Exploring on Friday

After blogging yesterday, I explored the downtown San Francisco area for a while. Starting off in the general direction that Beth had pointed the night before, I managed to stumble upon Union Square, this great place in the middle of downtown that was inundated with tourists and businessmen on lunch break. They were having this great outdoor art fair, where over ten different artists were showing their work on large easels. I walked around in bliss, mentally taking notes and picking out which of the various styles (ranging from simple watercolor to etchings on painted plaster) I think I might want to copy for my next painting.

I chatted with one of the artists, a woman by the name of Janne, for a while, and she told me that she’d originally trained to be a dancer in school, but once she decided that New York City wasn’t for her, she moved out to Alaska for some wilderness job for a while. She then found her love for painting, and, moving to San Francisco, has been painting and selling her artwork to tourists ever since. And despite the uncertainty that comes with having no regular paycheck, she says that she can’t see herself loving anything more than her current life. Talk about contentment. She also told me that while she’s never traveled the world, her paintings can now be found on all continents except Antarctica. So cool.
Janne also gave me a list of recommendations for places to eat on my lunch break. Taking her advice and heading for a place that according to her was very economical, I found Tad’s Steakhouse, a buffet-style cafeteria with a cheesy neon sign outside and interior decorating that looks like it hasn’t been changed since the thirties. Can’t say it was all that economical or anything, but the food was good and I took it To-Go so I could eat it in Union Square and people-watch.
While munching, I watched a high school orchestra play on a conveniently located nearby stage. This place supports the arts so much, I feel like I’m in heaven.
After lunch, I did some more exploring, turning down any street that struck my fancy. I figured that since I knew the intersection that my friend lives close to, I could always find my way back if I got lost. And I did get lost. Thoroughly, wonderfully lost.
Being alone is one of my favorite ways to travel, because I can do whatever I want. I can turn down any street that catches my attention, linger as long as I wish in any store, and strike up conversations with waiters and storeowners as much as I please. There’s no one pushing or dragging or wanting to do something different. There’s no collaborating needed. I can do whatever I want, and it is so liberating. I love it.
For example, being determined to cater to every passing whim, I decided at the last possible moment (before the teaming crowd drove me forward) to step into Neiman Marcus. From experience, I know that I definitely can’t afford their clothes. Even on their sale racks, nothing is less than $100. But their vaulted glass ceiling, which I could see from the street, was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. I went inside, winding my way through ridiculously expensive perfume and make-up counters, and took the escalator up to the second floor, where there was a prime viewing area of their gorgeous ceiling (pictured below).
I also may or may not have tried on some fabulous shoes ($578, on sale) while I was there. I couldn’t resist.
Oh, so funny story…
Close to Chinatown (which I stumbled upon the gates to), there are a few of these beautiful stores that sell antiques and things. The first one I come upon is small, and the window display is incredible– crystal chandeliers, gold filigreed jade elephants, ivory chess sets. Curious and drawn by sheer sparkle power, I step inside. There are three older gentlemen in suits sitting at various desks tucked in behind the opulent abundance of merchandise (all packed into one tiny space), and there are no other customers in the store. I should have taken this as a sign.
But I am too fixated on the china cabinet full of figurines against the wall to notice. I move that way. These aren’t just any figurines. Standing about six inches tall, they are all of women in various poses (reading, taking tea, strolling, etc) in clothing that looks like something Marie Antoinette would wear, with dresses full of layers and layers of porcelain lace. One of the salesmen, a nice Jewish gentleman with a royal blue kippah and impeccable suit, approaches me and tells me that each figurine is hand-crafted from Austria.
So cool, I think.
“Are you looking for gifts?” he asks me.
Still needing to get a Christmas gift for my brother (I got the rest in France)… “Sure,” I reply.
And then I happen to see a price tag. $8000. For one.
It’s all I can do to keep my composure. Mentally, my jaw drops, and I look down at my clothing, suddenly incredibly self-conscious. Here I am, obviously a tourist wearing a simple t-shirt, and I’ve stumbled into a shop selling the riches of the Orient and other faraway places.
I try to act cool. I admire the remaining figurines and then turn my attention to a case full of diamond necklaces, rings and bracelets. The old man hovers. I want to run, but that’d be too obvious. And I want to look at the jewelry. There is a particularly gorgeous diamond engagement ring that catches my eye, and I lean closer to get a better look.
“Are you looking for a ring?” he asks.
I make a split-second decision and lie.
“I am, actually. But I haven’t found anything I like yet. This one is gorgeous,” I say, pointing to the exquisite ring.
“Would you like to try it on?”
Bless his heart for pretending to take me seriously.
I nod, and he unlocks the case. I hold my breath. At any point, he’ll change his mind. But he doesn’t, and out comes the ring. He passes it to me.
I slip it on. Of course it fits perfectly.
“The setting is white gold, and the center diamond is two carats.”
Seeing as the entire ring is one big explosion of diamonds, I’m suddenly curious as to what this little item costs. I find the tag.
$42,000.
This time I can’t hide my surprise, and the older gentleman chuckles. I’ve never touched anything this expensive in my entire life (besides a house, maybe), and I’m suddenly inexplicably paranoid.
“It’s a little out of my price range,” I squeak out.
He smiles and nods. I return the ring and it’s promptly locked back in the case. I pretend to be interested in something else across the room, but I’m really just making a hasty retreat toward the exit (the other two guys have been staring at me since I came in, and I’m starting to feel über silly). I’m sure they’re all laughing at me inside, but my salesman keeps a straight face and wishes me a good day. I almost want to hug him, he’s so nice, but instead I return the smile and duck out quickly.
Definitely the most eventful stop during my day of exploring.
My wanderings eventually made me quite thirsty, and I stopped at a little cafe to write for the remainder of my afternoon until I met up with John. It was the perfect end to my adventurous day.
(Oh, and I ended up not being lost at all. Walking up two blocks from the cafe, I was suddenly miraculously back at my friend’s place. Perfect!)
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