San Francisco: On friends, poetry & breaking and entering (among other things!)

August 21, 2014 in North America, Travelogue, United States


Our little apartment is not in a great part of town.

We’re upstairs from a hispanic daycare that seems to be closed for the summer and sandwiched between a dental office and a free adult healthcare clinic on Alcatraz Avenue. The apartment itself is all we need, a haven in mint green with shelves full of an eclectic gathering of books, from the complete Harry Potter series to the Dragon Tattoo books, to Wuthering Heights and several by Dickens. There is a Koran on every shelf; next to a stack of fashion magazines by my bed. The walls are covered with photos of the sisters who live here, a chalk board for leaving messages, art posters of the French Quarter in New Orleans, cartoon character drawings and odd architecture, and one painted plaque that simply admonishes, “Read.”

My favourites are two lavender boards, hand lettered in white. One is a long quote from Romeo and Juliet, which begins, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” The other is a poem that I’ve never read and that is without attribution:

I do not love you as if you were salt rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
In secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers,
Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where
I love you straightforwardly without problems or pride.

So I love you because I know no other way
Than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
So close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep

I have discovered that it was penned by Pablo Nerdua and is Sonnet XVII. I am now on a mission to read more of his work.

I can tell that I would like the girls who live here.

Their bookshelf has Chocolat, and Fight Club, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. They have the complete Poe tales and poems anthology as well. The only board game in the house is Settlers of Catan. The map on the wall is carefully framed and dotted with the places they’ve been, a smattering across the USA, two dots in Europe, four in the middle east, two in Indonesia. And, their couch is red. Anyone with a red couch is someone worth knowing, in my experience.

Did I mention that we had to break into the house in the middle of the night?

We did. The middle of the night part was our fault; we had too much fun with Powell and Lauren, sipping wine and nibbling cheese in a perfect garden while the kids splashed in a hot tub. The key had fallen down inside the door. The owner is in Texas at the moment. She suggested we remove the mail slot, reach inside with a small arm and open the door lock from the inside. Which we did, with much trepidation and sincere hope that the chat record in my phone would be adequate evidence should the police question us at the scene of the crime!

And so, we came to be living in Berkeley. 

I’ve been walking a lot, which gives me time to think.

Here is a sampling from my wandering brain.

1. It is grey and chillier than I would like here. 

It warms up most afternoons, but it starts grey and cold every morning. As I often walk in the mornings, this is not my favourite. My preconceived notion leaned more towards bright blue mornings.

2. The movie Lucy was thought provoking. 

I like Luc Besson. As a director, and an actor. What would happen if we could access 100% of our brains instead of just 10%? Great question. I don’t think he’s right, ultimately, but it was fun to think about. Plus, Scarlett Johansen is always fun to watch. It was an hour walk, one way, to the theater.

3. “Bezerkly” is an apt nickname for this town. 

It’s an odd, freaky Friday little place. Many tiny shops and almost no box stores. I like this. My business minded buddy tells me that it’s a terrible place to try to do business because of the hippie sensibilities of the voting public. I do not see this as a down side. Every time I’ve walked downtown the prevailing winds have been laced with pot smoke. There is an American lace museum and a Tibetan head shop. Eclectic might be a good word.

4. We have an amazingly weird and wonderful friend set. 

You know who you are. Sampling of this week’s cast of characters: A genius inventor and idea man who is fluent in Japanese, a lawyer for Google, a seven year old who’s already been across most of the continents, numerous writers, a community garden activist, an Apple exec who wants to run away and join the circus, my favourite musician and his brilliant artist wife, a space alien I met on the Camino, and for balance, my new friend: a seriously strung out guy who thought it was cool to bang on the window of my van babbling unintelligently. Yikes.

5. Sourdough bread is, perhaps, the west coast’s best feature. 

Toasted is my favourite, with a side of raspberries. Also, made into a grilled cheese with bacon. Oh my goodness. If you have not had a grilled cheese with bacon, stop what you’re doing and go make one right now. Find sourdough bread for it. You will not be sorry.

6. I’m walking a lot. 

This makes me happy. So does fresh OJ to start a walk. I’ve walked all over San Francisco, all over Berkeley, and around the Lafayette Reservoir, among other places. One of the hardest things, post Camino, is how little I was able to walk (since we were driving across the continent and on that cruise to Alaska) It’s good to be back to logging some miles every day.

7. I am reading a new book. 

A history and examination of the modern state if Israel called, My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. It was suggested by a friend of a friend who reads my writing. Apparently he took my reference to falling on the Muslim side of the debate to mean that I don’t support Israel in the Palestinian conflict. I wasn’t talking about that, specifically, I was talking about my experiences living in Muslim places and what I’ve learned there. Although, truth be told, I do lean towards sympathy with the Palestinian predicament. I’m not naive enough to think that there are any good guys in that equation, I acknowledge that it’s complicated. So, a book recommendation has been made. We are reading it together and I’m eager to learn. Perhaps I’ll become a Zionist. 😉

8. Life is full of transitions. 

Some easier than others. All vital to growth. I have discovered that I do not like the conversations that are necessary to these transitions and it’s hard for me to acknowledge realities without taking things personally. I suppose this is good for me, the realizations at least. We’re in the process for forging more than a few new paths around here. It’s an interesting process. I’m learning a lot. I have more to learn.

9. I love the school year.

Ezra said to me yesterday, “Mom, I’m ready for school to start, I’m a little bored.” We don’t do bored in our family, so I promptly sent him out on his own adventures around town, but the sentiment is worth noting. I’m finishing up my end of the school plans for the boys for this year by the end of the week. Everyone is keen to get back to the routine of morning study and afternoon adventure. I had a whole range of carcasses shipped to our friends for Elisha’s impending dissection module of Biology. It’s a messy business, this home schooling. Miss Hannah is already hip deep in her educational efforts; no rest for the wicked.

10. It takes time.

Friendship, life, travel, parenting, marriage, love in general, work, compassion, understanding; they all take time. I have to learn to be more patient. To give things, and people, more time. To give myself the gift of more time. To remember that time, as a broad arc is an abstract concept, the reality is in this one breath. I have to remember to spend that breath well and fully. To be in the moment, in the place, with the individual, in this eternal space of the instant: in time. I have learned this lesson. I know it by heart. It’s the every second application that I continue to chip away at mastering.

And so I walk, and I think, and I move forward in baby steps. What have you been thinking about lately?