Now that the first week of school has galloped by like a bucking, writhing stallion, I return to my memories of San Francisco …

One blustery morning, I ambled through Chinatown with a group of friends. We admired the ornate gates at the entrance, guarded on each side by a snarling golden lion.

Shops lined the street, crowded with gaudy signs and wares. I paused at a shop of flowing scarves, tempted by the deep purples, bright reds, and exotic designs.

At midday, we bundled into a small restaurant for lunch. Furnished with six or seven simple tables surrounded by wooden chairs, the walls stood bare except for a coat of orange-yellow paint and framed awards. A woman, one of the owners I presume, approached briskly and ushered us to a table. Her husband slumping in a nearby booth, watched the room. He seemed tired from a lifetime of hard work. As we settled in, the chill of the San Francisco morning melted away. The steam from our soup misted our faces. Heaping plates of rice, chicken and vegetables coated with rich red-brown sauce soon arrived. We sighed, content.

After lunch we hiked to the end of Chinatown and encountered a formidable hill. It rose above us, long and steep, hundreds of stairs to the top. Cars parked on the incline looked as if they might tip and tumble down. High above we glimpsed our goal: Coit Tower. So we climbed, on and on, until we gasped with exertion, swinging our arms and leaning forward. We were like ancient Mayan pilgrims, ascending the stairway of a great Ziggurat.

On the top step lounged a middle-aged man in a faded leather jacket, eyeing us carelessly. He puffed on a cigarette, white smoke circling his head.

At the pinnacle, we turned around and surveyed the city. A geometric puzzle of shapes and patterns spread out beneath us. The sight of the the pale gray sky, blue water, and parallel streets of narrow white houses reminded me of a colorful page in a children’s story book .

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