When I was 16, I loved the Los Angeles sun. In the summer, I'd lie for hours on our dichondra lawn in the teeny, blue-flowered bikini I sewed myself, slather on Bain de Soleil and listen to 93 KHJ on my yellow plastic Toot-A-Loop radio. If I got too hot, I'd mist myself with a spray bottle and just keep on baking.
As you can probably guess from that description, I'm not 16 anymore. As I got older, I found the monotony of the sunny days both bored and unnerved me. The sky flat blue from the moment you opened your eyes until dark. It seemed unnatural, and really annoying if you were trapped in an office all day.
I longed for variety, for drizzly winter mornings and cloud-spotted sunsets. I wanted weather.
A decade ago, in my mid-30s, I moved with my husband and then-2-year-old son to an island west of Seattle. I still frequently visit L.A., though, and spending time away from it has given me a new perspective on its ever-present sunlight--which no, I don't miss even in winter.
Now I think L.A. is lighted exactly right for the glamorous movie town that it is. In fact, the Southern California sun created L.A. as we know it. The reliable sunshine helped draw the budding moguls west from colder New York to create Hollywood. The rest of the town and its culture were born from this world of movie artifice. If you think of the city's natural light as illuminating one big movie set--and isn't it?--then L.A. looks like a big-budget studio picture. Every scene is overexposed, unsubtle, colors either washed out or unnaturally bright. The urges to buff up, show some skin, look young, get that face-lift--they all stem from life in the sunny spotlight. Surfaces seem important when you know they'll be viewed under that unrelenting glare.
By contrast, Seattle is lighted more like an art film. It's a practical place where airplanes are built and cancer cures sought; tall trees cast long shadows here, and filtered light seems to smooth over our physical flaws. In December, the sun struggles up around 8 a.m. and slumps back down at 4:30 p.m. Clouds often race across the sky, giving us only brief peeks at the sun. In the calming, soft-focus gray, under my security blanket of clouds, I feel free to create, safe from prying eyes.
Which is not to say I don't enjoy sunshine, occasionally. Living in a mostly cloudy place has made me treasure the sun so much more than I ever did in sunbaked L.A. I feel like I never really saw the sun until I moved. When something is always there, you don't notice it much.
If we get a single hour of unbroken sunshine in February in Seattle, the office buildings downtown empty out and people stand and smile on the street corners in pools of light. Who ever does that in L.A.? Now, an 80-degree July day spent lying in the lounge chair on my sunny back deck is a rare gem I want to tuck into the velvet folds of memory and keep.
L.A., enjoy your klieg-light days, you big showoff. It may not suit me, but endless sunshine is your perfect backdrop.