I Love Cities

Those who visit here with some frequency know that I am mighty fond of the rural landscape and its many, many charms, but it might not be quite as obvious that I am equally smitten, often enough, with the joys of urban life. Some of my happiest times and most exciting and meaningful adventures are attached to various wonderful and fabulous cities where I’ve been privileged to live or spend time.photo + text

Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite cities where I’ve visited or spent any little amount of time, the first places that come to mind are truly lively, astoundingly adventure-filled places. I’m not big on bravery or constant busyness or the unknown, as you may well know by now, but I always manage to find myself energized and passionate about what these fabulous environs have to offer at every turn. It turns out that there is no shortage of urban places that fill me with dazzling delight. In addition to my hometown of Seattle, there are so many other magnificent cities for me to love wildly, places like Stockholm, Boston, Vienna, San Francisco, Munich, Cincinnati, Oslo, San Antonio, Vancouver, New York, Prague, Chicago, and London—for starters.photo + text

I will always crave my quiet time, and often that’s best found in the sweet, laid-back grace of the countryside, removed from cities’ bustling pace. But besides that it is possible to find moments of peace right in the middle of any major metropolis, if one only knows how and where to look, there is the inherent buzz and boisterous beauty of urban life to enjoy as well, and I am not at all immune to that kind of happiness when I can bask in it. I suppose the root of the whole equation is always, quite simply, to seek my well-being wherever I happen to find myself.

Foodie Tuesday: I Travel on My Stomach

photoYes, I travel tummy-forward. But then, you knew that, didn’t you. Of course food is the center of my travel adventures. It’s pretty much the center of my daily life, as you have seen. So one of the central joys of going on any expedition is guaranteed to be eating related. I am somewhat inclined to plan any trip around the potential dining and snacking involved in the destination of choice. The choice of destination, if I have any, is certainly influenced as well by the quantity and quality of delicious items available in said locale.

photoAs it happens, the point of this journey was determined in advance by the lovely necessity of the Berkeley Early Music Festival and Collegium‘s participation there. It was mere marvelous luck that sent us off to Berkeley, and San Francisco was of course a truly logical pit stop on the way to see our family up north, then, no? As it happens, there’s no end to the glorious eating and drinking you can do in the magnificent Golden Gate city. There are the icons of foodie worship all around that range from the Buena Vista, where Irish Coffee is purported to have been born (and is aging very gracefully indeed, I can tell you) and the venerable eateries of Fisherman’s Wharf (yes, we did pop in to Alioto’s last night and the Dungeness crab Louie was loaded with sweet crustacean dreaminess) to a nearly endless parade of newer delicacies and delicatessens.

