Winter thou goest – Part I

Clearly my thoughts have evolved on this blog as to what I can do for you, what I can share to make your life more beautiful after you visit here, and am pleased to have settled on creating a travel sticky page for this website over the past year to go with each season. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world and so consider myself a veteran. Ideally, I would have had this post up on December 22 of last year, but the holidays intervened and well, better late than clever, right? So, the title of this particular article seems especially apt.

Bay

Now, let’s remember that all of these recommendations are subjective and based on three key factors: where I’ve been, what I like, and iconoclasm. By the latter I mean, I am not going to recommend the predictable places that everyone thinks of for each season.  Most people’s favorite season is the spring. As you might guess, not mine! My absolute cherished time of year is and always has been the winter. For the first half of my life, I got to be in a four-season climate as my home base and so winter rolled around every twelve months and delivered my preferred weather, notably in Manhattan where I spent most of that time, with cold, clear, sunny, dry days and the occasional snowfall that draped the landscape in its magical glitter.

Mountain Home Inn II

However, here I am in one-season Southern California, where the temperature is hot or hottest and the skies are cloudless and blinding unremittingly.  So, when I tell you my recommendation, I am going to avoid my reflexive wish to suggest Banff or Quebec or St. Moritz. Or to my preferred beach resorts (the rare times I have gone to them of my own accord) like Montego Bay, Jamaica, or Nassau, or Fortaleza, Brazil. We are going to stay local and so, voilà, my choice: Oakland, California.

Oakland and the Bay Bridge

Whaaaaa? You are going to start to object and recommend that at least I switch this to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. But, uh-uh.  Please do this. Forget about every single thing you have ever heard or thought about Oakland. I know the Bay area intimately (having lived in the East Bay and and visited friends and relatives who have lived there for decades) and SF is not where I want you to pin your protractor.  Put it right in the middle of the Elmwood section of Oakland in the up and coming East Bay and then draw a 50 mile (or 25 mile, depending on how much time you have) radius around it. That is where I would head if I wanted an exciting, rain-free, interesting and even exotic at times, winter getaway.

From Oakland, you are within biking, sailing, motoring, walking, boating distance of all the stellar things the lower end of Northern California has to offer.  And, you will be able to afford the hotel because you will not be staying in downtown San Francisco. It is mostly first-time visitors and businessmen on expense accounts who stay there anyway.

Oakland

Because the area is so vast and packed with things to do and places to see, I am going to divide this into two posts. First will be where to stay and eat. In a future sequel, I will remind you of the hundreds of museums, parks, beaches, theaters, aquaria, forests, and special features that the entire Bay area is known for, as well as a few words on shopping.  There is no better place to spend a week or a month, than this part of Northern California. You might not want to go home.

ca-oakland-city-call-c1940

First off. Where to stay.  I would suggest Elmwood via an AirBnB. Another good option is a VRBO (vacation rental by owner). Check out these videos on my link, strung back to back — there are several, all about the area and worth watching. Elmwood is just off College and above Telegraph Avenues, the main arteries through the best part of Oakland, near Berkeley. The homes in Elmwood are straight out of Nancy Drew or Father Knows Best. They are roomy, well-to-do Craftsman-style homes from the pre-WWII era. In fact, I cannot think of a better neighborhood in all of California, and I have been everywhere in the state in the 20+ years I have lived and visited it. If you stay there, you will be in walking distance of shops, eateries, poetry readings, concerts and lectures and all the marvellous perks for visitors to the UC Berkeley campus.

Elmwood II

If you are feeling really flush, you can stay at the Claremont Hotel in Claremont, between the Berkeley campus and Elmwood. You will get the full European spa hotel experience, but you will pay for it. It is an old East Bay institution, now owned by the Fairmont Group and they are the crème de la crème as far as hoteliers go.

The Claremont

My other two suggestions are my personal favorites. I have stayed at both hotels numerous times and would rave on about them if you and I had the time. The first is the Hotel Durant, as they style themselves, a ‘hip boutique hotel’.  It is old, maintained beautifully, immaculate and has impeccable service. Its breakfast library room and restaurant are first class. And, you can walk to the campus and transportation from the Durant, effortlessly. Take a virtual tour and you will get a sense of these two luxury hotels. Oh, and the Durant is affordable and they always find a way to give you discounts. I always request room 535/37 on the 5th floor, adjacent to the elevator. It is cheaper and amazingly quiet despite its location. Love the Durant!!

Hotel Durant

My last suggestion is the incredible, little known, beautiful, sprawling Woodfin now Hyatt House at the wharf in Emeryville.  You can get a view of the Bay and San Francisco from some of the rooms on higher floors. The rooms and suites (with bedrooms separated from the sitting area and full kitchen) are beautiful and reasonable — geared toward the business community and people relocating.  At the ground level, the Woodfin was planned to be in proximity to a sort of mini mall, old style with food, amenities and little shops. The food store delivers to the hotel. You can get pizza and Chinese takeout or sent to your room.  You can walk around the edge of the water and absorb the marine atmosphere. And, best of all, they allow pets!  We attended a wedding a few years ago in the area and brought both Psyche and Ollie with no problem. The Woodfin even put a mat and food and water in for Ollie. Can you imagine? All this in a beautiful place, with great parking (a big issue in the East Bay), at a rock bottom price. The Woodfin was sold to Hyatt and so I hope the new owners will keep all these wonderful features and pricing intact. Ssshhh. Keep this on the down low. I don’t want them to jack things up!

