Ernest Hemingway, who favored a good Bordeaux wine but disdained imitations, would turn over in his Graves. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Papa: This Sunday, every Californian will have two homes--his own and Santa Barbara.
Curiously enough, Sunday marks the first "Fete Francaise" in the town that styles itself the California Riviera, but only the latest in a long file of the fiestas Santa Barbarans particularly enjoy.
"Santa Barbara is really becoming a multicultural town; we're well-traveled and we love a good revel," says Steve Hoegerman, who is staging the Fete.
"We've had the (Mexican) Fiesta forever, and about 15 years ago the Greeks started their own festival. The Italians got on board with their Festa, and the Germans, and the Thais. . . . Wonderful ethnic events, music, dancing. So why not the French?"
Taste of the Gauls
Hoegerman ("Sure, there's some Alsatian blood there") and a number of sponsors are working overtime to braise Oak Park in an authentic Gallic sauce.
"It's a beautiful, sylvan setting, with sycamores and a stream running through it--and now there's a three-story Eiffel Tower," he says. "A friend said we had to have one and I said, 'You've got to be kidding.'
"Then I ran into local artist Tony Ciccarelli, a real Francophile who'd done a 15-foot Statue of Liberty just for fun, for our wild Fourth of July beach celebration. . . ."
To slightly misquote yet another Francophile, though, Escoffier once said, "Sure, I eat in the Eiffel Tower; food's not great, but it's the only place I don't have to look at the damn thing."
Food, Food Everywhere
Enter Santa Barbara's French restaurants--a dozen or so--which will attempt to demonstrate France's second favorite pastime. Food will be sold from stalls, from which diners may tote their comestibles to one of dozens of tables, spotted around the park sidewalk-cafe-style and decorated with the ritual checkered tablecloths and umbrellas.
Produce stalls will pay homage to Paris' famed open-air markets, while patissiers and boulangers will hawk traditional baked goods. For the nostalgic, it will be entirely possible for a Fete visitor to arrive by bicycle and pedal home with a fresh baguette from Marc Olivier's Bakery tucked under his arm like a drum major's baton.
For ambiance, there will be bereted artists selling and painting their oeuvres, Montmartre-style; a display of vintage French cars; a flower market.
For entertainment, a movable feast of the strolling musicians and jugglers who daily transform the dreary underground Metro into a flight of fancy; the Antique Academy of Gentille Dance, whose exquisitely garbed members will essay the intricate paces of the 18th-Century quadrille; Gabrielle the Mime; a string quartet; Canadian clog dancing, and a cancan "guaranteed raucous," which is redundant.
Some Tiny Gaps
The Fete, in fact, lacks only a battery of vespasiennes, Paris' distinctive al fresco comfort stations. "We couldn't swing it," confesses Hoegerman. "But," he adds hopefully, "we will have Port-a-Pottys."
Back to the raison d'etre behind the Fete, Hoegerman insists that it's primarily Santa Barbara's predilection for a good blast.
"There's a fairly large French community here," he says, "very unorganized, but they're here. Santa Barbara's not so much a melting pot--although there are all these little subcultures. What it is, though, is the endemic curiosity of the community: Be Greek for a weekend; be Mexican; be a Viking."
Part of it, too, is repaying a favor.
Thanks for the Suds
"We're getting French tourists now," says Hoegerman. "A dubbed version of the soap opera 'Santa Barbara' is unreasonably popular on French TV. Consequently, we're on their vacation circuit: Disneyland, San Francisco, Santa Barbara.
"I have a feeling they have this ridiculous, warped image of Santa Barbara, but they know our name."
The Santa Barbarans' image of France, meanwhile, remains rooted in reality.
"I gave a guy a Fete flier the other day," Hoegerman says. "He said, 'I'll be there. Maybe I don't speak French, but I sure eat French.' "
Fete Francaise, Oak Park, Santa Barbara, Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission free. From U.S. 101 north, exit on Pueblo; from south, exit on Mission; from both, then follow the signs.