Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hitting the LA land Running

The ride towards our new home from LA X airport was strewn with skinny, impossibly tall truffula, sorry palm trees (Dr Seuss fans that was for you) the air hazy with early afternoon smog. Regardless of the traffic our foursome were beaming from ear to ear. Well at least I think thats what my niece was doing underneath the tears of shock, excitement, more shock. I ask her whether she wants to go home and that makes her giggle so we know its not pangs of sadness at least. Her hair has been straightened on request so that she is utterly prepared for her chance meeting with Leo di Caprio strolling as he does down the streets of LA. San Francisco now disappearing into history. The rather wide, rather tall, rather henchman-like Frank drove us to the airport, making Cory chuckle the whole way. As we approached the airport we got onto the subject of films. He tells us his favourite is Bambi, then he corrects himself by siting Lion King as his true number one. I wonder whether he does not coin that one to get on the right side of ladies.

When we arrive at our condo, a colleague from the show greets us, being as its his pad. Having lived here several years he is now round the corner in a bigger pad. It is roomy, has a full kitchen with one of those stoves that has the grill plate at the centre, a fat american fridge and generally space and light enough to swing a cat. Or a Sam. There is a little patio beyond the french doors of the lounge with a trickling fountain, a recliner and the tinkle tankle of a metallic wind chime. It is perfect.

Niece unpacks in our walk in closet (gasp from her and a twirl) whilst Sam dismantles the sofa to begin his gym class. Cory runs off to pick up the car and mum dreams up dinners and parties at the new pad. We four bundle into the car on Dad's return and stop in for a quick caffeine top up before braving the Grocery Store. Ralph's, round the corner, walkable (gasp number two!) is a respectable sized shop in which we wreak havoc, Sam with his mini be-flagged trolley running the aisles with his Dad and Enz and I fighting an unresponsive arthritic trolley. She keeps her shades on. You know, just in case. We have nick named her Hollywood. Filling up on the good green stuff we come across a small watermelon. I read the sign beside it: "Personal Watermelon." I pick it up and walk around the aisle sheltering it under a pretend anorak as if protecting it from the paps. My niece and I break into a cackle.

Several dollars later we are shoving our loads into a boot, into a parking lot, across a parking lot, up some stairs and into fridge. I do a two point pirouette and whip up a carbonara. We inhale it just in time for Rachel and her fella to pay us a visit. Rachel is a breezy, gorgeous blonde Liverpudlian now settled here and a good friend of Cory's from Producer days back on Drury Lane. She and her fella waltz in all California sunshine with a bottle of red in hand and make themselves at home in about 1 minute flat. It's like we just saw her yesterday. They fuss about Sam, he reels lists of his talents and demonstrates most of them. In the first five minutes. All three are rather taken with each other. A little while later, all of us chomping cherries with the aid of a cherry chomper - a gadget I found at San Fran airport that squeezes stones out them in a japanesey plastic robot figurine - that delighted Rachel and Sam no end, she casually talks about heading to Vancouver to meet with a friend who is filming. Amongst their plans will be a dinner date with her friend's producer Leo di Caprio. My niece almost falls off her chair. Then cries a little. Then laughs. Rachel, also an uber fan, promises to get a signed photo of him for her. This time my niece moves to the sofa to regain composure and Rachel joins her to talk of all things Leo. A lovely way to get to a new city, hanging with friends.

The next morning mum is all a quiver. I have the first of a number of meetings lined up with the head casting director at one of the big networks, responsible for casting a vast number of mine and Cory's favourite shows. I flick my hair from here to there, breathe in, try on quite a few clothes, jiggle about, dangle with eyeliner, sport a bit of a shimmery thing about my shoulders, don my favourite shoes and hope for the best. The family are hugely supportive and rally around making sure I get there on time. The mottley crew bundle into the car, boy tye died and fedora'd, niece all straightened hair and sunglasses, Dad in the first thing he found in his suitcase and mum poofed and puffed and exciteable. We find the studios, narrowly avoiding disaster when the security guard asks for my id and I realise I have nothing on me in my professional name. I have visions of being sent away. Luckily the men are in a jovial mood. Even the man at the car park of the studios jokes with us. He tunrs to the boy in the fedora at the back and asks,
"You do math?"
"Yeah!" boy says, "What's that?"
"Listen, there are three fishes, one drowns, how many are left?"
Mum and Dad jittery and excited begin to fumble with their fingers gesturing to Sam how he could work it out, he look at us suitably bemused. "Two" we hint, whispering.
"Three!" he shouts
"That's right!" says the man "Cos fish don't drown!"
Geesh. Way to calm the auditionee.
Onwards we go, me finally jumping out whilst the crew cruise to find a spot. Pass the security guard once again and onwards through glass double doors. At the desk an exuberant security lady with a big blow dry flashes me a smile sends me to the third floor and wishes me luck honey. I step into the lift and a 6ft 5" tall and wide guy jumps in. He asks me if I am British also? I tell him yes. He tells me he is from Camden. He has a beautiful african name which takes me a few tries to get right. Every inch of his wideness says African royalty. Then there's a bottomless pit of a voice to match. Down the corridor we waddle, littleish and large, and exchange stories on the couch of the waiting area. The women on reception here look real. No blow dry. No high fashion. Subtle lamps around their stations, plants, pictures. Candles. Eventually the diminuitive casting lady comes out and calls the African prince in. It is about twenty minutes later when he exits and I am called in. I am asked to sit on the sofa. She leaves for a moment to go and talk through something with the women out front and clear up a casting query. They are looking for someone querky it seems for something. She returns with my cv and photo in hand. The first thing she says to me is that someone has told her she must meet my husband. I can't wait to relay the message and facilitate this. She asks me about pretending to be Eliza Doolittle. I tell her about that, my Sardinian creature, our travels. She tells me I remind her of Rita Tushingham. She is also interested in the fact that green card is in the hand. She hands me some sides to read to check out my american accent and gives positive feedback. I notice her square brown tortoise shell glasses. They match her brown linen smock. Outside the day is a little cloudy. Inside her shelves are lined with folders of everybody's favourite shows spanning several decades. Brilliant. Our meeting comes to a natural, but unhurried end and I return to the troupes.

I find them zig zagging down the side walk of Studio city, niece with shopping in hand, boy waving a fake moustache. Who knew Urban Outfitter's marketed themselves on such a wide age span! We trundle on, withering in hunger till we find a sushi joint. In we go, past the Koi carp pool. The eccentric sushi chef greets us with a welcome in Japanese that sounds like he is just about to chop us in half. We sit at his bar. Gazing over the menu I catch his eye.
"Excuse me?"
"What is spicy tuna?"
He looks at me with a scrunched brow and then spits,
"It's spicy tuna!"
Cory is somewhere at my feet holding his belly laughing. Eventually we opt for the dragon roll, not without some eyebrow raising from chef. As he is cutting and rolling he yells over to his colleague in perfect Spanish for a couple of tempura prawns. In fairness the dragon roll was utterly melt in your mouth. Sam inhaled his cucumber one. Niece even tried a few pieces before her noodles rustled up.

