This city guide probably won’t help anyone. Or rather, it will probably only help me, in a cathartic sense. It probably won’t help you plan a trip to San Diego, unless you plan on staying with my family.
And while they’ll probably take you in, I don’t know that I’d recommend it. Or maybe I would. I keep going back and forth about the whole thing.
I’m still not sure about the trip. I spent 10 days in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego. It is not fancy. It is not exciting. It is a quiet, laid-back beach town full of stoners, along with some hippies and surfers (who also happen to be stoners). For reasons still somewhat unclear to me, my European relatives ended up here.
My relatives are overprotective. They talk a lot. They won’t let me go anywhere alone past dark, for fear of being accosted. Considering that the population of OB consists primarily of a bunch of guys who’ve named Jeff Spicoli as their personal savior, the only way anyone is going to get hassled is if they somehow transform themselves into a walking, talking, 125-pound bag of weed.
My family was well-intentioned, but I got frustrated. I wanted to go places on my own, to walk around in the evening and try to relax and not work myself into the panicked frenzy that so many Italians seem to thrive on. I went running during the day, and was lectured that I’d get heat stroke. I was told I didn’t eat enough. Then I was told I was too fat. I spent too much money. I needed to take a cardigan. I needed to cover my head. I held it together until the 11th hour. Then, 30 minutes before I was scheduled to leave for the airport, I lost it. I cried.
Damn it. It’s like the guy who lives until the end of the horror movie, and you think - Wow! He made it! - but then he gets devoured by the evil mutant alien right before the credits roll.
My husband tells me that if I had stayed a month, or a year, or three days, I’d have held it together and then lost it right before leaving. This pisses me off. He then asks me why I keep going down to visit, and this too, pisses me off.
I am, for the most part, just pissed off.
I am trying to make sense of it all. And I know there are good things about all of it. I am trying to focus on those things.
Like these two:
And for some reason, they’re both obsessed with ABBA and started dancing to “S.O.S.” with my mom …
And we went to a concert in the park, where my mom and my aunt panicked because they were convinced it was full of kidnappers and maniacs. But it didn’t matter, because I took quite possibly the best picture, ever, of my cousin and his daughter:
And even my mom relaxed long enough to have the same conversation she’s been having for years …
… with everyone …
And then my other cousin turned 40. 40. Which is strange, because I remember when he turned 18, just barely. All those year ago, he got $100 and new tires on his car. For some reason, I’ve never forgotten that. This year, he had a 1920s party. And my mom and aunt laughed when they saw him, because they said he looked just like my grandfather’s brother. He even wore my grandfather’s suspenders, which made me sad and happy all at once.
And for one night, at least, we all dressed up and got along.
A few days later, I was sitting with my aunt Pia and she told me a story about when she was little. My mom joined in, because even though it was before she was born, she knew it, too. About how Concettina, a little girl in the village, would torment my aunts with pinches. She’d pinch them, and it would hurt. They were friends, and still she’d pinch. And my aunts would tell my grandmother, who would tell Carmella, Concettina’s mother, about the pinching. And Carmella would shrug and say, of all children, “They are only creatures …”
And my grandmother would sigh and do nothing, because Carmella was her closest friend, and not a disciplinarian. And one day, my aunt was Maria was being particularly naughty, and Concettina locked her in a bathroom. My aunt Pia insisted she let her out. If she didn’t, Pia told Concettina she’d throw her down the stairs. But Concettina didn’t let Maria out. And Pia threw her down the stairs.
And Carmella was furious. She confronted my grandmother and asked her what she was going to about all of it.
And my grandmother shrugged and said, “Well, they are only creatures.”
And we all laughed. I laughed because Concettina was fine, despite being tossed down the stairs. And I laughed because my aunt Maria was a pain, and because Pia always makes good on her threats. And because the last time I saw Concettina I was 6 years old, and she kept pinching my cheeks. And it hurt.
But mostly I laughed because it was the first time in a long time that I felt like my grandmother wasn’t all that far away. And because I was happy to be with my mother and my aunt, remembering her (on, I realized later, what happened to be my grandmother’s birthday).
Of course, 20 minutes later I was infuriated with them again because they wanted me to wear a sweater in 85-degree weather. But, like always, I forgave them. And I probably always will.
After all, they’re only creatures.