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<b>WATER CAPER:</b>  Back in 1947, when Fiesta was cancelled due to a drought, Judy Pearce's family lived next door to the Miramar … with mysterious results.

Sue De Lapa

WATER CAPER:  Back in 1947, when Fiesta was cancelled due to a drought, Judy Pearce's family lived next door to the Miramar … with mysterious results.


Who’d Steal Gram’s Water?

The Family Conserved, but the Bill Kept Going Up


NINE AT GRAM’S: Back during the severe drought of the 1940s, there were nine in the family at Judy Pearce’s grandmother’s house, all trying to save water. But unknown to them, Judy tells me, someone was stealing it.

“Fiesta was canceled in 1947, so tourists wouldn’t come and use up our water,” Judy recalls. “Doubt that would happen now. I remember my grandmother throwing the dishwater out the window for the poinsettias. Now I take mine out to the potted plants in memory of my wonderful grandma.

“There were nine of us living at Gram’s: aunts, uncle, cousin, my brother, Mom, and me. We were extremely careful, but Grandma’s bill kept getting higher and higher. She complained to the Montecito Water Department, and they investigated.

“We were adjacent to the Miramar Hotel’s garage and gas station, later remodeled into the convention hall, and they were hooking up to our water at night and washing guests’ cars.

“I don’t know if Grandma ever got a rebate. I was just a little girl. I would [suppose] some sort of adjustment was made. Can you imagine those sneaky sons of guns stealing our water?”

BATHWATER TO ROSES: They’re well-to-do Montecitans, reduced by rationing to bucketing out their bathwater to haul outdoors to save the roses. Whatever a flow restrictor is, they want no part of one slapped on by water police.

NOBLE ROMANS: Ovid the poet wrote some pretty racy stuff back in the day. Some of it’s displayed in the play Metamorphoses, complete with pool, by Ensemble Theatre Company, at the New Vic. Beautifully staged and directed by Jonathan Fox. Front-row folks get raincoats. (Through Apr. 13.)

PUTIN OR PALIN? Which would be worse to have reigning over Alaska, Vladimir Putin or Sarah Palin? Ex-governor Palin quit the job cold turkey in 2009, you’ll recall, taking up more or less permanent residence on Fox News.

But except for a single U.S. Senate vote, Russian President Putin (“Vlad, Impaler of the Ukraine”) might be presiding over our northern icebox.

That would put him just 500 miles or so from the state of Washington and possibly threatening to gnaw chunks out of Canada or the U.S. instead of Ukraine. (Or in addition to.)

You doubt? Read your history. Back in the mid-1800s, the Russian czars were anxious to sell Alaska for two cents an acre. (Cheap.) The Russians needed the money and feared that Alaska, so near British Columbia and so far from Moscow, could be easily grabbed by the Brits. They also worried that the U.S. might just annex it, Putin-style.

Deciding to cash out before they lost out entirely, the Russians approached both the U.S. and England, hoping the competition would drive up the price. The Brits replied: Nyet. They already possessed the huge expanse of trackless Canada. Why buy more?

In 1867, the Civil War over, Secretary of State William Seward snapped at the deal. He favored U.S. expansion, and here was a chance to add 586,412 square miles on the Pacific for a mere $7.2 million.

Critics screamed. What in the world would we do with this frozen wilderness a million miles from nowhere? Didn’t we have enough land stretching from sea to sea that we didn’t have enough people to fill?

They dubbed it President Andrew Johnson’s “Polar Bear Garden” and the name that’s stuck down through the years: “Seward’s Folly.” (This was before gold was discovered there, of course.)

There was nothing of value there, “a sucked orange,” now that the Russians had hunted fur-bearing animals almost to extinction, thundered the New York World. But Seward took his “folly” to the Senate, which okayed the treaty by a single vote.

You can see remains of the old Russian experience on the island of Sitka, which Sue and I plan to visit when we cruise to Alaska later this year. Let me know if you want to come along.

In the meantime, the closest Vlad can get to Alaska without arriving as a tourist is by standing on Russia’s Big Diomede Island way out in the Bering Strait and peering through binoculars at U.S.-owned Little Diomede Island.

Or, heck, he could just walk over when ice forms a bridge. It’s only a 2.7-mile stroll. Speaking of polar bears, in 1987, Lynne Cox swam from Little Island to Big, and she was congratulated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan, easing Cold War tensions somewhat. (Neither was present when the freezing Cox emerged from the sub-40-degree waters, however.)

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