february, 2006

Thu, 2 Feb 2006 18:13:09 -0800

The shuttle back is nearly empty, with the second cohort -- mostly engineers -- away on the company ski trip today. City dwellers, I'd guess, are disproportionately represented in the coding faction here; the bus is mine -- mine, and my new Powerbook's. My glasses, my iPod, and my New Yorker are still up in San Francisco, inessentials for the bike ride down this morning on which fellow ex-Goat Abby and I set off in the fog.

I've done this ride before, but each time, it gets easier. Today, in my new orange rain shell -- my first piece of wet-weather gear ever, and it's about time! -- we didn't even get lost, following directions south on Mission, up into a tiny section of fog-heavy Latin America, and then down into Peninsula suburbia. I was glad of my trip to REI yesterday -- I may be self-conscious about gear, since it seems like it can all too easily become a yuppie status symbol of sports its owners have only tried once; but, realizing that I would be very, very unhappy on the slopes tomorrow unless I acquired some warm, waterproof duds, and rationalizing that I would use the pieces again, off to gear up I went. The exact three-digit figure dropped shall be left as an exercise to the reader, but suffice it to say that I've been comfortably salaried for a short enough period of time that the phenomenon of sticker shock remains strong in my sensibilities. I will use these pieces again, I tell myself as I leave the store, donning the pumpkin-colored rain shell as I walk out of my wide-eyed expedition into the mist; then later changing to the also-new fleece vest to wander up and down Church and Sanchez with Abby and Andrea, looking for sushi but finding Thai at 10 at night. We ate tofu and pad thai; passed out.

And this is not atypical of my past few weeks: leaving for work via the seemingly-straightforward-yet-with-byzantine-relics MUNI system that rattles our bay, street-facing windows at night; a cup of Peet's from No Name to get me through the afternoon instead of desserts (vegan haven though it may be, it's probably all for the better that it's not overflowing daily with dairy-free chocolate mousse, or I'd have to bike to work more often!); mid-evening shuttle home (so quick! So direct!); dinner ... well, out. Though we have now finally moved out of the Goat House, dry goods and all, and though Andrea, Ojan and I are next to a Safeway and a bodega, I haven't had time to stock the fridge and cupboards with enough that I could come home, glance in them, and throw together dinner. Instead, it's been burritos out (Casa Mexicana around the corner does tofu ranchero ones! -- the hallmark, I feel, of Mexican forms meeting hippie tropes, so characteristically SF!), as we fed to the troupe who helped us move out two weeks ago (a piled U-Haul-ful didn't even get the all of it -- my god, do I have a lot of stuff); ordered-in Chinese or vegan Lanesplitter's calzones (along with 6-packs of corner-store provender) on the two nights earlier this week when Andrea & I went back to Berkeley to sweep, mop, detoxify, clean, and evacuate the premises; tapas with John Mark and a crew for his birthday; the Thai pre-bike-ride with Abby last night. Which is not to say that I haven't yet made a winter vegetable bisque or pasta puttanesca; rather that I'm not yet at home in my kitchen. Or in my house.

Needed now is time to sit back and unpack that which we boxed up in old New York Timeses -- the dishware; the 30 champagne flutes left over from New Year's -- and that which is now in piles in my room, uncloseted because, given the different architecture of my generous, coffee-gallery-colored, parlor-sized room (built-in bookshelves!), what was appropriate furniture for the Goat House has, overnight, obsoleted itself. Or just moved to Ojan's room. I need time to hang things on the picture molding Andrea's sister Emily informed us that we have on the walls, time to find a curtain solution better than these shower-curtain hooks over said molding (doing a surprisingly effective temporary job), time to arrange my books by subject, T.S. Eliot next to the French poetry bleeding into Saint-Exupéry followed by the fairy-tale compendia (Bros. Grimm; "-- For Computers") that Colin gave me leading up to, perhaps, the Camel book. Or into the Stephenson and sci-fi. I need time to unpack, and to settle into this new place -- and haven't had it.

That's meant, of course, that what I have had time to do is to pack the way it should be done -- to first move the bulk of the stuff out, carted away in a 10-foot truck, and then the next weekend to figure out how to pack the odds and ends that don't fit nicely in boxes, not to mention to vow to send a box of clothing Goodwill's way within two months. To wrap teacups in newsprint and, spotting a potentially interesting article, to have time to pause and read it. To only then sweep and mop, leaving the place in better condition than we found it. This is certainly the right way to do things, but it's cut so much into the honeymoon with the new place -- well, that and my overactive social calendar. Tonight will be no better -- out for dinner with visiting British Josh and co., then to try to do at least half a load of laundry down the street before packing a bag of new snowpants (not orange) and hat (orange) to venture off to the mountain tomorrow morning.

