I know I write a lot about other places–about my love for London, my deep connection to/personality fit with New York City and my flirtation with San Francisco. And wanting to live in Seoul for a year to feed my psyche. Then there are all my vacations to places I want to visit again: Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo. And all the places I want to visit, like Greece. The world the world the world!
I thought I’d share a little bit of My Berkeley. Not all of it because I could go on and on as to why I choose to live here…but some if it.
I live in Berkeley and this has been my home more or less (I lived in Palo Alto for 6 months, and lived in Kensington for awhile, a little tiny town bordering Berkeley) for the last eighteen years. I have lived half my life to date, here. I met the love of my life, here. I learned to become an adult, here. I learned to be happy, here.
Some people might be surprised that I like Berkeley–I am no hippie. I am a moderate in a town of left wing activists who don’t believe in prisons (free the prisoners!), and protest at the drop of a hat.
(Though in college, I did participate in protests–my mom calling me frantically, “Don’t get arrested!”). I protested 187. I remember ruining a perfectly good suede coat protesting in the rain.
This town is good for me, and I hope I am good in return. I grew up with many many rules in a conservative town and Berkeley is like the good mate who is in many ways the opposite of me, helping me to move out of my comfort zone and embrace more of life. I love that the town keeps me in my place, that I cannot get groceries without running into a homeless person-when I give my change or dollar, I am paying my tithe to society, and I am consciously taking note of my own privilege.
I am allergic to Live Oak trees. Really allergic. But you can’t cut them down in Berkeley. You’ll be fined. And even if you do it in secret, your neighbors might rat you out. Every Spring, I hibernate indoors, in fear of the yellow pollen that coats our cars so that they look like they’re glowing neon. I hate the Oak trees here. But I’m still amused by the way in which folks are so militant about protecting trees. I’m touched that they care (though sometimes I wish they’d point their compassion towards other causes).
Last year, there were a bunch of people living in the Oak trees next to Memorial Stadium; they were protesting the expansion of the stadium that would involve cutting down those trees. The protestors had an intricate living system–including pulleys for food and waste. In the end, after they ran out of feces to fling at the police, they were taken down from the trees one by one, even that last remaining protestor who refused to come down.
There is a little restaurant where my husband and I had our first date, Nan Yang Rockridge. We do not live too far away from it, and I drive by it often; I am reminded of that first time I chatted endlessly and nervously for two hours over a vegetarian Burmese meal. He spoke three words. He had to go home afterwards and buy a Burger King Whopper, he was so hungry and unsatisfied by just vegetables (this I found out much later from his roommate). But still, he said much later (I had to track him down days later and ask him if he “liked me”) he enjoyed our first date and fell in love with me immediately. Wow. Someone must’ve sprayed a love potion.
Berkeley is a “messy” looking place compared to suburbs with manicured lawns; we joke that people cultivate “weeds” in their front yards, the plants are so unkempt. And yes, there are a lot of scraggly tall weeds in front yards. The streets are cracked. Homeless people abound. Near People’s Park there is the ever present hint of marijuana in the air.
Sometimes, people decorate their front yards. Here is a Buddha. This same house later had a circle with a cross through it, pinned on their bush. (get it? Anti-Bush)…p.s., if you’re a hard right wing conservative, you may not like it here.
But I like it. It’s messy. You can walk into a grocery store with pajamas on. Seriously, you can–once my sister in law visited me when she was in high school. I said we had to goooo (she slept in a lot)–and to just get in the car with her PJs on. “noo!” she said–“who goes to the grocery store in pajamas?!” I said this was Berkeley. She obliged. At the grocery store, her jaw dropped: there was a guy shopping in pajamas and a bathrobe. See? There are no rules. Come as you are.
When I visited college campuses, I fell immediately in love with Berkeley. Sure, I could have gone to Stanford, and other people seemed to love its very landscaped, beautiful, pitch perfect, very very clean campus. But it felt antiseptic to me, and exactly like the place I’d mostly grown up.
When I went to Berkeley on my first visit, a homeless man got into the Campanile elevator with me and my mom and started muttering. My mom, alarmed, got in between me and the homeless man (“to protect you,” she told me later). I was fascinated and thrilled.
And the graffiti borders on art (shout out to Paris Hilton here!)
It’s a foodie town. The birthplace of “California Cuisine,” where Alice Waters might serve you a plain beet with goat cheese at Chez Panisse and you go, “WTF?! I paid sixty dollars for this meal, and this is the first course?!” But you taste it, and it is the BEST DAMN BEET YOU HAVE EVER TASTED.
There are cheap college eats (yum Caffe Intermezzo–now Caffe Mattina…and burritos!). And there are gourmet eats. And all the chefs going through Chez Panisse have now started up restaurants themselves: Eccolo, Bette’s Bakeshop, Pizzaiolo, Doña Tomas, Camino, and more.
Accompanying the above are so many many flavors: Ethiopian (Cafe Colucci!), Korean, Indian (Ajanta! Vik’s Chaat!), Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese…
And there are farmer’s markets.
It can be a walking town. Sure there are parts of town that are very residential and hilly and you’ll be sad (but fit–very very fit) if you don’t own a car. But there are parts of town close to commercial districts, in the flats, and/or near a BART station that make it real nice for a lifestyle of walking.
And when you’re down, hanging your head–there’s still inspiration to be found on the sidewalk…
OMG, did I mention the hippies?! They stand, agape, in the middle of the Whole Foods aisle. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE. Not realizing you NEED TO GET BY. Argh. And they have a kazillion Obama/ End the War / Spread Kindness / Marijuana leaf / Anti-Bush / biodiesel stickers on their car. If they’re true hippies, it’ll be a beater car. If they’re middle aged North Berkeley hippies, they’re in a Prius, Volvo, or a Subaru.
And then there are Hare Krishnas. They sing all over campus and they like to go to Berkeley Bowl in the evenings. Now, occasionally there’s a HAWT Hare Krishna…
I know, Spring is not unique to Berkeley…but just to let you know, it’s still beautiful here, too. (ahchoo!).
There’s wildlife around here. I’m one of those people who love cities, but I love nature, too. It’s one of the things I worry about if I were to go live in New York City–where would I get my veggie garden fill? Where would I get my fill of expansive landscapes?
A deer at night:
Possibly that very same deer in the daytime (I followed this fellow to a neighbor’s house):
And GO BEARS! Big Game day is a big event around here. I don’t live too far from campus–I can hear the cannon go off with every hometeam score. Yay!
Hospitals have morgues and laundry rooms and we never see them. Cities have dumps. In Berkeley, the dump has workers from Urban Ore, folks who collect usable trash and recycle them. Trash could mean old lamps, or usable furniture…anything.
Ohhhh and then there’s gorgeous Fall/Winter in Berkeley! We may not have dramatic seasons like the East but we still have gingko trees that oblige us in the Autumn..
Why did the turkey cross the road?
To get with his lady:
Some evenings, I look out my window to see THIS. I’ve lived most of my remembering life on the West Coast–sunsets happen over water, to me.
Hail! Once every few years, we get some weather (other than fog and rain). It’s very very exciting when this happens.
Berkeley Bowl West comes to town to relieve us of the crowding that takes place at the one Berkeley Bowl grocery store in town (and believe me, the crowds are worth it). If I moved away from Berkeley, this would be one of the things I would miss most.
And there is always a treasure at the end of a rainbow. Here’s a double rainbow over Berkeley just to confirm what I know: this town is a treasure.