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I Found My Heart in San Francisco

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We drove because he liked me. It wouldn’t have been a problem to fly – a little more expensive, a little less travel time, both essentially non-issues – but he insisted on a road trip. I didn’t argue. You learn a lot about a person when you’re trapped in a hunk of speeding metal with them for six hours. And I wanted to learn a lot about him.

The trip was impromptu- “This might be the last weekend I can really have fun for awhile. Want to go somewhere?” He texted me on Thursday. We’d only been dating for a month, but it seemed like a lot longer. It just felt right. Friday morning we hoisted our bags into the trunk of his car and took off up the I5, San Francisco bound.

It’d been over three years since I’d made the trek up to the Bay Area, and I’d forgotten just how much I love California. “There’s a reason we pay such high taxes here,” he said as we cut through snow-kissed mountain ranges, past geometrical rows of orange trees, through rolling hills as fluorescent as an exit sign. “People have figured out where they can finally have it all.”

Having it all. I thought about this as I stared at him, my fingers running through his hair, my nails dragging gently along his broad shoulders. He reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in this moment, his slight crooked smile, the way his Ray-Bans perched on his nose, the rust color of his close-cut beard. What did that even mean, to have it all?

“Oh my God, yessss!” I squealed as he put on Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon. I pulled out my phone and hit record, holding it close to Harry the Seal, a dash ornament he’d had since he was in high school. Behind Harry rays of amber  broke through huge thunder clouds, the remnants of the worst storm in years. “Could this be any more perfect?” I laughed at the sublime blend of beauty and the absurd.

* * * * * *

We checked in around 6:30 and got ready for the evening. “You can wear something more casual,” he informed me as I shifted through my embarrassingly large suitcase. I hadn’t travelled with more than a carry-on for years, but I hadn’t been sure what to pack. He’d made all of the plans, and I was delighted to have it be a surprise. I threw on a cotton dress, tights, heeled boots, and a leather jacket. With make up and hair it took 15 minutes. “That’s one thing you’ll like about me,” I smiled, “I never take long to get ready.”

Our first stop was Union Square. He held me close as we watched the ice skaters, my breath finally visible. I loved my solitary sports bra runs on Christmas day in Palm Springs where my parents live, but it felt good to be experiencing the season in Hallmark fashion: warmed up by a guy next to the brightly lit Macy’s tree. “Ohhh,” he cringed and laughed as a teen in a backwards cap and hoodie hit the ice. Hard. “Yeah, I’ve definitely been there,” I admitted. “Oh, I know,” he nodded, kissing me on the forehead. That was one of the things he liked best about me- my adorable clumsiness.

We stopped at a wine bar on our way to Chinatown, where we proceeded to fatten up on pork fried rice, Peking duck, lettuce cups, and a sort of tempura crab, one of his favorite dishes in the city. In fact, it was the whole reason we’d come to the hole in the wall, empty save two other tables. And I understood why. Salty fried goodness, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a wonderful guy – what more could a girl ask for?

Well, an awesome Saturday for one. After dinner Friday we had a night cap at a local pub, soaking in the festive pre-Santacon cheer, before retiring around midnight. Which meant that I got up early feeling rested and ready for a six mile run. “It’s the only thing I absolutely require when I’m traveling,” I’d told him before we left. “Whatever you need, babe, just as long as you do it in the morning.”

After my run to the wharf, we showered and headed to Haight-Ashbury for brunch at Zazie. We enjoyed boysenberry bellinis, crab benedicts, and cornmeal pancakes with lemon curd and strawberry that rivaled my dad’s best morning efforts. “You’re going to love that about him,” my girlfriend had told me before our first date, “he’s a huge foodie. He will totally wine and dine you.”

And he did. And I did love it. We rounded out our meals in San Fran with seafood and Bay Bridge views at Waterbar and some of the best dim sum I’ve had at Yank Sing. But what I loved even more was the Keith Haring exhibit he took me to Saturday afternoon. He knew how important art was to me, and so we strolled over to the De Young Museum after Zazie to soak in some culture. As we floated through rooms of luminous American art, I wished I could somehow squeeze him tighter than I already was. I mean, I knew he couldn’t tell the difference between a Martin Johnson Heade and a Winslow Homer, but did that really matter?

The short answer: no. Because that’s what I was learning the more time I spent with him. No, he hadn’t heard of Inherent Vice, the latest film from the director of his favorite movie of all time, Boogie Nights. No, he didn’t enjoy reading fiction for fun, although he loved obtaining knowledge. No, he wasn’t going to join me on my morning runs because his asthma wouldn’t let him. But so what? It’s not like I could name a single NHL player from the Kings game we’d gone to the week before, even though I’d had fun. Nor could I tell you anything about tort reform beyond what I saw in Hot Coffee (he’s a lawyer). Or even begin to comprehend how to put together a business proposal (he’s also an entrepreneur).

