There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night. I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.
I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather.” My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.
“On nights like that,” Raymond Chandler once wrote about the Santa Ana, “every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” That was the kind of wind it was. I did not know then that there was any basis for the effect it had on all of us, but it turns out to be another of those cases in which science bears out folk wisdom. The Santa Ana, which is named for one of the canyons it rushers through, is foehn wind, like the foehn of Austria and Switzerland and the hamsin of Israel. There are a number of persistent malevolent winds, perhaps the best know of which are the mistral of France and the Mediterranean sirocco, but a foehn wind has distinct characteristics: it occurs on the leeward slope of a mountain range and, although the air begins as a cold mass, it is warmed as it comes down the mountain and appears finally as a hot dry wind. Whenever and wherever foehn blows, doctors hear about headaches and nausea and allergies, about “nervousness,” about “depression.”
In Los Angeles some teachers do not attempt to conduct formal classes during a Santa Ana, because the children become unmanageable. In Switzerland the suicide rate goes up during the foehn, and in the courts of some Swiss cantons the wind is considered a mitigating circumstance for crime. Surgeons are said to watch the wind, because blood does not clot normally during a foehn. A few years ago an Israeli physicist discovered that not only during such winds, but for the ten or twelve hours which precede them, the air carries an unusually high ratio of positive to negative ions. No one seems to know exactly why that should be; some talk about friction and others suggest solar disturbances. In any case the positive ions are there, and what an excess of positive ions does, in the simplest terms, is make people unhappy. One cannot get much more mechanistic than that.
Easterners commonly complain that there is no “weather” at all in Southern California, that the days and the seasons slip by relentlessly, numbingly bland. That is quite misleading. In fact the climate is characterized by infrequent but violent extremes: two periods of torrential subtropical rains which continue for weeks and wash out the hills and send subdivisions sliding toward the sea; about twenty scattered days a year of the Santa Ana, which, with its incendiary dryness, invariably means fire. At the first prediction of a Santa Ana, the Forest Service flies men and equipment from northern California into the southern forests, and the Los Angeles Fire Department cancels its ordinary non-firefighting routines. The Santa Ana caused Malibu to burn as it did in 1956, and Bel Air in 1961, and Santa Barbara in 1964. In the winter of 1966-67 eleven men were killed fighting a Santa Ana fire that spread through the San Gabriel Mountains.
Just to watch the front-page news out of Los Angeles during a Santa Ana is to get very close to what it is about the place. The longest single Santa Ana period in recent years was in 1957, and it lasted not the usual three or four days but fourteen days, from November 21 until December 4. On the first day 25,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains were burning, with gusts reaching 100 miles an hour. In town, the wind reached Force 12, or hurricane force, on the Beaufort Scale; oil derricks were toppled and people ordered off the downtown streets to avoid injury from flying objects. On November 22 the fire in the San Gabriels was out of control. On November 24 six people were killed in automobile accidents, and by the end of the week the Los Angeles Times was keeping a box score of traffic deaths. On November 26 a prominent Pasadena attorney, depressed about money, shot and killed his wife, their two sons and himself. On November 27 a South Gate divorcée, twenty-two, was murdered and thrown from a moving car. On November 30 the San Gabriel fire was still out of control, and the wind in town was blowing eighty miles an hour. On the first day of December four people died violently, and on the third the wind began to break.
It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself. Nathaniel West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust, and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end. Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The winds shows us how close to the edge we are.
—Joan Didion, “The Santa Ana” (The Saturday Evening Post, 1965), from her essay “Los Angeles Notebook”
An actual headline from The New York Times in 1919
I love this so much.
Bisexual Fact: Bisexuals only do bi things, such as bicycling. Related, it is physically impossible for a bisexual to deliver a monologue. I tried once at an audition and spilt into two and finished it as a conversation. I got the part
the best part are all the people in the notes who reblogged this without listening, & think it’s the original
I haven’t! But that’s due to lack of funds rather than lack of interest. It sounds exactly like my kind of thing.
you’ll find me where the crows fly
Sure! I can think of a few off the top of my head, and I’m sure other people will have suggestions in the replies.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is always my top pick! I’ve talked about them before, I think. PC Peter Grant is recruited to magic regulation branch of the Metropolitan Police—currently staffed by the last wizard in England, and literally no-one else— to solve a series of bizarre and gruesome murders. Hands-down my favourite aspect of these books is the goddess Mama Thames and her daughters (goddesses of the Thames’ tributaries) who control various territories in London.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor is a kid’s/teen book but it’s a phenomenal modern magic novel set in a village in Nigeria. Thirteen-year-old Sunny Nwazue finds out she is a Leopard Person— someone who has magic. She is thrown into the culture of Leopard People, where currency falls from the sky whenever you learn something new, everyone has their own unique spirit face, giant wasps build works of art out of detritus every morning and powerful spirits known as masquerades can be summoned if you are brave/foolish enough. Sunny and her friends must find teachers and master their juju quickly in order to take down the child-killer known as Black Hat. I’ve babbled about this book before, but it’s just so good.
While we’re on kids/teen books, there’s also the Skullduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. This is another magical-law-enforcement type deal except this time one is a Teen and the other is a skeleton. (Yeah). It’s funny, it’s dark, Valkyrie Cain is one of my favourite teen protagonists ever because she takes no shit and loves herself and spends a load of time getting buff so she can kick the crap out of bad guys. Subverts a lot of tropes and looks great doing it.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is probably the most quoted example of the genre and you can see its fingerprints on a lot of urban fantasy novels written since. Richard Mayhew reaches out to a girl in trouble and ends up falling through the cracks of the city into London Below, a maze of mythic/political territories designated by Tube stations. Worth it for the Marquis de Carabas, if nothing else.
Plus, his Sandman graphic novel series. Not exactly urban fantasy, but definitely modern magic. Focussed around Morpheus, Lord of Dream and one of the seven Endless, who are all anthropomorphic personifications of various aspects of humanity. (Death is my favourite. Death is pretty much everyone’s favourite). The first few trades are self-contained vignettes, beginning with Morpheus’ search for some of his stolen equipment. Also, my babe Lucifer is in it, and he looks a bit like David Bowie.
oh and also? graphic novel-wise? check out DC’s Hellblazer, the comic series the film and upcoming Constantine series is based on. It is about a bisexual working class British magician and the absolute fucking shambles that is his life. This series can get pretty fucking dark, however, so definitely do your research beforehand. It’s easiest to start with the Original Sins trade paperback collection, but be warned that the Newcastle arc comes with a massive trigger warning for rape.
I’ve heard good things about The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher over the years, but those good things are usually accompanied by a self-deprecating eye-roll, so make of that what you will
Author-wise, you might want to check out China Mieville? I loved The City and The City but I wasn’t fond of Kraken (it had so much potential! urban gods! giant squid cults! a Familiars Union! augh!) so he’s a bit hit and miss for me. Perdido Street Station is one of his most popular novels, a kind of grimy almost-steampunk urban fantasy set in the fictional city of New Crobuzon, where there are women with scarab-beetles for heads, spliced human/animal/machine constructs, and demons. I have not read this book, but I am definitely going to at some point. King Rat is another London-based urban fantasy novel of his that you might want to check out.
Amazon is desperate to recommend me the Felix Castor novels by Mike Carey. It keeps sending me emails with SUPERNATURAL NOIR written at the top in an effort to lure me in and I am disgustingly predictable, because it’s working. If you read these before I do, let me know what they’re like?
SO. This turned out to be a lot longer than expected but I hope this was helpful! Please drop me an ask about books any time, I will talk about books forever.