Dianne Feinstein was laid to rest last week with a funeral on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, a fitting backdrop for a woman who was as much a symbol of the city as the Golden Gate Bridge.
That’s certainly how I felt growing up in San Francisco.
A statue of Feinstein, the first female mayor and later the first US senator in California, was on display in City Hall. Her name was on buildings. Her photo hung on the walls of the restaurant. She spent most of her time in Washington, DC, but in San Francisco Feinstein felt ever-present.
I went to the same high school as her, a private all-girls convent of Sacred Heart, which, I should add, the daughters of Representative Nancy Pelosi also attended. By the time I arrived, the white gloves and nuns that Feinstein loved were gone, but the curriculum remained rooted in the idea of female empowerment, and Feinstein was often cited as an example of how far we could go.
“None of the things she told me as an adult was ever as important as what she showed us as children,” Mayor London Breed, a San Francisco native, said during her funeral. “She showed us a world where women lead, where we rise up, so that girls like me can follow in her footsteps.”
For me, Feinstein exemplified the importance of resilience. Every morning on my way to high school, I walked through Harvey Milk Plaza in Castro County to catch the bus up the hill to Pacific Heights. It was impossible, even if I was late or had to cram for a biology test, not to stop for a minute and not realize the gravity of Milk’s murder, and the woman who led the town through it.
Above all else, Feinstein believed in San Francisco’s — and her own — ability to bounce back from anything, to “rise from the ashes.” That’s what she told me when I traveled with others from my high school newspaper to Washington to cover the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. We asked the senator if she could sit down for a conversation with us, and she agreed. Feinstein always made time for the convent girls, even if she suspected that we had slacked off and the nuns were no longer in charge of our discipline.
We walked the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building in awe, slowly taking it all in. Then, suddenly, through the glass doors and past the rows of desks where staff members answered their phones, there she was. It was like watching a cartoon character come to life or a movie star walking across the screen.
Feinstein ushered us into a conference room and smiled knowingly as we nervously fiddled with our recorders and asked her the opening questions we were trained to always ask: “Um, what’s your name and how do you spell it?”
We asked her the standard questions about her career as a woman and what our school taught her. She answered everything patiently and thoughtfully, encouraging us all to contribute. Then she shared something that I always kept with me. Referring to the mascot San Francisco acquired after the 1906 earthquake and fire, Feinstein said she has long believed that “each of us must be like the phoenix.”
“The point of it is that we all suffer defeat – like a fire or disease or whatever it is – and we have to be like the phoenix and rise again,” she said. “You take defeat and come back.”
She brought our group into her office and took pictures with each of us individually, making sure we shook hands and learned our names, taking a moment to let each of us have our own individual memories of her.
I was stunned when she died and her omnipresent self was suddenly gone, especially seeing so many photos of Feinstein from last year, when she was in poor health and limited in mobility. I realized that I had always pictured her as she looked that day when I was in high school: wearing a bright blue pea coat with a matching turquoise necklace, her round face lively and bright, inviting a room of teenagers to never give up.
Claire Fahy is a general reporter for The Times. She grew up in San Francisco.
Where we travel
Today’s tip comes from Janine Sprout, who recommends visiting the Alabama Hills in the Owens Valley:
“This is my favorite ‘other world’ place, tucked between Lone Pine and Mount Whitney. The film road winds through acres of huge jumbled boulders in all kinds of smooth sculpted (by nature) shapes resembling potatoes, deformed bubbles, monoliths, towers, arches. The scene of many Hollywood movies.”
Tell us about your favorite places in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in future editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Yelp has released its latest list 100 Best Tacos in the country, and two Southern California restaurants topped the list.
The restaurant review company, which ranked its restaurants by the number of positive reviews each establishment received on its website, highlighted worthy taco dishes from the East Coast to the West, including consommé-soaked birria tacos, beer-battered Alaskan seafood tacos and barbacoa tacos with homemade corn tortillas.
The list reflects major trends in the taco world, Yelp said, pointing to this year’s focus on raw tacos and artisanal ingredients as evidence of continued innovation in the types of cooking styles and techniques used to make the dish in the U.S.
And it should come as no surprise to California taco enthusiasts that two of the top five restaurants on the list are Southern California staples — Birrieria Little Tijuana, Riverside’s top-rated birri spot, and Frogtowns Gourmet Tacos, a Los Angeles-based truck known for its tacos with shrimp.