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Sinking in scented white sheets and down pillows I peel my eyes open. It is morning, the muted sun peers in through the window, and outside – all of St.Louis stretches beneath me.

Through fate and circumstance Liza and I find ourselves on the 25th floor of the Millennium hotel at the very heart of the city – directly in front of the Arch. Today the clouds are heavy. They blanket the barren trees and stonework as far as the eye can see. The city stands strong and grounded, its red brick walls and buttresses supporting the weight of the late-autumn sky. Smokestacks near and far send puffs of white into the rarefied air. As I trace the thin lines of streets and avenues below, I recall that St.Louis is an old city, in New World time.

It is well over 200 years old. Judging by its architecture, its heyday was in the late 19th and early 20th century. Now even as life here pulses steadily, it stands in humble resignation that its time has passed. This is evident in the dilapidation and ruins of parts of old North St.Louis, in the rust and steel that frame the multitudes of railways and bridges, in the solidity of the major buildings in town.

Below me and to the left lies the clover-leaf highway intersection. Cars soundlessly hug the turns and speed onward. I wonder if they know that someone is watching them from the high tower of the Millennium. Seeing the city scape expand beneath me brings a sense of comfort and of profound solitude. How interesting to see the activity of so many people, the fruits of so much planning, thought, effort, determination. I feel proud of our civilization – that being individually so small, we are able to visualize and realize powerful, lasting projects. And yet, amidst the pride swells loneliness – from above, we are so small. Everyone rushes in their steel vehicle, isolated and consumed by their own worries, towards job or home. And I am also isolated in my ivory tower, watching them but unable to connect.

As I turn my attention from the clover turn-out to the streets directly below, I see the huge empty parking lots slowly filling up with cars. In the distance, along the entire stretch of window, a blackened steam engine pulls a caravan of cargo train-cars. I watch as it too, silently, puffs smoke into the sky. Apart from the omnipresent cars, this city could not have changed much over the last 100 years ago. The lone barge pushing freight up the Mississippi River confirms this.

I take it in for another few minutes. Time up here moves slowly.

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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