San Francisco | California | Living in Mexico

San Francisco

We're taking a few days before Kiely's birthday party to shop and to visit our friends Jeff and Maria and their little ones, Jack (almost 5) and Ruby (almost 2). Unaccountably, I forgot to take pictures of them during our visit. Senility or jet lag; I hope it's the latter.

We chose our hotel, The Stanyan Park Hotel, because it is in walking distance from their house and from the lovely Ninth Avenue restaurants, and we can walk across the street into Golden Gate Park for our daily hour of exercise.

Here, Jean is performing isometrics against a large, ancient Cypress. Better look out, Mr. Tree!

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The weather is so fine and the scenery so beautiful, it's hard to imagine why we moved away.

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Of course, a week from now, this will all be shrouded in fog, and a nasty, cold wind will blow through the Golden Gate. People in thick jackets will scurry along, hunched against the cold. It'll look like Moscow in winter.

How do they keep the grounds looking so colorful and neat? Gazillions of gardeners is how. In my mind, this is a proper use of tax dollars.

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We walked in the incredible park, admiring the specimens in the Botanical Gardens. We visited the Japanese Tea Garden, which made us long to return to Japan, despite the lurid Chinese Moon Bridge and other cultural anomalies.

We visited the DeYoung Museum, a pretty good place although replacing the old neoclassical structure with the present hypermodern pile was a crime. The inverted pyramid is especially egregious; just as out-of-place as is I. M. Pei's jarring glass pyramid in the Louvre. It's not that I dislike modern architecture—just stupid applications of it.

The DeYoung's special exhibition was The Quilts of Gee's Bend, which was serendipitous for Jean, being the quilter she is. The exhibited quilts, crudely sewn of material from old suits and dresses, reminded me of quilts my mother made; a far cry from modern quilts made from exquisitely patterned fine cottons, machine-pieced on $5,000 sewing machines. The quilts, and the photographs of the old black Alabaman women who made them, were interesting, even arresting. The purile gushing of Volvo-driving, hemp-wearing whale-huggers was revolting; ultimately drove me out of the show. I'd have enjoyed it more if they'd rounded up about 100 of the homeless living in the southeast corner of the park, and let them view the quilts. At least, they'd know why those ladies sewed: Not to express their anger at exploitation by the white Southern aristocracy—just to keep warm.

We ate lunch at The People's Cafe on Haight Street. A score or two of young, tapped-out people camped on the sidewalk, waiting for the return of The Summer of Love. Somebody should tell them, it ain't gonna happen. The street is lined with places they can't afford to shop in: in one I saw a pair of genuine blue suede shoes—$300.

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And we shopped. And shopped. And shopped. After three years in Mexico, I'm shocked by how rich the U. S. is. The Apple Store blew me away, with it's high-style computers and gadgets. We bought a Bose dock for our iPod. There's nothing remotely like The Apple Store in Mexico. A flower kiosk in the Embarcadero Center was selling lilies for $5 per stem. In San Miguel, you can buy two dozen for that. I saw a Porsche SUV.

We brought a large empty suitcase to carry home purchases, and put a large number of dollars into it. A San Miguel friend says it costs less to fly to the U. S. than to drive, because the official shopper in his family can only get about $3,000 into suitcases, but easily puts $10,000 into the Suburban.

The highlight of our San Francisco stay was our visit with Jeff and Maria, a couple who seem to be living the kind of lives everyone else would like to live. I can't see how any visitor of theirs could fail to feel warm, such is the glow in their home. Jack works just enough to meet their income needs, and spends much of the rest of his time with the kids. Maria is a full-time supermom who has created the home I would have liked to have grown up in.

Their house was badly damaged by fire a couple of years ago, and they've only recently completed the restoration and moved back. Living in temporary quarters while dealing with a major construction project must have been very hard for them, although they seem to have taken it all in stride.

They've reworked the space in their home to exactly suit their family. The entry is into an open, sunny kitchen with counter and bar stools. What once was a dining room now is an art center, and it's open to the living room, so kids can work on projects in the same space the adults are using. The kids also have a large playroom. Jeff has a large office which doubles as a guest room (guests have to be out by 9 AM) and Maria has a nook for her office. Occasional accent walls are painted in brilliant colors; Mexico-inspired? Near the entry are four little cubbyholes with outlets for charging portable electronics—one for each ember of the family. They don't use land line phones anymore: (cable?) internet and cell phones provide all the bandwidth and connectivity they need.

Ruby is turning into a sweet little girl, thanks in part to her mom who notes that she's "raising a homemaker." Jack has an artistic bent and a fascination with machines, as well as a sharp and slightly scatological sense of humor. Sitting in the playroom, I had a miniature teacup and saucer in one hand and a bunch of Legos in the other. I could feel my right and left brain separating.

We took the kids to a friend's house and went to Kabuto Sushi, one of the best sushi restaurants I've visited either here or in Japan. Four grades of maguro! It was a mellow evening with good friends whom we hope will visit us soon in Mexico.
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