Puis nous sommes allés au Sud de la France [google translate, do me right…]

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The only things I knew about the South of France before I arrived I figure I must have picked up from questionable romantic comedies. Or Inglourious Basterds, I feel like there was some provincial Provence somewhere in that film. Maybe? [RIP Shosanna Dreyfus.] As was the theme thus far in France, I was unclear on what I was supposed to want to do in the South of France, but I know I certainly enjoyed saying, out loud, that I was summering in the South of France. What else did I really need to know?

I had heard a lot of things about Provence. Mostly to do with food, lavender, wine, and sunflowers. I think I also had some illusions about dreamy, mysterious, older gentlemen who might wander out of quaint cafés or mysterious corners bearing flowers or wine or something, while romantic music emanates from some equally mysterious location.

Some of these preconceived notions were spot on.

We left Paris by train headed to Nimês, where we would rent a car to drive to Uzès, a small town near Avignon where Frenchie’s dad lives when he is in France. It was hot, and stunningly beautiful as we moved through the countryside to our first destination. There is something viscerally exciting when, before your eyes, preconceived notions become realities. It is a strangely satisfying combination of surprise, validation and joy.

Arriving in Nimês, we found the car agency and took a bit of time to work out exactly what was going on. Initially I had not been entirely on board with a couple of the decisions – like renting a car – did we really need one? [Yes.] Or did we want to see a concert at the Arena de Nimês even if it was not going to be Lionel Richie? [Hello, yes, although initially no-yes-no-yes.] In keeping with the trend, Frenchie knew best and I was finally learning to keep my mouth shut about it. We would get a car, drop our stuff in it, and head out to see the village of Nimês for crème glacés, tickets, shopping, walking.

And so we did.

Nimês was lovely, and hot. I remember being really impressed initially, but looking back on it after seeing Uzès, it was a little less special, perspective being what it is. It was a lovely intro, at the very least, and the Arena… well, we will get to that.

On returning to the car we were grateful for the shade of the subterranean garage. So grateful apparently that the powers that be allowed us to be there for far longer than we anticipated. In our (occasional) fiscal and (regular) regional pragmatism we opted to have only one driver on the car: Frenchie. And I was excited to see how this would go. But it appeared that we were not going. To be fair, I have not had a car since I sold mine – or rather #4 did, for far less than he should have – when I moved to Asia, and cars have become far more… automated. It is amusing to me how in simplifying things, car makers have made the vehicles so much more mysterious. Add to this that Frenchie is a committed luddite and an indefatigable anachronist, and we were nearly in a Mr. Bean sketch. There was an informative (though French) LED display that kept saying to engage the clutch. I am not sure how I suddenly understood French when I could barely recall how to say you’re welcome after several weeks dans le pays, but suddenly I could. So I kept saying “Put the clutch in.” And Frenchie kept saying, “What is this clutch?” And I would tell her and she would look at me like I was crazy. This went on for quite some time. At one point we were even considering going back upstairs to tell them we had a defective car.

And the shade of the garage was no longer keeping these four ladies cool.

I asked could I just try once, so we switched seats.

And the car started.

I believe we are now  all clear on how to say, and effectively demonstrate, clutch multilingually.

More to the point we now had air con and were en route to what lay ahead: Uzès.

The drive was beautiful and the approach to the village stunning. But we were completely unprepared for what was really in store. I now understand so much more clearly Frenchie’s love for all that is old and gone – I have always been curious, almost perplexed, by her love for the past. She has described it as a love for the lost innocence of people and places. I have felt more that it was a strange resistance to see the world – for better or for worse – as it is. In some cases I even felt like, and tried unsuccessfully to communicate, that her love for days gone by in places is at best limiting to these places as she insists they not progress in any way for the benefit of maintaining an image of something she wants to hold, rather than a reality she should be able to see. At worst it feels repressive and imperialistic. I know that this is not at all how she feels it or means it and that she would tell me I am up to my tricks of over thinking. This may be true. Either way she is my own Adriana, the one who will always long for some illusive Golden Age.

But walking through the gate (yes, gate) on the narrow, cobbled streets, we were transported.

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I knew I was going to enjoy my time here, in a quaint experiential way. But when I turned to look at Nic I saw something different: she was home. I had never seen someone look so perfectly in situ. She belongs in the South of France… if not now, or forever, definitely right then, Nickie was home.

