Devil Winds for Halloween

Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween

At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.

The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?

 

The Past Goes Up in Flames

Frederick Catherwood’s Drawing of Maya Ruins at Chichén Itzá

I wanted to write about the Notre Dame de Paris fire yesterday, but I held back. All I could have said at that point is, “What a horrible shame! I am completely aghast!” It needed me to sleep on he news before I was able to put the event in any perspective.

That perspective, as it comes to me now, is that our past is always and everywhere going up in flames, collapsing under the wrecking ball, or being abandoned and overgrown. The City of Los Angeles, for example,  is under the sway of greedy developers who think nothing of bulldozing our history. Much of the history of motion picture production in Hollywood is gone forever, with just a few isolated buildings such as the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters, the Lasky-DeMille Barn, and the Post 43 American Legion Theater standing out from the architectural Kleenex boxes.

Have you ever heard of the seven wonders of the ancient world? They are (or rather were) as follows:

  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt
  • The Colossus of Rhodes
  • The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • The Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt

How many of these wonders still exist? Only one, the Great Pyramid. All the others were destroyed by natural disasters and other mishaps over the centuries and millennia. All the great cathedrals of Europe are vulnerable to fires, terrorism, floods, and what have you.

Overgrown Maya Ruins at Copán, Honduras

My visits to Maya ruins in Guatemala and Honduras in January brought home to me in the most vivid way the fragility of the past. I keep thinking of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

How many other cultural landmarks will disappear during our lifetimes? I have visited Notre Dame twice and marveled at the sheer artistry and magnificence of the place. I hope that the French succeed in reconstructing the interior, the roof, and the spire that were destroyed in the conflagration.

On Fire—Again!

Firefighters Battling Flames in the Woolsey Fire

Consider this a recipe for disaster: High winds blowing from east to west, bone dry humidity, and large swaths of dry brush. The result? One of the giant fires that sweep through California destroying trees, brush, and houses. Martine and I have been sneezing all night from the accumulation of ash in the air. Tomorrow, my car will probably be covered with a thin layer of the stuff, because I am parked in a carport rather than a closed garage.

Please let me begin by assuring you that I do not live in a zone that is susceptible to brush fires. The people whose housing is threatened are, generally speaking, wealthy. Such top-drawer areas as Malibu, Bell Canyon, Calabasas, Agoura, and West Hills have been requested to evacuate their homes. Those who don’t are in danger of burning to a crisp with all their possessions.

I don’t sympathize much with the home-owners so much as I do with the poor firefighters. Combating these blazes is like working overtime in hell. In addition to the local fire departments, many prisoners and professional brush fire fighters are involved.

As many houses are destroyed will be rebuilt, paid for with insurance money. In a few years, during another drought, they will go up in flames again. And again. And again.

 

Dreaming of … London?

50327110. Tulum, QRoo.- Los voladores de Papantla y los Guerreros Mayas, dan la bienvenida a los más de dos mil turistas locales, nacionales y extranjeros, que día a día visitan la zona arqueológica, que es de un kilómetro, donde algunos prefirieren hacerlo caminando o existe a su disposición un pequeño transporte en forma de tren. NOTIMEX/FOTO/FRANCISCO GÁLVEZ/COR/ACE/

Totonac Voladores at El Tajin

Last night I had particularly vivid dreams. Was it because I had eaten watermelon before going to bed? If so, I might be in for more dreams tonight.

Martine and I were in London at a large museum. I noticed that a number of English dressed in red “Beefeater” costumes were flying in the air by their feet just like the Totonac voladores at the ruins of El Tajin in Mexico’s State of Veracruz. I mentioned to Martine that it must be a traditional English Maypole ceremony—though, God knows, the real Maypole does not involve anything quite so spectacular.

At the same time, I noticed that several large buildings in London were aflame. Since the fires were several blocks away, I didn’t particularly care. I was slightly miffed that Martine, as usual, was being too slow and meticulous about seeing all the exhibits. I, on the other hand, wanted to catch a particular train to the north.

Somewhere along the line, my desire to go was also to visit a particular bookstore. At that point, I woke up.