An online dictionary defines the title of this post as follows:
- (especially with reference to eating) in the open air.
“in the unlikely event of some sunshine you can even dine al fresco”
- done or eaten in the open air.
“an al fresco supper”
If you live in San Francisco, there’s a continental divide of sorts. Outside the city it’s largely unknown, only familiar to residents, current and former. The divide is marked by the hill where the University of San Francisco is located and the nearby confluence of Geary and Masonic Avenues. There’s a smallish shopping center at that intersection, site of a former Sears, Best Buy, and other victims of ever-changing retail times. But if you stand in the parking lot there on practically any day, the cold and wet ocean wind will knife right through you, regardless of season.
East of the divide in the more spendy neighborhoods (which now in reality define the entire city), the fog and clouds burn off much earlier in the day creating late morning sun, warmth, and weather semi-normalcy. West of the divide it’s a different story. The fog and clouds burn off in the early afternoon only to return several hours later. Or not. During the summer months, the marine layer, as the locals called it, can be so thick that it never recedes during the day. Sometimes for several days in a row. For the record, people in the City affectionately call the fog “Karl.”
The last 15 years that we were in the City, we lived on Pacheco St. at 20th Avenue. Technically, we were in the Sunset District, a cruel misnomer if there ever was one. If there is a foggiest part of the City, the Sunset is it. The odds of seeing an actual sunset, especially during the summer, are somewhere between slim and none. During those bleak overcast and cold summer months, we kept flannel sheets on the bed and wore fleeces indoors 24/7 while the rest of the planet sweltered in seasonal sun and heat. Mark Twain’s quote about the coldest summer he ever spent blah, blah, blah was—and still is—true.
No surprise that the possibility of enjoying a meal outside at the Pacheco St. manor was remote. In fact, during those 15 years, I can count on one hand the number of times we dined out back. The answer is zero. Yes, we never enjoyed a meal outside. However, we did sit on the front steps a few times when it was warm and enjoyed a cocktail. And we marveled at how one could be outside sipping a drink. What a concept.
Things are different now behind the adobe curtain. No more cold ocean fog nonsense. Now it’s high desert and four seasons that go—freeze, thaw, broil, and marinate. For the record, I like marinate the best. It’s spicier. Regardless, summer here always involves a week or two of brutal heat. Right now we’re in the midst of that with most days in the last two weeks reaching over 100-degrees. But things are changing. Just this afternoon it actually rained the first time in over two months, bringing slightly cooler temps afterwards. It’s like Annette Funicello finally made an appearance at the beach in her new tankini. Bless her for that.
Hopefully, soon we’ll have cooler temps and we’ll be able venture out back for dinner. Then we’ll be able to do our best imitation of Marcell Mastriani and Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and dine al fresco on the patio. Which means we’ll tarry at the table long after the meal as the light fades. Need I say that it will be beyond grand? Memories of freezing in the not-so-sunny Sunset will seem like ancient history.
Al fresco. The Europeans had it down to a science long before we ever thought about roasting weenies at the park. They know that it’s not just about being outside for a meal, it’s the fact that you’re there for a duration of time enjoying company, conversation, and more. To them, dinner is not about hoovering shrink-wrapped goodies or take out in front of the tube, it’s about enjoying a long stretch at the table with friends and family. The meal itself could be simple fare or the loftiest of haute cuisine. It doesn’t matter. What matters is sharing a meal outside with people you care about. And the meal is the centerpiece of the evening and not simply a rush to the feedbag before getting back to gawking at screens of various sizes.
It’s no wonder that the Italians came up with something called The Slow Food Movement. If left to us on this side of the pond, the movement would have been called Reverse Liposuction. So let’s take a cue from the Euros. It’s time to enjoy a meal outside again with friends and family. What could be better? Otherwise, would you like another glass of Prosecco, Anita?