So many changes and adventures

Nearby entrance to Yerba Buena park, off Haight St.

Nearby entrance to Yerba Buena park, off Haight St.

It certainly has been a busy two weeks since I last checked in. There is so much going on that it’s hard to even keep it all straight and try to catalog it. That’s just life in San Francisco.

In some ways, the past week has been trying: I came down with a pretty bad cold for a few days and had to deal with it while putting out the most recent paper.

Then, there was the small matter of a dismembered body found in a suitcase across the street from my current apartment–the police caught the guy but have now been forced to release him. This has been more of a nervous joke than a serious concern–we’re¬† pretty certain the only reason for selecting the location was the Goodwill across the street–just another part of living in a major metropolis where weird things happen on a daily basis.

San Francisco also made the news for having its driest January on record, which has meant a month of sunshine and lovely days but will come to a close tomorrow with my first big storm (or rain of any kind in SF) forecast at 100 percent.

Finally, there was the news from home today that our cat Permelia came down with a sudden illness and had to be put to sleep. It’s hard to believe that it’s been only a few weeks since I made my post about how leaving home would inevitably mean facing difficult changes, and how quickly it’s happened, on one hand, but how distant it all seems on the other.

All in all, each of these things has seemed to reflect a sort of balance.

The illness–inevitable when working in close proximity to a hospital and riding public transportation everyday, but I wouldn’t trade the job opportunity and the peace of mind it’s brought for any number of sick days as a teacher. And though it happened at a busy time, it also gave me a good reason to rest, recalibrate and save a little on dining expenses.

The murder–well, it’s hard to put a silver lining on and not seem callous, but I am moving this weekend to a much nicer (and safer) apartment (more below). And I got to walk in the shot of a news camera the next day.

The storm–will make my upcoming move a bit of a pain, but we definitely need the rain.

As for Permelia, perhaps it will sink in more, but I feel like I already said my goodbye. It seems like part of a greater plan, particularly since this was the cat that came wandering up to our doorstep a short time after we’d had to put down our last one. I looked not too long ago at the picture (in a previous post) of her sticking her head out of a Christmas wreath, and I now recognize that I’d be missing her whirring around the house either way.

And yet, in spite of all the reasons to be down I have been very happy, and the changes and challenges that may yet come seem a necessary part of keeping things from becoming routine and falling into a rut.

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The Palace of Fine Arts

–Here begins the uplifting part of the post–

The day after my adventure in Golden Gate Park, I went to yet another beautiful landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts, on a gorgeous day. It was a picturesque scene that normally would be difficult to top, but not in San Francisco. So, after a relatively routine work week, I went out exploring again the following Saturday. The temperatures that day got into the 70s. After making my morning phone calls (to wish mom a happy birthday and catch up with Grandma Elizabeth), I went out with only a rough idea of what I wanted to cover before meeting up with Matt & co. to see the UVA-Duke basketball game at an alumni gathering at The Brick Yard (a bar very reminiscent of the Corner, then going to the UCSF formal.

Much to my surprise, I covered more ground than expected that Saturday afternoon. While looking for somewhere to eat on Haight Street, I stumbled onto Yerba Buena Park, which offered a moderate hike up to the top of a large hill and a decent view of the city (being fairly centrally located) though it was obscured some by the tree cover. What mainly caught my eye at the top, though, was an even better view from a nearby summit, Corona Heights. So, I made my way down one mountain and climbed another (or large hill at least) for another stunning view, this one unobscured by trees.

Victorian Jewel Box - Home of Rudolph Valentino

Victorian Jewel Box – Home of Rudolph Valentino

One of the things I like, in addition to all the wonderful, sweeping vistas, is just walking around the neighborhoods, each one of which has a different character and seems like it might be a hidden gem but for the fact that many people already know about it. The Ashbury Heights neighborhood connecting the two parks seemed almost tucked away, hidden from the busier parts of the city like a little suburb with one-lane, windy cul-de-sacs. The houses gave off a feeling of history and opulence, particularly when I came upon a plaque signifying one as Rudolph Valentino’s. I imagined the silent-film star walking the same hike I had, just as the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin probably did when living on nearby Ashbury.

View from Corona Heights

View from Corona Heights

After my hike up Corona (the payoff being every bit worthwhile) I finally went back down and found my way to a dim sum restaurant (the craving for which I constantly have now) that my Yelp app had pointed me to. Unwittingly, I was walking around another neighborhood that I had been aware of and wanted to see but had no immediate intention of going to: The Castro. This is known as the “gay” part of town, and the flags flying, rainbow crosswalks and vague innuendo of the store names made it obvious. Yet again, it gave off nothing of a big-city, metropolitan vibe that one might expect, feeling more like a neighborhood block where you would see families out walking their dogs. In a manner, it was utterly charming and certainly one of the cleaner parts of town.

