Marching in the cold rain, my END WHITE SUPREMACY sign sagging, my husband and children festooned with glowstick necklaces, my city jammed with peaceful protestors from Civic Center to the Ferry Building: Market Street one river of loving souls.
The next day, beyond exhausted, crashed out on the couch; shy Alice making her way up onto my chest, quietly as if I might not notice, then crashing out there with me for most of the afternoon. Her fur from which no light escapes. The soft floof that grows out between her toe beans.
Driving up Bernal Hill with Liz to enjoy the raggedy clouds and dramatic light and rainbows. Stopping in silence at Alex Nieto’s memorial, a landslide of flowers.
An emergency drill at NERT to teach us how to self-organize and keep records. Head down counting people in and out of Logistics as incident after incident came in to Planning and Operations; adrenaline and worry and focus and exhilaration. When we got through it, high-fives all round.
At the exquisitely restored Curran Theatre to see Fun Home with my wife and our kids (it’s great; you should go.) The audience filled with lesbians a generation older than us; the ones who cared for men dying of AIDS; my angels, the saints of our city. May I walk in their sacred footsteps.
Our trainers organized a little jump club in our covered arena. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, with the cheery horse show atmosphere of special occasion but without the flop-sweat terror of serious competition. The light was spectacular for the early rounds:
I rode later, after the sun had set. Sam was in great form, keen and forward off my leg. We jumped a nice clear at 80cm and Toni asked me if I wanted to step up to the 1m class. I said that I did. The whole time I was waiting to ride my second round I second-guessed myself, but there hasn’t been a better horse than Sam or a friendlier setting in which to step up.
We jumped a nice clear in the 1m class. They start to look like proper fences at that height. I wasn’t scared. I was excited and happy.
6pm: wheels down at JFK
6-8pm: stuck in UN traffic with an elderly bearded white taxi driver who plays country music and tells me the mileage on each vehicle he owns and exactly what happened last time he went to the DMV. When his credit card reader turns out to be offline, he locks all the doors and demands to know how I am going to pay. When I am released I go to an ATM, thrust the cash at him and flee.
8pm: I am an hour late for dinner but Leonard is still waiting for me, because he is delightful. We talk about technology for libraries and strategies for writing science fiction novels. I have the pork saltimbocca and a tiramisu of unusual size
10pm: stress about my talk
11pm-6am: wake every hour on the hour to make sure I haven’t overslept
7am: realize I have overslept
7:30am: rehearsal. Everyone is delightful. I am filled with terror
8am: in the speaker’s lounge. Too late to back out.
9:30-10am: I give my talk. I flub half the lines, but people say lovely things about it both to my face and on Twitter
11am: coffee with the lovely Fintan. We talk about containerization
12noon: lunch with the wonderful Francis and the amazing Gus. I have the moules marinieres and an excellent tarte tatin. We talk about word puzzles and technology for Doctors Without Borders and San Francisco high school choices and I have to tear myself away
1:30-2:30pm: taxi ride to JFK in which nothing goes wrong and I do not fear for my life. I leave an excessive tip
4pm: wheels up!
We did good.
Last year it was lovely Lagrasse that granted all our wishes; this year it was Barcelona’s turn to give us the bathroom, parking space, wifi and hotel printer for which we collectively yearned. Mister Christopher was waiting for us in the hotel cafe, and he whisked us away to lunch at a nearby taverna, a meal that immediately eclipsed anything I had eaten in France (Vichysoisse, melon cream with jamón Ibérico, duck confit on mashed pumpkin, Crema Catalana.) Afterwards we walked to the Arc de Triomf, with an extended layover at a playground on the way and a pause to obtain excellent ice cream; through the park to El Born, the cast-iron-and-glass Victorian marketplace with Roman ruins in its basement (a long argument for Catalan nationhood); swiftly through the gorgeous Gothic Quarter to Flax & Kale for a very good dinner.
Today we met up with the Moores and visited La Sagrada Familia (another long argument for Catalan nationhood). I last saw the building in the 90s when it was roofless and bare, and I fell instantly and hopelessly in love with it. Since then it has been roofed over and consecrated. I walked through the doors in the Nativity façade, stopped dead and pretended I wasn’t blubbing. The rainbow stained-glass windows, the soaring, branching vaults, the curvilinear forms. It was like the first time I saw redwoods, or the kelp forest. A choir sang in my mind: O Holy Night, Gloria in Excelsis.