Hyatt House

OK, so now you have a jumping off place to stay. You want to get out and start seeing, doing, shopping and eating, right? Let me start with the restaurants and other eateries in the East Bay. You will be happy to hear that you are in the midst of what could modestly be called The gourmet ghetto of the Western United States.  In every direction for miles and miles are incredible elegant inexpensive (as well as costly, if that is your thing) places to get every cuisine on earth. It would take a year of blog posts to cover San Francisco, Sausalito, Monterey, Carmel, San Jose, Walnut Grove, Montclair, Rockridge, Marin, Solano and greater Oakland/Berkeley itself just to give you ideas of where to go. And a lot of boutique shopping flanks these restaurants, conveniently.

Vics III

Instead, I will list my personal favorites, which are ethnic, clean (spotlessly so), serving delicious, homemade exquisite food at prices you can afford. They cover: Greek, Indian, Mexican, Israeli, Chinese, Italian, Cambodian and Ethiopian super stars. This is where the locals who know the food scene eat, so you can throw away Zagats and forget about Yelp.  I will start with the most popular of them, La Méditerranée on College Avenue near the main hub of Ashby serving Greek/Middle Eastern food that is so delicious, you will want to order another meal or two to take home. You will definitely want to go back, but don’t give in to the temptation as you will need to visit the others before you go. I promise you, whatever Middle Eastern dish you have ever had, it is twice as good here. Trust me — in fact, I have eaten at every one of these places I am recommending at least half a dozen times.

La Mediteranee

Being a college town, there are no end of Indian restaurants to try. But, if you want the kind of food they eat in India, you have to try the hole in the wall, Vik’s on Fourth Street near the Berkeley campus.  It is cafeteria style, no atmosphere (other than brains and politics at every table, if you can hear it amid the din), cheap and delicious, authentic, aromatic Indian food from every part of India. There is a grocery section so you can buy things to take home. Believe me, you will walk out of there with bags of food — so be prepared and bring your totes.

Viks IV

Mexican restaurants are usually two to a block in California. But Cancun on Shattuck — one of the main drags in Berkeley — is special. It is more a take out place than eat in, but you can do that too. Believe me, the cognoscenti in the area come here for authentic, inexpensive, perfectly cooked to order quality Mexican food, Cancun-style. The Saldanas are the family that own Cancun and a farm that supplies its organic, natural products. Farmers and cooks, isn’t that what we would dream of? Having the farmer feed us. Healthy food, expertly prepared as you watch, delicious and fresh. What more would you want? It’s as close as you will come to Mexico in Northern California, in my opinion. From farm to table, what more could you ask?

Ordinarily, who would advise anyone to seek out Israeli food? After all, it is enough like — forgive me, all my Jewish friends — Middle Eastern food that you might think you could just eat at La Méditerranée and get the experience of the region you crave. Well, this is no ordinary town and Holy Land is no run of the mill restaurant. Don’t expect it to be particularly remarkable in appearance. It is clean and pleasant. But! The menu is the thing.  If you have never had Israeli cous cous, this is the place to get your initiation. It is fragrant, fluffy, perfectly seasoned and divine. Try the latkes and the Israeli pickles and olives.  They have shifted to include the non-Jewish foods of the region as well but you will be able to sample some of Israel’s best dishes, including hummus (pronounced hoo-muss by natives) and other kosher dishes including some that are vegan.

Holy Land

Most of us have had Chinese food from humdrum restaurants all our lives. If you live in NY or SF or Chicago or LA, you have likely had some unusual and very good Chinese meals. But, Oakland has, in my experience, one of the very best.  Shen Hua, is a beautifully simple, classic Northern Chinese noodle house, upscale and not inexpensive, but worth every penny.  Conveniently located right on College Avenue in Elmwood, it will be steps from your AirBnB. You will want to take home the leftovers, believe me.  There are rarely Chinese restaurants that could be termed elegant in every respect. This is one!

Shen Hua

While you are in an Asian food mood, you simply have to try the homey but sophisticated Cambodian menu at Battambang on Broadway in downtown Oakland. It is similar to Thai food but a bit more complex, heartier and with banana leaves. Think Siam-meets-Puerto Rico 😀 Delicious, whether you are a carnivore or a vegan as I am — a really unusual menu in a family-run establishment that prepares each dish fresh when you order and serves it in a warm and friendly manner.

Battambang I

There are literally hundreds of Italian restaurants throughout the Bay area so you might wonder why I picked just one. Because, while you can get pasta almost anywhere, great pizza is more elusive. One place that never fails to serve and also deliver, is Lane Splitters, by far the best pizza in the greater Oakland vicinity.  The ambience is pure urban hipster black, white and gray. They serve fabulous, handmade pizzas and a variety of other things including lasagna and calzones.  Eat there or order for local delivery.

Lanesplitter

If you are a lover of the exotic, and complex flavors outside the pedestrian, you probably crave Ethiopian food the way I do. The East Bay is loaded with Ethiopian restaurants, but if you want to know where Ethiopians themselves eat, it is hands down, Addis on Telegraph.  The atmosphere is basic but it is clean, friendly, and bright, and most importantly, the food is out of this world.  If you have never had Ethiopian or Eritrean food before, Addis is the place to start. I just wish we had one in Valencia, anywhere near as fine as Addis.

Addis

There are just a few more things I want to recommend here in Part I.  First, you simply must take a trip to Mill Valley and stay at the Mountain Home at the top of Mt. Tamalpais.  If you can’t manage a stay, then at least have breakfast and watch the sun rise, or have a drink there at the end of the day. Romantic, with breathtaking views, you dine or sip overlooking the entire Bay area.  Mt. Tam is exquisite and well worth the trip. Nearby are vistas that you can’t find anywhere else in the San Francisco basin.

Finally, you cannot leave Oakland without visiting Berkeley Bowl. There is no way to describe this indoor fruit and vegetable bazaar.  You simply have to go.  It is the largest and most bountiful food store I have ever seen anywhere. Its proximity to the fruit basket of the world means items so unique and so varied, that you will be tempted to buy them just for their beauty and singularity.

