That Side of Paradise
October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve been in this miraculous city for three months, and it feels like heaven. To be sure, it’s not the kind of heaven traditionally depicted in church sermons or illustrated in children’s picture books. This is a different sort of paradise altogether. One pulsing with life, rich and messy and colorful and strange. One where rules and circumscriptions dissolve into reality and what was once deviant is celebrated with a zeal approaching reverence. There are no angels, unless they’re wearing spiraled blond wigs and five-inch bedazzled pumps; the golden gate is there, but, oddly enough, it’s orange.
Welcome to San Francisco, the city of life and love and all variations in between. There’s an unparalleled freedom to be anyone you want to be here – and the locals certainly take advantage of that fact. I’ve seen young tech graduates wearing sleek designer suits, middle-aged women sporting rainbow hemp overalls, and old men dressed in nothing but leather thongs. With all the different kinds of people around, there are so many possibilities for personal identity that it’s hard to keep straight (pun intended). Exploration is a given, and divergence is rejoiced upon, even accepted as the new norm.
I’m well aware that what appears as utopia to some may be just a concrete jungle to others. But when I say San Francisco is paradise to me, I mean it sincerely. There is nothing I can find fault with in this city. Even the fog rolling in every evening trails with it a hint of the spectacular, mystical, romantic. The empty streets at night are hauntingly lovely and purposeful in their loneliness. Old Victorian houses, towering sycamore trees, and elegant, streamlined skyscrapers all radiate the same curious blend of mystery and melancholy that continually draws me out into the city streets just to feel the glow.
For the first few weeks after my arrival, I wondered if my exalted reaction was due to a drastic change in scenery. Before I came to California, I spent four years in Princeton, New Jersey (a strange kind of purgatory, but that’s another topic); no doubt part of my ecstatic overwhelm was due to the thrill of finally forsaking conservative small town America for a taste of liberal, urban cosmopolitanism. Not to mention the sudden influx of sunshine, fresh air off the Pacific, and for the first time in years, real Mexican food.
But I’m convinced that there is something fundamentally unique about San Francisco that can’t be fully explained by its geography or cuisine. It has to do with the people. As diverse as they are, they all definitely possess a certain character, which for lack of a more precise term I will call “Sanfranciscish”. It lands somewhere between ‘friendly’ and ‘curious’, and incorporates a sense of genuine openness and care. San Franciscans, from what I’ve experienced, know the difference a smile in the coffee shop makes, or a lighthearted exchange in the elevator. They seem to recognize the invisible connections we all share, and offer the necessary kindnesses that make living in such close quarters possible.
Why does this come as such a surprise? What does it say about America this should strike me as unique among any other place I’ve visited? It might take me a while to construct a theory around this, but for now I’m enjoying the positive effects of living in such a refreshing environment.
A few related hypotheses I’m willing to test over the coming months:
Nine times out of ten, if you initiate a conversation with someone on MUNI, you’ll become fast friends (at least for the duration of the ride, and sometimes after).
One can maintain excellent cardiac fitness just by walking from Upper Haight, through the Castro, and into Noe Valley three times a week.
There is no mood so dark and deep that a Sunday morning in Dolores Park can’t cure.
My goal for this blog is to play with these and other hypotheses, share my more interesting experiences in the city by the bay, and explore some of the deeper questions that arise during my time here. To sign up for email updates when I (eventually) write another post, follow me on the right. I’ll keep them few and far between, because I prefer to let these things percolate, and because frankly, most of the time I’ll be out exploring anyway.
To adventures in paradise,