Saturday, July 07, 2018

to Berkeley

California. Who would think that I have such strong familial associations with the state! I tout my ties to Europe, to Poland, to New York -- all to the east of me -- but California to me feels remote. I admire aspects of it. I like its magnificent coastline, its tolerance for a funky lifestyle. I like the fruits that come to Wisconsin from there when we ourselves can't grow much in the winter months. There's a lot to like. From a distance.

Not so for at least a handful of members from my family. My uncle, my grandma and my mother all eventually settled there, all in the Bay Area, all choosing the good climate over whatever ties they had to places in the east. Until now. My mother is 94 years old and the time has come for her to give up on the year round sunshine and move closer to where I can keep tabs on her.

A downtown Madison apartment became available and it's more or less ready for her arrival. Today, I'm flying out to San Francisco to pick her up and bring her back to the Midwest. If all goes well, this will happen tomorrow.

So, this weekend brings with it a quick trip to the west coast.

An early predawn departure (with a lovely view of a morning  Madison skyline on the drive to the airport)...


A quick layover in Minneapolis, and then that magnificent flight over a land that is so vast, so plentiful, so endangered...



My travels are without issues. The weather is magnificent: you could not ask for more sunshine on either end of the trip. Though I haven't much time for actually doing anything that smacks of tourism, nonetheless, I do ride the BART train from the airport to Berkeley and it does pass through downtown San Francisco and so I disembark for one last walk through a city that I've visited so often, but am not likely to come back to in the near future. Hello pretty and hugely expensive San Francisco!


I turn my back to the downtown proper and head for the ferry landing. There is an indoor-outdoor market, with a view toward the Bay Bridge. Even though much of it is overwhelmed by tourists (I know, I know -- I'm one of them!), it's still rather lovely here.

I realize that I'm actually quite hungry. That Minneapolis Starbucks oatmeal didn't have the staying power I would have liked. But even though this city is prohibitively expensive, there are cheap alternatives and they're good alternatives! At the market, I pick up a combo lunch of carrot-ginger soup, with a side of seaweed, burdock, daikon radish, soybeans and who knows what else.  True, I eat it on a bench outside and out of a box, but the views over the water are splendid and I feel I'm eating stuff I could not find back home. The tab? $10 for what is a copious lunch.

The outdoor market is not unlike a summer market in southern France: there are a lot of ripe, exquisite peaches, nectarines, apricots.


I try not to be jealous of this. We do have plenty of peaches in Madison right now, but California ships them when they are very unripe. Sometimes they'll ripen to perfection on my kitchen counter. Sometimes they'll shrivel and give up the ship.  Here, peaches are sold at their most perfect moment of sweetness.

(They offer free samples. I eat many.)


The indoor market has a ceramics shop that I've grown to love because, well, a daughter loves it. My farmette breakfast coffee cup is chipped. Time to replace it with one from here! (No one could possibly afford more than one cup from this place. This is fine: we need only one. Ed does not drink coffee.)


I turn back toward the BART train stop.  Oh, yes -- funky California. You can ride your bike creatively here.


And I have to smile at the act a couple of guys do on the train itself. In Paris, the commuter train may have a person playing the violin or accordion for money. Here, someone is blasting rap and his buddy is doing acrobatics. He tells his train audience -- if you'e scared of black people, this dance is not for you. So clever! The car has a lot of white people returning to Berkeley. They demonstrate their absolute enthrallment with the "dance" by giving generously at the end of it.


I, too, get off in Berkeley, though I touch just the edge of it, bypassing the downtown, the campus, the commercial end of things.

I walk instead past the small cottages, all valued at perhaps several million dollars because, well, that's how things are in the bay area. On the upside, the flowers in some of the gardens are beautiful.



You get the feeling that people here really love color. And why shouldn't they -- it's with them ten months out of the year.


And, they have no mosquitoes.


My Holiday Inn Express is the same as every other motel of this sort. But I am grateful that if there is a view to be had from any of its windows, I come close to having it -- toward the campus that lies just at the base of the hills.


I feel I've come full circle. I first traveled to this town on a family road trip when I was a kid (we saw the USA in our Chevrolet), then returned as a young adult as I considered my graduate school options. (In the end I rejected Berkeley because it felt too far from my home base which, at the time, I still considered to be Europe. )

I'm glad I didn't come here. As I told my shocked mother -- I think the fact that the weather is the same ten months out of the year is such a drawback! (Our exchange on this point reminded me of the David Sedaris article I read while flying here: in it he tells some gun dudes in North Carolina that in England, where Sedaris lives, someone was arrested for shooting a burglar in his own home. The gun dude said -- I can't believe it! What is this world coming too!  Same story, different reaction depending on your mindset.)

Still, I understand that my mom has grown both used to this perpetual sunshine and very fond of it. Moving is never easy. Moving away from a place where she developed her patterns of a senior life -- ones that have served her grandly since, well, she's 94 and still explaining the ins and outs of life to her younger daughter (Mom, go to sleep. you can read my blog in Madison!) -- all this is hard, even for someone who has crossed the ocean many times in her life (though not as many as her younger daughter).

She has packed and shipped stuff earlier in the week. Today we just close suitcases (no small task) and make sure nothing's forgotten. And then we go out to her favorite place for dinner -- Luca's, just a few blocks from her home, my grandma's home too, and so a family home of sorts...


And I walk her back to it, this home she chose for herself for so many years.

We'll meet up early, because, well, most people who are moving across the country when they are 94 want to get to airports early.