Monthly Archives: August 2013

In Praise of San Francisco’s Weather

I moved to San Francisco eight years ago, and there’s much about the city that I truly love:  the breathtaking vistas, the natural beauty surrounding the city, the warmth of its inhabitants, and the rich assortment of parks, museums, theaters, concert halls, movie houses, restaurants, and shops.

There’s one more thing:  the weather.

I revel in the weather I’ve encountered in San Francisco.  After decades of living in a cold climate (mostly in Chicago), dealing with snow and ice for much of the year and heat and humidity for much of the rest, I relish the sunshine and cool breezes that San Francisco offers year-round.  People who’ve never lived in a cold climate can’t begin to imagine how difficult life there can be.  On many cold mornings I found myself crossing the bridge over the Chicago River, headed from the commuter train station to my office, snow and sleet blowing in my face.  No matter how many warm layers of clothing I’d wrap around my body, my face was largely exposed, bearing the brunt of the cold wind that persisted in hurling snow in my direction.

If you’ve never confronted them, let me assure you that icy sidewalks and streets are extremely treacherous.  Many of those attempting to walk on icy sidewalks have slipped and fallen, breaking bones and suffering concussions.  Driving on icy streets is equally hazardous, resulting in countless collisions.  Luckily, snow and ice are non-existent in San Francisco, relieving us of the challenges and pitfalls of negotiating on ice both on foot and in a vehicle.  Even rainy days don’t bother me, and locals who complain about the occasional chilly weather strike me as almost comically unaware of the reality faced by Americans in almost every other region of the county.

Unless you love hot weather and can’t wait to hit the beach, summers in San Francisco are delightful.  The temperature almost never rises above 80 degrees, and humidity barely reaches a noticeable level.  The contrast with places like Chicago, Boston, and New York is striking.  On recent trips to those cities, I encountered uncomfortably high humidity, thunderstorms, and temperatures in the 90s.  Extreme heat and humidity has plagued much of the nation this summer, but here in San Francisco, we’ve been as cool as cukes.

Air conditioning?  In San Francisco, we almost never need it, while most other regions of the country, including many parts of California, rely on air conditioning to survive.  I remember some vivid examples.  On one sweltering summer day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my husband and mother joined me at Ann Arbor’s famed outdoor art festival.  I was surveying the artwork when l glanced at my mother’s face.  It was bright red. The thermometer on a nearby building read 99 degrees, and the humidity felt just as high.  We quickly abandoned the art festival and fled to our air-conditioned apartment.  On a recent trip to Boston, I was barely able to drag myself from the Harvard Square “T” to my daughter’s air-conditioned Cambridge apartment just a few blocks away, when both the temperature and the humidity hit 90-plus.  And don’t get me started on places like Arizona and Texas.

Here in San Francisco we save the financial cost of air conditioning, not to mention any feelings of guilt arising from  its demand on our energy resources.  And we don’t have to suffer the physical jolt of going from intense heat to intense cold every time we enter a super-air-conditioned building.

Our weather has another stellar feature.  Because San Franciscans can revel in sunshine and moderate temperatures all year long, we can spend much more time outdoors than most other Americans.  We’re not confined to exercising in sterile gray-walled fitness centers.  We have much better options.  I wake up every day almost certain that I’ll be able to take a walk, hike, or bike ride before the sun sets.

I don’t even mind the San Francisco fog that occasionally envelops the city.  Au contraire.  I think it creates a kind of magical aura over the city.  So long you remember to carry a light jacket, and drivers are careful maneuvering their vehicles in the fog, it really doesn’t have much of a downside.  Besides, if you want to escape the fog, you need travel only a short distance from the city in any direction.  The microclimates surrounding us are almost always fog-free.

Of course, life in San Francisco has its flaws.  For one thing, housing is more expensive than that in other cities (with the possible exception of NYC).  Rents are high, and on the rise as the city’s economy gets better and better, while buying a house in the most desirable neighborhoods has become more costly than ever.  And San Franciscans are constantly under the shadow of “The Big One.”  Perched as we are on the Pacific Rim, the threat of a major earthquake never really goes away.

But those of us who live here are willing to take those negatives along with all the positive features of life in the city.  Count me in.  I’m genuinely happy in my new hometown and especially delighted with its weather.  And when I recently came across the following story, reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle of July 15, 1937, I realized that my reaction to the city’s weather is very much like that of a famous writer’s over 75 years ago.

The Chronicle reported:

Ernest Hemingway arrived in San Francisco yesterday ‘to get cool.’ On his first visit to [the city], he gulped in a few cubic yards of fog shortly after stepping from a …plane at [the airport] and sighed: ‘Say, this is great. After frying in New York, stewing down in Florida and sweltering in Los Angeles, this is something….  I can’t for the life of me see why anybody would ever move out of San Francisco, particularly in the summertime.’

Hey, Papa, when it comes to weather, we’re on the same page!


