Friday, December 30, 2011

Messing About in Boats

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
                                         from Kenneth Grahame's  The Wind in the Willows
I can relate to Water Rat.  Boats (the little kind) can take you to those magical places like isolated bays, bird sanctuaries, long, windy rivers and island grottoes.  Or they can take you no place at all.  Simply anchored off a Caribbean island for a day or two--long enough to reread The Wind in the Willows is my kind of living!

"In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter.  Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it.  Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Resort Retort

Friends in Santa Barbara just don't get "resort"--the springlike clothes that pop up in stores this time of year.  It doesn't make much sense to me either.  We can wear shorts and flip flops pretty much all year long.  I don't mean to rub it in, but we took Mimi to the beach on Christmas Day, it was so warm!
But for my Kansas family and New York friends, a dead-of-winter vacation is de rigueur.  The freezing cold winters are brutal and long, long, long!  They watch Travelocity for cheap fares to Cancun or Barbados and if they find one, trust me, it's hasta la vista, baby.  I'm outta here!  So it's nice to be able to find a strapless dress amid all the puffer coats when the holidays are over.
I did go to the Virgin Islands one December, but I ended up wearing only a swimsuit the entire two weeks I was down there.  I think I wrapped a towel around my waist when I ventured ashore for a pina colada. I, too, had bought some new clothes to wear but they remained in my duffel bag, tags still on.   So are resort clothes really necessary?
My travel buddy and I are actually hatching another plan.  We want to take bicycles via ferries all the way from Florida to the tip of South America.  We are starting to collect info and, of course, it's always fun to think about what we're going to take in the tiny backpack we'll each have.  For me, it's pretty much a couple of swimsuits, a pair of shorts, a toothbrush and a snorkel.  Hasta la vista, baby!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pajama Yin and Yang

Every year before Christmas I make a trip to the Macy's men's department to buy flannel pajamas--one for me and one for my significant other.
Mimi, on the other hand, prefers to wear my beautiful silk nightgowns and robes, preferably vintage, all year long.  She's trying to convince me I can wear them even in December.  "Just add a cashmere sweater," she says.

"You know," my buddy comments, "You really ought to listen to her more!"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission Park Ruins

Our mission is the Number One tourist destination for anyone visiting Santa Barbara.  I'm not just biased because I live here.   It is called "Queen of the Missions" for a reason; the most significant being it is the only California mission that has been in continuous use since it was built in 1786.  It is also the most beautiful.  One of the Franciscan padres brought a book on Roman architecture with him so the church resembles an ancient Latin temple.
However, what tourists miss is the park across the street, and for any history buff, it is a fascinating glimpse into the "golden age" of mission life.  The missions did not consist of a church building only, but contained acres of land and housing for the native people.  In Santa Barbara, the Chumash lived in 250 adobe homes.  They grew wheat, corn, barley and beans.  There were thousands of cattle, sheep, and hogs to tend.  The padres taught them to cut stone, burn bricks and make mortar.  Their work can be seen in the ruins of the aqueduct, an incredible feat of engineering.  Water came from a dammed creek above the mission and was carried by a stone aqueduct to a storage basin below.  Segments of this system and the upper and lower reservoirs still exist.
Upper Reservoir
There are also ruins of a tannery, a grist mill, a jailhouse and filter house and broken segments of the aqueduct line the path through the park.  I had the entire park to myself yesterday.  Many locals don't even know this place exists!

The Santa Barbara mission thrived until the secularization in the mid 1800's.  The Indians were placed under civil jurisdiction and no longer protected by the church.  Many of the missions were abandoned during this time.  However, in Santa Barbara one of the local priests was politically savvy and had himself appointed as administrator and was able to continue using the mission until 1865 when it was once again returned to the church by Abraham Lincoln.  Consequently, the Santa Barbara Mission today is an important archive for books and documents.  Its library is the oldest in the state.
Grist Mill Ruins
Jailhouse Ruins
Returning to the Mission across the street, you can see the intact remains of the Lavanderia, which was built in 1808.  Water poured in from the aqueduct and the mission inhabitants were able to wash their clothes here.  I love the spouts at each end.  The south spout is a mountain lion and the north one, a bear.
I'll leave you with a quote from my trusty old Thompson and West book, 1883, "History of Santa Barbara County."

The fountains of clear water, bursting and spouting among the shrubbery and fruit-laden trees, gave the Indian a more exalted idea of the value of civilization than any sermon or homily, and the stores of grain and meat formed a strong inducement to forego the precarious freedom and starvation of the mountains and adopt the religion of the friars.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Mission Creche

"Mom, where's the baby Jesus?"

