Letter: There are those who find it quite exciting when the earth moves

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have received a number of solicitous calls from friends in the UK, worried that I might be buried under a fallen freeway or dying of typhoid in my shattered, burnt out condo. Let me reassure you all.

Personally, I like earthquakes. The sudden, shocking jolting of the earth is actually kind of sexy. It comes roaring out of the darkness in the hours of deepest sleep, a thing of such impartial fury, a spectre out of the dreamworld crossing over into wild-eyed wakefulness like something huge and irresistible getting into your bed. There is no moon, every light is out, the darkness is total. Everywhere glass is smashing, cupboards are emptying. Outside there is the sound of falling masonry and the awesome roar of the earth moving, as tons of rock grind together.

And then an eerie silence, slowly broken by the screaming of the neighbours you're just about to meet for the first time and hundreds of car alarms all going off at once. The naked run around in circles, and the frenzied hunt for torches in the blackness. Children cry, dogs bark. You can't buy that kind of excitement.

This is not to make light of the cost of a few seconds of fun. The most tragic sights are, as always, in the poorer areas of the city, where recent immigrants from Central America and Armenia have moved out on to the sidewalk: whole families surrounded by their sofas and pets.

In LA, a city in a desert, artificially sustained by water that falls hundreds of miles away, the intercession of nature scares people on the most profound level. No matter how concerned we are about CFCs, despite all our best recycling intentions, Nature just doesn't care. It doesn't even know we're here. Despite our air-conditioning and every miracle of modern medicine, an earthquake will, in a few seconds, not just make you feel hopelessly small and fragile, but continue to torment for days after with little niggling aftershocks, just enough to make the heart jump and the body stiffen. It is a very shrewd and clinical form of psychological torture.

But hey] this is California, and the sun is shining. Pretty soon those twin pillars of the American holiday swing into gear; the barbecue and an orgy of misinformed television news.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and already from my neighbours here in the largely black Crenshaw district, I hear whispers of a new urban myth developing: Reverend King, looking out over the injustices and poverty here in the land of the free some 30 years after his death, was rolling in his grave.

Yours,

MATTHEW MAXWELL

Los Angeles,

California

18 January

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