We’re away from the ravine again.  We’re staying somewhere very close to Santa Cruz, California.  Our friends, the Grillos, live in a fantasy place that they call Aptos Hills.  Somewhere close by is Aptos, a very fashionable and quaint little village and somewhere else are the Santa Cruz hills and even a little bit further down the road is the City of Santa Cruz.   There’s Capitola-by-the-Sea and Watsonville where there are lots of strawberries and a bunch of artichokes and then, on down and around the bay, there is Monterey. 

Dave and I love Aptos Hills.  The ocean is never far away.  The weather is moderate; almost anything pretty grows here without much effort, it seems.  The Farmers’ Markets are treasure-rows of fruits, vegetables, nuts, plants, honey, flowers and handmade items ranging from hand-woven wool to utility items like knives and dish drains.  Saturday morning we bought peaches, green peppers, and almonds.  We tasted the sauerkraut but decided to wait and buy a jar at a local market. 

The Grillo casa is nothing but beautiful, with a back yard full of apples, pears, berries, and lemons.  During the ten years our friends have owned the home, they’ve peformed miraculous upgrades and improvements.   The kitchen re-modeling included granite countertops and an etched-glass breakfast bar.  The living room/dining room makeover featured a massive handmade buffet and new neutrals in the living room – neutral except for, of course, the hydrangea-print chair, the one I always choose to sit my Southern bottom in. 

Every time we arrive for another visit, there’s something marvelously changed. This time, it was the grounds.  But what always makes our visits with the Grillos is not the weather, not the shopping, not the beach.  There are two things:  food and talk.  They’re the same two ingredients that make the Grillos’ visits with us in Tennessee, too.  Doesn’t matter who cooks, it’s always good.  Doesn’t matter what we talk about, it’s always better.

Food.  Just off the plane, Mrs. Grillo served up two hot soups, split-pea and chicken tortilla, both her specialties.  Our high school reunion in Pittsburg featured real Mexican stuff from the New Mecca Cafe, a well-known culinary treat in Pittsburg for over seventy-five years.  On Sunday, we ate hotdogs at the A’s game so Mrs. Grillo fed us grilled chicken salad – Not just any salad, but a big garlic-rubbed wooden bowl of greens, beets, purple onions, carrots, warm sliced chicken, crumbled bleu cheese and a finish of some old balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.   So far, on these weekdays, we’ve eaten at Phil’s Fish Market where the specialty is that pungent and brothy Italian seafood soup called cioppino, the famous Cliff House in San Francisco – where we loaded ourselves with sourdough and popovers, crab, and more fresh greens, and, yesterday, fish tacos at Olita’s on the Wharf in Santa Cruz.   For supper?  Fresh Bavarian sausages and locally-cured sauerkraut and corn-on-the-cob.

Let’s not forget breakfasts:  whole-wheat biscuits, eggs fresh from Glaum’s Egg Ranch, fruit salad, bacon, fried apples from the trees in the back (my Southern addition with lots of butter and sugar).  We cook – and we eat.  We should all be regular listeners to that NPR program “The Spendid Table.”  Lynne Rossetto Kasper always tags the introduction with “for people who like to eat.”   

Talk.   While we cook, and while we eat, we talk.  We even talk when we’re not cooking or eating.  Oh, we cover the usual for two couples with grandchildren.  Kids – four between them and three between us, grandkids – five and 3/4 for them and four for us with some great possibilities for more, jobs – Alex is a research physicist on the ATLAS project headquarted in Cern (you know, the Large Hadron Collider – think “Angels and Demons”), no jobs – Dave and Jean are really retired from real jobs, retirement, “going to retire” (I’ve “retired” several times), the 60’s (“if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there), a touch on the 50’s (Dave saw Buddy Holly and all the rest in Hot Springs, South Dakota),  home repairs and renovations completed, repairs that need to be done, repairs here vs. there, new landscaping, garden projects that need to be done, plants that grow here vs. there, laundry – and new laundry appliances, travel, weather.  But we cover some BIG topics, too – public schools vs. charter schools, mathematics (J’s job was a math coach for elementary teachers), the operations and theory of that collider at Cern (Dave and I don’t have a clue), immigration (there are some differences between California and Tennessee), home sales (we have a beautiful one for a reasonable price if you’re looking), the tax code (Dave=the Deloitte tax partner), government and politics, Obama, The Gubernator, the New Orleans Chief of Police (who was ours until N.O. stole him away). 

Just now, and just for a few minutes, here’s how the thread ran:

You know the thing that’s different about your hummingbirds?  So who votes for eggs?  I don’t like that all that sheetrock dust is flying around in their dining room.  They light on the feeder and drink for a long while – I mean, at least one of them does.  These apples are really good.  No, that wasn’t real Mecca food.  Maybe I’ll just fry up some apples and put whipped cream on them.  Ours never light for long.  Did you know that Willia WAS at the reunion?  Maybe it’s because the perch gets too hot.  Yeah, the brown sugar and cinnamon helped.  Walnuts, too.  Lots of fog. Yeah.  I really don’t know what they expect Obama to do if they won’t do it with him.   We really need to eat some lunch before the play.  I heard something dripping and thought your roof was leaking.  Well, even the Liberals are being bad.  There are so many flowers I’m surprised they’re at the feeder.  I just hated Nixon.  They’re disappointed.   You voted for George McGovern? -That surprises me.  We still have a bunch of that tortilla soup.  I’ve acquired a bit of sympathy for Nixon.  Her laptop weighs a ton.  I don’t think he’s been any worse than most of the rest.  Are we going to pick apples today?  Did you take your morning pills?  Next time you need to go Mac.  I need a sympathy card.  These things are two days old and taste pretty good.  I smell fish.  It’s because of the sugar.  Well, yeah, there was Reagan selling arms…    No, I’m talking about the popovers.  There’s no fish.  A guy can’t be President without some distance from reality.  That’s a native mint plant.  I have these other cards, too.  See my little oak tree?  Can we stop at Surf City? We’re out of coffee at home.  You should see Alex’s email.  You can’t call it the SuperCollider; that was in Texas.  Because I like to hold a book in my hands.  Why not olive oil?  You’ll smell fish when I heat up that leftover cioppino.  He didn’t want her to tell about the illegal substances.  I’m going to go download all those pictures.  I don’t know why it’s drooping – I watered it.  Did you call your mother?  Why wouldn’t you be cheered up looking at that every morning?  New dishtowels – these are wet.  No, I was not talking about cooking.  How do you know how firm it is if you can’t see the sleep number?  Why were you taking a picture of Alex’s foot?  She said she saw the fox yesterday.

Friends.  Friends with a lot of history.

None of it has to be coherent; it still makes perfectly good sense.

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