SeaSalt Chronicles 8: The American Riviera
You might ask, why have you decided to come to Santa Barbara? The truth is I’ve never planned to come here in the first place. I wanted to go somewhere like LA or Berkeley in San Francisco Bay but I was tired of living in the city. I guess in a way what prompt me to spend a year abroad in Santa Barbara is its closeness to nature and because surprisingly, it reminds me so much of home. I didn’t want to go too far north of California nor too far south, as that wouldn’t give me the best alternative to travel so I think considering everything, Santa Barbara was my best bet.
Even though it’s considered south California or as the locals would say, SoCal, I’d say Santa Barbara is more in the centre. I want to deconstruct the idea people have that Californians say Cali. Wrong, I was told by a Californian friend that if you actually want to sound like a local while being cool, you got to say Cal. From Santa Barbara, it takes you four hours to drive down to San Diego, the same way it takes you five hours to drive up to San Francisco. In California, there’s a kind of rivalry (don’t worry, it’s a healthy one) between NorthCal and SoCal, in which both parts try to show off their best features. In a way, SoCal is always making fun of north Californians, as they’re blessed with sunshine and pleasant weather all year round while the others have to deal with cloudy, rainy days. People at SoCal are also known for being way more chilled and informal than NorthCal people, who have a reputation for being more reserved and a bit more quiet.
Santa Barbara, however, is the ghetto of the rich. The American Riviera is mainly a seaside resort for those who’d like to get away from the city and spend a short or long vacation at the beach. Surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara in itself is quite small. It’s considered the American Riviera for the proximity to the sea and its spectacular beaches but also because it’s mostly residential and vacation oriented. Also, it attracts a lot of artists and famous people. Oprah Winfrey owns a house in Montecito, and I remember this one time everyone at UCSB got so excited when it was found Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes were in town for the weekend. Every year, Santa Barbara is home to the International Film Festival (SBIFF), where celebrities like Brad Pitt walk the red carpet and sign autographs to the fans standing outside of the theatre. During the SBIFF week, a friend and I had planned to go downtown to watch Parasite. Then, we got so excited about the idea of eating ice cream before going in that when we arrived, the line was way too long and there was no capacity left in the theatre. So, we ended up watching the sunset at the beach.
Whenever I’d go downtown for shopping, I was filled in with a very Latino vibe. Santa Barbara and a lot of its street names such as Paseo Nuevo or Anacapa Street have Spanish influence. This is why, a lot of the buildings are in Spanish colonial style, mostly white with red-tile clay roofs. It also reminds me of Greece with a lot of shopping or restaurant entrances built-in arch. Overall, Santa Barbara reminds me of the kind of villages and buildings you find in a lot of Mediterranean countries including my own, Portugal. This made me develop a strong bond with this place during my time abroad. It was refreshing. Moving abroad, further away from home to be in another country, getting involved with a completely different culture… You wouldn’t think it’d be possible to feel so close to my own people and connected to my own identity as it happened to be. I remember saying to someone I met on the first couple of weeks of fall quarter about my new culturally diversified group of friends that America has brought us together. I guess because in a way, I believe that to be true. Whoever chooses to go to America has an opportunity to find themselves while reinventing themselves in a whole new way. Being independent, away from home brings you a little closer to yourself and even closer to people you’ve never thought you’d be as close with and the power that provides you with, it’s entirely life-changing.
When I went to Santa Barbara, I wanted to find myself again in the calm of the ocean breeze after each breaking wave and among the seagulls that flew over the harbour at sunset during the golden hour. I just never planned to fall in love with it and its people. On Saturdays, I used to have sailing lessons at the harbour. We were usually a group of 2-3 people sharing a boat. I remember this one time, it was a hot day, we were sailing in the open sea, the sun reflected on the water back at us in such a way that I felt the heat pinching my skin while it burns. I remember looking over my shoulder while tacking the boat, and seeing Santa Barbara under the blue sky like I’ve never seen it before. The mountains of the National Forest behind it were so big and threatening, as in a chess game, they were about to move forward and eat the city away. The row of tall palm trees that now have become dull and short, along the seawall seemed too condensed. They made it hard for me to see beyond the view and look into the city. The vast extension of water in between us and the city, separating us from now and then, delaying our return while the boat decided to sail further and further away from the coast. Only the blue sky was gaudy and shiny. Only the blue sky stood the same. So I knew. I knew what it meant. In an effort to capture this picture in my mind and pin it down to my memory like an old song you want to remember, a dream that can’t be forgotten, this mirage I didn’t want to let go. Afraid the wind would blow the sail again and make us change direction, I knew what it meant. Nothing is permanent. The only certainty we have is the blue sky above us on a sunny day. While tacking the boat back to shore, I almost got hit in the forehead by the boom of the sail.
When I left Santa Barbara, I had only one wish, I hoped one day I’d go back to that place and remember how it felt like to fall in love with it the first time.
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