I remember when we were renting the house in San Francisco and a nice French couple from Paris emailed me about whether the house had air conditioning or not. I paused for a second in disbelief. Air conditioning in San Francisco? They must not know the difference between LA and San Francisco. The only time it is warm in San Francisco is those two weeks in October, during earthquake season, when it warms up and one gets stuck in traffic at the beach. Otherwise if you want to cool the house down, just open any window and your entire house will feel like a meat locker in about five minutes.
The nice French couple eventually did rent the house. After they signed all the paperwork and sent in the deposit I proceeded to inform them in a carefully worded letter about the various seasons in San Francisco and how it rarely gets very warm and never gets truly hot. I warned them about the summers and the relentless cold west winds and the fog that moves in from the ocean and makes it so you have to run to the store to by whole milk just to replenish your Vitamin D. I think it takes years to truly understand the weather patterns of a place and adapt psychologically to the local. I find it interesting that it is really impossible to understand weather from reading the weather report. To understand weather, one must experience the weather patterns.
Here in the Western Highlands in Guatemala, the summer is the “rainy season.” This tells you that the rain falls from the sky and it happens for perhaps a few months. However, this is how it plays out. The morning is often clear with the sun shining. So far so good. You put in a load of laundry in as it seems obvious that this is a good day to hang your jeans, that you have been wearing for a week, out on the line to dry; there are no clothes dryers in the city in San Marcos, however there is rumor that there is one in San Pedro, a few miles away, if you are truly desperate. I have yet to see this clothes dryer. During the ensuing morning, miraculously, clouds begin to appear. First a few friendly ones to give the sky a little perspective, then whole banks of dark ones. They seem to come in mostly from the Pacific Coast in the south. By 1 PM, just as your jeans on the line are almost dry, the rain hits and you scramble to pull all the cloths inside and hope that everything does not begin to acquire that delightful musty-moldy smell, that happens to clothes that never really dried completely. You then wake up the next day, put the same load in the washing machine, and redo the same laundry again. It is somewhat similar to the label on my shampoo – lather, rinse, repeat.
Accompanying this lovely weather pattern is utility outages. The electric will go off many times a month at odd intervals. Sometimes it is for a few hours. Sometimes it is off for ten minutes, on for ten minutes, off for ten minutes, on for ten minutes. The internet will go down sometimes in sync with the electric but not always – sometimes it will go down for but two minutes. The water will go down often. I do hope this is due to a trigger they have set up to not let in the runoff from the storm get into the water supply, but one never knows. When the water goes off, it is always the entire city, which made me realize how vulnerable this place is in a natural disaster. I have now begun my water-hoarding program in earnest.
Not to be a lightweight, I really do not mind the infrequent outages. When I was a kid, growing up in Wisconsin, I remember well and “ice storm” in the mid 1970s that had all utilities, save for water, down for I believe three days; an “ice storm” is something that is very hard to describe and can really only be experienced – it goes like this: rain falls, temperature drops to twenty below so you dare not go outside, all the utility lines turn to ice, the lines break due to the heavy ice, you huddle around your fireplace in your ski parka, wool hat and thermal long underwear for three days attempting to heat up whatever was in your fridge, someone tells the same ghost stories over and over to pass the time, you sing weird song about goats that your mom new from the Depression. When it is all over, you go back to school and go on with your life that suddenly seems so private. I remember the same sort of thing on a much smaller scale during the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. Neighbors, who you always avoided eye contact with, suddenly where your best friend and seemed to know the details of your life. Two days without lights and all of a sudden everyone needs each other.
The morning sun has been good today and there was a light breeze blowing so I may be in luck. It is 10:30 AM here and the clouds are beginning to build. I must turn over my laundry on the line so that both sides can get some sun. The sun is the key. By early afternoon, the day that began with so much promise will turn dark and wet. By nighttime, when one is fast asleep, I will be woken up by rain falling hard and loud on the tin roof. Tomorrow – more of the same.