Posted by: martinworster | October 23, 2008

135. SOCAL SPRAWL…DREAMING OF ENGLAND

Dreaming of England...

Dreaming of England...

Orange County is the text book definition of suburban sprawl. It’s funny though, as it’s not really a suburb of anywhere. Even though it’s close to Los Angeles you wouldn’t really consider it a suburb of LA, they’re two distinct entities and separate counties. Sure, some people probably work in LA and commute from Orange County up the dreaded 405 freeway – perhaps the most crowded stretch of road on the planet – to their offices. Other, rich, Angelenos will often have second homes in Orange County, waterside McMansions in Newport Beach, 10,000 square foot palaces in Laguna Beach with Ocean views, firepits, media rooms and more bathrooms than bedrooms.

But basically Orange County is a suburb of a suburb. It’s suburbia squared. The physical topography of the landscape is also replicated in the suburban, safe, closeted mental outlook of many of it’s inhabitants. Orange County is a bubble you never have to leave and many don’t. Not that that makes in any different or worst than any other region in the world.

From the white Pacific beach fringes to the foothills of the San Gabrielle Mountains, the Orange County basin, save for a few older town centres with some character (Orange, Santa Anna) is a monotonous sludge of strip malls, freeways, scrubland, low rise apartments, offices and endless concrete. I don’t mean to paint such a negative picture of the landscape but on the whole it is fairly characterless and bland. One street looks very much the same as the next, major thoroughfares lined with strip malls, every few miles looking like it’s been repeated, a suburban loop with Starbucks, Ralphs, CVS Pharmacy, Taco Bells, Home Depot, Target, Walmarts on endless shuffle. I often wonder how all these businesses stay afloat.

The coastline is always a few degrees cooler than the interior, blessed by sea breezes and the cooling effect of the sea. Head a few miles inland and it would have probably been desert if all the rivers from the North hadn’t been siphoned off to quench the massive thirst of the region. There are also some beautiful parts of Orange County. Huntington and Newport Beaches have their charm with great beaches, piers and typical So Cal beach / surf town auras. Balboa Island is cookie cutter cute. The drive down PCH towards Laguna Beach is wonderful, flanking Crystal Cove beach with pounding Pacific surf, white beaches and crumbling cliffs. In fact on this stretch of coast happens to be one of the best locations for a strip mall at Newport Coast, perched on a cliff looking out to the blue sea. Trader Joes, Banana Republic and the ubiquitous Starbucks jostle for uber-affluent customers.

I still miss and pine for the landscape of England. It is admittedly a nostlagic landscape that is fast disappearing, a mythical pastoral that exists more in my mind than in reality. Copses, dells, glens, moors, woods and vales, babbling brooks running through small hamlets, the fog of breath on a frosty November morning, the bleating of sheep wafting over from the next valley. It’s Coleridge and Wordsworth, Turner and the National Trust, red breasted Robins and country estates. It’s an old fashioned view of an England which is increasingly overcrowded and rapidly changing. There are still glimpses of it, small pockets of Albion. I like my walks in the fields around my parents house in Ridge, Hertforshire. Pheasants scampering into ancient woodland, rabbits and hares, stiles and irate farmers, horse manure and mud, overwhelming greeness and hedgerows buzzing with life in summer. I’m getting carried away with this daydream.

Orange County and Hertfordshire, two different parts of the world, impossible to compare, each with their own beauty.

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Responses

  1. im glad you mentioned Ridge, I know what wood your describing – the one with the little lake that we throw jad into. I hope you are ok, this stuff is really good, you have a natural flair for writing. Reading this reminds me of my Enlgish Literature days….

  2. thanks Milly! that’s exactly the copse I was talking about, near farmer Giles. All is good here, hope you are okay…mxx


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