On our drive into Hollywood we found out that every strip mall has a sushi joint and a pet grooming centre. I have yet to come across sushi for pets. Give me another week. I've only been here a few heartbeats. We had a few hours free so took the time to catch the afternoon rays walking along Hollywood boulevard in search of our favourites star's star. We found a lady selling star maps. No sign of diCaprio. we ask where his star is. She tells us he does not have one. My niece's face drops. She then adds that Julia Roberts also does not have one, because, apparently, she does not want one. We decide Leo has opted out in the same vain as Ms Roberts. We look for Buster Keaton instead, passing Charlie Chaplin on the way. The sea of tourists wading around the Chinese theatre (oscars people oscars!) is overwhelming. My threshold for touristing is about 2 hours, so, approaching our limit, we stop off at Skoobys for a hot dog and lemonade. Best in California, the sign said.

Then it was time for Dad to head into work. the young'uns and I rustled up some dinner. Dad left early for sound check trying to keep his nerves in tact at the prospect of Mel Brooks being in the audience that night. Critics, new theatre, Brooks and Stroman. The show was a hit. The cast made them laugh in the right places and the reviews sent out by the publicist today were all very positive - with lovely mentions of Cory to boot!

Today saw the second of my meetings, this time with an agent. After a rally around my wardrobe (walk-in!!!) I chose the same as the day before. My hair tustled yet again up and down and round to fall in the same place as it started. I am hoping I can stay the rock chick end of Velma from Scooby Doo just till 11.30 at least. Four of us arrive, still psychadelic and fedora'd and suitably sunglassed. I wait but a little while at reception, greeted by a lady with a fiercely black bob and funky glasses. The agent comes out not long after and we chat fairly informally about everything and nothing and work and life. We laugh. He asks me to forward my website to him at the end of our interview. He also tells me an Iranian client of his from London does fairly well out here. I take this as a good sign. He tells me LA can be a tough nut to break. That you have to meet casting directors about 8 times before they audition you proper. He talks about choosing the right place to live in the city and his nine year old daughter. I leave hopeful and send him a jokey email with info about my site. He sends a jokey email reply telling me not to email and drive at the same time and that he will be in touch. Fingers crossed. There are a couple of meetings that will hopefully come through in the next week and one confirmed for mid august. More hair tustling to come....

When I reach the street I find a famished family waiting for me. We head to the street van parked in front of us. Gastrobus. It serves organic freshly farmer market sourced ingredients and a tiny menu of luscious sandwiches. Girls chomp a thai wrap, boys have sweet potato fries and a tuna melt. We all spill it over ourselves on various bits of clothing. Even the fedora gets a drip. Then, stomachs full we set off for the movie star homes tour.

Down on Hollywood Boulevard again we jump into a 12 seater van which literally has had the top chopped off and a canopy put in its place. The cheeky chappy Alex, actor turned stand up turned tour guide drives us up and up and up into the Hollywood hills. We snap pics of Shirley Temple's home bought when she was 11 with her own money by her parents, Marilyn's old pad and Lucille Ball's home. When we pass Leo's house, well, hedge to be precise, my niece forgets to breathe so I snatch her camera and snap it for her. Onwards we wind through the narrow Hollywood hill streets passed picture perfect homes nestled together fairy tale like amongst bouganville and palms and roses and cacti. Each a little peachy slice of LA heaven. Each a distinct style, colour, shape. The sun is beaming down and it does not seem real. Down we go towards Beverly hills. We gawk at Rodeo Drive. The guide begins talking about star spotting. He sounds like the ranger that took my family and I on a safari in South Africa. Someone says he has spotted Venus Williams. Tour guide makes a de tour round the block to go back and check. This time everyone is snapping their cameras. Boy is enjoying the ride, pointing out cars and colours. The four of us are on the back seat being blow dried by the cool wind gushing in at us as we cruise through West Hollywood and eventually back down to our starting point.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for the day. On we go to a friend of Cory who is doing very well out here in movies and appearing as a regular on a very popular drama series. He lets us in to his lofty home and straight out to the pool where his children are cavorting in the water. His wife joins us and we laze by the pool for a moment. Sammy is in awe of their ping pong table. They rush around lamenting their lack of toys for the boy, but he is in boy ecstasy. Sun, outdoors, dad, ping pong balls. Is there anything more to life? They play back and forth, rolling it to each other on the ground whilst we all chit chat towards dinner. At the local pizza joint. Sammy, having begun to form a nice bond with their little girl who showed him their pinball machine, piano and karaoke machine is telling her all about his hat and his show and and and. They drop us home when Cory leaves for work with a promise of seeing us again, and, should we feel comfortable, the offer of dropping Sammy off to play if Cory and I want to have a lunch date alone one day. Howszat?!

All in all some very exciting few LA days. Tomorrow we don't have to be anywhere in particular at a definate time all morning and I am secretly looking forward to a morning to recoup in baggy pjs to charge up my batteries for future hair tustling. Till then, I will enjoy the sofa with my niece, wait for the big boy to get back, have a midnight snack and take in the crisp LA evening air from the patio screen door.

I really could get used to this....

Saturday, 24 July 2010

And Then There Were Four!

My niece is a trooper. Not only did she take her first solo flight, a 10 hour one from London to San Francisco no less, but she has also taken on jet lag with the nonchalance of a true teenager. Sleeping and remaining so, is something a 16 year old is most adept to, free as they are of any gnawing thoughts of "needing" to be doing something. She even managed a twelve hour overnight sleep give or take a few minor interruptions on her first night, and now, on day three after her arrival she has managed to squeeze in quite a few of the things on her top ten list; to date she has a New York Yankees baseball, an Obama wearing a San Francisco Giants cap tshirt and a doughnut on a key ring (some japanese-y fad wotsit going on at home I guess) stuffed into her bag. Tomorrow we will be returning to hippy-ville to bag a tie dye or some sort of psychadelic regalia. Then there's only the small challenge of setting a date up with Leonardo di Caprio and we will have succeeded in meeting the challenges of our aunt & uncle-hood.

In truth she has been whisked along with us at our usual hap hazard but incredibly gung-ho pace. It began a few days ago with a 10 o' clock circus class for the tyke. She, bleary eyed from flight and so forth huddled under her hoody, clambered onto the number 71 bus. We were greeted by the kind of bright sunny smile foreign to the faces of so many bus drivers. I have discovered over the past year this is not for the reserve of the London brigade only. At the back of the bus we sat, Sammy pointing out every single house lamp, pavement, car and cloud that past us by. Enz looked at me and told me how he didn't use to speak so much. I had thought him to be in a quiet reflective mood. At gym class, he, once again in labelling mood showed her his building, pointed out where she ought to watch him from and jumped from foot to foot eager to get going. Minutes later I was sat next to the Irish Clare, mum to another jumping bean Tom, in the older class and Enz was in front row of the dress circle. Dad arrived a little while later - we left him at home trying to set up meetings and such for LA next week - at which point boy's jumps and turns got twice as high. Back and forth he swung on the trapeze like a delirious chimp jumping off it and onto the high crash mat with a front hand spring flip flourish to finish. It is a physical impossibility for him to dismount without a flip. Enz turns and wisely cautions us to throw out all toys and invest in one of those mats. We agree. Cory even starts hatching a plan on how we could fit it into our hamper. I say the bimbo would have to go home then. He changes the subject. After his last class at Acrosports Sammy thanks his teachers, gets a sticker, a picture with them and then we all orang-utan ourselves out of the building and on towards Haight st.

