Can you believe we’ve been in Los Angeles for almost four months? Time, it seemed to me when we first got here, would slow down with this change of environment. It did not. I’m sure this comes as a total surprise, but we barely had time to settle into our rented apartment and learn the salient features of our new geography. Only recently did we carve out preferred roads and shortcuts and started to make a list of favorite eateries, shops and locales. Too swiftly did the countdown to go back home overtake our new quotidian.
As you read these lines, we’re driving North along Interstate 5 in California, while tomorrow will be a flurry of unpacking and settling back into our own house. Once again, time seems to have been relentlessly accelerating. Once again, over this last week, continuity and transience, packing and boxes were prominent on my mind.
During this temporary move we discovered that we can pretty much live anywhere. The added benefits of LA’s mild climate with a (June gloom notwithstanding, mostly) sunny sky and more importantly being in an urban area made this move a most enjoyable one. Had we done this in mid-January, say in Anchorage, Alaska, my adaptivity quotient would have been lower. Much lower.
Did you know that there’s absolutely no need to have more than eight each of large, small, and soup plates, with their accompanying cutlery and glassware? That a smaller fridge is amply sufficient, provided you live close enough to your favorite grocery stores? Not to mention that having a numeric code to gain access to our apartment relieved me of the need to carry a bunch of keys in my purse. This resulted in my seriously downsized purse, of the crossbody-messenger type, with the dimensions of an iPhone being the only limiting factor for further reductions in its size. Don’t messengers have to be light on their feet? The weight(lessness) of my minimal purse leads me by its own example to lighten up and be more limber.
Our temporary change of scenery had other benefits too. An interesting perk was a health related one. When we came to LA, I was suffering with the longest lasting case of allergies I’d ever had. Sneezing, sniffling and barely able to breathe, I didn’t dare go anywhere without making sure there was an adequate supply of tissues at hand. As a last resort, I even saw a sinus specialist at the UCLA Medical Center whose suggested cure was an invasive surgical solution, reminding me once again that surgeons are trained to treat by surgery… Within a few weeks of moving to LA all my symptoms had disappeared. And no, it wasn’t that the LA smog was kind enough to get out of town in preparation for my arrival. There were days when a layer of haze was clearly visible, hanging over various parts of the city sprawl, pushing its chemical tentacles into everyone’s lungs and pores.
Let me remind you that it was also the blooming season. Yet, as I enjoyed the palms, elms, maples, hydrangeas, roses, jacarandas, banana trees, acacias, rhododendrons, a large variety of grasses, oaks, lindens, bougainvilleas, magnolias, and even artichokes and succulents showcasing their magnificent flowers, not a single sneeze nor wheeze interfered to tarnish my delight. Maybe, just maybe, people who make a point of spending a significant portion of their summer vacation elsewhere than where they live during the rest of the year are on to something. Healthwise, this could certainly be a welcome change, allowing the immune system a temporary respite from those intruders whose familiarity has managed to breed not only contempt but loathsome aversion in the form of an irritatingly large response. My wish still remains to find and live in a country that recognizes the importance of summer vacations and isn’t so blindly addicted to economic growth (of the few, the rich, the affluent) that comes at the expense of and compromises the health of its citizens. I remain hopeful. Hey, it could happen…
Each change brought along its adaptation and for me the larger result is an urge to minimize and simplify what I deem to be the really necessary accoutrements for creature comforts. This urge was present before moving to LA, but now I’m convinced that a two bedroom apartment within a walkable community is not only tolerable, it’s downright alluring!
We happen to live in the first era in Western history when large numbers of people feel unhappy by having too much rather than too little. This decidedly first world problem/condition even has a name you may have heard. It’s called “affluenza,” itself the subject of books and academic research. What if we replaced its mindless consumerism, which could result in unhappiness and ennui, by a nomad’s perspective of owning only what you can carry with ease? Or carry in your car. Okay, maybe with a U-Haul trailer attached. Only a small trailer, though… That kindle editions of books and cloud computing also facilitate this prospect is enough to make me do a technophile’s jig on the narrow hitch installed on my car in preparation of lugging said trailer.
The plasticity of our outlook, our willingness to change, and the flexibility to adapt to new conditions are among those factors that can lend a more youthful rhythm to our lives. It’s possible that choosing experiential as opposed to proprietary pleasures is how middle age tries to hang on to the go-anywhere, do-anything, carefree attitude of the young. Celebrating a milestone birthday while in LA certainly underlined that for me. The most memorable moments of the time spent here had nothing to do with acquiring things.
Conversations around a meal prepared by friends and the warmth of their welcome, time spent contemplating the vibrant produce in a farmer’s market, the serenity to be found in art museums, the pithy dialogue of a play, the joyful celebration of music in concert halls or the Hollywood Bowl, observations of how Angelenos talk, drive, and generally behave; these are some instances of what I’d rather “pack” and bring home with me. These and okay, the really delicious teas we discovered. That’s an experiential pleasure too, although you do need the physical tea leaves to make the brew.
Something else I’d want to “pack” is being near enough to the Pacific Ocean to be the recipient of its velvety softness in the air which I’ll miss dearly once back home. When visiting the beach cities of LA, where location is so much of the essence that even the roads are smaller and narrower and where the locals do most of their living outdoors, it wasn’t just the obvious difference between the driven population of Beverly Hills and the laid back surfers that made me want to linger longer.
It may all come down to a choice between greed and hedonism. But how do you carpe the diem if you’re surrounded by the piles and piles of stuff you’ve amassed? Is it worth spending the extra time to navigate the clutter that ends up surrounding you, threatening to swallow you up? Our four-month stint in LA helped tip the scales and further clarified that choice for me.
It’s also been four months since I started this blog. My hope is that as I slide back into the familiar mold framing my days back home, even when there are no Angelenos speaking loudly and putting ideas in my head, the habit of writing, of trying to get a post out there on a regular basis, will nourish itself into continued existence, like a self-reflexive ouroboros.