Wednesday, 30 June 2010

...Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair

If there were any place to trump the breathtaking beauty of Denver and its surrounding mountains, any place to prove as exhilarating as living in the freshest air I've breathed in so far this year, then, undoubtedly San Francisco is it. From the moment we reached Western shores, quite literally, as it appeared from my vantage point on the plane (boy himself asked me if we were landing in the sea this time, mama shook her head earnestly but secretly was asking herself the same question) it felt like we had entered another universe. Granted anyone who has heard about this city is going to come with some seriously hippy coloured glasses, but really there is no other way, in my mind, on first impression of the place than to describe it as seriously Groovy.

We arrived early, helped by some kindly winds that surfed us over clear blue skies permitting us to marvel at the Rockies and Salt lakes below. In we bundled into a Russian cabby's van and cruised into San Francisco which opened up to us beyond a valley with its rolling hills spreading out either side. To the left it's pale coloured homes nestled together up and into the hills. To the right the terraces cascading down towards the bay. The sun was shining, the afternoon breeze blew and the travellers were delighted to be arriving at their next home.

Granted, we had to wait some time on the front steps of our Edwardian terrace (thanks Mr Craig and your list) but I did not care one bit. What's the hurry when the early evening rays are on your face and your street is lined with bouganville draped homes to admire? Dad was getting a little restless - we were quite a sight the three of us orangutaning along the street with our cases in single file half way up it - when the smiley maintenance guy Alfredo shows up and takes us up one extremely Wide flight of stairs to our apartment. My first impression beyond the ceilings that make me feel like I am an extra from Gulliver's Travels was the light pouring in from the square bay and the original wooden sliding doors that would have separated the drawing room from the rear parlour. The two fireplaces weren't half bad either, or the fact that there were two bedrooms, a closet which Sam has decided is his playroom and a kitchen in which I can do some serious pirouettes without banging into a bed or a door. We are most definitely happy campers.

Whilst we waited for our landlord to come and go through a few things with us I looked at the names on the welcome sheet. Taking in the two male names and one woman's I joked to Cory that the three of them are probably in some kind of triangular French relationship, proof being the choice of colours and furnishings of the place being worthy of any Gallic flick, sparse and elegant as it is. In reality when one of the names materialised in his human form, answering to the name of Christopher, he was much more the budding Art Historian who visits Rome annually than the terse complicated poet I had envisaged. His glasses, all Scorsese cool and his crisp striped (multicoloured) shirt tucked carefully into his ironed jeans spelt Interior Designer and he cheerfully showed us about the place whilst making sure we were the type of people who would look after his property.

Later in the evening when we left to go explore we met the remaining partners of the triumverate, Lynn and Mark, the latter with short nearly dreadlocked hair and tatooed eyebrows and calves. They have a freash air feel about them. Like a couple of travellers just returned from a life changing year or two in New Zealand, least that's what his Maori tatooos made me think of. She, a breezy, friendly, metal worker and he, a mason (now all the metal based marble tables make sense) are often down in New Orleans creating stuff, so Christopher had told us earlier.

Similar creatives were to be spotted as we took a walk around our new neighbourhood. As we huffed and puffed our way to the top of our hill we came across a host of jaw dropping homes, each more dolls house than the previous and all painted with colours from a palette of pastels, ornate silver or gold trim to match. Turning left onto Buchanan street I suddenly stopped still, mongrel like, to sniff at the warm air. I was shot straight back to the summers of Sardinia when the unmistakable smell of wild fennel caught the breeze. Following my nose we came across an abandoned lot next to a huge Spanish monastery looking building with a whole patch of the stuff sprouting proudly out of the ground. Across the street a terrace of stone houses painted white with the terracotta tiled roofs that you would expect to come across in hot european villages. For me it was totally unexpected and filled me with a comforting feeling of familiarity. Seville meets Hollywood. On we trod towards Dolores Street passed rows and rows of houses most of which complete with iron gates opening onto granite geranium laden steps up to lace curtained front doors. Any one of which could have been my aunt's place. Downtown Ozieri. Brilliant.

