If you’re going to San Francisco…

It’s been a week since we got to San Francisco.  I appreciate that we moved on Monday and it’s now Tuesday, but even though we pretty much got to do last Monday twice I’m not counting it because my brain had practically given up playing the game by the time we got here.

In short – I like it.  It’s a beautiful city.  It’s clean, friendly, sunny and has a gentle buzz about it, as if there’s a whole load going on just beneath the surface.  It’s also a dog city.  Seriously, almost everyone here has a dog.  They’re everywhere – trotting behind their humans in the streets, playing catch in the park, waiting patiently outside cafes and restaurants. Despite this I have yet to see poop on the pavement.  It’s the little things.

Speaking of the little things, these are the things that are taking the most getting used to.  Looking the wrong way before crossing the street.  The light switches and plugs.  The fact they don’t seem to sell squash (juice) and that creme fraiche is $7.  I’ve spent about half an hour staring at the shelves in Safeway and Mollie Stones in baffled silence.  I’m looking forward to the moment I don’t have to translate the dollars into pounds and the pounds into grams to know whether it’s good value.  The same goes for temperature.  And the oven.

So far this week I’ve done a lot of exploring.  San Francisco is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct flavour and yet clustered together, so they almost run into each other.  And, thanks to the Muni (the bus/tram/underground system) it’s possible to run into each with remarkable ease.  We were told before we arrived that areas can change dramatically with just the cross of the street and it’s certainly true, which makes for interesting bus rides.

So far, I’m in love with Pacific Heights.  It’s a boutiquey neighbourhood – everything from Marc Jacob, Betsy Johnson and Ralph Lauren to independent book shops, interior designers and neon outlined burger bars.  There’s a little cinema that’s currently showing Rocky Horror at midnight, a park that looks down over the Bay and two Starbucks.  The buildings are a mishmash of styles, predominantly reminiscent of the Jazz era, with no two exactly the same.  The colours add a sense of individual style and bring vibrancy and fun, the gold painted details catching the sun with sparkling warmth.

The houses of Pacific Heights proudly show their colours (www.silverlionservice.com)

Noe Valley (pronounced No-ee) is another area I’ve already developed a fondness for.  Even after only one visit,  it’s hard not to be taken in by the small-town feel of the place and quirky little shops.  It’s a haven of the technology set – Google and Facebook have a lot of employees in the area – so it wasn’t surprising (although it was still all I could do not to burst out laughing) when, on entering the small Starbucks we were met with a sea of laptops, all lined up neatly, and the insistent tapping of the keys.  For the downside to Noe, the clue is in the name. It’s set along a valley so it seems like wherever you go, you’re heading uphill.  To be fair, this is the case with most of San Francisco but for some reason in Noe it seems more pronounced.  It makes the bus ride more of an adventure, though, as you roll up and down slopes that at first you think you’ll never make it to the top of and then wish you weren’t facing backwards as the ground disappears beneath you and you desperately hope the breaks are working.

When they say 'Hill', they're not kidding... (www.brokeassstuart.com)

 The ride back from Noe Valley passes through Castro, the rainbow district.  And, man, do they have their rainbow on down there!  By all accounts it’s the party neighbourhood, full of bars and clubs.  So far I’ve only seen it from the bus but I’m going to have to go and explore this vibrant neighbourhood.  It sounds a little hippy, and possibly a bit patronising to say it, but I was genuinely excited and happy to see this place where rainbows were plastered on everything from the lampposts and benches to the banks and restaurants, people were expressing themselves freely with their clothes and and couples could walk down the street hand in hand without fear of abuse.  I was less thrilled to see the naked guy at the bus stop (why is it always the old, slightly overweight guys?) and laughed to see the nail salon called ‘Hand Job’ (until which point I’d been thinking ‘way to keep it classy, Castro’).  It’s certainly somewhere I’m going to have to check out in greater detail.

The bright and vibrant Castro district is somewhere I'm looking forward to exploring. (www.sfcityscape.com)

I think it’s safe to say that San Francisco is gradually increasing her grip on me.  It’s only been a week and I’m feeling like this is somewhere I could really get used to living.  More than ‘used to’ in fact.  I think I could love it.

Schrodinger’s Move

I’m sitting in a coffee shop-cum-art gallery, contemplating.

Apparently they don’t have bacon. Or chocolate. Well, they do have chocolate but it’s not chocolate. Or the metric system. Even the bits I do understand I don’t get. Their gallons are bigger. And what’s with water boiling at 212 degrees?

