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San Diego (roses from my parents' garden)

Usually when I go to San Diego, I end up writing about peripheral issues – about anything other than the actual trip. So this time I am doing to try something different, and actually write about the trip. Day by day. What we did and how I liked it.

The trip started when Mitya and the kids picked me up from work to take Vierra and me directly to the airport. For those of you who don’t know, our car doesn’t have air conditioning, and we live in Houston, a full hour (at best) from the airport, and I forgot these factors when I bought the 5pm departure tickets. So off we went, 3pm, 100+ degrees in our car, windows partially down, trying to listen to music and talk and manage disgruntled children all at the same time. There is a special type of euphoria that kicks in about ten minutes into such a driving experience. The sun sizzles merrily on your driving arm, sweat trickles down your back, it is windy, it is bright, and it is loud. Such road-tripping is not recommended for those with a heart condition or pregnant or nursing mothers. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. But here we were, and then we were at the airport. Lyovchik had fallen asleep – I felt both relieved and sorry that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to him (I imagined how he’d be sad when he would wake up and find us gone), Mitya and I said our goodbyes like in the movies –passionate embraces and all, and off we went.

The flight was mercifully uneventful. Vierra slept, I stared at the ceiling and regretted not taking out my book from the suitcase before getting packed in between a sleeping munchkin and a very kind older lady who gave us her earphones and pretzels. Since my day consisted of sitting at the office, then…sitting in the car, then…sitting at the terminal and finally, sitting in the airplane, by the time we arrived in San Diego I was ready to burst.

The best part about the San Diego airport is that you usually arrive on the second floor, and everyone arriving funnels into two large escalators (and stairs in between) that lead down to where the baggage and excited (bored, antsy) folks greeting the arrivals congregate. As you ride down you feel like a celebrity descending down onto your adoring fans. At least, that is always the feeling I get because down there is usually Mama, beaming and gleaming, searching for her daughter and granddaughter, impatient to set eyes on two of her most beloved people.

I don’t even mind that the first (and second, and third) hug goes to Vierra. As long as I get one in there at some point, I am good.

Mom and Dad picked us up, and since I was bursting and it was still light out, I proposed that we go stroll on the boardwalk lining San Diego Bay and framing downtown in its sunset glow. And so Vierra and the parents strolled while I proceeded to bounce down the boardwalk, up sidewalks and down various cement protrusions, snapping photos with my SuperCamera, feeling happy and giddy. I am sometimes concerned that this mood may come off as playful/mocking, like I am poking fun and vaunting my own great mood and dissing everyone else’s somberness. In this case though I knew all was perfectly understood.

At home there was lots of good food, and then long and restful sleep.

The boarwalk has an ever-changing, 3D sculpture park..and in the water there is the Star of India

In all her glory

Dad showing something to Verusha as Mama watches on...

Two of my favorite ladies

Family!

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If all goes well, Mr. Fatty Pants and I should be on a plane heading to the Land of Milk and Honey in a few short hours.

So perhaps this is a good time to reflect, reconnect, and take some time to offer you a very subjective and personal portrait of San Diego . And so the story begins…

It was on a most ordinary evening sometime in February of 2001 that we gathered around our table in the living room of our modest apartment in St.Louis. Dad had something he wanted to tell us. We sat down and without due introduction, he announced, “Today I am going to tell you something that will change the rest of your lives.” Well I guess that was his introduction.

He proceeded to tell us that his boss had been offered a new position and a laboratory to head up at the University of California in San Diego . The boss had picked a few lucky scientists and invited them to come along. Dad was one of them. Yes, there were palm trees, yes the tide came in slowly and sang songs of yore on the great Pacific Ocean, yes there were even pelicans and sea lions and snorkeling to be done and perfect weather to be enjoyed. But there was a catch: I had to come along.

Let me explain: I was about to graduate high school, I had already applied and been accepted to several universities (none of them 2000 miles away in California), and now out of the blue…Dad was still talking, “…and there is an actual eucalyptus grove right on campus…great academics, prestigious, we could drive there in the mornings together…Bottom line: you go to the university there – we all go. If you don’t want to go, that’s fine too. We all stay here. It’s up to you. No pressure.”

It would be grossly naïve to think that I actually had a choice.

Loving that sky - so vast...

First impressions: Dad’s driving the Lizard (my sister) and me home from the airport. It is night and as (what later proved) usual, there is a low haze hanging over the city, reflecting the red and orange lights in a stifling sci-fi glow that makes the hilly terrain all the more other-worldly. I do not like it at all. But then there is sleep, and morning – a fresh, salty breeze, bright bright sun, and yes, the puffy clouds a-sailin’.

Sail away!

I cannot describe the loneliness of those great rolling hills, the drives to and from the university that followed, the peaceful conversations with Dad, and more loneliness on campus as all those around me made friends and I was left on the outside as the girl who lived at home. I certainly don’t regret it. Neither can I describe that vast, overpowering sky, the millions of stars at night, the strange glossy plants and the dry season. If you have seen the Truman Show , I am convinced it was filmed in SoCal, in a random suburban neighborhood where the streets are so clean you can walk outside with just socks and no shoes on, not because the streets are swept, but because it never rains and there is no dirt. Just dust and sand and concrete and little pebbles with cacti peeking out. At first it was sad and foreign. But eventually the breeze playing with the blinds, the roses in the garden, and the tangerine trees won me over. Yes, I think it was the tangerines that did it.

Yummilicious in the back yard...

photo credit: http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1044/1152131816_a00cf48a50.jpg

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