Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Day Four: Mournful, Grace

The last morning of the trip, I am sad. How did it go so fast? We call for a late check-out to prolong the agony and get 1:00. So that gives us time for breakfast and a stroll, at least.

We're not sure where to go. The now-infamous iPhone tracker chooses a place for us that sounds close by and maybe is as the crow flies--but it's high above Union Square. When we get there, panting and hungry, it's a couple of sorry croissants under glass and a bunch of teenagers on the internet. Neither of us is feeling it. The iPhone finds another name, The Persimmon Cafe, only a couple blocks away, and finding it empty, we decide to make it work.

Over coffee and the strangest omelet I've ever eaten (and by strange I mean delicious) composed of spinach, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts, Granny Smith apples and smoked gouda (and maybe an egg or two) we enjoy a few minutes of peace, sure to be our last. Wafting through the air is Annie Lennox's "Why," a song that always makes me want to burst into tears:

Let's go down to the water's edge
And we can cast away those doubts

Some things are better left unsaid

But they still turn me inside out.

Followed by Michelle Shocked's "Anchorage:"

Hey Chel, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big

But you know you're in the largest State in the Union

When you're anchored down in Anchorage.

By the time some John Mayer kicks in I widen my eyes at David and whisper "I think this place should be called the Mournful Song Cafe."

And sure enough, it's consistently true.

When we emerge on the sidewalk after, I say: "Let's walk straight up this hill."

"Any particular reason?"

"Good things tend to be at the top of hills."

We walk. Straight up. About four blocks. After two I am pretty sure I'm having a heart attack. It's so steep there appears to be nothing at the top but air.

So when we crest that last curb, I gasp for more reasons than one. There in front of us is the historic Fairmont Hotel in all its glory, and off to the left in a leafy square, Grace Cathedral, looking for all the world like someone has just ripped it out of France. In the middle of the square stands a stately red-stone mansion--we never found out whose--and a lovely park. This, Dear Readers, is a corner of San Francisco I've never seen before, and we've found it by serendipity.

"See?" I say. "I can smell where the good stuff is."

We wander into the Fairmont and admire the gaudy Versailles-style furnishings, sneak into the empty ballroom and discover a stage behind the velvet curtain. "When we get rich, I want my very own theater attached to the house."

"When we get rich, you can afford to rent a theater that's NOT attached to the house."

"Oh. Right."

We never do find the famous Tonga Room tiki bar with the tropical rain showers every 20 minutes. Next time.

Grace Cathedral is even cooler inside. Flying buttresses for days. Stained glass. Hushed reverence. I am really impressed by their open-door policies. Any one can marry any one at Grace Cathedral. And they offer something called "religious immunity," meaning if religion has ever made you feel alienated for any reason, you have a clean slate here. The whole business just makes me feel good.

So good that I am reluctant to descend the great hill, back to our regular life. This particular square is the quietest, least populated spot we've visited all weekend. And just four blocks--slightly easier this direction--will return us to the murder and mayhem.

We check out with only seconds to spare. And the BART is even crazier on a Monday holiday--at one point they kick us off the train and tell us the next one will be going in the opposite direction. But eventually we make it back to Albany and my brother and Jarrah pick us up. We have sandwiches and he takes us to the airport.


Jen said...

Aw, what a bittersweet last day! David and I always used to walk around that neighborhood when we were in SF. We explored all over Russian Hill and found the coolest, quiet little streets with amazing views. You're making me nostalgic!

Of course, this was all BS (Before Sage), so we haven't been back in a while. . . .

I'm so glad you and David got this nice, little getaway.

Sarah Swedberg said...

I used to ride the cable car to that park on my lunch breaks! I could get there in just a few minutes and get away from my office jobs in a way that made me feel happy and whole.

Stephanie said...

I may have to abandon Peter, Paul and Mary for the Grace Cathedral; right after I attend one of PPM's services in Italian that is.

What a lovely trip.