Thursday, April 16, 2015


It's funny to be just a few hours off from your home time zone. You get caught in the confusion of when to call or write and, too, you get called at hours that are more fitting for that zone rather than this one. All this to say that I pushed the clock at both ends of the night, resulting in a significant reduction of sleep hours. I blame myself.

Though I am spending the morning in a frenzy of San Francisco activities, it is entirely appropriate to give a Berkeley title to the post, because my focus is on that place across the Bay, that progressive, university, hippie, free spirited town with a reputation that spans the globe.

But first thing's first. I pack my shoulder bag and check out of the great dame hotel off of Union Square and check into the quieter, gentler sister (also Kimpton) hotel -- the Harbor Court. Rooms that were not available a few weeks ago are suddenly available and at a discount. I am in luck: the hotel by the Bay has been a favorite retreat for me at the end of full days and it will be that again for the next two nights.

I also grab a light but not insignificant breakfast at the Blue Bottle. This (originally) Oakland coffee roaster has sprouted many offshoots here, but they give support to the notion that not all chains are noxious intruders onto the cafe scene.

I order my cappuccino, my organic yogurt (I'm in California) and home made granola and wait, looking at the Californians that appear to me to be so sweetly Californian.


The waiters here are friendly and they still bother to put that heart on your drink.

I eat outside. Glorious sunshine!


My computer is in my backpack to take to Berkeley, my change of clothing is in the shoulder bag to leave at the hotel. As I head for my changed hotel, I make a mental note of what's where. Hey, but where is my backpack, the one with the laptop in it?? Not on my back! I actually look over my shoulder to make sure. Oh hell, I left it behind. Underneath the outside cafe table.

If you know how many very poor, often homeless, and so often with mental illness people walk the streets of San Francisco these days, perhaps you'd worry along with me. And here I have to admit that this is one reason why I find San Francisco so troubling: it is so expensive. There is so much wealth in the Bay Area. How is it that we just step over the homeless and get accustomed to their presence at every corner?

I notice that people, local people do reach out in small ways. I've seen a young guy break his sandwich in half and hand a part over to a man who was drinking left over soda from a cup dug out of a garbage can. At the Blue Bottle, they gave baked goods to someone who asked for food. (Then they asked the beggar to please please not bother the customers.)

I run back the several blocks to the Blue Bottle. The backpack is there, unnoticed. The down and out people walk by, searching for the person who will reach into her purse just to have them move on.

My new hotel staff is ever helpful, I dump my sack of clothing and walk along the Bay shoreline, toward the Ferry Port and now very fashionable marketplace...


...turning in toward downtown (such breathtaking skyscrapers!)...


... where I catch the BART train to Berkeley.

Ah, Berkeley! If the Harbor Court Hotel's presence near the calm waters of the Bay soothed my soul, it was soothed twice over as I came out of the subway station and walked along the quiet, residential blocks toward my Mom's apartment in the senior center that has been her home now for so many years. I mean, look with me! Do you want to know what's blooming in Berkeley right now? Here you go!




Beautiful clumps of flowers in front of very simple homes (that I know cost three times what you would pay anywhere else)!




My Mom and I have things to take care of, but we have plenty of time for pleasure and guess what our first destination is? A children's clothing store in North Berkeley! My Mom has always generously clothed my girls as they were growing up (she sewed all their summer sundresses when they were little and later shopped grandly with them in preparation for the school year) and now, even on her most meager pension, she continues to find pleasure in searching for just the right outfit for Snowdrop!


We spend a beautiful hour looking at baby outfits and very earnestly comparing the virtues of one sweater and playsuit over another.

We are out in the sunshine again. It's lunchtime and I let my Mom take the lead in meal decisions and as she is reviewing the options, she points out that we are standing right in front of Chez Panisse and that maybe we should go there.

We had gone there before, years ago. With family. And just the two of us. Alice Waters, the proprietor, was the one who, many decades ago, gave me faith that there would be a food movement in this country in the direction of fresh and honest. I've heard her talk, I've studied her books, I've applauded her work on school lunch programs.

We go in. The wait isn't too long. The price -- well, if you pick just one item and have just one beverage, you wont quite need a lottery win to eat here.

We have a wonderful set of minutes (or was it hours?).


Back in her little studio, we attend to matters of her computer, of papers, of various thisis and thats and it isn't too long before the sun is very low and it is time for dinner -- this time in a very simple old Vietnamese restaurant, which she tells me had been here even in the years my Grandma lived in Berkeley.


The staff there recognize at once that my Mom and I are a mother daughter team. I make them guess my Mom's age. It's a great question, because it leads to the truthful admission that she is 91. No one believes it. This time, they bring staff from the back room to admire her from up close, as if she were an incarnation of some mystic forces (my Mom tells them -- exercise, it's all in the exercise; she is modest that way. It's not only the exercise).

I whisper my apologies to her for having created this fuss. She shrugs and tells me -- I'm used to the surprise.

I take the train to San Francisco, she takes the bus back to her apartment. She could take a cab -- Berkeley provides coupons for seniors -- but she tries to stay independent. She moves slowly, but surely.

In my new hotel room there are three windows. On one wall there is a mirror so that it actually looks like there are six windows. If you look outside, you see the bridge. I will always love this view for all that it does for those of us lucky enough to fall asleep in its presence.