On the edge of an island where the Navy once made base, San Francisco calls out in the distance.
Spring pretends to be summer, while I pretend to be carefree. Happiness is a wave that before it peaks is glorious. Once it curls overhead, it is exhilarating. Then one can be found underneath, kicking to swim back up again. The trick is to kick hard and fast enough, to not take in too much water, to rise again, laughing.
A masked face breathes hard and sweat drips. If anything, the last year has left us all with either a high tolerance for discomfort and chaos, or with an extreme lack of patience and ill will. The boundaries created have allowed us to redefine or reestablish what is true and what is full of falsehoods.
As I walk, I spot a woman down low, arranging trinkets around a tree. I know this to be a 'gnome home' or 'fairy garden'. I shout out to her, "I will pretend to not see you, because I know I am supposed to believe the gnomes built that". She laughed and made a joke about not really being there. I could almost see her fade away.
I float away on my own daydreams, enveloped by the waves that carry me forward. No matter how deep I might venture, I always swim back up to blue.
On the wall is a photo mural by the artist, Michael Jang. I dance from street to sidewalk to accommodate passersby. I admire the images and the subtle touches the artist added after the rains washed away some detail. Having not stepped into a gallery or museum since this pandemic started, I am so delighted to be here enjoying these wonderful photographs. They celebrate the artist's extended family, and for me, celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of the city I love.
Walking into Golden Gate Park, a ferris wheel reaches for the sky. I immediately put this into my post vaccine agenda. I love Ferris wheels, and they are my go to ride at any fair or amusement park. The change in perspective is freeing, and all else falls away. In this state, I am gleeful, a bird on a circle in the sky.
As we get closer to an exit from this alternate reality that we failed to plan for, I have found my salve. The simple act of walking, wandering and noticing is enough to flip a switch in my busy brain. As long as I am able bodied and own a camera, it will continue. When social distancing is no longer critical, I may still find myself quietly reflecting on things seemingly unsubstantial, but still splendid. On the inhale, the camera clicks, creating the image that lives forever in the exhale.
Walking around one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco, I ogle the many mansions. They astound in more ways than one. I know I will never live in one, but this is a pastime I enjoy when I am feeling frivolous. I spot a few empty ones and laugh at one with celebrity cardboard cut outs in the window. From a distance, they do look real, but I dare say they would not deter an intruder.
I find a wide set of stairs and wander up to see where they lead. Around a short wall, a cow greets me, still, and of concrete. I admire her for a short while. There is nowhere to wander from here, so I return to the street. Tagged in the sidewalk, is TOFU. I picture a block of tofu wandering the streets at night looking for wet cement to scrawl into.
A tree has two elbows. Is it a professional contortionist when it is not standing watch over the sidewalk? A blue light beckons on an adjacent wall. To what or to whom does it signal or summon?
A rose adorned skull is painted on a bright yellow sign, marking the dead end. Orchids catch the afternoon light and their softness comforts me. They are much more unwithered than I.
An abandoned coffee cup makes me want to sit in a cafe and mindlessly whittle away the hours, but I don't. I won't. I see a mustache shape on the sidewalk and try to align it to the shadow of my face. It is all askew.
On a ramshackle stoop, a policeman is talking to a woman in a wheelchair. He grabs hold of a large painting of a tiger that festoons the steps. The tiger is wearing glittering accoutrements. He tugs and pulls until the tiger meets its demise. I wonder the reason for this altercation with the imaginary.
I have been reading a book that reveals much of the history of San Francisco, its wild years, its untamed land and heart. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like back then, when women were few and the sand blew briskly along a totally different coastline. Ships lie beneath parts of the city from a time when gold brought prospectors by the thousands.
The gold that brought me here is of the sun. It is of the golden gate that is not really gold but 'international orange'. It is of paint that adorns the victorians sprinkled about town. It is of fresh baked bread with the slightest hint of sour. It is the sight and smell of ripe lemons. It is flowers dotting the hills in springtime. It is the ginkgo leaves my grandmother collected to help her hang on to her memories.