It was probably stupid to exhaust myself with almost forty miles of biking the day before I renew my vow to learn to snowboard. But I've needed this exertion, and this assertion of independence -- not only have I never ridden down with a girl before, but never with me leading the way. Memories of curves in the road augmented the printed directions we were working off of; we bumped through the racetrack parking lot and wound through the residential greenery of Palo Alto with nary a hitch. Exercise has been lacking for want of time, which has all been consumed with change. Even though this weekend won't be relaxing in a read-the-Sunday-Times-on-the-couch-in-my-new-apartment kind of way, it will be good to be moving more. If I survive this weekend, then I can think about relaxing. Monday, I sleep.

Mon, 6 Feb 2006 18:43:56 -0800

Most of me hurts, but most of that is just the good, I-did-something-this-weekend muscle ache; only a few areas speak to the parts I didn't mean to do. The sheer slope of ice I encountered on my final run down the mountain on Sunday, for example -- that was unintended, as were the three consecutive wipe-outs I took straight onto it, landing on the same spot on my ass each time. The majority of the pain was probably dispelled by the après-ski hot venture, this time indoors, in the resort's spa; what bruises do appear can be chalked up to war wounds.

My crazy, crazy company took its employees in three waves up to Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe over the last three days of the preceding work-week. I've been on a board before -- not very vertically on that board, but enough that I was able to build on the knowledge gained -- and signed up for what turned out to be a two-person snowboarding lesson; by the end of the weekend, I had only wiped out hard a few times, and figured out how to control the flexible plank well enough to steer around other beginners as they struggled to get back to their feet in the middle of a green-level slope. As the bus climbed out of the fog of San Francisco and up six thousand feet, the sky turned an electric blue and the majority of the colors gathered themselves around the green, blue, and brown nodes of the spectrum. Curving northeast on I-80, white snow started to appear on the sides of of the road.

Despite the fact that I like to think of myself as adventurous, a strong streak of complacency runs in me. The gearing-up process -- new snowpants, vest, jacket, hat; old green sunglasses to block the blinding white snow's glare; winter running gear underneath; rental of a board and boots -- prolonged the process, preventing me from being thrown headlong into something I knew I wanted to try, but wasn't keen on beginning. The last time I'd done this, after all, I had spent an afternoon choking back tears as I fell, hard, over and over, to what seemed like minimal progress. I'd been too sore and shocked from falling to bring myself to go out a second day. And they do say it takes 2-3 days to get comfortable on the board -- so this time, I gradually built on my previous falls, remembering how best to suspend my center of gravity over the board, how to fall usefully, instead of painfully.

The cable car up the mountain heartened me -- bare trees scraggled up into a peerless blue; white snow filled a panorama of the mountain. A profound silence prevailed on the chair lifts, swinging us up over full-spectrum sparkling white and through crisp air. Our instructor was happy to have pupils who succeeded in doing more than sitting down over the few hours we were in his tutelage.

After more ridiculous partying that evening, Saturday dawned sludgy. Those who had no intention of leaving on the 10 AM bus deemed it perfect hot tubbing weather, and parked ourselves in the series of heated pools at the foot of the mountain. As the noon bus left and the weather cleared from sleet to snow to nothing, we watched the frothing steam skim off the water and escape towards those skiiers braving the winds for the powder at the peak.

Easily half of the joy of the weekend was the Resort at Squaw Creek, an establishment I probably would have never decided I could afford on my own, but in which I got to luxuriate the entire weekend -- first Friday night on the company's tab in a suite, and the next night at a related discount with five of us crammed into a room. Concierges supplied us with silver cheese knives at midnight Saturday for our card game in the stunning lobby filled with worn leather chairs one sank into; three extra bathrobes were brought to our room for use going between hot tubs and the spa, which was complete with showers, lotion, combs, and more fluffy white towels than you could shake a stick at; double-headed showers steamed us awake in the mornings. Split between five people, we almost felt as if we didn't deserve this superlative service, but weren't about to stop taking advantage of it.

The amount of money thrown around at these places must be incredible. Commenting that I knew the types of snow very well but wasn't familiar with the traditional activities on it, I postulated that snowboarding was sledding for adults; Ojan corrected me that it was more accurately sledding for rich people. The lift tickets themselves weren't bank-breaking, nor the equipment rentals; but the optimal experience to be had at these places was clearly at resort suites that probably cost as much per night as my San Francisco apartment does per month. Still, smaller rooms can be had, and I'm beginning to think it might be worth the splurge every now and then, provided I had a good opportunity and some powder. Getting used to this whole affluence thing is both an embarrassing and self-conscious process, though.

