Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Matter Of Degrees 1/11/11

This is a sentence I never thought I would write: I am freezing in LA.

Having spent two weeks completely buried under snow and, for the most part, unable to leave my house in the UK, I was looking forward to returning to blue skies and sunshine. But apart from three days, the first two weeks of the new year here have been grey, miserable, sometimes wet and, yes, cold.

I am spectacularly ill equipped for it, too. All my sweaters are in a drawer back home (well, six drawers, to be precise – I never risk anything in wet Wales), and as I can’t afford to stock up on any clothes here, I have to make do with layers of skimpy T-shirts and thin cotton cardigans if my nose is not to grow icicles.

Just as the UK is never prepared for snowfall, so LA is unable to cope with unpredictable cold. In bars and restaurants, they have the air con turned up to maximum heat to compensate for the dip in temperature, and then, just as everyone is practically down to their undies to cope with the heat, they turn it off, and you are once more shivering and have to start layering up again.

I spent two hours in Soho House last week, wrapping and unwrapping myself every five minutes like a one-woman, human version of Pass the Parcel. Down by the beach, the bar at the end of the pier is, ironically, freezing indoors, and absolutely scorching outside, with the overhead heaters on full.

My cheeks were so hot at the weekend, you could have taken a couple of slices off them and passed me off as tapas.

Brits are renowned for their willingness to talk about the weather at great length, irrespective of what the temperature is. It’s always too hot, too cold, too wet, too grey.

Forget the possibility of having to swear allegiance to the crown, if you want to come into Britain: what MPs really need to be discussing is people’s ability to merge according to their weather chatting skills.

I just never expected to meet the same enthusiasm in LA, but people here are just as bad. When I first arrived, in April 2009, it was always hot, but that didn’t stop the locals from commenting on the fact.

“Lovely day,” said every taxi driver, wherever I went. Yes, I know, I wanted to scream; it bloody well always is.

Now, though, with this smattering of cold, wet weather, and a not very good summer (incredibly, the UK was warmer), the citizens of Los Angeles talk about heat as if it is an alien, the like of which they may never see again in their lifetime.

Now, when I get into a cab when the sun is out, the drivers sigh, commenting “It’s a lovely day”, as they gaze longingly at the sky, knowing that something, someone up there, is going to steal that golden orb from right under their noses anytime soon.

I used to take the fine weather for granted here, but not anymore. Now, on the rare days when the sun is out and the skies pure blue, I walk down to the ocean to watch the sun going down over the Pacific.

It’s an exquisite sunset, but then sunsets always are – and they’re all different. The first time I came to LA over 20 years ago, it was the sunsets over the Pacific that struck me most clearly and that I remember even now.

Golden, to red, to orange, to yellow and, finally, to the fine sliver of intense white light that tells you it’s all over for another day.

It is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s that last line of light that always brings me to tears. Sunrise and sunset have been metaphors for so much in great art throughout the centuries, and it’s easy to see why. Light fades, light returns; people and experiences come and go; we lose, we gain; our hearts burst with light, they fade in the shadows.

There were shadows, again, in 2010. One friend committed suicide in January, another in December. Several friends were diagnosed with cancer. Family members fell sick. Across the world, tragedies continued to unfold, and still do.

In Britain, on Christmas Day, the body of 25 year-old landscape architect Joanne Yeates was found in Bristol; she had been strangled. This week, in Tucson, Arizona, six people died in a shooting, among them a nine year old girl. Elsewhere, people are starving, dying of thirst, hunger, Aids. Every day, everywhere, the sun goes down.

How do we cope? How does the human spirit sustain such losses, such tragedy, such hardship?

We are extraordinary creations, whose desire to survive, despite all odds against us, gives us strength. We sleep, in order to wake, and we still, incredibly, pull through suffering.

We are as miraculous as the sun and, like the sun, we know that, come the morning, and against all our expectations, we will rise again.

It's the cliche of dawn, but no less true, or incredible, for being so.

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