Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 San Francisco - Day 5 - Afternoon

(Link to all 2015-April San Francisco / Berkeley trip blog posts)

Our driver from Dylan's Tours mentioned the "Torta Cubana" from "That's It" at 23rd and Mission. I was curious to try it as the place had apparently been on television -- I'm always up for eats that might be interesting -- but time was the enemy now. Today was booked. Tomorrow was hiking with my Berkeley friend and her fellow homeschooling mom friends. And I still had Tartine, Scoma's and Mongolian food at "Let's Jazz" to fit in, plus a couple of places on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
Yes, Tartine -- I had initially given up when I first walked by on a late afternoon, but the driver's assurance that if one goes early, it wouldn't be so packed gave me hope. It had been recommended over and over that I felt I had to go.
Another tip from the driver was that the California Street Cable Car usually didn't have a lineup, and it went up the steepest of San Francisco's hills.

We reached our first "lunch stop" at Haight-Ashbury and received a code for the staff washroom at the Haight Street Market. I am thankful that we got to use the washroom, but there was no way I was going to waste my time here waiting in line for a sandwich. Not when an intriguing purple store was right across the street: The Love of Ganesha.

The veiled entrance is a brilliant transition from the busy-ness of Haight Street into a totally different space that is more peaceful and infinitely more exotic. Even the changing rooms are elegantly and exotically furnished. The next thing that will probably catch your eye is the curious "meditation cave" at the back, like a short dome hut, with an elephant inside. Look closer and it is a shrine to Ganesha.

This is a holy place.

Staff are welcoming and friendly, and invite you to use the meditation cave if you show any interest in it at all -- even if you don't buy anything from the store. They do ask you to remove your shoes first, so it's best to bring a friend who can watch your things (e.g., your shoes) while you are inside if you are at all nervous about someone walking off with your stuff while you are having your quiet time.

At this point, keenly aware of time, I really wasn't sure what came over me but seeing the offerings of fruit in front of the shrine (and the note to please not steal the fruit when using the meditation cave), I was inspired to present an offering. I was overcome with a sense of gratefulness -- for a safe trip so far, for everything I had in my life, for the kindnesses people had shown me throughout my trip.
I was also immediately conflicted because in the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna basically teaches that he is everything, and worshipping any of the lesser gods is basically inferior, and indirect way of venerating him, and in a way a waste of time because ultimately your spiritual goal is to escape the illusion of the material world and karmic reaction, and the other gods, though spiritually more advanced, are still part of that world.
Anyway, I rushed back to the Haight Street Market and grabbed a bunch of bananas, and a 1-pound pack of curious "Kumato" brown tomatoes for "lunch". Back to The Love of Ganesha with time trickling down to the rendezvous with the tour. I asked if I could make an offering, and the staff person I spoke with thanked me for it. I took off my shoes and went inside to place the bananas and close my eyes briefly in grateful prayer and a moment of quiet time.

Normally I completely miss all sorts of "spiritual reactions" like feelings of openness or elation after kirtan, or any sort of energy healing. But this one time... I felt... something. It was like the space enveloped me and immediately began to reduce -- to combat -- the anxiety of what was a busy day. So quickly and instantly did the feeling come upon that I was honestly shocked, and initially a little frightened.
I wish I could have stayed longer.
I thanked Ganesha and Lord Krishna, then left the cave reverently. I thanked the staff person for creating this special space. She invited me to please have something to eat from a table of assorted treats -- cookies, some sweets (?), and mandarin oranges -- next to a cooler of cold water with lemon and cucumber slices floating inside. I accepted a small paper cup of the refreshing water and took just one mandarin orange before leaving the store.
Leaving forever, I guess.
It's unlikely I'll ever be back.

Curiously, my diary notes for Sunday's tour end here until after the day was done, though there were still moments that made me pause. I suppose the pace of the tour, and always feeling worried I would miss something if I didn't stare out the van window, led me to put my journal away.

