I would like to propose a toast --
When she heard I was to spend a week near San Francisco, my friend hagit insisted that I must see her friend M., who studied translation with her. I claimed that it's embarrassing to show up at a complete stranger's door and mumble "uh, hullo, uh, I'm, uh, Ijon, uh, from Israel, uh, y'know, uh, Hagit's friend..." Hagit, however, replied that I'm too shy, and informed me that she would not take 'no' for an answer. To strengthen her position, she notified M. of my arrival, in no uncertain terms. Bad, naughty Hagit!
Saturday noon, after a week of work in Silicon Valley, I finally found the time to drive up to SF. Hagit insisted I must go to Pier 39 on Fisherman's Wharf, to see the ocean and the sea lions. She admitted that the place was a ravenous tourist trap, and that it had enough kitsch to unbalance The Brady Bunch, but nevertheless ordered me to go there. Being a trusting sort of guy (my way of avoiding the adjective 'obedient'), I miraculously found my way around downtown SF and arrived at the Wharf. Pier 39 is indeed a tourist trap, but I safely ignored it and enjoyed the ocean view, which included the island and defunct prison Alcatraz. The sea lions were out in force, urking1 loudly, and cheerfully toppling each other off the wooden platforms floating in the bay water. Fun was had by all, including a very wet Ijon, as it had begun to rain the moment he left his Santa Clara hotel.
Plodding away from the pier, I bought some sourdough bread (at veryty's behest), and proceeded to have lunch at Tommy's Joynt[sic], this time at jj's recommendation (jj being closely related to veryty).
Then, with trembling hand, I called up M., who was indeed expecting my call. I mumbled something along the lines suggested above, and she was kind enough to pretend I don't sound like a fool. We agreed to dine at the infamous SF restaurant, The Stinking Rose, a place uniquely dedicated to garlic! I picked her up from her place, after driving up a ridiculously steep road climbing the hill she calls home, and being introduced to F., yet another translator. [ding! sudden thought! Ijon rushes to edit his journal settings. Ah, that's better: added 'translators' to my interests list!] So, off we go to North Beach, where said restaurant is located. The place is fantastic! (You have to really like garlic, though...) Each room in the restaurant is festooned (hi, veryty ;) with garlic of all shapes and sizes -- garlic wreaths, dried garlic, garlic art, heck, there were even erotic paintings depicting garlic-shaped women! Oh, and the place reeks of garlic, of course... The menu has everything with garlic, featuring illustrations of vampires and garlic. We partook of some delicious garlicy victuals, and I bought a garlic cookbook (for ma, or my elder sister), and a Special Surprise for my sister, in retribution for a certain Special Surprise she brought me from Amsterdam.
From the restaurant, M. led the way to Ferlinghetti's famous bookshop, City Lights, where Kerouac and the gang used to hang out. It's a lovely shop, with three floors and a sign declaring:
We entered the shop just to get a feel for it, but I ended up saving some books from falling to the floor (honest! If it weren't for me, they would have... um... why are you glaring at me like that?), filling two bags, and thoroughly surprising the guy at the counter.
Out we went, greeted by the incessant rain, and strolled a little more around North Beach. M. asked whether I've "done" Lombard Street, and I replied truthfully that my mother explicitly forbade it. Mom has been to SF in the past, and ordered me not to even think of driving around the city, and most specifically not to drive down Lombard Street. M. looked at me kind of funny. I decided to call mom and ask for permission. Mom wasn't home, but Dad was, and when he heard I was at the top of Lombard Street and about to go down it, he cheerfully said "Have fun!", and that was that. It's easier to get forgiveness than permission, anyway... Down Lombard Street we went. Whee! Damn scary, but rather fun. Down and up and down we went. While going up a 35-degree slope, with a car right behind me, on the wet, slippery road, M. calmly pointed out the beautiful houses we were driving by. "Look!" she insisted. I, however, was too busy thinking Last Thoughts and worrying about skidding to pay attention. M. was being a typical San Franciscan; they all drive around those crazy, crazy streets, pretending nothing's out of the ordinary!
M. then took me to Buena Vista, a local SF joint that has apparently invented the drink Irish Coffee (basically coffee with whiskey), so we had a nice hot cup of Irish Coffee (yum!), and talked about languages, translation, and other things. Then M. suggested a stroll on the ocean shore, which was wonderful, and from there we proceeded to Ghirardelli's -- a big chocolate factory remade into a lovely public agora, with a courtyard and cute little shops, all in good taste. At that point I conceded that while the person who designed this city was utterly insane, s/he also had good taste. San Francisco is simply beautiful (and also has an utterly ludicrous topology).
After Ghirardelli's, I drove M. back to her own crazy hill, and we said our farewells. She asked if she could send Hagit some stuff with me, and when I said yes, went inside to prepare it. She came back with the bag for Hagit, and with a little bag she said was for me! It turns out that the sneaky, immoral M. somehow bought a book at City Lights while I was busily looting the shelves, and the book was for me, along with a heartwarming note. Oh, what a serendipitous meeting, what wonderful friends!
So! -- for introducing me to San Francisco, for wonderful conversations, and for a fantastic evening, I thank M. And for introducing me to M., and for being her wonderful self, I thank Hagit. This toast to friendship is for both of you! [raises virtual glass; virtual clink!; drinks toast]
 urk, vi., to emit noise as that of a sea lion.