I’ve become defensive & protective of this new city of mine, in every way. When I say I live in LA, and I see people make that face, that very same face I used to make, I’m quick to say, “No, I felt that way, too, but now I live here and there’s so much more to this place.”
I made a comment about Fall a week or two ago, something about it starting to feel like Fall or that I couldn’t wait until Fall, and every single person I know jumped on me and said something about how Los Angeles – Southern California, even – doesn’t have “Fall.”
Well, I can’t speak for the rest of SoCal, but as for LA…
I picked up a copy of Los Angeles Magazine last night, because the cover boasted about an article, an Asian Food Lover’s Guide to LA. (There’s a place I’m now dying to try that makes steamed pumpkin & shrimp dumplings.)
In any case, the first thing I read was the Letter from the Editor, on the second page. I read it aloud to Hank, puncuated by lots of “YEAH! See? And people say we don’t have weather… grumble grumble.”
Of all the clichés applied to Los Angeles—and I do think we’re hit with more than most cities—the claim that we have “no weather” strikes me as the most risible. What people mean, of course, is that because we don’t experience great fluctuations in climate, L.A.’s seasons are indistinguishable, our falls blurring into our winters, our springs into our summers. It’s true that compared with much of the country, our seasons are subtler. L.A. autumns are not marked by leaves dropping to the ground; L.A. winters are not defined by snow and ice. But to say we have no seasons is wrong. We have jacarandas bursting out purple in May and June, their blossoms, sticky and electric, blanketing the ground. In early summer we have fog—which for some reason Angelenos refer to as “the marine layer,” stripping it of all Sherlock Holmes romance. The fog wraps around coastal neighborhoods and then drifts eastward, sometimes getting trapped in the valleys before burning off. Driving along the 134 toward Pasadena on certain mornings, you can find yourself floating above the fog as it envelops Eagle Rock. For a moment, you can trick yourself into thinking it’s cloud cover and you’re at 10,000 feet. Journalist Carey McWilliams, in his essential account of Los Angeles, Southern California: An Island on the Land, describes the “false spring” of December, when roses and camellias erupt in color and the air takes on a crisp clarity. December is the necessary pause before the storms of January, February, and March, when the rains can come down in buckets, causing mud slides and flash floods. This is the season nobody talks about—neither the boosters nor the outsiders—because it doesn’t conform to the popular idea of Los Angeles.
Then there are the Santa Anas, the weather phenomenon most associated with the city. Raymond Chandler’s famous “Red Wind,” the Santa Anas embody all that is dark and uncontrollable and isolating about L.A. Coming off the desert, they are hot and eerie, turning paradise upside down. Until I read “The Burning Wind,” senior editor Dave Gardetta’s piece in this issue, I would have told you that Santa Ana season extends from October to March. But like much of what we thought we knew about the Santa Anas, this is wrong. To Dave’s surprise, for a weather event that everyone in L.A. can recognize, meteorologists have no agreed-on definition of a Santa Ana. Yes, the winds generally run from fall to spring, but there’s mounting evidence that they are starting to occur year-round. What we do know is that the Santa Anas are synonymous with wildfires—that scorching winds and dry hillsides are an apocalyptic combination. We also know that the Santa Anas are a principal reason why climate patterns in the Los Angeles basin are so unpredictable, which may explain why we have—in the view of meteorologists—one of the most varied climates on Earth. No weather, indeed.
So, go ahead. Tell me again that we don’t have weather here.