I landed in Santa Barbara this afternoon. I’m here for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, but this year decided to stay somewhere outside the hermetically perfect conference hotel. I’m about a mile up the beach, just right. My room overlooks the pool. This afternoon, I set out on foot in the deep heat (93 degrees, which still didn’t seem that hot here) just to get the lay of the land, and was seduced, as ever, by the sheer extravagance of coastal California. It’s an ordinary neighborhood in an smallish town (okay, a really expensivetown) and everywhere is that careless natural abundance. Bouganvillia pouring over a fence and scattering hot magenta petals over the sidewalk. Eucalyptus trees as wide as my car at their base, muscling the sidewalk out of the way. Jacaranda trees are in bloom, their lavender clusters as bizarre and beautiful as a tree from another planet. I walked by an open gate and smelled something sweet and hot and fainly rotten and saw a scatter of fallen oranges beneath the huge spreading branches of a tree, with dozens and dozens of oranges ready to be plucked, others molding on the ground. On the way to a welcoming party, I stopped to admire the Moreton Bay fig tree nearby State Street and took a photo with my cell phone.
After the party, I found an agreeable Indian restaurant and ate shasi panneer with hot plump raisins as big as my thumb. My task was to eat alone in a strange place without reading or taking notes, just being there, participating in the flow of life, eating and watching. And, too, being willing to be part of the moment for the room, the woman sitting by herself with a Taj Mahal, eating rice and raisins, enjoying herself.
The hotel is just far enough away from the conference place that I can walk a mile or so. Perfect.
Do you like to eat alone in restaurants? Men find it easier than women, I think. Why do you suppose that is?
6 thoughts on “Extravagant California”
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Don’t mind eating alone at all–though it *does* depend on the type of resto, I guess. Casual dining I’m fine with.
Have a great time there! I’m looking at the temp. in L.A. and hoping it drops just a little before I get there soon.
Hi, Barbara, and welcome to Santa Barbara! I’m a friend of Robin La Fever’s and a former on-line student of yours. I love this post about your evening in SB. Love that you’ve chosen to stay at a different hotel– and yeah, isn’t that giant fig tree amazing?
I feel so fortunate to live here– can’t wait to meet you at the conference!
My daughter and I just returned from LA a few days ago. The weather was only in the low 80s, so I guess we got lucky! We were loving the jacaranda trees. One person in our neighborhood here in Texas has one and we’ve been trying to identify it for a few years. Now I know, and I sure hope we can find them in a nursery here, but I’m afraid they might not have them or we’d probably see them everywhere.
I enjoy eating alone in restaurants most of the time unless I’m feeling lonely to begin with. It’s fun watching all the other parties and trying to figure out who they are and what’s going on in their lives. Guess that’s a writer for you, huh?
I thought of you when we were walking at Venice Beach early this week!
Mary, it was a delight to meet you, too! And muchas gracias on the rides.
Julie, I can’t think why jacarandas wouldn’t grow in Texas. Do some research, but why not? And I am so glad you went to Venice and walked around. It’s so cool. One of these days, I’m going to rent a house there for a month and write my fool head off.
I don’t mind eating alone in restaurants. I think it comes down to the absorption of the whole experience. When I am alone in a restaurant, I tend to listen to the clanking bustle of the kitchen, I listen to the hushed (well, sometimes not so much) conversations of those around me, and I smell things. A floral perfume maybe, or the odor of grease coming from the kitchen, or maybe the smell of age from an elderly person sitting at the table next to me. The sounds. Cell phones click on and off. A baby protests. Plates clink and clatter and sometimes, crash. There is a hum of activity in a restaurant that fascinates me. I try to listen to conversations around me and sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t but it’s always good.
There is something sensual about dining alone. I can’t explain it exactly but it’s an opportunity to tune out of one’s self and into everyone else around. So much is to be learned by being silent, extending out of one’s self into the masses. Listen, smell, observe and taste.
As for men dining alone, I think they do not care for it much because, unlike women, they do not feel the silence as comfort or an opportunity to absorb. It is a rare man who will sit quietly, alone, and not feel as if every other person in the room has determined him a loser because he is alone. I do not believe most woman have that issue. I guess though, I’m speaking as a woman in my late 40s with the caress of years on my face and the indention of many miles on my heart and the profound knowledge that, wherever I am, in whatever situation, I am alright and life is beautiful.