Viva La!!!

(This was originally posted last year but I’ll be writing a new web series (“Californio“) beginning next week  that was inspired by our family history as seen in the photos of “Viva La!!!)

I like to put up new blogposts on Thursday, but this week I’ll be too busy drinking margaritas and getting smashed – by cascarones (hollowed out eggs filled with confetti). It’s Fiesta time once again in Santa Barbara.  If you don’t know about Fiesta, let me fill you in:  it’s a five-day-long party with sombreros. There’s a parade, LOTS of alcohol (mostly involving tequila and cervezas (beer), but hey, in a pinch even Baily’s Irish Cream will do) and so many displays of Spanish-style dancing in colorful costumes you’ll think you wandered onto the set of “Zorro.”

Today’s Fiesta, also called “Old Spanish Days,” centering around a Courthouse evening  known as “Las Noches de Ronda,” originally was started by the local Poole-Verhelle Group of Dancers in 1922.  Dancing for enjoyment and entertainment eventually evolved into a community party now known as La Fiesta.  Here’s a picture of that original group.


My grandfather is supposed to be somewhere in that photo.  But for the life of me, I don’t see him anywhere – maybe he was behind the camera taking the picture.  You can see him (and my grandmother) in this photo below, all dressed up in their Fiesta finest.

Bobbie & nanie Fiesta

And going back one more generation, here’s my great-grandfather…

Great-grandfather fiesta

If you’re a certain type of local, however, Fiesta time in Santa Barbara is when you abandon the town to the tourists and take off to Hawaii. My dad and uncle always took ten days off on the dates when Fiesta would fall during the year. They had their own business – an ironworks/welding shop – and they’d hurry up like hell to finish up their jobs,  sometimes right up to the night before Fiesta Pequena kicked off that year’s Big Party.  How they managed to get all of their work done in time for their getaway was always a miracle, and involved much yelling, swearing, and both brothers threatening each other, “I’m not going on vacation!!”  “NO, I’m not going!” Although their parents generation had started Fiesta, the two brothers hated that time of the year in their hometown.  Maybe this photo had something to do with it:

Dad Fiesta

That must have been the one and only time the brothers dressed up in costumes.  Too bad because they were awfully cute hombresitos.

In spite of the dislike the two brothers had for Old Spanish Days craziness, the love for Fiesta still beats strongly in the younger generation. My kids always stop their own lives to return like spawning salmon to their hometown, and the sweet sounds of mariachis and “Viva La!!!” So forgive me if I can’t write a post today.  Sometimes there’s a greater calling than just the need to put thoughts into words.  It’s Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara!

And I have to get the hell out of this town before the tourists take it over.

(This year’s Old Spanish Days are from July 31 – August 4.  Viva!!!)

22 thoughts on “Viva La!!!

  1. Oh God, Darlene, I had one of the fifty zillion can’t go home again moments of my adult life trying to expose my kids to Fiesta, driving up from L.A., completely unable to recapture any aspect of my own childhood experience of it. I remember marching around in the children’s parade singing a flat version of “El Rancho Grande” and hauling someone’s kid brother down State Street in a wagon, then graduating to covering the Native Daughters’ rendition of that embroidered shawl fan dance on the grounds of the courthouse for the NewsPress when I was in college. But I think you have to live there to know where to locate that cache of slightly-moldy, tatty taffeta dresses you make kid-sized through the extensive use of safety pins and staples. (Or was that just my mother?) Oh God, I might have to drive up this weekend just to pelt somebody with a confetti egg. Viva La. (I’m humming “Saaaaanta Baaaaar-bruh, lovely little Spanish Ville” (rhymes with “ill”) at this moment.


    • Sounds like your family really got into the spirit of it all. My family – not so much. The only time I had to wear one of those taffeta dresses was when I was in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades at Harding School and each year we had our own little fiesta. I must have sublimated all those songs they taught us, but “Rancho Grande” I will always remember.


      • I think it was that we experienced ourselves so much as The Other there. Driving into town was like falling though the portals of some strange, snow-free exotic land. I mean, if there were any other Jews at Vieja Valley School, they should identify themselves right now. So I think that avid Fiesta participation was my mom’s misguided effort to help me fit in.


      • I’m married to a Jew so yes, I understand what you’re saying. Although, Santa Barbara has changed since we were kids. One of the first sights we saw in Goleta when we moved here in the 1990s was an Orthodox Jew (complete with peyot and a tallis) walking along Fairview Avenue to shul. For a moment, I thought I was hallucinating, but we soon learned there’s an Orthodox Temple on Stow Canyon.


  2. I have mixed memories of Fiesta. (I’ll spare this site from the negative.) Your mention of cascarones reminds me of eating scrambled eggs for months, saving the shells and cartons until July then filling them, gluing crepe paper over the opening. We walked around the parade and De la Guerra Plaza selling them to intoxicated celebrants to have money for our vacation.


  3. Hi Darlene–I really love your historic family connections and all the little secrets you’ve let out of the bag over the past year I’ve been involved with you and your material. It’s been the greatest for me! This post is another exciting and history-laced one, and the comments are just hilarious.

    Klaus (you know, my partner who doesn’t like his name used on the Internet by me anywhere!) made me a (large) pre-Fiesta birthday margarita on Sunday afternoon this weekend, using part tequila part MESCAL (!) with a Grand Marnier floater. It was like being in a Carlos Castaneda book for a couple of hours–until I had to pop a migraine pill… and so on our white board (list for stores and projects and such), he has written: GO TO BEVMO, NEED TEQUILA FOR FIESTA

    Fiesta is going to happen up behind the Mission and de la Guerra this year, as always! You have a great time out there!

    p.s. We are, though, giving into going, by tradition, to Harry’s of all places on Saturday night, then “walking it off” by going through MacKensie Park across the street.


    • I’ll have what you’re having – that drink sounds delicious. And powerful! Don’t forget to use a cab because those drinks at Harry’s are also lethal. You guys better pace yourself because Fiesta goes on for days and days. Viva (hiccup) La!!!


  4. I just got around to reading this post on the very first day of this celebration! Does this mean you are all ready smashed and will not see my post for a week or so? lol Have fun! Thinking about you!


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