Living on a Slope

It’s been 2 months since I moved to LA. Here’s a dispatch from Landa Street.

My house is obscured from the street by rubber and eucalyptus trees and a 6 ft tall redwood fence. It’s a white 1920’s stucco number. It’s not a looker like the craftsmans and mediterraneans and you see climbing up Elysian Heights.

Typical of homes built in this era in California the house is poorly insulated. I can hear the vibrations of hummingbird wings though my office window. I could kick my foot through the outside wall if I felt inclined. I can only assume that this will pay off one day when “the big one” arrives and my house collapses neatly around me like a stack of cards.

I don’t have air conditioning but that’s okay because it’s always cooler inside the home. So many bugs come and go through holes and cracks that I don’t bother killing them. It’s what Californians call “indoor-outdoor living.” For example, I have a skylight in my bathroom that doesn’t close — it’s been open to the elements for a hundred years so that if you climb on the roof and attempt to close it as my husband did, you’ll only discover that the latch has been rusted over. A New Yorker knows the roaches that signify filth, but the bugs in my house are natural, unapologetic and unashamed to be there. If I find a spider on my duvet I still consider the bed to be clean. It’s like camping. The exception was when I first arrived and found that recent rainfall had lead to an explosion of truly horrifying winged spiders that flapped in droves into my home (probably through the hole in my roof).

During rush hour Landa Street acts as a shortcut for cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes to get from Sunset Boulevard to Alessandro Street where they can pick up the 2 and 5 freeways. It’s a narrow hill street that winds like a spiral staircase — cars often get stuck. My moving van clogged the street for a mile as cars could only go up and down the hill one at a time. A tree trimming truck I hired swiped the side of my neighbor’s car as it tried to unwind its way in reverse down the hill. Upon sizing up the situation I hid in my house anticipating an angry mob.

Sound travels down and then echoes throughout this part of the Elysian Valley. The predominate sound is barking dogs. They bark in chorus as the mail truck travels up the street or in soliloquies to the neighborhood. I know every house by the dog in the yard. The wolf hybrid on Lake Shore. The lone yapper on Whitmore. Sometimes one of the mangy, outdoor dogs will escape through their gate and run up barking at me as I walk by. I puff up my chest and poke them in the direction of their homes. I’m very protective of my own dogs, who regard my heroic dealings with alley dogs with disinterest. I see their own fur is adorned with purple flowers from passing jacaranda trees.

It’s not just barking that carries through the hills, it’s tweeting and chirping too. The warning clicks of a mother bird protecting its nest. The squaw of a hawk — the bullies of the bird kingdom. I found a hummingbird nest and observed a baby hummingbird as it grew and develop feathers. Then one day it stopped eating. It suffered as blood sucking mites starved it of protein. My neighbor and I tried in vain to kill the mites. It was too little too late. We buried it underneath the star jasmine where the mom liked to feed. I cried for days.

In my garden I can smell lavender, sage, eucalyptus and jasmine. The smell of the starry white flowers confounded me at first — I thought someone had overturned a bucket of wood stain in my garden. The scent is intoxicating. That’s not to say I have a green thumb — even dying plants smell sweet.

There was an explosion of fruit recently when a tree in my backyard began dropping figs. The dogs ate so many they vomited up figs for days. Squirrels sometimes drop half eaten kumquats from my neighbor’s tree into our yard. Then, drunk off the juice they chase each other on my roof jumping down to trample my hydrangeas.

LAPD helicopters never stray over the Elysian Valley. The trees are too dense for their spotlights to search for people. It’s deadly quiet at night and pitch black through my windows. Sometimes motion detectors activate outdoor flood lights while I’m watching my Scandinavian crime shows at night. One time I looked out and saw a well-lit tabby cat standing in my garden, still as a burglar that had been caught red handed. Going forward, I assume all intruders are cats — until they are not.

On a clear day from the top of Landa Street you can view the snowcapped San Gabriel mountains. You can see the traffic on Interstate 5, which runs the length of California beginning at the US-Mexico border and continuing on to San Francisco and into Oregon. You can see the railroad tracks and the Amtrak trains parked alongside the L.A. River and homes built into the hillside — steel and glass moderns in Silver Lake and wooden shacks clutching the sides of cliffs in Echo Park.

These days, Angelenos are talking about the June gloom — that’s what they call bad weather. The fog and the clouds do cast a gray pallor over everything thus depriving the city of it’s luster — though it’s far from gloomy over here.