Category Archives: Marin

The Smell Of Rich Hippie

lavBack in my salad days as a scrappy, bespectacled, sex-positive feminist Mills College undergrad, I dated an older man I call Mr. Big. During the week he was a Hollywood music-business attorney baller-about-town, but every other weekend he flew up north to fulfull his most important role – that of doting single Dad in pastoral Marin County. We shared LA nights eating steak at Morton’s in LA, me in party clothes made of synthetic fabric (and not much of it) and him in nice suits, and sunny summer days barbecuing halibut for fish tacos next to the pool in the bucolic burg of Fairfax, me in my then-ubiquitous 90s-rave/grunge  overalls and him in the Tevas and Dead t-shirts that belied his Bay Area Boomer roots. We drank wheatgrass shots at the Newsroom and scotch at the Redwood Room. They were the best of times.

I once sneered to him about ‘Kiehl’s-wearing’ yuppies, unaware of the fact that I, too, would eventually succumb to the deceptively seductive, plain black-and-white packaging of the almost-clinical looking skin care line. I was by turns fascinated and slightly intimidated when he took me into Bristol Farms, the quaint precursor to Whole Foods which sits elegantly and unobtrustively on Sunset and Fairfax (no relation to the town of Fairfax) in West Hollywood. Accustomed to the flourescent hells of Safeway and Canned Foods (now reincarnated as Grocery Outlet) in dense urban neighborhoods, looking back I think it was the soft lighting that induced cognitive dissoance. Since Mr. Big was paying for my broke student ass, I was saved the sticker shock that always accompanies these charming, incandescently-lit bastions of all that is organic.

And some months later, as I stood in the clawfoot tub of his newly rented flat in Sausalito, showering beneath the sloped ceiling and its clever skylight, I dipped into his supply of toiletries and decided right then and there that lavender was the Official Smell of Rich Hippies. Sure, they may have all doused themselves with patchouli when young, unwashed, and skint, but as soon as they got a bit of a portfolio or a postage stamp of real estate, in comes the lavender, to stay. Now, I have been living in Marin County for nearly three years, and visiting it for much longer than that, so I know of what I speak. Southern Marin is the capital of Rich Hippies, the apex of anti-consumerist consumerism, the mecca of self-conscious conspicuous consumption, and the bastion of all that is organic, local, natural, and otherwise worthy of a tribe that, while largely rejecting such obvious excesses as Hummers and blood diamonds, still likes nice shit. Enter a cascade of ideologically pure, environmentally-friendly bath, body, and food products that will enrapture your senses and decimate your wallet.

And now that I’m two years older than Mr. Big was when he was dating me, I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t stop by Whole Foods last night for fresh bucatini and greens and if the aromatherapy spray on my office desk isn’t……….lavender.

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When You Leave

This time I wasn’t deep into The Ugly Cry before I even hit the freeway onramp out of the airport – I managed to save that until I was safely behind locked doors. This time there were just a couple of pretty tears as I piloted my car through the British fog that enveloped San Francisco, foot to the floor, aiming towards the deep heat of Marin. I kept it all at bay as I went shopping at World Market to cheer myself up – a few new votive holders, a bag of interesting-looking pasta, drawer liners. Anything to keep me from thinking of how you’re gone now.

 

When you leave, the earth tilts beneath my feet and there’s no compass here, no way to know which way is up. North, south, our eternal question (now that east and west has been solved). Straight forward or ass-backwards, it’s hard to say. The fountain you set up this morning is gurgling away in a lovely melody, but all I hear is your absence. The rancho, this petite little treehouse in the middle of a place we’d never otherwise come if time and circumstance hadn’t dropped me here on my head, is too big. The Arabic-looking bedspread is gone, stripped and sent to a better room, one with more life.

 

In these hours after you go back to your real life and I to mine, it’s always the same. The quiet – not the kind I like and strive so hard for – the trail of pretty things you always leave, too much food in the fridge we didn’t end up eating. Your bottled water on the counter, the ghost of Egyptian musk that will dissipate within hours.

 

Thank God for the dogs. They bark, bringing life to the house, and they require me to be present, to not slip into the miasma of  self-pity and ennui that always follow your departure, to leave the tequila and the medicine cabinet alone.  I’ll go through the motions – feed them, water the garden, wash the dishes, get things ready for work tomorrow – all the while walking around with a ragged hole blown through me, since the other half of my soul has landed four hundred long miles away, alone in its own house, but not yet at home.  

Behind The Green Wall

tamalpaisJust about five years ago and at my wit’s end, I sent my ex-husband packing back to Ireland, duffel bag in hand, hoping that some quality time at home would help him sort himself out. With incredible naïveté, I booked him a flight on Virgin Air, a British carrier, rather than on Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. Alcoholic Paddy + Nordie accent + heartbreak + uptight British fellow passengers + free booze = all bad. Calling his brother the next morning to see if he’d landed in Dublin safely, I instead learned that he’d gotten drunk, mouthed off to an old lady and told a London peeler to go fuck himself. On the plane. Shortly after September 11th. Yeah. I know. Obviously, he didn’t make the connecting flight at Heathrow, and instead was led off the plane in handcuffs and given a two-week stay at Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs, where the guards were actually kind enough to let me speak with him by phone (you have to give it to the English, they are just unfailingly polite).

