Thursday, January 23, 2003

Winter of Discontent

I'm cold. I hate being cold. I hate coldness, even when it doesn't touch me. When I've been reading my daily blogs this week, I have actually skipped entire paragraphs and pages discussing snow. The very idea of snow makes me cringe. It makes me cold, it makes me feel bleak, it makes me remember those hideous green-and-black mukluks I had to wear when I was seven years old because the chic fleece-lined knee-length boots I really wanted were "for girls." Fascists. Genderist bastards. Twenty-eight years later, I still haven't forgiven the World for those mukluks.

Actually, I'm not cold at the moment of writing. Instead, I am barraged by the sound of the office's furnace, the clattering tin-man body of which is on the other side of the wall beside my desk, and the aspirant clunking main vent of which is directly over my head. It is most irritating, but I suppose better than being cold. Last night it was so cold that it woke me up. I had to pull the blankets all the way over my head, risking claustrophobia and suffocation, just to keep my nose and eyelids warm.

It was probably all the way down to 40 degrees last night. Snowbound readers will now throw up their hands in disgust at my inability to handle such "balmy" weather. East Coasters, Midwesterners, and even Western mountain-folk will sigh with contempt at the Coastal Californian's sense of entitlement to room-temperature weather year-round. They will call me a wuss for getting all fidgety and waking in the night over a measly 40 degrees.

Well, all I can say is, 40 degrees to me is the exchange equivalent of minus-100 to someone who's daft enough to live in a place where it snows. I live here almost precisely because I cannot take intemperate weather. I can't take temperatures below fifty or above eighty. I can't take humidity, I'm terrified of thunder, and I would have to be locked up in a rubber room for the rest of my life if I had to live through one tornado season.

I've been to places where such things are common, and all I have to ask is "Why do people live there?" I mean, I would prefer they be there, instead of here, because if everyone came here there wouldn't be room for me. But still I wonder what motivation people have for living in Montana or Texas or Utah or any of those other armpit states I've visited. I don't see the beauty of Big Skies and endless vistas of nothingness (nor do I find much beauty in armpits, as some do).

When I went to Montana, I found it the ugliest place I had ever been, so ugly that it actually makes me angry to remember that it exists. Butte, in particular, irked me beyond reason. Granted, I didn't see much of Utah, as we drove through it at night, but what I did see (lightning over the Salt Lake, salt flats in every direction, and beehives on all the freeway signs) struck me as a collection of Really Good Reasons to Never Set Foot in That State Again. The entire state of Texas could sink beneath the sea and I would never miss it... I might even rejoice that it is no longer there (expecially if it managed to take the entire Bush clan into the Gulf with it). I hate Texas almost as much as I hate Montana... but actually I hate Texas twice as much because I've been there twice, and only once to Montana.

Someone once pointed out to me that I don't enjoy these places because I bring along an expectation that every place should be like the place where I live. I feel very uneasy when I can see the horizon all around me, I feel uneasy when there aren't enough trees, or when there are too many trees, I feel uneasy when there are no tall buildings or downtown shopping districts or opera-houses. I worry when there isn't a large-ish naturally-occuring body of water nearby, preferably an ocean though a sizeable lake would do.

During my brief trip to the East Coast a couple of summers ago, I discovered portions that the world would be just as well without. Delaware, for example. And the weather was simply hideous, hot and humid in most places. The scenery was nice, though (except for Delaware... God that place was ugly, at least the parts of it I saw...), and there was a lot of trees and hills and old buildings and ocean and other points of interest.

But I think the real reason is that I'm simply a genetically-programmed homebody. I like to travel, but I don't like just going places. There has to be something there to look at, and it should be as much like home as possible. I want people to speak English to me, I want to be able to understand the money, I want there to be trees and buildings and water.

My favorite vacation ever was to Victoria BC, which is so much like the San Francisco Bay Area, in both temperature and geography, that I felt perfectly comfortable the entire time. I loved Seattle, too (on the same trip), for pretty much the same reason. People complain about the rain there, but I quite like rain (it's my British blood, I guess) so long as it doesn't get too cold. My other Favorite Place is Hawaii, though the humidity there did give me pause, and I get tired of all the palm-trees and vacationers after a while. Still, it's got all the high-rises, the trees (even if they are just palms), the people, the mountains, the water, and the shopping venues that I value; and when it's hot it never gets too hot, and it never gets cold at all, and the rain is so soft and fragrant that you don't mind getting wet even when you're fully dressed. Essentially, it's the only place in the world I've visited (though my experience is extremely limited) where the weather was actually better than it is here.

My coworker, JB, who teaches Cultural Geography, tells me that there is an accepted phenomenon that in any given population there will be Explorers and Stay-at-Homes. If we were all Explorers, nobody would stay anywhere long enough to build a civilization; if we were all Stay-at-Homes, the human race would have died under its own overcrowded decadence millenia ago. So we need both.

And I am content to be a Stay-at-Home. I would like to travel to Europe one day and see all the picture-postcard sites for myself, especially France and Italy, but I am in no big hurry. I'd like to go to England, spend time in London and then extensively tour the Great Country Houses. I'd like to go to New York and New Orleans someday, and Montreal. But I would have to go when the weather was nice. And I only want to see them because I know how exciting it is to see something in person, to experience its "thereness"... yet in the meantime I am perfectly content to be an armchair traveler and leave the "thereness" to more intrepid souls until I can afford to travel in the manner of the Ugly American, where I'd have an interpreter and money-changers and some access to foods I recognize.

Now how did I get from complaining about the cold to talking about paying people to speak English to me in Italy? And it's not really all that cold, either... I'm just in a bad mood and the cold is pissing me off. When I'm in better form, emotionally, I don't even mind so much that Montana and Utah and Texas and Delaware exist and are so damned ugly. Funny how a little headache, a touch of depression, some tooth pain, and a difficult atmosphere at work can make you lash out at perfectly innocent weather formations and landscapes.

Well, whichever and whatever, I must be running along. I have to go buy snacks for the executive body so they don't waste away of hunger while discussing the upcoming contract negotiations. Yippee. I'd almost rather be in Butte.

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