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After dropping off our things and appreciating the wonderfully familiar home of a person who you’ve never met but in knowing his familiars you know him anyhow, we went out. We wandered around a few of the streets to the place du village. We chose a small taverna and sat down for appetizers and rosé. And there we were: a group of people, sometimes friends, sometimes foes, sometimes family, sometimes allies, sometimes travelers, always simpatico: especially in the moments when we were not so sure.

Over wine and bread and wine and olives and wine we considered if people always have choices or sometimes they don’t. We talked about men in Australia and America and Hong Kong. We talked about the recurring narrative that we could not really believe that we were here in this place, at this time.

There were perfect dark corners and music emanating from them… no mystery men… but it was early.

For the next few days we explored various aspects of this part of Provence. We got a wonderful tip on a restaurant from two women who had been sitting next to us at the taverna, La Table 2 Julien, for which we booked a table later in the week, there were villages of ceramics, open air markets, an arts festival in Avignon, the aqueduct, the Tower of Uzès… the list had the potential to go on and on. And not to be forgotten was the lovely home we had at our disposal.

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I think the myriad options gave rise to the more obvious differences in our various objectives. It would be the first time – to my knowledge (save for the regular disparagement for being American) – that these differences began to be a little prickly and sting as it were. (As I have said before, group work can be a struggle in the best of times.) The result of this was a bit more alone time, or tandem time, which was good for all of us, and required that we make our needs clear, which is another good practice.

I was not giving up the Pont du Gard, nor the ancient garden and tower of Uzès. And food, I wanted all the food, though truth be told I didn’t really want to figure it out in terms of restaurants and meals, I just wanted to eat it. As for road tripping and shopping, I felt like there was enough in our vicinity, but was reminded that I didn’t really know what was in our vicinity, which was an undeniable truth. Still, I was not really excited for hours in the car to spend moments in towns I was not sure I could actually see. But for the potential of greatness (positive spin on F.O.M.O.) we went.

Our day to Avignon was important because my young real estate magnate (aka Frenchie) is looking there for her next purchase, but also because of the Festival d’Avignon, self-proclaimed as “one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world.” I think it was impressive, I mean I know it was, it was just all in French. So we eventually went to a dance production. I was far more interested in the history of Avignon, it was the home to the Popes for years and there was a big old Palais des Papes, which I wanted to climb.

I did not get to climb this palace. We did however witness a mad conflict between a bunch of French officials who were trying to oversee a memorial for Jewish soldiers who had died in WWII at the same time that a visiting troupe of Korean drummers and dancers was kicking off in the plaza directly adjacent to and below the memorial. There was a lot of unscripted whistle blowing. It reminded me quite a bit of this for some reason.

Avignon is a walled city along the Rhône River with an interesting and complicated history. While it maintains much of this feel, during the festival it is like one giant billboard.

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Following the show we had a walk and lunch and then I took the liberty to scramble across town in search of a particular show poster that I had been unable to pull from the walls (there were so many posters but the one I wanted of course cost €5.) But this run gave me the chance to see the ramparts and the walls – as you know I do love a walled city.

The city was gorgeous and another one of those places that really takes you back, with winding streets and narrow buildings with the colored window shutters on muted terra-cotta colored buildings. I tried to picture myself living there as we considered different areas where Frenchie might find herself. Every time, as with Uzès, I thought it was lovely and sweet, and positively unlivable. I am just not cut out for the provincial, I guess.

Leaving Avignon we were en route to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This town rates incredibly low on my Fabulous French Review. I would like to say this is because with limited time the parts we saw were totally uncharming… so strange for the part of the world that seems to have a lock on charm… and it was unbearably hot. And we were going the opposite way from Uzès so I was confused. The saving grace was that after a quick stop we drove on to Gordes, a place I would have loved to check out further but it was not to be.

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Someday I will go back to Gordes with one of those mythical mystery men – out the shadows or not.

