I arrived at San Francisco airport a disheveled wreck after a 14-hour flight and stumbled through Arrivals, dragging a rather cumbersome suitcase. I met a friend of my hosts who had been dispatched to pick me up.
Having had no sleep and watched five in-flight films in a row, I was so wired that I’ve no idea of half the things I said to the poor man on our hour-long drive to Sonoma County. He seemed amused at my frightfully English outbursts, ‘we’re on the wrong side of the road,’ and ‘look at that school bus, it’s just like in the films!’ ‘Movies,’ he corrected.
The invitation to California had been last minute so I hadn’t had time to tell my friends of my travel plans. As we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge I had my iPad out trying to get an Instagram shot, ready to scoff, ‘look where I am.’
I remained in awe of how American America is for at least a week after I arrived, taking photos of every huge pick-up truck, mail box and white picket fence I came across, much to the amusement of my hosts. They took me wine tasting in Napa Valley where I pretended to know the difference between the nose and legs of each exquisite wine.
I experienced a delicious Italian-American Thanksgiving dinner with the neighbours, one of whom, before he knew my name, said to me, in his Pesci accent, ‘you gotta come spend Thanksgiving with us.’ Upon my arrival I was introduced to the neighbours’ daughter who treated me like an old friend. The feast was Christmas x100, centred on a gargantuan turkey big enough to feed all 30 guests for the next three days.
I’ve always loved horse riding and, on the trail ride kindly arranged for me by my hosts, I imagined I looked much like Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven. This perception was quickly dispelled after I saw the photos of what I actually looked like, in my very English-looking riding boots and skullcap. The sun beat down that autumn (or should I say Fall?) morning and I couldn’t believe the heat. This was November, a month I am used to spending under five layers, and we were out in nothing but jeans and t-shirts.
I was deeply impressed by the contrast between the burnt orange trees and the cerulean sky. Later, looking at one of the many landscapes I had the privilege of photographing, a friend of mine remarked that, ‘the sky looks so much bigger over there,’ and I agree. Everything is bigger over there – big hospitality, big cars, big landscapes. I had a taste of the Californian lifestyle and wine and it has left me wanting to go back for more.