We spent hours in the basilica, climbing the towers in the Passion facade (Rowan: “Woah! This is AWESOME! Claire, Julia: look down!”) and exploring the museum in the crypt. I have to learn more about Gaudí and about the Catalans. When we had finally exhausted ourselves, we found a fantastic Extramaduran place around the corner for lunch (jamón Ibérico, tortilla de patata, pimientos de padrón, more paella than we could possibly eat). Christopher met us there and said: “So how was the cathedral?”
“It was okay.” I said, and we all looked at each other and started to laugh.
I realized just before our flight that we would be landing half way through the matinee for which we had tickets; proof if proof were needed of just how badly I needed a break. I called Grant and woke him at 1am to explain, and somehow by the time we landed he had cajoled the theatre into exchanging our cheap-ass matinee tickets for tickets to the evening performance. Grant’s impossible to describe. He’d be one of my favourite people on earth even if he hadn’t introduced me to Jeremy; as it is, he is responsible for most of the great joys of my life.
Our hotel was a stone’s throw from St Pancras. Grant met us there and took us to one of the restaurants on Battlebridge Place, the newly developed expanse of public space between St Pancras and Kings Cross. Miss Jo came to meet us and so did Kirsty, so there I sat in the warm evening with my kids and some of my dearest friends, my Mardi-Gras-and-Burning-Man-crossover friends, bewilderingly happy. Kirsty and her friend Sacha joined us for the show, Lin-Manuel’s other musical, In the Heights; great fun.
As we walked back to our hotel we stopped at the large birdcage covered in rainbow LEDs, and Julia swung on the swing inside.
The next morning we hit in quick succession the British Library Reading Room (pages from Leonardo’s journals, the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s writing desk and Persuasion in her handwriting), the Wellcome Collection (Napoleon’s toothbrush) and – our overwhelming favourite – the Grant Museum of Zoology, with its quagga and thylacine skeletons and its dodo bones.
Still jetlagged, I dozed off on the Eurostar and woke having no idea what country I was in; southern England looks a lot like Northern France. I had slept through the Channel tunnel! Arriving in Paris by train is infinitely preferable to flying in. We took the Metro from Gare du Nord and walked from Odeon to our apartment.
We travel like such nerds. Picking up where we left off last year in the Louvre, I noticed myself noticing things. Last year, feeling crosser, I was outraged at the self-congratulatory imperialism of places like the British Library and the Louvre. This year, humbler and more grateful, I thought: Yes, and; England and France robbed the world but in their museums, we-the-colonised can look at the things once kept only for our foreign kings. I love palaces made over into public spaces. I love the children in the Grant squealing over the jar of moles, and the black women among the Egyptian antiquities, their hair in cornrows exactly like the people in the friezes.
As a fan of sunbeams and meadows, I am very much in favor of Mt Tam.
Some of our short roommates share my enthusiasm for these landscapes.
Others find the whole California thing kind of tacky and overdone.
Manhattan maintained its tradition of being an exceedingly nice place for us to visit. A few of the lovely things that happened:
– Liz loaned us longjohns so we wouldn’t all die of cold
– Delta gave us all cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, and I got a bottle of pink champagne too
– our hotel randomly upgraded us to a suite
– it snowed the perfect amount, and then the rain washed the slush away
– Leonard gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the NYPL and made sure to point out the Gutenberg Bible, which I would otherwise have missed
– on Monday night, the cast of Hamilton performed at the Grammys and won a Grammy, so that on Tuesday night when we saw the show, everyone was obviously both hungover and super jazzed
– Daveed Diggs signed a $10 bill for Claire at the stage door
A perfect trip, and an ideal birthday present to myself.
The Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The Museum of Modern Art, including my favorite works of art:
The New York Public Library:
Some show or other:
What an unbelievably great and awesome trip; we are so lucky.
Haven’t brought the kids to NYC since they were well smol. I remembered this meteorite with great fondness.
After an extremely pleasant lunch…
…we rugged up to face the elements.
Central Park had turned into Narnia.
In a rare concession, the teen allowed as to how this was actually pretty fun.
The Week of All the Deathiversaries, which I have taken to calling Shark Week for short, ended with some kind of football game which I resolved to go to the far end of our metropolitan area in order to avoid.
Pretty safe to say that we have, as a family, grown fond of kayaking. Among the floating homes of Sausalito we discovered this round, glassy lagoon. Venice has nothin’ on us.
I would also like to call out this colony of harbor seals for some really fine achievements in lolling.
I like it here.