Two incidents at the Golden Gate Bridge.
First, I overheard the one female jogger lash out at a tourist with unexpected vitriol. "Don't point that camera at me, bitch! I can report you!" or something like that. Holy moly. Was she actually being recorded or was the tourist pointing it over her head at the Golden Gate Bridge behind her? Why'd she have the hubris to think she was so worthy of being photographed as a keepsake by a random stranger probably from the antipodes who will never ever see her again?

Second, the Golden Gate Bridge really held no fascination for me. Maybe after seeing it so many times in pictures I was jaded. Instead I wandered into the nearby Fort Point to get a different view of the area up atop the fort walls, as well as to look at the displays of how soldiers there lived. Why had I never heard of this? It was great! The fort itself appeared well-preserved and the details (like what food rations a soldier got per day) really helps to imagine life there.
But even more interesting than the Fort itself was the one person in a wheelchair in the lonely courtyard. Everyone else had of course clambered up the stairs to the floors and roof to check the displays and enjoy the view. But without tampering with the Fort, it couldn't be wheelchair accessible. And so we have the quandary of how to include the "mobility challenged".
It might have been possible to carry the wheelchair up some of the broader winding steps, but that would have taken at least two persons. So this one person in the wheelchair... what could they do except park in the courtyard and just look wistfully up.
I think that one moment, helped me closely empathize with wheelchair bound persons. For so many things that "normal" people take for granted, you are at the mercy of the sympathy of others. That is a very disempowering feeling that reduces you to a beggar. Or you can have your dignity and not ask -- and miss out.

Totally lost track of time at Fort Point and got back to the Dylan's Tour van late with everyone waiting for me. I hate being late.
Onwards over the bridge toward Muir Woods -- passing by colourful (and sardined-with-people) Sausalito, which I still think would have been a better lunch stop than Haight-Ashbury, though a half hour wouldn't have been enough here.
At the Woods I set my cellphone alarm app to give me a thirty-minute warning then headed into the redwoods.

Muir Woods was a forest. We also have forests in Vancouver and the surrounds as well.
Okay, Muir Woods has taller trees. I'll give them that.

I didn't have time to hear the full nature talk from the Park Ranger, but all the information he had to give was already in the brochure you got when you purchased your entrance ticket.
The plank walkways are an interesting choice here because they help to keep visitors from wandering into, and disrupting, the woods. Which also limited your interaction with the trees, so every chance I got I reached out to touch a tree. I idly thought of taking off my shoes and hugging trees, but that would have been too weird for the never-ending stream of tourists. Instead I had to be satisfied by placing my palm briefly against the bark, and thanking them for being here.
The unasked question was, "Why did I do that?"

Proceeding further along, I caught up with an older couple from our group who were doing Dylan's Tour as their one thing before flying out for Burma that night. They asked me to take a photo, and as soon as I agreed, the wife stepped right off the platform path to stand next to a tree.
I was aghast. I tried to explain it was not allowed, but she simply stated matter-of-factly, "I am here already" and got ready to be photographed.
We all laughed and I took the photo.
Later, back at the van, when the husband regaled me with tales of their fantastic-bordering-on-spiritual experiences in other countries, he'd say that the best pictures are the forbidden ones. Like when you're not supposed to take photographs -- apparently something his benignly irreverent wife was apt to do.
Then he invited me to join them travelling in Burma. Nice! (And no, I didn't take him up on that offer--I had hiking with friends on Monday).

The final incident of interest for me happened during the photo-op at the Marin Headlands. There is a fence to prevent daredevils from going too far off road and down the hill. On that simple fence was a lonely lock. A woman spotted that and told her companion she was going to pick it and to give her "5 minutes". She returned shortly with a lockpicking set.
Yes -- she had what looked like a set of professional picks, not makeshift tools. And just like that, she sat down and started picking that lock.
Who the hell has that?
This was particularly of interest to me because of the sheer coincidence that on my last overseas trip to Germany (many, many years ago), my local friend took me to a curious and artistic place he called The Imperfect Hotel, where various artists could occupy various public rooms and practice their craft -- and people can occasionally wander in. In one of those rooms was a meeting of what appeared to be a club of lockpickers, complete with a practice door lock and a myriad of tools.

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