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Our remaining time in and around Uzès accommodated almost all of our needs in different ways. We went to the Pont du Gard, and it was as fantastic as I could have imagined as we were able to walk through the actual aqueduct. Well, some of us were… somehow one of our tickets had been misplaced and in a strangely non-provincial way, the woman who had sold the ticket suddenly claimed she had no recollection of such and event and she would not let Frenchie through. Nic and I were unaware of this until we had gone through the entire aqueduct and sat wondering how we had lost our friend in a one way tunnel. I was a disappointment, though I am not sure if Frenchie was more disappointed in not going through the aqueduct or in the behavior she declared decidedly UN-French from the guide. The day itself was so stunning, it made up (almost) for this mishap.

The Pont du Gard is: an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in the south of France. Located near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard, the bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometer system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes) Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bridge across the gorge of the Gardon River. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts, and, along with the Aqueduct of Segovia, one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance. (wiki FTW)

And basically I just wanted to walk around saying: What have the Romans ever done for us? [“The aqueduct?”]

It was one of the coolest things I have seen. Along with the mural of world heritage sites that listed French gastronomy as one of them. Oh France.

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In our last full day I was able to explore the medieval garden of Uzès which is between the ancient King’s Tower and Bishop’s Tower – formerly used as a prison among other things. This tower I got to climb.

After spending a little bit of time by myself in the medieval garden and exploring the King’s prison and the Bishop’s tower I headed back to our flat. For our last night all together in the south of France we would be driving to Nimes to see Sting perform at the ancient Arenes de Nimes. The drive was easy and the parking was fortuitous. If only choosing an outfit would have been so easy.

We stopped for a light dinner beforehand, although by this time I had waited too long and was crabby from hunger and nitpicking. This is the thing about being in a group: sometimes little things go unnoticed and sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just build up. It is usually in these situations I find that the inconsequential breaks the levee and emotions are misdirected and further misinterpreted. For public consumption, I’ll just say, the one person who I snapped at was not the one I meant to… And I needed a time out.

Or champagne. Champagne is generally a good alternative.

There is no mood that the Arenes de Nimês could not conquer, which for the setting seems completely appropriate.

Built in the year 70 (C.E.) for gladiator combats, animal slayings and executions it was fortified and held by the Visigoths after the fall of the Roman Empire. By the 700s it enclosed a fortified palace and eventually a small neighborhood was established within the amphitheater; home to around 700 people. In 1863 it was remodelled to serve as a bullring and today it is still used for this (gross) practice as well as lots of other public events. It is 130 m. by 100 m. and can seat 16,300. And it has sections still called the vomitoires. Which is obviously awesome. [These are the seats adjacent to the lower level tunnels that facilitate the exits.]

When we arrived the setting was simply breathtaking and this was before we even saw Sting (although, the hipster beard he is now sporting is less breathtaking… but he’s still totally hot. It’s the yoga, I know it.) The show was great, the crowd was entertaining, the weather was perfect. It was a lovely last night in Provence.

The next morning we woke up knowing that we would be heading out our separate ways. Nic and her sister were off to Bruges, Frenchie and I to Spain by way of Marseille. I got up early to walk around the village one last time and bid adieu to Uzès.

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On my return we were readying to go and people were packed, the house reassembled, and we were off.

Except the keys to the house were missing.

Like, totally gone.

Although there were some mild time constraints – more for us than for Nic and Sam who would be spending the night in Nimês – we basically had time. And how hard could it be to find a set of keys?

Suddenly we were looking everywhere. In packed luggage. In garbage. Under furniture. In the toilet.

No keys.

Of course, it was hard not to look to Frenchie who, without intentionally casting aspersions, I might suggest has had some struggles around losing misplacing items. Everybody was verklempt.

Still, no keys.

Until… there they were. On the kitchen table. Albeit, under the tablecloth, but they were there. It was relief incomparable to much I could think of save for having to pee so bad you think you might die and then finding a bathroom. And not dying.

So we were off. Back to Nimês to share a tearful goodbye with our friends and then to the train for Marseille. There was much to unpack – emotionally and experimentally. We had seen so much of Provence and seen how differently people see the same things. There were moments that were challenging and others delicious and still others that were transformative, and some that simply eliminated the need for words.

I suspect those are precisely the sentiments that define travel.

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A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city.

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The last time I blogged about a week spent with the fabulous Ms. R was two years ago on my return from a whirlwind tour of NYC for spring break. A month or so later she joined me for a compare and contrast week on the west coast, but that one didn’t make the blog, because at the time, I felt like it was silly to do like a vacay blog for my own city.

