Tuesday, April 01, 2008

San Francisco, Day 2

Easter Mass

A delightful Asian man strolls up the center aisle of Saint Catherine Catholic Church in Burlingame, California, smiling and waving at everybody as he awkwardly saunters towards the altar. With his white Easter robes flowing freely in the Pacific breeze drifting through the open front doorway, he welcomed us all to his parish in happy broken English.

In truth, it wasn’t one of the more enjoyable masses of my life (it was so slow), but I did get to celebrate Easter with one of the most diverse congregations I’ve ever been a part of. When the priest has only been in the country eight months and the reader is Asian, and the rest of the parishioners are primarily black, Hispanic, or Chinese, it creates a pretty amazing, colorful experience. Chicago is a diverse city, but the heavy Eastern influence here adds an extra layer to things. I can see now why so many people thought Yao Ming should end up with the Warriors in Oakland; he would’ve been a huge hit here!

Portrait Drawing

Think of graceful, dark hands muddied with smeared charcoal and the dust from a rainbow of pastels. Now see those hands spilling forth purposeful black lines that eventually form Amy’s face. Then mine. Then color rains over our lips, foreheads, and necks, and the steady old Asian artist charges us $25 for the product of his labor.

The guy did a beautiful job, but as a street artist who probably does 10-20 portraits a day from his beat up curbside kiosk along the San Francisco Bay, the experience wasn’t particularly personal. The final piece was truly wonderful and really did present figures that looked a lot like Amy and me, but for a man who didn’t know us at all—and in fact, hardly spoke any English—it would be difficult to capture the intricacies of our personalities in the piece—our eyes, our smiles.
When he would look me in the eye, trying to capture the correct pencil strokes for an accurate drawing, there wasn’t an ounce of intimacy. Not that I expected the guy to make out with me or anything, but there was a strange displacement from his subjects. In fact, there was almost no joy in his craft, which I found rather sad. Seeing the age lines on his forehead and the wispy white hairs on his arm, I couldn’t help but wonder how long he’d been at that little bayside stand painting portraits. A few years? Twenty? More?

When the picture was finished, Amy and I were both very pleased with the final product, and we happily forked over the cash. The real poetic moment, however, is in the artist, not the art itself.

Crissy Field

The easiest way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is just to drive over the thing, which we did yesterday, but today we got a different angle of the world-famous structure. Seeing it in person made me a little dizzy, not unlike the way I feel when meeting a superstar basketball player in person through my work with HOOPSWORLD; everything is so familiar because you’ve seen it on TV and in pictures at least a thousand times, but it’s still very surreal when you come across it in real life.

Crissy Field, a grassy park and beach area in between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate, is a converted Air Force area right along the bay. The view of the bridge from there was breathtaking, and we probably got our best view of the cityscape from the docks that stretch out into the water there.

Families barbecued, kids braved the freezing bay water along the shallow beach, and joggers and dog-walkers did their thing on what I’d consider the most beautiful day of my 2008 so far.

Have I mentioned how much I love this city?

Lombard Street

A brick-covered street that snakes down a huge incline over a city block is one of the hottest tourist attractions in the city. We opted not to make the actual drive (mostly because Joanna wasn’t confident in her ability to navigate the road), but the sight itself was interesting in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not sort of way.

Joanna wasn’t impressed, but I was. While we were there, we got to wondering why a crazy street like that would exist in the first place, so we went to the internet for an answer. As it turns out, early 19th century automobiles couldn’t handle the steep incline of the road, so the twists and turns were designed to make the descent a little less intense.

See? Stupid Joanna. I knew it was interesting.

Alamo Square

My one major goal in coming to San Francisco was to recreate the opening credits to the classic ‘90s sitcom, “Full House.” Alamo Square was pretty much the essential filming location to make that happen. Aside from the obvious “Painted Ladies” row houses commonly believed to be the home of the Tanner family, the park across the street had tons of hills and grassy areas for us to romp and dally about.

I’ll get the final product up on YouTube soon (it’s pretty funny), but for now you’re just going to have to trust me that it’s awesome.

The Pacific Ocean

I’ve never seen the ocean. Yesterday I caught some glimpses of it behind hills and trees, but never snuck a full-on peek until today when we went to a secluded beach in a suburb called Pacifica. The spot Joanna chose was surrounded by rocky cliffs and rolling meadows like something you’d see Julie Andrews spinning around in during filming for the “Sound of Music.” Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Probably the most awe-inspiring aspect of this trip so far.

From high up, you can see miles of endless water, rolling with the waves as the tide works its way towards the shore. Up close, Amy convinced me to take off my shoes and socks and put my feet into the water, which felt like someone was freezing my feet in ice. You see that foam creeping up into the sands and you’d swear it was bathwater warm, but not so much. Still, despite the cold, I’ve never felt so intimidated by nature in my life.

Seeing the ocean (and the rocks and hills that surround it) made me understand why such a huge majority of movie and television filming takes place in the state of California. I can see myself taking a meaningful evening stroll along one of the beaches, or even just a drive down Route 1, with some Coldplay song gently massaging the emotionally-charged scene. I image that with some time, a person could really get close to nature and to God in a place like this. Corn and soybeans don’t quite have the same spiritual effect.

Everything in Illinois is just so flat and staid. From what I’ve seen of Northern Cali, you can’t drive two miles without bumping into some new landscape or architectural phenomenon to marvel at. My two hours drives from Bloomington to Chicago are borderline coma-inducing. If you’re not awake on some of the roads out here, you’ll end up tumbling like a bocce ball down a dizzyingly steep slope.

In fact, the roads here remind me a bit of what type of personality one would need to move to California. When I think of this state, I think of people who pack up and leave everything in search of risk and adventure. As much as I love the area, I don’t think I’d have it in me to pack up and move out here. Illinois is so familiar and so comfortable; I fit there. I can’t fathom moving so far away from everything I know so well.

Huge risk and major adventure aren’t necessarily things I’m itching to get more of. I love vacations, and I love experiencing the mysteries of the world outside of the Midwest, but I think I’ll always want to come home.

In some ways, that’s how I feel right now, this minute. I don’t want to leave, but I certainly don’t want to stay forever. Does that make sense?

1 comment:

Joanna said...

don't call me stupid! I never said it wasn't interesting I said I had seen it a MILLION AND ONE TIMES!! STUPID JOEL!