After the most relaxing day I've had in memory -- hot tub; lunch in the Alpine-esque village constructed at the foot of the mountain; reading the paper in the lounge of a lobby; more hot tub; hippie vegan sushi served by ski bums in Truckee; the aforementioned postprandial card game -- Sunday was, as predicted, perfect weather. Green runs started to seem too short and not quite as steep as I wanted; having moved on to one blue in the morning, I decided to take the full two-thousand-foot-vertical-drop trail straight down the mountain with Matt as a last run. The powder had been pushed to the sides by 4:30 in the afternoon, and with the peak starting to cast its own shadow on the terrain, it was visually hard to distinguish from solid ice. Within three hard falls in thirty seconds, I immediately started to feel the way I did at the end of my first day of snowboarding three years ago. But a soy hot chocolate, followed by the hot tub, dispelled enough of that to make me start plotting my next escape to Tahoe, a mere three hours away from my neck of the Bay.

Out here in California, I've felt it incumbent upon me to do all the outdoorsy things friends back East can't as easily or in as beautiful scenery -- bike rides; ski trips; hikes. Slowly (but surely), this former indoorsy non-athlete has begun to embrace these things as her own. Snowboarding (and, perhaps, a love for pampering resorts for the lush lingerer that still remains) may have been adopted this weekend.

Wed, 15 Feb 2006 16:17:21 -0800

Why am I letting Valentine's Day get to me so much this year? The most constructed of all Hallmark holidays -- pink flooding the aisles of every chain pharmacy; more chocolate than usual in the aisles of the crunchy grocery stores I try to frequent (a quick bike down (empty) and up (laden) to the awesome Rainbow Co-Op this weekend confirmed that I'll miss very little in the Berkeley Bowl, save the summer tomatoes); blogs begin to put out links like Heidi's chocolate fondue. Even cookware sites aren't safe, and I, cruising for 8-inch cake pans, am taunted by pink silicone briôche molds.

The trappings in and of themselves aren't that bad -- I love the chocolate, thank god. It's the one thing that gets me through afternoons sometimes, rivulets of melted Dagoba, Ritter, Venchi, or the local Scharffen Berger buoying me up against a sea of Javascript errors. Flowers are a joy. Red is close enough to orange for it to sometimes count in that deep, neural-cortex-stimulating kind of way that the latter color seems to. Having steadfastly refused to wear it until the tenth grade or so, I've finally even made my peace with pink! My FVWM window borders on my Linux box at work freak out the boys, but remain a neon bubble-gum.

But it's the emphasis on togetherness that's been getting to me. I can't seem to take the pieces I like and string them together into something new. I tried, last night: an entire plastic teardrop of food coloring went into a vegan red velvet cake, staining a pink latte bowl festively; I bought myself roses (because, dammit, I like flowers). But why even participate? Jacob called me on the mat -- "an anti-V-Day party on the day of?" And I had to agree that even by competing I was giving in. Sugared, pillowy cake comforts less than it used to (maybe I should have stuck to a borscht -- beety and vegetal, yet still red); the roses were a hollow mockery. I passed a vase of lilies at work today, their distinctive fragrance spinning me around before I even saw the sharp petals. That was what I wanted. But now I would feel guilty throwing out a dozen long-stems.

Of course, none of this fragility has occurred in a vacuum. I'm annoyed at myself that I let it annoy myself. I have chocolate and coffee (the still-new, industrial-gauge orange tamper having done wonders for my barista skills) to help me mitigate this bullshit. But I hate wearing my heart on my sleeve.

Mon, 20 Feb 2006 21:41:54 -0800

When I realized this was a three-day weekend, some part of me wanted to start booking airline tickets -- perhaps Chicago, to see Mom; perhaps New York, to Fanjul and possibly Olivia? But this time, the lazy voice was the rational one -- I've been careening all over the place for the last few months, both physically and emotionally, and this weekend was needed to sit at home and rest. It's not even that I've gotten everything done that I thought I wanted to over the past three days -- I still haven't found a yoga class; running slipped by the wayside; my taxes are yet un-begun; the CSS work I wanted to toy around all were somehow was less appealing than wandering around the city in search of good coffee.

