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Book Review: “Marry, Kiss, Kill”

By Cheri Rae

Marry Kiss Kill ImageCan you judge a book by its cover? If so, “Marry, Kiss, Kill,” (Prospect Park Books, 2015) by Anne Flett-Giordano with its clever cover design created by local graphic designer John Roshell, ought to be a good one. But reading the cover blurbs might be a bit more informative, since they’re written by writers and actors commonly associated with television—reviewers who are obviously friends of the author.

Don’t get me wrong, I like David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves from “Frasier,” but I’m not sure how their acting talent translates to recognizing the merits of a novel.

The novel introduces the “tall, tan and born-again blond” (not for her religion, but for her relationship with L’Oreal) Nola MacIntire. She staves off her “maudlin fear of middle age” by driving a black convertible Thunderbird, and wearing orange-and-red Kate Spade slingbacks, an eleven hundred dollar Michael Kors peasant blouse and micro-minis on the job. She cleverly chose Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” as her ringtone, and had a long-ago affair with her handsome detective-partner of 15 years. She is Deputy Chief of Detectives with the Santa Barbara Police Department, initially solving a murder of a character, Charles Beaufort, obviously based on the late Santa Barbara street singer, Mason B. Mason.

Part-time local resident Flett-Giordano—who refers to Santa Barbara as “truly heaven on earth” in her introductory notes—sets the scene against the backdrop of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and refers to locales from the Arlington to the Courthouse and the Fiesta Five, to Carlito’s and Dargan’s in the first three pages alone.

She can turn a phrase: “She reached into the pocket of her old gray cardigan. It was drab and shapeless and amazingly comfortable. She only put it on when she was home alone, and even then it was always with the silent prayer that she wouldn’t choke on an almond or something and literally be caught dead in it.” But too often she uses gimmicky wordplay, substituting contrived schtick for stylish substance.

And she drops in flip popular culture references that are supposed to make the reader warm up to the work. But phrases like “AARPathetic,” and “all Bluetooth and no bite” that are supposed to be clever seem clunky, and naming every product from the detective’s MAC lipstick to her mock-Chanel tote and another character’s Ana Khouri gold cuff bracelets.

I bought this book as a birthday gift for my husband, who is a sucker for murder-mysteries, particularly when they’re set in Southern California. But two-thirds through, he literally threw the book across the room and declared, “I cannot read any more of this crap.”

I thought he was overreacting and being too picky. I really wanted to like this debut novel that starts out with some promise, with the fun of knowing the locations where the action takes place. Solving the single murder of the street-singer character I cared about would have been fine. But the book takes a gratuitously violent turn into incredulity with too many characters, too many murders, improbable romances, an eco-terror attack and far-flung locales that stretch all the way to Vandenberg. Turns out, I was ready to toss the book at exactly the same plot development he did. Disengaged and no longer caring what happened, I doggedly kept reading, cover-to-cover.

Just because I love all things Santa Barbara.

While Flett-Giordano’s convoluted plotting and relentless product placement exhausted my patience, readers who like occasionally funny phrases and local and brand-name references in their fiction might enjoy this book a lot more than I did.

Clearly, the Emmy-Award-winning writer intends to continue to writing about the life, times and things of detective Nola MacIntire.

Nostalgic Laguna Blanca

Santa Barbara photo of the week by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.

Ice Cream Castles in the Air

This beautiful view is actually a little bit of nostalgia. This is Laguna Blanca in Hope Ranch. Or rather this was Laguna Blanca about a year and a half ago, back when we had so much water here it actually fell from the sky. But these days they are really doing their part there to help with the drought. The last time I was in the neighborhood well lest just say it wasn’t nearly as lush. Let’s hope our promised El Nino this year brings back beautiful views like this.

-Bill Heller

EcoFacts: Less Cool

Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch

Perhaps you’ve heard the news this past week, (so well timed for ecofacts) which must be just thrumming through officeland. In short, for the last FIFTY or so years, building air conditioners have been generally set for the comfort of the average sized (then 155 lbs) 40 year old man, and he happens to have considerably higher metabolic rates than women. Men are warmer, women are cooler, because muscles burn more energy than fat, accounting for this difference.

health-graphics-20_1052695aOf course it was men who mainly populated those office buildings then and were in control of their environment. Businessmen also wore wool suits and ties, while women wore dresses, although often with sweaters and those iconic nylons that thankfully kept their legs warm.

Yes, extreme heat is anti-productive, but so is chill (the cold kind). When a heavily air conditioned insurance office was brought up to 77 degrees, typos went down and productivity went up.  And, if the thermostat is changed from 72 to 77 degrees, electricity bills can go down 11% – that’s a lot of bucks.

