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.......