When the Chamsin Breaks

Israel is a strange country when it comes to weather. A tropical country, some might say – all I know is that it’s mad-as-a-hatter weather over here. Near the ocean, where I live, it could be hotter than hell, but up in the hills of Jerusalem it’ll be cool at night, the desert not far from those hills will be even cooler, the mountain in the North will be covered in snow and the border in the South will be even warmer than the ocean but dry.

Yesterday and today we had what is called a “chamsin” here on the coast. A chamsin is a few days when the weather is perceptibly hotter than normal, usually quite dry, with sandy winds that blow dust into the houses. Everyone leaves their windows open in the hope of coaxing a non-existent breeze in, and the wardrobe changes appropriately to tank tops, shorts and sandals. In Los Angeles, this weather would be called “earthquake weather” because there is an unsettling quality to it – all day, it feels as if something is about to snap, as if the air cannot stand any more of the still and silent electricity that seems to crackle in it.

Then evening comes along. The first evening of a chamsin might be just as hot and horrid as the day was. The second night might be the same, making people toss and turn in their sweat-soaked sheets as they try to rest. But eventually, the chamsin breaks, as it did tonight. When it does, it’s as if the world breathes a sigh of relief – there, feel that breeze? It’s over, at least for a few more hours. There’s air that doesn’t sting anymore, the windows are open for a reason now, and you can finally get some sleep.

Santa Ana

A Los-Angeles girl at heart and soul in many ways, there are certain feelings and scents and types of weather that I can identify as being utterly LA-ish, even though I have no good reason to know or understand LA weather to such an extent. For instance, there is a wind blowing outside my window right now – a warm wind, carrying with it dust and grit and a dryness that makes you need to lick your lips every few seconds.

This sort of wind is called a “Santa Ana” wind, because that’s the sort of wind that flows through that area in California. It’s a desert wind, and there’s something infinitely creepy about feeling it on one’s face at midnight in January. It is earthquake weather – it feels as if the earth is about to tear open, as if all the dogs are going to start becoming giddy soon, feeling the disaster coming on. It feels as if the sky will break open and sandy, dirty rain will fall, even though there are no clouds to speak of.

It is the sort of night that is build for unconventional horror stories, a night where you know you won’t be able to fall asleep because the warm air will prevent you being comfortable in your quilt. Moreover, the wind will be moaning its dreadful sound and making the dry, dead leaves shake like death rattles. The wind brings to mind graveyards in summer nights, endless deserts and no water or sustenance, haunted houses and funerals. It is unpleasant, and yet it still smells and sounds like a bit of home to me, a bit of LA transferred to this tiny country.

Storm

The wind has been building up for hours – howling and moaning and shaking the trees free of their leaves. A mass of grey clouds, impossible to see in the dark night sky, sits above everything, threatening to release more than the drizzle that has been making the world outside a wet, slippery place.

Then, suddenly, there is that flash. So bright, so sudden, like an enormous camera from up above taking a picture of this glorious, wild scene of winter. The lightning flashes quickly, piercing through eyelids and warning the sleepers in their warm beds and toasty homes of what is to come. The lightning is so quick that no-one’s really sure if it was really lightning or perhaps just a strange light coming from something else outside.

But there is no mistaking what the bright, almost audible crack of light was when the thunder roles in. At first, it rolls in softly, like the tires of a car crunching on a gravelly driveway. Next time the lighting comes though, the rumble of the thunder sounds closer, more threatening. Finally, as the storm reaches its peek, the thunder cracks loudly, as if something were whipping the storm into a wild frenzy, the wind stronger than ever and the rain and hail pounding down on any unlucky souls who happen to be outside.

The sleepers in their warm blankets roll over and smile at the loud noises, feeling secure and peaceful in their beds. Or sometimes they quake with fear, even knowing that they are perfectly safe. The storm outside doesn’t care though for what the people think of it – it will rage and billow and cover the world with wet until it calms, seemingly of its own accord, and goes to sleep itself.

Wind

Wind whispers through the small crack between the window and the wall and enters the warmly lit apartment. It skips all over the kitchen chairs, startling the cats, and cackles with merriment as it passes the whirring refrigerator. The wind plays up and down through the whole kitchen, brushing the coffee mugs, the kettle, the toaster. It moves on into the open living room, investigating the television and blowing dust into it and making the leaves of the plants sway slightly as it brushes them.

The wind keeps going and moving and flowing through the house, shying away from the hot heater and making odd noises as it rattles the doors in their frames. It soon reaches the cold bathrooms, and leaps up the walls to fill in the very corners with it’s cool cruelty. It brushes the cold taps and dances across the mirror.

Eventually the wind reaches the only room with any noise in the house, just a second or two after it began its investigation of the place. It cools the face of the teenage girl in her room, reminding her that she is alone in the house, alone apart from the kittens and the wind. The wind ruffles her hair and then escapes through the window behind her. It has learned a mood, a house, a person, a home, all in the space of a few moments, and it will keep darting across the many houses and apartments, and will keep gathering emotions, feelings, sights and sounds.