No Drought About It

Water May Be Scarce, but the Arts Are Plentiful

<b>MIRACLES:</b> Among our small-town pleasures is the Museum of Art exhibit featuring Botticelli, including “The Annunciation.”

ARTS A-PLENTY: They were new (part-time) additions to Santa Barbara, and they didn’t arrive in a beat-up 1974 Chevy wagon with 300,000 weary miles on it, a mattress on the roof, and the dangling muffler clanging on the road.

The couple clearly had bucks, were from a wealthy Chicago suburb, had bought in a high-end neighborhood here without too much apparent sticker shock, had a kid at Stanford, and didn’t quite know what to think of their new winter getaway.

Sue and I encountered them sitting alone outside the tent where locals were loudly schmoozing before the Ramsey Lewis/John Pizzarelli jazz concert.

They seemed very, very worried about water. And how about desal? When was it coming?

See, in their Chicago, water is not a problem. It rains a lot, and the summer storms are something to behold: loud, rolling thunder like a million kettle drums, awakening you from your sleep with astounding, cat-scaring pyrotechnical displays of crackling lightning forking across the Midwestern skies.

It’s a place where not only does a river run through it, but it freezes in winter. Its annual rainfall is about 36.89 inches, compared with Santa Barbara’s pre-drought average of 17.76 over the past 30 years.

In Chicago you can be literally swimming in water (as kids we swam in the city’s drink), but here’s scary Santa Barbara, sitting in a semi-arid, quasi-desert climate, on the edge of the whole Pacific Ocean but without a straw into it (yet).

This couple has already taken out the lawn, so they’re on the right track. I explained about desal. Unless Lake Cachuma spills this spring (the chances of that are less than that of a giant meteor crashing down on Santa Barbara), the City Council is set to give the final okay to desal. The hope is that the reactivated $42 million plant will begin gushing sometime next year, along with higher water bills.

The aforementioned couple, professionals, also asked, what is there to do here?

Answer: Enough big-city-quality culture, heavy-duty speakers, and all-around fun and food to fill every 24-hour span, and a lot easier to get to than fighting the mean streets of the Windy City.

Spread out below their winter home are some of the rich resources of Santa Barbara. Samples: It’s showtime at Santa Barbara City College and the New Vic, thanks to the Ensemble Theatre Company (Venus in Fur coming June 11-28) and at Paseo Nuevo mall’s Center Stage Theater.

Music abounds at the Granada Theatre, where the Santa Barbara Symphony holds forth and great orchestras visit. The London Symphony Orchestra was due this week.

For me, one of the top musical events of the season will be Camerata Pacifica’s performance of Bach’s complete Brandenburg concerti, May 15-16 at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall. Get your tickets now, or else.

The Museum of Art is featuring a masters of Italian painting show (Botticelli and friends). A drive over San Marcos Pass takes you to wine country and Chumash Casino’s concerts.

Santa Barbara also boasts the advantages of one of the nation’s top colleges, UCSB. Its marvelous Arts & Lectures program is bringing violinist Gil Shaham to the Granada on March 31, and the famed Mutter-Bronfman-Harrell Trio on April 17.

Arts & Lectures also brought former CIA chief and ex-Defense Department head Robert Gates to the Granada on the night after we met the Chicagoans. Gates, a Republican, spoke bitterly of Congress (who doesn’t?) and even criticized his former commander-in-chief, President Obama.

Gates told how during his CIA days, guards lived in his basement. After carefully planning his daughter’s prom party, with strict rules and names and phone numbers of invited kids, he got a call a few days before from a mother, who somehow, even in the gossipy Washington world, didn’t know who he was. She was very worried about her child’s safety.

Despite assurances that he and his wife would be on hand and that every effort had been made to make sure all would be safe, she still fretted. Finally, exasperated, he told her that there’d be three heavily armed CIA guards ready to spring into action from below. Well, she replied, then it ought to be all right.

Two picketers outside the Granada held signs branding Gates a “war criminal” and urging people not to buy his book Duty. Gates’s talk almost had a campaign stump speech ring to it. At a reception, I asked if he had political ambitions. Replied the old warhorse: An emphatic, “No,” never. I took him at his word.


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