, he has been surprised to discover that Los Angeles is not actually an outer circle of Hell, and I have had the pleasant experience of re-exploring a familiar place with a new arrival. We have walked to many places to which I would otherwise have driven – enjoyable despite the occasional sunburn or blister. We’ve also tried new restaurants (who knew there was Nepalese food in my neighborhood?), cooked new vegetables, complained about contemporary art, and been morbidly fascinated by Daisy of Love. And at the beginning of September, we’ll be setting off on a cross country road trip, so if you’re somewhere in the contiguous 48 and would like to be added to our itinerary, let me know! Uncertainty about the future aside, I’m very much looking forward to seeing far-flung friends and family – including of course my adorable new niece, who must already be much changed from when I met her two months ago.

So here’s my last update from life as it's been. I’ll let you know what happens next once I get there.
flaminga in salzburg

the right to be wrong

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a very pretty document, which in its sixty year history has had almost no discernable effect on either governmental policies or individual lives. In 1948 it was aspirational; today it is mostly a list of what we as a species have failed to guarantee for ourselves and one another. Nonetheless, it is worth the occasional read, if only as a reminder that there are thoughtful and (at least nominally) broadly accepted notions of human rights that do not begin with freedom of religion and end with freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and do not mention bearing arms even a little bit.

Upon reading it today, I found myself reflecting on a right which (like so many others) is sadly under-recognized nowadays: the right to be wrong. Although not stated in as many words, it can clearly be found in Articles 18 (Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief…) and 19 (Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference…). The right to be wrong is not necessarily one of the most crucial ones on the list in terms of people’s welfare, but it’s important because it touches on something fundamentally human. There are certain things that everyone has in common – hunger, laughter, complicated relationships with their parents – and also on that list is being wrong. Everyone, everywhere, at every time, is wrong about something, and most likely about a vast number of things ranging from the metaphysical nature of the universe to their best friend’s favorite ice cream flavor. Our brains have innate perceptual and cognitive biases which systematically distort our understanding of the world, and on top of that we’re not always all that bright. Our hopes and fears and desires color our judgments. Our memories are unreliable, and people lie to us, and we have a surprising capacity to believe two entirely contradictory things at the same time. This doesn’t mean that being wrong is somehow to be celebrated – it just means it’s a condition for which we should all be able to have sympathy, a continual reminder of our shared human frailty. And yet (even outside of countries where an unauthorized opinion can easily get you thrown in jail) we go around telling each other, “You can’t think that,” or “You can’t say that,” or “You can’t be serious” – statements which are, frequently, themselves wrong as it turns out that people can in fact think and say all kinds of ridiculous things with utmost sincerity. This is not to suggest that we should just go along with it when other people are wrong – if presented kindly, new information and perspectives can after all help them recover from this condition – but that we must recognize that other people’s minds are their own, and they have every right to do as they like with them in the privacy of their own skulls.

The good news is that people also have the ability to change their minds, and given the correct circumstances they sometimes accomplish remarkable transformations. Indeed, I would argue that this is what makes us essentially human – the capacity to deliberately become something other than what we have been. We can decide to be kinder, or more self-aware, or more extroverted, or more religious, and then actually do it. We get to choose what and who to be when we grow up, which is a privilege no other known creature enjoys. So rather than condemning one another for being wrong, which can if thoroughly done take forever, we might want to try focusing instead on the fact that we’re probably wrong about some things too, but that we can all, if given some truth and space and respect, probably get a little bit righter.
flaminga in salzburg

*continues to fail at sleep*

Transcribed from yesterday's journal:

It's late Sunday morning in Portland, and I sit on the bed in my brother and sister-in-law's guest room, on yet another of the weekend jaunts that have become my habit of late.  Outside, the trees are clothed in blossoms, and the spring sun shines with generous warmth when it can snatch a path through the rainclouds.  My first niecling or nephlet will be born in the next few weeks and the house is infused with anticipation - tiny clothes wait for a wearer, and upstairs a half-packed hospital suitcase lies open by the desk: the props for a whole new life, with the actors wandering the stage, not knowing when the curtain will rise.  In the mean time, we drink and debate, walk the dog, go to museums and puppet shows, knocking around as this same old family one more time before becoming a larger one.

Anyhow, you may note that it's been a while since I wrote here.  Sometimes life takes these turns that are difficult to put into words, each day pulling with an unnamed current, and by the time you get your head up above the water to look around, your wake has faded into the sea, and tossing bread crumbs of the past back toward the horizon will do little but feed some fish.  But for what it's worth, my last three months: I went to San Francisco, and New Jersey, and the mountains, I changed my phone plan and wrote too many emails; in short, I fell in love.  So allow me here to briefly introduce the Enigmatic & Incomparable Mr. B, a gentleman scholar of the highest order, unwearying critic of the false and ardent defender of the right (or left as the case may be), a scourge of brilliance sweeping from precept room to conference panel, universally acknowledged as one of the thinkiest thinkers of his generation, Transcendental, Continental, with a complex finish and a smooth peaty aftertaste in the finest Highland tradition, he is (of course) my boyfriend.  And how, you might very well inquire, did I procure such an exemplary specimen?  Alas, this is not a story I know how to tell, so I will instead offer acknowledgments to those without whom this happy turn of events might never have turned: sincerest thanks of course go to the radiant Rebecca R, for making excellent friends and having a wedding at which to conveniently introduce them, to Al Gore for inventing the Internet, without which tentative acquaintanceship might never have bloomed into perpetually complaintive correspondence, to the MLA for holding its 2008 conference a short & inexpensive flight from Los Angeles, to Gloria's Cafe for producing meals the endorphins from which might easily be confused with burgeoning affection, to Continental Airlines for imbuing every nonstop LAX-EWR flight with a sense of adventure & uncertainty, and (as ever) to Becca D, the B-est of BFFs, for (as ever) telling me not to be an idiot.

