Monday, August 9, 2010

Viva La Fiasco!

It is summer again, and the joyous words ring out: Viva la Fiasco! Once more, the City Fathers (by a previous marriage) of Santa Barbara extend the open hand of friendship to la turista, the tourist. And it is to the visitor of our humble resort community that we invite to participate in the celebration of our proud heritage.

Perhaps for some guests, up on holiday from the City of Appliances or the San Industrial Valley, it is hard to catch the full spirit of things, as we salute the bones of the Spanish that we stand upon. But this feeling of detachment is only temporary. Even the most noxious airhead is soon caught in the grip of mad ethnic delirium that the ancients called los gringos locos. And after the plentiful consumption of salsa and tequila, the happy pilgrim is soon familiar with strangers, greeting them with the old world: saludos, Bien Vaginos!

But quite often the furtive plea is heard: "Can we see it all?" And the answer, of course, is: "Yes! Most definitely." Most of the festivities are obvious. But after the Parade, the Mission, the beaches, what then? Especially at night. Santa Barbara After Dark then becomes our quest.

We enjoy an exciting evening of street dancing. Notice how one can dance from the sidewalk to the street and back to the sidewalk again, without fear of stumbling on the curb, or missing a beat? The corners were contoured with this in mind.

And so, exhausted, yet elated from our dancing, we ask ourselves: "What next?" It is much too early to go back to the Motel 6. The question is to find the right bar or nightspot to continue our festive mood.

It is at this point that we separate the average tourist from the adventurer. There are many bars in this town. They appeal to the full spectrum of local society. But this author recommends only one nightspot that fully captures the spirit of Fiasco. It is the Club El Fuego.

Even the most seasoned local is not completely familiar with operations of the Club El Fuego. It is not easy to find. True, it runs parallel with Cabrillo and Carillo and against Castillo (streets which were named, by the way, to confuse outsiders and discourage new residents), the Club El Fuego is located on the little known streets of Las Pulgas and El Dumpster. It is worth the find.

The Club El Fuego was started in late 1963 by the retired Germanic-Hispanic, Juan Auf Deisdaz, who left his native Germany towards the end of the war, abandoning his modest lighting business. He relocated in South America first, followed by Mexico, and then finally settled in Santa Barbara with, or so it has been said, the aid of Richard Nixon.

Avoiding such idle gossip, let me say that Juan, as he likes to be called, is the most genial of hosts. Investing the money of his soap plant business in South America, the Club El Fuego has become "more of a home, than a business," as Juan describes. The description is an apt one. The interior is a harmonious combination of white clay and green palms, rattan furniture and 40s statuary from the Munich Olympics. What better environment to spend your late night Fiasco celebrations in. And don't forget to order the Naughty Margharita, the only drink based on a Gilbert and Sullivan rejection slip. It's a favorite, guaranteed to water your mouth and dampen your knees.

Feeling that late night glow, you can bask yourself in the memories of your Fiasco Day Holiday: Your visit to the shrine of Brojas Hymenez des Flores, Our Lady of the Sacred Maxi-Shield. True, Saint Barbara is the city's patron saint. But one must not forget this little known figure, and her assault against a bloody rampage.

Distant memories, perhaps. But pleasant ones, none-the-less. Memories, that I hope you, dear pilgrim, will take back and cherish forever. And then there is next year. In the land of Zorro and the Cisco Kid, and even Ronald Reagan and the Shah of Iran, a funny voice says: "Remember! Viva la Fiasco!"

[First published July 22, 1980.]