Friday June 20, 2008
San Francisco! For someone who grew up surrounded by soybeans and hay fields, my visit here was a pretty big deal. This isn’t my first time in the city – I was here for a conference four years ago – but I recently got the chance to visit again, and rather than keep the experience to myself I decided to blog it. I hope you’ll forgive the temporary gigs – eventually I’ll set up a permanent blog where I’ll write more regularly. For now, though, I just wanted to get this up quickly so I could share the experience with all of you.
Yesterday was my first full day in the Bay Area, and I spent it in Berkeley: I wanted to see what the campus and the city had to offer. In a word, the campus is gorgeous. I never knew campuses this beautiful existed – and remember, I’ve been to more than my share. If you don’t believe me, take a look:
They have a eucalyptus grove. A eucalyptus grove! That might not sound like a big deal to you, but I didn’t grow up anywhere near them, and this may be the first time I’ve ever seen them. They are deeply beautiful trees (I’ve always been easily impressed by trees).
Are these redwood trees? I think so, but the little plaque in the park didn’t say so. I’ve always loved trees, so redwoods – the biggest of them all – have always captured my imagination.
Several streams slice through the Berkeley campus, and the footbridges and landscaping make them all the more beautiful.
Okay, maybe my pictures don’t do it justice. But it’s a gorgeous campus, and if there’s a prettier one, I haven’t seen it.
The town of Berkeley was interesting too – a blend of upscale and hippy that wouldn’t seem nearly so intuitive if it weren’t so common.
Today was the first day I had entirely to myself, so I decided to do what I wanted to do the most – go to the beach. That may sound fun-loving, but mostly I was hoping to find some serenity: few things are quite as soothing as the wind and the waves. I wanted to spend some time with the ocean and have some time for myself.
However it wasn’t easy to get to the ocean, because the BART metro system swings away from it. The closest stop was Daly City, so I got off there. Daly City is so far south, it isn’t even part of the same county as San Francisco, and I doubt many tourists go out of their way. Why would they? It was a claustrophobic place, filled with cars, tightly-packed houses, and the occasional strip mall. In other words, the usual: typical American development, and nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere. My path to the ocean was guided by a superhighway, clogged with cars and shimmering in the sun.
The ocean itself was beautiful. This part of the beach is so far away from everything else, it’s basically empty. With the exception of a few hardy surfers, I had it entirely to myself.
Over the next few hours I walked along the beach, gradually finding more and more company along the way – surfers, sunbathers, families, and young people playing in the ocean. I tried wading myself, but I could only really stand it for a few minutes at a time. You know those frozen headaches you get when you eat or drink something too cold, too fast? That’s exactly what my feet felt like after a few seconds in the water. So for the most part I kept to the sand, which stretched uninterrupted for miles (though I did clamber across a few piles of boulders designed to prevent erosion). By the time I reached the end of it I was several miles from the metro in any direction. This was fine, because I wanted to walk across the city anyway – I can’t think of a better way to find the “human spaces” where people actually live. (Besides, I’m used to walking – after all, I grew up in the country without a driver’s license!) And indeed I stumbled upon something that otherwise I never would have found – a Russian part of town (Russiantown?) complete with Russian grocers, Russian dry-cleaning shops, Russian churches, and the language itself. A Russian pastry shop drew me in – by this time it was getting late and I was hungry – and I picked out several delicious-looking deserts that didn’t last long. But I didn’t eat too much, because I’d already picked out an Afghan restaurant that I wanted to try for dinner. By the time I got there, it was nearly 8:30 PM, and the sign on the door explained why they weren’t there anymore – they’d moved to Van Ness Street. Van Ness? My map said it was another two miles away, back the way I came, over the same steep streets I’d just labored over. And this restaurant wanted me to do that all over again? Clearly we weren’t on the same wavelength. To my chagrin, I found that this part of Chinatown had been overtaken by shady strip clubs (I was growing more sympathetic to the restaurant) and I asked one of the bouncers where I could find a Thai restaurant (you really can’t go wrong with Thai food). He was reluctant to let me go, and invited me back after I finished eating. It reminded me of the smutty men in New York who hand out flyers telling you that you can help “Amanda” through college if you watch her strip (…while ordering a hit, if you believe the gangster movies).