Sutro Baths, Time Maybe Well Spent

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I wake up on weekends and don’t want to fall back asleep. Sometimes it’s 9 o’clock, sometimes 6:30 a.m.—even if the very moment I open my eyes they’re already sinking back, retreating into their sockets like someone pulling the sheets back over their head against the morning light—I just, to quote Steven Tyler, don’t want to miss a thing.

And it always backfires. Because no matter how many pots of tea or mugs of coffee I sip throughout the day, by early evening my body is already dragging, my mind winding down, eyelids heavy once more. And I’ve missed out on time where I could be doing.

There’s just so much to do. There are some people who accomplish more than I could ever fathom—and they have just as much, and likely more, going on than I. I always feel like there’s not enough time in the day to do some things, and so, very often, end up doing nothing at all. But not nothing in the sense that I put down whatever device or magazine I’m holding and just breathe or blink; I do nothing in the sense of scrolling, watching, skimming. I see these as distractions, and they feel more harmful than truly doing nothing; the only time I ever let my mind meander, unfocused, is occasionally on the bus or when walking home or at lunch—maybe I’ll even pull out my ear buds, silencing a podcast or Hamilton.

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This worry of not accomplishing anything goes further than ticking off tasks or TV shows. It’s part of the reason that I hold onto things for so long; my dresser is crowded with empty boxes or sometimes wilted flowers, my floor with crisped fallen petals. I don’t want to think that I’ll have missed the opportunity to make use of them.

During a work trip to California, the man-dude running a flower stand at the Sacramento Farmers’ Market told me to take a bouquet of his sunflowers. I declined in high-pitched babbling, unable to find the simple words explaining that I would be on the road for the next few days, that they would be kind of inconvenient, but I do appreciate the offer and they’re beautiful and thanks for letting me take photos of your roses okay bye now. Finally, after joking that he’d chase me down with them if I didn’t just take them, I shut up and accepted, returning to my group and looking like a fool who thought it would be cute to buy flowers at a farmers’ market #forthegram. I carted the bunch from city to city, careful not to pile my luggage on them in the van, immediately placing them in a half-full water bottle near my hotel window. I held on to them until the moment I checked out in San Francisco, though not until I added a filtered Boomerang onto my Instagram story.

I had one day to myself in San Francisco. After scrolling through Google Maps, I saw a site marked Sutro Baths at the westernmost tip of the city where things were named Land’s End and Cliff House, if that gives you an idea of how far out this is from my hotel by Union Square. Now in ruins, this circa 1896, expansive public bathhouse once held seven saltwater swimming pools. Sweet, sign me up. I also wanted to visit Samovar Tea Bar in The Mission. And I decided to walk the entire way, because it was a beautiful day, I love to walk, and am insane, I suppose, because the whole trip from my hotel to Samovar to the Sutro Baths would total about three hours. But like I said, I like to walk—though I shouldn’t say I’m insane. I just tend to make poor decisions.

There was a point before I reached the water that a touch of panic (not merely the familiar frantic energy my body seems to run on daily) began to set in. I could see the hill drop off, so I knew my destination was nigh, but it occurred to me that maybe I’d been wasting my time. (I mean, there is no doubt that walking two-plus hours instead of taking a twenty minute bus was a waste of time.)

I had been so set on seeing everything; what if something exceptional had happened in Golden Gate Park? How would I know what I was missing if I didn’t walk the entire (freaking) thing? But I took a wrong turn, weaved in and out, and, yes, I had a nice moment requesting “Over the Rainbow” from saxophonist while munching on cookies and orange slices, but all for what? I enjoyed that moment, sure, but close on its heels was the reminder that I had a goal that I was not meeting: to reach the baths.

But, a few blocks past the point where my feet were finally tiring (which, really, is impressive considering my flat feet pounding the pavement in my well-worn Converse, thanks very much), I saw it. Murky stretching sand and crashing waves—the way Vancouver whitecaps just don’t gather and break. The beach.

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I never really thought I was one who craved to be near the water. But maybe that’s because, living in a suburb rather than properly on the coast, I’ve always been in close enough proximity to get my fix but not notice its absence when I’m without. But what flooded me when the cool ocean breeze skimmed my skin was a combination of feeling at home and that awe that puts this dumb, slack-jawed smile on my face when I happen upon natural vistas like these. (Cloud-shrouded mountains and gradient sunrises and sets have lately had this effect on me.) Or maybe I was just overly relieved to finally have arrived at my destination, and maybe sit down for a moment.

