Saturday, February 27, 2010

If You're Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair

Flying into San Francisco is like taking a trip to the land of “San,” except nowadays we don’t wait for a big storm to come and lift our house into the sky, and my name is definitely not Dorothy. San Francisco is surrounded by smaller cities and towns whose names also carry the “San” prefix in some version- San Jose, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Santo Carlos, etc. A short drive to the east, and one stumbles upon the san-dy beaches that dot the coastline. San-e people eat san-wiches. Okay, those last few may be a stretch, but you get the point.
San Francisco is a destination that intrigued me for a couple of reasons. First of all, the history of the city, the people that inhabited it, and the events that took place there are a source of wonderment. The ideologies that have become synonymous with the city, namely free love, freethinking, and freedom, are important ideals in my life. Lastly, the numerous people I have met from San Francisco while traveling who exclaim, “You must go to San Francisco. You would love it there!” drew my attention to the city. The little voice in my head, the feeling in my gut, or whatever else you call it, told me that I should listen to them and see the beautiful city for myself.
“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” I hummed along to the Mamas and the Papas as I walked out of the airport and into the sunshine, a crimson rose (it was just after Valentine’s Day) stuck in the messy bun piled on top of my head. I laughed at my cliché behavior. I’m sure that the San Francisco Airport personnel witness entire fields of picked flowers passing them by on a daily basis. But again, I was in the city of free choice and I was going to wear a flower in my hair if I wanted to, regardless of how stereotypical it was.
The weather in San Francisco could be the topic of its own blog, forever changing in time and space, but I won’t bore you with the details. To give you an idea, if one were to stand immobile on a street corner for an entire day, one would probably experience an entire spectrum of weather changes, from sunshine, to fog, to rain. Furthermore, if the weather in one particular spot was not to one’s liking, one could travel in any direction for no more than 20 minutes and be sure to find different weather conditions.
Traveling out of the city and across The Golden Gate Bridge at dusk, I look back to see the city buildings outlined against a dim sky and the lights reflecting off the water in the bay. The car winds through the rolling gray hills to our final destination for the evening, where we stop to rest.
The next day, we make our way to Santa Rosa, a small town north of the big city. We walk through cobblestone streets lined with small boutiques, admiring their contents and window displays. The sun is shinning and everyone is smiling and chatting. People immediately recognize a foreigner in town and approach me to inquire about my origins and possibly my reasons for visiting. The town is cute, friendly, and reminds me of frontier Friday Harbor in some ways, although quite a bit larger and more populated.
From Santa Rosa, we planned a day exploring the coast. We began our adventure at Bodega Bay where we were able to catch some surf, sand, and sun. The beach is long and the shore is curved. I kicked off my shoes and enjoyed the feeling of sand beneath my feet and between my toes. I watched the surfers in their tight black wet suits lolling in the small waves. Long boards and paddle boards are common here, as the shorter boards are harder to maneuver in the water.
From Bodega Bay, we cruised along a two-lane road that hugged the snaking coastline, stopping at any beach that struck our fancy along the way. The scenery was exquisite. Sharp cliffs dropped into the ocean. White sand beaches trimmed the water. Rock formations emerged from the deep in arches. We even stopped at a roadside kite shop, bought a kite, and made our way down to a windy beach. I have not flown a kite in years. It dipped and tumbled alongside the seagulls and took one unfortunate nosedive into the surf. Oops! The wind in my face and hair was exhilarating and refreshing. I ran the length of the beach numerous times, kite in tow and wind at my back.
We headed inland from the coast and made our way up a riverbed and into the redwood forest. Seeing the black and white cows grazing in fields next to the river reminded me of a typical scene from the Netherlands, minus of course, the infamous windmills. Once we reached the cover of the forest, the giant redwood trees towered over the road, blocked the sun, and immersed the car in shade. After our journey through the magical woods, in which the shade and shag of the forest played games on our imagination, we reemerged in the spotted sunshine and continued home as the sun sunk behind the rows of grape vines covering the gray hills. Today, we were tired. The sun, activities, and travel caused us to curl up in our little cocoon shortly after dinner and darkness.
