Sunday, March 03, 2013

B. California notes: the final word

We are sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe off of Shattuck Street. Lunch is long finished (eggs with goat cheese for both of us).

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If yesterday was too warm for my fleece, today is too cool for just a sweater. I can't get these California temperatures right. Not that I'm complaining. I read that back home, we're due for another snowstorm on Monday. Seems I said goodbye to winter a tad too early.

I don't want to get up though. My mom is running through a set of stories from her life. I know most of them, but each time she talks about her past I learn something new -- if not in detail, then in intonation.

In many ways, my own story cannot be separated from my parents' stories (something I am acutely aware of as I continue to work on my book project in the months when I am not teaching). I ask her once again to write all this down. She has already written down her parents' stories -- invaluable ethnographic materials for anyone who is curious about that great tale of the Polish peasant who comes to America just before the Great Depression, especially since this tale doesn't follow the typical trajectory. This particular Polish peasant (my grandfather) doesn't remain a peasant, nor does he, in the end, stay in America. So I ask her to write part 2 of all this. I don't think she enjoys writing, certainly not to the extent that I do and yet I wish she'd do it. She and I share this quirk of history: for different reasons and under vastly different circumstances, we moved between the States and Poland many times in our lives, each time thinking this is the last migration only to find out (in her case, quite late in life) that we were wrong -- that there was yet one more move across the ocean.

She hesitates now. What if I get it wrong? What if I don't remember?
Listening to her now, I already see that she and I remember certain details quite differently. But isn't any story really nothing more than a photoshopped picture of the past? Does it matter that the details don't always add up? We are a composite of impressions. Our impressions are what matter, especially since our impressions -- hers, mine -- are so different than those of anyone living here, in America who hasn't moved back and forth between these two different cultures and political realities.

Eventually, the nip in the air gets to me and we get up to return to her place. No walk for today, but that's okay. I had had a morning stroll already. To the farmer's market across the street from my hotel in San Francisco. Here, let's take a look at this March market and let me try to contain my envy:

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a selection of fresh herbs

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a California original

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clipped locally

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a good combination

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he wears rosemary in his jacket pocket and buys tomatoes to plant in his yard. in March.

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my breakfast today: granola, fresh fruit, yogurt. I know, familiar.

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buying mushrooms

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the first of two tshirts that I liked; this one from a pork store...

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...and this one from a chocolate shop

And, too, before meeting my mom, I ran clear across Berkeley...

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a fragment of a street mural

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they grow on the median strip

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oh, Berkeley...

...hoping to find a shoe store in the northern part of the city. I had purchased summer shoes here last year (it's tough to pick the perfect shoes, as I only want one pair for the season and it has to be pretty enough to be fitting for an evening in a city and sturdy enough so that if I end up hiking the Pyrenees right after a breakfast in Sorede, it'll stand up to the job). Last year's pair was good, but by the end of the season it collapsed, from exhaustion I suppose. I am brutal with shoes.

So I am picking a pair again because surprisingly, it is cheaper here than in comparable stores in Madison. My mom looks at my new purchase and says, somewhat taken aback -- such a strong color! I look down on the shoes (I'm wearing them straight out of the store). I suppose they do look orange. The salesclerk suggested a pair of purple socks to go with them. A Berkeley combination if ever I saw one.

DSC00374 - Version 2 the side of her building, some of the residents plant gardens

In many ways, our 'day two' conversation is different than that on 'day one.' I worry that I'm wearing my mom out, taking her away as I do from her routines. Disruptions take their toll. Still, she is game to go out to dinner -- to her recent favorite, Rivoli -- a place that is most certainly fresh and honest in a lovely California sort of way. This meal was to be Ed's treat, but she wouldn't hear of it. She is always like that -- beating her to the check would only make her upset.

We eat our identical seafood and avocado salads and I think about how many meals I've eaten with her across the table from me. Quite a number, since when we were a foursome -- my sister, my mother, my father and I -- we always divided ourselves in this way: my dad and I on one side of the table, my sister and my mother on the other.

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People say now that I look like my mom. It used to be that they said I looked like my dad. In how many other ways have I become more like her? Less like my dad? Like both? Like neither?

The day ends with that dinner at Rivoli. I take a Bart to San Francisco, she finishes her cab ride to her own tiny apartment in the heart of Berkeley. I hope she rests well after the visit. I hope she returns smoothly to the routines that she loves so much.

Back at the hotel, I ask for a 4:30 a.m. wake up call. But as always, I don't need it. I'm up and showered by the time the phone rings. I'm programmed to be always ready for travel, for the next trip and the next. It's just the way I am.

A. California notes, continued

Whenever I ride the bus in Berkeley, ten people jump up to offer me a seat. It could be that I am nearly always with my mother. She doesn't look fragile, but she does use a cane and she certainly is of a Medicare eligible age and so people rise for the both of us.

I have reached a mature age, finally. Perhaps other signs of maturity will soon follow.

Tonight, on board the Bart train bound for downtown SF (and therefore to my hotel), I sat back, wanting very much to reflect. To mull things over. And smile at the recollections. It was not to be. Four rowdy youths absolutely dominated the entire space of the Bart car. They weren't vulgar (unless you find vagina jokes vulgar) or threatening in any way. They were (NCU) students, done with watching some ball game or other, heading out for... various things. One of them definitely wanted to lure a girl to bed (his choice of words). The remaining two appeared to merely want to talk loudly.

The rest of the people in the Bart car bonded by darting meaningful gazes at one another. I should have made a youtube video out of this, I tell my seatmate -- it may have gone viral! 

Still earlier? Well, there was the Bay Bridge outside my hotel widow. Stunning at sunrise. 

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I could not sleep after I rose to look outside. And now, predictably, I am too tired to finish the story of the day.

Here's an idea: I'll do the ending when I get back to Madison tonight. One can't be rushed with a recount of a rich day.