photophotoOne thing that could hardly steer you wrong on any expedition, from road trip to round-the-world, is keeping a sharp lookout for good food and drink at every turn. The most logical place to start is any farmer’s market, food hall, CSA, allotment or other magnificent foodie emporium. Say, perhaps, the Ferry Terminal, where just by crossing the cable car line at the Embarcadero you enter into a haven of artisanal glories that will transport you to another plane. There are charcuteries boasting all sorts of exquisite hand-crafted organic meat treats, a creamery or two filled with cheeses ranging from creamy goat cheese or a fromage triple-crème smoothness to the wildest of the contemporary cultured creations and back again to the most scintillating classics like the weirdly beautiful Mimolette (not, as it appears, an alien cantaloupe but a deep orange hearted beauty of a nutty salty cheese) and of course the most glamorous hunks of lovingly aged Parmigiano-Reggiano looking ever so much like a cheesy lunar landscape inviting exploration by hungry adventurers.photoThere are the vegetable stands full of produce and forage unspeakably pristine and desirable in its purity and freshness. Sea beans, anyone? Mushrooms picked from their carefully hidden home turf this morning? Artichokes still small and tender and almost as delicate as to be able to self-destruct in a puff of fairy sparkles? Oh, my darlings, you can see that I’m bound to instantaneous loss of–well, okay, I would lose my composure and maturity if I had any to start. When I get around this stuff it just happens. And I think you do know what I mean. Be nice.photoMeanwhile, I shall be dashing hither and yon to hunt along those pretty, pretty piers of San Francisco, where the fishermen bring in their catch of the moment, just to see what tempts my hungry soul. I love fish. I love shrimp, prawns, scallops, calamari, all sorts of goodies. But what I’m most often and most likely to want any time I can possibly get hold of it is fresh, sweet, insanely delicious Dungeness crab. I will certainly eat it as many times as I get the chance on this visit to the coast. I had it at both lunch and dinner yesterday and it was barely enough to whet my appetite further. Don’t get me wrong: the crab Louis was excellent and the macaroni and cheese with D-crab in it was a dish of smooth, melting yumminess. But life is short and Dungeness far, far away from Texan turf, so I’ve a great need to fill up my innards with as much of this joy-inducing treat as I possibly can. So much work to do. I’ll get back to you later on this.photoWhat are you waiting for? You should be rushing out in search of, at the very least, a good grocery store or picnic ice chest. Get yourself moving. There’s very little time until the next meal, and who knows when it’ll be the last one, really? Hungry, I tell you, hungry and sure that time is seldom better spent in pursuit of grand food and drink than in nearly any other work known to humankind. Be reasonable. It would be quite a pity to let any such fine things go unappreciated, now wouldn’t it.photophoto

Roaming amid the Riches

photoDreamlike days wandering leisurely about in a favorite place . . . if there’s a heaven, it will have had stiff competition from certain days on earth. Yesterday here in San Francisco continued to be spectacularly sunny and full of the usual beloved scenery, friendly folk and delectable dining (more on that tomorrow). The air was filled with floral exuberance, food-stall enticements, salt tang from the waterfront, and the sounds of birds, humans and cable car bells all singing of happiness. Bicyclists jostled for space with meandering pram pushers, pedestrians, cars, buses, trolleys and hand-carts.photo

I forget, between times, what a vertical city SF is, not only in its hilly terrain but in the many buildings and monuments that spike up in a fountain-like spray of height and the tall trees all around and the masts of innumerable boats and ferries as one nears the waterfront. I think somehow this raises my spirits as well, a little like the developers of the High Gothic style’s vertical temples of pillars and points aimed at Heaven. Thanks to a Muni passport for occasional breaks from the walking, it’s still a magnificent city for traipsing around on foot for most of the day without flagging too badly. Being elated by the beauty all the livelong day, I am distracted from any such mundane concerns as it is.photo

And it’s nearing time to do just this again today, so I shall leave you with some more glimpses of our happy peregrinations.photo

Because I’m told that Sharing is a good thing.digital painting from a photo

San Francisco, Fabulous as Always

photoSince we arrived yesterday afternoon for a couple of days OFF (excuse my yelling it!) in San Francisco, a longtime favorite city of ours, I will keep it mighty simple today. If you’ve ever had the smallest opportunity to visit this great city, you have no need to know why we’re thrilled to be here again, even for a quick stop. Stupendous food everywhere you go, glorious scenery (in this case, enhanced by perfectly clear, sunny and warm but breezy weather), fantastic walking, gorgeous architecture of all sorts, beloved historic and tourist friendly sites and sights galore, and most of all, a deeply endearing mix of cultures and ages and backgrounds among the people that make the people here memorably friendly and thoughtful and just plain fun to live among, however briefly.photo

So we are off from our temporary digs, located just outside the gate of the wonderful SF Chinatown, to enjoy the beauties of this marvelous place. I can’t be sitting around clicking and nattering on the web when San Francisco is right outside my door, much as I love talking to you lovely friends. I’ll give you a few quick snapshots from our locale here and get out to stock up on lots more.photoHappy Sunday, my fine friends!photo

I Left My Car in San Francisco

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Edmonton

Many cities are best appreciated on foot. No matter how plush or sexy a car you have, sitting in it immobile in ugly traffic is just as unattractive as ever–maybe more so, if you’re thinking that somewhere in the next six blocks, if you can ever traverse them, is the bling-swinging pedestrian, high-speed messenger’s bicycle or runaway shopping cart with your pretty car’s number on it, and nowhere in the next eighteen blocks is there such a thing as a parking space for under $40, should you negotiate the next six unscathed. Life in a car is rough enough.

