january, 2008

Fri, 04 Jan 2008 19:32:04 -0800

San Francisco, friends and the Associated Press say, is being pummelled by rain and wind. Having been gone of late, I'd love a weekend in the city, but not one during which I'd have to swim to yoga, or flood-roll the cuffs of my long jeans (as we used to -- ironically, of course -- call the ankle-high style of the 80's in elementary school) --

Wed, 2 Jan 2008 19:56:56 -0800

As the Penny Arcade blog put it today, "The enforced revelry period has finally come to a close. Thank Christ." (Which, of course, is just a little ironic, since it was the birth of same that is at least the nominal reason for the centerpiece of the collective December hysteria that transpires each year.) Not only is it so good to be back in California -- back where I have real vegan food (hell of veggies, lightly cooked if at all; piles of interesting grains); back where it's in the 40's at coldest; back where I can sit watching afternoon sunlight on Steiner rising up a hill out the window of Duboce Park Café, or the New Year's Day rays creep across the cozy tables at Café du Soleil on Fillmore -- but, with the turning over of a new Gregorian leaf, it is so quiescent to have the whole fucking month done with. On the first day of the new year, Emily, Mike and I did, really, nothing all morning, or at least nothing not involving coffee, food, or crosswords, until the sun was almost down. (And then Emily, Dave & I cleaned my apartment from the previous night's absolutely madhouse, befeathered revelries. Like, cleaned everything.)

A collective breath is breathed each January first. Sacred though "the holidays" may be, and artificial as the resetting of the year's digit is, everyone honors it. Parties are expected to be loud. You're supposed to celebrate. So they are, and you do. And then, you all look up at once, done with the rush to culminate the old year that's fast passed away, done with the shopping and wrapping and unwrapping, the party prep and then the aftermath cleaning, with the travel, the flight delays, the luggage misplacements (and then, alhamdulillah, recoveries). And, at least for that one day, it's possible to pause before the new year begins, in a state of suspension, a grace period, before life as it's known eleven months out of the year resumes. Everyone just breathes -- a brief, worldwide meditation.

The slate isn't really clean; it's just a new slate stacked on top of the old one, and a new number on top. But the suspension of disbelief in which we all engage is so necessary.

Inhale. Exhale.

Wed, 9 Jan 2008 18:39:08 -0800

Though I've opined in the past that seasons out here can be hard to differentiate for lack of weather, this winter in San Francisco and environs has certainly been asserting itself as such. In Madison, despite the fact that a new December accumulation record was set, it snowed only one day while I was there for Christmas; needing more, I drove up last weekend to Tahoe with a coworker just in time for the storm front that flooded Fernley, NV, closed the Richmond bridge, and wreaked alluvial havoc all over the west. But in Tahoe, shuttered in a cabin of a friend of a friend of a friend, all we saw was snow: White, soft, and quiescent, it was already falling heavily when I woke Friday morning -- the white Christmas of every kid's dreams, reïmagined as the adult version, in which the assembled geek company worked at our laptops that day instead of reading picture books; we walked around the neighborhood that day and shoveled, snowblew the driveway instead of ottering down ice-impacted steps (as I used to do in my snowsuit down ours, to my dad's dismay); strapped on respective skis and snowboards and drove to a mountain, instead of wriggling into onesie-snowsuits and sledding down the gentle hills of the neighborhood golf course. Snowboarding: sledding for adults [with incomes].

Though an avalanche blocked the road to Kirkwood on Sunday, thwarting our plans, feet upon feet of powder were there for the taking on Saturday. My goggles fogged and made it almost impossible for me to see even the contour of the slopes, but I followed my friend downhill and crouched low, falling, if at all, in soft duvets of cold white. Afterwards, having made it home in a friend's 4-wheel-drive through unploughed roads, we lolled in the hot tub: Snow still falling, coating the tops of our cans of beers with white powder just as the alkaline dust did in the high winds during my shift as a greeter at Burning Man, refreshing the caps of snow on the branches of the Ent-like, looming ponderosa pines; a flask of whiskey in one hand and half a traif grilled cheese sandwich in the other (because sometimes -- just sometimes -- the situation demands it); suspended in a warm-water sanctuary. This is my winter. (Of course, stepping out of the hot tub, I misjudged the depth of the snow, incurring the only injury of the weekend: bruises, cuts, and the ignominy of falling into a snowdrift in my bikini.)

