1. The Santa Ana: from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, p. 217-221
Joan Didion is the quintessence of California culture—a cosmopolitan blend of the grit of the American West and fashionable, accessible high society. Her work has spanned critical decades of cultural evolution from the eyes of an observer of all echelons of Pacifica. From Hollywood to Haight-Asbury, Didion’s incisive vignettes in the essay “Los Angeles Notebook” chronicled some of the most fabled Californian scenes.
Five portraits of events happening in Los Angeles in the 1960s constitute this essay that meanders like the Pacific Coastline. First among them is an eerie and moving autumn read that was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post under the title of “The Santa Ana.”
Native Californians will be familiar with the superstitions behind this real meteorological phenomenon that has been mythologized in pop culture and literature and shares cultural kin with other mysterious winds around the world.
When the Santa Ana is coming, says Didion, there is “some unnatural stillness” as “the baby frets” and “the maid sulks.” It’s a morbid topic in Didion’s hands with tales of murder, mayhem and a mystical kind of insanity that drives folks to act in a most bizarre fashion.
One episode is especially disturbing, invoking the kind of trepid tension that is uncharacteristic of bustling Californian life:
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 heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.
The wind we are introduced to is hot and dry, and we’re given a series of details about a particularly long Santa Ana in 1957 that lasted fourteen day and reached hurricane strength. Didion’s vivid imagery, not of nature, but of human behavior, compels us to imagine what a wind so strong, so hot and so dry does to a city like Los Angeles.
Painting a picture of rapture, Didion leaves us considering “how close to the edge we are.”
For such a dark and moody read, we need a strong and robust red. We’re recommending 2004 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon, with its origins in the chaparral of the Malibu Mountains. (For those who live in lusher climates, the chaparral is an ecosystem that is akin to scrub and brush, consisting of small, thorny bushes.)
Yet out of this drier, harsher climate comes the curious flavors of sage and wild anise that, like Didion’s prose, suggests there is more than meets the eye. With a transcendent berry note, 2004 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon still offers a sweetness, if only for a second, as the classic dry Cabernet finish and deep hue urge reflection on the violence and mystery of the Santa Ana winds.