Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Plus ça change, plus how I spent the hurricane

Léo Malet, it is said, could never quite take crime fiction seriously, and indeed Les Rats de Montsouris, part of his Nestor Burma series, is full of parodistic touches.

One of these is just as relevant today as it was upon the novel's initial publication fifty-seven years ago, and not just because I finished reading the book while waiting for Hurricane Sandy to have its way with the Mid-Atlantic States:
"The storm came to nothing, like a project for tax reform."
***
How did I spend the hurricane? Glad you asked:
"All public transportation was cancelled, all bridges were closed, and the paper put a bunch of us up at the Loew's hotel. So I spent the night high above Philadelphia, with a fine view down Market Street east to the Delaware River and beyond ("Beyond" is, in this case, Camden, New Jersey, but that couldn't drown out the moody tenor saxophone soundtrack playing in my head. Besides. I couldn't see much; it was nighttime.) My room had two beds and a day bed, perfect for lounging. All that was missing was a pouting babe.

"I felt like Bruce Wayne pensively regarding the twinkling lights of Gotham City waiting for the bat signal (and really: a hurricane would be a fine time for the Riddler and his gang to pull a heist, as long as they didn't plan to make their getaway by bus.) I could even have pretended that one of the two bathrobes that came with the room was a smoking jacket. Instead, I went down to the bar for a good gripe session with my colleagues."
To recapitulate: I had a drink (at my own expense; my company did not cover bar tabs or incidentals), I spent the night in a historic building, and I spoke openly with my colleagues, a welcome change from the cryptic remarks and raised eyebrows by which we communicate when non-copy editors are around. Could have been worse.

***
I can now happily report that the house is in good shape, at no risk of losing the coveted Good Mousekeeping Spiel of Approval ™.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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33 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Glad you weathered it in good style, Peter. A hotel with a bar isn't a bad place at all to sit out a storm.

October 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good style and good taste, yes, thanks. Am back home now, and the house appears to be in as good a shape as it was when I'd last seen it.

October 30, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Glad to hear it.

October 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No water in the basement, at first glance, which astonished me.

October 30, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

One good thing about California, I suppose. No basements. Well, few.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That would tempt fate in an earthquake-prone area?

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I honestly don't know why there don't tend to be basements out here. We had them when we lived in Denver, and they certainly added to our sense of living space.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe the lack of basements is an expression of Californians' proverbial lack of rootedness.

October 31, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The main reason we don't have basements in California (at least along the coast) is because we do not get freezing weather. We don't need to protect our houses' foundations, water pipes, heaters, etc. from freezing and damages caused by the freeze-thaw cycle.

The post-WWII California housing boom also accounts for the lack of basements. Too much bother and an extra expense. Houses of that period and contemporary houses tend to have narrow crawl spaces beneath them.

And basements in an earthquake-prone region?? That goes against good structural engineering practices. That said, our two 1941 courtyard buildings have two modest basements beneath them to house the units' gas furnaces and water heaters as well as a washer and dryer.

We don't get hurricanes and/or tornadoes, so we don't need them to hide under our houses during those events.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Good info, Elizabeth, but I have to say, it's prime real estate going to waste. Many people I know have lived in sort of half basement situations here. It seem to have worked all right for them, though personally I have vowed never to live underneath anybody again if I can possibly do otherwise.

October 31, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Seana, I lived in a basement flat in London many years ago and absolutely hated every minute of it. I felt like I was one of H.G. Wells' Morlocks or, perhaps more akin to my ethnic roots, a troll.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, I'm glad you escaped. I lived in a regular first floor apartment near the Boardwalk here and had three different tenants above me during the couple of years I lived there. For some unknown reason, all three of them did things that sounded like a gymnastic club at two or three in the morning. As far as I could tell, they had nothing else in common...

Jesus god, the number part of the captcha here appears to be a door bell. I'm going to type that in and see what happens.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"We don't need to protect our houses' foundations, water pipes, heaters, etc. from freezing and damages caused by the freeze-thaw cycle."

That makes sense. One takes basement so for granted that one forgets they had a function.

"The post-WWII California housing boom also accounts for the lack of basements. Too much bother and an extra expense."