Dim sum in the Castro

Dim sum in the Castro

The restaurant, Mama Ji’s, was also worth the visit. It offered the rare combination of quality and affordability–which tends to be the tradeoff in SF, particularly when potstickers are involved. I dined al fresco, basking in the warmth and satisfied after my strenuous hike to be sitting down. Still situated on a slight incline, it aksi allowed me to perfect my method of dumpling-stabbing since the chopsticks (they don’t generally give silverware) proved futile.

By this time, it was getting close to 3, and I was scheduled to meet up well across town for the game at 4, thereby beginning my busy evening. Unfortunately, the app on my phone that told me which bus to take was not working. Since I knew generally where I was, my best bet, I decided, was to keep walking till I found a train line.

The Golden Hydrant, upper right corner of Dolores Park

The Golden Hydrant, upper right corner of Dolores Park

On the way, I stumbled onto yet another famous area, Dolores Park, looked over by one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Spanish mission in which they attempted to convert local Indian tribes to Catholicism. I had found my train (the J-line, taking me back to the apartment), but I decided to walk up the hill to find a golden fire hydrant that had been the only one to hold out during the great fire of 1906. While walking up, I became aware of a huge gathering of people in the part of the park not currently under construction. Though I thought it must surely be an event of some kind–a rally or concert–it seems only to have been the weather that brought them out.

A warm day in Dolores Park

A warm day in Dolores Park

After waiting some time and taking in the spectacle of the park, finally the J-line train arrived–but in my rush to board, I caught the one going the wrong direction, realizing my mistake as soon as the doors closed. In the meantime, the one I had meant to catch had come and gone, and the next would be another 20 minutes. With the clock ticking, I decided again to walk. This time, I found myself in the Mission district, which was predominantly Hispanic in years past but has been somewhat “gentrified” and “hipsterized,” giving it the feel of a college town almost.

After such a busy day, the UVA game (a narrow defeat) seemed a bit anticlimactic. Although it was gratifying to see so many alums gathered, it was too crowded to talk to any or even get a drink at the bar. By the time of the UCSF formal, I was utterly exhausted.

The next day, Sunday, was a bit more relaxed, with the exception of the Super Bowl. After sleeping in, I spent the mid-day on the boutiquey Hayes Street, where I had a relaxing patio lunch and did some reading in a small park. I’d made tentative plans to meet the usual crowd at a cantina on Third Street, near my new soon-to-be apartment. Unfortunately, they were delayed and the crowd was such that I decided to head home and stream the game in comfort. Like the UVA game, it proved a disheartening loss at the last minute as I was rooting for the Seahawks.

Already on Sunday night, I felt the slight tinges of a cold coming on, and by Monday it was full-blown, but I was too busy getting the paper out to rest. Ironically, I was one of only two in the office as several others were away on other business and personal matters.

Joyce Carol Oates at City Lights

Joyce Carol Oates at City Lights

On Tuesday, I decided to go to the famous Beat mecca, City Lights Bookstore, where I had seen advertised (while out and about the previous Friday) that Joyce Carol Oates was giving a reading. I still remembered reading her “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” in high school and relished the opportunity to absorb a bit more high-minded culture. Though the reading room was already pretty full when I arrived, I somehow lucked out and got a stool near the front. The reading itself was a bit tedious (imagining the type of girl Tawana Brawley might have been had it not been a hoax), but it was still great just sitting in such an important literary locale and being part of something noteworthy. Oates herself, currently doing a teaching stint at Stanford, seemed timid and mousy almost. Although I wanted to meet her, I did not want to buy the book, so I left, satisfied with the experience. A New Orleans-style street band was playing outside, and I was drawn to walk by and found a restaurant serving Pittsburgh-style sandwiches.

When I finished eating, I walked back down the block, only to catch Joyce Carol Oates on her way out of City Lights. The temptation being too great, I asked her to pose with me for a selfie, and she coyly indulged.

Selfie w. Joyce Carol Oates

Selfie w. Joyce Carol Oates

Wednesday was a day of rest and recovery, which takes us to tonight. I went to sign my lease at the new place, exhausted already from the weight of the week, but walking around the neighborhood, couldn’t help but be uplifted again by the great situation I’d stumbled onto. The area I am moving to does not have the same sort of suburban or community feel as others–a few blocks away from the bustling FiDi in one direction and the Bay and ballpark in the other, it is one of the most dynamic growth areas currently, full of tech startup companies. Yet, I was able to find my bank, a post office, a dry cleaner and grocery store–pretty much all I need–in a few safe blocks, not to mention a ton of great bars and restaurants to hang out in.

The apartment itself will also be a good situation–well maintained and comfortable, while still being old enough to be in a reasonable¬† manageable price margin. Though it lacks the centrality of the current spot, it is still very convenient to the train lines I need for work and nearer to a lot of the action.

I am very encouraged by what lies ahead, for better or worse. Though the challenges will come (including getting the new place set up and a big funding presentation at work on Tuesday), there is a pervading sense that all is right and will somehow fall into place in the end. Even when things don’t work out, in San Francisco you always know something else new and beautiful and exciting is right around the corner.

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Permelia’s first night at home