Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The acerbic humorist, whose essay collections include 
'Me Talk Pretty One Day', 
enjoys a slow-burn affair with California

(I could not resist sharing this fun article about my town on my blog)

"The first time I went to Santa Barbara I said 'no'. California led the nation in the battle against smoking, so no matter where in the state I was, I considered it enemy territory. Then there was the general Santa Barbara-ness of the place. Often when you buy a picture frame, there's a photo already in it. Frequently it's of a couple in their mid sixties, not just good looking, but privileged, blessed, walking hand in hand on a deserted beach. I used to think they were professional models. Now I suspect they're just ordinary Santa Barbarans, perhaps chosen at random from the phone book. 'No,' I said the first time I saw them. 'No, no, no.'
Most everyone I passed was engaged in some sort of exercise. Their skin was lightly bronzed and their hair was either blonde or silver, for gray does not exist in Santa Barbara: not on heads and most certainly not in the sky. Every day is perfect: meaning sunny with a high in the mid sixties to low seventies. At night it cools down, just so you can wear cashmere.
There are other such towns in California - La Jolla, Carmel - but none seem as satisfied with themselves. The first time I went to Santa Barbara, I thought our plane had been rerouted, and forced to land at an exclusive rehab centre. The airport's been remodelled since then but has retained the same clubby, sympathetic feeling. Most of it is open to the outdoors, which is meticulously landscaped and smells like primrose mulched with shredded money. It smelled even better at my hotel - the Upham - which was located in the centre of town, near the many shops and restaurants I'd rather have died than enter. 'No,' I said to the locally made wines and hand-crafted gnocchi served with salmon tongues. 'No, no, no.'

I looked forward to criticising the Upham some more, but on my next visit I was put up at the Biltmore Four Seasons, which is not in the city centre, but several miles away, along a secluded stretch of coast. My room was a Mission-style one-bedroom casita with a working fireplace. I had a terrace corralled by flowering vines, and over the gentle rasp of sprinklers, I could hear the ocean. 'No,' I said. Then, 'Well, maybe just this once.'
I returned the following year, and the one after that. My room wasn't always a private little house, but it was always horribly magnificent. I didn't realise how much the hotel meant to me until 2005, when it announced plans to go completely non-smoking. 'But,' I said to the woman at the front desk. 'But what about me?'
It wasn't like I'd be returning to the Upham, as that had gone non-smoking as well. All the decent places in California had. This meant that on my next visit I'd be outside the city limits, at a dismal chain hotel on the freeway. It would mean no more of the Biltmore's huevos rancheros, a simple concoction of fried eggs and tortillas they manage to charge a fortune for. Well good riddance, I thought. 'The low-end places have waffle irons in the lobby, so I'll just make my own damn breakfast.'
Then I quit smoking. On subsequent visits to the Biltmore, this new and healthier me has found even more reasons to be disgusted. The Olympic-sized pool, for instance: it's too long. The tennis court is too… tennisy. Then there are the complimentary bicycles. It's a short distance to Montecito, an enclave of wealth and privilege that makes Santa Barbara look like East St Louis. If that's too upsetting you can ride in the opposite direction to Stearns Wharf, passing, along the way, that silver-haired couple returning from a jog. And for one horrible second, you might almost forget to hate them."
David Sedaris's most recent book, 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls', is published by Abacus (£12.99, eBook £5.99)
This feature first appeared in Condé Nast Traveller USA Special September 2014
for more information about David Sedaris, click here
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