But, if one’s city is San Francisco – how silly is that?

Two years to the week later Ms. R was back in SF, and this time we took the time to both take in, and take on, the City by the Bay.

Spring break comes at such a desperately necessary time for people in my profession. The ides of March seem to know no end for a teacher, and there is not a more liberating feeling mid-year than the final bell on the Friday afternoon leading into the Easter holiday week (although, working in Berkeley, you are not allowed to call it Easter break, lest you offend… but a spring holiday by ANY name would be as sweet.) And on 27 March, at precisely 3:32 I was out the door and on my way home to… well, to home.

The last two years I left town for the break to New York City as I mentioned, and more recently Seattle. But this year, I would be here: a stay-cation. But not just a week of me doing all the things I do – yoga, cooking, reading, taking photos of the cats – I would be hosting Ms. R for a week of Bay Area shenanigans (and, doing all that other stuff too.)

Ms. R was my first friend in Hong Kong when I arrived in 2005 and we seem to have a mutual appreciation for each other that has stood the test of time. One of the more British Brits I know, Ms. R brings a certain standard to all things (and a clear opinion on how all things should be done) that I find educational, entertaining, and enlightening.

And I was prepared:

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From the moment the wheels touched down, we were taking full advantage of all things La Mission and SF. And it went something like this:

Friday: 
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The first night of a vacation may be the sweetest, in the same way that the last night brings a certain melancholy that is unavoidable in its predictability, the anticipation that greets the first Friday is delicious. Home early to kick up my feet, have a beer, watch some basketball and revel in what was to come. It was a segue of perfection.

R arrived around 8:30 out time, and I knew she would be knackered, but we were not missing El Farolito. I mean, come on, it is the Mission. And then we were ensconced in my none too spacious apartment, both so exhausted that it was all we could do to catch up with the basics before heading to bed.

Saturday:
First day out and about – up so early as jet lag can do, but a lovely morning, yoga and then  at least two neighborhoods by foot…

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Through the Mission to Zeitgeist we went for cold beers in the hot sun. (“Your people are just so friendly!”) Then on to Hayes Valley where I sadly learned of a designer I will never afford but will forever covet: Dries Van Noten. This is why Ms. R is:

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Along the way we had macarons and cupcakes from Miette, cocktails and salty snacks at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, as you do, and discovered far too many:

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But Ms. R has a system… it’s all look-y look-y loo… (until it’s not) and seems haphazard – until it’s not. It is like stages in the Tour de France or something – and when we got to Alpe d’Huez…. wowsa.

After a gorgeous day strolling the Mission and Hayes Valley, we had dinner at home and watched basketball. And really, burgers, beers, and basketball can make for a pretty great evening in.

Sunday:
Again, we were up early, figured there was no reason to sleep in – if on London time for Ms. R, so be it… more time to do things. Sometimes the things were like me doing yoga and R taking a walk, and sometimes it was sitting around and chatting over coffee – the coffee still a constant struggle… and although no SF barista has yet had the gall to try to purvey a misto (that is not a word! I hear her declare!) it is still an adventure to find the suitable cup for Ms. R. I had a hair appointment on Sunday and Ms. R was up for the cup and got a blowout as well – so we were all dolled up thanks to Revamp as we headed to Hi Tops to catch some more of the Elite Eight. Because there’s no kind of sports bar like a gay sports bar. [“Yay sports!!”] Plus, as Ms. R pointed out, no other sports bar was going to have a kale salad on the menu, which, it turns out, goes nicely with beer. #healthydrinker

I wanted to get a selfie. It did not happen. Ms. R is not a fan in general.

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After the game we headed downtown for another round of shopping, because: Good Hair.

And eventually we found ourselves back at home. One of the best parts about vacation is that moment you get home on a Sunday night… and you are like, ‘Hey – I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow!’ So, then that was happening.

Monday:
Up early for yoga. Super early, but as was voluntary, freakishly easy to manage. And it was good to get it out of the way because we were entering the Alps [if we are to keep the Tour de France metaphor rolling (yeah, I just did that), which seems apropos as Ms. R will be cycling the whole of the UK later in the year, from bottom to top, as it were] and headed downtown. To shop.

