As all this blowing continues to tear shingles off roofs, branches off trees, and trees off their earthy moorings altogether, people have been irresistibly drawn to quoting Raymond Chandler’s and Joan Didion’s famous musings on our devil winds.
With Chandler it’s the opening to his story, Red Wind:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that 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. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
With Didion, most just reference a short snippet of her writing on the subject, specifically the passage that begins, “…Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse…”
But for your reading pleasure (while you and your house are, I hope, staying safe) here’s the whole of the over-the-top and glorious Santa Ana riff that opens Didion’s essay, “Los Angeles Notebook,” from her 1968 book Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
(By the way, if you live in LA, I am of the opinion that you really should have that book somewhere in your house, just in case it’s needed, sort of like an extra flashlight of the spirit. Really.)
Anyway, here’s Joan.
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.