I sit in the ingratiating sun of San Francisco, basking on the balcony of a newly inherited apartment in my hometown, and all my past takes on immediacy. From my aerie on top of Russian Hill, I look down to Nob Hill, where the mansions of the early California nabobs have given way to hostelries that still sport their names.
There is the Huntington, where Grandma lived and where, for years, I looked forward to Friday night dinners and ''baked Alaska'' - that gooey cream-puff confection of ice cream, cake, and white-of-egg, of such natural appeal to a child.
There is the Fairmont, where I danced away the night. Where the orchestra leader greeted my arrival with my ''theme song'': ''I've Got You Under My Skin.'' Where I reserved for $4 a room for ''a very important guest from New York'' who was later to become my husband.
There is the Mark Hopkins, where I visited with girlfriends in late afternoons in the Peacock Court; and where Gertrude, on her annual visits from New York, awoke my love of music, which was to become a mainstay of my life.
And there is the Francesca, which was my home as a Stanford coed, a budding journalist, a radio neophyte, a tennis devotee; and where I was married, in my mother's apartment, to my ''very important guest from New York.''
My aerie of memory makes experiences from those days so lively that they feel as of this morning. Such as a ''blind date'' with a young author, who I thought had delusions of grandeur when he spent the evening telling me, ''Someday the world will know the name - Saroyan!''
In the foreground of my city view are rows of tidy little houses, gay and cheery in variegated colors, each with its bay window typifying classic San Francisco residential architecture. This is a throwback to many years of living in similar ''bay window'' houses on Arguello Boulevard, Sacramento Street, California Street, and Jackson Street. And when I look out at the view, I think of the many friends with whom I shared it, and still do.
I think that I might be less aware of the central focus as ''my'' San Francisco - my romantic experience of an earlier day - were it not presented in dramatic contrast to the ''new'' San Francisco, as seen in the grouping of today's skyscrapers. Somehow, the juxtaposition sharpens both the time frame and my recollection, and puts them in perspective. And although many here decry ''Manhattanization,'' somehow in San Francisco skyscrapers do not bother me. In fact, I find great style in the San Francisco skyscraper cluster, perhaps because of the uniquely designed Transamerica Tower.
Not only by its shape but also by its positioning, importance, and slender loft, the Transamerica Tower somehow reminds me of the central pagoda in Katmandu, Nepal - which again lends great individuality to the downtown section of a city.
Seductive as is my San Francisco view by day, by night it is even more so. Then, it is flagrantly compelling. It is at least theatrical, as countless lights emblazon a nocturnal stage. I look out at the chic new crowning turret of the Fairmont Tower, its top hat rakish like a Moorish fez. I survey the whole bedazzling entirety. And I wonder at the wisdom of my ancestors for having chosen this extraordinary locale for their lives and for my delectation.