Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Retrieving my heart - in San Francisco.

I'm in the aircraft loo, changing out of my jogging bottoms back into my jeans, when we fly over the Golden Gate Bridge. "Epic fail," say the boys when I return to my seat, "you just missed it." I peer out of the plane window. San Francisco is sprawling beneath us: high-rise buildings, bridges, sparkling sea, dusty brown hills in the distance. Tears prick my eyes.

"But did you see it?" I say. 

They did. That's all that matters.

I've been reading my mother's journal of the journey we did when I was a kid, from Vancouver to Mexico. She mentions tears filling her eyes too, as we drove across Golden Gate Bridge into the city. I remember that moment and I was only nine. I want my children to have similar moments to remember, even if they are coming a bit late in the day, and are only a fraction of what my parents were able to give to my brother and me.

We're flying United Airlines, which we think might be a drag... but fortunately turns out not to be, in fact it's a breeze. I read a whole book, listen to two albums, watch a movie, sleep and eat. I don't feel remotely tired when we land, or for hours afterwards, and neither do the boys. As Eldest says: we're wired.

A friendly 70-year-old Iranian taxi driver speeds us into the city, weaving in and out of the traffic like he's Ayrton Senna on caffeine. Downtown skyscrapers loom before us, glorious in the Californian sunshine. 

Crossing a raised concrete section of highway that resembles the one in the opening sequence of La La Land, I feel like jumping out of the car and doing the dance routine right there and then. The boys feel the same: they're euphoric. They've seen lots of Europe - we left the Isle of Wight and Devon years behind some time ago, when we finally had funds to take them further afield - they've also been to North Africa and the Caribbean. They've visited the ancient ruins of Herculaneum in the shadow of mount Versuvius, a 2000-year-old Roman city where the charred bones of its unfortunate citizens still lie where they perished on the bay of Naples, which blew my mind, but nothing has enthralled them like this. "We're in America!" they keep saying, like it's the coolest place on earth. If anyone thinks the States is losing its grip on Britain's youth, one that began some years back with a love affair with rock and roll and Elvis, they're wrong.

Eldest rushes out the minute we hit the hotel to a grocery store opposite. "They look foreign but they speak English!" He informs us, returning with a Hershey Bar (which you can get in London). Then he declares it crap - "poor quality chocolate."

After showering at the hotel we head straight out again to eat, to Chinatown. The guy at reception suggests we try House of Nanking. The restaurant is lined with old wood paneling interspersed with tiles and buzzing with life. "What do you recommend?" I ask the patron. He says to leave it to him, so we do. Dish after dish arrives, the best Chinese food we've tasted, all piping hot - noodles with peppery watercress, tender pieces of beef with crunchy pak choi, battered prawns with fried apple (we think).

"Jamie Oliver came here," he tells us, bringing yet another plate and pointing at a framed photo of Mr Oliver on the wall. "He said the food here is pukka! Pukka! I thought he meant poker, like the game."

"It's an Indian word," we tell him.

"Ah!" he says. "He can cook and he speaks Indian!"

We walk on through North Beach. Eldest is beside himself. This is the best city in the world. This place is so cool. He wants to live here. 

He has his 1978 Nikon camera round his neck, snapping away. "Nice camera," says a guy walking past. "Nice dress!" shouts a girl out of a car window, at me.

We turn left heading back to the hotel before we get to Fisherman's Wharf - saving it for tomorrow - and start an ascent. There's a glimpse of view behind us, shimmering sea in the bay, an island in the distance with a building: Alcatraz. By now it's three o'clock in the morning (for us) and we're climbing Nob Hill in the sunshine, a 1 in 3 gradient.

"What's that movie?" I ask Eldest, "you know, San Francisco, that guy, the one who...."

"Milk," he says.

"Yes!" I say. It reminds me of that, and that reminds me to ask for milk at reception when we get back to the hotel, for our tea. They laughed when I packed that travel kettle and those tea bags. They won't be laughing when I can make a nice cup of tea first thing in the morning.

We hit the sack at 8pm local time, 4am for us. When I wake later the room is cloaked in darkness and the street below is silent. I'm back in San Francisco after 42 years, it's 4am local time. I get out my laptop and write: "retrieving my heart."

Love E x


P.S. Have a nice day.

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly grey
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the Bay

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don't care
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me

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