Saturday, December 01, 2007

Summer in Malibu

Summer in Malibu

Summer in Malibu (1999)

Nine campers view photos
of longboarders and swells of smoke.
Hot Hub said industry crosstalk.
Click the link to flame on and off

premises. Dry weather, a tourist,
checks in and tan lines glow
white hot. Wet suits curdle. Surfers
crawl a foam floor nosing

wipe out exits. The coast highway
burbles plastic, cut by lasers.
Santa Ana blew back in from Texas
till stars flared on hillsides.

~/~

Hot Property

Firefighters fighting the Malibu fire in Carbon Canyon, 2007

Photograph by Adam Housely

From "Let Malibu Burn: A Political History of the Fire Coast" by Mike Davis:

Fire in Malibu has a relentless, staccato rhythm. The rugged coastline is scourged by a large fire, on average, every two and a half years, and at least once a decade a blaze in the chaparral grows into a terrifying firestorm consuming hundreds of homes in an inexorable march across the mountains to the sea. In one week last month, 10 homes and 14,000 acres of brush went up in smoke.

[...]

From the very beginning, fire has defined Malibu in the American imagination. Sailing northward from San Pedro to Santa Barbara in 1835, Richard Henry Dana described (in Two Years Before the Mast) a vast blaze along the coast of Jose Tapia's Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) Spanish prohibition of the Chumash and Gabrielino Indians' practice of annual burning, mountain infernos repeatedly menaced the Malibu area throughout the 19th century. During the boom of the late 1880s, the entire ex-Tapia latifundium was sold at $10 per acre to the Boston Brahmin millionaire Frederick Rindge. In his memoirs, Rindge described his unceasing battles against squatters, rustlers and, above all, recurrent wildfire. The great fire of 1903, which raced from Calabasas to the sea in a few hours, incinerated Rindge's dream ranch in Malibu Canyon and forced him to move to Los Angeles, where he died in 1905.

[...]

While county crews were still racing to the scene, the implacably advancing fire ambushed its first victims at a ranch a few hundred yards downhill from the water tanks. Miscalculating the fire's velocity, residents Ron Mass and Duncan Gibbins foolishly attempted to defend their homes with a garden hose. They recognized their mistake almost immediately, but it was too late. Mass jumped into his Jeep, but the fire caught him before he could get out of the driveway. Hideously burned, he managed to stagger to the edge of Old Topanga, where firefighters saw him, his blistered arms "outstretched like a scarecrow." British screenwriter Gibbins, meanwhile, had dashed back to rescue his cat. He ran right into the fire's deadly thermal pulse. It charred 95 percent of his body. Paramedics later discovered him, barely conscious, in the ranch's swimming pool. "'I don't want to die,' he said over and over," recounted the Times. "Smoke poured from his mouth, and he talked in the terrible high-pitched squeal of a man with lungs scorched beyond repair." (Gibbins died later in the hospital, but Mass survived his third-degree burns.)

[...]

Malibu at dusk was a surreal borderland between carnival and catastrophe. Nonchalant crowds played video games on the pier while television news helicopters hovered overhead like noisy vultures and the Coast Guard cutter Conifer stood offshore, ready to evacuate residents. Beneath the flaming hills, the Pacific Coast Highway was paralyzed by a hopeless tangle of arriving fire trucks and fleeing Bentleys, Porsches and Jeep Cherokees. Hundreds more locals trekked out on horseback, by bike or on foot. A few escaped on skates. Three hundred Sheriff's deputies were brought in to guard against looting. The chaotic exodus was oddly equalizing: panicky movie stars mingled with frantic commoners. Confronted once again with its a destiny as a fire coast, Malibu replied in the vernacular. "This is hell, dude," one resident told the Times. "I'm expecting to see Satan come out any time now."

Although today's featured image was made in 1999, the firestorm cycle returned in 2003 and again just last month to wash through Malibu's hills and canyons like a brimstone heavy.

There is nothing wrong with making beautiful fractals -- or engaging in art for art's sake. But like all good art, fractals can and should travel other roads not taken -- political-social-cultural expression, mirrors to nature, and humor (including sarcasm and irony).

Or historical documentation -- which, at least for today, burns the most fiercely.

~/~

Original poem, 2007. Image originally made in Sterling-ware and post-processed until blowback produced a blue screen of death.

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1 comment:

Dr. Mike said...

Scraps

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Egobend, Mindwarp: at that intersection, creativity sets fire to the faggots that have been knotted and bound in bundles hauled from Irish Pub basements. Due to the sodden grackle festering within those brittle sticks, it takes some time for bracken to burn, smoldering like wet farts from an adjoining Nuclear Power plant.

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Literature worships at the altars of vampires, famous undead whose beautiful words suck the lifeblood from unsuspecting readers, the public, the unwashed masses prostrate before parades of military brass, sabers drawn, marching in formation enraptured by the band music.

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Trauma is mocked by shock and withdrawal. The collective brain of the ant farm coalesce against whoever may be outed as alien. After planes brought down the twin towers, everybody's waiting for dirty bombs to nuke one of our major cities, and then for winds to carry the radiation into the heartland and south.

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Needless forays into the hybrid duality of computer programming always is searching for a third gender, a way to dismantle the binary yin/yang, war and peace, defusing the recalcitrant cycle of rape and murder, as if there were dimensions beyond the third, named "unreal" by an imagination that thrives on repeating "as if," "as if."

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If anybody stops shopping, the whole economy tanks. There are never enough babies for disposable diapers. There are never enough trees for writers. The more chairs there are in the room, the easier it is to see who has gone missing. We are always trying to fill the empty spaces with more and more objects, as if they could help us remember our heritage.

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Failure is what the education system is built upon. Students fail, learn from failure, and try again. Too often, however, nobody bothers. Aim for the lowest common denominator, take grades, and average them all together. Average is all you need to pass, anyway. In this country anybody can become a brain surgeon.

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We celebrate compromise as a patriotic rallying cry to assuage factions and move social reform forward, dragging its slovenly belly across the rubble of civil wars. Choosing between nuclear and coal, which offers less pollution? Among third world nations raped for their natural resources, which better powers our X-Box or orgone levels? There is no middle ground in an earthquake.

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No matter how hard they try, bears cannot become bees. The honey they crave has become extinct because of cell phones. When network chatter increases to a suspicious level, defense systems are raised to a code orange. Nobody knows who isn't listening in or what syntactical garbage might not be mistaken as fatwa. Anybody with a lisp could be redacted tomorrow.

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Church socials often collapse into a quilting bee, patchy at best, sending whoever gossips into stitches. The ones who have not learned how to forgive themselves take their guilt out on everybody else. Adults, separated from their children, become children again. There is never enough music or love to cure these people of their envy. When grandparents no longer recognize us, we know it is time for bed.

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Sisters unite in their desire to become thoroughbred horses. They resist any coercion from their parents, proud of their flanks and haughty whinny. They suffer from brain aneurisms, arthritis in the joints, and saddle burrs. Spurred on to victory, there is no race they cannot win, or so everyone has been told. Their cousins, three times removed, are miles gloriousus.

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