By now, we know most of the shops and the order in which they pan out. We stop at a few along the way before we are so hungry we could cry. Whaddayaknow? There's our favourite Thai place under our noses and in we go to scoff. Minutes later we are all nose deep in fragrant coconutty deliciousness, mum in double time because she has a hair appointment. With indigestion on the near horizon I jump back onto the 71 swaggering somewhat at being map free. I try my best pretending-to-be-a-local acting and I almost succeed. I think. If the chap next to me with the leopard print wooden discs in the lobes of his ears hadn't been swan-necking my email to cousin Sara I might have asked him outright if I was believable or not. Onward I sprint to Shear Bliss.

I am greeted by an elfin freckled young lady with a very beautifully coloured blonde bob. She has black rimmed fifties style glasses. During the next hour whilst she paints my hair various shades of honey, blending the grey she says, so as to give a softer natural look, I find out she has just decided to give east coast university education a miss for this year to rethink her direction. What she gets from me is a synopsis of my first novel, a potted history of our year so far and a few nuggets in between. I get very over excited at the hairdressers. It is still such a new thing to me. After the paint session I am washed and handed over to a lady with long blue painted talons and a psychotic bob. Back burgundy, front peroxide blonde. I sit down not without mild trepidation. I begin a very detailed mime/description of what I would like. When I begin paragraph two of it she looks at me in the mirror and cuts me off with an "I gettit." I am hushed into silence under her scissors. Half an hour later she's got me all coiffed and poofed and bobbed and I look rather fashionable I might say which is a word I could never really honestly use to describe myself. Whilst doing that thing of trying to look at yourself in the mirror without looking at yourself in the mirror my family bundle in. Enzi ablaze with a black and white picture of Obama on a new T-shirt, Sammy swaggering under a Gene Kelly fedora with Cory close behind. The three of them all talking at the same time, delirious obviously from all the shopping, piece together a picture of them walking into a Ganesha store whereupon the chinese owner proceeded to kiss a crystal stone and give it to Sam together with incense and a picture of the god himself. I was going to say signed, but that would be cheap. Then the little man tells me about how they looked at all sorts of hats and that this was the one for kids and that it fit and that it is special and that its for when he does the show and don't I look like Donald O'Connor mum and look I am going to lean off that lampost outside now mum look! And he does. Turns out they have walked the best part of a mile which, for all three I imagine is no mean feat. I take them round the corner for a coffee to my favourite garage to de-compress.

I do not exaggerate. the Blue Bottle Coffee Company on Linden St off Gough is literally a coffee roaster inside, well, an opened up garage. As in, open up the garage door and there is a little counter behind which two people craft uber perfect coffee for the discerning coffee drinker. As you know, I have never shyed away from admitting I am one of those irritating coffee snob people. I can't help it. This country has nurtured that in me. Suffice it to say this place is like the soup nazi from Seinfeld. You get to that counter and you better know what you want. And you better be Zen about waiting for it. And we were, all twenty of us in line. None of that Starbucks I'm-on-a-meter-move-it-already-people angst to this little alley. Just pure heaven in a cup. They even do that fancy thing of making pretty swirly things in the foam. Even my macchiato the other day had a little heart. Cute. Ahem, I mean, skilful.

After caffeine comes play. Or, dad sits on another bench finishing off his business calls, Enz and I soak up a few late afternoon rays and Sam runs loose on the climbing frame, befriending a rather larger girl of Russian descent talking in a way that appeared to belie her size. She was sort of a 5 year old in a 7 year olds body. All I know is when it was time to go they hugged each other. A lot. Back home both youth were in bed at a good hour to rest up before some serious touristing planned for this morning.

Come 7 am we were up and at em, well mum was just at em because I am not a nice person before coffee. We bundled up and out (eventually) and squeezed into the booth we sat at with Zia Bru a few weeks ago round the corner at the diner. Enzi snapped pictures, Sam started his morning ramble through streams of consciousness. My niece tells me she is concerned that by the age of 6 Sam might have talked himself out. I belly laugh till our pancakes are served. When we have eaten enough to make it difficult to get out of our chairs we head towards the Asian museum to catch one of those double decker open topped buses that you always see tourists sado masochistically freezing their brains off on the top deck. Half an hour later, having asked directions form a friendly coach driver parked at the museum, who took so much time to befriend us and offer advice that we narrowly missed our bus which I spied in my peripheral and sent our niece sprinting to catch for us and we were also sado masochistically sitting on the top deck freezing our brains off. We squealed out towards the bay as we cruised through Golden Gate park and up park the Presidio towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We shrieked through the gales that whipped at our faces as we crossed the bridge through the morning fog squinting down towards the glinting shores of Sausalito. We wobbled our way downstairs when the bus turned around to make its way back towards the city, finally being able to hear ourselves. We took off several layers and decompressed whilst watching the city fold out before us through the rambling Little Italy, passed the cafe where Coppola began writing The Godfather onwards to Chinatown and Union square. We meet dad back at the flat, still in his pyjamas, still emailing to set up meetings chuckling at our frazzled hair and flushed cheeks. We inhale a quick lunch and streetcar it to the theatre.

Enzi is received with great alacrity by everyone who comment on the family resemblance and Sammy's new hat. The girls squeal over my haircut so much so that I think it may not look as nice as I thought. We go down in the elevator shaft, operated by a young chinese guy who works all the buttons and the yellow constatina iron door. Only on the base level is there any semblance of real theatre life. Lights are up, people are changing, there is even a corner where a bookshelf and library have been set up by the in house crew. A fifties chrome sign hangs form the ceiling by a white dresser lined with mugs for teas and coffees. It has a grungy student union feel, a world away from the crisp almost clinical backstages of say the Kennedy Centre in DC or the arts centre in Houston, which, in retrospect are more akin to the bowels of a hospital than a theatre. The Golden Gate has had a long history of Vaudeville and on the 7th floors there are still the shells of the apartments where the likes of Sinatra and co would have lived during a run there, complete with tunnel below connecting guests to the bar across the street. Now, the place has a somewhat deserted feel, renovated after the earthquake in the late eighties to feel more like a town hall than a glorious theatre which it must have been. Eventually Sam and I make our way back out onto the street, whilst Enzi makes her way to the auditorium and dad prepares to do his turn.

Sam and I jump on the 19 bus which we catch at the other end of the street. Boy strikes up conversation with a lady next to him who shares her life story and much of his. When she leaves the bus another lady, having listened in (he has a theatrical voice) promptly reaches in her purse for a $5 which she puts in the top pocket of Sam's dungarees. Thank you he says and then tells her he will look to see if he likes something he likes and then he will buy it and does she want a cookie of his? She tells him she is a diabetic and leaves at the following stop. I look down towards the front of the bus to catch the turquoise brilliance of the bay in the near distance flanked by craggy pines not a world away from a Mediterranean postcard. We literally run to the beach at the end of it and for the next hour I watch Sam cavort in the sand running splashing cartwheeling jiggling and generally expressing joy with every fibre of his body. It is a delight. To me, and everyone passing, most of whom who can't help but comment on that little thing flipping and jumping and cartwheeling and screaming. When the puppy finally falls face flat into the water and utterly drenches himself and his clothes I call it a day and get him into dry clothes feet bare to the elements to dry off. His face covered in wet sand, a fedora on his head, feet popping out of tracksuit bottoms, scoffing popcorn in his stroller. He looked a glorious sight.

