ONLY IN SAN FRANCISCO
You know you’re in San Francisco when you do a downward dog at your local gym with two other dogs stretching their paws next to your hands and feet.
That was me this morning, and the best workout I’ve ever had. There are certain things that happen in my daily life here, and I can’t help but think: only in San Francisco.
It often takes bribing to get me to the gym. I love my dog, and hate leaving her at home while I work out. I can often be spotted walking her at Crissy Field but it’s never a calorie-burning hour. It’s more of a saunter followed by a sprint as she flees off-leash to the bracing waters of the Bay and I holler for her to return.
About a year ago, I reluctantly joined a gym to battle my welcome package of ten pounds that I’ve put on since I moved to San Francisco three years ago. I had just run away from the trendy gym I signed up for when I first moved here. Without a personalized yoga mat, a high-tech water bottle and $100 leggings, I was nothing there. The music was too loud, the bodies too taut, and the pick-up-scene post-meditation too much. I always left feeling deaf, flabby and middle-aged.
On my walk home, I’d stroll past the twig-humans with lobster-red-faces exiting from their latest work-out at Soul Cycle. Will I succeed in leaving San Francisco saying I’ve never attended a Soul Cycle class? It is a goal I often contemplate over a pistachio-hazelnut gelato.
After ditching the first gym, I found another one that was smaller, cozier, airier, and with a sliding glass roof over its weight room that is frequently rolled open on sunny days, reminding me of the Pantheon’s oculus. Best of all, my dog can hang out at the front desk while I’m on the treadmill. I signed up immediately.
I started working out with a trainer. This particular trainer is also a dog whisperer, and, consequently, quickly became a friend: he’s a guru, a mindful spirit, a calming force. He recently lost his beloved, ancient dog. I shared with him that Brie, our family dog of 12 years, had passed away right after we moved to San Francisco.
I told him how I had brought Brie’s ashes in my suitcase to Italy because we had decided we wanted to bury her in Puglia. (We change houses every four years and don’t have a backyard anywhere. She had loved Puglia and we knew we’d always return there in summers where we would be able to visit her grave.)
At the time, I didn’t know I needed to travel with a Certificate of Cremation in my suitcase. So, I threw Brie’s ashes along with my bathing suit, sunscreen and snorkel into my duffel bag. When I opened up my suitcase upon arrival, Brie’s wooden urn (complete with paw prints next to her name) had a customs’ document taped to it with a heart and a smiley face drawn in red around the “ashes-forbidden” fine print. Brie now rests happily in the Salento region, under an olive tree that overlooks the Mediterranean.
My trainer, after hearing this story, pulled up the sleeve of his right arm, and revealed his recently-acquired tattoo of the name of his late dog. He explained that the tattoo’s ink is laced with some of his late dog’s ashes. Only in San Francisco, I thought. There’s a creative outlet for almost everything in this city. And a connective tissue that unites many of us.
He asked me to bring my dog, Zaby, to our next session together, and he would bring his new dog, Lucy. Zaby greeted my trainer as if he were her breeder – an old friend whom she hadn’t seen all summer. Zaby and Lucy growled a bit at each other at the start, and then decided it would just be easier to get along.
They shimmied through our legs as we squatted, licked our faces as we planked, and stretched a downward dog next to ours while my abs ached from laughing.
When I now show up at this gym without my dog, I’m glared at. She was recently nicknamed Zabazabadoo by the gym’s receptionist and this morning gobbled a kale-avocado-rabbit treat from an admiring client.
I’m heading into my fourth year here, and know that it will likely be our last before we move on to another, still unknown, posting. I don’t want to forget what Californians have taught me: to live in the moment, and to be mindful and appreciative of all that I have while I have it. I’ve had many San Franciscan moments that I cherish about this crazy city – that have shown me different perspectives, and taught me, and my children, more than anything I could have ever learned from a textbook or a classroom. This fall, I plan to write about them, one per week, as a countdown chronicle of my stay here.
When I left Tel Aviv after four wonderful years of living there, I posted a series of Instagram photos titled “This, I Will Miss.” I didn’t even know what a hashtag was then so, unfortunately, the series of shots can’t be easily found. But a quick glance at my Instagram photos in the fall of 2013 reveals my open heart through these images, and how I ached to leave a country which I feared to live in and then mourned to leave. Living in complicated Israel taught me that no amount of reading about a place from afar can teach you about its culture and its people. It’s not until you live, breathe, walk, laugh, and cry in a country, while streaming through its bloodlines, that you can truly grow to understand it.
This go-round, as I contemplate what it will mean to move on, I don’t want to dwell. Instead, I want to share the warts and wonders of this kooky city, and remember them in a way that makes me stronger. A work-out of sorts.
Not all that you will read will be jolly or favorable as there are multiple thorns to the rosebushes here in San Francisco. But they are what make this ever-changing city one of great fascination to many.
I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to experience it in a way that not many do – as an adopted Italian living the American life.
Allow me, please, to share these observations, and hope that, with Herb Caen’s chronicles as inspiration, they might one day turn into a book.