Mountain Home InnNo matter where you land in Northern California, a trip to Berkeley Bowl is a must. It is 40,000 square feet of gourmet heaven at farmers market prices. Think of a Home Depot for chefs’ quality fresh foods. Cheeses, condiments, olives, fish, breads, pastries fruits, vegetables, coffees, the list goes on and on.  So popular in its 40 year history, that they opened a second one.  Go to the original on Shattuck and prepare to be astonished.  By the way, go early, be nimble (parking is difficult) and arrive hungry. Bring bags, you will want everything you see, trust me.

Berkeley Bowl mushrooms

While you are at it, if you are anywhere near the Berkeley campus, hit the Gourmet Ghetto area and make sure you visit Andronicos, the Rolls Royce of “supermarkets”, since 1929. One thing I love there are the full line of European D’Arbo syrups that can be used to flavor everything from ice creams to cakes to carbonated drinks, ala Alice’s Restaurant nearby. I ordered a case of them and especially like the Elderberry syrup. When you add carbonated water to it, it tastes like champagne!  More on Alice’s coming up in Part II.

Andronicos II

Next time: Part II: what to do and see when you are not eating or sleeping ;-D

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Images: Public domain from travel sites, Chambers of Commerce and the establishments themselves

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Start spreading the views – Part Two

I thought I would get back to this set much earlier, but honestly the last few months have been frantic. Just being away during the summer for two weeks made everything else late and I was squeezed for time. I apologize!

Where were we? Ah, at Breads, snagging pastries and sandwiches to go on what was probably the most hectic day of the whole trip. We had planned a series of stops to visit old haunts and eat, of course. After Breads, we were headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right around the corner from where Deanna and I went to school decades ago. Anna wanted to see the Egyptian exhibit.  I was anxious to fit in a stop at Zabars, but Breads essentially took the oxygen out of that idea (though they are very, very different).

We snaked through Central Park, trying to eat as we drove (always a bad idea). Whenever I was at a stop sign, I whipped out the cell cameras to take whatever shots I could. For us, it was all very familiar and I am happy to say, little has changed on either the Upper West or East Sides.

Deanna estimated they would be at the Met for about 45 minutes. Hah! It turned into almost two hours, because there were long lines for everything. But, to avoid having to pay $25 for the privilege of one-hour parking up there, I thought I would just double park on 81st Street and eat my sandwich in peace while they whipped around the Museum.

Double parking is not for the faint hearted. You should have obscure license plates (check! New Jersey plates on my chariot) and a small, non-descript, nimble little car. Uh. Not so much. The black Murano looked like a Mafia limo. Wherever I tried to put it, it stuck out into the old, small, patrician street like a German tank. I kept moving it around, trying to be unobtrusive and finally found what I thought was the perfect camouflage by a hydrant, in front of a large “cleaning” company van at the front door of an exquisitely appointed greystone manse.

It would have been perfect, had it not been for a diplomatic skirmish that brought a fleet of black-and-whites to that very spot, not fifteen minutes after I had spread my lunch out daintily all over my very upscale travelling duds — all in black and white silk and linen which enjoyed a suction action for crumbs like I have never known before. I was not only in a darkly tinted suspect-looking armorium, but I was covered in detritus and looking rather wild to boot.  For almost 40 minutes, I was hemmed in by police, while trying to crane my neck non-chalantly to see what the fuss was about. I detail it on my Flickr pages for this same series, if you are interested.

Since I had nothing to do but wait for all this to subside, I tried to entertain myself by listening to talk radio. Always a mistake. By the end of it, my blood pressure was circling the cloud-cover over the city, I had mild indigestion for wolfing down a complex combo of Maghrebi delicacies, and I was teetering at all times on the brink of a $300 ticket for doubling parking in a foreign mission zone.

By the time Deanna and Anna came bubbling and bouncing down 81st, brimming with extolations for the exhibit, I was a virtual rag.  No time for Serendipity and that vaunted ice cream sundae I had been bribing Anna with all week. We had to hit the road for the 50 drive north to the next hotel and be crisp, rested, and festive for that night’s party. Yes, 50 miles/50 minutes give or take. What could go wrong, right? It was only 2 pm when we hit the FDR Drive for what I assured Anna would be a scenic drive up into New England.

Never promise anything, especially to a precocious and high-demand 7 year old!

The drive had to be diverted off the river-hugging FDR and rerouted up through Harlem. Oh. Dear. No.

Now, I have no real problem driving through Harlem from time to time. But, it can be a bit dicey. Three small women in an enormously obtrusive black monster stopped at lights and trying not to stare nor avert a stare is a challenge. Just saying. We made it through, but my nails were digging into the pillows on the steering wheel.

That was the least of our problems. The I-95 is one of the oldest, narrowest, most residential, and least vehicle-friendly roads on earth. There are no shoulders, no extra lanes, no meridien, nothing. Just two skinny asphalt ribbons (for most of it) in each direction for miles and miles and miles out of NYC, to the Canadian border. Add to this any accident and all vehicles come to a complete stop. There is no place to push the car off to. If there are two cars or hades forbid, a truck, and they stop in both lanes — well, you get the picture.

That’s what happened on this particular Friday at what was now the middle of Manhattan exodus hour. Our GPS stewardess took us off the freeway and onto local roads. That was a double-edged sword. It was the only way around what was apparently a five-vehicle pile-up on the northbound side (ours) that had happened a full two hours before we approached the spot itself. That is apparently how long it takes for emergency vehicles to access and clear the problem. We got to see the breathtakingly beautiful residential neighborhoods that flank the freeway north of the City and into Connecticut. Many of them had names with which I was endearingly familiar from my days headed up to school in Upstate New York. On any other day, I would have relished seeing these places again.  But, the 50 minute trip took 3 hours.

