SF marathon


On the last day of my vacation, I ran the San Francisco marathon with my little brother.

I don’t even know where to begin. We decided to do it in December: his registration was my Christmas gift to him. But he trained all on his own, with very little support and a hugely challenging work schedule. His determination and good spirits throughout the training and his level-headed, light-hearted approach to the actual race were hugely inspiring to me. He was heroic.

There were so many memorable moments, but the best, the most poetic, where when, after the climb to the Golden Gate Bridge, we turned to see the city backlit in a yellow dawn. There were rays of golden light shooting down into the water from the fog over the bay.

Much later, after we’d come through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, when my brother’s legs were tired and he wasn’t smiling so much anymore, we were running down Haight Street and I swore I heard familiar music playing faintly behind us, but growing louder all the time. Could it be? No! Or could it? It was! A guy had strapped a boom box to the back of his bike and was blasting “Chariots of Fire” as he rode along the marathon course. Ahead of us, Haight dropped down towards the bay, and we could see the water beyond the city in the distance.

We knew our sister would be waiting for us in the Mission at Mile 20, and just before we reached her, our paths crossed with her husband, who was running the 2nd half marathon. Imagine seeing him like that, among all those people, but there he was, just when his course joined with ours. And a few minutes later, there she was too with her baby!

And on into the Dogpatch, where people lining the course urged us on, promising we were almost there, although really, we weren’t even half as close as they claimed we were. It was not until Mile 26, when my brother saw the marker and could finally see the Finish, that he smiled again. We looked at one another and he picked up speed, and we covered that .2 mile in no time at all. It was as if time, and the world, had stopped for us. And before I knew it, he had grabbed my hand and we raised our arms as we crossed the finish line. I don’t know that I have ever seen him happier.

post marathonWe spent the rest of the day celebrating.

And that was the perfect end to a perfect vacation among siblings.

Posted in running, something beautiful, Travel | 3 Comments

the vacation continued

dolores park Next came four glorious days in San Francisco, and oh how I love San Francisco! My sister has a ton of friends who live in the city and my brother has a ton of friends who live nearby, and so there were dinners and drinks and coffee and much lounging around, having a good time. It was magical, the way San Francisco is.

One day I rented a bike and rode around for a few hours on the cutest little single gear. It was green, and I must have looked somewhat like I belonged because someone asked me for directions. Later, I was coming out of Golden Gate Park and realized I needed to be back in the Mission pronto to meet up for dinner so I asked another cyclist if I was headed the right way. “Yes you are! Follow me,” he said. “I’ll take you to The Wiggle.”

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It was such a great day and I would rent a bike in SF again. Ever since I did that in Barcelona, it has been my favorite way to explore a city.

Posted in cycling, Travel | 3 Comments

second leg of the journey

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We left the lake on Sunday and drove back to my brother’s house in Marin County. He has a cute place with an outdoor lounge, where I gather he spends most of his time when he is home. You step out the back door and into it. The roof of the house continues, as if it were another room, and it is furnished as if it were a room inside the house: there is a carpet, a coffee table, a couch, an armchair and a rocking chair.

One of my brother’s roommates is a photographer and landscaper and has a gorgeous vegetable and flower garden growing in the backyard all around the lounge. The garden has the look of something let free to grow wild while being lovingly cared for at the same time. I caught my brother out there in the morning, with his coffee and his cigarette, looking at the flowers and tomatoes in the soft morning light. His life there made me want to live in the Bay Area too.

He lives near a state park overlooking the bay, and that is where we ran together. He cycles and runs on the trails that crisscross the golden hills particular to Northern California, through Eucalyptus groves and Redwoods, rising steeply and then opening up to offer you a view of the water and, if there is no fog, the bridges over the bay.

All spring he was training for the San Francisco marathon and he sent me the picture at the top of this page so I could know where he ran in the evenings after work. While I was there, he and I went for our runs early in the morning and although the view wasn’t quite as spectacular, those morning runs were magical: two sets of footsteps on the trail, the smell of pine needles and eucalyptus bark mixed with the dry California grass and so m any deer and turkeys; we sometimes had to stop and wait for them to pass.

My sister had been telling us about an article she read on siblings, and how your siblings are often the people who know you best: they are the only people who know you your entire life. On our second run, two mountain bikers passed us as we were about to start a climb and we let them go ahead, then one of them asked us if we wanted to pass and I thought, “Damn, now I’ll have to pass them.” At the same time, my brother thought, “Damn, now she’ll have to pass them.” And of course we did.

I spent the first part of the week back and forth between my brother’s place and my grandmother’s home in Walnut Creek, where my sister was staying with her baby. We had quiet days, taking Grandma out to lunch and to do her grocery shopping. She pushed the cart with her great-grandson in it and all the other grandparents in the store flocked over to see the world’s most adorable baby and tell her about their own. Then, my sister and I took the baby for a stroll around the neighborhood while Grandma rested or watched the ball game. We found a little grouping of lawn chairs in the shade of Redwoods not far from Grandma’s house and we sat there one day, feeding my nephew pieces of the morning bread we’d bought the day before at a coffee place in Fairfax.