On the more Victoian inspired homes the front steps often leading to palatial double doors, a couple of times I found myself averting my eyes when they would happen upon solubrious looking types draped upon them. I wondered if they had moved much since 68. There is an unmistakable air about the Mission District. It's an almost palpable sense of hip. At least that's what I observed people watching whilst we waited for a table at Delfina, a pizzeria which Christopher had promised us was worth the wait. In the half hour we mulled around I think the whole population of San Fran hipsters strutted by us united in their individualism, isometric haircuts and general laid-back-lets-talk-about-literature-and-the-new-local-aryuveda-guy sort of swagger. We were in good company. In comparison, my family and I probably looked like the white collar tourists coming Mission way to admire the artist types. Give me a few weeks.

The menu was small, simple with a few surprises, like fried pigs ear, which, I'm sorry to say Patricia for all your soap-boxing ringing in my ears I declined to try. I did, however order a glass one of my favourite Sardinian wines which I have only ever seen once outside of the country. The waitress, a cropped haired young lady flirting in equal measure with Cory and I, seemed almost interested in the fact. Boys and I feasted on Pecorino, worthy of my godfather's farm, which was piled delicately with sliced fresh figs (I'm in heaven) and a peppery olive oil. I could have stopped there, almost a perfect meal for me. When the broccoli rabe came, doused in garlic I found another corner to squeeze in more food, and when the finale, the house's famous pizzas arrived I outdid myself. And my top button. Fresh rocket sprinkled generously over the top of parma ham. Bing cherries with vanilla mascarpone for desert. Forgedddaaaboudit....

We sang our way home, past the crowds that had now formed to wait for a table (granted there is only space for about 40 people) with a quick pit stop into deli on the corner for morning supplies. If you didn't know it you could have been in any of the Turkish shops in Golders Green. Even Ferrero Rocher sold individually on the counter. Between the terracota and the Turks mama is already feeling like a local. Back at the palace boys and girls were soon asleep, with just a quick visit from boy who proceeded to wake up mid pee in the bed. Must be a first night mark your territory thing. We almost caught it in time, but in the end the bed was stripped and everything hung up whilst we all vacated and squeezed into bed number two. Why waste the night sleeping when you could be asking your Dad how long his cane is in the Putting on the Ritz number or whether it was day time yet mum?

With Dad on his second day off (the trucks needed more than 30 hours to get here by passing mountains from Denver) family followed an iphoned mum to Golden Gate Park where she had investigated a lead on day camps for a sociable little fella. Smallest one that is. We boarded the number 71 which climbed up hill to the hub of Haight street, famous for its commune feel back in the day. It did have a hearkening to Camden but on a much much longer, psychadelic, health food shop scale. We past countless freshly ground coffee places (committed to memory by the coffee snob moi), smoke shops, Tibetan clothing boutiques and many more precious gems, green eco friendly bookishness in between. Onwards it went, past the beginning of the park, and missing our stop, into the peripheries of Chinatown. Mum bagged a lychee green tea and some rice crackers and in we went to Golden Gate Park.

The first thing I noticed was the enormity of the space and the trees. Not on the scale of redwoods obviously, but these gigantic eucalyptus had had some serious biobaby feeding. The smell of the fauna was intoxicating, and again familiar. The mixture of the pines and the grasses and weeds sprouting along the sandy tracks harking back to the dusty lanes at the confines of Sardinian beaches. Onwards we went, Dad taking us off the path and upwards towards who knows where. Eventually, with a little prompting from kind rugged family we came across the meadow where a plethora of kids were bouncing around in between balls of every which game. By the time we had reached them they had been roundel up and were calmly feeding themselves their lunch. Towards the furthest end was the pre school group, and the teacher came over to talk with us. I shook her hand and turning to watch Cory introduce himself I mistakingly stepped on her foot, rather hard. She, unshaken, started describing the program when the owner came over to talk with us. He, a restless footballer by nature (I noticed his anibility to stand perfectly still and a natural sway from foot to foot as he talked) having thrown in the sales and accounting towel for coaching children, his own and others, tells us about his program. Sam happily finds his way to the group and, from the expressions I am clocking in my peripheral I can tell is beginning to spin yarns in his hybrid accent, which, thankfully is still appealing to young and old alike. We listen and watch for the best part of 45 minutes, trying to work out whether we will feel comfortable leaving the little tykey here to hike with new friends and play baseball ad nauseum. Eventually we settle on doing a try out session in which we will watch, from afar, like paranoid just in town parents and take it from there. On our trek back out the other side of the park afterwards, through a frisby golf course (heads up), pizza in hand, a present from the owner, which we used to lure the boy away from the balls it was clear that the tyke had felt somewhat cheated by being place at such close proximity to play things and not been allowed to let loose.

