San Francisco is rich in diversity, culture and full of things to be discovered. European by birth and upbringing, the more I age the more I tend to lean towards my roots. It comes as no surprise that I found that the most European city in the US to feel like “home”, and one of my favorite neighborhoods to hang out at is Little Italy. Whether it is rich history, authentic people , or - no denial here - ridiculously delicious food, but we found ourself in Little Italy more then in our own neighborhood, day or night. It enthralls us with its past : after all, Grant Avenue is the oldest street in San Francisco. In the early days, North Point docks served as a gateway for immigrants from South America, Europe and the Austrian colonies, and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that thousands of Italians claimed the area and made it their home. There is a legend too, that during the 1906 earthquake fire some of the enterprising residents saved many homes by cracking the barrels of red wine open, soaking the blankets in wine and then draping their homes in wet blankets. The streets have stories to tell, and we can feel that too.
As we are Crusi-ing through the narrowest of the italian-style streets, we talk about 1800s and the first immigrants. The older children are absorbed in the story - I am an immigrant too after all, the fact is fascinating to them. I hear a little squeak from the bottom level of my oh-so-helpful Crusi which lets me know that “the napper on the go” is awake, and , apparently, at two years old, she is impressed to. We walk some more. There are some more soft sounds from the bottom level - I peek to see a finger puppet performance going on. Rested and happy, Vasilisa pulled out a nice stash of her favorite toys from the underneath basket. That basket - you would never guess how much it holds… I smile to myself, and try to not disturb her world. It’s fascinating to see how the little mind of a two year old works. Oh, time. Why are you so cruelly fast… I thank my Stroller Gods ( and their human helpers) for Crusi and ability to be a non-intrusive observer of these moments,as we go into one of the Italian jewelry shops. The shop is beautiful. The rustic style jewelry is laced with femininity and grace. It takes my breath away, and judging by “oh, mommy it’s pretty!” , and “ oh, zis is booootifu!!!”
I know that my opinion is not just mine alone. I am also impressed that even in - what feels like 2’ by 4’ - shop ( you know, the old European style) we manage not to only not hit anything, but even make a full 180 degree turn. The shop owner gasps in amusement when she realizes there are TWO in the stroller - so compact and discreet, it really gives an illusion of just a single stroller ( it rides like one too ). She disappears for a moment only to come back with a stash of absolutely delicious treats : torrone wedge. Traditionally an Italian holiday treat, this sweet delight is enjoyed throughout the year and you can’t beat the purity of the ingredients. Even a health-nut mom like myself feels that life is much better when you have one of those wedges in your cupboard, or even better - hand . The older kids are giggling and exchanging treats. A half a second does not pass, and a hand popping out from the “bottom level” with a lively “ Me TOO!!!” to accompany it. I swear, that seat is positioned just right for her to be in the middle of EVERYTHING: we are yet to be able to do anything that goes unnoticed by the faithful lower seat rider ( unless she is sleeping, of course ) , yet it created a little personal space of her own to be able to hide away from everyone. And when you are one of the 5 brothers and sisters, I honestly think that it’s a necessity at times. We all need our personal space, won’t you agree? We make a turn into a narrow alley and pop into a toy shop that is not on the map ( that we studied faithfully too!) . But to our delight is somewhat shadowed with a disappointment - it’s Monday, and the shop is closed.
A fact that we are yet to get used to after a never-sleeping NYC : San Francisco sleeps, parties and takes their days off seriously. Little Italy is mostly “closed” on Mondays, and some places even Tuesdays, so if you are planning to visit, make sure to take note! We peek into the windows, and love what we see : a huge collection of rare toys, some baby gear, clothes and more toys. I make a note to definitely to come back. The map is showing that we are near the Coit Tower. It’s a hefty climb uphill ( oh, San Francisco… at 40 degrees and up hills it’s no wonder that the SF population is considered to be the slimmest out of entire US) . We pause for a minute for me to decide if I’m brave enough to push a double stroller up one of the biggest hills I’ve seen up to date, but - after all , what’s there to loose? If it’s to hard, we can stop mid-way and turn around. Surprisingly to even myself, we climb 3 hill up without a single stop ( while I am profusely praising the Stroller Gods and their human helpers again for such an amazing invention) to only find out that we absolutely MISSED the sign that Coit Tower is closed for renovation, all the way back at the start of the hill. But , as little exercise never hurt anyone, we decide not to loose our spirit of adventure and find ourselves some place to eat. Considering the UPPER level snoozer is on the hour THREE of his daytime nap ( thanks to the the comfy seat and sheepskin that I cannot praise enough) , it feels like a smart choice. We make our way to Molinari’s. So small and old looking, it is one of the best kept secrets on the Corner of Columbus and Vallejo. The littlest wakes up right as we enter the shop, promptly on time to smile at the shop owners and score some free candy ( even though he can’t eat it) while I am being praised for my choice of a stroller. Ask any European, a stroller that provides proper support for a growing baby’s and child’s spine is on every parent’s “must have” list and the very top to it too. Stokke is known for it, and Italians are very well aware of it too.
We may not have a complete understanding on the order ( between my Italian, which is about as good as the shop owner’s English ), but we both completely agree that Stokke rules the baby world. We pack our basket with some of the best Italian cheeses, pay for the order, load up the Crusi basket, and make our way home, talking with kids about my childhood, the countries I lived in and how the things used to be when “mommy was little”.
“Life is an adventure and there is no time to waste” is the motto we love to live by. As our family grew, we took the approach of “plus one” and just kept on going forward, never a dull moment, never a second to loose. I often hear “oh, FIVE! So many!” followed by immediate question: “You must have help? A nanny?”. Up until recently, I used to answer “No, just my husband and I”, but as I am pushing my Crusi through the narrow streets of San Francisco, my answer to the very same question from a passer by in Little Italy today is “ Yes. My Crusi. She is my second set of hands, my best Nanny, and our absolutely loved family member”.
Jodi Kendall is a writer living in New York City.
Her work is represented on several National Geographic Channel websites (including Inside Wild, Nat Geo Dogs, Mysterious Science and Inside NGC), NBC Health, ABC News, iVillage and The New York Daily News, and in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine and Bare Essentials Magazine. Jodi contributed digital content for many National Geographic Channel shows over the years, including Alpha Dogs, Inside Combat Rescue, Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout?, The 80's: The Decade that Made Us and Untamed Americas. Notable achievements include writing content for the National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad series iPad/iPhone app for three seasons and the Nat Geo Wild's Big Cat Week iPad app, and the publication of my article Researching Wild Whale Sharks on the Webby Award-nominated Great Migrations website. Jodi also filmed an on-camera travel story for Wanderfly about my wildlife expedition to Borneo.
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