Like the Patagonia jackets preferred by its residents, San Francisco too likes to bundle up under a puffer of clouds. San Francisco clouds are not fluffy like the ones in Umbria. They aren’t high clouds like those that dot the Midwest skies. Instead they are low altitude stratus clouds, born offshore over the ocean and whisked into the city quickly. Somedays the sky is pewter, other times it is dark and gloomy. Often it is hidden behind the fog. Like a Tinder hook-up, the clouds are gone even before the clock tower strikes twelve. San Francisco deludes you into thinking that it is cold outside, but when it really is cool bordering on normal. Unlike New York, where cold turns bones colder than granite three months of the year, the only day you can dream about wearing a sweater, a big coat and a proper woolen hat in San Francisco is really February, the 30th.
What we have instead is about three-to-five weeks in the entire year when temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It usually rains, though lately the rain is as sparse as the hits have been for U2. You need a raincoat — for when it does rain around here, it is nice and lively — between four and five inches a month. Not a monsoon, but good enough for San Francisco drivers to loose sense of direction, their decorum and along with it, their driving skills. It is a perfect time, for one of my favorite garments: the sweater.
I have quite a few of them: V-necks (but no crewnecks), zipped sweaters, quarter-zips and cardigans. I love nothing more than a basic white shirt layered under a nice, colorful sweater. Salmon, pink, lavender, aqua — they are perfect antidote to the gray skies and gloomy winter. But my favorite is this old cardigan — I have owned it for as long as I have lived in this country. There are a couple of holes in the arm. The shawl collar is showing its age, much like an old man who has patronized a bar too long. And like that quiet patron in the corner, I can’t exactly tell you its age. It is not cashmere. It isn’t scratchy either. The buttons are still original, though once or twice I have to sew them again.
I bought it at a flea-market in New York. The flea market used to be held on the weekend, next to my office in a parking lot on the northeast corner of 24th street and Sixth Avenue. It is now an apartment building. I spent a lot of time walking around, looking at the remains of someone else’s life. For a few dollars (or more) you could walk home with memories of someone else. I looked and looked, because that is all I could do. Money was rarer than a shylock’s smile. And one day I saw this cardigan — it was a little too big, but it was quite handsome. It was black in shade and blue in sunlight. I knew I had to have it. It cost me $23 — after quarter of an hour of haggling. I saved $2, so my inability to negotiate with a street vendor ranks right next to Idina Menzel’s New Year’s eve performance.
Since then I have bought many sweaters — even today I have about a dozen and every year, I buy one or two, to replace one or two. Some are inexpensive, some expensive. But none make me happy like this old cardigan. It is as if it is a reminder of journey, and where it started. It was one of the first things I bought in America and for some odd reason, I have not let it go. It has traveled to many places, lived in more than a dozen closets. It was lose when I bought it. It was snug as I aged. It was loose when I came back from kissing heaven on the lips. And now it is getting snug again, quietly telling me perhaps it is time for me to get with it. It is like an armor of happiness — I wear it and suddenly, it’s back to future.
The coming week — the first work week after the long holiday break — is going to be warmer — it will be difficult to walk around in a sweater. Perhaps a light jacket, though not a Patagonia!
January 4, 2015/ San Francisco