We dragged ourselves to the hotel at the last minute and of course, the sky opened up in the process, as we took all our “fancy” bags, one by one, from the very distant spot where we had to park, up the perilously steep stone steps of the historic Inn where we were staying that night.  Checking in, we had exactly 30 minutes to transform ourselves into New England socialites and get to the party venue on the water, on the other side of town.

That’s when Anna announced that she could not wear the shoes her mother chose for her dress. Just absolutely could not be caught dead in them. So, on the way, we had to find a store with children’s party shoes that would go with her outfit, fit, and satisfy her princessian tastes.

Are you nervous yet?

 

Start spreading the views – Part One

Well, from one glorious city to another. Here we are in my hometown, New York City. I grew up in Manhattan on Sutton Place and my parents had a house at the Jersey Shore. So, this trip was a homecoming. I plan to cover this epic celebration in three parts. By the way, I didn’t take a camera (high security events) instead bringing two new cell phones, each with amazing cameras, and took the pictures you will see here and in the next two installments.

As you may recall, my niece invited us to her wedding to the son of a prominent billionaire. It was a hard decision to make at first, whether to go or skip it, but we decided to go after all. And all of us are so glad we did. Deanna, Anna, Al, and I went. Geoffrey stayed home with Kevin and the animals. It worked out well for all of us.

The four of us who went are all Northeasteners (well, Anna is a Tarheel, technically). It was old home week. We flew to Newark Airport (my fave), rented an enormous black 2018 Murano (fantastic SUV), piled a freakish amount of luggage into the back, and headed to the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street at Central Park in the city.

I have already mentioned (and it is in my Fall sticky post) that I love The Wales on Madison and 92nd Street, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for its European boutique hotel qualities and the gorgeous, elegant Carnegie Hill neighborhood where it is located.

But, the many parties scheduled as part of this two-week extravaganza were being held all over the city and parts beyond, so we picked the Plaza for its central location.

One is never disappointed with the Plaza. We had a luxurious suite on a high floor and enjoyed the sybaritic pampering a great hotel provides. They weren’t nonplussed by the bags either. We all made sure to take the best ones we had, dressed for comfort and glam (well, Deanna and I, anyway), and felt right back at home.

Deanna grew up in Tribeca, so she did the hipster end of things; I made sure I looked very Upper East Side. It was fun. Al was Al, wearing the same sloppy clothes he wore in prep school and like all comfortable professionals who enjoyed the proverbial silver spoon, paid no attention to what he wore whatsoever. Now that’s self-confidence!

The week in Manhattan and environs was a crazy chaotic mix of rushing from one event to another, finding parking, battling traffic, sightseeing, nostalgia treks, and eating. How we did it I don’t know, but we were motivated.

If I were to tell you I had no idea what a billionaire’s wedding could be like, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Nothing I could have dreamed up could possibly come close to the way they did this, which I will probably elaborate on a bit more in the next post.

Meanwhile, we ate our way through Manhattan.

We went to some old standbys but also to a few new ones like Breads, an Israeli bakery chain with three shops in Manhattan. In addition to having the most incredible breads, including all the usual specialties like Challah and Babka, there are sandwiches, spreads, pastries, cookies, soups and salads — all delicious and unique.

I was dying to try their Tunisian Sandwich and so we all went there and stuffed ourselves, bringing back bags of baked goods jammed into our suitcases.

As we rushed from the tip to the top of the city, we were all struck by how much new building was going on, particularly the stunning new neighborhood that has replaced the run down “meat market” of the Chelsea district of Manhattan on the West Side. It’s now filled with beautiful futuristic architecture and an elevated pedestrian play ground called the High Line that runs on for about a mile and a half.

The High Line is flanked by new co-op and rental luxury apartments, office buildings, and upscale shops and restaurants. All are one story above ground level and spreading. There are views of the Hudson River to the West and proximity to some of the newest urban richster watering holes with all the latest cafes, design-your-own juice bars, sky clubs, rocking music hideaways — the works — that any 21st century sensibility could want. We all agreed, if we were to move back to the City, we would live in Hudson Yards.

And to make matters even more fun, while we were idling waiting for our iced frappucinos to be ready, Michael Avenatti walked right past us! Deanna wanted me to talk to him, but I am not star struck and figured he wouldn’t necessarily like to be way-laid on his brisk walk to some chill destination. It would be just like Avenatti to live in Hudson yards. Dressed in dark slacks and a crisp white shirt, he looked exactly as he does on television but larger than life, somehow.

We sped down to Ground Zero to see the Freedom Tower, then to Battery Park Conservancy so Anna could ride on the SeaGlass Carousel there. Then we visited the Maiden Lane building on Wall Street that Geoff’s father had bought, with his 70th floor penthouse office, so Anna could see that too. Then we raced up Broadway to hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art so Deanna could take Anna to the Egyptian Room there.

And this was just the first few days! I will try not to wear you out all at once. More coming up in Parts Two and Three, so stay with me.

Images: Chez BeBe Assets: New York City 

City gritty

All summer long I have been thinking of all of you and meaning to add a new post. I hope you have all been well.

One of the things that has prompted this post is the fact that our best friends in the neighborhood, who arrived on our street when we did years back, are moving to a fancier, cooler part of Los Angeles. It was funny when I found out, as I saw them bustling around the front yard and trucks pulling up to haul away boxes, that I felt a strange sense of being abandoned.