Bike the Iron Horse Trail (Shoreline Park, near enough) Hike Tennessee Valley to the Pelican Inn and back Kayak Sausalito and/or Tomales Bay Learn archery Serve a meal at Glide Memorial Summit Mt Diablo and/or Mt Tam
Visit Hearst Castle
La Brea Tar Pits
San Diego Zoo/Safari Park
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin Civic Center. This building, you guys.
It’s organic architecture, inspired by the Marin hills on which it stands.
Like Star Trek, The West Wing and Hamilton, it is a love song to participatory democracy and the dream of what humans could be.
It’s hard to believe your eyes.
Claire is at Star Wars again, Jeremy and Julia are with Yoz and Dexter and I am sitting in the house alone with the kittens and the clothes dryer! Amazing scenes.
I have become the type of mother that keeps a To-do list of holiday activities in Evernote; Ian accuses me of being “improving.” Monday we finished off the Christmas shopping – Desigual had a sale so the children made out like bandits, as you shall see. Tuesday we went ice skating, Wednesday we visited the Winchester Mystery House, which was more interesting than I had expected, and the Tech Museum of Innovation, which was slightly less. God love my little wolf pack, though; they can kill hours in even the most dated of science museums.
Christmas Eve we had lasagne at Jack’s house, and I made a very ugly pavlova; Christmas morning we went out for Claire’s birthday dim sum and then to Ian and Lisa’s for Orphan’s Christmas, where I made a very pretty pavlova. It was all very delicious and satisfactory.
Yesterday we finally made it to MoAD, which has terrific shows by Alison Saar and Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, all about black women’s bodies and the pressure of history and the thorns and glass and glitter beneath the surface; and to the Contemporary Jewish Museum which had a great show full of robotics and color and light, of which the below was my absolute favorite.
I lay there for a while pretending to be an astrophysicist studying a white dwarf from a ship in zero-G while Jeremy and Julia came and went around me at interesting angles. I’ve checked off not-quite-half the items on my To-do list, and it’s been a terrific holiday.
Yesterday I drove north, past a bonfire and through an almost Sydney-severe rainsquall, to where California State Route 16 West peels off from I-505 into Yolo County. There, the sun came out and shone on the dry Capay Hills, turning them lemon and gold in front of the smudged indigo mountains behind them.
I wanted so badly to go into those warm yellow hills! And then Highway 16 took me around a corner and into Rumsey Canyon, carved out of the stone by Cache Creek, all geology and cattle pasture and gnarled old oaks. I wanted so badly to get out and walk around! And then Google took me up a still narrower canyon through which Bear Creek was running and gently steaming, and I met Tina at Wilbur Hot Springs, a gorgeous place that smells in a very friendly way of eggy farts.
We soaked in the hot green sulfurous water, shared bread and cheese and salami and radishes and olives and champagne and a little chocolate, rode bikes through the nature preserve, past the geyser to the wind chime forest, and talked about books and politics and our children and our partners and the parties we used to throw in the 90s and her painting and my writing and her sister, my friend Jen. We were urged to leave our electronics behind, and I did, so I don’t have any pictures, sorry about that.
Tina and I don’t see each other often enough and this has to be changed. As I drove back, the near-full moon rose on my left through a pink band of sunset. It followed me home to the city.
Today I drove south to a stable in the redwoods, where Salome and I saddled up and rode two bright gold pony mares through the forest to a chain of meadows in the sun. We talked about work and education and our children and her painting and my writing and our plans for the future. I stuck my iPhone in my jacket pocket, so here are some pictures for you.
We saw five mule deer, the sun pink through their absurd ears. One gentle doe was napping under the trees, curled like a cat.
California is so impossibly motherfucking beautiful sometimes, it actually kind of hurts.
Cavort: applying to horses, probably from the colloquial intensifying prefix ca- + vault (“jump, leap”); later generalized. Early sources connect it to cavault, a term for a certain demeanor of horses.
Remember our last, catastrophic outing? I decided to pretend that I was some other, much more skillful rider.
This turned out to be one of my better ideas.
Yesterday should have been Dad’s eightieth birthday. Last year I called him to wish him a happy birthday and it became obvious over the course of the conversation that he had no idea who I was. I ended up sleeping for most of that long weekend. I don’t know why anniversaries like this are so painful, although I know it’s a common enough sorrow. This one comes only two weeks after another terrible one, the day of Mum’s diagnosis in August of 2013.
