Monday, May 21, 2007

Cherimoyas, Epiphytes, & Alligator Pears

A couple of weeks ago I went with B to a dinner at his friend J's place. J happens to be the daughter of a deceased actress whose name I think wouldn't be recognizable to most people born after 1945 (I had no clue who she was), but who was pretty major in her time. That kind of connection — however far removed — to "fame and glamor" is something one gets the sense might exist quite a bit here in Southern California, but my brushes with it have been pretty much nonexistent, which essentially suits me just fine.

In any case, you'd have no reason to guess at first glance that her mother was once nominated for an Academy Award, but J is an amazingly down-to-earth artist and craftsperson who's a part-time manager at a local chain of really popular "natural foods" restaurants (more of the turkey burger variety than the flavor-free-bulgur-with-raw-pea-sprouts variety). Which is to say that J is in many ways very much a "California type," but definitely the 'California type" I enjoy spending time with.

J and her Chilean-born husband still spend a few months a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where they lived for many years, and for the past couple of years have been living in one of a few rental cottages on an avocado and cherimoya ranch several miles north of Santa Barbara. It's a bit removed, but a really sweet semi-rural setting.

On this visit, J took us on a walk around the ranch perimeter road and neighboring ranch property which had been mostly unused for many years, save for a couple of rental properties on it as well. Apparently, the old ranch was one of the first orchid growing operations in the area (orchids and cut flowers now comprise a moderate amount of business on this area of the coast, with several operations on the approximately 25-mile stretch from Carpinteria north through Summerland and Santa Barbara to Goleta).

The orchid nurseries and greenhouses had apparently been defunct for decades, and it evoked that slightly melancholy feeling I always get in the presence of abandoned buildings. However, I really love greenhouses, and these were the old-fashioned variety made completely of glass panes, most of which were suprisingly intact. B even discovered that the door to one of the larger greenhouses could be slid open, and we entered what was obviously the main showcase for the former orchid operation, replete with rock formation in the shape of an ersatz waterfall — and everything long-since dried up or overgrown.

The circa 1950s signage was pretty cool as well, and underneath were mud nests of swallows, which we saw flying all around with the approach of dusk.

As we made our way back to J's house for dinner, we passed the main house of the ranch she lives on. The house is apparently now only rented out for functions; any ranch operations are carried out by caretakers. The back veranda of the house looked down a long arcade of enormous fig trees that were originally planted to lead to a view of the ocean (now just barely visible).

Part of the cherimoya orchard; avocado trees on the far hill.

View of vineyards and mustard-covered foothills across US-101.



Huntington said...

Great pics. That combination of rough-around-the-edges agriculture and formal-garden neatness says Santa Barbara to

Chris said...

I loved this post and the pictures, evocative and nostalgic for me. Have been only an intermittent visitor to your site but now I'm going to try to "comment" so that you know people are out there reading. Are you still planning to move back to NJ?

Don't worry about the "Weimar" book - I've read at least one along the same lines (it might have been published in German), and the truth is that those Nazi-refugee expats didn't have that much to do with one another while they were in SoCal, so treating them as a phenomenon is not very useful. You prolly should know who Adorno was, though :) - even if he's overrated. Better to spend your time reading "Doktor Faustus" if you haven't - the book Th Mann spent most of his time on while living in the Palisades.