I love finding myself in unlikely places, as I am right now, relaxing in the living room of an apartment on Telegraph Hill, listening to jazz, eating a piece of chocolate, and surrounded by pictures of someone else’s family and someone else’s idea of art. In particular there is a startlingly hideous painting on the wall behind the dining room table that we have been explicitly instructed to avoid leaning into when we sit here (not that we are likely to ever be so tipsy) because it is an extremely valuable work of art. Well, there’s not much about art that is objective, I guess. I sort of “get” that this one has something to do with irony, but trust me: it’s not something that many of us would care to look at while we eat. (In fact, I would post a picture of this painting and let you judge for yourself, but that seems unwise as well as insensitive.)
Anyway, being here is not about the quirky décor. It’s about being here...and being here. This is a city that I think could be mistaken for no other. Even the view through the window right now of its steep hilly streets, its pastel buildings -- white, pink, pale green -- and the blustery blue sky fringed by fog conveys something to me that is uniquely San Francisco. Many years ago I worked for an old Irish guy named Tom Dolan who had grown up here –his grandmother had firsthand memories of the 1906 earthquake, and he himself had worked for years as a conductor on the cable cars. “My city,” is how he lovingly referred to it. Or “The City” as if it were the only city in existence. Good old Tom, he would have loved this day. His city is sparkling.
We wandered through a street fair in North Beach this morning. It was mostly the usual street fair fare: necklaces, leather goods, tee shirts with messages and hippie-esque blouses, and even at 10 a.m. there were the smells of garlic and meat grilling. We went into a coffee shop for more traditional breakfast choices. I asked for salsa with my eggs, much to the waiter’s bewilderment. “Salsa? We don’t have salsa,” he said in an Italian accent. “We have tomato sauce.”
Fortified by good coffee, we wandered some more, climbing up hills and steps to Coit Tower; then Chris and I spotted a sign for a garage sale, so Monte went back to the apartment and Chris and I sauntered through a back alley to the sale. It was run by an African-American woman wearing a yellow shawl and dangling orange earrings who said she was a charm-maker, though I don’t know what that means. She had lived in the neighborhood for forty years and had a story to tell about every odd object there. I dawdled wistfully at the old typewriter (I have a fondness for those) but mostly it was peculiar junk and nothing at all we needed to own.
Shopping might have been problematic anyway, since we will be getting back to the ferry tomorrow via bicycle. If you knew my friend Chris -- a bike advocate (some might say fanatic) right down to her bones – you’d quickly understand how this came about. I’m not much into urban cycling and would have rather walked even if it meant walking for hours, but Chris believes two-wheeled transit is the only way to go. I sat on the back of her tandem and tried to stoke, but mostly I just held on for dear life and closed my eyes when the traffic seemed too near. My daughter travels by bicycle all over the place in Oxford, and I respect that, but I think it is a skill that takes some practice. Me, I’m a timid sort; I mostly felt vulnerable.
This timidity, by the way, is something I am hoping to overcome, and it amuses me that I still think I'm going to change, but I do. Unfortunately, there are a great many doors in the attic of my head behind which sad things happen and worries loom. I keep them snugly shut and seek to focus instead on the bright clear now, but I know what’s in there, and out there.
So I am striving to be a little bit Buddhist. (“Stop striving!” says Monte.) And I am trying to be braver, more spontaneous, more fun and more “game”. (“Stop trying so hard,” says Monte.)
I am trying to stop trying so hard.
Meanwhile, I am listening to jazz and the sounds of music drifting in from the street fair below, nodding to a carved wooden Buddha sitting by the door, lapping up the summer light that is filling this apartment, and being in San Francisco.