But what we can do is laugh for hours with each other. And talk freely about anything and everything, from politics to religion to family to Family Guy. And we can also get super competitive about bowling and Scrabble and a game of horse. You know, the things that matter. And we can show up for each other in pretty much any circumstance, whether it’s NFL Sundays or a three hour film about a 19th century artist, even if it may not be totally our thing. And finally, we can spend 12 full hours in a car together and one romantic weekend in San Francisco and still want to know more about each other. So much more. And you know what? I think that might just be what it means to have it all.

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The Kiss

The Kiss. Several minutes passed as I stood in its beauty, the warmth of the gold, the enveloping of his body, the rearranging of certain parts inside of me. It felt familiar and foreign, something I’d known before and yet was just experiencing for the first time. A swell of emotion overtook me: longing, excitement, sadness, joy, loss, communion. I’d been anticipating it for over a month – for many years, really, since I’d first come in contact with it – but I hadn’t been prepared for how it would feel. The actual experience of it, the texture, the light, the rush of memories and moments and desires. I pulled back and sat down on the chestnut bench, overwhelmed. No wonder it’s so praised, I thought. No wonder people love it so much. As I studied the painting from a distance, I suddenly wished I could stay lost in it for hours, for days, forever. If only I could capture it…

* * * * *

There’s something so simple and yet so profound about a kiss. It can mean nothing and everything, be life-affirming or heart-breaking. It can be used to express attraction or lust or love or drunkenness. It can turn you off or turn you on, make or break a date, change your mind or change your temperature. It could lead to a phone number, or a few months, or even happily ever after, sealing the deal for eternity along with those two little words. In some ways, it seems about the most intimate thing we can share with someone, connecting the tongues we use to speak, the breath we use to survive, and yet, it can be as insignificant as a cute guy with no name at a Southern California beach on the fourth of July.

I love kissing. Ever since Ryan McFallo introduced me to the joys of it in 7th grade at Interstate Lanes in North Portland, I’ve been hooked. I remember it like it was yesterday – Friday night, cosmic bowling, smoke in the air so thick you could choke. I’d had a crush on Ryan forever (three weeks), and I couldn’t believe he was talking to me, flirting with me. At some point in between hurling my 9 pound ball towards the strobe lit pins and trying not to cough while drinking a coke, I found myself on his lap – Christmas had come early. He looked at me with those deep brown eyes and soft full lips and then pulled me in. My whole body pulsed and surged, every molecule of my being alive. In that moment I finally understood all of the strange feelings and urges I’d been having since cooties had disappeared in second grade. Nothing had ever felt so good- not roller coasters, not gymnastics, not birthdays- and I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops. This is what it’s all about! Hooray for kissing! Let’s just make out for the rest of our lives!

Ryan and I didn’t end up making out for the rest of our lives (just every Sunday afternoon until the end of middle school), but that night at the bowling alley did awaken in me a sort of hunger that still gnaws at me today. It’s a hunger that has led me into countless pairs of arms, to hundreds of pairs of lips. A hunger that has sought to be filled in so many places, in so many ways, and yet can never quite seem to be satisfied. It’s the longing to consume, to be consumed, to merge with another, to share and unite and transcend, however impossible it may seem. But it’s always just right there. Always on the brink of possibility, lingering in that most sensuous act, that sacred art form- the kiss. And sometimes, just sometimes, once in a very great while, it happens.

* * * *

I got up from the bench and moved slowly towards Klimt’s masterpiece for one last close look. I started to cry, desperately wanting to be embraced, catharsis giving way to a deep yearning, like after the culminating kiss in a romance film. I tried to remember the last time I’d felt this affected by a work of art. La Guernica in Madrid. The temples of Angkor Wat. Austen’s Pride and Predjudice. Van Gogh’s self-portrait at the D’Orsay. Gone with the Wind. A small handful. Oh, to be able to bottle humanity, if only for a moment, I thought. I took one last deep breath, and then walked away, my heart bursting and breaking and already looking forward to the next kiss.

 

Klimt Kiss

Paris, je t’aime

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One of my favorite shirts is a tank top with a broken heart and the phrase “Paris is overrated” on the front. It’s one of those hipster racer backs I picked up at Urban Outfitters a few years ago, and every time I wear it, without fail, someone comments on it. “So you don’t like Paris?” They ask. “Bad experience?” I smile and shake my head. “No, no, quite the opposite. It’s a rather poor attempt at irony, you see, because Paris is my favorite city in the world. But… she always breaks my heart.”