I walk in lines and loops, exploring street after street. I become parched and spent, but I keep walking. Today, the earth vibrates under another magnificent blue sky. I step until my feet sting from stepping. This day is golden like all the rest. It is simply a matter of following the light.
It doesn't always matter where I am if the sky is that mesmerizing hue that makes all things sing. It is not the deep grey blue of melancholia but a clean, bright blue I want to jump into and swim, diving deep, toes pointed, fingers outstretched. When I tire, it carries me, weightless, floating and serene.
I visit an area of the city where I worked when I was in graduate school and was living in the Bay Area for the very first time. The shops are empty now, devoid of tourists. It is nice but also haunting. In regular times, I still come here to visit the birds that eat the seafood behind the facade of fanciful fisherman themed trinkets and sourdough bread. I also come to drop coins in the machines at the Musée Mécanique and to visit the sea lions.
I want to venture to all my favorite places in San Francisco, but I don't; I won't. I hang mostly on the edges to be in but also out. I find myself looking in locations I have not looked before. The sense of discovery delights me. We are at the height of the pandemic and in lockdown again. I have not faltered in my cautious state, and this is my logging of time until we see the end. After the end, it will continue.
I am walking around in an area that exudes incredible wealth. Even though my mouth is covered, it is agape, as I cannot fathom living in one of these grand houses. The funny thing is that I have lived in the Bay Area a long time, and I have never truly studied this neighborhood. It is largely residential so not one of my regular destinations. I have, however, frequented these types of neighborhoods for walks during the pandemic, and they tend to be quiet and calm.
I stand in awe of one very modern house that looks like a New York gallery. I have my camera aimed at it as a gentleman walks to the car in the driveway. His uniform indicates he is an employee rather than a resident, and he looks at me uncomfortably. I try to casually ask if an art collector lives there. I am not sure why the words come out of my mouth and now feel like a stalker creep. I turn to walk away and spot a well endowed robot sculpture across the street. The absurdity of it in this rather buttoned up neighborhood makes me laugh.
One house that I find particularly intriguing is adorned with a placard from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Many of the tourist destinations of San Francisco are from that time. I wonder what purpose this mansion served and daydream about the sights and sounds of that era. I come back to earth, with one toe stuck in the past.
I walk a toward the fishing pier to a road I previously thought was a dead end. At a certain point there is a security guard and a sign for authorized vehicles only. This is the road for the workers that maintain the bridge. I notice a bike path and ask if I may walk here. I get an ok from the guard and head up the hill.
I am pretty much alone for most of my walk, and I admire the bridge from underneath. It reminds me of the erector set my brother had when we were kids. All the parts seem purposeful but also precarious. It is an impressive structure and feels otherworldly from this perspective.
The hills are dry and exude a certain scent, hot brush that waits for rainy season. Is it the end of summer headed into fall or fall headed into winter? I have lost track, and seasons vary only slightly in these parts.
I stop before the hill meets the top of the bridge and the cars roll by. I'm enjoying the landscape below, this flipped perspective. It is unusually quiet here. The city sits in the distance waving hello. I miss freely walking on its city streets, ducking into art museums, galleries and local coffee shops. I miss the spontaneous encounters with strangers and friends. I miss losing time because I am actively filling it, not for all the reasons that burden us now.
I climb a set of narrow stairs to get to the peak. From here I can see the city from above. If I zoom into each area, there is a memory of past steps, rolling around on two wheels, aiming different cameras at what strikes me.
Colors are different here in California, more vibrant, and at times almost electric. I remember the first time I wielded a camera in this place and how elated I was at the vibrancy of the images I collected. In my home state, everything looks as if it has a dull brownish filter. On the east coast it is a slight hint of grey, the remnants of a winter sky. Here, cool blues mash up against golden light. All images can be doctored to have the same appearance, but standing here and now, my eyes don't lie.
This day I feel anxious. Is it the height at which I stand? Is it the pandemic woes? Is it nothing at all? I am not sure. Beauty overtakes my bewilderment, and I am present in this place. I am happy to be here now in spite of all that is troubling in the world. Comfort is found in the the bluest of blue, eschewing meandering melancholia.
THE DISQUIETED QUIET
photography and writing
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