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Thursday, January 13, 2005

La Conchita


I didn't recognise the name at all, it was the pictures: I must have driven past La Conchita a hundred times? It sits packed in a hollow off PCH, the 101, the road we drive to Santa Barbara and other points north. A tiny town, a pretty little D-shaped town, ringed by the ocean and stunning steep cliffs. Almost by ritual my wife will point it out as we drive past, the town that had the landslide few years back, where wreckage of homes destroyed ten years ago can still be seen from the highway. Play "spot the ruin" with the kids.

When it rains here, finally, in southern California, it often pours: but even if it doesn't, even if all that happens is a drizzled mist that barely blurs your glasses, traffic will grind to a halt, cars will crash, local TV News will cry "Storm Watch!!", oil-skinned and sou'westered reporters will stand all day all night at freeway overpasses, pointing at the rain. Weathermen, giggle-eyed, able at last to play with their Doppler 2000 rain radar toys, track the cells, this season's buzzword, in continuous loop.

This year, this time, it has been different. The rains these past few weeks have been stupendous: drenching, roaring, day-and-night relentless while they lasted. An inch-and-a-half in my own back yard one night: the victory dance of six or seven inches more, carried away by a dozen small drains at last overwhelmed. They've stopped now.

Fire, Quake, Flood, Slide: the four seasons of southern California. Bound not to the run of the earth about the sun, but more it seems to the trail of dirty planetary feet through the houses of the crystal constellations? A year ago and change we were ablaze. And now a soaken-tailed El Nino brings us floods, and landslides.

And once a decade, so it seems, the mountains must fall on La Conchita. The only town where you can buy beachfront properties for a buck fifty, so the story goes. The governor visited yesterday - Arnold, Schwarzenegger - there to visit, to rally the diggers, commiserate with locals, declare an emergency to open-up State funds. I like the guy - more than I thought I would, at least - but he really, really needs to work on his patter. You can guess what he said, of course you can: "A lady here said to me, We'll be beck!" And that's the plan: to build it all again. Ready for the next one.

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