I mentioned the recent plea in New York City to raise thermostats to 78 degrees to avoid blackouts. Well for a decade, Japan’s government has encouraged the country (Cool Biz) to have summer office settings at 25 degrees celsius ( 82.4 F ! ) for energy and CO2 emission savings. It helps that their obesity rate is much lower than ours.

Older people also have slower metabolic rates and get chilly more easily. And, air conditioning heats outside air in cities. 

So not only must we fundamentally change the ways we use energy, but women and men over 40 make a majority –  it’s time for an AC attitude change!

Also probably time for another subject.

¿Habla usted español?

Spanish words have become part of the everyday language spoken by Santa Barbara people. Even the tourists who flock into the city by the thousands for Fiesta know of these words.

If you have ever ordered a tamale, you are using a word brought to California by the Spaniards by the way of Mexico. If you call the courtyard of your home a patio, you are once again borrowing from the Spanish. Even the word barbecue is Spanish, and typifies the open-pit method of roasting a steer or a lamb or a pig. This dates back to the time when the kitchen of a Santa Barbara home was always outside the house, never inside.

Adobe bricks are in common use today, although the word originally meant mud, and modern adobe bricks have been made weatherproof through the use of various bondiang agents, oil, etc. When you see a clump of tules you are using a word that stems from the Spanish tulares. If there is a plaza in your home town, or in your housing tract, the original came from Old Spain, and meant a town square. – Walker A. Tompkins, Santa Barbara historian, written in 1967.

The Origin of Cascarones


Fiesta is here, which means it’s time for cascarones! Here is a little history:

The origin of cascarones (the word means “egg shells” in Spanish) is a little muddled. The cascarón stems from the Italian Renaissance when Italian gentlemen would fill emptied eggs with beautiful perfumes and scented powder to give to their beloved. As with the pinata, the Italians allegedly got the practice, via Marco Polo, from the Chinese, who filled the eggs with powder. The practice of making hollowed-out, surprise-filled eggs moved from Italy, into Austria, France and then to Spain.

Then in the 1860s, Carlota, the wife of Emperor Maximilian, introduced cascarones to Mexico. In Mexico people replaced the perfumed powder with confetti. It was then when Mexicans labeled the egg shells… Cascarones, which derives from the word “Cascara” which means shell. In Mexico they showed up at many different celebrations, especially Carneval. From there they headed north into what we know as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Beaning someone with a confetti egg is meant as a sign of affection
. In earlier times, shy couples flirted this way. Today, throughout Mexico and the American Southwest, Cascarones are used to celebrate. Viva la Fiesta!

Sign of the TImes in Santa Barbara

Local Views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

I had to pay my Cox bill today and couldn’t miss the signs stating, “No Parking, Violators Towed.”

The guy working at Cox said Gelson’s sales dropped significantly last year during Fiesta, but I wonder if it’s a combo of Harry’s being slammed and others avoid the store.

Atmosphere of Old Spanish Days Fiesta in 1924

With the 2015 Old Spanish Days Fiesta officially open, here’s a look back at the atmosphere of the first old Spanish Days Fiesta in 1924: Excerpted from the WPA American Guide Series to Santa Barbara, 1941.

A latent longing for the less prosaic was found everywhere under the surface of the casual, and it soon found expression in the task of re-creating the romantic yesterday. In every home there were preparation and anticipation. All-but-forgotten melodies and dances were revived. Charming ladies had learned them in their long-gone youth and, though their years bordered on the century mark, they graciously and skillfully taught them to eager new generations.

The city was draped in scarlet and gold, the old royal colors of once mighty Spain. Precious heirlooms, unearthed from family chests, again graced proud forms—quaint ruffled frocks, gay shawls, and high, gracefully carved combs. Silver braid, bright sashes, and broad sombreros emboldened the most retiring citizens as they embarked on the synthetic adventures of other days and other ways.

This was the atmosphere of the first old Spanish Days Fiesta in 1924, and the same spirit has characterized every subsequent renewal.

Continue reading…

Thomas Storke’s History of Old Spanish Days

Storke, editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 1962.“As a result of the Community Art’s Association’s drive to harmonize the architecture in a Spanish-California style, buildings began appearing here and there. It was the dedication of one of these—the new Lobero Theatre—which game birth to one of Santa Barbara’s proudest community activities, the Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

The first Fiesta was patterned after the famous floral pageants of the earlier years, notably the Mission Centennial Parade of 1886 and the celebration called ‘The Battle of Flowers in honor of President Benjamin Harrison’s visit in 1891. These had been followed by floral parades called ‘La Primavera.’

