Thursday, January 17, 2008

Isherwood On The Palisades

Christopher Isherwood's exquisite description of our next-door neighborhood the Pacific Palisades in his book A Single Man:
The utopian dream was of a subtropical English village with Montmartre manners; a Little Good Place where you could paint a bit, write a bit, and drink lots. [Locals] saw themselves as rear-guard individualists, making a last-ditch stand against the twentieth century. They gave thanks loudly from morn till eve that they had escaped the commercialism of the city. They were tacky and cheerful and defiantly bohemian, tirelessly inquisitive about each other's doings, at least it was fists and bottles and furniture, not lawyers. Most of them were lucky to have died before the Great Change.

The Change began in the late forties, when the World War Two vets came swarming out of the East with their just-married wives, in search of new and better breeding grounds in the sunny Southland, which had been their last nostalgic glimpse of home before they shipped out to the Pacific. And what better breeding ground than a hillside neighborhood like this one, only five minutes' walk from the beach and with no through traffic to decimate the future tots? So, one by one, the cottages which used to reek of bathtub gin and reverberate with the peotry of Hart Crane had fallen to the occupying army of Coke-drinking television watchers.

The vets themselves, no doubt, would have adjusted pretty well to the original bohemian utopia; maybe some of them would even have taken to painting or writing between hangovers. But their wives explained to them, right from the start and in the very clearest language, that breeding and bohemianism do not mix. For breeding you need a steady job, you need a mortgage, you need credit, you need insurance. And you don't dare die, either, until the family's future is provided for.
How better to describe the morphing of the Palisades and Malibu from bohemian communities into exclusive enclaves -- and that of American society in general?