Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wide Open Spaces

When we first moved back to the Bay Area, the adjustment seemed totally straightforward. After all, we had both lived in the area for most of our lives, so we didn't have to figure out where to get groceries, how to open a bank account, where to look for rental listings, and all of that stuff that took a lot of effort when we moved to London. So in many ways we hardly noticed the change — it just felt very familiar and normal, almost like we had just returned from a long vacation, except we didn't have a house to come home to and we were distinctly more on the anxious side of things than we tend to be after a nice long holiday.

It has taken a while for it to sink in how much has changed while we were gone: some friends ve moved away, favorite restaurants have closed or changed, and, despite my best efforts to maintain my American-ness in the UK, I occasionally hear myself unintentionally saying things in semi-British ways (like "nice long holiday"). I guess it takes some time to really comprehend any major life change such as an intercontinental move; it certainly took some time to fully appreciate just how different life in London is from life in the Bay Area.

Things are definitely different here

For one, while there are lots of things on the ground in San Francisco, I have yet to find a single banana peel. I know if I keep looking I'll find one, but SF doesn't have banana-mania like London. I took a brief survey of things on the ground in San Francisco, but it was mostly burrito wrappers, cans and broken bottles, the occasional person, a single black sock, and at least one corn husk from a tamale (I was in the Mission, so the sample may have been slightly skewed).

Sock not banana. How do you lose one sock?

In a recent post The Miss List, I listed a few things that we were surprised to find upon moving back, but there were two major omissions: space and light. San Francisco itself is fairly dense, mostly because it's physically constrained by the geography of the peninsula, but because of the setting with water on three sides, it generally feels very open and airy. The rest of the Bay Area is quite a bit less dense and there are countless open spaces, including miles of beaches, mountains for hiking, and parks of every description, all within easy access no matter where you live. The difference in light is tricky to describe — I'm sure it has to do with the latitude and angle of incidence and all that physics jazz, but beyond that there's a lot more blue sky and the air always seems cleaner and clearer because of smog control measures and the influence of the Pacific coast weather patterns.

Late November on Mount Diablo

Above Mitchell Canyon, Mount Diablo

And the space isn't limited to the outdoors. You can certainly find shoebox-sized apartments in San Francisco, although not to the degree of London or New York, but most are considerably more roomy. We loved our little Wapping flat, but the tiny kitchen got so claustrophobic we had to initiate a "one person at a time" rule, particularly when there were sharp and hot things being used. Our new flat in the East Bay, where to things tend to be even more spacious than in SF proper, is quite a bit bigger.

Hard at work in my new kitchen

Hard at work in our London kitchen

Okay, it really looked like this

It occurs to me now that I spent over a year feeling vaguely claustrophobic, although I never really thought about it in those terms at the time (except when crammed into Northern Line like a kipper in a tin). I think, without really knowing it, that among all the things I missed about home, the sense of space was one of the factors I missed the most, and probably why I loved to be by the river in London.

I'm sure there's more revelations to come, probably some of those deep meaningful existential things that tend to get dredged up by big transitions, especially when we start really delving into the boxes of stuff we put in storage and never really thought about for the past year or so (a task I'm not exactly looking forward to eagerly). We're both looking forward to the day that it feels like the move is over, everything is out of boxes, we find a coffee table so we don't have to use an upside-down cardboard box, we know where to find the TV remote, etc. It all seems insurmountable still, but luckily there's Christmas to distract us coming up really soon — although I still haven't bought a single Christmas gift yet...

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