If I had a C-note for every time someone has said to me, “What a big change for you” when they heard I was moving/moved from San Francisco to Rutherford, well, I could buy a vineyard—though probably not in the Napa Valley. Moving 63 miles was not a big change distance wise, nor has it been that big of a change for me personally; of course it’s only been a week.
In Rutherford, I drive on the same side of the road as I always have and speak the same language too. Moving here was not nearly as monumental as say, my move from my native LA to Iowa City in January 1986.
Before moving to Hawkeye country for my first job, I had never even owned a winter coat; therefore, I had to stop in Kansas City to buy one. There were so few blacks in Iowa that BET (that’s Black Entertainment Television for those of you who need to expand your racial boundaries) only aired late on Sundays; I was a little tired at work on Mondays because I stayed up late so I could keep up on the latest R&B and rap music. An old flame from Chicago visited me with his young daughter. I took the kid somewhere and ran into some of the players from Iowa women’s basketball team. They went crazy over the rugrat because it had been so long since they had seen a little black girl. I remember going to a beauty salon in Iowa City after a Caucasian male hairstylist assured me he could do my hair. I walked out looking like I had a Brillo pad attached to my scalp. From then on, I drove four hours to Chicago to get my hair done, or did it myself.
And then there was my 1987 move to Pittsburgh. I never did get used to having to go to a beer distributor to buy a whole case of beer when really I only wanted one Corona. Not being able to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels in a grocery store baffled me. State-owned liquor stores, huh? Iowa had them too!
Next was my 1990 move to Dallas. I didn’t dare live by my relatives because I knew I would have to cross a bridge to buy booze. Therefore, I settled in Far North Dallas. In Dallas I had to get used to bugs so large that I swear I saw one trying on a pair of shoes next to me in Saks Fifth Avenue in the Galleria. Then there was my Driving While Black episode when one morning I got stopped in a hick town (I had covered a small college basketball game the night before) by a cop who said I was swerving but never going out of my lane. Huh? I just happened to have a copy of the Dallas Morning News sports section with my photo next to my column and nonchalantly showed it to him. Suddenly I was let go. Hmmm.
In Italy, surprisingly I had no problem finding professional hairstylists in Florence and Positano to do my hair for Italian women can have some pretty coarse hair too. However, I did have to learn a new language in order to follow prompts to recharge my mobile phone; and, I had to quickly adapt to the Italian way of life with businesses closing during for one to three hours for lunch, opening late on Monday and closing early on Thursdays. No one was in a hurry to do anything. I heard, “domani, domani,” as often as I did catcalls. When I lived in Positano, I grew accustomed to driving to Sorrento to do major grocery shopping or for computer repairs. There was no movie theater, yet I survived.
You could call it a big change when I moved from Positano to Manhattan, where there were more residents in one apartment building than in all of Positano. I didn’t keep my job at the Learning Annex long because I wasn’t hustling like a New Yorker. I went out for an hour lunch instead of wolfing down a sandwich at my desk like my co-workers. Eventually I got up to New York speed.
This is all to say, I’m about as adaptable as they come. Moving from San Francisco to Rutherford is nothing! Gumby isn’t even as flexible as moi.
Let me give you a few facts about Rutherford before I continue. Rutherford was founded only in 2010 and the census for that year reports 164 residents—no Blacks or Asians, though now there is one of each counting me and my housemate Vi. Rutherford is only 1.64 square miles; however, I don’t understand how the chic and fabulous Auberge du Soleil hotel, high in the hills of Rutherford, is 3.3 miles from my home. Then again, math is not my strong suit. Anyway, the town was part of the Mexican land grant Rancho Caymus deeded to the early Napa Valley settler George C. Yount from General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in 1838 as payment for a variety of services. In 1864, Yount (yes, Yountville is named after him) gave a portion of the grant to his granddaughter Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Rutherford as a wedding present. While Yount is considered to be the first to plant wine grapes in Napa Valley, it was Thomas Rutherford who made a serious investment in grape production and winemaking. And that’s how Rutherford came to be.
