If you were to ask me what I miss these days, my answer would be traveling abroad. Tight budgets and two little ones have kept my feet local in recent years; I have mixed feelings about it. While I have re-discovered my own town and all its nooks and crannies, I ache for the adventures of international travel. Discovering the nuances of other cultures by wandering the streets of a foreign city is not only an unforgettable memory, but an invaluable learning experience. Not knowing what to expect, to be pleasantly surprised by stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone is a growing experience. I once had a day like this in the bustling city of Shanghai. Abroad for business, I had one day to myself. I studied my map, stepped outside my hotel feeling a bit nervous and hesitant, and I walked. It became one of those days I have never forgotten. At the end of the day while I had logged miles, viewed temples, drunk tea in a historic tea house, taken in the architecture of the French Concession district, what has stayed at the forefront of my memory is the unexpected. A hapless wander through a city park where I photographed people sitting on the park benches; couples, families, friends in the midday bustle.
I drive the stretch of MacArthur Boulevard between the Laurel and Dimond Districts of Oakland quite a bit. When I take the curve by Coolidge Avenue I often glance at the small shopping center that is home to a local favorite, Loard’s Ice Cream. A sign has always caught my eye towards the back of the parking lot that says “Free Oakland UP.” I have often wondered what it represented. When I learned that an interesting concept was at play behind the doors of this unique thrift shop I added it to my list of places to pop in.
It’s appropriate that the first time I heard of a monster next to Lake Merritt it was in a children’s book. Not to be confused with the living version that supposedly lurks beneath the lake’s surface; the monster I am referring to was once green, is an undulating structure of dips and curves, and was once a playtime favorite for local children lakeside. Situated on the beach just below the Lake Merritt bandstand in Lakeside Park, the sculpture has been in place for over sixty years; a treasure created by a local jewelry designer who wanted city kids to feel the same joy felt when climbing an old tree. Wear and tear has worn the monster down to a state unfit for the youth of 2016, but I say we bring it back to its former glory.
What do giraffes have in common with Mexico? It sounds like a trick question, or a goofy one-liner. If you ask Google, you are pointed to a rather interesting spiritual society called “Free Giraffes in Mexico”, a recipe for “giraffes huevos rancheros”, and an unfortunate story of a giraffe dodging traffic on a Mexican road while trying to make a run for it from a local circus. So the better question to ask: what do giraffes have in common with Mexico IN OAKLAND? The answer is a section of town with two busy thoroughfares that run in one-way directions under Hwy 580. Oakland Avenue and Harrison Boulevard transect a portion of the lower hills; parallel roads that connect the northern tip of Lake Merritt with the highway, MacArthur Boulevard, and the Oakland Hills. Therefore, people often move fast; too fast. The statuesque giraffes have been a part of this confluence of intersections for 32 years. Aztecali, a casual neighborhood eatery with home-style Mexican fare, has just joined the area this year. Both give cause to slow down and appreciate craft in two different forms; it makes giraffes and Mexico synonymous in my book.
Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Sustainable. Eat Clean. Eat Whole. Eat Real. These edible catch phrases have become so commonplace that in many ways it is easy to mock them. When several come together on one package it can make your head spin. Yet as our culture becomes more and more educated on their value, we can set aside the light-hearted teasing and appreciate what it means. If we have reached a time when these terms have become more commonplace in the grocery store aisles, we are headed in the right direction; one towards a healthier lifestyle in favor of good food that is good for you. Oakland is fast becoming a hub of food culture that supports all of these phrases. Food artisans are tucked around every corner, eager to offer up their flavorful combinations. What is special about this movement is how it is being fostered from the ground up on a local level. It takes a lot to reach the point of success where one’s product name sits on a market shelf; if that is even the goal. For many just to make, create, craft and then share something that is both artistic and edible allows passion to thrive and grow. Food Craft Institute, itself a passion project born out of the wildly successful Eat Real Festival here in Oakland, is a unique place where those with the desire to take their artisan skills to the next level can come.
It seems I am taking a bit of an unplanned hiatus this week. Its hard for me; my schedule didn’t allow for me to get posts lined up in time and my kids chose to be homebodies earlier in the week, despite my attempts at coaxing them out on Oakland adventures that I could share here with you. So I am going to take a bit of time to read a book, enjoy the gorgeous weather, and welcome the impromptu break.
I do have a couple of articles that have gone online this week that I invite you to read, and share if you are so inclined. I have lots planned for the coming few weeks with trips to Oaktown Spice Shop, Schilling Gardens, Flax Art & Design, and much more. Stay Tuned!
In the meantime….
I will see you next week!
Photo Credit: Adrienne Schell
Classic & Kitsch. A dichotomy of words that I think defines the wonderful nature of this a once-a-year event that draws crowds in search of treasures to fill their homes and make their hearts smile. The White Elephant Sale Preview was held this past weekend on the chilly final day of January. A friend and I joined the long, winding line outside the warehouse in the Jingletown District of Oakland; huddled against the wind, drinking coffee, sharing a bagel, and taking advantage of the time to catch up sans kids. As the doors were opened we marched forward, flashed our wristbands, and parted ways; each in search of items needed, items wanted, and items to take home “just because”.
I’m back with another addition to my shop local series with a great spot I heard about from a few different artisans when I attended the Renegade Craft Fair last month. Collector Art Shop in Jack London Square is the 2nd storefront of this unique and innovative retail approach conceptualized by Christina Begley & Skye Sullivan. With a focus on bringing original art to people of all tastes and budgets, Collector Art Shop is filled to the brim with lovely creations in many forms.