Notes from the Big City

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).

city view

Golden gate

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.


Redwood tall

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.

Full house house

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.

Bookstore Mission

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.

Guadalupe misson

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.

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Notes from the Big City — 22 Comments

  1. Love this city! It has its own energy, just as NYC does. It’s palpable and intoxicating… And I’m sure quite toxic for some. I love seeing it thru your eyes and reading your description of places I have been and seen with a totally different focus. Not to rush you, but I cannot WAIT for Montana’s pics and blogs and discoveries! Keep writing…
    holly recently posted..halloween just ain’t my thingMy Profile

  2. I loved San Francisco, but when we first arrived after camping in northern California and going at a much slower pace for the week prior, it was a shock. I felt so relaxed and at ease out in the Redwood forests and countryside…then BAM! We were surrounded by people, buildings and cars. I still think I’m a city girl, through and through, but like a weird hybrid because I need my space and quiet, too. I guess that’s what it is to be brought up in a city in the Pacific NW!
    Carmel recently posted..THE BEST TIME OF THE YEARMy Profile

    • Yes, it’s been a while since I have been in a Western City, so there is still a bit of culture shock involved too. We definitely made the most of the convenience and the great food though! :-)

    • It is definitely worth a visit, for sure! For a big city it does well to create smaller communities within it, and of course being close to the beautiful Redwood forest which is a big plus.

  3. I love San Francisco and as far as cities go I think it is one of the best in the world. But I know what you mean about cities not being your thing. They aren’t mine either… I’m excited to see where you head next. I like seeing the U.S. through your eyes.
    Kim recently posted..Hello from Sayulita, MexicoMy Profile

    • Yes, it’s funny how I have changed over the years as I used to be such a city person. But, no more, which is lucky since we are going to spending a lot of time in Montana and rural Colorado! I wonder if it will be a case of being careful what I wish for, especially since it’s gonna be FREEZING! We are doing a short house sitting stint outside Portland over Christmas though, and that is a city I am looking forward to seeing. Hope Mexico is treating you well!

  4. San Francisco is all kinds of fabulous and guess what? We lived 45 minutes south of San Francisco (San Jose) for 33 years, so you’re on our old turf… almost!

    We are having similar experiences as we adjust to being back in the city. We lived in San Jose for all those years and then moved to quiet funky little Ashland, OR and it took us a good year to dial it down. Now, after nearly 4 years in Ashland, we’re quickly dialing it back up to get it pace with big city life again. Abi asked me the other day how long I thought it would take for us to feel as if we belong here and truth be told, I really don’t care. I’m at a place in my life where I just want to be in the moment and experience the urban lifestyle for what it is and not have to worry about anything else. I’ll think about it later! 😉
    Patti recently posted..The Horseshoe Curve ~My Profile

  5. So lovely to spend time together this past week! Great recap! I definitely share some of your feelings on city life that you articulate so well here. Always a big exhale on leaving the city. By the way, was thinking of you guys when I had yet another $1 lemon cupcake today :)
    Sam recently posted..Lessons from backpacking the SierrasMy Profile

    • Thank you for being the most awesome tour guide, hiking buddy, ice cream eating partner and cup cake enthusiast!!!! Seriously, thank you Sam and to Erica for letting stay. I feel like we got as close to experiencing SF as a local as we could have and it was an amazing experience xoxoxo I know you long for a quieter pace of life, but as far as cities go, you are definitely in one of the best! xo

  6. I’ve been told before that San Fran is like Melbourne on steroids, so I’m keen to check it out. :) A few years ago when I was a tribal style bellydancer I was desperate to visit (as this city is where that dance style began). I’d still love to check out the tribal scene there even though I don’t dance anymore.

    And yeah, I too can’t help but think of Full House when I think of those hilly suburbs. :)
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..The Truth About Hanging RockMy Profile

    • It’s a very interesting place with a lot of great social history, including the gay rights movement, the hippie movement and more. I did not know about the belly dancing movement though! It definitely has more of a Sydney vibe than a Melbourne one, but maybe that was because we had fabulous weather the week we were there 😉 (Melb is my favourite Australian city btw!)

    • It was so nice, thank you for the beautiful lunch and great chat, you are just as lovely in person as in your writing. And that is a hint to keep doing it, btw 😉

  7. “The wonderful thing about traveling is that you get to try on different lives, and like clothes, some fit better than others” – so true!

    I’m from Auckland, and SF in a few ways reminded me of home (city on the water, temperamental weather).
    NZ Muse recently posted..My favourite things about WellingtonMy Profile

  8. I really enjoyed this post, Sarah, even though I consider myself a big city girl! 😉 I felt there was a lot of truth in what you were saying, especially about how it can be harder to keep a hold of yourself in cities… I’ve felt that a lot since being home, though I think that’s less to do with being in a city (we’re out in the suburbs, really), and more to feeling stifled and stuck. I find the energy of cities really electrifying and motivating, but definitely see how they can be overwhelming at times too.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Pigging Out in Paris (AKA “That Time We Ate All the Cheese”)My Profile

  9. It’s funny, I would have called myself a big city girl in the past but I have found that as I get older, the urge to move somewhere smaller becomes stronger. I really enjoy both lifestyles – small town and big city – and for me there are definitely pros and cons for each. I think that is why my favourite cities in the world are the ones that have the best access to nature – Vancouver, San Francisco, Cape Town, Rio, Sydney. They are all in beautiful settings and I feel that you can get the best of both worlds. I currently live in Manly, Sydney and it feels as if I live in a vibrant seaside town, rather than a big city suburb :)
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Getting to the heart of Fijian island culture on a village visitMy Profile

    • Yes I do wonder if that change comes from seeking something from the city when we are younger, and then when we know ourselves better we long for more peace and quiet. I also find the energy of cities too much for me these days! Sydney is a beautiful city and Manly beach is lovely, enjoy :-)