The day we returned from the Yosemite trip I checked into the hostel and spent most of the day getting myself together—showering (there wasn’t much of that on the trip), napping, rearranging my luggage, checking email, etc.
Later that evening, once we felt like civilized human beings again, I accompanied Paige to a belly dance class in the Mission. As part of Paige’s world dance tour she wanted to study with Fat Chance Belly Dance who are the innovators of the improvisational American Tribal Style Belly Dance. It had been about three or four years since I had attended a belly dance class and had been wanting to return. Funny how opportunities pop up! And so we joined women of all shapes and sizes with exposed bellies, flowing skirts, and colorful adornments shimmy, snake, and undulate with only the music and slight non-verbal cues as our guides.
Paige and I left feeling enlivened and hungry so we walked over to Dosa, an incredible South Indian restaurant I had eaten at on a previous visit. There was a long wait for a table so we explored the hip neighborhood in search of a cool bar. We found Radio Habana Social Club, a hole in the wall that was brimming with curiosities—for example, a flying shark with a baby’s head hanging from the fan. Like the café in Little Italy we went to early that morning, we found the regulars incredibly friendly and interested in making conversation.
Once back at the restaurant we ate and savored every bite of our food while discussing life and dance. Paige told me more about the joys and frustrations of working with Aboriginals in her homeland. I had been wanting to know more about Aboriginal culture and belief systems and I found someone who knew about it firsthand. She had even learned their language, been adopted in to the family system, and given a “skin name.” A skin name refers to one’s place within the kinship system. As I understand it, aside from one’s blood family, one is also considered a “mother,” or “cousin,” “father,” etc. So, for example, if I met anyone who was a “father” they would relate to me as a “father.” Talk about extended family!
We ended that night at a café and wine bar. We drank tea and entertained ourselves with the elaborate and odd sounding wine descriptions on the menu such as “a full nose of pear” (how unfortunate) and hints of “asphalt, meat, chocolate, and chalk.” When the waitress was asked about the “hint of petrol” in one wine she saw little humor in it. Were we that uncultured or was she that boring? Probably a little of both.
For the rest of the weekend I stayed with my friend Karen who I had met on the Green Tortoise trip two years ago. She lives in a Victorian house co-op with eight people nestled between Golden Gate Park and Alamo Square. Karen pulled the sliding doors closed and unfolded the couch bed and I had my own spacious Victorian room! I stalled getting out of bed so I could stare at the architectural details surrounding me.
A New York City native, she had moved to San Francisco within the last two years and was still navigating the Western ways. We came to the mutual conclusion that the “buzz” in the air was one of the following energies mixing: mental illness (so very many homeless people), drugs, creativity, and the timelessness of having minimal weather changes. She exclaimed that here “nobody cares!” as in you can do whatever you want and it will be accepted. At that point we looked at each other’s outfits and started cracking up. Because of the Bay climate one needs to dress in layers. The accumulated layers created odd results for both of our outfits. But hell, this was San Francisco, and the little girl in me who wanted to throw on striped tights with a checkered dress was free to do so if she pleased! The feeling of freedom was still present here.
That Saturday was the second day of the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. Billionaire Warren Hellman started the festival in 2001, and is said to fund this enormous festival for years to come. Although I am not too familiar with the big names that performed in the bluegrass and blues genres, some other impressive acts in this festival were Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Lyle Lovett, Neko Case, Billy Bragg, Robyn Hitchcock, Aimee Mann, and Marianne Faithfull.
We had the joy of seeing Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris… for free! Although there may have been about 500,000 people at the festival, it’s as if we were at a picnic with friends. Anyone that we stood by or snuggled up next to would instantly strike up conversation. Our closest pals ended up being two dogs who chose to spend their time with us. The poodle provided endless entertainment due to it’s human appearance and personality. The other dog, a huge blue-eyed beauty, positioned himself on my lap as close as possible to my torso, leaving me no option but to just wrap my arms around him. We watched the show together in this way. Animals—such equal opportunity lovers!
But oh boy, when that sun went down and the fog rolled in, it was freezing! I, as the out of towner, wasn’t the only one unprepared for the cold. It seemed that it was an uncharacteristic chill. The city transit system wasn’t quite prepared to accommodate all the festival goers and so we waited for an hour seeking refuge in the laudromat. As we put our hands on the dryer windows to warm up, we looked at each other once more and laughed. I was wearing a blanket around my shoulders and dawning a pitiful look. We no longer looked bohemian but closer to homeless. When an empty bus finally came the crowd that had accumulated at the bus stop gave a loud “hoorah!”
The next morning I met up with Mark and Meri again, as well as Andy and Sara, two Pittsburgh ex-pats. We ate breakfast in Berkeley and wandered around for a bit. Next we went for a sake tasting at the Takara Sake factory in Oakland. I have generally not been very fond of sakes, either tasting too alcoholic or too sweet. I found several that I really liked: an unfiltered variety that had a similarity to rice milk, and a fruit sake that basically tasted like fresh juice.
Since I was interested in towns in the area, we decided to see a movie in Alameda. Alameda feels like its in a bit of a time warp and definitely does not feel like it is right next door to a happening city. This was it’s charm. The theater was just as quirky with its 1930’s deco architecture.
My final day in San Francisco was spent lounging and catching up with Karen. Karen is a singer, songwriter, piano, and guitar player with a stunning voice. We sat on her balcony as she played me her songs. I was so incredibly moved. To have someone sit in front of you and sing to you with that much soul and beauty is quite profound. I really hope Karen’s music gets heard. It deserves to.
That night I got back on ye ol Amtrak and headed North. As I drifted to sleep I realized that I missed San Francisco already.