Monday, October 29, 2007

Bad day for fires...

I just wanted to share a few interesting pics. My Dad took this one outside of his studio in Ventura (about 30 miles from Malibu) two weeks ago when Malibu went up in flames. I guess he wanted to show me how eerie it was- he says that in the middle of the day (a little past 2:30 pm, apparently) the sky went from a smoky gray to a dark, bloody red. It was so dark that cars had to turn on their headlights, and ash was falling everywhere. A few hours later, the fire was a little more under control and it was daytime again. His first concern was making sure that his friends in Malibu were O.K. and that nothing burned there locally; otherwise it seemed to me that he saw the fire- like many things in L.A. - as more of a spectacle and a nuisance than anything (similar to when we lived downtown and he repeatedly had to interrupt his workday to move his car because some major film or music video was being shot on our street).

The next day I got an email with "surf n burn" in the subject line, and a brief message: "Heres a few snap shots of the Malibu fire. While the fire was burning the hills the surfing was great." His photos are worth checking out.

Incidentally he wasn't the only one who found a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for recreation in spite of/thanks to the unfolding natural disaster. There's an article in the LA times about it called "Bad day for fires, great day for surfing". The last lines of the article quotes a pretty insightful ten year-old volunteer who was picking up trash on the beach: "They probably care [about the fire], in a way," Sawyer said of his fellow beachgoers. "It's just that they don't want to get too involved in it."

I don't know quite how to describe the reactions to the fire that I've felt and observed here. It's not quite indifference or apathy. Perhaps it's a kind of intentional amnesia, a way of forgetting things as they happen- yet I'm still not sure whether this would be an under- or overstatement. I think the ten year-old described it best-- what is, in my opinion, an authentic and even characteristic L.A. experience.

-Kamilah Willingham


L.A. Stories said...

I've been thinking about what Kamilah posted and how true the statement of that little boy was. I think that people don't want to get involved because it means admitting their own vulnerability to the situation. Everyone is susceptible to the disaster, and the more distant you can make yourself, the safer you feel. The “amnesia” is an important part of this, because it keeps you going year after year. In order to make it through the ordeal, I think you need to “forget” that the fires will just be coming back again next year.

A side note regarding amnesia: when my friend, who lives in the Valley went to school in Boston, she assembled a box filled with important mementos. She calls it her “fire box” and in case her house is threatened by fire (which it very likely could be), she told her mom that it was the thing she most wanted her to save. For her, there were some things that were ok to forget, but others that she was so unwilling to let go of, that she prepared for their survival in advance…an interesting way of controlling the “amnesia.”


Olga said...

Wow, some of those pictures are amazing. I was in San Diego over break and saw some similar things driving back to Claremont...What struck me about people's reactions wasn't the numbness or apathy, but the frank curiosity and excitement that I heard over the radio on our way back up. There was definitely an apocalyptic feel to our drive as we left the area of gray and fiery orange and headed over to the zone of clear skies...little did we know that L.A. was going through some of what San Diego was experiencing. But the sense that my friend and I were left with was not so much fear or despair, but fascination with how the landscape was changing, was actively remaking itself before our eyes. I definitely felt like some sort of gruesome voyeur in many ways.

-Olga Klinger