San Francisco

The California Diaries – Through the Silicon Valley


almond flour pancake, lemon ricotta pancake, coffee and a side of fruit

My last day in San Francisco started at Plow, the city’s best spot for breakfast and brunch (according to local press and to our landlady) in Potrero Hill, a few blocks from our room. It’s cool, it’s cozy, it’s trendy, it’s…ORGANIC. Yet the menu isn’t for dieters or sensible stomachs…Image

I went for one almond-flour pancake (lacking taste without the maple syrup), one lemon ricotta pancake (good, really good) and one side of fresh fruit. The kitchen is on the other side of the counter so you see everything. And my European organic eyes were wide open when the cook flipped the gluten-free almond-flour pancake next to the bacon slices, removing the excess grease coming from the pork every now and then with a small spatula. Pancakes cooking on animal fat? Really? And then, of course, each pancake had a small nut of butter melting on top of it once presented at the table. I think that in Europe, in any fancy “organic” breakfast spot as popular as this one you could go to jail for that. But when in Rome…so I ate the whole thing not without repressing some anxiety regarding what all that trans-fat would do to my almost middle-aged body. The other customers were all ordering without the slightest sign of concern chinese breakfast and other eggs/pork/bacon/fried potatoes combinations and none looked terminally ill to be honest.

The sweetest part was a little girl of around 6, eating at the counter with her dad a poached egg and wearing amazing red cowboy boots under her very preppy grey coat. I took a picture because she looked adorable (and very fashion conscious).


Red boots for breakfast

Short before lunchtime we left the city to start our journey toward Los Angeles. First stop, the Silicon Valley. Husband was over excited by simply looking at street signs: Palo Alto, Sand Hill Road, Cupertino…it’s his personal Disneyland. He dropped me in the middle of nowhere to get to a meeting on time and I walked, and walked, surrounded by serious-looking office buildings and blossoming cherry trees (cheer up, Europeans, spring still exists). Some baseball (or was that football? I only know soccer so don’t be mad) fields later I spotted a Starbucks and basically ran there, my raft in this hi-tech sea.


Cherry blossoms and hi-tech offices

Then, suddenly, I was enlightened. Sitting in the corner of a Stanford Starbucks, I got it: flipping pancakes on bacon fat doesn’t matter here because none is thirty yet. Not even 25, I guess. For the past 4 days I had an hard time trying to spot anyone my age or older. They’re all super young, look super bright (I could feel an “underachiever and stupid” growing on my forehead just by listening at their conversations) and dress like Mark Zuckerberg. So I wondered: did he set a dirty-looking tee/bermudas/thong trend and all those young students and techies are just imitating him out of desperate hope to become as successful or he’s just the by-product of Silicon Valley nursing?

I still had one, simple question. What do you do to old people? Do you shoot them on their 30th birthday? Do you send them away on a special plane once they enter the reproductive phase of their life and start having concerns about clogged arteries, sagging skin and urban safety?

And a few miles later I got my answer. We stopped on the highway around Portola Valley and had something to eat before hitting the road again. We sat on the terrace and watched. Dozens of cars followed ours. Old people at the wheel. Old like white-hair/white poodle/fanny pack old. Here they are. Hidden somewhere on the hills, in low houses covered in green, sitting on a shabby-chic bench in the front garden. Big SUV filled with baseball-capped kids and hockey mums came in at the same time. I guess it was the friday afternoon errands time. I felt relieved (that they don’t shoot you after 30 in the Silicon Valley) and terrified (that they confine you in suburbs) at the same time. Wisteria Lane, it’s not exactly my thing.

A couple of hours of fog later we arrived in Big Sur and went for a Carmel Wheat beer. A beautiful 20 years old waitress warned us:

“Do you know that Carmel and Big Sur are among the 1001 places to see before you die?”.

Fine. We did it. Death may come today. 


Naples? No. The original say goes: “See Carmel, have a beer and die”. Cheers.

The California Diaries – getting a taste of San Francisco


So here I am. After much babbling about sinking Europe and dreaming about faraway lands, I finally got on a plane and landed, almost a day later, on the other side of the planet. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds: I had to place children and dog before even packing and it wasn’t without a pinch of anxiety that I left all of them behind. The day I brought the small ones to their grandparents seemed exciting at first: after all, they had been waking up at impossible hours for the past two weeks and with my husband we started fantasizing about wonderful things we would do once alone. Watching 2 movies in a row at the cinema. Having sushis at midnight. Waking up naturally at 7:30 and not being screamed out of bed in the middle of the night to bring some hobbit  to the loo. It sounded like the best holiday ever. Truth is, when I came back home it was snowing again and I didn’t feel relieved. I felt lonely, and so did my husband. Two almost middle-aged persons in a deadly silent house. We ended up watching TV and eating pizzas instead.

24 hours of loneliness later we finally were on the plane. First consideration: California is FAR. I mean, really far. Way further than it looked on the map and definitely further than in my imagination. By the time we got to Washington I was already tired of being on a plane. Six hours later, squeezed in the middle seat on an audio-entertainment free airplane (I didn’t know they still existed!), I was starting to lose my sanity. But then the lukewarm California breeze made it right again.

We are staying in a lovely room in Potrero Hill, a sweet neighborhood not far from downtown San Francisco, all community gardens and young families and organic restaurants. The concept of ORGANIC has been the first one to surprise me in California. It’s actually just a label here. I mean:  European organic is a lifestyle, on top of being a label. An organic restaurants serves healthy food, mostly steamed or raw. In California, organic looks like a label they put there to make you feel better. It certainly certifies the natural and pesticide-free nature of the things you’re buying but that’s it: it doesn’t preserve you from the deep-frying or the char-grilling.

I have the impression that food wise Europe is someway ahead. All the Starbucks display the number of calories of any pastry they sell (nothing below 370 calories, if anyone’s interested) but they don’t have a fat free version of anything. I imagined California as the realm of vegans, vegetarians and extremely healthy people and…well, they maybe are compared to the rest of the States but they really aren’t by European standards.

Apart from food considerations, San Francisco is a livable, medium-sized city (I expectd New York with sun but it’s actually way smaller) where everyone on the streets seems to be young (but then in Europe everyone seems so old), hi-tech and laid back. I had never been on the west coast and all I knew in the US were New York and Boston. Two very European cities, where people are stressed out and yell a lot (espacially in NY). Well here in SF everybody’s calm. No yelling, no stress, no endless lines to get a table at a restaurant. Surprising. Awesome.

Today we leave the city and start our journey to Los Angeles. I haven’t figured out yet if I could actually live here. I have to admit it hasn’t been love at first sight but it certainly is another world compared to the one I grew up in.

PS I had taken lovely pictures of the art-themed cakes at the SF Moma (there was a Mondrian cake, a Rothko PB&J toast, Frieda Kahlo biscuits and so on..) but clumsy as I am, I managed to lose them while doing a back-up. I will take more in the next days, hopefully.