Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SD: "This way you ain't got no doubt"

In the planning stages of Leti's California trip, it took some persuading to convince her of the virtues of San Diego and Los Angeles.  Of course, I had many more a pleasant thing to say about the former, but nonetheless she was easily convinced it would behoove her to visit both.  We flew down to San Diego first, accompanied by my mom, aunt, and grandmother.

We always stay at the Navy Base North Island on Coronado, and they've made some excellent upgrades including a pool and a rooftop terrace.  The hotel's best feature, its beachfront location, is as glorious as always, providing us with many impromptu walks along the water.

We did have one complaint, however.  Our first night we checked with reception to find out that the continental breakfast ends at 9am, and so we planned to wake up in time for it.  What felt like just a few hours later, my mom shakes me awake, saying, "Kelly!  Breakfast ends in 10 minutes!"  So we all throw ourselves out of bed, pull on some clothes, and head towards the elevator.  At this point I check my phone, which says it's just around 7, propelling me into a profound sense of confusion.  I tell the girls about it, and our fellow elevator-riders confirm the earlier time.  The alarm clock by the bed was set to the wrong time, and we had awakened early and rushed to breakfast unnecessarily.  We laughed it off and enjoyed a jump start to the day.  We decided to memorize the lag on the clock and compensate for it.  Still, the next morning I had the opportunity to feel like I was in Home Alone 2, because my mom shook me awake once more and called out, "Kelly, we did it again!"  This time, however, I had learned to double check, and in reality it was before 6am, because the clock's delay had increased!  Letizia and mom decided to get up anyway, but I shrugged them off and rolled over, cursing alarm clocks, which is not what one should have to do on vacation.  We couldn't stop chuckling about it all trip.

Our first day out and about I decided I wanted to provide my group with a decidedly authentic San Diego experience, so we headed to the rather unsavory National City to enjoy some savory treats at Marisco's German Taco Truck.  I had wanted to visit the truck in Ocean Beach, but the glory and the downfall of food trucks lies in their very mobility: sometimes they simply up and move on you.  In the end, still, National City provided a much more colorful experience.

Above, you'll find my Portuguese grandmother trying to come to terms with her unusual lunch option (photo credit: Letizia Nardi).  My aunt jumped right on board, and having immediately found a large, tattooed Mexican man whose lunch she found enticing, she approached him and asked about his meal.  They hit it off, having both lived in Livermore, CA, and he told her all about his taco, even agreeing to give her a bite.  While the rest of us gaped on, my aunt was just excited to know what she wanted to order, and her new friend was happy to promote the truck.  He just shrugged, "This way you ain't got no doubt."  Well said.

All the while Letizia looked on in wonder, trying to imagine how she could be so lucky to have ended up at a taco truck in National City, CA.  Go figure!

Next we headed to Balboa Park, where we walked off our tacos and took in the lush landscape.  

We took our customary ferry ride from Coronado to the mainland and enjoyed seafood at the The Fish Market along the embarcadero.

Our next day was dedicated to La Jolla, where we enjoyed the scene from atop the city's beautiful cliffs and wondered when the next earthquake would come and topple the million-dollar mansions.  We also stopped for hand-decorated ice creams.

On our way back, we stopped by UC San Diego so I could show Letizia my university.  It was nice to revisit the school, although I had an impending sense of deadlines while I was there and was relieved to step off the premises.  Mostly, I just wanted to show her Niki de Saint Phalle's Sun God statue, the fraternal twin of one in Paris that we had seen on my visit in the spring.

No visit to San Diego would be complete without a visit to my favorite restaurant, the quaint and semi-haunted Creole Cafe in Old Town, right next to the Whaley House.  We chowed down on Shrimp Creole, Macaroni & Cheese, and Gumbo while one of the owners regaled us with personal ghost stories.  Later that weekend, as Letizia, my mom, and I were relaxing on our balcony talking about more encounters of the third kind, I stirred up my stories about Margaret, the villa's ghost.  Just at the climax of my last story, while all of our hairs were already on end, we heard a glass fall and shatter in the kitchenette in our room.  We all screamed, my mom bravely went to investigate, and Letizia now officially believes in ghosts.  I never expected Margaret to follow me all the way to California, but since we're friends now, I guess it's ok.

