It’s Monday and all day long FIP (the French radio station we live our lives too) has been playing an endless array of David Bowie. The night before we were standing on the highest peak in the city, sharing a flask of whiskey and pulling our jackets close. We climbed in the dark, single file, with our night eyes; Sutro Tower and its blinking lights looming up above, nothing but rocky soil below me, cold air around me (pinching my cheeks and nose) and friends beside me. There were stars above us and stars below us and stars in our hands, spitting out light and flame as we waved our arms around and spun on our heels on the unsteady ground. We’re alone, here on top of the world, but even here someone’s phone buzzes and cold white words on a black screen tell us ‘David Bowie dies at 69 of cancer.’ Briefly we were in Neverland and now we’re back on earth. The sparklers sputter out. We play that song on the phone and with the ocean at our backs looked down at the thousand thousand lights of our island city, felt the wind in our eyes and the cold in our bones and in that moment each one of us knows that we are alive.
Other ways to know you’re alive: clams cooked in tomato sauce with garlic and parsley; big oysters shucked by hand, tasting of the ocean, in a small kitchen full of chatter and Salsa music. Endives, arugula and radicchio soaked in water, fresh and crisp; then drained and tossed with pecorino, walnuts and pomegranates in a simple home-made lemon vinaigrette. A whole duck, beheaded, limbs removed, feathers burnt off, roasted and glazed with honey and almonds and served with a porte sauce. Sticky, creamy, buttery pomme puree. After all this a ribeye is presented — a surprise for the hosts. She slices garlic and presses them into the flesh of either side with salt and pepper and whole thyme sprigs. He slowly toasts rosemary bread and smashes ricotta with olive oil mushroom confit which we spoon onto the toast while the steak marinates.
There are times when I despair of the world — what is the point of my shallow first world life? Of posting on this blog, of publishing an instagram of coffee — when all around the world people are hurting each other so badly? There are times when I despair of this town — when I visit people living outside of San Francisco and I come back home feeling like a savage – here in my clapboard shanty on the edge of the frontier, barely keeping a veneer of civility going around the dirt and grime; desperation and struggle. My friends and I cobble together homes as best we can but none of us actually have enough money to be here — it seems like this is all anyone ever talks about anymore. We’re all clinging on the outside of this ship as it plows through the ocean and inside I can hear music and laughter and the clink of fine china but my fingers are slipping against the salty, damp wood and the world within feels as far away as here to the moon. Ten years ago I had no idea what lay before me but I still believed with wild determination that even though I had been born into this world with nothing someday I’d be inside the ship, in a state room of my own, and then the next ten years ebbed and flowed and now the waves have brought me here to this moment and this is life, each moment is life and I’m living it in a very strange place in a very unusual way but then I look around at the people in my life that the waves have brought me to and all these shabby and beautiful Victorians and I step onto Market st with the air like glass and the fog blowing by like a memory and all the energy of a city humming through me and it’s a cliche to say that life is what you believe it to be but it’s true nonetheless so I’ll say it here, just for you — I believe that life can still be good, and that oysters taste wonderful.
I learned about FIP (and then never looked back) from Alyssa and Arnaud — the kind of bonafide power couple I strive to be part of. They’ve built a beautiful life together full of sleek, bright, clean modernity with strong wood accents and a French twist. She began her blog this year documenting a love for all things French through the eyes of a Californian married to an expat (I’m obsessed and you should be too). On a warm SoCal afternoon she gathered her friends outdoors (sometimes living in SoCal has its benefits and never more when you feel like hosting an outdoor afternoon meal in the middle of winter) for a decadent, sprawling lunch of French-classics-made-vegan — beet bourguignon (light but savory and overloaded with thyme); creamy, buttery faux gras made with lentils and mushrooms; mashed cauliflower; vegan cheese; cornichons, and — of course — a couple crusty baguettes. She wined and dined us leisurely for hours — as I imagine her French in-laws would be proud of — and when I finally bid my au revois I stepped out onto a street that I knew I’d been on many times before but had just then become dear and familiar to me. These big trees, the 1940’s houses with their careful plotting and big lots; in the late afternoon light poured through these trees in a way that transformed the whole street and in those fleeting golden moments I was no longer in Long Beach but in El Dorado.