The hat was a hit. So much so that on our return journey on the number 19 another be-hatted man struck up some serious conversation with the boy. Taking off his sunglasses, dressed like a skinny greek yogi meets indiana jones he asks if he may be so bold as to compliment the young man on his attire. He and Sam carry on conversation, to the entertainment of the saturday crowd, touching topics as wide as bird whistles to the meaning of life with pretty much everything in between. "My friend," he says to Sam, "Sometimes it is great to sing with the birds. I whistle like this," and he does a scarily accurate bird twitter, "and they sing back to me my friend." They tell each other about the music they like to make. I am struggling to tell whether this man lives on our plane or another distant place. Either way I like it and he doesn't appear the type to crash into any aggressive behaviour. At least not towards his new friend. As we make to leave Sam tells him he might see him again on our journey to the beach on the 19 some other day. He then almost has a tantrum when we don't stop to play in the playground beside the stop. Aside from dad's show almost ending it takes two seconds to clock the gaggle of folk crowding around the gated play area. One man, head in his hands is rocking, another woman is talking to herself and another, clutching a suitcase is shaking and twitching. I try to avoid undue panic but truth is I want to be out of there as quickly as possible. On the two street corners we pass on our way to stage door crowds of characters gather like extras from a movie where the director is trying to create an ostentatiously "realistic" mis en scene of urban troubles. The men are shifting from side to side, money is being changed hands. When I get to the final crossing I catch a conversation between a couple of twitchy backpackers and another passer by. They ask whether he has morphine. He tells them yeah but only every seven days They express disappointment. The walking man light comes on as they go on to discuss details of money. I then realise I am walking down the street the man at the desk of the company hotel has told people to avoid. I notice I am looking about and catching the eye of every person who appears to not be involved in drug exchange or conversations with invisible people, of which, in truth, my son is one of. When we get to the stage door an ancient chinese lady is industrially fishing out plastic bottles from the bin on the street and stuffing them into her plastic bag upon her trolley. A man, drinking beer out of a brown paper bag covered can, finishes his last gulp and calls out to her, "Hey mama! I gotchu anotha." She squints up towards the sun at his silhouette and takes it without reply. Sam, half the beaches' sand and I descend into the bellows of back stage catching the end of the play off. Sam is dunked into a shower and we eventually pile into a cab to eat hamburgers the size of our heads. Even Sam, when asked by the waitress for his order, calmly asks for a cheeseburger please. Must be the sea air.

Now we are back home, one teenager conked on the sofa, one three year old conked on the bed and one 33 year old tip tapping on the keyboard amongst all our cases lying open mouthed crying out to be fed with our STUFF. I'm here trying to commit the past few days to more than memory, especially the part where we walked past a lady pushing several rubbish bags and a chicken (live) on a stroller down Union square, or the guy with long grey hair under a top hat and round black spectacles on haight street, or the busty lady with dreadlocks plaited down to the ankles at the airport when we went to pick up our niece the other day. All these things I wish to save somewhere for a rainy day so that I will smile remembering the trip that was San Francisco.

It's true what the automated voice on the bus said this morning about what visitors say after their trip to the city, "I'll be back!"

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Eyeliner and DM Boots

I am sitting in our square Edwardian bay, laptop rested upon our round marble table mexican music blaring up from a truck on the street below. Just in front of me are the bright orange and cerise dahlias I purchased down Mission way. When I caught a flash of my reflection in one of the windows I had the sudden realisation that I had adorned myself with every which colour in the spectrum from the bright green sweater to my turquoise silk scarf and every which in between. This in turn meant I was unintentionally camouflaged as I strutted down the colour washed end of 24th street. The Mission part of town is intoxicating to me. It is, in truth, somewhat more run down than the zooped up pastels of Haight street or the Noe valley, but there is something very comforting about it to me. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I could perhaps pass for an Argentinian or, at a stretch Brazilian perhaps, and therefore can pretend I too am a San Franciscan. The boys and I hopped on the 49 bus which took us down the length of Mission street, once again passing the colourful array of taquerias, money transfer companies and, Thrift World - a gargantuan charity shop to you and me, which, tragically, I didn't make time to loose myself in. I had promised Cory a tour of Balmy street to take in the glorious murals, with food before hand. Down we sauntered along 24th street loosing ourselves into the neighbourhood, passed canary shops, flower stalls and a cluster of restaurants each with their mouthwatering smells whirling about us. Eventually we came to the taqueria I had spied with my cousin. Inside every inch had become part of a mural depicting the history of the city with almost an entire wall devoted to the 49ers football team. At the counter we ordered portions of meaty delights and rice and beans. Boys were served a couple of fresh juices from two enormous vats, one melon based the other a fruity watermelony concoction. Both tasted like holidays on the beach. After a short while our marinated pork and chicken plates arrived and we fell into silence as we scoffed our authentic delights. Our concentration punctuated only by the flap of several pigeons who had found themselves inside proceeding to hop from tile to tile and occasionally on table tops. I have discovered that sharing my dining space with flying friends is not on top of my list of favourite things to do whilst digesting. Hey ho. Plenty of room I spose. After several more flappings one other customer, a skinny mexican lady of indeterminate age with brylcreem'd slicked back hair, a red and black tracksuit and a seriously generous application of cream (red) blush slammed the doors that were open onto the street shut. Minutes later, the last remaining bird flew into my peripheral and almost knocked himself out on the glass. This tickled my husband no end. I captured it on camera. Accidentally (pardon the pun). The bird had some serious comic timing.

Which leads me nicely on to remembering the undisputed highlight of our week. Triple bill of 20 minute black and white silent shorts shown at the Castro Theatre saturday morning as part of the 15th annual silent film festival. It was Sam's first visit to the movies. With no conceit intended, we are delighted that he had the opportunity for Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, Max Davidson and Laurel & Hardy to be the first to engage him in this wonderful genre. We arrived on the F streetcar, in all its retro splendour, only to join the queue that was snaking its way around the block. Amongst the spectators were a handful of 20s affecionados dressed in vintage clothes with hats, curled moustaches and red lipstick to boot. In we shuffled, past the islamic tiled stand alone box office and into a dimly lit velvet splendour of a place. A truly breath taking movie house, lovingly preserved within an inch of its life. The lights dimmed, people shuffled in their seats. First up, The Cook, in which Fatty Arbuckle plays a glib, well padded cook with Buster as his sidekick waiter. Turns out I love a man in eyeliner. Keaton gave an adorable turn as the lovestruck accident prone stooge to the hilarious Arbuckle. It was electric. The audience almost 1,000 strong roaring into the auditorium, joined in a fleeting but beautiful moment of comedic perfection. An hour later we jostled across the street to The Cove for some brunch and whilst Dad took off for the show, Sam and I let off steam at the playground.

I will shed some light on the area that is Castro. A predominately gay area, it is customary to see children at playground accompanied by their two dads or mums. On the day in question we met a young girl, dressed up as a jock in training, playing with her dad and his partner. I promise I was not eavesdropping when I heard dad say mum was coming soon. Minutes later, mum, a voluptuous vision in pink with jet black dyed hair holding a skinny puppy chiuwahwah at the end of a rhinestone studded fuschia S & M leash, strutted in. Child was handed over with accompanied pleasantries and details on her bedtime for the previous nights. Honestly I was not eavesdropping. When dad and dad had left I made small talk with mum who quickly shared the fact that she and dad had opted for IVF together and, having signed a parental contract are now sharing the responsibilities of their little girl. Soon after another two dads came in with their 14 month old and greeted my new friend and I as we sat cross legged on the floor. One of them asks when the two children's birthdays are, meaning Sam and his new friend, and I, without thinking give the answers for both. The dad smiles back at me with recognition and I suddenly realise that there is no doubt in his mind that my new friend and I are a couple. Then I realise his smile also tells me that he thinks we were both pregnant at the same time (the little girls birthday is in october and Sam's in november). I smile back, feeling warmly initiated into the community.