That's more the answer I'd have expected. But htink of it: I've been to California three or four times, and not once has the aubject of basements come up.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I have vowed never to live underneath anybody again."

I'd forgotten this until just now, but I once lived in what I think you mean by a half-basement situation: windows near the top of wall looking out at eye level onto a paved parking lot and a street. It was a quiet street, so I didn't experience the unnerving site of hundreds of commuters from the knees down every day.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should add that I never felt like a troll while living there.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana and Elisabeth: What did Californians do when the rest of the country was goig mad for fallout shelters? Where were they told to retreat? And was there a general aversion to below-ground construction? Did houses used to have root cellars, attached to the house or otherwise?

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Glad you're safe. At one point, they seemed to think your fair city was going to suffer badly.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. My fair city was fairly well prepared, I think. My neighborhood is not all that low-lying, and there are no giant old oak trees or big lawns where they can fall. Worst that could have happened would have been downed power lines, and we got none of that.

Do you still live where you did when I visited? Seems to be you could got whacked by some water cascading downhill. And the table where we had our jovial post-Bouchercon dinner four years ago may have been under water Monday night.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And we didn't anything like the subway-tunnel flooding that New York got.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

The restaurant you refer to moved, but otherwise, the water was pretty high downtown. We don't live in the townhouse now - a rancher. We actually were very fortunate. Minimal power outage, minimal flooding in the basement (certainly able to clean it up without worrying about an insurance claim). We brought our yard stuff into the garage, though, and there's a foul smell in there now, so I wonder if something's died, but really, we have nothing to complain about. Very very fortunate.

Other than some rudeness when doing the prep shopping, but that's nothing more than eye-rolling irritation.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I avoided rudeness and shoving by doing my prep shopping at hours when the jerks were asleep -- one of the blessing of working odd hours.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm glad to hear you have no big storm-related complaints.

And now, to inspect the far reaches of my basement for leakage and dead things.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I have the earliest grade school recollection of doing drills to go under desks in the event of a nuclear bomb. That was about it.

Root cellars? No.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall the under-the-desk drill as a staple of the precautions that people made fun if. I guess that in the event of a nuclear attack so severe that even a classroom desk offered insufficient protection, Californians were screwed.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yeah, with our luck, there would have been an earthquake at the same time.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth and Seana: A quick search of this blog for the words cellar and basement finds citations from crime novels set in England, France, and Kansas, and none, needless to say, from California.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I did a quick recon myself, and apparently Sacramento has some. It does seem to have to do with weather and pipes primarily, though.

October 31, 2012  
Blogger Diana R. Chambers said...

Hi Peter, As a Californian I got curious and looked into this. Public buildings including courthouses and high schools had them in their basements or lower levels. Many people dug bunkers in their backyards and devised fake rooms behind bookshelves--YES! Every student of a certain age remembers drop drills. As they say, California has always had its share of fruits and nuts:-)

November 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm pleased that a number of Californians have joined this discussion. California is such a big and geographically varied place. Would cellars, basements, shelters, and other underground constructions have been more popular in some parts of the state than in others?

November 01, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

With absolutely no substantiation, I'd hazard Northern over Southern for basements, with the poorly defined Central having it both ways.

November 01, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I remember duck-and-cover drills. I don't think either teachers or students (even impressionable elementary school-age children) really believed this activity would protect us in case of nuclear war. But I guess school officials had to make some kind of "everything's under control" gesture once prayer in school had been outlawed...

An interesting artifact of World War II and the Cold War in the Los Angeles area is the civil defense air raid siren. Dozens of them still stand, in mute silence now, all over the city. The most common type is what's called the "wire spool" model (because it looks like an empty wire spool). There's one a couple of blocks from my home. The sirens no longer function but the city does not remove them unless they become a hazard or new construction requires their removal.

November 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, The Silent Siren. I like it.

November 01, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Boy howdy, we've got sirens, and they get usage. They did last week when that quake occurred off the coast of British Columbia and there was a tsunami headed our way. It turned out to be only a couple of feet high at the most, but we prepared for the worst.

November 03, 2012  

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