The “Real-ness” of Santa Barbara

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An enticing glimpse over the hotel balcony into the hidden alleyway opposite

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Classic promenade view

Travel always feels to me like a search for the real. Distinguishable from mere holidays, of course, which are a search for hedonistic pleasure. I’m generalizing, of course. It’s a bit of an intellectually arrogant distinction with a kernel of truth.

But the fact is, we are all on this vacation in search of the ‘real’ California, whatever that may be. It’s complicated because each of us has a different imagined view. Under-twenties see it through a Disney-ish prism. My picture is informed by the crime fiction scenery of writers such as Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connolly. R sees beach pictures in his head.

So when we arrived in Santa Barbara, we had hit ‘real’ California for at least one person, maybe more. The saturated colours and bright tonal contrasts of the buildings and sea and sky and beach were a quintessential Californian experience for R, for example.

For me, sort of. I like to get behind the tourist facade. See the bits being kept hidden (in the sense of not figuring in the guidebooks). Eventually I get confused by the whole idea of real. After a while I realise that the Main Street parade is just as much real as the alleyways behind the hotel. That the beach scene is as real as the car parking lots. I cease to wander and veer like a broken supermarket trolley and happily trot along with everybody else.

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