Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Cali Home

About two weeks ago I moved out of my mom's house (temporary home base for the last 18 months) and into a new apartment with my partner. I'm so relieved to have found a place that is safe, decent, near public transportation, and - major bonus - full of natural light and high ceilings. Truly a gem in the middle of a lot of crappy options. I am still pinching myself that 1) this place exists, and 2) we got it!!!

The housing situation in the Bay Area is competitive, restrictive, and depressing to say the least. It is SO EXPENSIVE and honestly what you get for your money is pitiful in most cases. Here's a sampling of some of the places we looked at in our search:

Apartment 1: Located in the Outer Richmond in San Francisco (read: cold and foggy and not on the BART line, so one of the more "affordable" places in the city). $2,200/month for a studio consisting of a converted garage with one tiny window, a tiny bathroom, a double burner hotplate and a mini-fridge "kitchen", and a murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. Nope!

Apartment 2: Located one block away from Lake Merritt in Oakland, seemingly a great spot but this is an area where the neighborhood can vary vastly from one corner to the next. This was on one bad corner that's for sure! I understand why there were no photos of the outside of the place on Craigslist. As we approached there was a lady in panties and a fishnet top with her boobs hanging out walking into the liquor store on the bottom floor of the building. Across the street was a parking lot full of dudes loitering and heaps of trash. After a few minutes the lady came out of the liquor store and plopped down on her mattress on the opposite corner of the street, put on some headphones, and started smoking a joint. Next to the liquor store was an establishment that was operational, had a street number, but all the windows were blacked out and there was no identifying sign of what was going on in there. Not good. The inside of the unit had been completely remodeled and that, plus the fact that my partner's school is nearby and I often run at the lake, is what had attracted us initially. We never even made it inside, sending a polite email to the listing agent saying it just wasn't the right spot for us. Cost? $2,000/month for a 2 bedroom (600 square feet). Right...

Apartment 3: Located in El Cerrito, adjacent to highway 80. $1,950/month for a 2 bedroom plus one month free rent if you signed a 16-month lease. Totally new interior, new appliances, looked really lovely...but surely there must be a catch at that price, and why on earth would anybody offer a signing bonus here in the landlord's paradise?? Sure, the place was right next to the freeway's sound barrier wall, and the neighborhood was older and pretty humble, but what could be the issue? All the bars on the windows of every house around? Maybe... The neighbor's yard full of pit bulls and rottweilers and neglected looking poodles, all on short chains, aggressively barking nonstop? Who knows. There were about 8 other couples waiting to see the place, and for us the paranoia that something was fundamentally wrong to offer the place at that price was too much. Next!

Thankfully, by some great Craigslist miracle, we stumbled across our current place and managed to make a deposit and get in an application before they could show it to anyone else. You have to act fast here, that's for sure. I feel much like I did back in Maputo, where we had an excellent apartment at a price that we were afraid to disclose less someone show up at the landlord's door and make a higher offer. At least here in California there are binding leases and what not, although I shudder to think what will happen when it comes time to renew and most certainly the amount will be adjusted up according to "current market value".

There's a high price to pay to live in the Bay Area, and it's only getting harder. I've definitely thought about moving somewhere else over the last 18 months, and even did some (fruitless) job applications in places as diverse as Houston, Chicago, and Washington DC. But seemingly it's in the cards to be here for the near future, which makes me happy, as this Cali life is pretty incredible and I'm excited for this new chapter to kick off in our new apartment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

More Endings and More Beginnings

It's been a year since I last wrote here. Often I've had the urge to come back and chronicle what's been going on in my life, but while this is my favorite space for writing, it also felt strange. Outdated. Too connected with people and places who are no longer in my life and, honestly, a reflection of a self that I no longer am. I suppose that's inevitable when you blog for over a decade, but my goodness the changes have been massive. New continent, new school, new profession, divorce, passing of loved ones, new relationships, new homes, new beginnings. It's been so much.

For a while I was decided that I would start a new blog for this new chapter, but I never found a format or space or whatever that seemed right. I like writing here, and I like all of you who follow(ed) me here, and so I've come to peace with the idea that yes, my past is present, but my present can be as well. 

So where to start? This time last year I'd just come back from a month of traveling. Geographic distance from Casa Cali, as well as the constant stimulus of new landscapes and languages and people, allowed me to feel like my old self again. The traveler, nomad, extrovert, adventurer. It also helped me begin to glimpse my new self, who I would become after all the transitioning, questioning, grief and growth.

Back in the Bay Area, life delivered up one of those sublime coincidences (that aren't coincidences at all, really) and I met a very lovely person who has become my partner in life and in love. I certainly wasn't "looking," but when you find treasure you most absolutely open your heart and say yes. I would like to write volumes about this person, about our adventures and insights together, but I must say that I have come to value privacy immensely and so choose not to. But know that I'm happy and, true to my Libra nature, am in a pair and feel at balance.

Over the past year I have really reconnected with my roots on my mom's side, and spent a lot of time along the Italy-Slovenia border where my family has had a home for centuries. I recovered my ability to speak Italian (it's full of mistakes but I don't really care, I'm just happy that it's present and functional!). I made many local friends and danced salsa and kizomba till the wee hours (funny how there's such a passion for Latin/African dances in that part of the world). Together with friends and family, we did a bunch of work on the house my grandmother used to live in, trying to get it fixed up and ready for who-knows-what next incarnation. Retreats, a place for wellness and healing, wine tourism...there are so many attributes and possibilities. But for now, as they say in Italian, piano, piano. Take it slow. For a while there many people were asking if I'd moved to Italy. It was/is definitely in my mind, but I'm letting life lead me there at its own pace. Although I am applying for Italian citizenship - it will take two years, and just getting together the necessary documents has been a fascinating process. Stories for another day, however...

Last month I was back in Italy and we had a memorial ceremony for my grandmother, who passed away last year in California. It was quite the event. My family was there from the US, the whole village turned up, we had two choirs sing, and everyone came to the house afterwards for prosciutto and pastries and wine. Truly the closing of one gigantic chapter and the opening of the next. I want to write about the whole funeral organizing experience, as it was priceless. Talking in limited Italian about opening graves and preparing floral wreaths, and trying to figure out catering, and getting the priest booked, etc. etc. etc. Truly memorable, I swear many of the people and situations seemed straight out of a film. Too good (and sometimes too bad!) to be true.

Now back in California I continue to make jewelry, my focus these days is on heirloom redesign and memory projects. I've also been working as a medical interpreter (Portuguese and Spanish), which is interesting and a good counterpart to my studio practice. Always the Jill of a thousand trades it seems. :)

I suppose what really moved me to write here again is the sad news that Pria passed away three days ago (the cats are still at Casa Cali with Ricardo and his new wife). I got the call that Pria had collapsed and was at the emergency vet, and that it didn't look good. Apparently he had cancer all throughout his body. I'm grateful that he didn't suffer long, and I know he was in good care. Still it is so incredibly sad. I feel lucky that my last memories of Pria are of days when he was happy and heathy and purring in my lap. I miss him. I'd been missing him all year. Losing our animal companions is terrible, but boy did he give us years of funny stories and fond memories. I hope he's living it up on the other side of the rainbow bridge with his brother, Parceiro.