Soon after Sam and I leave for mama's coffee fix in a little outdoor cafe. We sat next to a man becoming a woman and another couple, the three putting the world to rights. Eventually we make our way back to the streetcar which would take us all the way to Fisherman's wharf where Cory and his cousin and niece would meet us for dinner. On the way about half a dozen men utterly naked but for tans, tattoos and DM boots strutted by us, their eyes twinkling cheekily in the early afternoon sunshine. Sam took them in, cast a glance all over their bodies and kept walking. Turns out nudity on the street is far more suprising to a 33 year old than a person 30 years their junior. As we waited for the street car I clocked another two, sitting casually at an outside table sipping their coffees and sharing a joke. I think it was on us.

Half way through the streetcar ride to the wharf a little boy fell asleep on my lap. I was glad, because the onslaught on the senses of the touristy wharf deserved some rest before hand. Course carrying a lithe 3 year old limp in your arms whilst trawling through the river of tourists swimming upstream towards you is also not on the top of my favourite thinsg to do list either. Eventually we get to our cousin's favourite restaurant (they came in from Sacramento to see us) and half an hour later we scoffed shrimp like they were going out of fashion. Even our boy became one with the fruit of the sea, shovelling them down the hatch in between gasping, loudly at the ships and sail boats on the bay which we spied form the expanse of picture window we sat beside. Dad made a hasty getaway for the evening show and we bought candy and trinkets and took in the sea lions on the jetty and the clown doing his turn on the stage. The evening fog and the descending chill made us huddle up hill back to the homestead. In the morning our relatives returned back home.

The boys have since returned home from their galavanting in a park on the outskirts of Japantown where we headed for lunch today. Big boy is taking his regulation early evening sieta before the show and mini boy's head is peeping over the top of the table his belly full of dinner (I went off to make it around paragraph four), now feasting on japanese cookies in between detailed descriptions of his adventures with daddy. "Lets get some tennis racquets," he says, "and a real green tennis ball." He is miming the game for me now. And talking about girls. Another cookie has made it into his mouth, hushing him into a fleeting moment of reflection as he turns to the window to watch San Francisco drive by us and into the evening. It won't be easy to leave this place. I'm only just getting used to wandering about without looking at a map. Or iphone. Just under a week left.

Best enjoy those dahlias whilst I can.....

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Back From the Burbs

My nails are blackened with artichoke. Never better a way to really christen ones new home than to have a pot of them simmering quietly in the background whilst dad plays Puttin' on The Ritz for the boy hammering out his unique version of the number on our little deck out back dressed in his england football uniform, a drum stick for a cane and his black tap shoes. I figure the neighbour's annoyance at the racket will be placated by the wafting smells of garlic and parsley heading down their way on the Pacific breeze. The fact is our flat is looking more akin to a produce stall at the moment. That's what you get when I am let loose on the civic centre farmers market to haggle my way through every which vegetable only to come home and try and make every meal include ALL of them in some form or other. We are in need of some healthy-fication. We have been living it large in the suburbs you see.

Yes, friday evening saw the visit of Cory's first cousin Skip, his wife and their children. We worked our way through pizza at the flat and cracked open some of the wine from my Napa trip. Turns out it tastes even better out of the bottle. Having found out that Sam and I would be home alone much of the weekend the family invited us down to the burbs of Campbell to live the Californian dream For a couple of nights at least.

The following morning with a surprise early (natural) wake up from ma and an even better surprise lie in from boy, allowing mum to pack up essentials and emergency supplies for our little jaunt, the two of us in barely fifteen minutes after the boy greeted consciousness were whizzing down hill in a yellow cab and hopping aboard the Caltrain. A double decker beauty which delighted even mum. I am a sucker for stairs inside moving vehicles. Always have been. Boy and I squealed our way upstairs for all of $6 for the ride. We even nabbed a table. With power outlets. And side show. This was in the form of the pathetic but relentless efforts of a young chap who boarded just before Stanford to woo a dismissive young lady, her nose in gossip mags. When he started asking her why she had painted her nails red and black even I almost interjected to tell him that clearly, having scraped every cheesy barrel, the woman was simply not interested. My being a nosey parker will serve a good purpose one day I am sure of it.

Southbound we headed leaving the outskirts of the city behind us to pull up every five minutes or so at small stations each built in a different style. From miniature German turrets to the full throttle peachy art deco number of Palo Alto. After just over an hour we arrived at Sunnyvale. And it was. Uncle Skip greeted us in a big red truck stuffed full of excited young cousins. Boy was strapped into a car seat next to Jenna, 5 and I can safely say that was the last I saw of him for most of the weekend. In they delved into 3 & 5 year old land. When we arrived at the house they ran into the garden enthralled in each others company laughed and ran and climbed and argued and played and climbed and ran for the rest of the morning. At almost 2 o clock we headed to the older brother's baseball game.

Put aside any notion of amateur gaming for children. Rainy saturday kick abouts and so on. This was the ALL STAR game. Proper field. Stands. Which were packed incidentally with family and friends supporting their young team players with the verve of anyone watching major league. There was even a snack stand serving hot dogs and popcorn. And, the piece de resistance, a commentator in a box delivering excitable descriptions of the batters about to hit. Their number, their name. I was half expecting a low down on their stats. Jarrett, our cousin star player, was in the dug out for quite some time, but towards the tail end of the game scored a whopping home run that gave his side a fighting chance in the 8th inning. In the end they succumbed to defeat. The winning side played two bats short of professional. They had the gear too. Some I come to find out were playing with $350 bats. No pressure kids. Who says childhood is for running free anyways when there is sport to be Played? I joke, these team players were utterly proud to be out there. After the game Jarett jogged out all jock to greet his sisters and cousin Sam. He then ate a hamburger and an ice cream in two seconds flat, offering his second ice cream to Sam. The two of them, in mutual admiration for one another played ball in the garden till dinner was up.

I use the term garden loosely. Park would be more accurate. Between the climbing frame worthy of any public park, the outdoor kitchen and bar, the swings hung from the trees boy and ma were in outdoor heaven. A gate cut into the fence was opened to the neighbours house and everybody wandered freely from one yard and house to the other in a joint effort to prepare the feast that was to follow. Uncle Skip had already talked Sam through the rigours of preparing ribs, aunty Kim had given me free choice of the desert recipes and the children ran wild in the background. Eventually we all had to stop and eat. Maggie, the Scots lady from next door who shared her family photo book with me that documented their travel from a tiny village south of Glasgow to the new world aboard a converted German fighter ship after the war mixed me a super sized gin and tonic which I sipped for the rest of the evening. Meanwhile the men, as usual congregating tribally around the grill whilst the women get on with the other bits and pieces arrived with platter upon platter of succulent juicy could-eat-20-of-these ribs. As the night descended we tucked into them and a plethora of salads and such. Home made ice cream and chocolate torte for desert. Lush. After another hour or so of sprinting across the meadow, I mean lawn, the children eventually washed up and bundled onto Jarrett's bed. The girls, their shiny golden tresses matted with play, Sammy flushed with excitement at sharing bedtime with his family and Jarrett book in hand reading to the group made an adorable picture and exactly what I would have wished for our tyke, so fond are his parents of their memories of summers surrounded by family packs. Course two or more books later and the tykes were not sleeping eventually aunty Kim and I just left them to it. Jarrett, Payton and Jenna sandwiching Sam in the big bed till all was silent.

