Saturday, March 02, 2013

California notes

A long long time ago, when I was just done with college, I considered coming to Berkeley for grad school. Of the places I was accepted, it turned out to be my second choice. Almost, but not quite right. Too far from Europe.

I think that was a good decision for me. Even though I've sometimes wondered -- what would it be like to live in California? I mean, what would it be like to be in this kind of a climate? This kind of culture? Among this many people? This close to the ocean?

I wake up to a foggy morning. I mean really foggy. I zip up my fleece and feel grateful for my scarf.

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The commute back to the airport and then, by Bart, to San Francisco proper...

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... is a bit of a long haul and I decide to switch things around a little and stay the next two nights (as opposed to just one night) in downtown SF. Sure, I have a predawn flight to catch on Sunday, but that's Sunday. Let me get out of the airport area already and spend my time close to where I want to be.

There is a terrific deal at the Harbor Court Hotel, just by the Embarcadero (for those who track the Bay area) and every time I call, the deal just gets better. That seals it. First thing on the agenda: off to the Harbor Court to drop off my bag there.

The room isn't ready (well what a surprise -- I arrive just after 9 a.m.) so I take a little walk in the city. A partly hidden by fog city.

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But a lovely city nonetheless because, for one thing, it already made friends with spring some weeks ago.

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As long as I'm trotting around downtown SF, I may as well give you a few postcards from my walk. It was a rather random walk, though it did have a goal of sorts  -- to get up high enough to see the Golden Gate. A trip here cannot be complete without a peek at the bridge of all bridges.

So first, a stroll through Chinatown,

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then a climb up...

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Of course, there is also that 'other' bridge to admire, the one over the Bay...

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Okay. My morning is complete. Now, is my room ready? Not yet? No matter. I'm off to Berkeley to meet up with my mom.

Berkeley. I've changed my mind about Berkeley so many times already that I can hardly understand why this one community puts me in such a spin of contrasting emotions. The first time I visited it, I didn't like it. Later, I liked it. Then, I really didn't like it. But since my last visit here a year ago, I finally began to give it a good consideration. Looking at it from, say, my mom's point of view. And this is when I truly started to like it quite a bit.

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After some minutes in the place where she lives, we set out for lunch at Slow. It's the kind of place where once you order your sandwich or salad and sit down, it's hard to leave. The sun beats down on your back (nearly all the tables are outside), stories and recollections flow to you from across the table, the ice tea is refreshing and has raspberries floating in it -- it's a life is good kind of place. Or, is it that when I am there, I am acutely aware that life is indeed good?

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We then walk to get an ice cream cone at my mom's favorite ice cream place (what a deal!)...

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...and then for a quick coffee at Peet's because somehow this morning I forgot to have breakfast and with it my daily shot of caffeine.

My mom is still game for more walking and this surprises me and pleases me all at the same time. We stroll through the Berkeley campus which is quite beautiful and I smile to myself as I think how close I came to attending school here.

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After, a quick bus ride brings us to my mom's place again.

She has arranged dinner for us, along with her good good friends, at a local Thai restaurant.

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My mom is turning 90 this year and she calls this her birthday celebration, even as her real birthday isn't until fall.  Not that she wants a fuss. That's not her. Like Ed, she'll insist on keeping the birthday theme to a minimum. But, the kind restaurant people bring out some sticky rice and mango and in there somewhere there is a candle and in my mind, it is a fitting end to a very lovely evening.

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The Bart train -- that wonderful thing that I wish Wisconsin would embrace already -- takes me back to SF and from my hotel room I watch lights set the Bay Bridge aglow...

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...and I think about how nothing about SF or Berkeley is home for me and yet, because of these familial circumstances, I don't feel like a visitor here. I tell people -- I'm here to see my mom. She lives here. And that makes it almost an extension of my home.