A couple days passed filled with sleeping, lounging, relaxing, and eating. We spent time exploring Sebastopol, an artsy, liberal town neighboring Santa Rosa. The sun decided to come out and we sat outside a small café, soaking up the rays and cups of much-needed coffee. Later, we drove through a neighborhood where the residents displayed large metal statues in their front yards. The statues were made of sheet metal shaped into cartoon-like characters. My favorites were the mermaid, obviously because of the connection I have with the creatures due to my name, and the waitress, who reminded me of the comical chaos of my better days of serving. From there, we wandered through the park. From a hill, we saw small towns sheltered in emerald, rolling hills. We walked through the herb garden and collected herbs and roots to be transplanted in the garden at the house. Rosemary was the source of inspiration for the night’s meal- rosemary, lemon, garlic, lightly breaded chicken, baked in a white wine sauce and sprinkled with chopped onions, then served with garlic sautéed zucchini and red pepper and a side of rice. For dessert, we cooked blackberry vanilla crepes from scratch. Cooking is one of my favorite activities. I enjoy sipping a glass of red wine while I experiment in the kitchen with fresh, hearty ingredients. The enjoyment is always more when the experiments are successful and tonight, the result was extremely satisfying.
As my week in San Francisco winded down, we planned one final adventure for my last night before flying out- the city of San Francisco itself. In the early afternoon, we made the beautiful drive through the emerald fields and hills of the San Francisco countryside. As we surfaced over the last hill, the red towers of the Golden Gate Bridge marked our entrance to the city. By fluke, my camera ran out of batteries at the exact moment we emerged from a tunnel and caught sight of the bridge. Consequentially, we pulled off the highway and ended up weaving our way through the countryside overlooking the bay on the opposite side of the city. We stopped the car and hiked out to a viewpoint, where we were able to see a panoramic view of the city, Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, and most impressively, the Golden Gate Bridge. The towers and the cables of the bridge appeared small with tiny toy cars and people on bikes making their way across. As a passenger in a car crossing the bridge, one is able to admire the giant engineering feat in all its impressiveness. Huge cables sweep in massive concaves and reach to steel pillars threatening the clouds that swarm the towers on a typical San Francisco foggy day.
Walking through the streets of San Francisco, my eyes wander from side to side, corner to corner, up and down, attempting to absorb all sights, sounds, and feelings. For my last night in San Francisco and my almost-last night in the United States, we planned to indulge in a seafood dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. We departed the hotel with the intention of meandering through the streets on our way to the restaurant. While walking down the street, we smelled the most amazing scent of Indian food, which caused us to change our minds and dine in a colorful, upscale Indian restaurant up the street from the water and down the main strip. The ambiance was hip, with colorful lights, upbeat music, and a lively crowd. Plus, the food, oh the food, makes my mouth water simply thinking of it days later. Undistinguishable and unfamiliar spices and sauces, meats and vegetables cooked to soft perfection and served in unusual combinations please the taste buds and imagination. I do believe that Indian food is one of the most overlooked, but enjoyable, cuisines in the world, and the perfect pick for our last night.
The next morning, we managed a quick drive past the famous embarcadero before the rush to the airport. The embarcadero is the main tourist strip in San Francisco. Tourist shops selling all sorts of trinkets and chain restaurants common to tropical destinations line the street next to the piers. Leaving the chaos and traffic, we zigzag our way through the more residential areas at the outskirts. The style of houses is a unique mix of frontier, Latino, and European flavors. Bright stucco walls shaped into open archways are mixed with metal balconies, paned windows, and lace curtains.
This past month has been the month of few firsts- my first time visiting San Francisco- and many more lasts, well, at least for the next 27 months. I have had to say goodbye to people and places, my typical lifestyle, and common household and food items, all within the course of the past month and with the intention of embracing new ones. In some cases, the goodbye has been used as an excuse, like perhaps I should have not had that last spoonful of crème brulee, but at the same time, an enjoyable process, in which my efforts have been well spent telling my family and friends how much I care for them. One never really knows what the body and mind will crave, and one is best to cover all the bases. That means, endless phone calls to friends, gorging oneself on favorite foods and snack items, and ultimately resulting in a record-breaking phone bill and a couple extra pounds, and I’m not talking about in my suitcase. Ah well, that Philly cheese steak sandwich from a roadside stand in Philadelphia was definitely worth it, and perhaps my survival pack in the African outback.

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