atmospheric river

  On Christmas Eve, I invited people from two big families to have dinner. The recipes are grilled smoked tenderloin, roasted brussels sprouts, fried lion tang zizi, roasted maple syrup sweet potato puree with pecans, and beef tendon braised in red wine. I started to prepare in the morning, making bacon juice, roasting sweet potatoes and peeling sweet potatoes… I enjoy the time alone in the kitchen, concentrating on simple things like spices and temperature. The mobile phone kept playing the news in a low voice, but I didn’t pay attention to it. Perhaps because my mother fostered my interest in scientific vocabulary from an early age, the words “atmospheric rivers” caught my attention. Forecasters said the celestial river, which flows from the tropical Pacific Ocean near Hawaii to California, is forced to rise in the coastal mountains and will cause heavy rainfall in the San Francisco area for ten days to two weeks.
  Sure enough, after Christmas, it rained heavily for several days. The rain was pattering on the window, and I was wrapped in a blanket on the sofa watching “Life Slicing”. With surreal and humorous touches, this show pushes what people call “work/life balance” to the extreme. In a mysterious giant company, there is a floor of employees who, for various personal reasons, voluntarily undergo “cutting” surgery–to completely separate their consciousness and memory between work and home. Their two selves—the “innie” in the office and the “outie” outside the office—know each other exists, but not what the other is doing in another time and place.
  In the first shot of the play, the audience looks down on a red-haired woman in a tight sweater, pencil skirt, and high heels, lying on a long table in a huge conference room. She woke up confused, not knowing who she was, where she came from, or where she was going. This is the company’s new employee, Helly R., who has just been successfully “cut”. Helly has regretted and resisted since entering this absurd workplace. She repeatedly offered to resign, tried to escape, and even hanged herself in the company elevator, and was finally rescued and returned to work. Fortunately, the main characters are very warm, interesting, and rich, and the lines are also very clever and witty, forming a sensory contrast with the nightmarish scenes, otherwise it would be really difficult to watch so many episodes in one go.
  I rarely follow dramas, but my youngest daughter Wen Shan said it was the best drama she had seen this year. She watched it three times in a row, so I decided to watch it. The inner world of the two daughters is a mystery to me. I hope to understand their hearts from the books they love to read and the dramas they love to watch. Wen Shan experienced many twists and turns in her adolescence, and I can imagine that she very much agrees with Helly’s plight, as well as her desire and courage to break free. At the same time, the larger themes buried in the plot—such as the constitution of self and humanity, free will, the illusion of choice, etc.—must also subconsciously haunt Wenshan and her contemporaries.
  It was late at night after the first season, and I went to the basement to get my suitcase—Peter and I planned to go to Los Angeles to spend New Years with his parents, siblings, and friends. Turned on the lights and to my horror the entire basement and garage flooded. I hurried upstairs to wake up “Dr. Peter”, I said, there is an emergency, get up and save the house. He was often called to rescue patients with myocardial infarction at night when he was on duty. This time, the underground water pipe in his house was blocked. Sleepy-eyed Peter came downstairs with me, and woke up when he saw the “river” in the garage. We rolled up our trouser legs at the same time. I found a long-handled dustpan and used it to shovel the water into the plastic bucket. He then lifted the water to the toilet and poured it out. I went back and forth at least one or two hundred times, but it didn’t work. The water continued to overflow under the garage door, rising higher and higher. Like clockwork, I shoveled rhythmically in sideways lunges. Peter looked at her with admiration. He said, who can believe that my wife is like this now, you can farm the land to support a family. I said, I am a farmer at heart.
  One Christmas decades ago, Anqi Min came to Los Angeles from Chicago to visit me and stayed with me at the house of a boyfriend at the time. I was still asleep before she left for the airport in the early morning, and when I woke up, I saw that she had left a two-page long letter, written on the translucent paper that wrapped the gift, more than one foot wide and two feet long. She said in the letter, “…his nature, whether he is kind, etc., are waiting for you to observe and discover. Whether he also likes your ‘peasant’ side is very important. Your queen is a ‘poor and lower-middle peasant’. Family background, this requires someone with special eyesight to appreciate. I have no certainty about the above issues. I am worried that you will be bullied if you go alone…” A love letter I received when I was young, even my mother wrote to me I haven’t kept any of my letters. But this letter has been moved by me from east to west for decades, and it has always been there.
  At five or six in the morning, my psoas muscles began to tremble, and my hands were blistered. I told Peter, forget it, let’s raise the white flag and surrender.
  Before I saw this house, I had no intention of moving at all. But the first time I stood in front of it, I fell in love with it. This is a house built in 1909. Its geometric lines are very special. Under the deep sloping eaves, there is a comfortable low-walled arcade; There are matching large flower pots; the open house type is surrounded by rows of windows on all sides, like a “light curtain” surrounding the house.
  Peter was puzzled by my sudden thought and said, why should we move. I also feel inexplicable, unable to explain this desire logically. I said I fell in love with it, and he half-jokingly asked, is it true love? I say yes. He said, then move. Changing a house, a major event in life that is about the same level as getting married, was hastily decided like this.
  I later learned that the house was a typical “Prairie School” building, its structure emphasizing horizontal lines rather than vertical lines – because at that time the young country, compared with most of the old and highly urbanized Europe country, with more open, undeveloped land. The most famous advocate of “Prairie School” is Frank Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright), who proposed the concept of “organic architecture”, the main tenet of which is that structures should appear to grow naturally from the environment. “Prairie Schools,” in Wright’s words, were buildings that looked as if they were “married to the land.”
  The architect of this house is Charles Whitsey, who, like Wright, is also an apprentice of Louis Sullivan, the originator of American “modernist” architecture. After the great earthquake and fire of 1906, Whitsey designed many of the city’s important buildings. Thirty-six houses in our community were successively built between 1905 and 1911, and Whitsey designed seven successively. In San Francisco at that time, most houses were European “Victorian” and “Edwardian”. Whitsey introduced the “Prairie School” that originated in the central United States to California, and it should be regarded as the aesthetic pioneer of the city’s “Modern Movement”.
  A neighbor gave us a book introducing the history of the community, which contains photos taken when the house was first built. It’s almost exactly the same as it was then, except for a different color of paint and two windows that are sealed up. The person who helped me with the renovation asked if I wanted to tear down some of the old things in the house that didn’t work—such as the electric bell that called the servants, the ironing board that was hidden in the wall, and I said to keep them all. In the laundry room that is now flooded, there were originally three huge enamel laundry sinks lined up side by side. The enamel is extremely thick, and each one weighs several hundred catties. In order to put the washing machine and dryer, I had to dismantle one of them, but I was not willing to throw it away, and it is still on the floor of the boiler room.
  Our family is the third owner of the house. The first owner was banker and philanthropist J. Henry Meyer, who made great contributions to the construction of California. The original J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library at Stanford University It is named after him. The community was jointly developed by Mel and longtime collaborator Antoine Borel, and Mel invited Whitsey to design two “Prairie School” houses for him and his daughter.