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It is amazing how much shit you never knew you needed when you get out there in the land of the consumer. And while Ms. R had a legit list of things she wanted needed to get while she was here, it turns out that just being in the proximity of a shopper can have an infectious effect on me. And a shopper I became.

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Shoes, dresses, pants, shirts, sweaters, make up… more and more and more. Frankly, it was rather impressive. But we eventually had to cut it short to get to our foot massage at my local, followed by cocktails at one of my Top Five Dives: The Latin American Club and then dinner at my favorite place. Gayle Pirie does such an amazing job with this restaurant – everything is always just right – and her love for the Mission and her local clientele is remarkable. We had a great meal, perfect wine, bubbles and dessert.

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Tuesday:
Started out with a lovely morning at home (I think I even prepared an acceptable cup of coffee…. then some yoga. Then brunch at Plow with my hair guru. Ms. R got to see a few more neighborhoods today – Potrero, the Fillmore, Pac Heights, Union Street… Which of course Ms. R loved. I should have taken her out to Cow Hollow. Next time.

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And eventually, the East Bay.

After a brief respite after our breezy day on the streets of SF, we headed out to one of my favorite venues, The Fox Theater in Oakland. It is a great venue and the surrounding area is just coming up and up and up. So up in fact, it is hard to even choose where to go pre-show. We chose Dogwood and it was a solid choice. A couple of cocktails and some snacks and on to get down with TV on the Radio. This might have been the fourth or fifth time I have seen TVOTR, but every time, they bring it, and this Tuesday evening was no exception. I told Ms. R to observe what happened as soon as the lights went down… and she was suitably impressed (for lack of a better word): “Your people smoke so much weed.” Was her general consensus (although I am sure she was getting used to it with the prolific exhalations from my downstairs neighbor.) And it is sort of funny that smokers have to leave the Fox to smoke cigarettes – but weed? No worries: spark up.

I wanted a selfie of us again. But, no dice.

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Wednesday:
April Fool’s Day. Really, this is such a ridiculous day. Eventually I am going to have to learn to just stay away from social media, because really: lame. But, for now, Noe Valley for breakfast and a strategic strike to Omnivore Books. Then off to Dolores Park, via Rhea’s Deli.

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An afternoon in Dolores Park is hard not to love, even when the wind is beginning to kick up… I suggested a selfie, but…

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We topped off this evening with dinner at a newish neighborhood restaurant called Plin. This restaurant is in a locale with bad juju. The Thai restaurant that used to be in the same space was not very good (likely why I was able to get a table for 18 for my 40th birthday) although they didn’t seem to mind when I stood on my chair – for more than 10 minutes – which could have something to do with why they went out of business. Anyhow, Plin, still has weird juju. Or feng shui. Or whatever you want to call it. And this is too bad because the food is actually really very good. But our consensus was that it will struggle in a neighborhood replete with dining opportunities that are also very good.

After dinner we walked home – and it is just so nice to be able to walk through the neighborhood and enjoy it all. We stopped into The Velvet Scoop for a super yummy treat I was introduced to last fall: frozen custard.

We walked home simply pleased with another full day in the neighborhood.

Thursday:
This would be the one day that Ms. R and I did more or less our own thing… AS I mentioned, she is a young woman with a plan and she had really panned out her trip to perfection. It was an important day – and I will just say, it could not have been more lovely for what was on the agenda.

For me, I reverted back to my more typical routine – did a couple of yoga classes, took care of some errands, and through it all sort of saw the City really differently as I seemed a lot more tuned into things around me, thanks to fresh eyes, I suppose.

San Francisco really is such an amazing city… with all the boroughs, as Ms. R likes to call them, and the vistas, and the sights (“It’s so small. I don’t need a picture of that.” – Ms. R to the Mrs. Doubtfire House.) But also amazing in less fantastic ways, with a painfully abundant homeless population – which simply defies explanation to a person who comes from a nation that provides care for its most vulnerable. There is no acceptable way to explain how it is that so many of our people live without the care they need, on the streets, and this is really apparent when you speak to a European. The same confusion comes up in conversation when in flipping through the news channels it is one violent crime after the next and the question comes up: “What is the deal with your gun laws?” Yeah, I got nothing for you on that. The juxtaposition of our national experiences is fascinating.

