Sunday, May 5, 2013

Letter from America

Happiness is a warm beach
As we drove over the hill, white smoke was billowing out to sea. Or rather ocean. 

Our American friends laugh when I describe the Pacific Ocean as the sea. They scoff when I mispronounce their streets: Sunset Boo-le-vard, rather than buller-vard. I even mispronounce their city: Los Angelees, to rhyme with peas. 

“It’s Los Angeliss, to rhyme with hiss,” says Jo.

We’re here for our annual visit to friends and family. It’s turned out to be fortuitous timing, though not by design. 

Using British Airways air miles, getting three seats on the same plane was a nightmare. 

“See how far your Avios points can take you,” urges the website. 

They mean Entebbe or Tripoli. The earliest they could do Los Angeles was November. 

But we were going stir crazy in the endless winter, so I rang BA every day for a month and eventually pieced together an itinerary of sorts – three of us on different planes – and then paid a fortune to change each ticket so we could travel together. 

Thus British Airways determined the dates of our trip, and by chance they coincided with my brother-in-law’s wedding, in the new Nobu restaurant, overlooking Malibu pier.

Wife In The Sun

Dolphins were diving in big circles off the beach and the weather was glorious. California’s sunshine lifestyle is intoxicating. 

Izzy has never been so happy, playing with her American cousins. So, in a moment of madness, Jo and I went fantasy househunting. 

It took us north of the city, towards Camarillo. We found a house on top of a hill, from where you could see forever. With acres of garden, an ocean-sized pool and a kitchen as big as a house, it cost less than our farmhouse in Northumberland. 

“Do you get many fires here?” I asked the agent, looking at the dry brushwood around the property. 

“No, we’re lucky,” he said, “We have the sea breezes”. 

Not this week they didn’t. 24 hours later the agent rang. 

“It was lucky we didn’t leave it a day later,” he said, “that place is covered in smoke and ash now.” 

Every owner is responsible for clearing the land within 100 feet of their home. Sometimes it’s not enough. Carried on the Santa Ana desert winds, the wildfires jumped the Pacific Coast Highway, and ran right down to the sea. Sorry, ocean. 

It’s all just a desert really, this fiction that is Los Angeles. There would be no gardens, palm trees or pink mansions, nothing but burnt brushwood, were it not for the water carried hundreds of miles over the mountains in the East. 

But it’s a beautiful fiction. The air is perfumed with sweet philadelphus and summer jasmine. And optimism abounds. 

You can sense it in the coffee shops: a collective sigh of relief that, for many, the recession is nearly over, and life is on the rebound. Obama’s policy of regenerating rather than slashing is working, and so are Americans. 176,000 new jobs were created last month and the unemployment rate is down to its lowest for four years. While we in Britain shiver in the neverending winter of Osborne’s disastrously deep cuts, America is finally growing. 

It’s reflected in property sales. “If you’re buying, you’ll have to move quick,” warned the agent. 

It’s a seller’s market in the television industry too. In the UK, it takes months to arrange meetings with junior commissioning editors, who waffle on about network needs and how BBC2 really just needs a replacement for Masterchef. 

This week, with 24 hours’ notice, I got a meeting with the president of one of the big networks, who sat me in his huge office with his entire development team and fed me chocolate cake while I pitched an idea and showed a little video we’d made in Newcastle. 

“I love it, let’s develop it together,” he said. 

As a result, I’ll be going back to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks, and this time the network will be paying, so I won’t have to use air miles. Who knows, maybe our househunting wasn’t such fantasy after all. 

Or perhaps, like the California wildfires, the president’s enthusiasm for our idea will be extinguished by the time we get home.

(Don't you) Wish You Were Here!

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