They sold my building

For fifteen years I lived in paradise.  When I left, the place existed, frozen in time.  Sometimes I’d think – I’ll move back to my paradise, if I ever move back to California.

It’s not to be.  The owner’s children sold the building and the building is getting all fixed up.  It’s not the same.

I lived in a neighborhood called midtown, in Palo Alto, California, a smallish city on the peninsula south of San Francisco – a city located in what is called Silicon Valley.  Midtown is mostly residential, but my street was zoned for mixed use. There were shops, apartment buildings and detached single family homes.  There was a gas station up the street, but it closed.

Palo Alto is a pricey city, even by pricey San Francisco Bay area standards.  But, midtown Palo Alto was a little less pricey.  My apartment, though ridiculously expensive by what I call “normal” standards, was a good deal by Palo Alto standards.  I like that – I like being the “poor relation” in a pricey area.  There were about thirty apartments built around a central courtyard with trees, two patios, plants, and a pool in the back.  I say “about thirty” because I never noticed the exact number – how California is that!

Building view via Google street view

Apartment building, front view, July 1999

Another view, front of the building, June 2009

Satellite view, apartment complex, 2004

Satellite view, apartment complex, showing location of my apartments

I lived on the second floor,  an apartment with high ceilings, big windows and a screen door which opened up to a view of the inner courtyard.  The apartment I lived in for eleven years was a two bedroom, with a big window facing the inner courtyard and another big window across from it, against the back wall, looking out onto a tree in the condo parking lot next door. I didn’t have a balcony, but there was enough room to place a container garden against the railing, across from my front door.  From my desk near the back window I looked to my left and saw a tree, and to my right I saw the top of another tree from the inner courtyard.  When it was warm I saw my plants from beyond the screen door.  It was magical.  The light, the courtyard, the trees, the plants, the pool, the open layout, the glorious weather – the entire time I was there it felt like I was living in a resort.

My container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

Another view, my container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

My second apartment was a one bedroom, still on the second floor, across the courtyard from my first apartment.  I was back in school and needed to economize.  While not as wonderful as the first apartment (the layout was different, not as much natural light) – it was still wonderful.  When I was in my second apartment my plants were nestled outside against an exterior wall.

My container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2005

Another view, my container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2009

In most apartment complexes you don’t get to have your own in ground garden; our place was different.   The place had a bit of a funky quality – which I like a lot.  Someone (might have been the apartment managers) had created a space for a garden.  As my plants got bigger I moved them to the garden, along with new plants I bought for the garden.  The garden was a low key affair – put in a few plants, a bit of topsoil, water once or twice a week during the dry season.  That’s it.  Given the soil and the dry climate there were almost no weeds. There was a bird of paradise bush.  In season the lily of the nile, agapanthus, bloomed.  There were hummingbirds.

View, garden and courtyard, May 2004

Another view, garden and courtyard, May 2009

Courtyard with Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) and Bird of Paradise, July 2007

Courtyard with overflow plants from my container garden, May 2009

And the pool – did I say there was a pool?  There was a pool at the back and it was wonderful.  It wasn’t heated, so the swimming season was only from late May, early June, through September.  Unlike some areas in the US, there was no rule that you have to have a lifeguard or pool attendant, so pool hours were very generous – daytime to around 10 PM at night, though if you live in northern California you know there’s not much night swimming.  Nights, even in the summer, tend to be blissfully cool.   The pool was used, but not heavily.   There were many, many times that I was the only one there.  It was my pool.  When a family member came to visit we spent many happy hours at the pool, swimming, then, using Styrofoam pool toys (“noodles”) lazily kicking our way back and forth, talking and laughing.  I was so happy.  Some summers I lived in my swimsuit on the weekends, putting shorts on over my suit to go to an art exhibit at the Palo Alto Cultural Center or to get the paper, coffee or a burrito.

Apartment pool, November 2007. Too cool for swimming, but still beautiful.

Pool, June 2009, late afternoon. My things are in my usual spot.

Pool, July 2008. Lovely reflections.

Getting ready to get out of the water, June 2009, a month before I left. I'll always think of this as my pool.

The place wasn’t perfect.  The apartments were large but didn’t have much soundproofing.  If you don’t get the right tenants, interior courtyards can be awful – sound carries.  So the apartment managers tried to get responsible tenants who weren’t noisy.   Palo Alto is a desirous place to live and the schools are excellent, so we had a mix of ages and nationalities, singles, couples, people with children.  For fifteen years, this place worked out well for me.  I didn’t want to leave.

I’ve learned that it’s different now.  The former apartment managers told me that the name has changed, and the plants were torn up to put in new patios.  For new tenants the rent is $500 more than it used to be.  I understand.  Given the location and the structure of the building, you could change the place and charge a lot more.  You could take away some of that naturalness, that imperfection, the communal space.   It will be a good place, but it won’t be my place.

I guess it’s true – you can’t go home again (apologies to Thomas Wolfe).  Even if I would ever move back to California and live in paradise, it won’t be that paradise.