But there’s so much you can see and do on foot anyway that is unattainable or at least seldom noticed from inside a car. Window shopping while driving is no safer or more successfully accomplished than texting at the steering wheel. People watching, one of the best entertainments and learning tools known to observant persons, is at best a fleeting glimpse while driving past, not like the pedestrian’s opportunity to slow down and say hello or, more covertly, sit on the nearest bench and watch the whole human show parade along its way. Some cities, like San Francisco and Prague, Seattle and Stockholm, have enough narrow hilly streets that you can’t see halfway along the block, let alone what’s up over the hill’s crest or down around the next curve.

But if you were trying to operate automotively anyway, how would you be close enough to smell the smoke of a wood-fired oven drifting out a cafe window, to peer in and notice a gilt coffered ceiling behind the revolving door of an old bank building, to catch the eye of the shop proprietor who winks at you out of the dim interior so slyly that you can’t resist going in to see the hand-woven silks so ravishingly gleaming under the curved glass of that ancient mahogany display cabinet? What chance would you have of getting ever so slightly jostled off your straight walking path so that you notice that in the almost invisible gap next to you, between the bent copper drainpipe on the left and the broken rusty post-box on the right, a narrow cobbled alley appears, with sunlight spilling into it in ragged patterns created by its tiny balconies swathed in brilliant yellow and red and purple flowers?

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Denton

I’ve always preferred in-town meanders of the bipedal variety over wheeled ones, especially those exploratory ones in a new town or just a new part of a familiar town. If there’s not too much ground to cover, I covet the freedom I have to stop and gape, to slow down, take sudden unplanned tours and detours, to take pictures of the quirky oddity that almostescaped my eye. The fitness that comes from walking certainly beats that of planting my posterior in a car seat, no matter how tensely city traffic might make me perch there, and if I do get weary there are not only refurbished old trams, pedicabs, monorails and water taxis to deliver me from my exhausted state to my actual destination if necessary, or better yet, a nice leisurely cafe break at a sidewalk table with a sparkling mineral water in hand and dark sunglasses on so I can see all of the action nearby without appearing to stare too disconcertingly while I catch my breath and give my aging parts a little welcome recovery time. I’m just grateful to have two functional legs, no matter how modest my fitness level happens to be.

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Casco Viejo

Since my dyslexic gifts (yes, I just spelled it dsylexic before editing) include complete lack of an inner compass, one of the particularities of strolling wanders for me is that I must always allow plenty of time, and assume a fair likelihood that I will be well and truly lost at least once per outing. Including in my home town. Possibly in my own yard. But so far I’ve always found my way back again, like the proverbial Bad Penny, and remained alive and unharmed. I’m reasonably canny about not going into dicey areas alone or after dusk, taking off without an emergency cell phone (now that I finally have one, though it really is strictly for emergencies thankfully), or going for a genuine who-knows-where expedition without telling someone. But beyond that, plus some welcome good luck and guardian angel accompaniments, I can say with a certain amount of pleasure, surprise and/or pride that many of my best adventures have happened as a direct result of just staying close to the ground and taking advantage of the fortuitous events that occurred along the way, embracing the goodness of the fun and fascinating people who cross paths with me in those fine and serendipitous ways that happen when you let them. They can’t put that stuff in tourist guidebooks.

So I’m glad that I got out and left behind any car in so many grand places, or I’d never have loved them so well. Munich, New York, Verona, Chicago, London .. . would any of them have been a tenth as lovely from a car as on foot? It’s possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t take back a single pair of my worn-out soles to find out for certain. I suspect more truly that it’s because I get up and leave my car in all those wonderful, fantastic places that I end up leaving my heart in all of them too.

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Boston