I first fell in love with Paris when I was 14. My mom took me on a tour of France the year before I started high school, and it remains one of my most cherished memories of our relationship. So many of my passions in life can be attributed to her- art, reading, movies, food – and on this three week trip she transferred her lifelong love affair with France to me. The Musee d’Orsay, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, prix fixe lunch menus, cathedrals and chateaus- she squeezed as much in those few weeks as possible. I fell for the country quickly, of course, being at that age where the heart longs to know more than it can yet understand. But it was a kind of puppy love, the love of a burgeoning adolescent still much too unsure of her own self to truly appreciate the beauty and depth of another.

It wasn’t until a decade later when I chose to do a summer session in Paris that I really fell head over heels in love with Paris. After my grandfather passed, he’d left his grandchildren a tidy little sum of money, and I wanted to do something special with it, something I would always remember, rather than paying rent or grocery bills (also important, but not quite the tribute I had in mind.) I had always wanted to study abroad in France, as my mom had, and I needed the language credit to graduate UCLA. It all seemed to line up perfectly, and so with no hesitation I booked the French class and my flight. It was the best decision I ever made.

It’s almost impossible for me to describe those two months in 2010, living in the 15th arrondissement with Lara Dvorak, one of my female soulmates. It was a kind of extended joy I’d never known, a restless excitement that never seemed to dull. The closest thing I’d felt to it was my first real boyfriend in adulthood. The romance, the sensuality, the heightened reality, the late nights and blissful mornings. It was the type of high one had to eventually crash from. I couldn’t believe people actually lived in Paris, spent there whole lives walking her streets, breathing in her energy. Did they look at her the way I did, with fresh hungry eyes? Or had the relationship evolved, moved past the lust and the dizzying thrill of the new and into something deeper, or more settled, or, God forbid, complacent? I wanted to know what happened after the honeymoon period was over, but I didn’t get the chance. My last day approached right around the time you say “I love you” and mean it. I cried the entire way to Charles de Gaulle, staring out the window of the RER, my heart in pieces. I’ll be back, I tried to comfort myself, it’s not over.

As I write this, four years after that summer, I feel the same heartache again, having just left the city of lights. Like my last visit in 2011, our time together this go-around was painfully short. Four full days, five wine filled nights. I didn’t try to cram everything in as I had done in London a few weeks prior, but rather, having learned from that experience, enjoyed the city with a more relaxed patience. That’s not to say I didn’t maximize my time, but instead of trying to see everything in the Louvre in two hours, I meandered through one wing slowly, maybe even just a room. It was the gentle, meaningful kiss, not the hurried, sloppy deed, performed like a chore.

And what a kiss it was. I’d almost forgotten how it felt to be embraced by Paris, wrapped in her beauty, her taste, her smell, the scent of freshly baked bread curling through the streets on my morning runs. I savored every bite of tuna tartar, beef filet, macaroon, warm chocolate cake, baked goat cheese. I found respite in the cozy spaces, the restaurants and bars with ten seats, the antique shops barely large enough to fit a trio of trim girls, every inch covered in hats and shoes and purses telling a thousand stories. It’s not that I don’t appreciate wide open spaces and large homes and yards and vast dining halls that don’t require a reservation, but there’s something about the scale of Paris that really registers with me. There’s a reason I’ve lived in my tiny Hollywood cottage built in 1919 for 8 years. I like things small and intimate and full of history and character. In Los Angeles so much feels transient, here one day and gone the next. But in Paris there’s a sense of permanence I find profoundly comforting. History adding to itself instead of subtracting. Even the night clubs can last for decades, enjoying fresh permutations like the famous Raspoutine.

And then of course, there’s the art. During that first summer of love I had made an effort to visit a museum a day, and had nearly succeeded in my goal. This time around I made no such attempt, spending just a few hours on a rainy afternoon in the D’Orsay, but one need not visit a museum to experience art in Paris. All you have to do is step outside. Every street, every park, every way you turn you are bombarded with the artistic spirit. It’s almost too much, like that unbearable moment right before release. The little death. Perhaps this is what I love most about the city, why I fell in love in the first place. Truth, beauty, creativity – these things take time to develop, to build up, and Paris has been working on it for centuries. She is a master, and I a willing apprentice, wanting desperately to learn from her.

Riding the train to the airport this morning, I cried once more, overcome by sadness and longing. I didn’t want it to end, I wasn’t ready for the breakup. I needed more time, there was still so much to do, to feel, to experience. Why did it have to be over already? And then I realized, it didn’t have to be. Yes, I would be boarding my plane in a few hours. Yes, I needed to get back to Los Angeles for work and for other reasons. But it wasn’t actually the end, the affair wasn’t actually over. Unlike the on again off again lover who may eventually leave forever, Paris isn’t going anywhere. In fact, she is waiting for me, ready to take me in when I am finally ready. It’s up to me to someday make the commitment and put together the pieces of that broken heart.