February 19, 2008

Unsatisfying Day Trip (Updated)

Yesterday, The Wife and I took a day trip to Santa Barbara. I came away from the experience unsatisfied and unrefreshed. I think I underestimated the toll that the just over 100-mile drive would take on me. I'd wanted to look aroud The Earthling, one of the last great independent bookstores -- but discovered that it was gone, gone, squeezed out of existence long ago by Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Instead, I realized that the businesses on State Street were becoming homogenized, with fewer interesting local shops and more national chains like Z-Gallerie, where we actually shopped becuase there is no such thing near us anyway. Upscale, nice shops, to be sure, but still the same ones you see in upscale malls everywhere. The only big advantage is that there aren't huge billboards and the shops are set up in nice-looking arcades with palm trees and mission-style architecture. Very pretty. And the density of the homeless population seems to have increased.

The Wife seemed to enjoy the trip, though. She did not seem to enjoy touring the mission; it seemed to me like she barely even glanced at any of the exhibits and practically sprinted through the church itself. Alas, The Wife does not enjoy a visit to a museum the way I do and I should not have been surprised that she would have zipped through the exhibits.

While the church at the mission is not a place of worship or devotion for us, it is something I found to have historic and cultural significance and I wanted to take some time to appreciate it. It occurred to me that the natives would never have seen anything as large as the building, and must have been astonished and overpowered by the Spanish settlers and priests who had it built. At the same time, particularly after first learning to communicate with the Spanish, they would have been mystified and perhaps horrified to learn the Christian gospel story, and to see the crucifix the friars would would brought with them, with the realistic-looking image of Jesus being tortured to death as the object of the Europeans' worship. The dissonance of the two cultures was something I found easier to think about while there and surrounded by the artifacts of the era and the structure itself. I also thought it was interesting that the family of Edward Ord, the famous Civil War commander, was interred there (General Ord himself is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, of course).

The Wife and I also disagreed about the weather there. I know from many years' experience that it can be cool and humid there, which it was, and I'd advised The Wife to bring something warm to wear, which she did. But she thought it was cold enough that she actually bought a scarf while we were there. As the afternoon wore on, I wished that I'd brought shorts as I would have been quite comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. My only complaint about the weather was that it was too overcast to see the islands.

By the time we came home, I was simply exhausted; my back hurt from all the driving and I was beginning to wish that we'd just stayed home. But The Wife said that she had a good time, and that made it worth the effort. And I don't feel that way this morning; at least I got to be out of the area for a little while, to be somewhere closer to the ocean and in a place where the air smells good -- the salt of the ocean air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees perfumes Santa Barbara nicely. It would be great to live there -- although prohibitively expensive. The whole area feels a lot like the Italian cities where my grandmother comes from -- a thin strip of flat land between steep mountains and the ocean, graced with palm trees and good restaurants. Well, this is not to be -- the city itself is much more crowded than The Wife and I would like, even if we could afford to buy and live there, and the suburban peripheries of Goleta and Carpinteria are every bit as expensive as the city itself, but less interesting.

Update: I realize that I really ought to have no right whatsoever to complain about taking a day trip to Santa Barbara. But it really wasn't what I remembered it as being, nor was it what I hoped it would be. I'm usually a big one on trying to take places for what they are and not for some romantic expectation of what they should be. I expected a lot of expensive import shops and clothing stores and tourist-priced places to eat on State Street. We didn't go by the college, and that was OK with me, too, but it meant that I was not really around the part of town with most of my old hangout spots, assuming that many of them have survived, either.

1 comment:

Arnie said...

We too, have thought Santa Barbara would be a beautiful place to live. But reality shows us that city crowding, traffic, homeless density, and the rest of city ills pollute even a beautiful place. The memory of Santa Barbara as it was in the 80's and early 90's will have to suffice.