The first Fiesta committee was formed in 1924. Appointed to head it was a man destined to become one of Santa Barbara’s leading citizens, Dwight Murphy. Other men helping him in staging the first Fiesta were T. Wilson Dibblee of the historic San Julian Ranch; Sam Stanwood, another prominent civic leader and county supervisor for many years; Harry Sweetser and Francis Price Sr., lawyer and historian; and the world-famous artist Ed Borein.” – Thomas M. Storke, California Editor

Photo: Storke, editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 1962.

Lanny’s Take

by Lanny Ebenstein: Provided by the Santa Barbara Sentinel

Byrne Starts Strong

Santa Barbara City Council 3rd District candidate Sharon Byrne has started strong in her race for the council. Her first campaign event, at El Zarape Restaurant on San Andres Street, was a big success with a crowd that spilled over onto the sidewalk. Many local residents attended, including business owners on San Andres Street. The event was hosted by longtime resident Raul Gil.

As I noted in my last column, Byrne has a tenacity and perseverance that will make her a tough competitor, notwithstanding that she is challenging incumbent Cathy Murillo. Personally, I like Cathy. She has always been fair to me, but the question in this city council race will be which candidate will do the most for the Westside.

In addition to Raul, many other community leaders attended Sharon’s kick-off event, including former mayor Sheila Lodge, former Santa Barbara City College Trustee Joan Livingston, Frank Banales, Penny Jenkins, Lesley Wiscomb, and Loretta Redd. There is no doubt that Sharon is building a diverse coalition in her quest to become the first councilmember elected from the 3rd District.

There is little question that the Westside is an underserved neighborhood with such basic city services as public trash bins and tree trimming not being provided, as is the case in other neighborhoods. Indeed, despite the fact that the eastside often receives more attention, the Westside includes the poorest areas in the city, especially the lower area south of Carrillo Street and west of Highway 101. Increasing public services and facilities in this area should be among the top priorities of the next city council.

A number of schools are located in or immediately adjacent to the 3rd District, including Harding and McKinley Elementary schools, La Cumbre Junior High, and Santa Barbara City College. Sharon is well-positioned to address school issues, as she has a daughter who attended local public schools and is now enrolled at Santa Barbara City College.

Sharon’s involvement in the local community in recent years is legendary. Among her first community projects was to organize the painting of a mural in the west downtown area as a deterrent to graffiti, involving local kids and arts organizations. Especially concerned with homelessness, she serves on the Salvation Army’s Hospitality House advisory board – The Salvation Army has a major facility located on the Westside that has not had nearly the problems that services on the eastside have had.

The fact of the matter is that Sharon Byrne is a dynamic and progressive leader who will undoubtedly work full-time, and more, on the city council on behalf of the residents of the city – and, in particular, on behalf of the residents of the Westside – if elected. The coming election in the 3rd District will be crucial in determining the future direction of the city.

One project that I hope the city will take on in the term of office of the next city council will be to improve the pedestrian overpasses across Highway 101 from the Westside to the main part of the city. There are currently three exclusively pedestrian overpasses–at Ortega, Anapamu, and Junipero streets – in addition to the vehicular and pedestrian thoroughfares at Carrillo and Mission.

The pedestrian overpasses at Ortega and Junipero streets, in particular, could stand to be improved. In addition to other benefits, this would encourage people to walk and ride their bikes more. It may be possible also to create a pocket park adjacent to the Ortega overpass, beautifying the region and making it more versatile and useful.

Perhaps to continue this line of thought, it would be possible to give the overpasses names – which would create more of a sense of place and perhaps lead to their greater improvement. Why not name these viaducts after some of Santa Barbara’s past mayors – the Lodge, Conklin, and Miller overpasses? In any event, these important civic assets should be enhanced. Moreover, the lower Westside really needs a park and community building.

There will, in short, be many projects that the first city councilmember representing the Westside should advocate and work to create.

Correction: In my previous column, I wrote that Santa Barbara City Council candidate Andria Martinez Cohen has lived in Santa Barbara for fewer than two years. That was incorrect, and I apologize for the error. Andria has been a Santa Barbara resident since 2005. She and her husband acquired their home on Indio Muerto Street, in what is now the 1st District, two years ago.

Avoid Castillo Street @101!‏

Local Views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

I drove through the Castillo Street underpass at 12:30 yesterday. Traffic backed up two blocks on Haley waiting to turn left on Castillo. Same on Montecito street coming from Santa Barbara City College. And as this photo shows, very slow moving under the freeway. I’ll try again in late September.