1.12.2011

SAN FRANCISCO DELIGHTS


Every time I've been to San Francisco in the last twenty years, it's been on business. Race in, meeting, race out. This is the first time I've had days to simply wander aimlessly through the streets. So my first Slow Love Life lesson, to all of you traveling to interesting places on business trips, do everything in your power to schedule a free day at the start or end of your work. It is so refreshing to set aside the business purpose, and rachet up to the pleasurable work of inspiration.

And then there is the business of the small gesture, about which I have written before. I kept seeing idiosyncratic touches all over the city, mainly because my sons and I spent hours gawking at the beautiful Victorian houses. Victorian architecture seems to bring out the whimsy in a homemaker, and we admired bold, even gaudy colors picked out on trim and shingles--turquoise and pinks, or orange and greens--and decorative flourishes in windows. Almost tropical weirdness. There were murals everywhere; something about this city makes people want to decorate the walls, whether with paint or shards of china or glass mosaics. These were on the side of a large cafe.





Even some of the road signs had strange personalities. My favorite one was stenciled into the bike path near Golden Gate Park, warning of traffic ahead to cyclists, of whom there are surprisingly many, given the number of high hills they must conquer. There were other death monsters in view: AIDS is on the rise again, and the number of homeless young people we saw was shocking. Many of them were drugged past caring about themselves. That was heartbreaking to see, but we learned from a young friend in medical school here that because San Francisco services are so compassionate, often the homeless are given bus passes by other cities so they can come here for help.

This is a city full of personality, and we found something to delight in around every corner. We happened into the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, a municipal glasshouse that was opened in 1879.


It is much more modest in scale than the august lady at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, but it has great charm. And there are beautiful architectural flourishes in the colored panes of glass rimming the top, and the steel paving along the paths.

Like the East Coast grande dame, the Conservatory has a train show running. Replicas of iconic San Francisco buildings and monuments are rendered in bits and pieces of its industries, whether computer chips or buttons and spools or cassettes or Post cereal boxes.

 And of course, horticulturally, the glasshouse offered some beautiful moments. Alex and I spent an hour wandering through the rooms while Theo practiced Qigong amidst the ornamental beds cut into the lawns. He is always calm and centered after he does that.


And I am always calm and centered after a visit to a tropical hothouse. Alex is calm and centered no matter what.

We wandered and window-shopped. I was especially drawn by a serenely beautiful shop, called Peace Industry, selling thick, hand-felted rugs made in Turkey the old-fashioned way, with boiled wool mashed into place; the rugs are pure wool and vegetable dyed, and designed by the owner, artist Melina Raissaia. Her blog is sweet, too, and in her descriptions of craft nights, she makes me realize how much of a spark of creativity a good shop owner can ignite in any community.
The shop was selling felt tree ornaments shaped like whirling dervishes festooned with sequins.



 It is camellia time here as well. I have decided that every year, I have to see camellias in the winter somewhere. My heart melts. Admittedly, people often treat camellias as though they were pink trash. I mean, what is this one doing hanging around with such a prosaic hand rail? It would be like putting on a ball gown to go to Kroger's. However, I am reminded of a wonderful picture of the Duchess of Devonshire in a ball gown feeding her chickens, which is of course meant to make you think she has come home at the crack of dawn and must tend to her chores before she collapses with exhaustion. Or, that she is an eccentric old bat. Or, that she is pretentious. Or, most likely, all of the above. I've never quite gotten over Katharine White (Onward and Upward in the Garden) weeding while wearing her Ferragamo pumps, but I old money has its unique charms, and why not? Well, as the feet wander, so does the mind.


It was a raw, damp day, and every once in a while we would catch a whiff of eucalyptus burning in people's fireplaces. There were many magnificent specimens of trees, not only the eucalyptus whose bark seems painted, but towering cedar of Lebanon as well.  I had a very happy moment of feeling like a sponge, just soaking it all up, and wringing myself inside out with happiness in the company of my sons, seeing an old place through new eyes.

18 comments:

JD said...

Hello, so glad you're having a good time! When I first saw the colors of those houses, having moved from the east, they were all so foreign, then the late afternoon sun streaming across the hills met and lit them up in a glow that I remember 40 years on. If you can,go to Olema and Point Reyes in west Marin. Beautiful! jd

Anonymous said...