The next day we shuffled through the morning, children filling up on Scooby Doo episodes, parents nursing bottomless coffee cups. Pancakes were made and tummies were filled. Then the two ladies hopped off for some shopping and left the children and uncle Skip to their own devices. This included a jaunt to grandma's pool thank you very much. By the time Kim and I got home the children were up in the top level of the climbing frame deep in conversation. "That's right Sammy!" I heard Jenna say in her 1930s black and white movie accent for which no one can decipher its origins so different is it from the rest of the family. She was talking about him writing his own name. To you and me a page of enthusiastic scribble. Well, to me stroke of potential art genius obviously. Later she tells him he is the best man she has ever had. Her sister reminds her he is a cousin. She corrects herself and tells him he is the best cousin she has ever had. Payton reels off the names of their other cousins. She corrects herself a third time and in her Hollywood drawl says he is the best boy cousin. Then, and only then, is Payton satisfied. Jenna is all California sunshine and outside boots and skirt kind of a gal. Actually she changes her outfit at least three times a day. Shoes too. Her sister meanwhile alternates between being with the gang and hiding up high, her nose in her journal writing up thoughts and plans. The eldest brother throws a ball or three, hides in a video game and then launches himself on the tree swing twisting up into the air to the delight of Sam. Daddy makes it out there for around 6ish and more sun downers are shaken up, the ribs make a second appearance, the neighbours gather once again and it feels all summer holiday.

The following morning the family leave early for a trip to upstate new york to visit the rest of the relatives, my mother and father in law included. We are given keys to the house, the car, the truck. Told to eat everything in the fridge, the cupboards. Marvellous. We hang out in the garden some more and then wind our way to Vaseno park to catch the last mini train ride around part of the grounds. When we disembark the tiny diesel engine, Sam strikes up conversation with the driver who then invites us to the garage where a beautiful mini steam engine sits waiting for its next outing. An steam lover's dream of a thing, all tiny but absolutely perfectly formed and identical to its larger counterparts. The driver tells us that the volunteers who work the rail road at the park are so passionate about the engines, one even has a picture of it tattooed on his arm. We wander along the tracks towards the lake and catch a little alcove heading down to a creek. Following our noses we end up paddling into an icy cold creek its water so clear I felt like drinking it. Dad, boy and I sat upon a log which lay across the width of the narrow stream tossing stones for almost an hour. When we couldn't feel our feet anymore we headed back to the bank where boy found a patch of mud and jumped in and out of it for the next half hour. Eventually we dragged ourselves away from paradise and towards Campbell for some dinner.

The sign above the restaurant boasted it served "authentic" Italian. I am as wary of this word as I am "gourmet" both of which seem frighteningly over used on American soil. Snobby I appear yes, but I have roots. White and Italian ones. Cut to a plate of pasta later and boy has almost fallen into his bowl, sound asleep, and mum and dad have devoured the freshest creamiest mozzarella antipasto with freshly sliced prosciutto followed by orechiette with broccoli rabe and a generous portion of lamb chops. Chianti to share. Espresso and tartuffo to finish. Warm sunset in the background. California cool.

So now you see why the veggie overload. It began with sugar overload back at Santa Clara before we boarded the caltrain homeward bound. In we squeezed a trip to a fruit stand "cornucopia" to load up on juicy cherries, perfectly ripe peaches and exquisite apricots. All locally grown. All moreish and delicious. Tasted of the Mediterranean. We took a whole box of them on board to get us through the journey. Not so much made it into our fridge. Then again, our fridge is the size suited to people who keep milk in there only. It is certainly teaching me the art of shopping minimally. Or at least, how much food we actually consume rather than stocking up for the Chinese army should they call in unannounced. Which, to be fair, may just well happen in San Francisco. Or at least one person, barely coming off substance induced visions from 1968 believing whole heartedly that they are the Chinese army.

San Francisco's liberal policies are such that no-one is sent away from this town. In fact they have stringent methods in place to make sure every drug abuser and mentally ill citizen is given refuge and help. What this means in practice is that the top end of Market street has become home to a spectrum of salubrious characters. I spose you never recognise the folk who have turned their lives around. Give me your tired your hungry, was written for this place. It is great to be in a part of America that takes its responsibility to its people so seriously though trailing the city's streets can be a little like stepping into a scene from Mad Max. Other bone fide hippies you meet are an inspiration. Like the two Sam and I passed on our way back from dinner in the garden of one of the apartment hotels the rest of the company is staying at. She,a slightly witchy looking vision in pink rotund and moustache-d hiking uphill with a piece of Yew she told Sam she had collected at Golden Gate Park. He, Keith, bandanna around his head, straggly silver hair about him, also sporting yew stick and missing quite a number of fingers. They invited us to their drum circle at the playground on saturday morning. She also told me that her uncles told her to show them cartwheels whilst she wore a dress but she got wise to it. He told me his kids had all grown up and then took a swig of his beer in a brown paper bag. We parted ways, Sam cartwheeling uphill all the way home. Thats what you get after a fish grill I spose. A few members of the troupe took to the sea last week and have freezers full of fishiness. They shared plenty with us tonight. I supplied a colourful salad, of, well, everything, and bimby and I did a turn on the old salsa verde number. Ooooh yeah baby. Actually its called getting clever with the half a pound of parsley I couldn't resist buying at the market from an ancient chinese lady for but $1. That one's for you Patrish!

And so it was that Patricia's voice rang in my head when I finally got around to tasting the famous artichokes at lunch. "Did you put any salt in?" I hear her ask with downturned mouth and a heavy heavy frown the kind she would throw me anytime I cooked anything for her ever. You would think from her reactions that I had offered her raw tripe with blood pudding gravy. Truth be told the chokes did need more salt. All those years apprenticing with her and mum may have finally started to rub off.

Certainly hope so. I predict much more cooking on the horizon. We got word this morning that Cory's negotiations have gone in his favour and the trio will be travelling up until Christmas rather than returning to Blighty come September. This means one of several things. 1. We get to see Florida after all. 2. Best friends back home have started to plan a mega trip to see us (yay!!!!!!!) and 3. Sam will have another birthday as a troup-ee. It also means my folks will have opportunity to see different parts of the country. Perhaps I'll take them to the deserts of Arizona? Or the beaches of OC county? Or maybe trawl them around the stunning foliage of upstate new york in the fall? It is all very exciting. But then I seem to have the knack of being over excited about most things most of the time. Hormones aside even.

I am happy we do not have to wave goodbye to our travelling life as soon as we thought. Besides, I have a green card begging to be put to good use. Perhaps my agents and I can work some magic down in La-La land? More of that anon. Till then, I'll type till Cory gets back, with a brand spanking new DVD box set of the comedy series I worked on now airing on the BBC. I have never been one of those actors to shirk away from themselves in celluloid. It is exciting and nerve wracking, but ultimately the only way to gauge, critique and improve your work. Absolutely no vanity involved whatsoever.





Just need a quick glance at that Star Trek spoof wig.......