I learned how my new town got its name while chatting with Tommy, who works at Trader Joe’s in Napa. He’s a historian and has written a couple of books. We chatted for a few minutes in the store because that’s the kind of place Napa is. A couple of days later, I saw him driving by when I was out for my morning power walk. He pulled over to say hello and then pointed out Dede Wilsey’s estate, which is less than 1,000 steps from my house. Being the historian he is, Tommy was about to tell me who Dede is but I stopped him. I may not have heard of Thomas Rutherford but Dede is an acquaintance. Her son Trevor had already told me I was moving on his mother’s street when he learned I was moving to Rutherford. Then, two days after I moved, I saw Dede at the Oscar de la Renta fashion show in Lake Tahoe that I covered last week. Dede was delighted to know that I was her new neighbor after being a neighbor of hers in Pacific Heights as well. Maybe she’ll invite me over to play with her dogs since she knows I, just like her, volunteered at the SF SPCA.
Back to Rutherford being a not-so big change. Some Napans, as the residents of Napa Valley are called though it sounds like a term for people with nappy hair, wonder why I didn’t move to a larger city, like St. Helena. I immediately fell in love with this house in Rutherford for its design that allows you to enjoy nature due to the abundance of windows. The vineyard views, lush surroundings with tall trees and a garden in the front are back are simply magical.
I actually like hearing the crows of the rooster next door as much as I do watching the hummingbirds flutter while I eat lunch al fresco. I’m amused by the squirrels and rustling noises they make when they’re playing in the trees. I’m thankful for the cat I’ve seen in the backyard for I know where there are fields, there are field mice. I’m having a fierce battle with daddy long-leg spiders but they will soon learn that they belong outside, not inside. I love the sound of the Napa Valley Wine Train choo-chooing through town.
When I wake up, open my eyes and look outside to the backyard filled with trees, I thank God for my blessings and sing the “Green Acres” theme song, although my life was never as extravagant as Eva Gabor’s character, Lisa Douglas. Composting for me no longer means putting scraps in a green BioBag; instead, I carry them out to a designated section in the yard and dump my leftover fruit and vegetable scraps in the earth. I feel much closer to nature than ever before.
When I go for my power walks and see the farm workers, I get a little weepy as I think about my cotton-picking ancestors. The Latino farmworkers in the Valley may not be beaten like slaves in the south were but picking grapes is still a tough way to make a living. I feel for them and their children. Thankfully there are success stories like that of Ceja Vineyards, whose owners, Pedro Ceja and Amelia Morán Ceja, are from a family of braceros (manual laborers), to give the farmworkers and their children hope. In New York, my volunteer activities generally centered around literacy. I think I’ll make literacy my focal point here too, as well as the homeless animals, of course. I met the executive director at Napa Humane, which I’ll get involved with soon, a couple of times during the past two years. I’m sure she’ll be as delighted as Dede to know that I live here too.
A new friend in San Francisco asked me the other day if I’ll live in the Napa Valley for a long time. My history shows I am truly a peripatetic person. Therefore, just like I said when I moved to Italy and when I moved to New York, I’ll live here until I don’t. Between you and me, I sure hope I stay for a long time. Rutherford is good for my soul at this time in my life.
Yesterday was one of those days that tells why I moved here. It wasn’t because I went to the emergency room at St. Helena Hospital in the morning and was in and out in record time, but it was more the afternoon when longtime friend/fellow Trojan Rosemary O’Brien and ‘SC alum Julie Fosgate stopped by for a visit. They brought two types of hummus and a platter of raw vegetables, which went nicely with the chilled 2012 St. Supery Virtu (56% semillon and 44% sauvignon blanc) that I had waiting for them and the mortadella and provolone I had picked up from the market on my way home from the hospital. We sat poolside, noshed, swatted away the flies and enjoyed life.
As soon as they left, I darted to St. Helena, where I continued my lovely afternoon relaxing poolside at the stunning home of a charming Italian real estate magnate and his equally charming wife. Ironically, he too opened a bottle of wine that was a sauvignon blanc and semillon blend, and we nibbled on prosciutto, figs, raw vegetables, homemade guacamole, bread and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I arrived with a bouquet of flowers for the couple and left with a bottle of 2013 WALT pinot noir. That’s a trade off I’ll take anytime.
As the real estate magnate wrote in an email to me today after I sent him a thank you-note, “This is what NV is all about ….wine, cheese, prosciutto and good friends spending an afternoon together.”
Yes, my friends, I’m going to enjoy living here for a long time.