Our worst powercut was during the Chicago blizzard last February, when people panic-bought bread and milk. Despite four feet of snow we had been dug out of our home by our friendly snow removal company by three in the afternoon. The power, however, was off for 14 hours, which meant all the food had to pass the sniff test before being consumed, and we were about to have to deploy the sniff test on each other too – we have well water so rely on electricity to pump it. So no showers. How could we have survived?! (Actually, I was more worried about what we were going to drink, but we had a frozen lake at the bottom of the garden as a last resort! And lots of snow.)
San Diego is an interesting place. It’s sort of American but really Californian. The Californians are half tribal/Mexican, half Spanish, and the place definitely has a different style. We visited the Old Town today, which is more of a monument to the past with tourist stalls selling “antique” pottery and ponchos. It’s based around the original town square of the first settlement here and dates back to the 1820s in spirit, but not quite in reality. It looks impressive and authentic and, for a moment, I thought my historic needs could be satiated. But not quite. It is mostly rebuilt and remodeled and signs discreetly tell you about the history of how it was, rather than how it is. Still at least I had the chance to peak into the past. It’s so close to living memory it’s almost tangible. But to Americans it’s something they can’t get their head around. And why should they? Just 190 years ago there was nothing here. Not even trees. The Kumeyaay had moved along the river’s edge for centuries, upping sticks when natural resources ran out, only returning when the flora had grown back. Then the Spanish staked its claim at the end of the 18th century, and then it was Mexico’s turn to look after the city after its independence from Spain in 1821. Finally the area fell into American hands in 1846 when the United States declared war on Mexico. The gold rush of 1850s sucked people in from all over the country, chancing their luck; the Vegas of the 19th century. But it was still a small town.
Today, San Diego is sprawling. It’s doesn’t have to huge city towers of many American cities, but the Spanish villas cover a large area of the coastal lands. It’s pretty, it’s vibrant and all of a sudden trees have popped up all over the place.
It’s very dark now, and the power still has not been restored. I can see one bonfire and the headlights of a few cars. But I think I might retire for the night before something unseen decides to take a bath in my wine. Fingers crossed we don’t have to deploy to sniff test tomorrow morning. The darkness seems an apt place to close this American chapter. The bright light of the morning will have Arabian promise.