Rose-tinted new arrivals
Ahhhh, new beginnings...
As I keep finding ways to bring up in the blog this past week, I've moved to Lake Merritt in Oakland. I'm a little besotted with it. Moving over the bridge from San Francisco, we've got seasons back. San Francisco has two gears, grey and slightly less grey, but now we're suddenly in the middle of an early spring heatwave. Our apartment looks over the aforementioned lake (which is actually a tidal lagoon, but oh well). It's serene.
Being in Oakland, there are a lot of younger people and families around. It feels as though we're back among our own stratum of life. The neighbourhood is stacked with cool bars and restaurants and is bookended with organic supermarkets. It's lush and green. There's even a school in the area and when I'm working at my desk with the windows open the sound of children laughing wafts up at certain points of the day.
I have a chronic case, as you might've gathered, of rose-tinted vision. It is an affliction that commonly affects those new in town, as well as travellers.
There's a good Douglas Adams quote that rings true here: "You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you."
Case in point: Yesterday, I went running on the five-kilometre path around ithe lake. Parts of Lake Merritt don't smell particularly good. There is the odd unnatural creation floating in it. I chuckled seeing this all, finding it endearing... all part of Oakland's scrappy underdog status.
It was about 5pm and running around the lake, I saw a drunk fall over on the grass without any warning. Someone leaned over to inquire whether he was okay and he hissed back like a zoo animal. There were a couple of homeless people sleeping away in parts of the track and a couple of slightly grubby hippies sitting on a bench playing Dave Matthews-esque music.
The mental adjectives I reached out for to describe this were "folksy", "real" and "unpretentious". Now, don't get me wrong, the lake is a really nice water-feature with lots of charming-in-any-context features. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on those same words being the first ones into my head in six months' time.
Today's charm is tomorrow's frustration. Who knows, maybe we'll hate it here. Maybe this will be the worst place I'll ever live. I really don't think so, but I also can't really guarantee otherwise.
That's part of the fun of moving though, right? When you're a new arrival, it is a time of fascination and intrigue. You see "potential new favourite local restaurant" where in a few months time it might be "that place I overpaid for my meal and the chicken was cold". Every new thing you do might end up being a fun new ritual. The sense of possibility is endless.
Maybe it is just that I'm an excitable person. I know that I have always been a very enthusiastic traveller. I love being somewhere new.
I travelled with my sister to Buenos Aires for three weeks in 2007 (I might've aired this story out before) and interchanges like the following popped up all the time.
Me: "Oh, man, hairdressers are open so late here! It's like 9pm. Man, this city has such an incredible energy!"
My sister: "I get my haircut at this time of night back home all of the time."
It's kind of the best thing about travelling, that you get to sample cities of the world wantonly and (mostly) only see the good. New York is all Broadway, Times Square, great restaurants and neighbourhoods, rather than the dirty subways and expensive price tags. In Los Angeles you see the movie stars and the beaches rather than the traffic and the crime.
It's also part of what makes travel surreal. Travel is educational, broadens horizons and seeing the world usually leads to invaluable new insight.
But your perception of the places you visit bears no resemblance to reality, right?
Alternatively, this to me is all part of why being able to settle somewhere, anywhere, internationally for a period of time is enriching. It's a rare opportunity to feel at home somewhere other than your own actual home.
Getting the feel for the subtler, sometimes much less glorious, intonations of a completely different way of life requires some standing still, but it's worth it.
It is for that reason that I look forward to getting to know Oakland, warts and all, past this initial burst of attraction and infatuation.