So I’ve been cranky as hell, and I booked us a trip for Alain’s last weekend without really thinking about it – a night in a hotel near the aquarium in Monterey and a kayak trip on Elkhorn Slough. We got to the aquarium right when it opened and had it almost to ourselves for the first couple of hours. I showed Alain the Open Sea tank and the kelp forest. “Science church,” I said.
The Pacific giant octopus was awake and clambering over the glass. I crouched down at eye level and we looked at each other, mind to alien mind. The children had to drag me away. The bat rays in the touch tank were active as well, jumping out of the water to make eye contact. I stroked their satiny skin.
What makes Monterey Bay so spectacular is a mile-deep undersea canyon that terminates in Moss Landing. Also in Moss Landing: Elkhorn Slough, the largest tract of tidal saltmarsh in California outside the San Francisco Bay. It’s what the bay must have been like in the Before Time (before Europeans, I mean; maybe we Westerners love post-apocalyptic fiction because we are the goddamn apocalypse.) The water dances with seals and otters and fish. The sky is so thick with birds that they look like a mist.
Elkhorn Slough also supports a thriving colony of humans bumbling around in brightly-colored kayaks, and yesterday we were among their bumber (I meant to say number, but who am I to turn down a serendipitous typo?) Our tour guide Jon gave us a good, thorough orientation. When we all said we’d like to see sea otters, he said presciently: “Our real problem’s going to be staying out of their way,” and gave us some tips on what to do if wildlife approached too closely, which I apparently promptly forgot.
We visited these harbor seals first and they worried me even as they made me laugh, swimming under and around our kayaks and popping their silky heads out of the water, the glassy meniscus splitting over their sweet faces like a caul. Then we paddled by a raft of sea otters – at least thirty, probably more, about 1% of the global population. Everywhere we paddled, otters followed. My face ached from smiling at them.
We went under the bridge into the wetlands and saw terns dropping out of the sky, then flying out of the water with bright pilchards in their beaks, gulping as they flew. Stately brown pelicans sailed like galleons.
Fighting the tide to get back to the beach, we paddled near a pair of younger otters that fought and played in the water, an aquatic Alice and Thimble, jumping and Loch-Ness-Monstering joyously. We tried to stay out of their way but as we turned for home, one of them popped up and looked me straight in the eye. It swam boldly over to my kayak, slipping through the water like a thought, and climbed aboard.
I froze. I couldn’t remember anything Jon had told us to do. I am so used to talking to domestic animals that I said, inanely: “No, otter, you can’t be here.” It appeared to find this remark hilarious. It had clever hands and eyes full of mischief and pale whiskers. Its fur was so dense!
I’ve never been so close to a wild creature. I loved it with every particle of my being. With infinite reluctance I turned my back and started paddling. I felt its steady weight slide off the back of my kayak. Then it swam over to Alain’s kayak and clambered on.
“Splash at it!” said Jon, and paddled over to splash at it, whereupon it slipped off and climbed onto Jon’s kayak! He splashed it again and it swam back to me.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said, not wanting to be in violation of Federal laws against interfering with protected wildlife, and splashed my paddle in its adorable face. It frowned at me crossly and swam away.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” said Jon. But not never.
And I thought my face had ached from grinning before.
As you know, Bob, California is a bona fide motherfucking paradise. I’ve seen coyotes hunting in Orinda and Woodside and bobcats trotting purposefully across the Marin Headlands. I’ve seen elephant seals and sea lions and dolphins and whales. I’ve seen more raccoons and squirrels and mule deer and jackrabbits and scrub jays and hummingbirds and herons and egrets and turkey vultures and red tailed hawks than I can easily remember. But I will never forget my otter.
I’ve driven past the big-ass formerly-coal-fired now-natural-gas-fired power station at Moss Landing dozens of times but until two weeks ago I had no idea what this place even was. A chance remark at Jamey’s barbecue prompted me to look it up and book the trip. The protected area is relatively new in the scheme of things, where by scheme of things I mean the huge marine sanctuary that stretches from the Golden Gate to Hearst Castle. The Nature Conservancy started buying up land around Elkhorn Slough in 1971, and donated it to a foundation in 2012.
In the future I hardly dare let myself hope for, all our power comes from cheap solar and the highway traffic is autonomous Tesla art cars. Our food is grown in clean room farms. The cities are dense and green like forest meadows and the Marine Reserves and Protected Areas join up with the National and State Parks into one vast patchwork quilt of wildlife habitat. I’m more grateful than I can say for all the conservationists and scientists and docents and donors working towards that future. I’m glad Daddy raised us all in science church, and I’m glad he was our Dad.