Probably some of the reason is they are the only other openly progressive people on our block.  Another reason is they did so many thoughtful things for us over the years, and we tried to reciprocate. They aren’t selling, but renting the house out for an obscene amount of money — which is a good thing, because where they are going, it will take an equally obscene amount of money.

We had been thinking about moving too. Not to somewhere else in LA (I do plan to move to the Channel Islands neighborhood of Oxnard some day, just to get closer to the water and more temperate climes) but completely out of the country. You probably know why.

One place high on our list has always been Canada, especially Vancouver Island. Another was Denmark, but I have decided being too close to Putinville is not smart. Deanna just got back from a trip to Ireland, screaming its praises. Since we are all Irish (well, half, anyway), that sounded good to me.  Our problem is the business that sustains us, Geoffrey and me, is not portable. Deanna and Al can go anywhere. Sigh.

So, then I thought about the places I love in this country (except for the people who apparently think it is a good idea to take children away from their parents and then terrorize them.  Why would I want to be around Americans like these?).

Everyone knows how I feel about New York, both Upstate and down. I really like San Diego — truly a hidden gem. North Carolina is gorgeous, but, well, we won’t discuss it right now.  Vermont? Used to love it, but can’t stand guns and that is a big gun state.  Massachusetts — meh, too expensive. Love Boston but can’t afford it.  Washington State’s a possibility, but if I go that far, I might as well keep right on going to Vancouver.

Back to California, the lone state that has its head screwed on straight. Where else do I love in California? San Francisco. Yup, Oakland is where I would live, but there is something special about Rice-a-Roni town that nowhere else can match.

We took a trip this past winter because I had to attend a professional conference. Geoffrey, Deanna, Al, their kids and I piled into my new Volvo and drove up. That was grueling — six hours of flat land and fog.

We were wrung out by the time we arrived, but it is amazing how the sight of the Bay Bridge revived us and we stayed up all that night, eating!

If you are going to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay area, try to take the coastal, not the inland, route. Far more interesting. It adds hours and you will want to stop overnight. I would do that in Big Sur. Stay at the Ventana Inn — treat yourself to a hot tub under the stars and fabulous food.

Just a suggestion. If you are in a super hurry, take the 5 Freeway north all the way, stopping halfway at Harris Ranch for food and fuel.

Clean, lovely (when the wind is in the right direction — it’s a working cattle farm) and comfortable. When we were there, we saw eleven Teslas lined up, charging, as there is a free station there and a lounge just for Tesla owners. It was cool. None of us were smart enough to take a picture, so you will have to use your imagination.

A trip to San Francisco in the winter immerses one in a panoply of atmospheres. It was variably foggy, mizzly (misty drizzle), sunny, hot, cool, dry and soft. Luckily the temperature doesn’t drop or rise too much, so a light sweater and water-resistant shoes will do the trick. No one uses umbrellas in California. Remember that or you will scream turista.

Typically, we stay in the East Bay (Oakland-Berkeley). But, the conference was in Embarcadero, so I chose the Marriott Marquis on Mission Street. Such a fabulous hotel — really a mini-city on about three square blocks above and below ground. All the lectures and meetings were subterranean in a labyrinth of corridors and rooms that the hotel smartly planned so they could maximize their footprint.

There was a fire drill at one point (false alarm, actually) and we were rushed out of our lecture, down winding halls and up a short flight of stairs, emerging at a park blocks and blocks away from the front entrance to the hotel.

What I love about the Marriotts is how customer-oriented they are. You simply drive up and attendants rush out to take care of your every need. We had an embarrassing number of bags and other paraphernalia. It took three of those enormous rolling brass carts to take all our things up to the rooms. We actually got a suite. What luxury (but so reasonably priced, we were sure they made a mistake). If you can, go when your have some affiliation with a group.

The other behavioral specialists who organized the convention/conference, ordered a huge block of accommodations that made it all so affordable that the suite came out to be the price of a regular room. We didn’t have a great view, but we had a full kitchen, huge marble bathroom, and beds galore. Enormous closets, icemaker in the room. It was almost sybaritic, despite being ordinary.

The location in Embarcadero couldn’t have been more ideal. We were surrounded by museums and shops, restaurants, stores, interesting sights, the list was almost endless. There was the usual eclectic architecture, iconic cable cars, China Town, Little Italy, the wharf — all within walking distance.

The hotel itself had three or four places to eat, including a skybar and restaurant with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city that everyone crowds into at sunset.

If you travel to San Francisco, you won’t need guide books or my recommendations. Your phone has it all and no one can compete with the updates. Just ask for, let’s say, Indian food near you or great coffee (Peets is it!) and you will be within a few feet of all the best places, I assure you. Luckily, if you choose this part of town, there will be many excellent possibilities in every category.

What else do I love about this town? Friendly animal-loving people, open-minded, fun-loving, tolerant, helpful, unfazed by anything. No one judges you, just like NYC. What a cultural mecca loaded with libraries and the arts. I cannot think of a single thing it is missing — maybe snow. How’s that for a deal?

Building is in progress everywhere, the old and the new blending seamlessly. Yes, there are homeless people and everyone seems to accept them and not make them feel like freaks. Yes, there are people with blue hair and elbow rings, practically naked, or adorned in haute couture.

You will hear every language imaginable and smell exotic fragrances from perfumed maryjane to frangipani blossom desserts. I’ll stop raving and let the photographs do my talking.

Love you all!  More in the fall.

Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Francisco

The Un-y-mooners: the grand finale

Where did we leave off? I think we were in India, on the last day of our second Un-y-moon (the first being in Vermont in the winter) in August, the height of monsoon season.