"When was Jesus born?"


"Well, it's not Christmas, is it?  He hasn't been born yet."


I couldn't help but laugh when I overheard this conversation at the Santa Barbara Mission's creche.  Hadn't I had the exact same conversation twenty odd years ago with my own two sons?  It's become one of those lessons mothers everywhere teach their children this time of year.  Life can become a little frantic.  Those wish lists for Santa become a little too long.  We begin to worry our adorable, but spoiled kids, are getting the wrong message. 
Well, way back in 1224 in the little Italian town of Greccio, St. Francis of Assisi began to worry about this, too.  The nativity scenes in the churches were coated with silver, gold and jewels.  The people were losing the original message--that Jesus was born in a humble stable.  He asked a local farmer to bring some hay, an ox,
and a donkey to a shallow cave on the edge of town where he set up a manger.  He said Midnight Mass there by candlelight and acted out the story.    I can only imagine how enchanting this must have been.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Canopy of Butterflies

Last Saturday when the sun finally broke through the clouds and the temperature soared to 68 degrees, I jumped into my car and drove to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve in Goleta.  It meant the Monarchs would be leaving their clusters.  They refuse to fly in cold weather!
Thousands upon thousands of these beautiful creatures "overwinter" in this tiny grove of Eucalyptus trees.  Our temperate climate, along with an ample supply of water and nectar, makes it a perfect habitat for them.  Thankfully, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has preserved this site for their use.  The butterflies begin to arrive in October and don't leave until the Spring when it is once again warm enough to migrate east toward the Rocky Mountains.
I walked the well-maintained trail to the grove and found a log to sit on.  I looked up and watched the show.  A few brave butterflies left their clusters and then more and more until the whole sky was one giant canopy of  orange Monarchs.  This is nature at its most glorious.  Pure magic!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Old Basilica
New Basilica
Of all the sacred destinations in the world, the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most famous.  The iconic image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is recognized worldwide.   I find it interesting that it was in the month of December in 1531 that Juan Diego saw the vision of Mary.  She told him to build a church on the very spot she was standing.  The bishop was skeptical and asked him for proof.  He went back to the site and the vision appeared again, this time leading him to some roses that had miraculously bloomed in winter. (Sound familiar?)   He placed the roses in his apron and returned them to the bishop.  When the bishop took the roses he found Mary's imprint on Diego's apron. 

The Catholic Church could not stop the rumors of the miracle and natives poured into Mexico City to worship at the little chapel that had been built on the site.  The old basilica was completed in 1709, and Juan Diego was beatified by the Pope himself in 1990 at the new church.

   My traveling buddy and I climbed the steps to the shrine along with hundreds of other pilgrims.  A few of them were climbing the entire pathway on their knees.  Witnessing such events of intense devotion, I feel pangs of jealousy.  Why can't I believe in miracles?  If I were to tell these people that the image was painted; that the church built the basilica on the site of an ancient temple of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin;  that they borrowed the myth of virgin birth to make conversion to Christianity easier, they would simply not listen.  And who am I to scoff at such blind faith?  Praying is a way to comfort a wounded soul. 

"So why do you keep insisting on visiting these places?" my traveling buddy asks.  "Because of the art."  The painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe is beautiful with its vibrant blues and golds. Her face is serene and symbolizes the nurturing of mothers everywhere.  Indeed, this particular painting is as famous as the Mona Lisa.   I think the artist should have received the acclaim he so richly deserved.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Christmas is a time for storytelling.  We watch A Christmas Carol on t.v. every year or go see The Nutcracker.  Santa movies are watched and rewatched and the story of the birth of Christ is read in church and performed by children worldwide.  The legend of the poinsettia is a charming story and reminds me that Christmas need not be filled with expensive gifts.  The story originated in Mexico where gold-gilded altars and old cathedrals lure foreigners and locals in for adoration and prayer.
Altar, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City
The Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende

The story has many variations, but the gist of it goes something like this:  A little girl in Mexico wanted to bring a gift to the Baby Jesus at Christmas, but she was too poor to buy anything.  An angel appeared to her and told her to pick some weeds at the edge of the road.  The people laughed at her when she placed the scrawny ugly plant at the foot of the manger, but the dull green leaves then turned a brilliant red.  This beautiful flower has become a symbol of Christmas ever since.

San Miguel de Allende
Putting up Christmas Lights, Zocolo, Mexico City