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The mountains and sea of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

As a fairly wealthy CA beach town, Santa Barbara is often idyllic.  It’s got an old mission, a Spanish/Mexican history, the sea, the mountains, and an architectural legacy and guardianship that has most of the city looking like it’s Andalusian.  That is with the exception of the grand Italian villa look-a-likes that pepper Montecito, the neighboring community favored by the Hollywood celebs. Santa Barbara has also got red tiled roofs, an abundance of botanical delights and a still mostly vital downtown that covid hit hard.

Looking over my shoulder, I can see just how attractive Santa Barbara was to me when we first moved to California.  We initially lived in a community named Thousand Oaks, referred to as Thousand Jokes my sarcastic daughters. Thousand Oaks was/is a classic conservative bedroom community of Los Angeles.  There were many subdivisions and a mall that served as a substitute downtown.  The word that comes to mind to describe it is:  STERILE.  The church goers kept a keen eye out to insure that TO (as it was lovingly referred to by its inhabitants) provided nothing that could be considered provocative or might upset the status quo.  DULL.


Wild Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara, on the other hand, hinted at having a wild streak. These were the Reagan years, so there was usually conflict around these norms and a strong undercurrent that strove to make everything “family friendly.”  Sometimes things got out of control.

I remember the first time I drove to see an annual  Summer Solstice parade in SB.  Nudity was just a part of things, as was a general rowdiness. I was immediately attracted.  Following years seemed much tamer for the parade. It was reined in. Truth be told, it’s not at all wild, although with a little strategic guidance that element might be recovered and set loose again to disrupt and delight.

Time to Leave

I knew it was time to exit TO after the first Gulf War.  Our home was the only one in our neighborhood that didn’t fly an American flag.  My body was the only one not draped in an appliqué sweatshirt sporting, you guessed it, the flag!  Eventually,I managed to convince my husband that a move to SB was feasible and desirable as well, for my mental health.

We purchased a Spanish colonial house directly across from the SB Mission and I eagerly took to my new environment.  That meant adding the Fiesta celebration to our yearly calendar.  Fiesta week is an extravaganza when you’re first introduced to the daily parade of events. The event was created in the mid 1920’s to attract tourist to SB in the summer.  I’m sure its creators didn”t give a damn about its authenticity.  Nor did celebrants.  Just provide the alcohol.  That’s kept it going in its present form for more than 90 years.

I was told immediately after moving to SB that locals in the know make sure they leave town during fiesta week.  That move is foolish and unnecessary.  I embraced the amalgam of Spanish, Mexican, and  flamenco fantasies.  Who cared if they were unrealistic? It’s California! It’s  Fiesta and it  turned the town upside down for a week.  A good thing.   I’m wondering where do the local escapees go yo bide their time?  TO??(thousand Jokes).

Looking Ahead

A few years back, I decided that Fiesta needed a contemporary infusion. To me, the celebration took itself too seriously and would welcome some well placed updating.  It would take the form of an Alternative Fiesta Event at none other than the Lobero Theater.  A quirky little MGM short film from the 1930’s reinforced the concept of a bizarre Fiesta. The film featured a Who’s Who of Hollywood Big Shots doing their best here in Santa Barbara to appear Spanish and/or Mexican. Needless to say, I loved it.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon your point of view, I failed to generate any enthusiasm for my idea of an update among the SB Fiesta power brokers with whom I shared my fantasy. The status quo was embraced.

Just to share the wonder of the film with my readers, I’ll share a few short clips from the movie, La Fiesta de Santa Barbara.  JUst look at a very young Judy Garland performing La Cucaracha with her sisters. Take a look as well at this scene with Buster Keaton and dozens of fabulous and less than fabulous dancing girls.

Maybe next year I’ll reintroduce my idea again??  Larry Keigwin, are you ready???


Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.

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