Here are the links to previous chapters in this series:

https://bethanybyrnes.com/2014/07/23/the-un-y-moon/

https://bethanybyrnes.com/2014/07/26/the-un-y-moon-part-ii/

https://bethanybyrnes.com/2014/08/02/the-newly-wed/

https://bethanybyrnes.com/2015/05/22/the-newbie-wed-our-journey-continued/

After a wonderful whirl-wind trip with the usual share of mishaps, some hilarious, others unnerving, we grabbed a taxi to the airport.  We thought we were early and in fact, by Asian standards, we were.

So, imagine our dismay when we arrived at the Lufthansa seating area and saw at least several hundred people for what was supposed to be a 200-seater, through Frankfurt, to New York.  Nevertheless, ever the optimists, we sat patiently until the the agent called for boarding.  Or so we expected.

Image result for people sleeping in Mumbai airport

About an hour after our scheduled departure time (yes), a plane taxied past our window, way, way out on the tarmac somewhere. Could that be our transportation back to civilization, we wondered? It looked so tiny.  No sooner had it come into clear view, than a rush of people stormed the door to the maintenance area and sped toward the aircraft, as if propelled by some subliminal message. Geoff and I exchanged puzzled glances and stayed obediently in our seats.

No, the agents didn’t announce boarding. No they didn’t restrain the crowd. No they didn’t rein them back in or broadcast a warning. Literally within five minutes, the plane was full. Wait, what? We have tickets! We have boarding passes! We have seat assignments! Geoffrey approached the agents’ station and got on a line of mostly Europeans who were buzzing among themselves in confusion that mirrored ours.

Then we saw our plane taxi toward what we assumed was the runway. And with that, it was gone.

We looked at each other in astonishment and then the panic set in.  Ah! But, not to fear. This was Lufthansa, after all. Germans are nothing if not sticklers for law and order. We felt some relief when the agent announced — in German, which neither of us speak — what we gathered was the imminent arrival of another plane for the rest of us, who now numbered about 300.  All around us people began sitting on the floor and opening cloth parcels containing — food, … ohhh … nooooooooooo. We noticed that they were largely Indians. OK, ok, ok.  No worries, calm down, let’s just trust and await our new aircraft.

At long last we were ushered, wordlessly, in a line of weary and willing humanity down a long corridor to … wait for it … the Air India terminal! Our tickets, boarding passes and seat assignments, we were now made to understand somehow, were being transferred to another carrier. When the plane itself lumbered into view and shuddered to a stop out on the pavement about 100 yards from the window we were staring from, it was clear that this was part of AI’s backup fleet.  There are no civil words to express the string of expletives that came out of my new husband’s mouth and that even the most parochial of Hindi speakers must have known were not encomiums to that machine.

After another hour of waiting, we were allowed to traipse across the asphalt, dodging potholes, and climb steep rickety open metal stairs to our seats, which bore no resemblance to the ones we had paid for.  The plane did not stop in Germany, but made the entire 26 hour flight to New York — oh yes — in one long grueling marathon, with only a quick refueling touchdown. Guess whether the food and lavatories held up?

Our return to NYC was bittersweet. Geoffrey had been offered an amazing opportunity in San Francisco and I got a preliminary invitation to teach at Stanford. But, as luck would have it, at the last minute my mother-in-law lamented that she needed him nearby in Los Angeles because her younger boys were giving her problems and her executive husband was rarely around. So, dutifully, Geoffrey agreed to move back to LA, leaving me to fend for myself work-wise, to make his never satisfied family happy.  He also had to look for a job and now both of us would be doing that with less then stellar track records.

We packed up my Mercedes, which though virtually a block long (or so it seems in hindsight today), was still too small for all the stuff I felt I couldn’t send in a moving van (which literally was a block long). As I looked at that truck, I realized that I was hauling around so much materialia, a virtual albatross, that I could never just pick up and move again. And that was decades ago!  Among the occupants of my car, was my blind, elderly, female Cockatiel, Fulana.  That is another long story, but suffice to say, driving across country with a large bird and cage would prove to be one of the great challenges of my life. How many nights we had to sneak her into the motel room or sleep in the car with her, I will leave you to imagine.  The trip took almost two weeks and we got to stop along the way to admire parts of this country I had never seen like Missouri and New Mexico — both two of my favorite places now.  The Ozarks and the night skies of Albuquerque are matchless anywhere else.

After what seemed like the longest ordeal of the century, we crawled down from Barstow into Los Angeles and arrived at my in-laws beach house, dusty and weary.  I was nervous already, so intimidating were Emily (my MIL) and her retinue. One thing I learned living with wealthy, gregarious bi-coastal people like Geoff’s parents, was that they always had a crowd of people coming, going, staying, visiting or calling them out to events somewhere. There was never a quiet moment when they were in town. And, when they were at one of their other four homes, some of the hangers-on they accumulated would invite themselves to stay at the rambling multilevel beach-front home anyway. It was a circus.  The night we arrived Heidi was there with her husband and children. As we came in the door, she brushed past me as if I were invisible, on her way out to a party. I was to discover that Heidi, territorial and insular, was feeling that I was what I now realize is her idea of an elite, Ivy League, snobbish, threatening East Coaster.  Had I only understood that this was a cultural phenomenon of the fly-over Staters, I might not have taken it so personally.

That same night, barely had we caught our breaths, when Emily sent us out to the store as their favorite delivery service was unavailable, and she had invited people for dinner (not in our honor, mind you).  Geoffrey thought he was more than clever by making a quick run to what was Stan’s Liquor, a place that carried the kinds of upscale provisions the coupon-clipping beach aristocracy in the South Bay liked to have on hand for the impromptu champagne-and-caviar fete.  At Stan’s, as I was nervously tooling up and down the aisles, feeling like the frumpy slum cousin in an oversized boyfriend shirt and pinwale cords, I bumped into an exquisitely architected tower of giant imported plum tomato cans, the topmost of which promptly fell and hit my foot, smashing a sandal-nude toe.