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I didn’t sit, of course—I don’t know how to stop moving; it’s why I miss most things. I did lean on the stone half-wall that opened onto the shores. To gather my thoughts, to figure out what to do next, but I also consciously made the effort to enjoy this moment. And maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it—to force yourself to carpe fucking diem, you anxious asshole—but I think that reminder is what I need. To grab myself by the collar before I dash off to the next thing, and just revel in all that’s happening in the present moment.

Of course, I took a shit ton of photos because three hours is a long way to walk and the Internet is going to going to have proof I made it all this way, goddammit.

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Stray thoughts: It’s strange to see something that once belonged indoors exposed to the world. Like a decrepit infinity pool, the baths seemed to simultaneously drop off and extend into the gulf beyond. I keep walking, like a languid Forrest Gump, except I feel like I miss important events (I was known as Blitz in my first year of university) which has probably contributed to my trying to experience every little thing. This is peace.

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Here, have some San Fran houses.

Under the Oian Sun(set)

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People flock from all over the world to crowd into Santorini’s Caldera, clamouring over one another with DSLRs and iPhones drawn, because Oia is known for having some of the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. List 25 puts it at number five, lauding it as “probably the most famous place in the world to watch the sunset”, and if it’s good enough for a site as definitive sounding as List 25, it’s good enough for my blog. Tripadvisor even lists “sunsets” as third top thing to do in Santorini—because as breathtaking and miraculous as it is, a sunset is still something as common and mundane as a thing and is something that can be done.

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I’m no good at ranking things or memories. I’ve certainly seen some truly beautiful sunsets, but I couldn’t pinpoint the time or place. Some have happened right at home in B.C., from the office window at my work. Right before I lower the blinds, as I’m dropping all my weight on the rope, I get a clear view of the evening settling into the mountains. Everything is tinted blue—the mountains, the houses, the trees, distant apartment buildings—but as the sun slips into the west, a line of pale pink traces every outline. And if you want me to get truly sappy, some of the best sunsets have been on school roofs and chilly beaches because I was with people I loved, and, as John Lennon (but credited as Lennon-McCartney) said, “love is all you need”.

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I think the truly beautiful part about a sunset is not the descent itself, but the effect it has on its surroundings. The colours bleeding from the sky, the glow of the buildings, the creeping of goosebumps as its final rays leave your skin. I had a hard time with the Oian sunset. My iPhone’s sensitive lighting (either bleaching my screen or casting everything in shadow) and my inability to work my DSLR’s manual settings could never capture any beauty that might be there, so after a few half-hearted snaps, I usually gave up and just tried to watch through unfiltered eyes—though this too was difficult, mainly due to, you know, sun rays scorching my eyeballs. It burned a glaring gold, slipped into a harsh scarlet. Maybe my eyes are just pussywillows, or maybe I should own sunglasses that properly protect from UVA/UVB rays, but it was difficult to enjoy. So instead I’d turn away. And certain as the sun setting in the west, the moon was quietly climbing into the periwinkle sky behind the entire crowd’s back. Part of me wanted to shout at them, berate them for choosing this loud sunset over the humble moon, but the bigger part of me is a hipster-esque prat who likes to keep the best things to myself and then share them all-knowingly on the Internet.

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But Blue Skies

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Santorini was the first stop of the pre-Norwich vacation and the first time I’d ever stayed in a hostel. There were no lockers in the rooms, no locks on the dorm doors. We wondered—and often complained half-heartedly—at the breakfast of three slices of bread, a slab of coffee cake, and watered-down orange juice, served with the choice of coffee or tea. We found a mysterious cockroach/beetle by the toilet within the first hour. I pushed through by reminding myself that my cousin had lived alongside cockroaches for two months in her Ottawa apartment. Cockroaches happen. You know, life goes on and all that jazz.

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Most of the people milling around Oia’s narrow and winding starch-white pathways are tourists—perhaps just up for the day on a bus tour or one of those lucky folk staying in a cave hotel. (One day, guys, one day…) On another occasion I would make some obnoxious statement about how I’d rather be where the locals are, roll my eyes at overpriced pasta, be a general ass, but to be honest it was a really nice way to start the trip. Maybe the true way to travel is by meandering, meeting locals by getting lost and asking for directions, stumbling upon restaurants that don’t split the menu between English and the local tongue—maybe that is the only way to get “real experiences”. But Oia is contained; there are only so many paths to stray from. I got to know my way around the uneven stones, getting comfortable prancing through at all hours of the day, ducking in and out of shops, finding where to get the cheapest gyros (and learning how to pronounce it properly). It felt safe, not only in a lack-of-danger sense, but that I was safe to relax, let my judgement-guard down, go into vacation mode. There were certainly day treks to be had elsewhere on the island, but in Oia I was free to climb down the 300 steps to the rocky beach, lounge about on the hostel’s roof deck, browse through postcards and knick knack shops. I was allowed to not feel like I had to be anywhere or do anything other than relax the way I was relaxing.

