cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Storming of the Bastille: 12 Hours in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(first and last time opening as a journalist) My first visit to the Bay Area lands me an estimated 9 hours in the actual city, and three in the airport. Not the most ideal duration of a holiday, but this was business. Expectations of the city's iconic images have been culturally branded into the minds of outsiders; the Golden Gate, Fisherman's Wharf, West Coast homosexual liberals, row houses inhabited by Bob Saget--all of which, sadly, I did not see. My journey kept me linearly on Bush and Market Streets, and a few lines running adjacent. My purpose was singular: visa. For an American living west of the Mississippi there are only two locations where one can obtain a long stay French visa; San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Consulate General in France accepts long stay applicants only on Monday and Wednesday between the hours of 2:00 to 3:30 and by internet appointment only. My appointment, scheduled 3 months ago, was for Monday 6 August at 2:00, late applicants not accepted, future appointments booked until late September. I am building this up for you so that when I tell you I missed my appointment you gasp. Laugh then, your choice. Seatac, Seattle's International airport (Sea-Tac: Seattle-Tacoma) is, not to be dramatic, my Mordor. Airport grief is not mine to bear alone, however, I have never once traveled without problems. Delays, lost luggage, planes returned to tarmac for mechanical problems, etcetera. Just getting there is riddled with problems as well. Buses (why am I in Federal Way?), missed exits (how are we in Burien?), how do I get out of the parking garage! Pay for the ferry, or pay for the Tacoma narrows tole plus added hour of driving. End whining. This time, however, was near fatal. 9:35 departure from Seattle to San Fran would have landed me downtown at 11:30, 2.5 hours ahead of my scheduled appointment. Security check went smoothly, no checked luggage, excellent start to my in and out business flight. Gate board: SFO on time, SFO on time, SFO on time, SFO canceled. That last one happened to be mine.

Panic. After an unsuccessful near hour of soliciting help from useless United employees whose responses of "good question, I don't know, and I can't help you" left me not only blisteringly angry, but with a feeling of absolute surreal-ness. In near hysterics, I am finally helped by a man who stops boarding his passengers to Denver to answer my question. "Go back to ticketing." Why couldn't the wax robots standing stoically behind their empty counters have just said that? I am reminded of a scene in the film Meet the Parents where Ben Stiller impatiently waits while a gate boarder boards the non-existent section 1, 2, and 3 passengers when clearly he is the only passenger. The novel will end shortly, 2 + hours in the re-booking line. My appointment is going to be missed. Evil thoughts of no late appointments, booked till late September, no visa, no, France run through my head. My mobile's battery is near death as I have been unceasingly dialing the consulate general (voice recording), my mum, one of my Paris advisor's, and everyone else I can think of in a desperate attempt to keep from having a nervous breakdown. Somehow, with some divine and uncanny stroke of luck my mum calls and reveals she has obtained a private number of a visa officer. Absolutely mad, how does one accomplish that? "Anthony said if you get there before they close at 3:30 you will be fine!" Who's Anthony!? When it is finally my turn with a customer service agent I am near livid. "I NEED to be in San Francisco, now! Emergency, Please help you are ruining my life!" But, not in so many words. Everything is booked before 5:00. I get my mum back on the phone; "call Anthony back!" a few minutes wait, ring: "He says he'll squeeze you in on Wednesday at 2:00!" Clouds part, the earsplitting wail of the hour-long screaming child begins to sound like a Victorian Waltz: "can you get me a ticket for Wednesday morning?" My ticket agent is sill typing furiously, "yes! we'll put you on the earliest one out!" I want to hug her for spending nearly 25 minutes with me while the ever increasing switchbacking line of my fellow disgruntled passengers sends silent curses at my back. Bus. Downtown Seattle, King Street; my dad's office. We walk down a block and he buys me a 1:30 drink at an empty bar. How terribly unlucky I am, but then I suppose I am not. Unluckies would not have miraculously obtained Anthony's number, and would not have had such a helpful ticket agent. Unluckies would have gotten on the wrong bus. But I got lucky.

8:45 a.m. outside the French Consulate General on Bush Street. Hmm closed until 2:00. I'll explore. China Town is two feet away. Exciting, just like the pictures, paper lanterns strung across the street, characteristic Chinese pavilion architecture, and row upon row of shops carrying imports, knock offs, and food. But everything is closed at this hour. Looking is just as fun. I walk in a square around a few blocks of the central downtown shopping area, Coach, Banana republic, Burbery, bebe, Ralph Lauren. The shear size of these buildings makes Seattle look cheap. I call my friend S, one of the two friends from high school I still care about. He's living in the city for a summer internship, remarkably successful if you ask me. Haven't seen him in a year though. I am undoubtedly a great friend. We meet up for coffee&tea and he shows me his office, but a half hour later he has to go back to work. It was short, but seeing him made the city seem a bit more familiar. I do beleive San Fran has more Starbucks than Seattle, a shock but there must be at least 12 on Market street alone. As my Visa appointment draws nearer nerves take over. The check list of items needed for this measly stamp it colossal. Tired of wandering alone I sit in a small French cafe fittingly across the street from the consulate, Cafe de la Presse.

Charmante, to say the least. Seeing as this e journal is dedicated to culinary discoveries, history, and French things, I feel my out of style travel ramblings must be supplemented with a mention of food. Journaling restaurant finds is a thrill, Anthony Bourdain style mind you, not that charlatan Rachel Ray. Two hours of sipping one cappuccino and a salad while observing the hustle of the French speaking waiters and the quick wrists of the bartender made my longing for France reach an all time peak. I will get my visa, even if I have to turn the Consulate into a Bastille. Bottled water poured into dainty glasses and refilled after nearly every sip. The lunch menu, all French of course, boasted such classics as boeuf bourgignon, croque madame, steak et frites, soup d'oignons, salad nicoise, coque au vin, and many other exceedingly savory dishes and French wines. My nerves allowed barely for a salad of hazelnuts and warm dressing. I vowed that if all went well with my visa I would return for a glass of Chardonnay.

At the door to the Visa office we were checked on a list by the security guard, mine being scribbled in ink at the bottom. Anthony remembered me. "You zee one in Seattle who meesed zee flight?" Anthony you are my hero. When I returned triumphantly to Cafe de la Presse my waiter greeted me, "allo, you are bake agin". I had my celebration cup joyously not alone, but with a girl I met at the visa department, coincidentally from a city outside of Seattle and was catching the same flight back as me. Return flight: delayed. But what does it matter, I have my visa. There is nothing between me et cette pays now. Only time. I would love to see San Francisco thoroughly, the bridge, the wharf, the night life. I will, and I'll have the lentil soup at Cafe de la Post, and I won't leave without a ride on the trolley.

A bientรดt

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I have to admit I have those iconic images branded into my mind about San Francisco.
For example, I would defiantly be excepting to see Uncle Jesse cruzin' round on his motorcycle.

Congrats on the visa!