When I moved from Paris to San Francisco twenty years ago, I had never set foot in California. But San Francisco had a legendary reputation – there was even a French song about a blue house on a foggy hill – and vivid pictures formed in my mind.
Despite the myths surrounding San Francisco, I found it small in comparison to Paris. A city on the water, which doesn’t know the warmth of the summer and the coldness of the winter, was a strange place for a French woman. Yet I fell for the city where people attended the symphony orchestra in shorts and flip-flops, but wore suits in the financial district and coats in the summer.
Now I like to return to San Francisco to visit my two daughters who attend college nearby.
Today as I walked with them through the Haight-Asbury neighborhood, filled with cafés, boutiques selling vintage clothes, records and smoking pipes, excitement tinted with a hint of nostalgia gripped at me. Don’t get sentimental over clothes you wore in the 80s, I told myself.
The thing is, more than my early years in San Francisco, it was my youth in Paris that rushed back to me. Watching my daughters starting their lives as university students, moving away from their dad and from me, didn’t make me feel older – that was the good part of the day – but very much aware of this special time in our lives when we are studying, learning, exploring through professors, classes, classmates, books and personal work, and inevitably visiting these funky shops, musty bookshops, and smoky cafés – okay less smoky in America than in my days in Paris.
Lots of young people were sitting at the sunny terraces, sipping drinks much larger than my tiny Parisian espressos. Only a few were absorbed in lively or quiet conversations. Most were either reading on their iPads or other tablets, or typing on their phones or laptops. My daughters took pictures with their phones, texted friends, asked Siri and Google maps for tips and directions.
Tools I had no idea would someday exist when I was their age, but their eager face and unstoppable energy and insatiable curiosity reminded me so much of my years at the university than when we sat for coffee I almost forgot I had now enough money for much fancier drinks than regular coffee. And it was hard not to sit outside, pull a …notebook and a …pen and write.