Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Don't Need a Weatherman ...

San Miguel de Allende is one of those places that draws boasts from people who live here about having the perfect climate. Although it’s in the tropics, it’s also at 6,400 feet so altitude cancels out latitude. Most of the year it’s warm to hot during the day; cool to cold at night. There is a distinct dry season when the sky is an impossible cobalt every day; and a rainy season when it clouds up building to late afternoon thunderstorms.

The thin air and clear days equal crazy blue skies

It’s perhaps a good thing that the weather is so predictable, because we don’t have a six local TV stations with dedicated weathermen giving us blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute up-dates on what’s going on right outside our windows. If I want to know if I should put on a jacket in the morning when I walk my little dog Henry, I stick an arm out of the door.
I’d recommend this technique to those people (and I’ve met many) who complain bitterly because forecasters sometimes understate the anticipated high temperature by a couple of degrees or the estimated arrival of rain by a few hours. “Those weathermen are so useless,” they whine.
Are you freakin’ kidding me?
There was a time when people had to depend on the color of the sky, grandma’s arthritic knee, or some old fisherman’s ability to smell a storm on the wind to know if one was blowing in. Even if they got it right, they had no idea of the intensity or exact time of arrival. People died in droves when they were caught off-guard by a hurricane or torrential rains that resulted in a flooded river.      
Livingstone, the African town where I spent my early childhood, had a tropical climate: hot, humid, and given to spectacular thunderstorms that dumped an average of 30 inches of rain a year on the region. The rain fell in summer and it would usually come as a blessed relief right after the most blistering part of the year. “Long term forecasting” meant we could literally see a storm coming from a distance. When we spotted the steel gray curtain reaching from the sky to the horizon line, shot by jagged streaks of lightening, my mother and I would sit on the veranda and hope—pray—the storm was moving our way.
As it approached, we’d watch its progress with anticipation tinged with a little fear. First we’d begin to hear the rumble of thunder, becoming louder and more synched to the lightning as it neared. Next we’d catch a whiff of the unmistakable smell of rain wetting the parched, red earth. The sky would darken as we heard the sound of the fat drops first drumming on the hard ground and the broad leaves of the pawpaw and mango trees. Then it was overhead, pounding on the corrugated tin roof. Often the lightning struck trees or wire fences outside the door and the thunder rattled both the windows and our nerves. The storms were fast moving and they’d pass over within minutes.
That was a typical year. But there were times when no rain came and we went into drought mode. Other years we’d get more than usual rain. The hydroelectric power plant located in a Zambezi River gorge at the foot of the Victoria Falls would flood and we’d be without power for weeks.

The Victoria Falls in full flood: the power station
was down below in the gorge
We had no television and got only crackly radio signals from the BBC World Service so weather reports were not part of our lives. Consequently, most people were caught flat-footed, without sufficient supplies of kerosene for their Tilley Lamps or dry fuel for fires to cook on.
This was the early 1950s. But even in later in the 60s, when I lived in England, we used to get weather forecasts from ships at sea sent by Morse code. If you carefully turned the dial—yes, the dial—on the radio, you could sometimes pick up the signal: dah, di di di, dah. Weather balloons, telegraphs, and human weather observers were about as technical as it got.
Now we’ve got weather satellites, Doppler Radar, and long-range computer forecasting. We can have an idea by October if it’s going to be a wet December by the temperature of the ocean currents. We can plan a weekend picnic on Wednesday with some assurance that it’s going to be sunny on Saturday.
Think about it. There’s this bucket of bolts and wires and some special kind of camera up in space circling the planet and letting us know whether to take an umbrella to work the next day.

This picture was taken just about when I was
writting this blog! Wow!

When I lived in Southern California, the weathermen would tell us four days out that a storm was on its way. I’d sit on the sofa in my living room watching pictures from space on TV of the big, white swirling mass out in the Pacific Ocean and a computer simulation of how it’s projected to come ashore north of us and travel down the coast bringing two to four inches of rain, depending on whether you live on the coastal plain or in the mountains. When we’d had fires over the summer, leaving mountain sides denuded and prone to mud slides and flash floods, people who lived in those areas would strategically place sand-bags and build drainage channels. And can you imagine the chaos if nobody had known how severe the recent blizzard of the century was going to be? This is something we wouldn’t have had opportunity to know in the dark ages, say about the time I was sitting on an African veranda, storm watching.
Personally, I think being able to forecast the weather so accurately is a nothing short of a miracle. So they’re not100 percent correct all the time. That’s because all the sophisticated equipment in the world can’t second guess Nature: she’s one capricious, perverse, moody mother.
This whole weather thing is just illustrative of what a bunch of entitled bellyachers we’ve become as life has gotten easier, more comfortable, and a whole lot safer. Even as we complain that all the technology that serves our lives doesn’t work well enough to make us unequivocally happy, we simultaneously bemoan a “simpler” time when we weren’t the proverbial slave to it all.
You know, the “simple” life hasn’t actually gone anywhere. You just have to shut off your computer, turn off the TV, take the plugs out of your ears, and sit on the veranda. Or take a walk. But remember to take an umbrella just in case: you won’t know if it’s going to rain.     

Friday, February 4, 2011

Booby Prize

I just read a report from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons saying that the numbers of women wanting breast implants in the UK has gone up dramatically in the last year, partly inspired by Christina Hendricks who plays Joan in Mad Men.

