Skip to content

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and you will receive our stories in your inbox.

California dreamin’ – The price of Paradise

Posted in Life & Love

California sunsetIt’s 11 o’clock at night and, nose buried in the New Yorker, I am thinking it’s time to switch the light off and call it a day. Abruptly, the bed jolts assertively, the wooden blinds smash noisily against the windows. Earthquake. I wait 10 minutes and I log on the US Government Earthquake website, a web address that comes in handy if you live in  California and, sure enough, there it is, already uploaded:  3.2, epicenter a scant 20 miles from my bed.

I switch off the light and go to sleep. Not far from the epicenter, the first wildfire of the season is raging. The dry Santa Ana winds, that turn your skin into sandpaper and your nasal passages in a Sahara tunnel, are stoking the flames at 50 miles per hour. A thousand firefighters have been working all day and the fire is 0% contained. Two more fires are active in Southern California at this very moment, a full month before fire season usually starts. Heck, my local firemen haven’t even come round yet to see if we have cleared out our brush. In the meantime, in the Midwest, they had a snow storm. On May 2. (All those Republican congressmen and senators who keep on repeating that global warming is a figment of our imagination, need to rethink their stance or shut up).

People flock to California to find work, to chase a dream, to escape dreary winters and they are quickly seduced by the natural bounty and an intagible sense of ease. I scarcely remember what it’s like to wear heavy winter clothes and snow boots, and the few times the temperature dips to 0, I go into a tailspin. Rain has become so scarce that when it falls, I climb on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea and enjoy the depth of my “winter”, as if it were a novelty. We are starting to look at the economic recession in the rearview mirror – Governor Brown has managed to balance the budget and even create a surplus –  and, if we are by no means out of the weeds, California is once again springing forward with the same allure that first seduced each and every one of us who came to stay for a while and then pitched permanent tents. If gridlock traffic is the only price I have to pay for easy living, so be it.

But such ease is making us complacent. It’s certainly making me complacent. Every year the authorities drill into our heads that the Big One is coming: it could be tomorrow or it could be in 30 years – in geological terms, time stretches beyond our little lives – yet we all behave as if 30 years is more likely. Like millions of Scarlets, we will worry about it tomorrow. I used to keep emergency rations, blankets and torch in the trunk of my car. Enough water and canned food for a week, candles and batteries at home, and folded clothes and shoes at the foot of my bed in case a quick middle of the night escape was called for. No more. Now I will have to rush out naked, with enough food and water for only a couple of days.

Image from tweetbuzz.us
Image from tweetbuzz.us

Fire, I take a little more seriously because I have lived through it once already. And it’s not pretty. It’s fast and scary and whether your house survives it’s a total crapshoot, based on the winds and the whimsy of the flames. Yes, I can help by keeping the brush cleared, by hosing down my roof and removing flammable trees from the property but the rest surfs on a wing and a prayer. I compiled different lists of things to take based on whether I have 30 minutes, 2 hours or a full day to prepare for evacuation, and plans in place in case I am not home and someone else needs to deal with my animals. Neighbours help each other, we have each other’s keys, cell phone numbers and maps of where gas tanks are located on each property for fast shut off. But nothing prepares you for seeing flames on the ridge by your house, or for the blanket of ashes that covers everything, for the acrid smell and the windows shut to be able to breathe. For sleepless nights, taking turns to walk up the road and monitor the flames, to gauge when to start evacuating; for that brick in the pit of your stomach, waiting to find out what’s happening, and knowing you can’t trust the news because what you are seeing bares no resemblance to what they are broadcasting.

It’s the price we pay for living here. It can be steep, and could even cost us our lives but, as time goes by and the house doesn’t fall nor does it burn, we tend to forget our dues. And what do we do? We put down the New Yorker, switch off the lights and go to sleep.  We’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, this is Hollywood.

Share on Facebook

15 Comments

  1. Wow this is very topical for me. I was singing in a concert last night with the choir I’m in (laughter and lyrics) and the song everyone loved was – California Dreamin. It is such a great song to sing and conjures up all that is fabulous about your bit of the world – stay safe!

    April 2, 2014
    |Reply
  2. Earthquakes are totally weird for me, still. I think because, unlike fire or flood or mudslide, you never see it coming. Fire – well, that’s easy enough because you can tell when it’s a high fire time; you can feel it in the air, you start parking your car pointing nose out, you check the supplies, you touch, like a touchstone, the box with the important files. But earthquake just happens.

    May 22, 2013
    |Reply
    • Funny, even though we have more control over it, especially in terms of our reaction to it, I am more scared of fire. Probably because I met it up close and personal while I have never been through a major earthquake – just the occasional rolling

      May 23, 2013
      |Reply
  3. silvia
    silvia

    you better watch out nothing is going to hurt you otherwise I’ll get mad at you

    May 7, 2013
    |Reply
  4. I’m not sure if it’s selective memory on our part for choosing to live in “dangerous” or just a metaphor for life.
    I live on the East Coast and, while hurricanes are rare, they are a real threat. (Just ask my insurance company if you don’t believe me.) People in Florida had that awful season a few years ago with multiple, destructive, hurricanes. Then there’s a lull and they go back to building condos on the coast again. There’s no mass exodus back to the Midwest where most of them were born–they’d rather take their chances with skin cancer and hurricanes than go back to cold weather and snow for 5 months each year.
    I suppose we could come up with the co-ordinates of the absolute safest place on earth to live–someplace away from fires, floods, drought, hurricanes, and tornadoes…and then we’d probably just die of boredom. Be safe and carry on.

    May 6, 2013
    |Reply
    • You are right but I think it’s convenient to have selective memory when you live in the path of potential destruction! Still, not an excuse for not being more prepared: in our case it’s not so much if but when…

      May 6, 2013
      |Reply
  5. Coincidentally, today marks the 37th anniverary the 1976 Friuli earthquake, also known in Italy as Il Terremoto del Friuli. The quake, with its epicentre in the town of Gemona del Friuli, measured 6.5 on Richter scale, killed 939 people, injured 2400, and left 157,000 homeless. The town I live in, Majano, was completely devastated. I have a friend that is still suffering the consequences of this quake and when occasionally there is a little tremor, she has a complete meltdown, I witnessed it once and was quite traumatised. My children have monthly drills at school and the people that actualy experienced it are always fully prepared with emergency kits, they tell me. I behave like an ostrich – and hope that I don’t have to experience it, ever. Stay alert and safe!

    May 6, 2013
    |Reply
    • I remember it so well! I was living in Bologna at the time, in a 6th floor condo, and was just a kid. It was just past dinner time and, even at such distance, everything shook – the chandelier looked like a swing. The scenes of destruction afterwards were horrific!

      May 6, 2013
      |Reply
  6. Great post, Claudia.

    Here we have something similar with risk of flooding — my house is a couple of meters below sea level. The probability of a flood is once every 10,000 years, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen tomorrow.

    May 6, 2013
    |Reply
    • Don’t you guys have the best damn system in the whole world?

      May 6, 2013
      |Reply
      • LOL. Yes we do, but it can still flood. The probability is not as high as that of an earthquake in California though.

        May 6, 2013
        |Reply
  7. We can live in perpetual fear or we can chose otherwise. I’d probably do what you have done — keep a kit in the car for a while and then… the desire would still be there for preparation but the energy it takes would be redirected to other things. The urgent vs. the important.

    Wishing you safety!

    May 6, 2013
    |Reply
    • I like that – the urgent vs the important…sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what should take precedence

      May 6, 2013
      |Reply

Got some thoughts? We would love to hear what you think

%d bloggers like this: