Yellow, blue and international orange
It seems I am heading into full wind-down mode. “Sitting on the dock of the Bay, watching the tide roll away,” that sort of thing. A great many good songs are turning out to be about San Francisco. Today went by in a big, sunny shrug: another jeans-clad meeting in the morning, pottering about downtown, and then drinks with Kasey from Oklahoma at the Owl Tree. This city gets cold when the sun goes down, but it warms up into the evening, which tonight was all rooftops, stars and sliver moon.
“But since I am neither a camera eye nor much given to writing pieces which do not interest me, whatever I do write reflects, sometimes gratuitously, how I feel.” … I’ve been reading my Joan Didion book after carrying it around with me for over a week meaning to get around to it, but this city has had me so distracted, so charmed. She is such a beautiful writer, though. I hope that reading her will make me better, by osmosis or some such thing. I’m in the Mission again, which is where I keep feeling like going, slouched into a sofa at Ritual Coffee Roasters. My afternoon beer, in the shape of a local brew called Fat Tyre, is sinking me into the ground, but I feel oddly connected, if that’s the right word. My new triangle, nestled into the crook of my left elbow, is slowly losing its inky crust, becoming a part of me. I feel the way about this tattoo as Martin Amis did about the title of his book ‘London Fields’: “There are two kinds of titles - two grades, two orders. The first kind of title decides on a name of something that is already there. The second kind of title is present all along; it lives and breathes, or it tries, on every page. … [This] is the second kind of title.” Most of my tattoos are like the first kind, as they represent something that has already happened. Even if they didn’t at the time, they do so now. Maybe the triangle will slip into the past too, somewhere down the line, when I’ll be absent-mindedly fingering a new shape, cooing over its meaning. But for now the triangle is very much happening: the climb, the push, the reach; not what I can get, but what I want.
The weather is the same every day: a windy sun, coating the city in yellow and blue haze. My eyes seem to be lightening, but I think it’s just my hair changing from the sun. Time is blurring as I am slowing down, leaning into it, but at the same time I feel so aware. I went to Sightglass Coffee in SoMa, which is hands down the most beautiful coffee shop I have ever seen. At Yoga Tree in Hayes Valley I stuttered through a hatha flow class, jittery from the caffeine, but it still left me in better shape than it found me. I am cultivating an addiction. And speaking of which … I went with Ely, who is passing through San Francisco before going to live in Canada, out to the Marina in the evening, to witness the birthday celebration of everybody’s favourite landmark. The fireworks soared across the span, raining white stars into the bay, before the sky exploded into orange to celebrate 75 years for the Golden Gate Bridge. And even now, hours later, I can feel it in my bones, just how much I love this city.
One day, if I do go to heaven, I’ll look around and say: “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”
Oooh I am very much in love this city today. It’s sunny, I’m slouching around in shorts and everywhere I go is playing such good music. The brat kicked off a bit this morning about having its serene little world disrupted by the influence of other people, but what can I say; after twenty days of virtual solitude I am reassured to discovered I am a social creature after all.
As I was waiting for my class to start at Yoga Tree I realised I’ve been away from yoga for three years. That is an embarrassingly long time to be meaning to get around to something. Jeremi with an i ran a hardcore little vinyasa session, which the hilly peninsula has left me capable of following but still has me horrified at how inflexible I’ve become. Yoga Tree runs dozens of classes a day all over this paradise city, and I’ve pre-paid two more in order to try and nail down a habit before I go home. I have a strong feeling that yoga is the key to a lot of things for me right now, not just for the sake of some calm in what I have realised to be an insanely crowded London, but also because it’s really hit home how my previous lack of fitness was making me tired. I was stuck in winter, cardigans pulled tight, moving slowly. This city makes me want to be good to myself.
Down on 24th Street the murals come thick and fast in the so-called El Corazon de la Misione. There is so much colour in this city, especially down in the Mission. Now I’m at Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia Street, another contender for the prototype of the freelancing world. I’ve got a bag from La Taqueria by my feet, and it’s still sunny outside at 7.30pm. … After a couple of weeks here I wondered if I was beginning to wear out the reasons I keep wanting to come back to San Francisco, whether it belonged to a younger version of myself. But now I know that what I needed to do was to peel off another layer of the onion, to get more engaged with things, take part and get to know people. Now a new San Francisco is happening to me, it has the same flavour as before but it’s fresh and new. I know what it is, this feeling, because I have fallen in love with a city before. I know that it is too late to stop it and I have no choice; it will happen all over again. I will leave my heart in San Francisco.
A triangle is a spiral, and is one energy event
At the Zen Center, no one speaks before the Dharma Talk begins. Everyone just sits quietly, on pillows on the floor or on chairs along the wall, waiting for the soft bell to finish chiming and the reverend Keiryu Lien Shutt to enter. It seems very formal, but by the end I realise these routines probably aren’t there to be limiting, but to put the practicalities into a system so we can focus on more important things. And if someone forgets to bow at the appropriate moment, well that’s just the way things are. During the tour for beginners we learn how to behave in the temple, which follows the Buddhist Soto Zen tradition; what the bells mean, the rules for shoes and bowing, all explained by a soft-spoken, bright-eyed man in a robe. It takes six months just to learned how to sit, explained the reverend, and if you can’t … well that’s just the way it is that day. Keiryu Lien Shutt told us she was adopted to the US when she was eight, having survived the Vietnam war, and now she lives in San Francisco with her girlfriend. She spoke from her low wooden seat, having carefully arranged her robes around her, covering her bare feet. She took her time, her voice soft even when she made us laugh. She spoke about authenticity, about the door swinging in our minds between rejection and acceptance, about how it’s not about striving to be the best little runner … I thought about this as I left, specifically in regards to my chronic almost-lateness, and how I keep feeling like I need to get better. But somehow that doesn’t work, so maybe a different approach is in order. Guilt doesn’t motivate me, but I know that what does is the opportunity to step up. I’m not sure if that’s Zen or not; I was only at the centre for two hours. But as I understand it, Zen is a lot about seeing things as they are, to simply recognise them for what they are. I got the impression of an open and accepting religion, one where a gay minister isn’t just tolerated but no big deal, that there is no reason we should have to beg forgiveness for our very nature at every turn, that the spirit isn’t some far away place out of reach, but something that is everywhere, all the time.
Also on Saturday:
* Momi Tobys Revolution Café in Hayes Valley: espresso, wide cup, ice.
* The Asian Heritage Street Fair: Japanese drummers, dancers from Cambodia and Burma, a palm-leaf wrapped rice and banana sweet from Laos, and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice on ice, slowly melting in the sun. Then a Vietnamese man dragged out a 3,500 year old stone lithophone, proceeding to play what is one of the oldest working instruments in the world, banging the stone slabs with wooden sticks to produce the brittlest, clearest little sounds.
* Food at Spice in the Richmond was wonderful, but nothing beats yesterday’s dinner at Tu Lan in the Tenderloin. The quick, cheap Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant has sloped floors and flames reaching high over the blackened woks, smoking up the place. Oh wow.
* On Ocean Beach: sun, wind, sand. The Pacific is freezing but the surf is coated in silver. I sat and watched it roll in, thinking that everything they say about California is true.
* I climbed down the hill from the Cliff House to the Sutro Baths, the ruins of a once- grand swimming complex built in 1896. As much as I’d have liked to see it at its prime, there is something wonderful about it the way it is now, left to the birds.
At Maxfields House of Caffeine in the Mission there are big windows, tables and sofas, space to work with good wifi, massive espressos on ice and even goddamn vegan cookies. This is what the world would look like if it were a freelancing paradise with me as its queen.
Today is Sunday, it’s sunny and all I want to do is to go to Dolores Park and lie in it. But one thing. I had a brainwave the other day, and I think it’s the feeling I’ve been circling in on since I got here. And what it is, I think, is that I’m finally started to feel like an adult. As in, it’s been happening over the past year, but only now that I’ve had a moment can I recognise it for what it is. That word means different things to people, but for me it’s about feeling like this life is my own. That I am not floundering aimlessly anymore (controlled floundering is ok!), that I am on track with my work, that I am capable of doing it and other things too, when I put the push on it. That I am at home in this body, that I am able to recognise what I want, along with the confidence to go after it. That I trust my own worth enough to walk away when it’s not right. This is what being an adult means to me, and being here, all by myself, I’m realising I no longer feel like I’m at the dress rehearsal for the real thing. There’s lots more to work out, of course. But it’s happening, right now, and it’s not half bad. Not half bad at all.
[Also today: triangle, ink, energy event.]
San Francisco, I am in you
Yesterday I was walking along, having taken the streetcar to the Castro to catch the tail-end of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the neighbouring Mission. I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with everything that merited a photo, all the beautiful houses, artsy details, quirky graffiti and the general spiritedness that is everywhere you go in this city. Earlier that day I’d passed a launderette called ‘The Missing Sock’, in neat, minimalist writing, and here was another wash-and-dry called ‘Rub-a-Dub-Dub’, this time in fantastically swirly original 1960s lettering. So I went to take a photo of it, scuttling across the road to get the better angle, where I got an eyeful of two gentlemen wearing nothing but a tan. I think they had on shoes and sunglasses too, these brave boys, to protect their feet and eyes. Oh and cock rings. I have no photo of the ‘Rub-a-Dub-Dub’ launderette. And for the first time since I got here I really, truly feel like I’ve arrived in San Francisco.
Other things that happened on Saturday:
* I had a stellar iced espresso at Caffe Trieste in North Beach, my favourite coffee shop in the city.
* I walked up to the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, where the smell of eucalyptus trees hung heavily in the air and the bridge twinkled orange against blue in the distance. I went down via Fillmore Street, a city street made from wooden steps through a fragrant garden maintained by the residents.
* In the Mission I sat in Dolores Park for a while, which was full of people and music in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Then I walked to La Taqueria for an incredible example of the Mission Burrito: beef, beans, salsa and avocado in a foil-wrapped tortilla. Massive, and staggeringly good. Menu options also included pork, sausage, chicken, beef head, tongue and veggie.
* I shared my table at La Taqueria with a local lady who works with homeless women in the Tenderloin. We talked about the city and how it is an 800,000-people-strong village, about the friendliness and good spirit you find here and how you really do keep running into the same six people over and over again. I asked her why the Tenderloin, the roughest area in the city, has managed to resist gentrification for so long, considering how central it is. She said there have been many attempts but there’s something quite impervious about it. There are good galleries and bars there though, and Twitter is moving there next year, she said, which will change things. Still, she was concerned about what will happen to the people who live there, as there is a lot of crack use and people there are often very marginalised.
* On the way back from the Embarcadero Bart station I wandered slightly off course and found myself in Ferry Park, where I heard an incredible racket in the trees. It was the wild parrot flock of Telegraph Hill, setting in for the night, darting green and red between the trees. Then they’d all take off, maybe 40-50 of them, and fly in circles around the little park, screeching at the top of their lungs, before landing again. Incredible.
* I asked the woman at La Taqueria, who’d told me how San Francisco is this hyper-liberal island in an otherwise quite conservative country, if living here makes her forget that the rest of the nation isn’t like this. I feel like that about London a lot, especially Hackney, and she said she gets that too. I guess that’s partially why every now and again you have to get up and go somewhere else. Even when you live in the city at the end of the rainbow, you still need to stick your head up and look around at what else is out there.