A long week beginning and ending in darkness brought me to this bright kitchen, warm and smelling of lemon, herbs, and roasting olive oil. Family gathered around a blue wood and glass table. In the oven leeks carmelize amongst potatoes with rosemary and chicken scattered with garlic, lemon peel and curry. Sparkling wine, cheese and bread and salami and olives and artichoke hearts, chips and spicy salsa. We drove to Santa Cruz with a mission to sort through the final objects from a man’s life that ended months ago. As we entered a redwood forest my phone buzzed with news of more death on the other side of the world. Paris under attack. Forty dead. Hostages under fire. One hundred dead. Our bodies sway with each curve of the highway and I let myself move with the car. I am in shock. E is 8 months pregnant, and D’s father is dead — how many more of the world’s troubles can you add to this? We’re on a mission here that has weighed them down and will be hard enough on its own but it is backlit by this tragedy. FIP plays sad songs and the DJ’s speak in voices of grief and set the scene for us each hour. I watch Ellen move — through the airbnb house, through the grocery store, prepping chicken, roasting potatoes, back and forth across the kitchen — all with the grace of a dancer, light on her feet, face unchanged, slim, beautiful, belly never seeming to get in her way. She moves through the storage unit — which was so much easier to handle than anyone expected. It had been hanging over their heads for so long it had grown to a size far larger than the thing itself. E almost laughed when we slid open the rusty sliding door to reveal how small the space really was. Even so, there was so much to go through. Artwork of D’s as a child, artwork of his fathers. So many books — he had been a teacher, was learning how to play poker, kept several copies of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ at hand at all times — a kitchen’s worth of odds and ends, some so old and threadbare other’s surprisingly well made and intact. Golf clubs. A bicycle. Several tables, a dresser, camping equipment, boxes of letters, photographs, bills, old grades of D’s. A laminated plaque with his name that must have sat on a desk that wasn’t here. Coats and trousers, ties and shoes. We sifted through it with a numbness that only time can grant and some of us made claim to some items and most went to Goodwill and a few went into a collection deemed unworthy of either grouping. M and I found ourself tasked with taking those boxes to the county dump, which we later realized was overkill for the amount of things we had to trash but it did allow me the very singular experience of visiting a dump for the first time in my life. We got lost on a dirt road and then waited in a long line of other cars before being let in and directed to level 5, which we never found. Instead we drove up and up around this giant mountain, past fields of grass they’d planted to detoxify the soil, so many birds wheeling and diving overhead. As we gained in hight I could see all the rolling hills and fields around us, men picking strawberries just on the other side of the dirt road from the dump which I thought far too close for comfort. Somehow we went straight from level 4 to level 6, past a graveyard of broken television sets, to the highest point of the dump. We jumped out and set the boxes on the sprawling pile of trash that a few other people were adding to at the same time, and as I set the final one down I saw that the name plaque had shifted to the top. We jumped back into E’s father’s 1985 Toyota Tacoma and as we turned around to drive off our box was still on top, with his name at the highest point, as though this entire mountain was a cairn just for him.
Pat and Kelly pick us up and we hop in the back seat with their Mattie, who snuggles adorably in between us as we take off across our city to the crooning of Amy Winehouse. We’re heading across the bridge to catch that golden magic that comes just before sunset and there wasn’t a better way to close off a year of romantically inclined photography than with these adorable lovebirds.
These are a few of the things I’ve been up to lately — not to mention working on the writing for this blog post which has literally taken me months. I thought I could post this on New Year’s Eve — a final post for 2015 — but I didn’t like where I was at in the editing so I gave myself another two weeks and I’m so happy I did. For those reasons alone I doubt I’ll be using this platform regularly in the immediate future — I want to work on my writing on a level that doesn’t mesh well with weekly or even monthly posting. As for that other project I mentioned? I’m digging through journals, notes, loose papers and old emails. My writings are scattered across so many mediums but a fire has been lit and for the first time I know what to do with all these scribbles — I know the beginning and the end and I have an idea of the framework and now it’s fleshing in everything else. I don’t know if this will be a book, a short story, or a screenplay, but I do know that I couldn’t be doing this without you, my reader and my friend — this is the moment I’ve been working towards and hoping for since I logged into wordpress 6 years ago and began tapping into this side of me, and I would never have made it this far if it weren’t for you, for your encouragement and kindness, for the strength you’ve lent me just by entering this address in your browser, by all your comments, through our community on instagram, even sometimes (those rare unicorn sometimes) connections in person. So thank you so much, you big souled heroes and heroines, you lovers of life. Thank you for challenging me and pushing me forward. The world has many dark corners in it, so keep shining that light and don’t let it go out.
In the immortal words of Mr. Bowie — now it’s time to leave the capsule, if you dare.
photo of us by the lovely Kelly, all other photography by me or MB