Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Exotic Peacock

When I was a little girl I dreamed of owning a home with a swimming pool.  I was certain I would have three or four peacocks strutting around the surrounding gardens.  I didn't realize back then that cities have ordinances against these birds.  They may be the most beautiful, exotic birds in the world but they are noisy, noisy, noisy.  So you can imagine how thrilling it was for me to see these birds in Evora, Portugal.  They were strutting among the Gothic and Manueline ruins of the palace of Dom Manuel.  Definitely a magical moment!

Well, unless I move to Portugal or outside the city limits, I'll never be able to own a peacock.  But I can dress like one!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Timbers and a Vendetta

A journey unraveling an historical event so bizarre it seems fictional, began yesterday with a turkey and swiss sandwich at the Sandpiper Grill in Goleta.  My travel buddy and I aren't golfers, but the restaurant at the Sandpiper Golf Course has a killer view of the ocean and it was a clear sunny day.  As we were having lunch we noticed a bronze plaque attached to a rock.

 On February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired at an oil production facility which was next to the present day golf course.  The former oil field is now part of the Ellwood-Devereux area, the Bacara Resort, the Sandpiper Golf Course and the new Goleta Bluffs housing development.  Supposedly, remnants of the pump-jacks, derricks and oil storage tanks can still be found on the beach below so off we went to find them.

Well, it turns out that the commander of the Japanese submarine, Kozo Nishino, had been to this very same spot before the war when he was captain of a merchant ship.  He refueled at the Ellwood Oil Field facility before heading back to Japan.  When he disembarked at the site, however,  he tripped and fell on some prickly pear cactus.  The story floating around is that he had to pull spines from his buttocks and you can imagine how funny this must have been!  A group of oil workers started to laugh, not knowing that losing face to a proud Japanese skipper was so shameful and so humiliating that he returned to seek his revenge as soon as he got a chance!
Fortunately, his gunners were lousy shots.  They took aim at the fuel tanks near where he fell on the cactus hoping to cause huge explosions, but only managed to hit the pier, damaging the timbers.  There was no loss of life.  Oil workers, of course, reported the incident and black-outs up and down the coast were the result, as well as a mass hysteria that the Japanese were going to continue attacks on the mainland.  Internment of Japanese-American civilians went into full effect.  Santa Barbara had an active Japan Town across the street from the Presidio.  They were all rounded up and  the only evidence of this abandoned community are little pieces of pottery uncovered by archeology students, which are now displayed at the Presidio museum.
Venoco Pier
  So what happened to the damaged pier?  Well, it was dismantled and the timbers were used in building the Timbers Restaurant in Goleta.  I've eaten there a few times, but the place is now closed and up for sale.  Anyone want to buy a fascinating piece of history?
So the moral of this story?  Well, there are many, but for a traveler like me, always always read those little bronze plaques.  You never know where they will take you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

El Camino Real

Mimi wanted to reenact Father Junipero Serra's  walk along the old historic route between the missions.  She is wearing a Raquel Allegra top--the closest thing she could find in my closet resembling a brown Franciscan robe.   She is walking over Highway 101 on the pedestrian bridge near the Las Positas exit in Santa Barbara.

The historic pathway laid out by the priests to connect the missions, pueblos and presidios  is now a series of massive highways running the length of California.  El Camino Real began in Loreto, Baja California and ended at Mission San Rafael in Alta California.  The missions were built about 30 miles apart so the priests could reach them in one day by walking (a long walk!).  The footpath eventually widened to accommodate horses and ox carts.

The route is now marked by bell posts.  These bells are made by the California Bell Company.  You can actually purchase one of these cast iron beauties for your home.  Now that's a souvenir!