Ever the optimist, a few months later I packed my own bag and headed off to Ireland – on Aer Lingus, natch – for the purposes of seeing whether a potential reconciliation and a possible move overseas might be in order. I had never met his family nor seen his wee village, Castlefinn, which rode the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland with uneasiness. All I knew was that he’d helped his Da plant 80 trees around the perimeter of their property (‘Eighty?!’ I had asked incredulously, ‘do you mean eight?’) and that he came from a village of about 700 people. Seven. Hundred. People.

Now. I have grown up in an urban environment my whole life. I was born in Berkeley and always lived either around there, in San Diego, or in San Francisco. There have pretty much always been 700 people on my block. I cannot even imagine a village of so few, but I was willing to, you know, check it out. And man, it was green. Emerald Hills all around. And fields, lot of fields. And a pretty river with a gorgeous bridge, and plenty of cows and sheep and ravens and…….pubs. One shop, one post office, one police station, and three bars. And not much else. The nearest ATM was 10 miles away, in Ballybofey, and the bus to Letterkenny, the main town in County Donegal, came once in the morning and once at night.

I knew from the minute I arrived that the spell between us was broken, I wasn’t going to live there, and that we were probably going to break up, even if I didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else. My visit just happened to coincide with the wettest summer ever on record in Ireland and the dampness matched my mood. We tried to make the best of it, taking slow walks in the forest and dells, playing the child’s game of ‘soldiers’ with reeds plucked from the ground, putting foxglove flowers on our fingers and pretending to have a good time. On the second or third day, I finally broke down outside the abandoned train station in Castlefinn and cried so hard – in big, wracking gasps – that I was snotty and had nothing to wipe my nose on – a total spiritual low. I knew then it was over, but I spent the next month running around the island anyway, hellbent on visiting the northernmost (Malin Head, so completely awesome) and southernmost (Cape Clear) points in the country. We had some good times, definitely, but it was my third extended visit to Ireland and the first where I sensed the dark side of Irish life – the passivity, depression, fatalism, isolation, and brokenness that you don’t see on cutesy postcards or while wilding away the weekend in Dublin. I had this deep sense of the country as a damp, torpid green prison, and for the first time I could not wait to get back to my own loud, hectic, obnoxious country – freeways! Strong coffee! Carne asada! Black people!

Fast forward several years and the man I’m with now is from Bolinas, a mythical small town down an unmarked (because the locals tear the signs down) road way the hell on the other side of Mount Tamalpais. His family has a house there and he and his brothers are attached, by history and spiritual orientation, to the town. It’s a place known for its attempt at being a hippie utopia (gone wrong, but that, again, is another day, another blog) and as a haven for outlaws and renegades; fiercely insular, sketchy for outsiders, and achingly beautiful. There are few vistas as gorgeous as the edge of the mesa above Duxbury Reef, and a childhood spent surfing on Bolinas Beach seems idyllic. Still, when I’m there, the huge green wall that is Mount Tam spooks me, makes me feel cut off from the world, and when I window shop life there, imagining living behind that massive ridgeline, I shiver (ironically, the spot on the beach where locals pass their weekends in a beery haze is called The Green Wall, and no, I’m not linking to any photos of it, damn it, as I don’t want the Bolinas Border Patrol to come looking for me).

‘Babylon,’ the Bolinas locals are fond of calling the City, with a tone of derision and mistrust, safe in their cozy green pocket wedged between the ocean and the mountain, where my town looks like a distant, glowing grid when it’s not shrouded in fog. But I like the City. I love anonymity. I like people minding their own damn business. I revel in the facelessness of urban life, the ability to blend into the river of people and be as known or unknown as you wish to be. I like the way one can disappear in a city, where no one on the bus or the street knows you or your dirty laundry, where you could be anyone, anything, and the only time someone knows your business is when you let them. In the City you develop relationships, of course, little bonds that fuse during one’s daily life – with your barista, neighbor, Steve at Naked Eye video, whatever………..but it’s because you choose to, not by default or simply due to proximity.

At the same time, City life gets to you – the endless jockeying for parking, the astronomical rents, its growing function as a playground for the white and Asian affluent, the political correctness – and there are days when I long for the mythical Simple Life: a man and a dog and a baby on the beach, no bloodthirsty landlords and no fistfights over the last spot on the street. A yard to grow vegetables in, lots of room for my dogs to frolic, and no telephone wires outside the living room window. If only I had the cojones to give up the nail shacks, the plentiful cafes and vast supermarkets, the blessed anonymity and autonomy and give in to the seductive call of life behind the green wall, where the passion flower vines climb over the houses and time moves thick and slow like molasses.