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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Goeth All in Pink

For a long time I had this poster in my office (I love British transport posters, both new and vintage). And while the poem declares that spring "goeth all in white," around here she seems to be favoring a rather rosier wardrobe.

I've been feeling pity for my waterlogged Bay Area friends and all the rain they've had to endure, and after reading this lament for the absence of spring's "pink-flowered glory," I thought I would share a few vicarious April thrills.

This tulip magnolia just about knocked my socks off as I walked to the hardware store a few days ago.

The clouds might decend here, too, but they can't dampen the spirits of this avenue of pink ladies.

A pink azalea with bursting yellow forsythias.

This little tabby wasn't pink, but her name was Lily.

Best springtime illustration award? William Steig's "The Amazing Bone."


Saturday, April 15, 2006

CandyStore Can

Shopping in other cities (or, preferably, other countries) is so much more fun than shopping where you live, don't you think? Instead of seeing the same old tired T-shirts and handbags you've been noticing at every store in your tired old town, everything is fresh and new, even magical. "If only I had that blouse, my whole life would be better." (At least that is what you think if the store's marketing plan has been successful.)

I went to Paris with my cousin last spring, her first visit there, and as we were planning our week she asked me what was the big deal about Paris shopping. Apparently everyone she knew had excitedly mentioned it to her, and she had a hard time imagining what could be that great about it, how it could be all that different from home. Well, after two minutes in our first department store, she looked at me with wide eyes, saying, "It's all different clothes, even the colors are different. Everything is so cute!" A kind of shopping mania descended upon us, and even though the store was closing in half an hour we managed to emerge at the end of the frenzy with several bags apiece, giddy with the thrill of acquisition. "I finally understand what people mean by a shopper's high," she said as we staggered back onto the street.

But I digress.

A San Francisco friend had told me about CandyStore on 16th St. in the Mission District when I admired the beautiful abstract silver ring she got there, and in the interest of keeping things simple and my spending down, I vowed not to venture into any other store during our recent San Francisco visit. Unfortunately this resolution didn't really help me, as I ended up liking it so much I went there two days in a row and bought, well, a lot.

What was so special about it? Let's start with the window. Notice how the colors of the striped dress (Talla, if you're curious; she apparently has studio space behind the shop) are perfectly picked up by the teal shoes, pink lamp, and that funky tree painting. How did they do that? Was the painting custom-designed for the window display, or was it all just retail kismet? However it happened, it worked on me.

The space itself is one of those classic San Francisco storefronts (it previously housed the Mimi Barr store), big and light with high ceilings. There's not tons of merchandise, but what's there is carefully selected (I predict Lucky magazine will call it either "well edited" or "lovingly curated," if they haven't already), and as a reviewer on the site Yelp describes it, it is an "eclectic but coherant mix" of new and vintage clothing and home stuff, with a strong emphasis on indie designers.

I noticed our friend Lisa's Good on Paper line is represented there; this proves they have nice taste.

The other thing about shopping in other cities is not having to worry that everyone else will be wearing the same thing as you, or will even just know where you got it. Not that I care all that much - it's certainly not going to stop me from buying something I like - but there's something kind of uncomfortable about wearing a great new dress to a party and all the other women there saying, "Oh, you're wearing the dress from the Candy Store window." (Yes, reader, I bought the dress. And was not a little influenced by my friend Natalie, she of impeccable style, who admired it as we walked by the window the previous night.)

There's a subtle but significant difference between noticing an appealing item of clothing another woman is wearing, and noticing it because you recognize it from Banana Republic. I don't know why it matters but it does. I read somewhere that while American women freely share information about their favorite clothing sources, French women never reveal their shopping secrets. It's strictly don't ask don't tell, so to speak.

I'd choose my generous American girlfriends any day, but the French ladies are still probably onto something.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

What Else Do I Miss?

California avocados.


What Do You Miss?

Isn't it interesting, when you move away from a place, the things you end up missing about it? It isn't always what you expect, or the things you would list as your favorites while you were there.

I lived in San Francisco just shy of ten years, and though we were back for a wedding this past October, it was close enough to when we'd moved that things were pretty much the same - friendships picked up about where we'd left them, neighborhoods unchanged. It was more disorienting than anything, and I found myself getting confused from time to time about where we currently lived, especially during the inevitable "East Coast vs. West Coast" conversations that cropped up with other wedding guests. It was hard to remember which side I was supposed to be defending.

This time it felt different - the city had time to move on from where it was when we left it. In our personal circle there'd been break-ups, babies born, friends planning to move away. And then, in the public realm, the inevitable new stores, the restaurants that were still there but suddenly past their prime. You can't help but feel a little jilted - "Wait! How can you all go on without me?" I thought about an essay written by Colson Whitehead in the aftermath of September 11th, "Lost and Found," in which he talks about only truly belonging to a city "when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now." (In his case that city could only be New York: "I was born here and thus ruined for anywhere else." If you've never read this piece, check it out - it will give you chills.)

I don't know if San Francisco ever really belonged to me. We did have a giddy love affair of sorts during the dot come heyday - sure, I bitched and moaned about the ever-present callow yuppies talking loudly about their stock options at the next table in the trendy restaurant, but the fact is, I was right there at the trendy restaurant, too, and the only reason I wasn't talking stock options is I couldn't ever quite figure out how they worked. I said I was annoyed by it all, but since I hadn't really known the city before the dot com days, when it was over and everyone went home again things felt kind of sad, quiet, like the shine had worn off. And much as I loved my first mild winter there - no snow, no itchy skin, no static cling - I never really cottoned to the muted seasons of Northern California. No wonder ten years slipped by like nothing - without the clearly delineated seasonal cycle of my Midwestern childhood I had no way to know the time was passing.

Leaving it, I find I'm allowed to love it again. It's always easier to romanticize a place when you're not actually living there. The litter problem, the exorbitant real estate, the obsession with style - you don't own these things anymore, they don't impact you and reflect on you personally. Revisiting my old neighborhood I was finally able to take a fondly detached view of the perennial parade of punks, hipsters, urban primitives and hippies - "ah, same old Mission" - rather than feeling frustrated by the limited roster of favored uniforms and my old discomfort that I had outgrown the scene. I didn't have to fit in anymore; now I was just visiting, so I could relax and enjoy the spectacle.

In no particular order, these are some things I didn't know I was missing until I encountered them again last week:

- The smell of eucalyptus in the air.
- Really good eggs benedict.
- Beer and wine at every corner store. I didn't even need to buy any - it was just so nice to see it there again.
- Those wacky West Coast flowers that I had grown tired of. Lo and behold I once again found them charmingly wacky! I guess we just needed some space.
- Odd, perfect little shops like Faye's Video, purveyor of movies, good coffee, and not much else, shelves adorned by adorable little drawings of bunnies and things, courtesy of co-owner Mike, and serving as a sort of neighborhood community hub.

I left my heart in San Francisco, but I've left it lots of other places, too, and I don't think it ever totally had it until I, myself, left. The picture above is what I think of as an alternative San Francisco icon, a landmark unlike the grand Golden Gate Bridge in that only true residents know it's a landmark. Not Sutro Tower or Twin Peaks (though they're probably mostly known by locals, as well) but the big Safeway supermarket sign, marking the juncture of four neighborhoods and even inspiring the semi-serious district name "Safeway Heights." Until I saw it out the window of our friends' living room, I didn't know how much I'd missed it.

What do you miss?

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