Exploring San Diego

On Tuesday, July 1 (the memorial of Blessed Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the first missions in Alta California, beginning with San Diego in 1769) I took my family on an exploration of the city they and I claim to know well. As my parents and sister dropped off Anne-Marie at the airport, Christian and I first stopped at Pacific Beach. The water was frigid, so I made a seven-spire drip-castle instead of swimming.

Christian and I then met my parents and sister at Old Town shortly before Dan got off work and joined us there for lunch of fish tacos and horchata. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park consists of outdoor museums, shops, and much more that documents the early nineteenth century history of San Diego, especially the dynamic synthesis of Native American, Mexican, and Yankee cultures. Although I have been there many times, this was the first time I spent some time in the fully restored Spanish hacienda, La Casa de Estudillo. Construction was completed in 1829 by Captain Jose Maria de Estudillo, commander of the San Diego presidio. His son, Jose Antonio Estudillo served as revenue collector, treasurer, alcalde, and judge of San Diego under Mexican rule and later treasurer and assessor of San Diego County under American rule and lived in the house with his family until 1887. The original adobe home was restored in 1910 and was mistakenly known as Ramona’s Marriage Place from Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel. After looking through the rooms and enjoying just sitting around in the peaceful courtyard, we decided to head over to another of San Diego’s most beautiful places as a stepping-stone to our final destination.

Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, was first set aside in 1868 but much of the characteristic Spanish colonial-style architecture of the buildings along El Prado came into being only in anticipation of the first World’s Fair in 1915 and further expanded for the second World’s Fair in 1935. Although Christian had a blow-out on his $7.95 flip-flops, we walked along El Prado and spent plenty of time at the Lily Pond where Dan schooled us in the finer points of the koi that populate the pond along with slider turtles.

From Balboa Park we went north and east into a part of town with which I do not think my dad was, at first, too pleased. The main objective was for me to stop at Axum Market, an Ethiopian market on El Cajon Boulevard, in order to buy berbere and shuro, both of which are staples of Eritrean cuisine. And, given that the closest Ethiopian market to me of which I am aware is in DC, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Then we went south a little to Asmara Restaurant, the only Eritrean restaurant in San Diego and only recently opened. As we approached the restaurant, near the intersection of University Avenue and 42nd Street, it struck me that we were continuing our mingling cultures theme begun that morning in San Diego’s Old Town. But gone were the Native Americans, Mexican cowboys, and Yankee traders; visible now were Mexican markets, Californian cell phone stores, and Vietnamese banks adjacent to the Eritrean restaurant. To this day, it is the same dynamic interaction between different peoples that makes San Diego so interesting. In the restaurant, I ordered everyone tej (mead), a couple platters of mixed vegetarian and meat dishes, and an after dinner treat of traditional Eritrean coffee on the comfortable patio. Although at first more than a little skeptical, my parents and Christian joined Christi, Dan, and I in commenting on the superb food, the excellent service, and the attractive ambiance. My dad and Dan even took cards with them and will be bringing folks back!

After saying goodbye to Dan and Christi in the Asmara parking lot jammed with the Eritrean-owned taxi cabs that fill San Diego’s streets, the rest of us headed down to the Embarcadero on the bay. We strolled along the San Diego Maritime Museum, looking especially at the relatively recently acquired B-39 Soviet attack submarine. We reflected on what a wonderful time was had by everyone in the last week, the beauty of San Diego, and starting hatching plans for when we would next see one another.

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