Day Thirty-Nine: Places to Sit

The Sunny Side Café

The Morrison Library at the University of California at Berkeley

Jupiter

The Destination Baking Company

***

I like going. I also like staying.

I like walking. I also like sitting.

I wander around Berkeley and San Francisco and eventually my feet get tired. Plus my heart wants to meditate, read a bit, and devour some yummies

Jinder at the Sunny Side Café welcomed me most mornings at breakfast with her marvelous smile. From my perch on the second floor, I could watch the chef flashing through meal creation. And after I paid the bill, the gentleman would always ask “Coffee to go?”

At the Morrison Library, I twice gravitated to a luscious red couch. I was hunkered down and cozy, with all the time in the world to contemplate the ornate ceiling. So very quiet in the room. Often I’d tap away on the phone. But then there were all those other times. As some wise one said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks. Sometimes I just sits.”

Look at those Christmas lights adorning the Jupiter patio. There are vines climbing a brick wall, heaters above beaming their goodness through the chill of the evening, and happy servers bouncing around. Plus little groups of patrons laughing the night away. As well there are the joys of craft beer and a chicken pesto pizza! All is right with the world.

Yesterday in the south of San Francisco, far from the skyscrapers of downtown, I plodded up a tippy street to find the Destination Baking Company awaiting me. Two young men smiled from the counter, and offered me the ecstasy of Quiche Lorraine. The sun was newly out after a deluge that lasted for hours. I was safe and warm. At one point, when the two guys were busy by the oven at the back of the store, I heard this:

“I love it when I bring a smile to a customer’s face”

Well said, young man. There’s lots to see and there’s lots to enjoy when you park your bum for awhile.

Day Ten: Chez Boum

Monsieur Boum is an institution in Toubacouta. His restaurant on a dirt street in the centre of the village draws many locals, a sure sign for tourists like me. Boum is a jolly fellow and remembered me with a big smile when I walked into his place yesterday afternoon. Last December, I believe I surprised the chef when I opted for snake rather than pasta. Delicious … just like chicken!

Jo, Moustapha and I were planning to have dinner at Chez Boum last night since the woman who cooks for them and Lydia was travelling to nearby Gambia for a funeral. Earlier in the day, I was at the house when Fatou heard the news about her beloved great grandmother. Moustapha told his wife in very fast French and I didn’t catch on right away. Seconds later, tears were rolling down Fatou’s cheeks.

At last year’s dinner, I sat on Boum’s patio and watched a young girl in a colourful patterned dress playing across the street. A wall of cement blocks framed her in the twilight. As I took in the same sight yesterday with a bottle of Coca-Cola Zero in my hand, there was only the wall. I missed the young one.

Refreshed, I strolled on in the heat. Hours later I returned to find Moustapha and Jo enjoying their beverages. They shone in the light of the patio. Against the wall there were voices in the dark, ghostly figures reclining in ghostly chairs.

Jo and I launched into some topic in English. Oh, I remember … it was the adventures of Baziel (his son), Olivia (his friends’ daughter) and Bruce in Canada last August. Jo and I flowed. He can flow in Flemish, English, French and German! After a few minutes, I actually noticed that we were speaking English, and remembered that Moustapha knew very few of those words. It made me happy to tell Jo that we should switch to French. Down deep, I knew that I’d soon be in the place where Moustapha currently was, and that was okay. I’m on a journey towards speaking the language well and there’s a long way to go.

Jo and Moustapha kept at it for at least twenty minutes. So fast, so expressive, so incomprehensible. I smiled while imagining me as one of those smooth “gens de français”.

Jo went for the steak, Moustapha for the chicken, and I for the very local fish. Our meals arrived beautifully displayed and the tastes were a perfect match for the sights. To be savoured.

Along came two Belgian fellows to the next table. They lit up. I coughed. They and I kept going with the activities of the moment. I looked at Jo and said “Je vais” (I’m going). And I meant it – delicious flavours or not. There was no place far enough from the smoke. The gentlemen got the hint and moved to the end table. Thank God. I whipped out my puffer and did the deed. Who knows why my lungs are so sensitive but they are. So be it.

Another glowing was Boum’s face as we oohed and ahhed through the meal. We were pleased, he doubly so. At the end we waved goodbye to our chef and walked off into the tropical night. Day was done, and our tummies were happy.

