Kage Baker loved hot grey days. They usually come to Los Angeles during June, when the late spring marine layer is burning off, but sometimes you get one in the autumn.
We had a record-breakingly hot day yestreday,: 113 degrees downtown, the hottest in 132 years in Los Angeles, which means no one now (formally) alive here has ever been hotter. Today great rafts of clouds have poured in over the San Gabriels, and it’s a glorious overcast 90 degrees so far.
This weather sometimes heralds an autumnal storm – in the mountains or the nearby high desert, anyway. Here near the Hollywood Hills, the clouds just move out over the middle air like spreading coral and change all the light to silver. You can see the sunlight strobing and polarizing through the clouds; slip on sunglasses, and alien rainbows chase themselves over a sky like burning pearl.
Kage always hoped the storm would make it out over the Basin. It wasn’t so much for the rain (of which there is seldom any between April and October anyway) as for the attendant special effects of a late summer/early fall storm in LA. She loved the electrically charged air, the phantom scent of the ocean blowing inland over the 20 miles from Santa Monica. She loved the wind, whether it was the chill air from the North driving red leaves dancing from the posh trees in Pasadena, or a good old hot Santa Ana blowing heat and madness down from the canyons.
The hillsides have been baking gold since May Day, and by now they smell like spice bread. The streets carry a perfume like milk and incense: some side effect of unburned hydrocarbons in car exhaust, maybe, but it still smells like the temple steps of a shrine to a Harvest Goddess. Sycamore trees smell like dusty wet velvet, eucalyptus like cough drops, camphor trees like church: the carob trees send down a thick dizzying smell like sex.
And if we get any rain, even the few scattered fat hot drops that are most likely … oh, the scent of warm wet concrete is like nothing else on earth, a smell of youth and running barefoot in hot streets, a smell of ultimate wildness.
When we were girls, we’d roam the Hollywood Hills in weather like this, hiking over the still-undeveloped slopes and dirt tracks up behind the Hollywood Bowl. Hawks would mate in mid air, shrieking over our heads. Deer would race past, spooked by the ozone and air pressure, leaping right over us where we cowered on a hillside, laughing hysterically. We’d carry a bota of water (this was before sippers and plastic bottles – we are old, kids) and slide down the hillsides to the cool green bathrooms at the Bowl when we needed to pee. At some point we’d give out in the panting heat, and call Momma to drive down Cahuenga and pick us up; which, grumbling, she’d eventually do …
While we walked, while we waited, the Children of the Sun were born out of the hot grey skies and the pulsing sunlight. The golden granite of the Hollywood Hills formed their bones; coloured tiles, wrought iron, stained glass made their flesh. The yendri leaned in the shadowed canyons and watched us with cool eyes, and the semen-scented wind that blew from the branches of the carob trees came straight from their gardens.
Long, long afterwards, Mendoza was posted to a coaching inn there. It’s on a curve of Cahuenga just North of the fountain at the Hollywood Bowl – a flat-floored dell beside the road, in a grove of sycamore trees, where we had used to perch on stands of rock to avoid the rattlesnakes while we waited and prayed for lightning to strike over Mount Hollywood.
And sometimes it did. You can see the levin bolt in my hair to this day.
Tomorrow: let’s see what the weather does. LA may be burning.