The glorious Christina Hendricks in Mad Men

Really, ladies? I love Christina, too, but you’re out of your minds: take it from one who knows.
I’m just going to say it right up-front: I have huge breasts. And I’m talking about the home-grown, God-given kind. As I’m otherwise regarded as petite and stand only five foot one, you can appreciate that they are my most outstanding feature.
It wasn’t always so. In my pubescent years, my friend Marlene and I wore bras we couldn’t fill. Schoolgirl lore of the 1960s had it that we would grow into them. Marlene didn’t have a whole lot of luck with the “grow-into” theory but in my case, it not only apparently worked but soon got quite out of hand.
In a futile attempt to reverse the process, or at least minimize the monster I’d created, I began stuffing myself into smaller bras. The result was that I bulged painfully out of and under my circular-stitched, cotton bullet bras. I should have realized that the bra I wore had little to do with my ultimate size. By 15 I was a D-cup and now, with the extra padding that comes with the years, I’m a G and I can thank women on both sides of my family for the G-enes.
Even though my figure was so matur­e at such a young age, the rest of me still had a long way to go. As an excruciatingly self-conscious teenager, my shyness was compounded by the taunts of the neighborhood jokesters. It was the 60s, and the Beatles had a big hit with “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It became everybody’s idea of fun to sing to as I walked by, “I want to hold your gland.” I adopted a hunched posture—easy enough when you’re packing that much weight—and a habit of walking with my arms crossed over my chest—not quite so easy.
The hot fashions of my teenage years were not for me. Skinny-knit sweaters looked obscene, mini baby-doll dresses stood out like tents, and mod geometric prints got bent right out of shape. I missed the boat by about a decade. Had I been ten years older, I would have hit the Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell era and been right in fashion.

But no; I was ...
... a Jayne Mansfield girl ...

... in a Twiggy world.
Lingerie manufacturers did little to sweeten the situation. Large-sized bras were strictly plain and func­tional. I’d seen more alluring parachutes. You may have gathered that I was less than appreciative of Mother Nature’s— and mother Hynes’s—ample gift.
But of course, everything that goes around comes around, especially in the fashion world. By the early 80s, fashion models no longer looked like escapees from the anorexia ward, fashion magazines started to feature cleavage, and “jiggle” shows abounded on television.

Jiggle queen Suzanne Somers in Three's Company

Playtex even dusted off the iconic Jane Russell (who famously inspired Howard Hughes to engineer a bra for her) to be the spokesperson for their line of bras for “full-figured gals.” They were still pretty damn hideous, though.
I started exercising a lot around this time. Sports bras hadn’t really been invented yet and I had to wear two, sometimes three bras for aerobics class. Even now, no-one has got this problem handled. Let’s face it, when you’re talking about anything bigger than a C-cup, you really need undergarments made from rebar and cement.
That current trend for big hooters has endured a long time now. It’s morphed, in fact, into what I believe is an unhealthy obsession in our culture for big breasts: the bigger the better. I’m absolutely astounded by the number of women who have implants. You hardly see anyone of any age in the media who doesn’t have that tell-tale hard, rounded ridge painfully obvious in her cleavage. And it’s not as though it’s all been part and parcel of a trend towards generally meatier women. Fashion models and entertainers are now so painfully skinny that their implants often look like balloons on a stick. Come to think of it, thank heavens for Christina Hendricks because as a size 14, perhaps she’ll influence more than just breast size.
It breaks my heart to hear young girls in their teens saying they don’t feel pretty or attractive to boys because they have small breasts. I want to tell them about the excruciating pain in my upper back that I’ve lived with since I was in high school; show them the deep, permanent gouges across my shoulders where bra straps have dug in for 45 years.
On the other hand, my complaints about how I’ve never found a shirt that fits everywhere else and that also buttons across the bust or that strapless tops are out for me is now obsolete. Obviously driven by consumer demand, the clothing industry actually makes garments designed to fit big busts. There is further compensation for living long enough to be in fashion. Underwear companies are now making gorgeous bras that fit me: colors other than white or “flesh,” lace, the whole glamorous shebang. Although they’re clearly made for free-standing breasts, the engineering is so sophisticated that they still perk up relaxed 60-year-old giant ta-tas. There are even entire shops that cater only to D-plus girls like Jenette Bras in Los Angeles. And get this: you can buy bikini tops up - and good looking ones at that - up to E cups and mix them with a bottom that actually fits from Nubia Swimwear in Capitola, California. That's just plain brilliant. My cup runneth over. Of course it’s all come about just when nobody is interested in seeing me in my undies or a bathing suit, but still, I enjoy wearing them.
If I’ve long considered them to be breasts of burden, why, you are probably asking, didn’t I ever have reduction surgery? Believe me, I’ve thought about it from time to time. But I rejected the idea for the same reasons that I’ve opted not to have facial plastic surgery. Breast reduction or a breast lift is major surgery. I didn’t want to inflict elective surgery on my body when it had served me so well and I’d never had to have any kind of surgery in my entire life, and rarely even been ill. It just seemed like tempting fate. Then there was the esthetic issue: why trade big but healthy breasts for small scarred ones? But most importantly, when it really came right down to it, I didn’t want to change my body that drastically. Since I was a teenager, for better or worse, people have identified me as the girl/woman with the big jugs/knockers/tits/hooter/melons.
My wish for all of those young women who are considering altering their bodies with surgery is that they could get that could celebrate and embrace who they are, too. Every one of us would like to change something about our bodies. For many years I would have gladly swapped three cup sizes for an equal number of inches of leg length. But not anymore; because you know what? I’ve come to realize that the person I am at 60 must be partly due to having lived for 40-odd years with big knockers and they are actually an essential part of my sum and substance.