Friday, January 6, 2012

From Malibu to the Mission

From Malibu to the Mission
Wednesday, January 4, 2011
On New Year’s Day I saw my Malibu Barbie at LACMA (blond ponytail, electric blue eye shadow,  a strapless black and white stripe bathing suit and cat eye sunglasses—I’d recognize her anywhere).  I learned that my childhood toys are now old enough to be museum-worthy, and realized that I was just days away from seeing the iconic beach of Barbie, Gidget, and the Beach Boys--groovy! 

Today is the big day.  We are back on the road, and living by our Vagabond rules—drive the scenic routes and avoid chain hotels and restaurants (except Starbucks).  We are hugging the coast from LA to Santa Barbara, and the first stop is Malibu, where surfers are riding the waves at every beach, even though the water seems pretty tranquil today. 

 Houses are perched precariously cliffside in the narrow strip between Route 1 and the ocean,  and movie star mansions are perched on the hillsides above.  

The road eventually turns inland, and bisects strawberry fields stretching forever in Oxnard.

It takes us all morning to drive from LA to Santa Barbara—a distance of sixty miles.  We are back in our traveling groove of life in the slow lane. 

After lunch on the patio of a local hamburger joint, we head to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786, it is the “longest continuous presence of Franciscans in the United States.”  The current church there dates to 1820, because an 1812 earthquake destroyed the original one.

As is so often the case in our travels to historic destinations, we are appalled by some of the history lessons we learn at the mission, which had the goal of converting the native Chumash Indians to Christianity.  The mission sowed the seeds of its own downfall when the missionaries (1)treated the native people as children (based on their belief in their own mental and spiritual superiority) and (2)transmitted deadly diseases to them.  

In addition to its historic significance, the Old Mission is a photographer’s paradise.  Our archive of photos from this trip grows and grows, while we spend far longer than the average visitor wandering about the mission and its tranquil gardens and grounds.  

We are staying in a gem of a hotel, The Presidio.  It is a funkily updated 1950s era Motor Court, with rooms that are all eclectically decorated with individually designed vinyl decal murals, so each has a very different personality.  Is it karma or what—this is our room—roses, roses, roses! 

The hotel was highlighted in a recent New York Times “36 Hours” feature on Santa Barbara (along with the considerably more upscale Four Seasons, with doubles starting at $425).  We feel proud of ourselves for actually remembering to pack the article and for making a reservation a day ahead of time to be sure we could get a room.

We round out our afternoon in Santa Barbara with a walk from our hotel through the historic district to the Spanish Moorish Palace style courthouse, where we have a bird’s eye view of the town from the observation deck at the top of the clock tower. 

The 1929 vintage courthouse is adorned with beautiful hand-painted tiles everywhere we look—walls, benches, floors, stairs, elevator doors, even the ceiling, which is so high and dark that photography is impossible.

I imagine that somewhere in all my many many tile pictures lie the inspirations for future quilts.

After the sun goes down, we dine on tapas, sitting at a sidewalk table warmed by a little fireplace and an overhead heater.  As we share a dessert of molten chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and both ice cream and whipped cream, we think that we have had a better day than the New York Times “36 Hours” people ever dreamed of.

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