It’s been a beautiful week in San Francisco. The weather has been perfectly clear, showing off the bright, shiny city. We’ve strolled along the Castro, walked around Land’s End, ogled at the Golden Gate headlands from which the bridge stole it’s name (and quite possibly, it’s glory).
Our friend Sam took us on a beautiful day-long hike through Redwood forest in Marin county and Tyrhone took to the skies on his twentieth flight over the stunning beaches of Half Moon Bay.
We’ve had clam chowder and sushi and Thai food and Vietnamese food and Indian food and fish ‘n chips; bowls of cafe latte and buckets of Rocky Road ice cream and cupcakes.
And I got to meet this girl!
We’ve been lucky enough to stay in Sam’s sister’s lovely apartment on Noe Street, situated on a hill between the eccentricity of The Castro and the gentrification of Noe Valley.
And not far from the street on ‘Full House’!
The wonderful thing about traveling is that you get to try on different lives, and like clothes, some fit better than others. Just as my wardrobe has paired down to a few items which I feel comfortable in, so have the places which fit me well.
San Francisco, in many ways, has it all. Districts which almost trick you into believing you are in a smaller town than you are and stunning natural landscapes less than hour from the heart of the city.
It reminds me of Sydney in many ways, which may be why many of my Australian friends love it so much here. It is a city rich in diversity, culture, art and social conscience.
But as I have mentioned before, I am no longer as much of a city girl as I once was. Like your older sister’s stilettos that you like to try on for size but couldn’t possibly walk in, cities are interesting to me, but not very comfortable.
Maybe I have spent too long as a beach bum in Mexico, but despite understanding the economic necessity of cities, I think it strange that people choose to squeeze into one space when there are so many other places to go.
The other day I headed into The Mission District in search of a recovery meeting. I set off early, seeking solitude among several million people. It amazes me how one can disappear into anonymity surrounded by so many others, and yet, it’s easy. I headed into a bookstore and found solace among the pages of a paperback.
There are great things about cities and second-hand bookstores are surely up there at the top of the list. Perched on a stool inside an enormous cavern filled with books, I read the first chapter of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ allowing the therapy of the words to fine tune my emotions till they were purring like a well-oiled engine.
As I strolled further along 24th street, the landscape of the city completely transformed. The pavement was no longer populated by Lululemon-clad women marching toward Wholefoods, but by people less concerned with being on trend and more concerned with surviving.
I exhaled for what felt like the first time. Finding myself in familiar territory surrounded by Mexican restaurants and colorful murals, I felt weirdly at home, realising that if given a choice between gentrification and grit, I will take the grit, hands down.
Hole-in-the-wall Pozole joints and Latino music blaring from passing trucks bring me more comfort than organic, free-range, fair-trade cafes filled with Macbook Pro-littered renewable oak tables.
There are actually some of those places springing up in The Mission District and I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition between the clientele squeezed into those trendy spaces and the people outside going about their lives (some of whom I fit in well with by laughing loudly to myself).
After spending an hour in a room with strangers meditating, sharing, laughing and crying, my mind and heart opened a little further.
Making my way back home after the meeting, I tried to look everybody I passed in the eye. Of course, I missed a few, I mean, I am not a full-out crazy person but more of a closet crazy person like most of us.
I think what I find challenging about the city is that it is more difficult for me to hold onto myself. It’s certainly not impossible though. It just requires a bit of extra effort to find stillness, beauty and connection within the busyness and that can only be a good thing to practice.
“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha – which is to demean oneself.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.