It’s going to take more than 12 hours to get home. But then mum says you’re never really that far away wherever you are on the planet – you could be home within 24 hours if you really wanted to be. I guess the bigger problem is that it’ll cost over $500 to get home. Which puts a limit on visits. That said, I don’t see a lot of people more than 3 or 4 times a year anyway, so really it’s no different. Except usually we’re in the same time zone. Still, with social networking, late hours and early starts it’ll probably take care of itself. People stay in touch with people they want to stay in touch with. I can use it as a ‘friendship test’. If you want a cheap holiday you have to post at least one thing a week to my timeline.

I’ve promised myself I’ll write. I have this vision of sitting in a coffee house, not unlike this one (although they don’t have to provide toilets, which could be an issue..) tapping away at the keyboard. This is a good thing. I’ve wanted to get more writing done for a long time. To be honest, I won’t have much else to do. I’m not going to know anyone. In some ways, that’s quite a freeing thought: I won’t know anyone, but they won’t know me. The cool, interesting, awesome person I want to be, with a well developed sense of style and myself – I can be that person. Or whoever else I fancy being. And no one will have seen my wardrobe, so really everything I own is new. Which is good, because I have no idea when, or even if, I’ll get a job to pay for anything else!

The woman behind me in the cafe is talking about seeing Birdsong on the TV. Her voice is shrill and continuous. I’ll have to get used to that in a whole new accent. I should probably practice not correcting the pronunciation of ‘herb’ and ‘aluminium’. A plus here is that I already watch a lot of their TV. I’ll be ahead in some series. I might even get a few more that will probably be very good and never make it over here. A minus would be my uncontrollable mimicking of accents. It generally sounds like I’m taking the piss. Do they say ‘taking the piss’? They don’t say ‘have a go’. Apparently it’s ‘take a shot’. Odds are I’m going to baffle a lot of people. The sort of person introduced with a caveat. “Don’t take her the wrong way, she’s English.”

At least it’ll be sunny. When it’s not foggy.

It’s been a long time coming…

Just over a month ago, I turned 30. I’d been watching it creep up for a while; looming ever nearer, whispering sneaky little comments about being too old, too late, too lost. The mere mention of it made me hyperventilate. You’d think by now I’d be used to getting a year older every, well, year, but each time I end up feeling like a tally has been rubbed off the chalkboard rather than added on, counting down the useful time I have left. That said, I never really felt different, exactly. Just more of the same.

When I was younger (by which I mean, when I was young enough to not have much occupy m y mind and all the time in the world before me) I had a notion that 30 was a grown up age. By the time you are 30 there are a good deal of things that should have been achieved. According to whom I’m not entirely sure, but I always felt quite convinced that grown ups meet certain criteria and grown up starts at 30. So when I woke up, never to be a twenty-something again, I definitely felt different. There’s nowhere to hide with 30. University is a distant memory (in most cases) and career paths generally well forged. I looked at the ceiling and thought to myself, as I’m sure many have before me and many will in the years to come: what have I done with my life?

At first, the overwhelming answer was: Nothing. Nothing at all. But that can’t be true, can it? Have I really spent 30 years achieving nothing? Surely not. Once I got a grip of myself, I reconsidered. It doesn’t necessarily match up with the checklist of adult musts I, almost instinctively, held on to for so long but I can claim a none-too-shabby list. When I was born, I couldn’t do anything. Now, just 30 short years later, I can walk (and rarely fall over), talk (both coherently and nonsense), read and write, tie my laces and boil an egg. I’m fairly sure that there would have been women my age just 100 years ago who couldn’t have done all that. I successfully navigated 16 years of education, held down jobs I hated without getting fired (or starting fires), moved house 8 times, taught myself guitar, went out with people, broke up with people, made friends and (I’m surprisingly proud to say) enemies. I’ve hurt so deeply I thought I’d never breathe again but I’ve loved and been loved too. I’ve been to three continents. I can programme a VCR (which, come to think of it, is something not a lot of adults can do) and use a mac and a pc. I even got married, although that one only just scrapes in under the wire.

In short, it occurred to me, I’ve been living. For 30 years. It’s quite a feat, whichever way you look at it. A lot of people don’t make it that far. Realising this leaves me with a different, different feeling. If I can manage this much, from scratch, in just 30 years (less time than the gap between man first reaching the north pole and man reaching the moon) what can I manage in another 30? I can’t wait to find out.