In 1942 Alfred Hitchcock recruited the author of Our Town, Thornton Wilder, to write the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt, an innocence-versus-evil thriller set in an ‘idyllic American town’. After considering various candidates, Hitchcock and Wilder selected Santa Rosa, a picturesque agricultural community of 13,000 people, 55 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. The following year, Santa Rosa was introduced to millions of filmgoers in a series of establishing shots that began with aerial views of its pretty countryside and ‘all-American’ downtown. Wartime restrictions had precluded set-building and the exterior locations were all real, but it was difficult to believe that sunny Santa Rosa hadn’t been confected by Norman Rockwell on a Hollywood back lot. Seventy-five years later, we contemplate another aerial view, this time of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighbourhood. The scene, a thousand homes incinerated to their foundations, resembles the apocalypse Kim Jong-un keeps promising to bring to America.
Mike Davis on California burning (LRB, 15 November 2007): The loss of more than 90 per cent of Southern California’s agricultural buffer zone is the principal if seldom mentioned reason wildfires increasingly incinerate such spectacular swathes of luxury real estate. It’s true that other ingredients – La Niña droughts, fire suppression (which sponsors the accumulation of fuel), bark beetle infestations and probably global warming – contribute to the annual infernos that have become as predictable as Guy Fawkes bonfires. But what makes us most vulnerable is the abruptness of what is called the ‘wildland-urban interface’, where real estate collides with fire ecology. And castles without their glacises are not very defensible.
Like Jenny Diski, I was half hoping that the Rapture would arrive as advertised. Unlike her, I spent Judgment Day in Oakland, California, just a few miles from Harold Camping's radio ministry. When the day came and went I drove out there, though there's nothing really to see.
A few years ago a masseur I visited from time to time, a very able, very gay old German hippie said to me as I made ready to leave: ‘Don’t vait so long unless next time you come Schwarzenegger will be president and there’ll be tanks in zuh streets.’ Wolf, the masseur, has since retired and, as of the other day, so has Schwarzenegger, at least in his role as governor of California. I’m of at least two minds about his going, but I suspect I’ll miss him. He brought a particular glamour to the drab corridors of Sacramento, the sleepy capitol he commuted to by jet from Los Angeles as seldom as possible. I don’t blame him, really. Sacramento is a bit of a dump and the former governor is very LA: swept-back ’do, swept-back face, with that peculiar sheen the flesh gets when tugged in that direction; the big cigars and the shiny suits with the shoulders bloused out to accommodate his outsized pecs and lats and assorted ’ceps; the fleet of Humvees; the A-list social set, the Sunday Harley runs up the coast with James Cameron and the lads... Have you ever been to Sacramento?
Only question asked by immigration official at LAX: 'Did you enjoy having Dennis Quaid on your flight?'
The trouble with living a bizarre life is that you've got a lot to live up to when you're no longer living. In that sense, Michael Jackson has got off to quite a good start. First, he dies at home surrounded by strange medical equipment and children's toys. Second, there's a doctor standing nearby. Most people, if they're in danger of dying, wouldn't mind having a doctor to hand, but in the case of bizarre celebrities the presence of a doctor doesn't always guarantee their safety. The opposite, in fact. The doctor is very often there, allegedly, to aid the process of premature oblivion. Let's face it: Michael was never going to fall asleep one day in the TV room of the Sunshine Inn, after a few years of forgetfulness and a dinner of prunes. I always thought it more likely he would die in outer space, or underwater, in a restless bid to discover Atlantis.