Thursday, 8 July 2010

How to Eat Your Way Through San Francisco

I don't really know how to start my rumination of the past week without writing a short novel. The fact is, when your cousin comes into town and tells you she has five days in which to explore the city jet lag or no, you simply know you are in for some serious touristing with a big fat capital be-camera'd T. Before doing so, Cory and I took an afternoon to stroll the entirety of Haight street whilst our little fella was whisked off by what I have come to call his two tall parents; beautiful blonde 6 footers from the show, who, with but a tweak of imagination could pass for our boy's folks, and for whom he has developed a serious bond. Especially because their height means that walking hand in hand down the street, performing his regulation flips between them means he can actually get some air underneath, something his 5ft something folks can but aspire to. No matter, that on the day in question he had just finished an hour at the circus school trapezing his way through the afternoon, jumping off it and into such speedy forward rolls that they were beginning to look a little more like flips.

We left the blonde threesome behind us as we trekked through 1968. Or so it felt trawling the shops and characters of Haight Street, deliciously free of Starbucks or the like. Certainly the area has capitalised on its hippie history but not to the point of abandon. Smoke shops beside tibetan jewellery haunts, The Canabis store but a hop and a skip from a collection of delectable vintage stores (with prices to match) and a vast charity shop with which I filled a trolley only to put most of the things back when I realised that sparse as our flat is there was no burning need to fill it with glass vases. I take playing house incredibly seriously.

In and out of eras we wove passing gastropub breweries, coffee shops and a handful of beautifully wooden floored eccentricity stores proudly displaying taxidermy squirrels and various skulls turned jewellery amongst its wares. I couldn't take my eyes off the red velvet padded glass display cases or the way the tiny space between them was rammed with gawking tourists. I wondered if any of them would actually purchase the monkey brain in formaldihide or the lacquered moth on a chain. Upwards we huffed past never ending picture perfect homes their pastel Victorian beauty bathed in the bright afternoon sun. At Divisadero we turned left and six blocks later sat our bones at Cafe Abir to get into an Africano coffee. Two espresso shots topped with warmed milk in a small glass later and I was ready to take on the world. I got as far as our flat and rustled up a dinner for our son and his mates on their return from the zoo instead.

That evening, a little tyke who could have done with a bed was dragged by his mother on the Bart train to the airport to pick up Zia Bru', my cousin. She, weary from a two flight day from Blighty delighted to be in California at last. We caught the end of a pink sunset on our drive home. It would appear the state was happy to have her also.

The first thing on the itinerary the following day was a ride on the famous cable car. Granted it was the beginning of July 4th madness but nevertheless this family parked itself under the midday sun whilst dad earned his crust, and after several twists and turns in the line we were finally onboard. Boy and girls similarly raising their eyebrows in disbelief at the vertical in - and - de - clines as we zig zagged our way to Fisherman's Wharf. A sea of tourists greeted us as we fought through the swarm of vacationers to soak up the sea side, fish fry atmosphere. With a view of Alcatraz. Narrowly avoiding purchases of the innumerable black and white stripe shirts in its honour. When bellies rumbled we followed our noses back towards North Beach, or, my favourite Little ITaly on this soil so far. No offence Boston and Providence but this felt like the real deal. Old buildings, a proper square with a green and a sandy playground for i bambini, the smell of coffee, people actually speaking Italian. Mama was happy. Boy was exhausted. He barely got through half of his pumpkin ravioli before coming over to my lap and conking out. Cuz and I finished off our salads and a shared glass of Nebiolo enjoying the tiny ten tabled wooden pannelled place we had found. L'Osteria, on Colombus avenue was delightfully quiet at three o clock that afternoon. Turns out its quite a popular place. I know this because when we returned there yesterday in between shows, the waitress talked to me about their "policies" on giving tables before all guests are there, and kept me waiting, like a hungry horse, perched over half of a stable door kept firmly shut against the crowds. There actually was a stable door. I'm not just getting all poetry. She then informed me that her colleague would be over to decide if she would let us in. It was worth the wait. Beyond the ten tables is the small, open kitchen in which a solo chef does double time to keep the customers happy. Their wine list is immense and unusual, not mention stocking mirto from Sardinia which made mum a happy camper. The chocolate salami wasn't half bad either, or the delectably light tiramisu, or the proper straight out of an Italian bar coffee neither....

In truth the week has been an onslaught of my senses. Beginning with our early morning jaunt on July 4th, at a time in the day when only a few runners, dog parents and folk talking to themselves are about. Before the jostle of the weekenders we sauntered up and down the hills of Dolores street and on towards the Mission district. A quick pit stop into Dolores park playground for the tyke to let off steam led us to meet Peter and his son Devan. The former kindly advised us that if we were looking for July 4th celebrations we would be best to go to another city. "here the celebrations were last weekend ladies, you know Pride?" I turned, most likely a little smugly to my cousin, seeing as I had expressed a hunch that this may be the case. Somehow a die hard patriotic parade just didn't seem to fit with the city I had fallen in love with in just over five minutes last week. He also told me that I looked like his high school sweetheart. Something told me she may have been his first and last.

On we trod towards Mexico. Least thats what it felt like as we headed down Valencia, its coffee haunts, all mis matched chairs and fresh beans began to wake its customers. On and on we strolled across Mission street and eventually to Balmy street, a narrow alley of a road ablaze with murals. On each of the garage doors and fences that backed onto the street was a mural more colourful, vivid and beautiful than the one before it. We snapped everyone for posterity. Their vibrancy felt like I was drinking a double shot of the black stuff. Never mind the assault on our senses as we carried on through towards Mission street itself, passing Taquerias on every corner, flower shops, coffee holes, football shirt stands and music. Lots of music. From cars, from the shops from the apartments above. All the signs alive with Spanish and the now fully woken streets awash with people. As we boarded as bus we passed vast fruit shops row upon row deep with avocados and mangoes and hungry shoppers. We hopped off at 17th street, walked by a handful of mouthwatering delis and eventually climbed back uphill to Mission Dolores.

It stands, flanked by palms, an arresting coupling of thick white stone 18th century Spanish architecture with an ornate pinkish stone Basilica beside it. For $5 we had the opportunity to peruse the old grounds, first built in the late 1700s by the Spanish and the labour of indegenous tribes that would have stood like a walled oasis in the brush. Beyond the small stone chapel is the graveyard perfectly balanced with every which Mediterranean shrub and plant. The trickle of a stone fountain orchestrates your stroll around the tombs, a large stone Saint Francis, head bowed in prayer standing at its centre. I turned round to catch Sammy in mid hop from one tomb to another. He was quickly ushered down as we explained that the stones belonged to people, you could tell so by the names on them and that they were not for jumping on. He spent the rest of the afternoon hopping on the concrete pavement slabs on the street pretending to check for names and loudly announcing his next jump on account of there not being any written upon them. It was a long walk home.