Audrey Hepburn and Me

I never thought I had a single thing in common with Audrey Hepburn.  She was tall and decidedly slim.  I’m short and, uh, not exactly slim.  She was a brunette with enormous brown eyes.  I’m a redhead with almond-shaped but not-so-enormous hazel eyes.  She was a famed film star who won an Oscar at 24 (for 1953’s Roman Holiday) while my adolescent dreams of becoming an actress never became reality.

So I never saw myself as having anything in common with this glamorous star of the ’50s and ’60s.  But a quick glance at a recent magazine article has convinced me that I have a few things in common with Audrey after all.

The article, appearing in the May issue of Vanity Fair, is based on a new book, Audrey in Rome, written by her younger son, Luca Dotti.  Luca lived with Audrey in Rome from the time of his birth in 1970 until she left for Switzerland (and he went off to a Swiss boarding school) in 1986.  As the magazine cover proclaims, in his book he recalls “the secrets of her iconic style.”

What were some of these secrets?  Well, for one thing, she was “fond of kerchiefs tied under the chin (not wound around and fastened in back in the French manner).”  Her love of sous-chin kerchiefs is apparent in a 1970 photo showing Audrey in a fabulous Givenchy coat and a scarf tied under her chin.

According to Luca, Audrey’s scarves were “a bit of a vice.”  Although she wasn’t “like Imelda Marcos and shoes,” she had “maybe 30 or 40” scarves.  In Rome, she often wore them along with big sunglasses as a disguise, enabling her “to do her shopping without having…crowds” following her.

This is one style-revelation I share with Audrey Hepburn.  My love of scarves, like hers, could be called a vice, but in view of the small amount of space they occupy and the small sums of money they cost, they’re a pretty harmless one.  I have a colorful collection in every possible fabric, suitable for every season, some bestowed on me as charming gifts, others purchased by me in a weak moment.

I admit I’ve never had crowds following me.  But I wear scarves (usually tied under my chin) for my own reasons.  In chilly weather, they keep my head warm.  On warmer days, they shield my curly hair from humidity and wind.

Childhood photos taken by my father show me, like Audrey, wearing scarves tied beneath my chin.  Ever since then, I’ve worn scarves no matter where I’ve made my home—from Chicago to Boston to Los Angeles.  Now, living in breezy San Francisco, I almost never leave home without a scarf in my jacket pocket, prepared to withstand whatever breezes the ocean blows my way.

Some have ridiculed my penchant for wearing scarves.  A friend once muttered that I liked to wear “babushkas.”  That hurt.  But now I can point to Audrey Hepburn as a scarf-loving style icon who, like me, wore scarves tied beneath her chin.

Another secret revealed by Luca is Audrey’s choice of footwear.  Generally basing her style choices on “simplicity and practicality,” she preferred to wear ballerina flats and low heels.  Vanity Fair claims that she wore them partly to accentuate her long feet, “adding to her elegant attenuation.”  (Huh?  Do you know any women with long feet who want to accentuate them?)  But even VF admits the far more likely reason:  she wore them so she “could walk comfortably.”

So here’s another preference I share with Audrey.  Long ago I gave up wearing high heels.  Like Audrey, I like to stride purposefully through the city, and wearing anything but low heels makes that impossible.  Every day I see women struggling with high heels that inhibit their freedom to move through life with ease.  I ache to tell them to forgo those high heels, and like Audrey and me, walk comfortably and safely wherever they go.

[Please note:  I’ve written another post on this blog, “High Heels Are Killers,” explaining at greater length my opinion of high heels.]

If truth be told, when I was younger, I wasn’t a big fan of Audrey Hepburn.  Maybe it was the way Hollywood portrayed her that was to blame.  After Roman Holiday (in which she fell in love with reasonably age-appropriate Gregory Peck), she was paired with male leads who were far too old for her.  At 28 she was supposedly smitten by Gary Cooper, then 56 (and looking even older), in Love in the Afternoon and by 58-year-old Fred Astaire in Funny Face.  I found these pairings simply baffling.  Why would radiant young Audrey fall for men twice her age?  At the time, I was unaware of the way Hollywood worked back then.  It’s clear to me now that she was complying with the demands of the movie moguls who dictated most of the roles she played.

No wonder she confided to friends that her favorite role was that of the nun in The Nun’s Story.  No superannuated men were slobbering over her in that role!

My view of Audrey Hepburn evolved as I learned more about her.  In her later years, she became an activist on behalf of UNICEF, traveling to more than 20 countries around the globe to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable children.  Her advocacy has endeared her to me, a fellow advocate for the underprivileged.

Moreover, during those years, she openly chose to welcome growing older.  Luca remembers that she “was always a little bit surprised by the efforts women made to look young.”  By contrast, “she was actually very happy about growing older because it meant more time for herself, more time for her family, and separation from the frenzy of youth and beauty that is Hollywood.”  She saw aging as part of the circle of life.

Audrey liked to say that “true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”

Some may remember Audrey Hepburn as a stunning style icon, but in my view, she should be remembered for much, much more.