While taking our time-honored photo at the Del, we got interrupted by an Asian girl who wanted to take a picture with us.  She planted herself in the middle of our group, put her arm around my mom, and smiled for the camera.  Sorry to disappoint, but this one's just of us.  Maybe when facial recognition software is more advanced, we can locate the partner photo from our new friends on the other side of the world.

That afternoon the fam headed back north while Letizia and I jumped on Amtrak to Los Angeles amidst a variety of characters, including a woman who almost missed the train due to her Botox appointment, and a chance run-in with a friend from college, perhaps compelling Letizia to believe I'm more popular than I am.

Monday, August 20, 2012

SF: Hip Hop Car Service

I have been going so non-stop since my Pisa-born, Paris-based friend Letizia arrived two weeks ago that I haven't had a chance to blog at all.  Unfortunately, that means that my next few posts will likely reveal the slightest tone of an impending nostalgia over a visit that came and went far too quickly.

Letizia and I met two summers ago while I was interning in Siena, after just having arrived in Italy for my second stint.  We shared not only a kitchen, a bathroom, and a soaring view of one of Siena's gorgeous valleys, but also the same taste in music and prime-time dramas.  Thus, a friendship bloomed.  Over the past two years, she has visited me at the villa, I've tracked her down in Siena, Pisa, and Paris, and now she made the long journey over the ocean to visit me in California.  And what a trip we had planned.

Our first weekend together was dedicated to San Francisco, and we started in Berkeley so Letizia could give a setting to her wild (academic) dreams.  Most of our time there we spent exploring the old women's locker room, which is slowly being renovated and even includes a roof-top pool.  We particularly liked Berkeley because they didn't give us a well-deserved parking ticket.  Great start!

That night we met up with Brittany and Gio to go to Straw, a gourmet carnival-fare restaurant.  After getting drinks at the beer garden just down the street, we headed to Straw to tackle their menu of bacon cheeseburgers with doughnut buns, chicken and waffles, and the like.  We even shared a drink out of a fishbowl that had blue gummy fish paddling around inside.  If you ever feel the need to celebrate the fatty child (or carnie) in you, do yourself a favor and check this place out.

Our full days in SF were jam-packed (Brittany even had to draw out a numbered map to keep us at the right pace and place).  We spent time strolling a few neighborhoods, including the Castro, Chinatown, and Little Italy, while also making sure to visit Coit Tower, Lombard Street, and the Golden Gate (although its existence that day was based purely on faith, as it was completely concealed by the fog).

In Little Italy, Letizia got to witness what life as an Italian-American consists of (apparently, singing kitschy but fun crossover music in a stylized yet atmospheric cafe in San Francisco).  We also practiced our right to free speech by stopping into City Lights Bookstore and watched children chase pigeons in Washington Square.


While exploring the presidio, we ended up at Fort Mason, which on a clear day would have gorgeous views, but on the day we visited had more of a cool Hitchcock-aura to it.

That night we brought a picnic to Dolores Park to watch Sixteen Candles with our 2,000 closest friends.  Letizia got to meet a couple of the other girls from Vacaville as we snacked on cheese and got back down to our '80s roots.

Sunday, we hit the MOMA, mostly to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit, in which Letizia was particularly interested.  We also hung out in Yerba Buena Gardens, had lunch at the Ferry Building, and played nostalgic arcade games at the Musee Mecanique along the Embarcadero.

It took several unsuccessful tries and one uncontrollable, "What are you doing with your face?" outburst by me for Letzia to achieve this pose.  What an American she's become in just two days.

Before heading home, we decided to stop in for a drink and some jazz in Fisherman's Wharf.  The lead singer took quite a shine to us and kept up a constant blues serenade at our table while the rest of the room looked on, thankful they were being left in peace.  But boy, just look at those shiny whites.

Letizia, ever the anthropologist and linguist that she is, always asks such great questions and makes the most interesting cultural observations.  Still, there were times when she was just completely off the mark, much to our amusement.  While we were waiting for the bus back to Brittany's, a couple of low-riders marked with the name "Padrinos" and filled with slick guys cuddling up to cute girls cruised by, blasting their jams and hollerin' at us if we wanted a ride.  Letizia turned to Brittany and asked in all seriousness, "Is that a hip-hop car service?"  After recovering from our well-natured laughter we realized that it's not such a bad idea.  Not bad at all.

(Wide angle photos credit: Letizia Nardi)