Day Two: Berkeley

Today I’ll start with last night.  Philippe and I were standing around with our luggage at the San Francisco Airport, trying to figure out the rapid transit system (BART) so we could end up in our new home in Berkeley.  It was well after midnight Eastern Time and we were pooped.  I gazed at the empty transit booth and a row of ticket machines.  (Sigh)

I approached the machine marked “Clipper Card” and tried to make sense of screens and signs.  The mental processing was just not happening.  I was aware of a subway train purring in the station, accompanied by two items of information: “Leaving in five minutes” and “Next train in thirty-five minutes”.  No way was I going to solve the problems of the night in that amount of time.  So I let go into a slow-motion process of purchasing discounted subway trips.  We’d flown across the continent … there truly was no hurry to complete the last few miles.

A lovely woman in a transit uniform told us about the senior discount, which wasn’t available at the machine.  Only down the hall with a real live human person.  I shuffled along and scored tickets for Philippe and me.  Then back to the woman who, with a heart of gold, launched into the ins and outs of senior subway travel.  I was totally lost.  Somehow, despite all the cranial fuzziness, we ended up at our motel at about 3:00 am old time.

***

Today was a walking man’s delight.  Those cramped airline muscles got to run free.  Philippe and I had a map but I was still majorly disoriented.  “Are we going east or north?”  We ended up in a restaurant called “Au Coquelet” for breakie.  The walls were red brick, the paintings were raucous reds and yellow, and the skylights were huge.  What a gift to have natural light bathing our foreheads.  It’s so good for the soul.  A big bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese wasn’t too shabby either!  I sat there, listening to Philippe speak and hearing my own words in reply … feeling a sweet fullness.  All was well with the world.

We went seeking a health food store, and sauntered into three of them.  How strange that I have an interest in such places.  It’s not been my history.  I was contemplating the wonders of Vitamin B, Stevia and a spray for jet lag.  Philippe was a marvelous coach about such things.  For awhile he was on the phone to his girlfriend back home in Quebec and I just sat at a window table, drinking in the human beings who wandered by.  Consider the young couple and their German shepherd dog.  They flowed down the sidewalk, brimming with health, lost in conversation, smiles on all three.  And then there were two elderly women side by side – one with a normal gait and normal grey hair, and the other with a shuffle and grotesque orange hair.  Behind came their husbands – one bumping a walker ahead of him and the other protecting his bad hip.  Ahh … the contrasts of life.

Tonight was a happy meal and conversation in a Tibetan restaurant.  We watched from the window table as day faded to night.  We explored pink rice; dumplings of the beef, chicken and spinach varieties; and butter tea (yuck to the last).  A priest in India sang to us the whole time from his CD player.  On the walls were tapestries depicting the Potola Palace in Tibet, the wide open lands, and delicate flowers.  The Dalai Lama smiled from his place of honour on the back wall.  Peace.

That’s all for tonight, except to mention that I participated in an Evolutionary Collective call from a bench in Martin Luther King Park in downtown Berkeley.  Such fun to be with people of the world while people of California strolled by.

More to come on the morrow.

Death Around The Lunch Counter

The guys at the Belmont Diner usually talk about this, that and the other thing.  Yesterday it was end of life stories.

Exhibit A

Paramedics entered a semi-private room in a nursing home.  One of the women had stopped breathing.  She was put into a body bag and transported to a funeral parlour.  As staff were removing her from the bag, she stirred, breathing very shallowly.  Oblivious to the events around her, the lass was returned to her room, none the wiser.  Her roommate made the return trip to the funeral home.

Exhibit B

One of my fellow diners wanted to pay his respects to a neighbour.  He walked into the church and joined the reception line.  As he got closer to the family members, he wasn’t recognizing anybody.  Oh my … he was at the wrong funeral.  A sorrowing wife shook his hand.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know you.  Were you a friend of Bob’s from work?”  “No, I read about Bob in the paper.  We worked together many years ago.”  So said, he slunked to the back of the church, where he signed the guest book as “Fred Merkovicz” – totally fictional.

Exhibit C

One gentleman of the coffee persuasion mentioned his poverty of long ago.  Once a very unpopular man died in town.  His family couldn’t find anyone willing to be a pallbearer.  Our Dinerite finally agreed to help out.  Later the grateful relatives gave him some money.  Seeing the economic opportunity here, he had some business cards made up:  “Have funeral.  Will carry”.  Worked out fine.

Exhibit D

Amid all this hilarity came another perspective.  “I worked in India for a few years.  People died in the street.  A cart made regular rounds and picked up the bodies.  They were burned outside of town somewhere.  It was so sad.  Nobody loved them and they died alone.”

***

Just your regular twirl of words at the Diner.  Hello death.  We laugh and we cry.