 I love this frayed cocoon-shaped top--a trademark of Raquel Allegra's unique styling.  She was born in Berkeley, California and created quite a stir at Barney's in Beverly Hills when she started deconstructing t-shirts.  Her brand is becoming increasingly upscale with the use of luxurious textiles.  I bought this piece at Diani's in Santa Barbara--a lovely boutique where you can find not only Allegra's designs, but pieces by Isabel Marant, Rag & Bone, Gryphon and Diane von Furstenberg.   (And thankfully, Mimi decided the pedestrian bridge was far enough.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

El Presidio de Santa Barbara

While traveling the Mission Trail, I realized I could not get a complete understanding of the Spanish colonization of Alta California without stopping at the presidios (military forts) along the way.  There were four of them in California, all strategically located to best protect the growing frontier settlements.  They served as military headquarters,  government centers, and places of refuge for the settlers and native populations.  The Santa Barbara Presidio was founded in 1782.  It is a State Historic Park located on Canon Perdido Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

Archaeological finds at the presidio have uncovered ceramic cooking vessels, cutlery and pieces of pottery.  Fish bones and seeds were discovered, enabling researchers to piece together a good idea of everyday life within the presidio walls.  It is all well documented in a series of rooms.  The government kept good records of inventory.  The ordering, shipping and distribution of supplies must have been a nightmare back then.  They ordered clothes from Mexico and Spain, linens from France and silk and dinnerware from China.  Most of these items arrived by ship, taking months, even years, to make it to their final destination. 
The presidio is being reconstructed from these hand-formed adobe bricks.

While the missions have statues of Farther Serra, I found it interesting that the Santa Barbara Presidio had one of King Charles III of Spain.  He is now considered to be one of the more enlightened of the European monarchs.  He built the magnificent Prado and reformed education.  He is the king who expelled the Jesuits from Baja for disloyalty, paving the way for the Franciscans to take control of the new world missions.

Mimi pointed out to me that even though this outfit came from the 18th century, she wouldn't mind wearing it in the 21st!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Border Fence

I hate this barrier along the Mexico-U.S. border.  I cringe every time I drive through Tijuana and see the ugly thing snaking across the landscape.  Sections of this fence are found mostly in the urban areas along Texas, Arizona and California.  I am writing this strictly from a traveler's point of view--someone who loves nature and is saddened when such measures are put in place.  It is a blight on an otherwise magical land.

I don't understand the paranoia behind it.  Has it really stopped illegal immigration?  No.  Slowed it down a bit maybe, but desperate people continue to find their way across.  They dig tunnels or try to walk across inhospitable deserts and mountains only to starve to death in their attempt to seek a better life.  Five thousand people have died.  How many more will it take before people realize walls don't work?  Has history taught us nothing?

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona has suffered severe erosion and flooding.   Ecosystems along the Rio Grande have been damaged.  Wildlife that used to roam freely between the north and south have lost habitats, watering holes, food and even mates.  The construction of these fences have violated the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and these are only a few of the environmental laws that were waived so this thing could be built.

The border wall is an eyesore and a slap in the face to our southern neighbor.  It is costly, deadly and an environmental nightmare.  Mark my words.  It will come down.  I only hope I'm still around when it does.
Tecate Border  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mimi and the Birds

"I think you should ask for one of those big honkin' telephoto lenses for your birthday.  You know the kind naturalists carry on their shoulders?  Your bird pictures from Baja are cute, but they'll never make it into the Audubon Engagement Calendar."

"Er, thanks, Mimi." 
And believe it or not, when I put Mimi in my latest bird print purchase, I actually got a monosyllabic "cute" from her.  I think she's coming around!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mission San Borja

This beautiful old church in the middle of nowhere in Baja is not an easy place to get to,but well worth the effort.  It was built in 1801 near the ruins of the original Jesuit mission.  It has been restored over the years by the family who lives next door and  they offer tours of the place to anyone who happens to find their way here.  The people who live in neighboring towns use the church for special occasions, especially weddings.

Because the road was so rough, we hired a driver from Bahia de Los Angeles to take us there.  From the paved road at Km. 44, a windy road through beautiful back country cactus fields, leads to the site.  Although it is only 35 kilometers, it takes two hours to drive it.  It is filled with pot holes and rocks.
The correct name of the mission is Mision San Francisco Borja de Adac.  The Cochimi who lived here in prehistoric times, called the site Adac.  There are several freshwater springs nearby so it was the perfect place to establish a mission.  The Jesuits founded the mission in 1762.  The Franciscans took it over in 1767 and then finally, the Dominicans in 1773.  Our guide took us on a walk through lovely orchards and a vineyard to the springs.
Ruins of first Mission

We spent a wonderful two hours here wandering through the ruins, the church and the grounds around it.  Getting me back into that truck for the rough ride back took a lot of coaxing from Benito and my travel buddy!