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January 30, 2003
Leisure and lament in Santa Barbara

By Alex Dominguez
From the No looking back dept.

Meanwhile back at the ranch in Orange County, the days fall into an easy rhythm now that the future has been decided.
Wake early, take a walk on the nearby nature trail _ where a stone marker commemorates the 1768 Viaje de Portola, the first overland expedition into California by Europeans. Maybe a swim at the neighborhood pool, or a stroll to the golf course, where it costs $100 to play a round, but just $6 to drive a bucket of golf balls.

Lunch is a mixture of Spanish, American, Mexican, Italian and barbecue. More fish tacos, sometimes made with scolpin (a reddish blowfish with poisonous fins that tastes like monkfish) and perch, both caught on a party boat outing. Osso buco one night, and the next afternoon we create bucadillas _ quesadillas made on the grill with the left over veal from the osso buco.
Guacamole is a fun sidedish and the subject of heated debate – how much lime? Do we add garlic?, cheese?, jalapeno?
We break the routine with a trip to Santa Barbara _ a Spanish colonial jewel 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The carpool lane on ``the 5’’ is a lifesaver until it ends in LA.
In Santa Barbara, we find shellfish reminiscent of Galicia, and a sense of community _ albeit a bit patchouli laden _ that seems lacking in hyper-suburban Orange County.
A 6 lb. spider crab ($50), similar to Alaskan king crab or the Galician centola, is selected for lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. on Stearman Wharf. The same crab would be $15 at the market in Galicia, but not prepared and cracked for us. The crab is fresh and delicious and more than enough for the two of us.
And what does it matter with the endorsements rolling in?
We stroll through the farmer’s market, which is held every Tuesday on State St., the heart of the downtown shopping district, inspecting the local produce _ organic oranges, enormous strawberries, and an irregular shaped green vegetable called a cherimoy.
We also stroll into an interesting store, oddly named Cost Plus World Market, where couches and other furniture, wine, housewares, oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, and barbecue equipment are sold under one roof. Back out onto State St., we stroll past what appears to be an immense tile-roofed church that has been converted into a Macy’s, and then head back to our hotel, the Mason Beach Inn (324 W. Mason St., $59 double) to rest for dinner.
Shellfish reminiscent of Galicia appear again that night at a Piranha, a trendy sushi restaurant, where sea urchin, erizo in Spanish, is served in cups made from lemons ($12.95 for two heaping tablespoons). Scallops, vieiras in Gallego, are also on the menu.
``But no navajas (razor clams)’’ the Count thinks.
All such thoughts, however, evaporate like the smoke used to make the succulent smoked scallop nigiri that ends the meal.
The next morning, it’s off to the Santa Barbara mission, where we learn that two distinct forces drove the colonization of California by the Spanish, evangelization and concerns over the encroachment of Russian settlements further north.
The Spanish, needing citizens to fuel growth of the empire, gave the native Indians citizenship and deeded them their land, hoping to make them Christian contributors to the empire.
The missionaries were successful on both fronts, most of the native Chumas Indians converted and the the Franciscans oversaw the construction of a dam and aqueduct system to irrigate fields of wheat, barley, corn, beans and peas, as well as citrus and olive orchards and vineyards. In 1803, 11,121 sheep were counted, and in 1809, 5,200 head of cattle.
All of that ended when Mexico broke from Spain after Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The missions were confiscated, and after the U.S. took over the territory, Indians were allowed to be shot on sight because they were considered hostile.
In the mission cemetery, we find a marker commemorating Don Jose Franciso de Ortega (1734-1798), chief scout for Gaspar de Portola, who established the Presidio at Santa Barbara, where he was commandant from 1781-1784. Inside, the tools used by the missionaries and Indians are on display _ my father notes the horse-drawn plow, or arado, which he used in his youth, is assembled incorrectly.
Inspired by the adventurous spirit of the missionaries, we lunch at the Taqueria la Gloria, 336 N. Milpas St., where $1.89 tacos are served on the white styrofoam trays that meat is packaged in at the supermarket.
We order tacos with carnitas (a roasted and fried port), carne asada (roasted beef) and buche (pan fried pork stomach). Also available was cow tongue, and birria de chivo (marinated goat). Non-tacos include huarache (fried corn meal dough topped with your choice of toppings), mojarra (a fried fish), and ceviche.

FYI: If you want to stay someplace fancier, try the Hotel Santa Barbara, 533 State St., which is right on the heart of the shopping district. Rooms were running between $119 and $199 when we checked, but run higher at peak times. There are also a number of nice hotels along the beach.

Posted by Alex at 06:34 PM
January 26, 2003
The ``Super’’ temptation of The Count


From the fun and sun dept.

SAN DIEGO (JNS) _ ``This Super Bowl’’ is brought to you by ``The CowNT,’’ the TV blares.
On the giant plasma screen, a family is shown watching the big game on an equally mammoth screen, some nibbling summer sausage, others picking from the rest of the beef-laden spread, and some checking game stats on their wireless Pocket PCs.
``Whether you’re upgrading your network, or serving a super spread, Microsoft NT and National Beef Council beef go hand in hand. That’s why the CowNT serves beef!’’
A handsome actor playing the Count is then shown grilling on a massive seaside veranda.
``Heh, what do you think?’’ Sid Grift asks, getting up from the skybox couch.

