“I really like this city,” Camille says as she, Kayla, and I sit in our kitchen eating Brussels sprouts and bacon. It’s Camille’s last night in San Francisco after spending a week with us.
Camille and I met 13 years ago in a hostel in Galway, Ireland. I was working on the Ireland chapter of Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring book and Camille, who is French, was there studying English. Since I had a car and was glad to have company, and she had some free time between sessions, we traveled together for a few days through Western Ireland. Even though we’ve kept in touch, I hadn’t seen her since 2006, so it was a treat when she rolled into San Francisco on a Greyhound from Humboldt last week.
I love having guests, but I’m the kind of host that’s like “Here are the keys. Do your own thing and let’s meet up for some meals”. And that’s exactly what she did. Before arriving she’d ordered The San Francisco Coffee Passport – a coupon book I publish that gets you free cups of coffee all over town – and Camille used this as a way to explore San Francisco. Instead of trolling through tourist destinations, she got to know this place by hitting up cafes all over town.
Living in San Francisco can make you jaded and cynical, so hearing the insights of someone who’s seeing this place with fresh eyes is heartening. So I asked her “Why do you like San Francisco so much?”
“I like the diversity in different forms,” she tells me. “I like that the people are diverse, but also that the food, transportation, languages, and landscape is as well. I like the hills and that you have to go up and down all the time, not knowing what’s coming ahead.”
Isn’t that a wonderful way to look at San Francisco? It’s so easy to take all that for granted.
During the week I’d also explained some of the negative parts of San Francisco, from corruption to gentrification to the housing crisis, because I wanted Camille to have a rounded view of The City. After she’d explored much of the city on her own, I asked her what she didn’t like about this place.
“There’s too much poverty and too many cars,” She tells me. “The homelessness isn’t necessarily shocking to me because, even though I’ve been living in Avignon for many years, I grew up in Paris.
But there is a lot of it. And the fact that I saw so many places where there were needles on the ground…that was unexpected. And obviously, this must be a very expensive place to live.”
That said, the upsides far outweigh the downsides for Camille.
“There’s so much going on here and everyone is so open minded and kind. People are friendly and helpful when you stop them on the street to ask a question. And I love the LGBTQ culture and history. Even at the climbing gym I went to they had some kind of poster supporting LGBTQ people.”
The list went on. Camille liked that you could walk out to the Land’s End Labyrinth and see whales in the water. And that bicycles were a welcome mode of transportation. And that in every neighborhood she visited there were cute bookstores and shops selling handcrafted goods and art.
“And of course I love that there is organic food everywhere.”
When you live here for a long time it’s so easy to forget that most places aren’t like San Francisco or even the Bay Area. We’re so wrapped up in the very real struggle to survive that we forget what a special place we live in. We forget what brought us here in the first place, even if many of those things have changed irreparably since we arrived.
Besides getting to spend time with an old traveling companion I hadn’t seen in 13 years, Camille’s stay reminded me what it was that made me fall in love with this place, and that might’ve been the best part of all.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.