When I am traveling abroad and people ask about my nationality, I tell them I am Californian. Not because I want to participate in the Americans-pretending-they-are-not-American-while-traveling-internationally trend (mostly I don’t), but because if I think about my “national” identity, as a part of a cultural group, I identify much more strongly with California than I do with America. To date, the only people who have quibbled with this approach have been other Americans. People outside the country tend to be with me on the notion of California as its own sort of nation–if not politically, than at least culturally. Instead of fielding questions about why people voted for W or complexities of our foreign policy, I get to field questions about Arnold Schwarzenegger and whether or not we all surf and hang out with movie stars.
This said, leaving California to live in the city that is in many ways the pulse of the nation of America, has been a challenge.
Some of this has been logistic. The seasons here actually change. I literally drove into an ice storm the night I arrived. It was very cold. Then it was very hot. Both of these circumstances limited greatly my capacity to be outdoors–something that I rather resent. Furthermore, it appears that for about six months out of the year, I will be mosquito fodder every time I go outside. This just plain sucks. Lastly, they apparently take that adage about not wearing white after labor day seriously.
Other things are cultural. The attitude is different. They do not seem to believe in customer service, or at least not service with a smile…. People are more abrupt (ruder, a Californian might complain). Things move faster. They start later (this I wholeheartedly support). The buildings are brick, not stucco. There is no ocean. Within two sentences of introduction, someone is likely to ask you what you do, and assess you for strategic importance to their own relative position. Some people are more subtle about this than others; when Diana was in town we talked to a bartender near Capitol Hill who said people had actually dismissed him as not worth talking to upon learning that he was merely a bartender–saying essentially that knowing you is not going to help my career. This is of course, an extreme, but it certainly illustrates a tendency that I have witnessed.
All told, these changes have taken their toll on me. I didn’t realize how much until I planned a trip to go back home–California. It wasn’t until I committed to that trip that I realized how homesick I had actually been.
The trip was actually a tag-on to a conference I attended in Las Vegas (sociologists do Vegas…that’s worth its own post); I headed there first before my real vacation began. But the need for some California time was affirmed that Friday night when my plane hit down at LAX–I nearly cried to be on California soil, breathing in the cool, dry air of the Pacific coast (ok, with a healthy infusion of LA flavored smog, but hey–I had even missed LA). My flight was supposed to go on to Vegas that night, and when I realized that I had missed my transfer (we had sat on tarmac on both sides of the flight due to weather and incompetency on the part of air-traffic control), I did cry–but not until I had harangued several unhelpful United employees (because let’s be honest, LA is no bastion of good customer service itself) and booked a room at an airport hotel. Still, even the shitty part of LA between LAX and my airport hotel assuaged me on some micro-Californian level. The air was dry! There were palm trees!
And a few days later when I landed in Oakland and was whisked into San Francisco by my sister, my real week-long love affair with my home state begin (aided by flight delays thanks to the hurricane, I got a few extra days of California time. Thanks Irene!). An old friend from San Diego joined me for his first visit to the city, which gave me an excuse to be a tourist, and eat my way through San Francisco with the abandon of a first time visitor and the knowledge of a local (thanks to my own time spent there, and the advice of my sister, who really is).
We ate breakfast at Tartine, visited the San Francisco Mission (as in, the actual mission that the district is named for. This resulted in several iterations of this conversation:
“We visited the mission. I had never been there before.”
“You’d never been to the Mission???”
“Well, not the mission. I’ve been to the MISSION, like the neighborhood…”
“Wait–there’s a mission?”
Apparently San Franciscans don’t think too hard about what the Mission district is named for.)
Also on our tourist circuit was SFMOMA, where we joined the surprisingly dense Tuesday afternoon crowds who packed in to see an exhibit on Gertrude Stein & family’s contribution to the burgeoning modern art scene in Paris in the pre and inter war period. We also went through a beautiful and dramatic photography exhibit that focused on witnessing global current events objectively through the lens. We unfortunately were suffering from sensory overload by that time, and didn’t get to see much from the permanent collection, but we did rest our feet in the sculpture garden long enough to enjoy the cityscape and sculptures and nibble on a left over roll from Tartine that I had wisely stuffed in my bag that morning when my eyes proved larger than my stomach.
We continued our quest of eating through the city with a cheese plate and a glass of wine on top of the Yerba Buena Center, before meeting my sister and her new boyfriend (who was being offered up for approval) for sushi at my favorite sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki. This is the one sushi restaurant in the world where I know I can order anything on the menu without having to worry about it being unsustainable. Unfortunately we made such a ruckus laughing over an old 4th grade journal that my sister brought to read us that it might be awhile before I can go back there, but hopefully by the time I make it back to the city we will have been forgotten.
The following day took us through Chinatown, Northbeach, and the Marina before I said goodbye to my friend and headed to the East Bay for some quality time with the ‘rents, which included more good food (thanks to dad’s fantastic cooking), mom’s new Micheal Jackson dance video, and also some time with my best friend, some of which included attempting to line dance at a country western club in Fremont. The extra time the hurricane bought me meant an afternoon in the city with the rents. We explored the SF Botanical Gardens until it was time to meet sister for dinner.
Isn’t this post titled Operation Love DC? you might be wondering by now. And it is. So where’s the DC love?
Well after reveling in California for a full week, I got on a plane to head back to my storm-tattered east coast home with mixed feelings. Although I had had a wonderful trip, and had been thoroughly reminded how much I loved my home state, I was also looking forward to going home.
Throughout all my eating and drinking and reveling in the golden state, some wheels had been turning during and after my stint with the sociologists in Vegas. More on that later, but when the wheels arrived at their destination, the conclusion was that I am likely to give DC a few more years of my life before being ready to move on to the next step (return to the ivory tower–more on this another time). Which meant that like it or not, DC was where I needed to learn to call home. And not just because it was where I had an address, but because it was where I was deciding to live.
So, no white after today. I will learn to love the stupid weather (if not the mosquitoes). I will continue to get comfortable wearing suits, and being sized up by people wearing their career goals on their sleeves. More importantly though, I have decided to redouble my efforts at finding things to love about DC.
There are a few things already on my list. I love my yoga studio–it is the closest I have come to feeling a sense of community since arriving here. I love the Takoma Park farmer’s market, even if shopping there means I will eat nothing but butternut squash for much of the winter. I love the metro (if not the metro-bus); because if there is one thing that is far superior on the East Coast, it is public transportation. I love the abundance of museums–especially since most of them are free–and the sense of something happening that comes from being in the Capitol (even if nothing is being accomplished).
That’s a good place to start–so in the future, I will try to update new things that I have found to love about DC. For starters, a friend took me to H St. NE yesterday, a neighborhood that is billed ‘up-and-coming’ (i.e. in the middle of transitioning from a rough neighborhood to a destination neighborhood). We played shuffleboard at a game themed restaurant/bar that includes skee-ball and mini-golf (which people here insist on calling putt-putt…), and then had a great dinner of moules frites at a gastropub that won ‘best mussels’ in one of the city papers. Kind of a weird category, but they were damn good (so was the oatmeal pie we had for dessert–yum). We also poked around the National Portrait Gallery, which has the distinction of being the museum I go to the most here simply because it is open later than the rest (until 7 instead of 5).
As much as I still miss home, I think there will be plenty here to keep me occupied for a while. And although I somewhat feared that my trip home would reinforce my homesickness, I think it has made it go away simply by reminding me that as much as I may miss it, California will always be there for a visit, and an eventual return.