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San Diego, California

Not like Vienna – this time it was I myself who suggested to my employers they might like to send me away for a few days. And rather to my surprise, that's just what they did. I'm grateful, even if the town itself left me cold.

When my colleague Anyal sent me info about a software conference in San Diego, my first reaction was "fat chance!" But then I looked a bit more closely, compared the cost with courses I'd been on and decided there was no harm in asking. Turned out there was enough left in my training budget to cover conference fee, accommodation and the return flight, so off I went.

The conference was a great experience, so it's a pity I didn't warm to the location. Once I'd got over the shock of stepping out of the airport buildings in to a California sunset, palm trees silhouetted against a richly-coloured sky, the area reminded me in too many ways of Nice, the Mediterranean coast and the Var valley; a magnificent landscape had stood no chance against hasty, greedy, unimaginative development. Gleaming showpieces along the sea-front don't make up for the sad streets past their best, uneven tarmac limping between peeling houses, or even for the pastel-coloured developments as alike as egg-boxes. Trailer parks with scuffed, parched grass; lavishly-irrigated golf-courses, complete with dinky little electric carts to discourage anything so unCalifornian as walking. Six-lane highways where pedestrian-crossings feel like a reluctant afterthought. No gas-lamps in the Gaslamp Quarter, and the prospect from the trolley station at Linda Vista is a handful of low, windowless buildings and a sagging network of utility cables.

I'm sorry. It doesn't become me to dismiss the place so ungratefully, but it made me feel so uncomfortable: almost no points of contact between what I experienced there and what I'm used to day to day. Perhaps I just came too late. Perhaps I should have arrived at the Santa Fe station with its high, cool vault and richly-detailed tiles, and caught the ferry across to the Coronado to hide out as a saxophonist in an all-girl band … perhaps I should have come by mule, accompanying the missionaries who built the first church in California high up at the end of Mission Valley.

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