When Ms. R returned after her day on the road (“Are you good with driving a car here?” I asked. “I drove a Porsche in Beirut, I think I will be fine.” *crickets*) her comment on American drivers was how much the adhered to the rules of the road. So, yeah, I guess we are better than Madrid and Beirut in one way. Not sure that is winning, but we will take it.

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We had another great neighborhood night in the Mission… We met up with Little E and had drinks at The Chapel, dinner at Tacolicious (a nice challenge for me who has given up chips for lent – the second coming cannot come soon enough when you are staring down a bowl of guacamole and not having tortilla chips), apres dinner drinks at ABV, mildly disrupted by an incredibly short and freakishly intoxicated Mexican man literally being held up and force fed by his amigo… a scene wholly incongruous with the vibe of the bar, but got me ready to go because: vomit potential. Plus, there was ice cream in my future, so why linger?

Friday:
This was my mom’s birthday, and in good form Ms. R agreed to give up some time with my padres. And R was coming up too. So my momma got to have some birthday shenanigans with all her kids.

But before that was going to happen, we headed out to do a bit more shopping. For real (though in returning to the nearly forgotten Tour de France metaphor, we were very much in the final time trial at this point.) A high point of the afternoon was definitely a light lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. Very posh. I also have to say… the shoe department at Neiman’s will make a grown woman (without a trust fund) cry. Wowsa.

Then it was back to the hood to meet the ‘rents and R. Once all rendezvous’d we started at El Techo for drinks and tapas. Then it was on to pie, because, as T said, “Who doesn’t like pie?” Well – no one, except for R who was off sweets until #HeHasRisen. Plus, there is nothing more hipster than a pie shop in the Mission, except maybe if it were in Bushwick, so you know, when in Rome… And it is really freaking good pie.

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We tried to watch a movie when we got home, but Into The Woods is a really long fairytale mash-up musical for a post cocktail Friday night. I am still trying to work out when that would not seem long…. We failed. But without much disappointment, because one of our most all-American experiences was on the horizon.

Saturday:
Let’s Go OAKLAND! Up early to make our way back to the East Bay with R to see the final exhibition game of spring training – and drink beer, eat hotdogs… and a super-jumbo corn dog too!

I love baseball, and one of the coolest things about Ms. R is that she gets sports, and was not only enthusiastic about the March Madness, but totally for the cup to go to O.Co (especially a cup full of beer. But not Bud Light because, “How many calories are we saving on this beer R?” “Maybe 50?” “Oh, love, no. We are not drinking that again.”)

It was a gorgeous day at the ball park – perhaps a little too gorgeous for my Brit Abroad though. Fortunately a very friendly one of my people had a sachet (packet) of sunscreen – though, in truth too little too late, but the thought was on point. I hope at this point she has gone totally brown.

Although the A’s did not win (insert sad emoji here) I did get to see my adored Barry Zito take the mound in the green and gold once again (last pitches before heading to Triple A Nashville, but hey, I have been wanting to go to Tennessee.) And that was awesome.

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I suggested a selfie of the three of us all kitted out in our A’s gear. But no.

After the game and a lot of laughs (and eye rolls) we headed back to the City where we watched Wisconsin upset Kentucky (WHAT?!?!) and then a a final stop at the local taqueria, followed up with a stroll down to Humphry Slocombe, because one must. Then home for silly movies. I am not sure what it says about us that we made it through We’re The Millers.

Sunday:
He has risen (though, for the first time, the sun did not come out…) And although, I would like to claim some higher spirituality about this – the reality is I was pretty psyched that chips were going to be back on my menu. Initially, when I had been trying to arrange things for the week, I had been unable to find anywhere for Easter brunch. However, apparently we were so charming when we had dinner at Foreign Cinema, that they were able to magically manifest a table for us on Easter Sunday. The perks of being a local I guess. Or good tippers? (No, that couldn’t be, I was with a Brit. Ha. Like the coffee conundrum, Ms. R has substantial issues with tipping. And don’t even get going on the tip jars for counter service…. “You Americans are ruining it for everyone!” So we are friendly and generous. Not too shabby!)