Back at the ranch we scoffed a quick lunch and then headed into town to get the scoop on the evenings festivities. As the end of the show approached Cory suggested we go to the local Churrascheria to celebrate with some folk from the show. When our party arrived at the Brazilian feast house we started with some bonafide Cainprinhas. Shortly after we were invited to the salad bar. Erase from your mind the sorry offerings at chain pizza joints. What I found here was the kind of spread worthy of a regal wedding. Charred sweetcorn salad, grilled aubergines, cous cous, rice, coleslaw doused in vinaigrette, fresh home made guacamole but a few of the numerous colourful delicacies enticing the eaters. I had been warned to avoid over stuffing at the outset. I was prepared for a marathon but what ensued was beyond any meat eaters imagination. All meal, whilst a little sign was turned to green on our table, beautiful Brazilian men with baggy trousers tucked into thick black boots and silver belt buckles to match came around with hunks of the most delicious, tender meat on huge metal skewers. With a flash of a smile (laughing to themselves at just how much we would be paying for this later on) they offered any hungry carnivore a slice and proceeded to carve a piece which eaters are expected to take with their tongs. Rib eye steak, chicken, pork loin, filet mignon, garlic sirloin, shrimp, grilled pineapple, lamb chops but a few of the deliciousnesses brought to our table. Our mostly veggie boy bit into a lamb chop with the kind of gusto I have only ever seen him attack an edamame bean. Two jumbo shrimp later the tyke was holding court with two beautiful dancers at the other end of the table. The more they laughed the more he kept them coming. No wonder he didn't quite stay awake long enough to catch the fireworks. Not that we could see so much, what with the fog and all. He managed to keep the lids up just until his dad placed a log in our fireplace for us to ooooh and ahhhh over. The four of us sat, mesmerised by the flames, to the sound of neighbourhood firecrackers. The explosions went on into the early hours, most of them launched by private parties on the roof tops. I drifted off to sleep with the sounds of a 200 year old battle ringing about me.

One needs an early night you see, when one is booked to visit Napa the next day. Best monday morning in ages. Cousin and I, up early, dressed for comfort and complex weather set out to meet some show folk at the theatre. At 9ish that morning, when the solubrious area around the theatre (not named Tenderloin for nothing) was greeting the day with the drug dealers on the last of the late shift hovering in doorways, ladies of the night coming out into the light and the remaining humanity of questionable sanity were roaming the streets we strutted into a stretched limo and took off for the hills.

Our sixteen strong party, headed by Don, a cross between a race horse bookie, antique roadshow host and Frank Sinatra (later years) and Don, the driver, cruised through the fog over Golden Gate bridge and onwards towards Big Little Italy. Beyond the stagnant cloud hovering over the city were yellow sun dried grasses covering the rolling hills down which, as we entered Sonoma were lined with vines and olive groves. The sun, beating down, the air crisp and clean. If you didn't know better you would swear you were in Sardinia towards the vineyards of the north west coast. On the itinerary were trips to several wineries with the promise of lunch in between.

Our first stop was at the Jacuzzi family's pad. The Jacuzzi. The bath people. Turns out they had hidden talents in engineering and wine. One of the mammas had encouraged her sons to develop a hydro therapy system at home for one of the children who needed constant physical treatments at the hospital. After work on the rather crude original design, in which the water/electricity relationship had a lot to be desired, the idea developed into what every 1988 bath owner came to love as the Jacuzzi. Their wines aren't half bad either. Or their olive oil. Or the breathtaking views from their stone arched courtyard that leads onto the cobbled terrace. Or the olive trees swaying in the gardens, or the succulents flowering in the beds. Nothing about the place felt like what I have come to know is America up until this point.

Onwards we went to another winery, this one smaller and more secluded in which we all perched around a long wooden table and took our time being led on a mouth watering tour of different wines. We sipped, sniffed, oooh and ahhhhhd, argued about what was good or not. We quickly drifted into the realm of surreal adjectives grappling as were to describe what we tasted. Never better a way to mix your metaphors than around a table of slightly tipsy musical theatre performers. Someone talked about Salami notes, hints of forest. The rest of us laughed them out of their lofty tannin induced gibber. In truth the salami bit was mine. When I made a terrible pun on something the somelier said my cousin whispered to me that it might be time to start tipping the wine out of my glass instead actually drinking all of it. I paid no head obviously. Most likely that's why I was in dire need of lunch. It came in the form of a delightful al fresco picnic at an upscale Napa deli/bakery/store. Antipasti were shared around, salads, sandwiches, home made cookies. And more wine. Obviously. The final winery was the piece de resistance.

Castello di Amorosa, sits at the top of an ascending driveway flanked by cypress trees shipped in from Tuscany. It was the brain child of a man obsessed with castles and who took it upon himself to build his very own. It took thirty years for completion and numerous deliveries from abroad for the paterials, namely antique bricks, tiles, doors, mantles to help give the impressively authentic medievil Italian castle feel. We were taken on a quick roundabout tour into the barrel lined caves below. Corridor upon corridor dimly lit and walled with wooden wine filled barrels, its smell taking my cousing and I back to my godfathers taverna in the basement of his house uptown Ozieri. Towards the official tasting room we stopped for a barrel tasting. Standing in a semi circle around our guide swirling and sniffing again and collectively expressing our joy in the red stuff. Moments later we squeezed into a little tunnel like alcove, complete with bar, for further tastings, and, because of the deliciousness of it all several purchases. Suffice it to say that I will not need to drink any wine for several weeks at the very least. Though I can also say I am now the proud owner of several very palatble bottles which I would not be able to get my grubby hands on in any stores. Between the sunshine, the company, the wine, the food my senses were utterly overloaded with San Franciscan/Californian joy. Whilst we were getting all la di dah down the wineries the boys were at the baseball match. Game. Oakland CA. Dad sent me a picture of boy with beer in hand. Geesh.

What better way to follow a day of Mediterranean inspired delights than a trip to Japantown. Up we headed to check out the pagoda on peace square followed by some seriously authentic sushi and retail therapy in the shape of rice moulds and various other japanese inspired gadgets for easy living. For desert we headed on to Ghirardelli Square. Touristy but nevertheless tasty chocolate goodness. The fog was in but no matter, we still squeezed in a hop down to the strip of beach by the maritime museum during which boy soaked his jeans and ran non stop for about a quarter of an hour with a grin plastered over his face as wide as the Golden Gate behind him in the hazy near distance. Time for another swing on the trapeze and a proper good old fashioned ma and pa joint Thai for dinner (I was not kidding when I said this week we had been on sensory overload. Perhaps I am stabbing for a prettier picture of Gluttony?) Suffice it to say that "The Best Noodle House on Haight" has earned its name without doubt.

On cuz's last day she treated us to pancakes at the diner around the corner, unchanged it would seem since its creation in 1935. It is a tiny room of a place where you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the only (psychadelically painted) toilet in the place. Picture of pin up girls line the walls and the juke box plays, up until you chose your own tune on your table top version. The boy made eyes at the hispanic waitress who tried to buy his Jankee hat for one pancake but he did not budge. Cuz did a roundabout tour of Haight street in the peace and quiet of her own company, we snapped the Golden Gate several times and then, after a final visit to L'Osteria we jumped on the F streetcar which took us home to reluctantly think about her packing and saying goodbye to one another. Again.

All in all a whirlwind to which we have become accustomed. It was great to feel like a bona fide tourist and experience the speed at which vacations usually chime under. A timely reminder of the privilege my family and I enjoy at being able to live in all these different cities. To enjoy a semblance of reality at a leisurely place, taking time to soak up the rhythm of each new stop. For the next few days some hibernation may be needed or at least taking the time to smell the jasmine and pines and wild fennel. Perhaps all we need is a little stretch of water in which to recharge. No problems there me thinks. Zia Bru is on her two flight trek back home whilst I put our memories into black and white for another day. Our forray through the beauty of San Francisco beginning its fade into the near past already....