Thursday, July 31, 2014

Real Monsoon

Monsoon rains have finally come this week. Until now it had been mostly "showery", with the sun poking through several times a day. Now it's heavy rain and thick overcast. Overall, the rain has been measured in inches per day -- I would guess at least a foot of rain in the last 3 days.

Nothing dries out -- least of all towels. Our bedspread feels wet, and the bed itself feels damp. There is also water oozing through the walls and one or two minor leaks in the roof.

Flooding has been a problem. The railroad tracks have flooded at times, and then the trains have to creep along. Yet it's amazing to me how quickly everything drains. An hour or two without heavy rain, and most of the puddles have drained from the roadways. Some of the schools have also closed for "rain days" (as opposed to "snow days"!) when the streets have too much water for the children to get to school.

Even the cows are seeking shelter from the rains. They congregate under the fly-overs and take shelter under shop awnings. Unfortunately, a goodly percentage of the population have no permanent structure to call home. I can't imagine living in a make-shift tent in a muddy field -- as all too many have to do.

But all this rain is needed to store in reservoirs for the 8 or 9 months of the year with no rainfall. Monsoon gives life to India.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Monsoon and Air Quality

The monsoon rains really help clean up the air pollution. Here are some photos showing air quality in March and the same views from earlier this week. Note how the brown has turned to GREEN.

March 2014

July 2014

March 2014
July 2014

Back in India

Monsoon has come since I left India. The full force of monsoon just arrived about 10 days ago -- nearly a month later than usual. I think the blame is being put on "El NiƱo" in the Pacific -- pushing the monsoon rains away from the subcontinent. No matter, it's green and humid, and not especially hot. We're back to clothes that never dry and wooden things getting moldy overnight.

Welcome back! This is what my "duster" (dusting cloth) looked like after wiping down our sofa. That's seven weeks of "dust" -- really more like seven weeks of soot. Monsoon helps with the air quality, so this is probably only 5 weeks of major dust and 2 weeks of monsoon dust. Just think of what this is doing to our lungs.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Of Bungalows and Flats

Now that I'm on my way back to India, this seems to be a good time to finally post some architectural thoughts I've been working on for some time…

I was curious about the term "bungalow". In India it's pretty much any detached "single family" home -- remembering that in India, "family" is multi-generational. The size ranges from a modest cottage to a huge mansion, but given real estate prices in India, a bungalow of any sort is upper-class.

Bungalows in an up-scale neighborhood in Vapi.
A bungalow can be very large and impressive.
This is the bungalow we're renting for our stay in Vapi.

In the U.S., a "bungalow" is a modest middle-class house and has a particular architectural meaning, which varies with location. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle have distinctive differences in "bungalows". Interestingly, the word is borrowed from India -- meaning "Bengali" architecture via the Hindi and Gujarati languages. (Thank you, Wikipedia. Give them a donation. It's a great resource -- and an almost all-volunteer organization.)

I'm mostly familiar with the Chicago bungalow -- a between-the-wars brick house with five rooms (living room, dining room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, bath) on the first floor (about 1000 sq ft), and a bedroom or two tucked into the originally unfinished attic. It usually has a full basement and a front porch/stoop. The really nice ones have a "octagon front", and feature arts-and-crafts style windows. It's long and narrow to fit on a typical Chicago lot, with a 2-car garage in the rear of the lot accessible from the alley.

A typical Chicago bungalow (in Skokie, a near-in suburb just north of Chicago).
Attribution: Silverstone1 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Which brings me around to "flats". In India, an apartment is a "flat". Although in the U.S. "apartment" is the more common usage, "flat" has a specific connotation in Chicago -- an apartment that occupies an entire floor of a building that usually has two or three floors plus a basement -- hence two-flats and three-flats. The Chicago two-flat is typically of the same vintage as the bungalow, and has the same floor plan, just repeated on the second (and possibly third) floor. Same lot size and same two-car garage in the back.

The two-flat I grew up in on the northwest side of Chicago. My paternal grandparents occupied the top flat. It's mostly unchanged: We did not have the wrought-iron fence or the storm door, and the basement windows were wood-frame, not glass brick. (The wooden front door replaced the original one with large glass panels when my bicycle went through the glass on its way up from storage in the basement.)

Two-flats and bungalows continued to be built through 50s and 60s, but they have a different external style, and the 60s bungalows lack the spacious attic.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reptiles in Abundance (Virginia)

A re-work of a recent post. Seems there's a lot more reptiles out there than just turtles!

For some years now I've been logging box turtles that I've come across on our land. This evening, I came across the smallest turtle I've ever seen -- even smaller than the dead one I found last month.

This neonate eastern box turtle does not even have distinct markings yet. It is about 4 cm long.
This was a very small dead turtle I came across about a month ago. It was probably almost twice as long as the one above and had already developed a distinctive shell pattern.
My bear has been a regular visitor -- lots of "bear sign" around the house. While I was trying (unsuccessfully) to make a cast of a beautiful bear track, I looked to my left and found this black rat snake about a foot away -- clearly annoyed at me.

A black rat snake (non-venomous) in a defensive posture. I was so focused on the bear track, that I didn't notice this snake a mere foot away.
The next day, this five-lined skink (lizard) was in the patio umbrellas when I put it up.
The juvenile stage of the skink has a bright blue tail. This is the first one I've seen that is mature enough to no longer have the blue tail.