Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The majority of people take permanent residency for granted. They have mailboxes, parking spots, library cards, and establishments where they are known as "regulars." To me, though, this kind of familiarity is an attractive novelty, and I'm spending my week getting to know my new neighborhood, trying to wrap my mind around the idea of being a San Franciscan. To that end, I just trudged up the insane steepness of Fillmore Street from the Marina up to Pacific Heights. For those who don't know golden-gated metropolis very well, its hills are formidable - strenuous for legs and car engines alike. Who in their right mind decided it would be clever to build at such an angle that a walker requires stairs to scale the sidewalk?!

My self-inflicted punishing climb, though, was not in vain, as I was met at the peak by the most satisfying Bay Area caffeine dispensary, Peet's Coffee & Tea. It's a treat, really, one that I miss while on tour and that I realize might say a thing or two about either my mature and refined tastes or my coffee snobbery. They seem to have a classical-music-only policy that's much appreciated when I'm trying to do serious things like write a blog read by tens(!) of loyal followers. I love the roasty-rich strength of Peet's beans, their unsweetened soy milk and bitter dash of pure cocoa powder that makes adding sugar seem an absolute crime.

Yes, I do realize that being a true local involves more than hanging out in cafes, so I've become a walking fool, traversing the city despite its hills, often with a destination but sometimes with only the hope of finding a gem. Sporting my new red-leather mary janes (the shoes Andy says make me look Danish and somewhat dorky, but which I love), I walked the 2.5 miles from our apartment to a yoga studio in the Haight-Ashbury section of town. And then I walked back, passing through neighborhoods both ritzy and run-down, putting me through a yo-yo of emotion and reaction. While in reality I may have been unchanging, my fortune and my very position in society seemed to ebb and flow with the fortunes of the streets I walked down.

Up here in Pacific Heights, it's all about galleries, petite patisseries, lapdogs, and day spas; things I never dreamed of needing called from shop widows and taunted me with their exorbitance. Further downtown, though, I was met with the despair of San Francisco's homeless. Deep and unsettling. As a child, I was unable to handle the sorrow of the panhandlers we met on the way to see the Nutcracker ballet at SF Opera House. The disparities tear at me still, and I have yet to resolve that perilous question of whether reaching into my purse for change is naivete or compassion.

Knowing that I will be coming back to SF for a good chunk of time in the coming months, I'm trying to lay down at least a tenuous framework of a life here, being "planny" if you will (a term of my own invention meant to describe my particular brand of scheming). For one, I am by no means opposed to a stint of waitressing or barista-ing, especially if it involves working for a place like Alive!, the renowned yet unassuming raw-food restaurant on Lombard. With a menu consisting solely of uncooked vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, it is surprisingly scrumptious cuisine. Perhaps if I worked there I could learn to cook like that, though I guess "cook" is not quite the word since you'd never need a stove... maybe "culinate" (another of my word-creations) is more like it.

Speaking of vegetables, I was beyond excited to visit the popular Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Fisherman's Wharf this past weekend. I brought along my environmentally-friendly cloth shopping bag, prepared to stock up on beautiful, bountiful produce. I'm in the middle of two books on nutrition and food policy, both of which rally against the industrial agricultural model and its resultant corruption of our food system. I'm still passionate about this stuff that I studied in college... The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen, and What to Eat by Marion Nestle got my mouth watering for quality produce and perhaps gave me a little self-righteous push to support local farms. To my awe and dismay, this market was as up-scale as one can get, food-wise, with rows of exclusive, organic specialty shops selling "artisan" this and "heirloom" that, all way out of my price range. I passed up the $6 bunch of asparagus and opted instead for a delectable hunk of San Francisco sourdough and one prize-worthy organic grapefruit. It may not replace Trader Joe's for my shopping needs, but becoming a local requires investigation, right?