Nancy Lemann

Nancy Lemann

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 18 1998 3:30 AM

Nancy Lemann

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       Today I fought my Californian's natural impulse to go to the mall and stayed in my office instead. I won.
       In Southern California the pinnacle of your entire existence is going to the mall. Children spend entire summers there. This is one reason why I would not like my children to grow up here.
       If they did they might have to live in the subdivisions carved into the bald hills that all have names like Vita Eterna or Olde Muirlands (the Muirlands being the newest part of La Jolla). Or Lakeside--but there is no sign of a lake. Or River View--but there is no river for miles. To get directions is difficult. All the streets have the same name. Take Sea Crest View. To Sea Crest Point. Turn on Sea Crest Lane. Go left on Sea Crest. Etc. (No sign of the sea, of course.)
       How can you tell which house is yours when you drive in? All the streets have the same name. All the houses have identical architectural designs and floor plans. Everyone has the same car (Ford Explorer/Ford Taurus). The burnished golden stucco is occasionally relieved by a bougainvillea brought in by an enterprising matron, but since these places have all been carved into the bald hills about five minutes ago, the planting is not mature, and there is the relentless North African-like sun, which can be destructive of all you have known and believed. Even the furnishings, once you get inside, are all the same. I wonder what happens to your identity in such a place. I wonder what I would feel in one.
       I am looking at a booklet advertising these homes. "Relive the romance of Italy! Authentic Tuscan Villa offers a privileged and luxurious Old World lifestyle. ... Timeless setting of serenity ... 18th century chandeliers and built-in 10 foot television and surround sound systems ..."
       I know how much they enjoyed timeless, 10-foot televisions and surround-sound systems in 18th-century Tuscany.
       The other main issue here in Southern California is "Wellness." That is, the phobia of stress. The irony always is that in a place like New York, where there is a lot of stress, no one bats an eyelash. Whereas here in paradise--but there is obviously trouble in paradise--they have the pronounced phobia of stress; yet it's not that stressful here, it's paradise, among the bougainvilleas and sunny skies 360 days a year.
       On every page of our monthly neighborhood newsletter there are ads for Wellness things. Get Counseling! scream the headlines. Now! Stop the Overwhelm! Resolve your most pressing issues. Plan and map your mental well-being. Rejuvenate your relationships! Get intuitive counseling and healing.
       The bridge to Coronado is copiously posted with suicide-counseling hot lines and pleas to not end it all. There is a beautiful train to Los Angeles called the Starlight, which goes along the coast; there are often suicides at the most bucolic oceanside spot.
       There is trouble in paradise.

Nancy Lemann is the author of Lives of the Saints, The Ritz of the Bayou, and Sportsman's Paradise. Her new novel, The Fiery Pantheon, was recently released. She lives in San Diego and is a new mother for the second time.