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I was skimming the Internet the other day and stumbled across the Facebook page for the Youth Hostel Oia. The latest post was a photo of the setting sun with the following words in a curly font: memories last even when the time is past! (Meaning when the time is in the past? When time has passed? Who knows.) When I stayed there (nearly two years ago now—haho remember when this blog was relevant?), the owner had told a group of us that he was planning on closing it soon. It felt like we were being let in on a deep secret; that, out of the hundreds of people who dragged their luggage through the town, down the narrow path, and through the gate each month, we alone had earned his trust with this exclusive information. But he has also just finished regaling us with a tale of the time he’d met Angelina Jolie when she was filming Tombraider on the island, pointing to the room she used for a make-up trailer. If it hadn’t already been obvious by the autographed pictures displayed in the bar, the bored mutters from fellow patrons would’ve been enough to tip me off that this was nothing new. This was the kind of story he told night after night in case of a new guest. But there was just something about the low light of the evening, sipping on drinks and gathered around the plastic deck table. We might’ve been special.

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I don’t think I’ve told anyone about my favourite night in Santorini. Or if I did, I might’ve paraphrased, mentioning a late dinner down in Fira, how we almost ran out of gas on the way back. A few of the other hostel guests had rented a car for the day, and on my penultimate night on the island, one of the ladies at our hostel had to be dropped off in Fira, and the group invited me to come along. I mean, when else was I going to get to take a nighttime car ride down the island? The four of us crammed into the tiny car and sped off. I was glad that the responsibility for maneuvering our little box on wheels around the cliff edges, skirting around cars and letting motorbikes pass, wasn’t on my shoulders. At least if we crashed or were driven off the road, I could safely plead innocence as we plummeted towards the Mediterranean Sea. Up until then, I had been careful with spending my money on food—nothing too extravagant. That night, though, we shared dishes and indulged in the specials. After dropping our friend off at her hotel, we began the drive back north. To put it simply, we almost ran out of gas but then we didn’t. We couldn’t figure out how to pump the gas but then we did. We were almost stranded late at night in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but this lonely gas station as far as we could see, but we weren’t. We got back safely, I crawled into bed, and woke up the next day. You can have grand, adventurous, seemingly momentous nights, but life, it seems, goes on.

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Simple Pleasures

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Our last day in Paris was a slow one, but filled with all of our favourite things. I picked up some pastries for breakfast, which we enjoyed with a leisurely pot of tea before venturing out into the rain. We decided that the Père Lachaise cemetery would be appropriate for the dreary weather. We hardly made it out of the metro stop when we ducked inside a café to finish waking up with a cup of café crème each.  The rain cascaded into the streets as we warmed up inside, observing a man on the other side of the glass sipping his espresso while working on a crossword puzzle.

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I navigated us around to some famous graves – most of which held little meaning to us. Asha tried (unsuccessfully) to play some Chopin on her phone as we stood before him.  She also asked when we were going to see Edgar Allan Poe when she meant Oscar Wilde (whose grave is now, disappointingly, protected by plexiglass.  No more kisses for him).  We stood in front of Jim Morrison’s grave trying to name at least one song by The Doors (we couldn’t). We also saw a couple who Asha is convinced was in the process of breaking up. I’m still trying to make up a different story. The girl was crying and grabbing the guy’s face and hands and whatnot. I’m thinking maybe she was a ghost trying to make him, a live human, see her?

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I have a huge crush on Parisian buildings with their curled railings, and the way they’re textured so that half of the colour is created by shadow. I wanted to take pictures of every apartment we walked past, but I held off.  For the most part.

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We finished with one of my favourite Paris pastimes (omg sew p4ri5!!!): a stroll along the Seine. In the summer of 2010, the river was ripe with tourists on dinner cruises, and my cousin and I would sit on the edge of the water, trying to see how many people would wave back as we swung our arms around. Now, in the fall, and after a fresh bout of rain that afternoon, there weren’t any prime places to sit on the cold, damp stones, but we took our time to walk the manmade bank of the river. The whole day was cosy and relaxing and just as enjoyable as running around, stealing people’s locks and exploring a near-empty Hall of Mirrors.

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