One other thing that Ms. R had wanted to do while here was to try SoulCycle. I have to say, I was more up for this than I thought I might be. It was early and unfamiliar and hard. But it was kind of cool too. So, spinning, packing, and foot massages took us straight into a gorgeous Easter brunch that Ms. R’s mum treated us too, which was pretty sweet. And this was the second Easter brunch Ms. R and I have shared in the past three years, so it is kind of a tradition. Okay, maybe not totally, but it could be. I tagged the two of us in the following photo, because: not a selfie from the week.

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After brunch, it was the load out.

And then she was gone.

The Sunday doldrums can really sneak up on you, something I find particularly perplexing as there is no surprise in their arrival. This Sunday totally faked me out, and not only for it being Easter Sunday, but because it began with all the activity that the past week has brought into my more typically solitary home life, and then, just like that… it was over. Evening arrived, and in spite of it being the brightest moments of an otherwise grey day, all was quiet and still; as if the week itself had not actually happened.

I thought back on Ms. R’s synopsis of ‘my people’ – which always cracks me up:

  • Friendly
  • Weed obsessed
  • Good teeth
  • Big
  • Poor fashion choices
  • Unable to make coffee hot enough
  • And I just have to come back to friendly – because we gotta focus on the bright side…

And as I climbed into bed looking ahead to super fun and amazing Monday morning meetings back at school, it dawned on me:

Yep, this all just happened. In a single week, we did it all. Even without a selfie to prove it.

I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

Coachella: New Rules (apologies to Bill Maher)

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Just back from the experience that is Coachella (my first visit since it has gone to the two weekend format – I think weekend 1 is probably best, if for no other reason than being 1st.) And it was…. as it should be. While we were there we did, however, determine that there are a few ‘new rules’ that need to be put into action. So, listen up Coachella… this is important stuff.

1. New Rule: No long chains of people holding hands to get through a crowd. You have a phone and a ridonkulous beacon (see #9) so you can make it on your own – unless you are complete amateurs.

[No photo because I was actually getting through the crowd – the correct way: with focus]

2. New Rule: No wearing of Indian head dresses. Particularly if you’re (blonde) white girls. You look derivative, and you’re years past the trend – as if that sort of cultural co-opting was ever okay (it wasn’t.)

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3. New Rule: No sitting in the crowd during the sets. You’re tired? It happens, I understand, I’m in my 40s. Go take a timeout on the sidelines like a pro (see photo above illustrating a double foul.)

4. New Rule: Consider just how ambitious you want to be in your fashion choices. Do it for me. Do it for you. Do if for all of us.

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5. New Rule: Know where you lay your head. And go there. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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6. New Rule: No amateurish line jumping. You hate lines? Guess what? So do I. If you’re gonna cut in front of me you better be hella impressive. Don’t be that trollish little twat who sing-songs to me: “Oh my gawd! I didn’t see you! I’m with them!” Really? Really really? I’m 5’10” and wearing white. So, either you are blind, which I’m guessing not based on the beeline you made to your other trollish friends, or you’re stupid. So, yeah: you are stupid.

[No photo because I was too busy contemplating the opportunity cost of dumping my $11 margarita on her head.]

7. New Rule: Don’t try to enter through the exit. There are around 90,000 people there and about 89,060 can distinguish these two words: EXIT – ENTRANCE. This is not the time to be different… You should have taken that opportunity with your personal stylings… where you were apparently happy to be EXACTLY like everyone else.

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8. New Rule: If you’re going to be tripping balls, have the courtesy to handle your scandal. Enough said.

[photo redacted]

9. New Rule: Don’t rock the bro step. There is just nothing about it that is not awkward.

[No photo because, can you just not… but hilarious link here – go to #9.]

10. New Rule: If you are going to use a giant placard, be it a head, a phallus of some sort, a Brazilian flag, or an inflatable unicorn, be wise and lower your shit when the set is happening (if your friends haven’t found you by now… Maybe they don’t want to?)

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[Though I do like this little tiny purple unicorn, so it is just there for that.]

11. New Rule: Know the legends. You don’t know who Bryan Ferry is? Shame on you. You don’t have to love said legends, but you need to know them.

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12. New Rule: Get the lay of the land, and be sure to let your geographically challenged friends know that there are ways to work around limited spatial understanding (those desert named tents are in alphabetical order!) And know your landmarks. But, seriously people: DO NOT MOVE THE ASTRONAUT.

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And as you can probably predict… I will be seeing you next year regardless.