Florence was a gas. I got back a few days ago and I’m still huffing the trip’s fragrant fumes and, I admit, getting a little high. It was an idyllic sojourn: the friendliest, prettiest people; piquant pizzas and pleasing piazzas; huge marble slabs of history; staggering art; so much gelato you could vomit. And dogs — a festival of dogs.
I’m leaving on a jet plane yet again in a week, but this one isn’t for vacation; it’s for vacating. My brother and I are going to the San Francisco Bay Area to clear out my late ole Mom’s condo and put it on the market. We are vacating the abode of its current renter and as much furniture and stuff as we can in a short stretch of time, about six days. It could be a herculean errand, or it might snap into place like Legos.
Mom passed in late 2019, so this isn’t really a mournful visit, though it is naturally tinged with blue-hued rue. Ghosts, memories, love and misses. We have to riffle through reams of photos — that’ll be fun and painful and snoringly tedious — and decide what things we want and what can hit the curb. My brother can’t wait to get his grubby hands on this damn metallic rabbit Mom placed next to the toilet. It’s probably spattered in urine.
Save for that weird rabbit, there’s nothing original about any of this. It’s just another life stage, a serial speed bump that most of us have to go through. My turn. Yawn.
Yet we’re going to make the most of it, dammit, back in the Bay Area bosom we grew up in. From the San Francisco airport, we’re beelining it to our favorite restaurant in Chinatown, House of Nanking, a bustling joint we used to line-up for before they expanded a bit. I like their zesty food so much — especially the Nanking Sesame Chicken — and the surly, snappish owner, that I still wear one of their neon-bright t-shirts.
Then it’s down to business. For a while.
We’ve planned other sidelights to sustain our spirits and energy. Like a special dinner at chef /author Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley. This is quintessential farm-to-table California cuisine, which Waters practically invented. I’ve eaten there before. It’s spectacular, an institution. My brother, the foodie who’s been to them all, says it’s his favorite restaurant. We’re spoiling ourselves. We’ve also slated a day and dinner in Napa. Boo-hoo for us.
Still, getting real, the trip won’t be fun; a few good meals can’t blot out the grim reality of the situation. Fortunately, Mom left a fastidiously tidy home, decorated with utmost taste and artistic flair. (We will be plundering her artwork and art books for sure.) She had class, and we want to honor that by doing this dirty work with a soupçon of respect.
We’re dismantling a life, in a way, dislodging and dispersing things that defined a real person. And we’re a part of it. My travel photographs adorn a wall. A painting my brother made of David Bowie adorns another wall. And so on.
I think of the place as a museum of Mom — meticulous, magnificent — carefully curated, painstakingly, and with inexpressible love. We have our work cut out for us.