Laid up for the remainder of the night with an eggplant throbbing at the end of my right foot, we were then treated to — oh yes, why not? — an earthquake. Geoffrey was on the other side of the room and he and his family observed my reaction to the enormous house swaying back and forth with considerable interest. Not rushing to reassure me where I was marooned, they simply went on with their conversation as if nothing was amiss. I was devastated. This was not the idyllic introduction to SoCal that I had envisioned. It was little comfort either that when I finally hobbled to the balcony, I was to be blinded by the sight of scantily clad Amazons, perched high atop roller blades, tanned like Fabio, zipping past rows of celebrating beach nobility, some of these goddesses with drinks in hand.  I was crestfallen.  Now I really was feeling like the buttoned up college professor, handicapped, exhausted to tears, cold-shouldered by my new “family”, and feeling 40, while only in my twenties.

My MIL, I thought at first to give her credit, planned a West Coast reception to announce to all their important friends that Geoffrey was married. As the heroine of DuMaurier’s Rebecca notes pitifully in one scene, “what a slap in the eye” I must have been. First off, I was not blonde and everyone in California is or tries to be.  Secondly, I was not, err, how to put this delicately, top heavy. I could feel myself shrinking in stature with every day that passed that first month.  We found a condo within walking distance of the family (ugh).  Fulana was settled in. We had a balcony with a remote ocean view. We only fought over the placement of the furniture once. Geoffrey found a suitable job right away. Still, I cried every single night, after we returned from his parents’ house where we had to make a pilgrimage regularly so Geoff could “bond” again.

The day of the important party finally arrived. So did my things from NY and I pulled out a beautiful handmade dress I got at a trendy boutique on Madison Avenue. I wish I had kept it. It was of black polished cotton, with a shirred bodice, little delicate puffed sleeves, tiny buttons up the front, a flared out skirt with a tasteful ruffle at the hem. The material itself was stamped with tiny colored flowers. I loved it. I wore some strappy multicolored patent sandals I had bought in Florence, that picked up the colors in the dress and the black background. I added small diamond flower earrings and thought I looked perfect for a West Coast summer gathering.

My parents-in-law were well connected. My FIL was the genius behind an ultra successful investment firm with offices all over the world. He knew everyone that was anyone in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. So, they invited these people to our reception, held high atop Palos Verdes on a windy cliff overlooking the Pacific. Cocktails were timed to coincide with a glorious sunset. The food was all flawless, the tables glittered with gold and silver laid out elegantly on snow white linens. The flowers were flown in from Hawaii. It was all magical, except, of course, not a soul thought to ask me for any input at all or what I thought of the whole idea in the first place.

Over 250 people arrived in the usual gleaming black or white chariots of that day. I knew no one. Well, with the exception of two people: my mother-in-law’s maid’s niece and her maid’s daughter.  The latter was hired to clean our modest starter apartment, a stone’s throw from the in-laws.  Both of them eyed me warily with a fair amount of unvarnished jealousy.

Geoffrey knew everyone. There were heads of investment banks, politicians — including a former POTUS, who was on a Board with my father-in-law — lots of corporate CEOs, some chairmen of charities that Emily worked on, and a lot of Geoffrey’s family’s former neighbors and schoolmates.  Including an ex-girlfriend of one brother. She and Geoff spent the night getting drunk and reminiscing. Since I don’t touch alcohol, I found little to console me.

An entire room was dedicated to the gifts people inevitably brought, even when told to refrain.  A sleek van idled outside all night in anticipation of loading up the treasures and taking them somewhere (to the in-laws house, as it turned out, so Emily could make sure the proper thank yous were sent, I being a barbarian, apparently). I spent time glancing over the tables as they filled up and absently fingered the gift cards, with famous names that I recognized but who only knew me as “… and his bride”.

To make matters even worse, one of the two ladies that worked for my mother-in-law, a single mother about ten years older than I, wore a billowing white dress and tucked enormous roses in her very dark hair. All evening long, people congratulated her on her marriage to my new husband. Geoff’s family loved it and had quite a few laughs for years to come. It didn’t endear them to me, is all I have to say. And, Nuria, the white-clad Beth analogue, developed a haughty attitude toward me thereafter, turning her back dramatically or flouncing out of the room whenever we were in the same place. Did I hear you say “galling”?

As I write and think about this fitting final chapter to the Un-y-moon saga I have shared here by installment, it strikes me as an almost sad and angry tale. Somehow, we overcame all this and managed to eke out our own lives, especially by moving away from the force of this powerful galaxy in which we were supposed to orbit. My MIL slowly mellowed, never quite understanding or liking me, you understand, but coming to spend time with me without trying to dominate and criticize my very different approach to womanhood. Like many traditional wives, brought up in sheltered families where men provided everything except respect and emotional support, the women in my husband’s family knew no other type of role and were offended by what they saw as my superiority complex. Honestly, I never felt superior, just independent. I was an adult, an educated and I thought liberated East Coast professional. I didn’t see myself in the same light that Heidi, Geoffrey’s sister did. Heidi married a rich, strong man, whose money and stature in his own sphere enabled my SIL to glide carefreely from one jeweled abode to another.  She took my candid opinions and frank comments to Geoffrey as an indicator that I thought I was better than she was and that has caused her to resent and reject me to this very day.  I just no longer care.