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More pictures of my community pool, part 2

This set of pictures takes you from January through June, right before the pool is set to open.  Walking by this pool and taking pictures is a thing with me.  It’s a solitary pursuit.

Pool, January 2010. Sunny day, now snow.

Pool, February 2010. Snow.

Pool landing, February 2010. My footprints.

Pool, February 2010. So very much snow.

Pool, March 2010. Dreary day.

Pool, March 2010. Dreary day with ducks!

Pool, April 2010. The trees are green.

Pool, May 2010. Drained, scrubbed, ready to fill. The cartoon characters are back.

Pool, June 2010. Dusk. The empty pool reflects the sky.

Many, many pictures of my community pool, part 1

This is my local community pool.  I know, it’s not a natural body of water, like a creek or a spring, but I like to see how it looks over the seasons.  I’ve taken many pictures in the course of my walks.   It’s a thing with me – walking by this pool.  I’ve made a path through the snow in the winter, to get up the stairs to the landing so I can look at the pool and take pictures.   What does this say about me?

Pool, August 2009. Swimming is wonderful.

Pool, August 2009. Mistly. The clown is a little creepy.

Pool, September 2009. No more swimming. The cartoon characters are gone.

Pool, November 2009. A few autumn leave remain.

Pool, November 2009. No more leaves.

Pool, December 2009. Sprinkling of snow.

Pool, December 2009. Snow and reflections.

Pool, December 2009. Pool at dusk.

Pool, January 2010. Cold. Snow and ice.

On being optimistic, tech, the quality of the light, good weather

I had lunch with a friend from high school, someone I had not talked to in years, except for a few brief words when I was back in town visiting my family. We ended up talking about whether we were optimistic about the future.


The economy is in terrible shape, jobs are hard to get if you don’t have one, and there’s a lot of scary stuff in the world. Even though my situation is less stable than before (looking for work will do that to you) – I realized that I am somewhat optimistic about the future – not as optimistic as some people I know (Hi Miki!) but reasonably optimistic. I see the same world as other people, but I think that my life, and the lives of the people around me, even the economy, will get better. I kind of see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

This isn’t a discussion about whether this is a correct or incorrect view, but in how we see the world. Sometimes I think that being optimistic has to do with the fields we are in, the work we do. Working for a tech company (like I did in the past) – it makes you optimistic.

There’s something about being in the tech world that makes you think that the future is full of possibilities, and you can do your part to figure it all out. Not only will you be happy, but, whatever you are working on, it’s going to make the world a better place, and even the non glamorous tech stuff is just so darn great! For some idea of what this is like, read the latest copy of PC World, quickly. Skim through it. Focus on the mood, the vibe, the feeling. Even when the writers at PC World are, understandably, complaining about the latest tech thing that isn’t working, you get the feeling that tech is swell! Tech is swell, and so the rest of the world must be swell too, because tech is in it! There’s a sense of optimism, a belief that the world is a good place.

Sometimes you see this happening in B-School – MBA land, though less often, recently. Perhaps it has to do with the idea of control, that you can do something to make things better and you can make a good living too. I enjoy the belief that you can make things good in the world and not suffer.

Then there’s the quality of the light, and good weather. In my admittedly limited experience the people from my life in California were more optimistic than not about the future. Since tech (and at the time a better economy) is threaded all through my time in California, I can’t separate out the tech optimism and the better economy from the optimism that comes with the wonderfulness of California. I like to think that being in the land of amazing natural light, low humidity, outdoor natural beauty and outdoor comfort – it makes you a happier and more optimistic person. I like to think that the Pacific Ocean and a Mediterranean climate make a person happy. I have absolutely no idea if this is so. Perhaps I would like it to be so, or perhaps that’s just how it was with me. California brought me a life of promise and a life of wonder, though of course there was also the not great stuff that we all have in our lives. You can read my blog post to see what I thought about California – https://amarez.com/2009/07/19/leaving-my-california/

The challenge is to keep that wonder and promise in my new life, not because it’s good or right, but because I want to do so. Can I still feel wonder and promise while living in eastern Pennsylvania (for now, might end up in New Jersey or Delaware). I think so. We’ll see.

Here are some photos on the quality of light.

A sparkling creek in Pennsylvania, near where I live now.   What an interesting reflection.

 
 
Creek, Pennsylvania, September 2009

Creek, Pennsylvania, September 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sunset in the Palo Alto Baylands.  

Palo Alto Baylands, California, November 2008

Palo Alto Baylands, California, November 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Went for the day to Ocean City, New Jersey, with a family member. I love the ocean!

Seagulls at Ocean City, New Jersey, September 2009

Seagulls at Ocean City, New Jersey, September 2009

Where I live now – the Creek and the Pool

Eastern Pennsylvania is pretty, particularly in summer, lots of trees, hills, green.  But – the landscape as a whole does not resonate with me.  I have to find something in the landscape that does resonate with me.
                         