Other than that, not a lot has happened.  I continue to grow disenchanted with Los Angeles and certain aspects of my life therein, the traffic not even being chief among them.  My last remaining friend at work was laid off.  I went suburban whale watching.  My friendly seasonal allergies welcomed me to spring by jumping all over me and licking my face.  I inherited a cursed car from my brother, and learned that one should never, ever bring a motor vehicle into the state of California.  I posted a few pictures, skipped out on my first A-list Hollywood party (am sure Brad missed me), went to my first roller rink, and learned about zombies.

Tomorrow I may in fact become a zombie, as I must catch the six a.m. flight back to LA to get to work on time.

Will try to report on my survival sometime soonish.
  • Current Music
    Thea Gilmore - Avalanche
flaminga in salzburg

adventures in California

The weather report said a major snowstorm was going to hit Sequoia National Park late afternoon on the twenty-fourth.  Ok, Mom and I said to ourselves, we’ll just leave early and get to our hotel before then.  We can spend a day inside reading books and wait out the storm, and then explore our very own winter wonderland on snowshoes and skis.  It seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan, and the early phases went well: morning departure, good traffic, installing snow chains on our tires around five thousand feet, with snow beginning to fall around three thirty in the afternoon, just as we entered the Giant Forest, where the red-brown hulks of the Sequoias begin to emerge from the dark or moss-hued trunks of the pines, their rich bark vivid to the point of luminosity even in the thin, overcast light.  We arrived at the Wuksachi Lodge shortly after four, having made a half dozen photographic pit stops, and settled into our suite just in time for an early dinner.  We opened a bottle of wine and went to bed early after a pleasant evening curled up on the couch reading and watching the snow fall.

I don't know exactly when in the night things began to go wrong, but when I woke up the next morning it was colder and darker than it should have been.  The power had gone out early in the morning, and the buildings with the guest rooms (for reasons passing understanding) had no generators.  We called the front desk and were assured that power was never out for more than a couple of hours, and we should come down to the main lodge, which did have a generator, and enjoy the heat.  The snow was still falling heavily, and we were advised not to attempt any outdoor activities more strenuous than walking to breakfast.

Over the course of the day, the estimates for the resumption of electric service kept falling off into the future.  I read a science fiction novel in which no one froze to death.  Mom watched TV shows on her iPod.  I went for a little walk during a clear moment in the late afternoon and was surprised to discover there were actually lovely mountains all around us.  After dinner, the stars came out briefly, bright and sharp on that moonless night as the points of white-hot nails tacking up the sky.

After spending the night under heaps of blankets, on Friday morning it was eventually revealed that the electric company no longer had any estimate for power restoration at all.  Shortly after lunch the staff announced that the hotel was being evacuated and everyone had to leave.  So we made emergency reservations at the Big Sur Lodge on the coast and trudged off (through the continuing snow) to pack our belongings.  We made a couple of stops at various trails on our way out of the park in hopes of at least appreciating the scenery a bit before our departure - it was a winter forest out of a fairytale, vast trees flocked with snow, the ground draped knee high or more in glittering feathery white, silent, empty of everything but a few ravens and  the snowshoe prints of the few who had come before.  We struggled through the drifts in sheepskin boots and drove down the mountain with the heat on to dry our trousers.

California is much longer than it is wide, but its width is real enough, particularly when driven on an empty nighttime highway, ruler straight across the central valley, miles marked by nothing but songs on the satellite radio and the occasional headlights passing on the far side of the road.  We got to Big Sur before midnight, and for one night all was well.

In the morning we found out that the park was completely closed due to the summer’s fire, which consumed huge swaths of the nearby mountains, in some places nearly down to the highway.  We drove up toward Monterey instead, and took a walk along Point Lobos, where the clear dark water crashes against the little rocky coves, and wind-bent trees form living statuary along the ridges.  It reminded me of Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane, which had back in 2004 reminded me of that same Central Californian coast, seen on some childhood trip I can now only half recall.

On Sunday we began the drive back to Los Angeles slowly, pulling over every half mile for a view and a photo, at least until I fell off a rock I'd climbed to gain a better vantage and banged up my right knee.  Not an advantageous injury at the beginning of a long drive, though we still enjoyed stopping to see the elephant seals near St. Simeon and a quick lunch jaunt through Cambria, one of those little coastal vacation towns were cuteness is a self-sustaining industry.  Still, by the time we'd gotten home and lugged the bags upstairs, I was in no shape to do anything but lie in bed with my knee propped up, icing it with frozen risotto and drowning the ache in gin and CSI reruns.

Hopefully the limp will abate by the time I head out to San Francisco for New Years…  I feel there may be a lesson in all this, but am not entirely sure what it might be, other than “always have a contingency plan for your contingency plan,” or possibly “if you have to fall, try not to land on rocks.”  Oh well.  It could have been worse.  At least we didn’t get stuck in Heathrow this year.