Today followed just in that pattern. Somehow, the hours moved at half-speed, affording me time to pop out to the corner store for silken tofu, make bagel spread, read the paper (and blog about it) all before noon; to procure a real bread knife (it's not only time I stopped using the one I stole from Laurel all those years ago, but started using one that will cut through a semi-frosted bagel) and a pair of 8-inch cake pans (my anti-Valentine's-day cake, while good, was underdone in the middle, overbaked on the side, as will happen when you force a normal cake recipe into a 9-inch springform pan), two more pastel latte bowls, and a weekly MUNI pass, all before three; time to venture to Blue Bottle for an amazing coffee and then back in time to make an apple-rhubarb pie, loosely based on a recipe out of a new book, make dinner, do laundry and the dishes, eat pie, and do some accounting I've been meaning to for a while. And it's still barely ten! The day is ending as slowly as it began, with a purring computer on my lap, and Pink Floyd on the speakers. (The choice of music -- my collection on random, actually -- seems appropriate, as when one relationship ends (yet again -- but hopefully this time, it can stick), bits of all their ends all seem to come filtering back.)

(This deserves more than a parenthetical phrase. But what to say? Easier to elide the reöpened heartache, and its yet-painful conclusion, than to publicly dwell on it. Nothing is new; this has played out before. And yet I open myself up to it for the same reason I do most things -- because I see an opportunity to wring more from life, to be richer for, at least, the experience, however transient. As Winterson said in my favorite book from high school, which seems to have lost none of its power: You play, you win. You play, you lose. You play.)

I never want extra days in the weekend. Though work is plentiful and mentally taxing, I value the routine; extra pauses during which the morning bagel/tea/paper/blogging routine is expanded give me pause. What will I do with this time? In a new city, I need not have an answer. There are pictures to be hung on the walls, pies to be made, coffee to be sought. There are palm trees and views of drops into the Bay to be ogled; vegan brunches to be sampled. There is time to rest, physically and emotionally. And, especially because of the latter, I am grateful this long weekend.

Sun, 26 Feb 2006 17:39:28 -0800

It takes very little for me these days -- just stepping out of the apartment, really; or even going over to the window -- to make me very, very happy about my life. Yes, my project at work is stagnating; yes, there are other ups and downs. But my resilience (painful, almost, to admit -- he knows I bounce back, and was perhaps therefore less careful; the transience of the ensuing pain can seem to trivialize its cause) and the city itself combine to make me dream of snowboarding, or of Dolores Park, underscoring the fact that this wound is further healed than it has seemed. (Even such a phrasing seems to give it more weight than it now wants. (I realize I must sound manic.))

Now, for example -- Bartók quartets streaming over the radio into my living room, which smells of fresh vegan chocolate chip cookies; a fire in the [gas] grate; Andrea, unwilling to go out into the blustery rain at the end of a drippy, San Francisco winter day, doing yoga; Emily and I with the Sunday Times -- this vignette is so ticklingly novel, and at the same time so exactly what I had hoped for in uprooting myself from Berkeley. Last night, having distributed small portions of odd, prettily-arranged vegan cookery to the assembled masses, there was dancing to the DJ collective Dhamaal at Club Six, where the vibe was rapturously unpredatory and the beats danceworthy enough to keep Emily and me recalling our African vocabulary, Dave pretending he was an iPod commercial behind a colorful silhouetted screen, releasing and exhausting ourselves on water from the cooler at the bar, and home to nutritional-yeasted popcorn. The kids up from L.A. seemed to ogle my city lifestyle (my new, beautiful apartment! Clubbing meaning dancing, instead of sitting on the couches! Popcorn from scratch on the stove!); in truth, so was I.

There's more: The view from the top of Buena Vista park, showing the city laid out in lights, brought me up short again, stunned, as I tried to lead Gabe in a shortcut off Haight on Thursday, post-noodles; pre-drinks with the Google cult -- me without my tripod, he lamented; the view from the top of Dolores Park as the J slides up Church towards the yoga studio I explored Saturday morning; the street of the park's eponymous mission itself curving sinusoidally up and down, palm-lined more than even Market near Castro; Valencia nearly flat a mere few blocks east. Confirming my buoyant happiness of a weekend morning in this city, I venture further into the sunny Mission for coffee from Philz; bantering with the owner's son as he makes me what he promises to "the best mocha I've ever tasted," he says, apropos of nothing and uncomplicatedly, you're lovely. I smile, duck, make the motions of blushing; my coffee tastes even better. A half-bike to work Thursday (I need thinner tires); my muscles, going up this city's hills, subtly feeling the results of two yoga classes, the ride, the dancing. Even the rain seems more explicable, even friendly -- part of the culture of this city; not trying to make up for the lack of its frostier cousin.

February anywhere else I've lived has been dreary and depressing. Here, I've been wearing my hair down for the first time in years, eliciting uncomprehending glances from coworkers who try to place their finger on what looks different, and sunning myself in the rays of the Bay, which glistens every morning on the way to work. I have somehow stumbled upon a sense of underlying bliss in my situation. Perhaps it's all about the lightness of being; perhaps it is, simply, that I love my new city.

all this ©nori heikkinen, February 2006

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