Just finished your book, so am gobbling up all your posts. San Francisco is like my second home, I so love it there. "...wringing myself inside out with happiness in the company of my sons..." beautifully written.

Jane from Ohio

Darci said...

I always love reading your posts, Dominique. Thank you for sharing all the beauty you've experienced on your trip. It sounds lovely.

Madgew said...

Beautifully delightful travel log. Thanks.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

That last photograph of the tree bark contains all the perfect colours for a beach house. And the mosaic of the bull! What a fabulous quilt that would make!!
More inspiration, please!!!

Judith Ross said...

I hope you three have time to tour the murals in the mission district!

Vivien said...

If only more modern buildings had some decoration! Instead, many of them are autistic minimalist slabs with nothing for the eye to linger on, not even a curve or gable, apart from any attempt at adornment. Thanks for very interesting posts.
Vivien (Oxford, UK)

Warren said...

Your photo in the flower conservatory of the reflections is one of the most beautifully complex photos I've seen in a long time. Ditto the bark. You get a lot out of that little digital! Don't forget to go to the farmer's markets there. And eat something super farm-friendly to make up for that rail food!

The Ornamentalist said...

after over 30 years here i am still stopped in my tracks at beautiful moments in my city. so happy you had a chance to experience some of it.

The Foster Lady said...

Speaking of the Mission District, I hope you got to Tartine Bakery!

Stephanie Hextrum said...

From Stinson Beach,

In 1999, upon moving into a home my family and I built together (literally) in Stinson Beach, my sister gave me a subscription to House & Garden. It was then that I first met the incomparable essayist, Dominique Browning. It was fitting that this same sister would send me Ms. Browning's book, Slow Love, as a Christmas present to help me get through a devastating divorce after a 30 year marriage. Last night I read the chapter, "Selling the House," something I am facing this spring. Unlike Joyce Maynard, who can come off as vulgar, Ms. Browning shares her life with such eloquence that it borders on the literary as a timeless conversation about universal truths. Thank you, Ms. Browning, for making this current phase of my life a little less daunting.

Janice said...

I was given your book as a gift about eight months ago. Since then I've devoured it so many times it's dog earred and filled with my notes. Your gift at writing put into words the emotions I have been feeling for almost two years. When my first career was taken from me (after eighteen years) I reinvented myself with enthusiasm. Four years later I determined the "new" career was not my cup of tea and jumped ship. The transition was not as smooth as I expected as I found myself in a world of pajamas and day time survival without meetings, emails and phone calls! Thank you for memorializing your journey with both humor and sensitivity. I look forward to reading your blogs.

Cristina said...

each time I get carried away by your enthralling descriptions. thank you!

Valerie Wills Interiors said...

Sooo pleased you fell in love with my now adopted City. I moved to San Francisco nearly 14 years ago (from London) and am still in love with its beauty and charm and all the fabulous people it attracts ;o)

Dominique said...

Wow! Thanks so much on all the kind words--and thanks especially for noticing that conservatory picture. I was struck by the reflection of the ceiling in the water...I'm finding that having a camera is slowing me way, way down, and that's lovely. I never thought of a camera as a tool for meditation, but it is turning out to be one. To Stinson Beach: my brother and his family have Christmas there every year, and I've joined them on occasion. What a beautiful area, a very healing place, fantastic food and great views....I hope it helps you, and I'm glad my words can be of some comfort too.

I am such a sponge that everywhere I go, I have active fantasies of moving in....that makes travel exhausting and exhilarating....

Melissah said...

I just discovered your lovely blog. I'm just new into blogging & have just finished off my own blog on fashion & interior design.
scrapbook-melissah.blogspot.com
I had a lot of fun putting it together. I would love your feedback on it if you've got a spare minute.
x
Melissah

Claudia Juestel said...

What a delightful perspective of San Francisco. I have lived here 26 years, and everything you presented was new to me. Thank you for showing me "my" city in a new light.

Gorgeous photo of the tree bark. Looks like and abstract painting.

Cheers,

Claudia

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