Monday, November 12, 2007

Mike Davis: California Burning

Mike Davis: Diary
From the London Review of books, November 15, 2007

Every year, sometimes in September, but usually in October just before Halloween, when California’s wild vegetation is driest and most combustible, high pressure over the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau unleashes an avalanche of cold air towards the Pacific coast. As this huge air mass descends, it heats up through compression, creating the illusion that we are being roasted by outbursts from nearby deserts, when in fact the devil winds originate in the land of the Anasazi – the mystery people who left behind such impressive ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.

There is little enigma to the physics of the winds, though their sudden arrival is always disturbing to greenhorns and nervous pets as well as to lorry drivers and joggers (sometimes scythed by razor-sharp palm fronds). Technically, they are ‘föhns’, after the warm winds that stream down from the leeward side of the Alps, but the Southern California term is a ‘Santa Ana’, probably in ironic homage to Mexico’s singularly disastrous 19th-century caudillo. For a few days every year, these dry hurricanes blow our world apart or, if a cigarette or a downed power line is in the path, they ignite it.

They also offer lazy journalists the opportunity to recite those famous lines from Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion, in which the Santa Anas drive the natives to homicide and apocalyptic fever. But just as one shouldn’t read Daphne du Maurier to understand the workings of nature in Cornwall, one shouldn’t read Chandler to fathom the phenomenology of weather and combustion in Southern California. A better choice would be Judy Van der Veer, an unfairly forgotten writer who spent most of her life ranching in the rugged hills near the hamlet of Ramona, 35 miles north-east of downtown San Diego. Read the rest


Davis's books include Late Victorian Holocausts (as good a background to workings of the Global Economy and its horrors as you're going to find), City of Slums, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire.

This guy writes like an angel... of the apocalypse.

If you haven't read him: drop what you're doing, start with Late Victorian Holocausts and don't stop till you get to whatever his latest book will be at the time.

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