We took turns going out: one night I took Bart into the city to meet a friend from high school for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years. Two nights later my sister drove over to Berkeley for dinner with a friend who’d been her college roommate.

And then it was time to pack up and move into the apartment my sister had rented in San Francisco, at the corner of Dolores Park.

Posted in running, Travel | 2 Comments

lake berryessa

view from markley coveJust back from one of the best vacations of my life: ten days in my favorite place with my favorite people, Northern California with my brother and sister.

Our first stop was the lake where we spent our summers as kids. Our grandparents had a place overlooking the water and a motorboat. They took us out on the lake to ski every morning with our cousins and aunts and whoever was visiting, and those summers spent crowded in a boat and running barefoot on the hot gravel, walking down to the marina store for ice creams (and splurging on It’s-Its when Grandma and Pop-Pop were particularly generous with their spare change), going out in the boat to look for deer at dusk on the rare and special evenings when Pop-Pop relented to our begging, sleeping on cozy mattresses lined up next to each other on the floor in beds we would make up each night and clear away each and every morning are what defined those childhood summers.

My grandparents warned us that it wouldn’t be the same, which we already knew. Nothing ever is, but when we arrived late afternoon, rented a boat, and my sister was the first to dive back in, she was grinning when she came back up. “The water is the same!” she announced, and it was: in smell, in taste, in color. There is nothing in the world so perfectly refreshing and nothing that makes absolutely everything feel so precisely right.


Posted in nostalgia, picture taking, something beautiful, Travel | 6 Comments

moon on the summit


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duck tape and dodge ball

My kids went to American summer camp for the first time yesterday. My mom dropped them off to avoid any drama on the part of Five, who sometimes has last minute separation anxiety when I take him to school. She said they barely waved goodbye when they saw the other kids and the foosball tables.

I couldn’t believe how much work I got done yesterday while my mother enjoyed a nice, long talk on the phone with an old friend, and then she cleaned the house. We took a break mid-afternoon, sat outside, and my mother said, “I love your children, but it is so nice and quiet without them. I hope you don’t mind me saying that!” Of course I didn’t; They were my thoughts exactly.

When I went to pick the boys up, Five complained, “You said we could stay all day!”

“You did stay all day. It’s almost dinner time.”

“What?” said Five.

“It feels like lunchtime,” added Nine.

Which explains why they didn’t eat the lunches I had packed for them.

On the way home, Nine said, “We made boats with duck tape. What’s duck tape? Is it called that because it doesn’t sink?”

Later, from behind the shower curtain, as he rinsed shampoo out of his hair, Five told me about not knowing all the words for things. “Everyone asked me ‘You speak Spanish?’ All the time, ‘You speak Spanish?’ Why dem think I know Spanish?”

“Did you tell them you speak Italian?”

“No. I don’t know how say ‘italiano‘ in English.”

“So what did you say?”

“I just said ‘Leave it alone'”.

At dinner, Nine asked why the kids shout “FOOS” when the ball gets stuck in a place no one kick it. “In Italy we just move the ball and you don’t have to shout anything.”

Then he wanted to know about dodge ball. “Tell me the rules!” he demanded.

“I used to love that game!” said Grandma. “That was my favorite game!! Everyone gets in a circle and…”

“Well, that’s not how we did it,” said Nine, and proceeded to tell us the rules himself.

Posted in The boys, Travel | 3 Comments

his own hero

This morning I dropped Five off for his last day of preschool. First, we accompanied his big brother to the morning sports camp he is attending this week, and today Five rode on the back of my bike rather than on his own.

He is almost too big for the kiddie seat, and he is getting heavy to tote around, but we both like the closeness of it. I will miss his little hands sneaking under my shirt and rubbing my back, his hugs from behind.

We sing little ditties and he asks me math questions: what’s 600 plus 800? 32 plus 32? 64 plus 64? They are usually half in Italian and half in English and sometimes he calls out the answer before I do. I don’t know if it’s because he has memorized the problems or if he is some kind of math genius. I guess we’ll find out in September when he starts first grade.

The World Cup has fueled his obsession with soccer. He plays every day with his friends at school, and again in the afternoon when he manages to find a group of kids from the neighborhood at the playground, where there is a smaller than standard size soccer field with goal posts in the shade. Yesterday there must have been over a dozen boys aged five to 11 or 12 on that field, stopping to drink only at “half time”, and then starting up again.

Nine plays too, but he feels no need to boast about it, whereas all evening long Five regales us with stories of his most skillful, daring feats, the time he stole the ball away from one of the big boys, the time he passed the ball to another little boy who scored.

At the park yesterday, there were two little girls his age playing quietly with a sticker book on the bench beside me, and during half time Five brought his ball out and showed me his tricks, all the time with his eyes trained on them. When he knew they’d seen a particularly impressive move, he seemed to grow two feet taller on pride alone.

He is a performer and his own biggest hero. And after today, he is officially a big boy.

Posted in something beautiful, The boys | 4 Comments