I found something.  I love the little creek in my hometown. I love the play of the light, how it sparkles in the sun.  I love the musical sounds, the water.   The part of the creek I like is narrow and not deep.  Oddly enough, it makes me think of Thumbelina, from the Hans Christian Anderson story, a person the size of a thumb.  For her the creek would be a river.  I looked at the creek and I thought the “rapids” might be too much for her, but perhaps not if she was in a little leaf boat!
The Creek, August 2009

The Creek, August 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also like the local swimming pool, the best community pool I’ve ever been to, ever.   Swimming (when it’s not raining) in the summer weather of heat and humidity – great fun!  Don’t let the clown trash container fool you.  Look at that lap lane – this is a wonderful pool!

Hometown Pool, August 2009

Hometown Pool, August 2009

Leaving My California

I’ve lived in California since 1989.  I’ve lived in Palo Alto, a town on the peninsula south of San Francisco (Silicon Valley) for fifteen years.  I came here because I took a job at my former company’s corporate headquarters.   Now I’m leaving. 
                          
Leaving is the right thing to do, for my family and my work.  But still.
                                                       
I know that a place, a land, cannot love you, but I think that one of my greatest loves has been my California.  I love the place.  I love the look of coastal California.  I love the rocky cliffs next to the seashore, the seasons of dry and wet, the mountains in the distance.  My world is Northern California, the area around San Francisco, but I also love the California central coast and the southern coastal area.  I love the San Francisco Bay.  My town, Palo Alto, is one of the towns ringing the bay.
                                             
I love the weather.  Coastal California is one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world.  I love how the climate where I live is moderate, temperate, rarely hot or cold.  The air is dry, not humid or muggy.  I love how it cools down at night in summer, due to the blessed cold Pacific Ocean.  I love the Pacific Ocean.   I love how, when it’s not raining, the sky is overcast in the morning, and then the sky is blue.  I love how it rains only in the winter, and the rain just comes down, no thunderstorms.  I love how even in the winter there are days of sunshine.  I love how it doesn’t snow or freeze where I live, at my elevation, ever.   I love the look of the light.  I love how, even in the winter, something is always blooming.
                                        
I love something that’s hard to describe, a casual acceptance.   Sometimes that can translate to indifference, but it still works for me.  You make friends here, good friends – it just takes longer than you would think.   I’ve felt free here.  That freedom will go with me, wherever I live.
                                      
I love being in the hi-tech business in Silicon Valley, but that’s not why I moved here.  I moved for California. 
                                       
I love Point Reyes National Seashore – my favorite place in the world.  I’ve been there so much I know it in a way I’ll never know another outdoor space. I love Seacliff State Beach, the Palo Alto Art Center, various art galleries, museums and events, my coffeehouse, the Palo Alto Baylands Park, the swaths of blue Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) plants blooming.  I love the work of various California artists.
                               
I love where I live, a smaller, older apartment complex built around an inner courtyard.  The apartments are big, with a lot of light but not a lot of soundproofing, so the apartment managers try to hire quiet tenants.  It’s hard to describe why I like it so much.  Something about the place just worked for me.  In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve felt, oddly enough, like I was living in a resort, even though it’s not a fancy place.
                                 
I love the apartment pool, which is very California.  I love the blue of it, the water, the tile around the edges, the comfortable chairs.  There have been many times I was the only person in the pool, swimming a few laps, and then padding slowly back and forth.   When I was by myself it was “my pool”.  When a family member visited it was “our pool”.  It was magical.
                                            
I think that you can move forward, as they say, without denying what you had and where you’ve been.  There are good places everywhere.  I’m looking forward to swimming in my hometown community pool, to autumn in the northeast US, to being there for my family, to going to the Jersey seashore, to new work.  I think that my life will be good.  But in my heart I will never leave my California.
My California - Pool at Dusk

My California - Pool at Dusk

My California – Seacliff State Beach

A little over a week ago, I went to Seacliff State Beach.   I’m taking time out from packing to visit the a few favorite places.   This is my favorite beach in the Capitola/Santa Cruz area.   It has the stone ship – see http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=543  for a description and the history.  There are cliffs in the background.  It’s lovely and a lovely walking beach.   If you go during the week in summer, or anytime in winter you can park in the lots right next to beach, instead of having to park in the lot at the top of the cliff and walk a zillion steps down.
                                                                                                       
                                                                                   
Around here I don’t go to the beach that much in summer.  The water in this part of California is very cold.  Most adults don’t get in without a wetsuit, though you see a few braving the surf and the cold water.  I had to learn that you go to a beach for reasons other than getting in the water.  It’s still wonderful.    During winter it was easy to make a quick trip down Highway 17 to catch the sunset.
                                              
I’m going to miss the place.
Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, The Stone Ship

Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, The Stone Ship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, Cliffs in the Distance

Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, Cliffs in the Distance

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, Goodbye

Seacliff State Beach, June 2009, Goodbye