Things went on like this for some years, no matter how I tried to change the atmosphere. Little slights that hurt and were meant to put me in my place were constant. Such as the time I asked for an apron to use while in the kitchen helping to prepare dinner and Emily turned to Heidi with a bemused smile and said, “I never needed an apron. Did you?” To which my SIL slowly shook her head in mock disgust. I wanted to tell them it was to keep the food prep area sanitary, not because I was such a clod. But, I was properly cowed. Or the time Emily gave everyone in a large group a dish to prepare, then looked at me quizzically and said, “Beth, I think you can handle the lettuce, can’t you?”, as if I had been raised by wolves. Or the many meals that were anchored by beef or lamb and only left me, the lone vegetarian at that juncture, with a roll and a potato, no apologies made.

You could argue that Geoff fell down on his responsibility to welcome me into his overwhelming family and lay down rules for them to treat me at least with some courtesy and politesse, but he was spoiled. He was used to his mother doting on him, her handsomest son, the one with the most promise in her mind. The one to take the place of her largely absentee spouse. It took years of arguments for my husband to see what was going on and reluctantly cut those apronless strings.

The rest of this blog has posts scattered throughout that shed light on the times and events that have followed. As we both turn 50 shortly (yikes!), we have come to a place of equilibrium. Heidi lost her husband and is now less of a presence in our lives.  Emily is experiencing cognitive decline. My father-in-law died suddenly years ago. The other brothers are around but consumed with families of their own. And most importantly, we live nowhere near any of them and that has been a true lifesaver.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I want to dedicate this “finale” post to the memory of my dear blogging friend, Susan Irene Fox, who passed away suddenly last August. She loved the Un-y-moon series, appreciated all my ironies and jokes and was one of my biggest supporters. As she did with so many people, she offered me her warm, kind, loving advice, and helped me to see a way to accept the adversities that come even into the most fortunate of lives, like mine. God Bless you, Susan. How I miss you and think of you often.

And to my loyal friend Bob, with whom I have had such lively discussions on all sorts of things, including places we share, as in New Jersey, New York and Southern California: You are the best, Bob.

Images: Chez BeBe assets and Creative Commons 

 

 

 

 

 

Bank shots

My niece is marrying a billionaire.

Well, I should say, a billionaire’s son. Now, mind you, I have hobnobbed with my share of the international cognoscenti from time to time and Geoffrey’s family are well known and affluent, but this is warp-speed level in another universe.

Her mother, my sister-in-law Vanessa, groomed this kid for exactly this outcome by sending her to all the right places to meet kids whose backyard was the globe. And, she’s a beautiful girl. An actress. So, maybe none of this should be a surprise. Most importantly, her future husband (both of them are the same age, they met in college) seems to be a really great person. He’s an actor too. Of course.

Now, as riveting as I am sure all this is to everyone — this all turns into another mammoth undertaking. One cannot simply throw a few rags into a bag and go, right? After the shock and awe of the announcement at a family party last month, and recovering my eyesight after glancing at the ring, I suddenly realized that I not only have to get on a plane and fly to this destination wedding, but I have to have four days worth of outfits appropriate for that crowd, to boot. Yikes.

Luckily, Deanna and I decided we would both go. Geoffrey cannot tear himself away from work and doesn’t want to spend four days doing “silly” wedding things. Al doesn’t want to go, period. So, we are going to make it a girls event.

So, of course I went online, straight to Bergdorf’s and got three crazy overpriced outfits, luckily, on sale. I have hundreds of accessories of every kind, so I justified the cost of those outfits by thinking I could break out some of my low-tick shrugs and bags, etc.

Then Van dropped the other Choo: we are all to wear white to the wedding! Wait, what?? Noooooooooo… Yup, another trip online, this time though, I was so thoroughly chastened that I headed to Nordstroms and got my ecru evening-appropriate dress there. Now I am lousy with wedding guest duds, so I guess I will have to find other weddings  to crash (and I usually avoid them like the plague).

For a very brief moment of insanity, Deanna and I considered saving ourselves a ton of hassle and skipping it.

Then we came to our senses. When would either of us ever-ever-ever get to go to four days of parties with that crowd? Would you be surprised if I told you Harry and Meghan might be attending? Am I sounding groupy-esque enough now?

It takes a lot for me to be star-struck. Growing up in NYC, and having celebrities in our neighborhood, passing them on the street without a second look, I didn’t think any of these people could possibly impress me. But my niece’s future family are just fascinating, pure and simple. I want to see what dollar-genius looks like up close and personal, LOL.

Now, of course, I am setting myself up for either being overwhelmed or disappointed. We shall see. Geoffrey just sneers at my excitement and (probably rightfully) concluded it’s merely an excuse to get dressed up, since he goes out of his way to do the opposite.

Uh, yeah! Deanna and I are going to pull out all the stops, and at the very least, have fun showing off our glam-girl sides. Something we never get to do in LA (suppose we are not hanging with the cool crowd here).

OK, enough about that. This is Banker’s Hill in San Diego. Right at the edge of Downtown, these are homes built by financiers in the early 20th century. The whole neighborhood is filled with vintage mansions, immaculately kept and updated. Most have views over the city to the water, just to the west of this enclave. The properties are astronomical but this is the place I am determined to find a hut when we make our permanent investment of a home in the area.

For now, we are still enjoying the houses we have.

Another nice aspect of the upcoming bash abroad is I will be able to share some awesome pictures of the surrounding area. I doubt we will be allowed to bring cameras to the wedding events, so my cell phone will have to do. More on that when the time comes.  Meanwhile, I have to get all my other obligations out of the way so I can relax and look forward to whatever my brilliant SIL Vanessa came up with (although she assured me the groom’s parents’ staff is taking care of all the usual arrangements. Leave it to Van to have fallen into that piece of luck!).

Anyone familiar with this blog already knows what my wedding was like (hint: Un-y-mooners posts), hee hee.

Stay tuned and thank you for putting up with me as I pre-drool, copiously.

Images: Chez BeBe assets/Banker’s Hill, San Diego