``Very impressive,’’ the Count replies.
``I just wanted to show you some of the possibilities. You know, you don’t have to be the Count of just Baltimore. You can move out here and live in one of those Spanish-tiled mansions in La Jolla,’’ Grift says.
He was hitting the Count where he lives _ the ritzy suburb north of San Diego is beautiful and reminiscent of Spain, with great weather year round, as opposed to the cold, grey Baltimore or dreary, rainy, foggy Galician winters.
They leave the stadium and drive out to La Jolla for fish tacos at The Spot, a wood-lined, slightly nautical bar/restaurant on Prospect St., the main shopping district in what La Jolla residents call ``the village.’’
Grift tugs at the heartstrings again with espresso overlooking a beach where harbor seals sun themselves.
After the game, the Count thanks Grift, tells him he’ll give him a decision by the end of the week, and heads back to Orange County where he relaxes in the hot tub before going to bed.
``What could be wrong with this,’’ he thinks. ``I’ll do it.’’

Posted by Alex at 03:27 PM
January 24, 2003
The Count in Vegas, Chapter 2: The Offer

By Alex Dominguez
From the Crass Commercialism Dept.

LAS VEGAS (JNS) _ Hispanic consumers are very brand loyal, executives from Microsoft and the National Beef Council tell the Count.

The beautiful thing about their concept is that many Hispanics don’t have computers, and most beef isn’t branded. A targeted combination approach using a spokesman such as ``El Conde’’ could capture both markets, they say.

``We need to reach them while they’re young,’’ one says pulling out life-size cardboard cutouts of the Count in what appears to be a pirate outfit without the hat.

``The CowNT serves beef!’’ reads a parchment scroll in one figure’s left hand. Another screams: ``Beef up your system with NT!’’

Television, cable, magazine ads are planned at first. Depending on the success of the effort, action figures and even a Count-themed Las Vegas hotel are possible.

No wonder I was tailed, El Conde thinks, these two markets are huge.

``Gentlemen, thank you for your time. I’ll have to consider this and get back to you,’’ the Count says.

El Conde as superhero? An impressive platform, he muses as the scrubby desert glides by on the way back to Orange County.

Suddenly everything around him is action-oriented, even the rolling desert _ punctuated by sandy stretches and rocky outcroppings pushed up by the titanic collision of tectonic plates.

``I like the sound of that,’’ El Conde thinks to himself. ``Titillating.’’

Posted by Alex at 01:30 AM
January 23, 2003
Casino Royale _ or _ Let's Make a Deal

By Alex Dominguez
From the Move Over James Bond dept.

Perusing the Internet one day at stately Moreham Manor, the phone rings.
``Kahn-dee?’’ the voice at the other end asks.
``Excuse me?’’
``Is this the Count?’’
``Good. Sid Grift from LA here. Listen, I’ve got a co-branding opportunity here I don’t think you want to miss.’’

The proposal sounds interesting enough, and coincides with a trip to California to visit his sister. So, the Count agrees to meet with the as-yet unnamed sponsors in ``Vegas’’ as Grift says.
``Why they want to meet in Las Vegas is beyond me,’’ the Count thinks as he hangs up.
``As close to death as possible while still on this earth,’’ he thinks again while rolling through the desert in a rented Ford F-150 crew cab.
In town, the Count checks into the Frontier _ an Old West-themed place that is now a relic of the strip’s Rat Pack days _ because a home remodeler’s convention has filled all of the more modern hotels.
Getting onto the elevator he is joined by a 20-something Japanese woman and four young Japanese men.
``Kurata,’’ the woman says to the men, who stare blankly ahead.
``Yakuza,’’ the Count thinks.
The Spanish have had a long history with the Japanese, first hiring Samurai as mercenaries aboard merchant ships on the trade route between the Philippines and Peru. Obviously word of the meeting has leaked.
Those suspicions were confirmed later that night when the Count overhears a distinctly Castilian accent slip from two tables down at the Venetian.
When the two walk by the Count asks ``Espanoles?’’
``Si'' replies one of the pair, who had all the tell-tale signs of embassy attaches _ close-cropped hair, stylish yet casual clothing and a sort of comfortable manner.
``De donde,’’ the Count continues, feigning interest.
``De Barcelona,’’ is the reply.
``Aqui de vacaciones?’’
``Yo tambien. Buena suerte’’
``Buen proveche,’’ the second says as the Count returns to his meal.
The reason for the interest in what seems to be an inocuous meeting is unclear, but the Count decides the tail has to be lost before the meeting.

Posted by Alex at 01:00 AM
January 09, 2003
Johnnie Cochran: Dyslexics misread city’s `Believe’ campaign as `Be Eevil’

By Clarence Darrow
From the They would if they could dept.

BALTIMORE (JNS) _ Noted attorney Johnnie Cochran says he plans to sue on behalf of jailed dyslexics and their victims, claiming the city’s ``Believe’’ campaign was misread as ``Be Eevil.’’

``If ever the system has failed anyone, it has failed the people of Baltimore,’’ said Cochran. ``For one group to have their disability go undiagnosed, and then to be led to a life of crime, victimizing another group, is a travesty that needs to be rectified.’’

Cochran, who represented O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, pointed to the deaths of the Dawson family. Police say the seven were killed by a Darrell Brooks, 21, who burned their house down to retaliate for their attempts to rid their neighborhood of drugs.

Brooks, who faces federal charges, ``was not born a monster, he was made a monster by this system,’’ Cochran said.

The `Believe' campaign is an effort by city officials to instill civic pride in residents and fight back against drugs and crime using advertisements that feature a stark black rectangle with the word ``BELIEVE'' in white block letters. Some are accompanied by messages such as ``On a jury? Convict the guilty.''

Cochran said he is seeking restitution for the victims of Baltimore crime, training for teachers, social workers, police and others to recognize the symptoms of dyslexia, an immediate end to the ``Believe’’ program, and free cappuccino for life for city residents.

Cochran said he is also considering suing the Vatican on behalf of dyslexic Catholics who have been mistakenly worshipping doG.

Posted by Alex at 01:04 AM