The Test is Over

On Monday, for the first time in nearly 10 months, I woke up in San Francisco.

Yes, before we left for Italy, we signed a lease on a flat in Noe Valley. Timing-wise, it was ridiculous. We went to Italy for two weeks, came back and immediately started packing.  But despite the work that moving inevitably involves (even when you hire movers and have parents to help), I’ve been pretty blissed out about being back in the City.

It’s just so darn pretty here. Instead of riding BART alongside highways and over industrial areas, I take the J Church now which takes an almost comically lovely route past Victorian homes and along the brilliant green Dolores Park where you get a view of the city skyline.

I’m inspired by this city in a way I didn’t adequately appreciate until I didn’t live here.IMG_0349

But this isn’t meant to be a list of all that I prefer about San Francisco. In fact, thanks to Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, I’m thinking more positively about Oakland.

Despite the title, My Life in France isn’t just about France. In the book, Julia and her husband, Paul, also live in Germany, Norway and the U.S. and I couldn’t help but notice that she found something to appreciate about every place she lived.

She acknowledged that France was her true home (she called it her ‘spiritual home’ but I loathe the word spiritual), but in Germany, she relished the sausages and the beer. In Norway, she appreciated the excellent fish. And, of course, in France, she delighted in almost everything.

Reading her enthusiasm for all the places she lived encouraged me think a little differently about my life in Oakland. It wasn’t my ideal home, but there were things I liked about it.

My bike rides may never be as idyllic as they were in the East Bay, riding through lower Rockridge and down the wide, leafy Elmwood streets. Even the short ride to the Temescal Farmers Market went down quiet streets lined with mostly charming little houses. And I really appreciated being just a quick bike-ride away from a decent farmers market.

I’ll miss being able to pop into Bakesale Betty for one of their excellent fried chicken sandwiches (I made sure to have one before moving). I still want to try more of their pies since I liked the blueberry pie we had on the Fourth of July (and I especially liked that we were able to spontaneously bike over and pick up a pie on a holiday).

For more fried chicken, I’d love to go back to Brown Sugar Kitchen, a great, old-diner feeling place in the midst of a very industrial area. I really liked the combination of  fried chicken, a cornmeal waffle and apple cider-syrup: fat, salt and sugar all on one plate.

La Farine is no Tartine, but it was convenient and rarely crowded and there’s a certain comfort in knowing that a slice of lemon cheesecake is just a few blocks away.

Aside from food, service in the East Bay was often unbelievably nice. Even though Bakesale Betty often had Tartine-style lines, there was none of the Tartine-style attitude or indifference.

One of the things that initially drew me to the East Bay was the Craftsman homes (in fact, it still calls me. On returning to Oakland since the move, I still thought to myself, “This looks like a nice place to live.”)  But I didn’t realize how many stunning Art Deco buildings are in downtown Oakland, like the green I. Magnin building.

I’m tempted to joke about the Fox theater sign (what city needs a giant neon sign to tell you where you are?!), but the truth is, it’s awesome. I also love the Tribune sign and tower. It feels like something out of a comic book.

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There’s a small part of me that feels like perhaps we didn’t give the East Bay the chance it deserved, but I mostly feel like we knew immediately that it wasn’t right for us and the nearly 10 months we spent there were plenty.

The differences are immediate. The hardware store in our SF neighborhood is open on Sundays, and the corner market is open at 10:30pm. Across the street, a chef picks vegetables from a rooftop garden. A man sits on the corner and plays guitar at night.

That first morning back in SF, I woke up coughing and congested so I stayed home from work. I sat on the couch, left by the movers in the middle of the living room, surrounded by boxes and packing material and a ladder. From my landlord’s basement recording studio, I could hear the faint sounds of bluegrass music. I could hear the J Church streetcar clatter down Church Street. To some people, maybe these sounds would be disruptive. But to my ears, it was the happy sound of other people, of life, nearby.

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