Jumping on the number five bus we found ourselves at a grocery store and performed a record breaking, television worthy supermarket sweep. It took longer for the taxi to arrive than to do a week's shopping. Turns out taxi is a kind of bad word in this city. Or at best a laxidasical one. In truth, why would you want to hop in a cab when you could be riding an original streetcar from the turn of last century or the chrome gilt thirties? Which boy and I did today for the record. We even waited on our return from purchasing some house supplies for a different colour one just for the fun of it. Up and down Market street they run in all their retro vari-coloured splendour. We had green-cream for outbound, black-vanilla for return. If that is not to your taste perhaps a cable car? Or a cable train wotsit (natives call it MUNI) that goes on rails above and below ground? I mean really? If none of that takes your fancy you can always hop on an electric bus? Or a zero emission hybrid variety. But car? Please. The taxi delay made it necessary for Dad to go grocery unloading and baseball ticket printing for the evenings ball game whilst boy and ma took the number 43 to Acrosports opposite Kezar stadium.

In we trod, boy literally gasping in delight when we steppd into the multicoloured uber padded gym that is the non profit organisation set up just over twenty years ago in what was then a pigeon soup shell of a building. Upstairs we headed to the main office, catching a glimpse of the huge gymnasium turned child's fantasy to pay for our lesson. At 4.30 Sam entered Sam-topia. Mum went upstairs to sit on the old viewing terrace from where parents, at least the ones not surfing their macs, could enjoy a clear panorama of the entire space. On the one side 8 and 9 year olds performed beautiful dive summersaults and the like whilst to their left a gaggle of three year olds were led on different courses that involved some serious trapezing swinging, diving, jumping and general cavorting in fairly orderly highly energised style. I barley said goodbye to the chap as the teacher asked if anyone could run backwards when I heard the little fella pip out a very loud "I can!" following it with a proud demonstration across the breadth of the sprung space. I particulalry enjoyed watching him bounce on the oversized trampoline that ran the entire width of the room. Half way through they stopped for water and then were led dowstairs to finish up on the monkey ring and other upside down ness. By the end of the hour our offspring was levitating in delight.

Not a family to sit back on the first day of a place (granted we have got used to short stays and so do many things in fast forward) dad had found tickets for us and the lovely Brad Oscar for the Giants vs Dodgers game. To those not fluent in baseball that means home town SF was playing their arch rivals from LA. With the iphone dead to the world, mum had to do that old fashioned thing of actually talking to people to get help. What a revelation. I didn't even have to wait for them to load either, kindly, modern, knowledgeable ladies that they were. Having arranged to find dad on the platform of VanNess, boy and I stood at the very discreet N train stop (pale yellow band painted on a street light) and boarded for the ride. Having found a seat I turned to the gentleman next to us to ask him where I ought to read to know which stop we were at. He apologises for not being able to tell me for he is completely blind. I hadn't noticed his stick, and his bike racing cap and sunglasses had not prompted me either. I apologise and ask him how he navigates his journey. He then tells me that they announce the stations once underground. How civilised. Board a tram outside your door and it turns into a subway just like that. Spotting the baseball symbol on the map Sam shows me which stop we are eventually headed for. On this train the announcements are only made in English, rather than Spanish and Cantonese as on the buses. On the platform at VAnNess a very well dressed lady tells me how "bonito" Sam is and a gentleman turns to Cory with a "What KNockers!" What do you expect if you wear the show T-Shirt in public? Cory is very proud of it. Its because t has the stage hand union's symbol on it and you don't usually get printed one of those if you ain't in the union kid. He managed to bag one for my dad too. I hope he know how rare they are.

