I like to experience other places through the concept of home by living in place somewhere else when I travel. I’m just back from ten days in San Francisco, where I enjoyed a D-I-Y Writing Residency punctuated by visits with family and friends. I holed up in my brother’s apartment for most of a week, thinking about a new book, while Jonathan was out of town.
Before he left, he took me shopping at a grocery store that was neither a coop nor a large chain, but a warehouse-like place with gravity-feed coffee, nuts and granola in bulk, huge selections of organic produce, local cheeses, and California wines. It had almost everything a writer could need for a week, including locally manufactured bars of dark chocolate. I bought only one when Jonathan assured me these items were available in his neighborhood, where I’d have to do any additional shopping, as I wouldn’t have a car.
For me, going car-free for a week is a treat. Sidewalks and public transportation are two of the advantages of urban life, as well as a plethora of stores and restaurants that urban population density can support. The population of the City of San Francisco is greater than the entire population of the State of Vermont. It’s also more ethnically varied, and younger.
While in San Francisco, I worked much as I do at home: I wrote from seven to three fueled by shredded wheat and salad. Unlike home, I was alone: no husband, no dog, not even a cat, and no landline. There was, however, a yoga studio four blocks a way, and I took classes there; in the afternoon, I walked.
These were not the walks I take in the woods around home, where my mind wanders. These walks demanded mental attention, not just to navigate my way through the urban jungle, but also to make sense of what I saw and smelled. The odors! San Francisco is Food City, especially along Valencia, where on every block young hipsters lingered over locally roasted coffee, sipped handcrafted beer and ate food from all over the world.
While I did work all day, I went on vacation at night: I took advantage of the great restaurants and for ten days I didn’t cook dinner once. I also went on a powerwalk with a friend who’s mapped out a route that includes not just hills but a half-dozen stairways built into the streets.
At the end of the week, I met my daughter at her place of work and experienced her commute to the East Bay. Most of the commuters were connected to electronic devices and I could see how commuting could be a great way to bridge the world between work and home, especially with some music or a book. Commuting is also an opportunity for exercising: My daughter has a twenty-minute walk to and from the train. It’s while she’s walking home that she often phones me, so it was quite special to walk together, side-by-side, in the same time zone.
Even though she commutes by train every day, she owns a car, which she uses to get out of town on the weekends. The weekend I visited, we drove to Point Reyes, where we walked along the San Andreas Fault and along the coast of Tamales Bay. The surrounding hills were brown with the drought, but also lovely and fragrant and filled with birds.
I’m glad to know the landscape she lives in and to learn the places where she performs her Activities of Daily Life. I was also gob-smacked by the beauty of the New England foliage as I drove north from the airport on my return. It’s true for each of us: there’s no place like home.
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