My 2 Cities
As cities to live in go, I think I’ve gotten pretty lucky. I went to French schools, am bi-lingual, and bounced between Paris and New York as a child. I’d lived in both cities as an adult, and eventually wound up in San Francisco, at the time when it was considered a liberated and exciting city (in the 70’s). It seems to have settled down in the meantime. It is more of a tourist destination now, known for its charm, other than the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, where major deals occur. Some big businesses have been chased away, or lured to other cities, leaving tourism as a major source of income to the city. And I have to admit I always find it irritating when you go to the drug store or the grocery store and they ask you “Where are you folks from?” Down the street. But one is almost expected to be a tourist in San Francisco, and not a resident.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with San Francisco for years. I like big cities, and grew up in them, and I sometimes (often…okay, always) chafe at living in what is essentially a small town. And San Francisco is extremely proud of itself for its alleged sophistication, sometimes unduly. A little humility would be more appealing to me. But I have to admit, there are definitely some things to be proud of. The weather (in spite of the freezing cold foggy summers). When people are either sweltering or shoveling snow in other cities, San Francisco is permanently air conditioned, and often sunny in winter. Not warm, but sunny. The view is spectacular from almost anywhere you stand and look. The houses are pretty, the city is clean, it’s easy to park, and even if one’s life is stressful, people just aren’t in the constant state of stress that they are in cities like New York. It’s 3 hours from the mountains, an hour from beautiful scenery and hot weather in the Napa Valley, (it’s 40 degrees warmer in Napa then in San Francisco on a summer day) and it’s half an hour from some spectacular even if chilly beaches. San Francisco definitely wins the beauty contest, and one really can lead an easy life there. I found it a great place to raise kids. It has a lot going for it, even if it is a small town in its size and behaviors. It has its drawbacks too. For those of us who travel to Europe, and even New York, San Francisco is a long, long way away, a long plane trip and big time difference when you get there. I am quick to complain about the city, but I seem to stay there, I love my home there, and many of my children live there, so that will keep me anchored to San Francisco forever.
One thing I don’t like (and envy) is that my friends in Paris or New York still have their kids living in the same city, because they can find interesting jobs there. It’s much harder to find interesting work in San Francisco, and many young people have gone to Los Angeles, New York and other cities. San Francisco was the perfect place to bring up young children, and I’m glad I did, for many reasons, but I wish I had brought them up in a place where they wanted to stay and could find interesting work in many fields as adults. I miss them, and half of my children have moved away to find jobs they couldn’t in San Francisco. But in spite of my grousing, there are things I love about the city, and I am always happy to come back to San Francisco. (But don’t tell anyone I said so.)
My relationship with Paris is a whole lot simpler. I love it, everything about it, and always have. It’s the perfect size, it’s a beautiful city, which offers every possible kind of entertainment and cultural event, and a wonderful quality of life. One thing I love about both cities is that the sky is so beautiful in both places and you can see it. (I never see the sky in New York, and don’t even think to look for it. What sky? All you see are buildings). Not so in Paris or San Francisco since the buildings are low in both cities the sky is right there and gorgeous at all times of day, particularly at dusk or sunset or that perfect luminous pearl gray at first light, which still takes my breath away in Paris. The light in Paris is exquisite. And for some reason, I never care about the weather in Paris, even if it’s cold and rainy.
People entertain more in Paris, and go out more than they do in San Francisco, they eat later, and stay out later. It has become the perfect place for me to lead an adult, independent life, now that my children are grown up. In San Francisco, I spent all my time taking care of children, driving car pool, and helping with homework. I go out very little in San Francisco, because I always work there. But I have always found the social life there claustrophobic, which is true of any small city, not just San Francisco. Paris is a much bigger world, which I like and suits me better.
To be fair, I have heaped the spinach on my plate in San Francisco. Or even Brussels sprouts (which I hate). I go to the dentist in San Francisco, see my accountant, meet with lawyers, work, and deal with all the things most of us would like to put off, forget, or not do at all. It is the city of ‘duty’ for me, and a lot of stuff I don’t like to do. In Paris, I have a more interesting life, do more fun things, and there is more to choose from. And what a fabulous place to do it!
Both cities are beautiful, both are wonderful to visit, both are high on anyone’s list to see and explore. I don’t know how I got so lucky. After 30 years of living in San Francisco (and complaining about it, however beautiful), I wound up back in Paris a few years ago, for a second shot at living there, and starting a whole new life. I spend time in New York and Los Angeles visiting my children, and although I always have fun in both places, I wouldn’t want to live there. But I still enjoy going home to San Francisco, and my heart sings every time the plane lands in Paris. Both cities are hard to beat. It’s fun getting dressed up in Paris, and going out and seeing friends or meeting new people. And it’s relaxing coming back to San Francisco, putting on jeans and an old sweater and hunkering down at my desk to write, or seeing old friends when I’m there.
In truth, I am blessed to have a double life, which allows me to live in two such wonderful cities, and I am grateful for the good fortune that has made that happen. I guess I’ll just keep on commuting, I’ve got a good thing going. And I’m lucky to live in both places.