Thursday, January 22, 2009

San Francisco, at long last

Well, despite my previous goal to make this less of a "then I did this; then I did this" blog, I think it's necessary in order to get myself up to date in what is now sadly three weeks overdue. So:

Shockingly enough, you can't fly direct from Boston to Sydney, Australia. As they haven't yet developed a commercially available jet that can take you across the world, I was lucky enough to stop in San Francisco en route to Australia. (Following one reader's request, I should note that the movie they played on the flight was positively frightful. So bad, in fact, that the woman sitting next to me turned to me at the end and said, "Did you watch that terrible movie, too?" and then we proceeded to bash the film for about 20 minutes. So: do not under any circumstances watch "Nights in Rodanthe.")

In San Francisco I stayed with dear friends Josie and Linnea in a little, cozy apartment in a little, cozy neighborhood called Noe Valley, and greatly enjoyed a three-day weekend exploring the city with them. I'd been to San Francisco a few times before, but with family and only for very limited time. It was lovely to come with the city at my fingertips, no agenda but exploring and enjoying friends.

We made the best of the three days, starting with a sunny breakfast in the apartment, with beautiful views up the hill of the city extending into the sky. As it turns out, if you let a persimmon (lovely native Californian fruit) stand for several weeks, instead of rotting it softens until it is essentially spreadable jam. We got a loaf of date bread from Noe Valley Bakery (suitably little and cozy, given the neighboorhood) and ate it with softened persimmon and great coffee, a delicious way to power up for a day exploring the city.

Following breakfast we drove to the DeYoung museum, a lovely art museum inside Golden Gate park, where there was an exhibition by the artist Maya Lin that Josie and Linnea wanted to see. I wasn't planning to go in, as I was feeling quite budget conscious, but it turned out that it was Bank of America day, and all card holders could get in for free or 50% off special exhibits. So I wandered the exhibit halls while the other two went to the special show, admiring a beautiful collection of South American and Papuan art, then moving to the museum observatory, a glass walled box eight stories above everything else in the Golden Gate park. The weather was completely clear and the view was gorgeous.

Part of the exhibition at the DeYoung museum

Views over the city, bay, and mountains from the DeYoung Observatory

The crazy roof on the California Academy of Science, which is next to the DeYoung and which I believe the lovely people at SGH helped design

From one great view to another: we drove to Louis' Diner for an afternoon snack. Those that know me understand that I do not take diners lightly. I wrote a diner-centric column in my college newspaper, and diners are among my favorite manifestations of Americana. Admittedly, Louis' food does not win any prizes. But the view, looking out over the ruins of a large bath complex from the mid 20th century and across the incredibly blue bay to the hills beyond, is fully worth it. As is the thoroughly 1970s Louis' decor. We enjoyed a refreshing hour marveling at the view and the adjacent, lovely Ocean Beach.

The view from Louis' Diner

Sunset over Ocean Beach

Noe Valley is fairly closed to that quintessential San Francisco institution The Mission, so we took a nice walk (luckily mostly downhill) to find burritos at Papalote, which does superb tacos and burritos. Dessert at Mission Pie featured several different versions of flaky deliciousness and a chance to meet some of Josie and Linnea's friends, who were coming in from town farther north.

In the morning we met long-time family friends for that other San Francisco requisite, dim sum (delicious), before wandering through a neighborhood full of Chinese tchotchke shops looking for little presents and pepper spray (for me) and special long-sought-after shell plates (for Josie.) We were successful in our search, but as it turns out it is illegal to carry pepper spray basically anywhere, on planes or trains, and possibly also to mail it. So it is not a particularly mobile acquisition, and I had to leave it in San Francisco in the end.

From the Chinese tchochtke shop: Odd and ironic choice of material for a plate

One of the highlights of traveling around the world, at least for me, is being able to catch up with friends in unexpected places/contexts-- this will be a repeating pattern throughout this year. In San Francisco it was two friends from Wesleyan, Will and Emily, who are living in Oakland trying to make it "in the real world." Whatever that means.

We met them back at Ocean Beach, near Louis', and passed several very pleasant hours sitting on a blanket drinking tea from a thermos, watching the gulls and the waves, chatting about where we had been and what we had done in the past several months, looking at shells and rocks on the beach. When that had lost its luster we drove back to the Mission, this time to look for a fabled alley full of street art and then to Pakistani food, which I had never had before.

Ocean Beach loveliness

Nothing like the beach with friends from different parts of your life

It took a good half an hour of wandering, but we did finally find the alley full of street art. It presented an interesting combination of obviousness ("Wow, look at this entire alley full of brightly colored walls") and subtlety ("Did we really just walk by that entire alley full of brightly colored walls twice?") The art itself was an interesting combination, too. Some was overtly political, some patently nerdy in content, some badly drawn, some masterful.

Beautiful street art in the Mission

The Pakistani food was delicious, as well-- and cheap! We walked home satiated, and I spent the next two hours trying desperately to reduce my 45 pound suitcase (I know, I'm embarrassed). I did manage to pick out 9 pounds worth of things to send home. But it's still been too heavy! (That comes later.)

Monday before my flight left I spent in preparations, trying not to disturb Josie as she worked from home. I ventured into the little main street of Noe Valley to send those things home (alarmingly they still haven't arrived, 3 weeks later). I bought some last minute necessities, salivated at the bakery, then went home, where I proceeded to have an anxiety attack of some proportions.

You might recall a few entries back that I've been unsure how personal I want to get with this blog. Well, I'm going to try it out. Those that know me well are aware that I struggle with issues of anxiety. I worry or feel agitated about irrational things and sometimes I can get upset and not know why. I haven't an anxiety attack proper in probably 3 or 4 years, as I've learned to manage it, but travel seems to be one of my push buttons.

It's odd, I know, to be taking on a trip of such epic proportions of traveling makes me so anxious. But the thing is, in my mind it's separate. I love traveling, I get high from it. It's something I do despite my anxiety, not something I don't do because of it (if that makes sense.) I choose to go up against whatever it is that goes haywire in my brain and not hide. Luckily, in this case I had lovely friend there to give me tea, talk me down, and remind me that it's normal to be nervous when you're about to leave the country for a year only under your own steam and using basically all the money you have ever saved.

So I got myself together and to the airport. Got on the plane and off I went!

Interesting retrospective on airplane seat design evolution at San Francisco Airport

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