Minutes later we were looking for the statue of Willie May. Not Millie May which I had been saying for the previous quarter of an hour to the embarrassment of husband. In fairness we were surrounded by baseball fans in their orange and black San Fran get out. The stadium was swarming with fans, and in the near distance, the billowing palms hid said statue. Turns out the rest of San Francisco had set this as their meeting point also. In the end we had to revert to the phone in order to track our friend. In we went, got ourselves settled with Hot Dogs the size of a small draught excluder, beers in the holder, boy on the lap, with glove and they were off! Man next to me, fiercely scribbling numbers into squares watching the field in a mixture of cool-collected and crazed scientist only to return time and time again to record all the scores and plays on his aged clip board. Others sported large headphones to listen to the live commentary simultaneously as the live game. I counted numerous loyals, their baseball caps almost toppling off their heads so heavy were they with memorabilia pins. Giants fans are real fans. No offence intended to the Houston Astros lot but I think something about the Texan heat, and, dare I say it, the quality of their team's playing made then appear positively wilted in comparison to the fiercely vocal Giants lot. They cheered, sang, did all that fan stuff your'e supposed to do, and, more importantly, unprompted! Not sure how I felt about the recurring chant which swept the stadium mexican wave styley. I don't mean to seem snobby or anything but "Beat LA! Beat LA!" seems somewhat simplistic, and well, painfully obvious, in comparison to the wordy somewhat convoluted derrogitory poetry chanted by English football fans. All the better for this novice though. At least I could learn the words.

A kind Juan infront of us, turns to us before the anthem to tell us we must take the boy to the kids baseball field over the opposite side. I tell him we may go there at half time. Dad gives me a look. I apologise, attributing my faux pas to my over indulgence in the World Cup. At the end of the 6th inning the four of us take a walk along the promenade that spans the top edge of the stadium and which backs onto the bay. Looking down we spot kayakers floating patiently waiting, in the ever dropping temperatures of the night air, for home run balls. On we trod past the freezing but happy fans in the bleacher seats, the barbecue stands and on to the mini field. In the boys ran, taking their places in line, whilst little people took turns to swing at a pitch thrown by stadium workers. They then proceeded to run, mostly in the right direction around a mini diamond whilst a host of other stray kids pretending to be outfielders and using their tiny gloves to "catch" the balls. Cory, as is his way, took it all very seriously, with a broad grin splat all over his mug, and anchored in out field. Legs, wide at the ready, whopping and cheering on every kid, especially his own. I know that wherever and whenever we let down anchor for a while, Cory is going to be the much loved Little League coach. Trouble is, as Brad also observed, he will be expecting nothing short of professionalism from his trainees. And, that, with his easy to love personality is what is going to make a great coach out of him yet. Who says actors rest between jobs?

It is no wonder then, that between hikes, trapezes, buses, streetcars and baseball games that our boy conked out in my arms at the table nothing short of 6 o clock tonight with a cheek full of bangers and mach which I literally had to scoop out of his mouth lest he choke on it. I will leave him to his beauty sleep, as I sit, on our brushed velvet sofa looking out onto the dusk falling upon the beautiful San Francisco. The next few days will see us unpack some more, clean up for the much anticipated visit of my cousin-sister Bruna and of course the don't-mention-the-tea celebrations on sunday. Somehow I struggle to expect San Fran to load out the star spangled patriotism of the rest of the country. On our first evening out I spotted one enormous flag at the top of a hill proudly waving rainbow coloured stripes instead of the regulation red and white. And did I mention the two fellas that came in to chin wag with another father at gym class? One turns and proudly and introduces his partner and their new addition. I myself turn and spy a tiny little new born being held protectively in his arms. He then moves on to introduce his eldest son. The two men with their two littler men then make their way out towards the San Francisco sunset. I am shocked at my own inability not to gawk a little. I also am overwhelmed by reams of questions for the new parents. Whose boobs do you use to feed? ( I had read of one couple who had used a boob bank to give their baby the best start) Where did you find a new born? How? Who? What? When? But I can't stop to interrogate, boy had a class to do. Questions for another day.

The sky is now turning dark purple and its time for me to stop staring at the kitch Catholic candles I have bought for $4 to adorn our marble fireplace and get on with some work.

Welcome to San Francisco people.

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