Back in San Francisco, I recalled that rain is this city's analog to the Sierras' snow. Dan (G.) and I walked yesterday, hand in hand, through the downed branches in a green-lush, wet, wind-whipped Golden Gate Park to Cafe Gratitude, my already-mussed hair flying around my face, becoming further tangled by the gusts, which put yet more color in my cheeks. The clouds broke over the atrium roof as we stayed warm with bowls of quinoa and kale: suspended in a dry, feel-good vegan sanctuary. (I enumerated the things for which I was, at the present moment, grateful.)

No seasons? I must have just not learned to see them, yet. This weather is certainly seasonal; but I hope the newcomer it has blown in from the coast will not be.

Mon, 21 Jan 2008 23:25:12 -0800

Not only when the wheels on our 767 touched tarmac at SFO, and the spoilers on the wings tipped up to skid us to a halt; not only finding my land legs walking to baggage claim to meet Jaime's boyfriend; but also when walking into my apartment last night and finding my kitchen utensils where I left them, the bok choy and Meyer lemons from Erica's and my CSA share in the fridge, and my room -- inviting, dark, cold, and colorful -- waiting for me, did I breathe a sigh of relief. Five and a half hours cross-country, six almost due to a rerouting, and nothing unusual, and yet Jaime was in the window seat instructing me to breathe, breathe -- what the fuck?

Since when am I afraid of flying? (Perhaps, I think in retrospect, it had to do with the death of my grandmother, the sense that, with an Eleanor dead, I too could be.) I don't know how to operate a plane; though popular statistics say I should rationally be more scared to ride a bus through traffic up and down the 101 every day, I know what it means to propel a motorized, four-wheeled vehicle down a stretch of concrete, through rain, on ice -- and I have no idea what matter of gremlins live in the whorls and hidden pockets of air above the Rockies, over the peaks of the Sierras going west. Monsters under the bed have transmogrified into those less corporeal ones that live in the sky.

Sea- or cruising-altitude aside, though, my relief was largely to be back in my beloved city, and no longer in DC. Steve, at Anima's bouncy-castle party with sparklers and a bonfire Saturday night, told me how he'd like a tattoo of the skyline of each city he feels he's really absorbed. And as familiar as I am with DC -- where to find its cilantro-tofu scrambles and vegan empanadas; its niche Smithsonian museums; its frisbee-playing, collective-living crowds of good people -- I would never include it on my arm. Only, I told Steve, would I put San Francisco.

It's as if (I told Dan over the phone) I cut my teeth on DC, a toy city in which to practice paying rent, going to bars, having a job, finding a boyfriend, throwing parties. And, having graduated (at my own determination, diploma awarded by no one but my sense of Wanderlust), I now live in a real city, one of my own choosing, of my own desire. (As I write this, we're cruising up the isthmus of land between bits of bay, between the bowl of peninsular hills to the west, the bay shining beneath Oakland lights to the east. Sutro Tower blinks ahead. Even the highways are beautiful here.) Yesterday morning, after inquiring after Sasha's state of mind and being, he barely needed to ask me in order to reciprocate: "Every time I see you, you seem to be happier and happier," he remarked, more as a statement than a question. And of course all I had to do to corroborate was to mention the succulent organic leeks and citrus that appear weekly in the winter, the lunatic topography of the city, the seventeen (and counting) free gourmet cafés we have at work, the fact that, recently, even one particular aspect hasn't looked so hopeless, and the former Californian is sighing, shaking his head.

I'm lucky, I know. Lucky that I can live where I want, that I've even found where that is; that a job I enjoy in a field I like fell into my lap. Jaime seems to have a much more zen perspective of DC, one of contrast, reminiscent of one's, say, humble origins. And yet, it's too close for comfort -- I can't shake the idea that I just don't want to be there.

Thankfully, I don't have to be. Visiting people is nice, but my strong negative reaction to the city itself means that every year it's just a little less likely I'll return again the next.

all this Šnori heikkinen, January 2008

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