California Dreamin’! Part Deux

When I last left you, I was asleep on Juliet’s table. It happens! Probably more often than we will ever know. The next morning dawned bright and early (emphasis on bright and early), and Sophie took me to what might be the Coolest Place on Earth: the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland.

Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland

Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland

It was designed by Julia Morgan, the same lady who designed Hearst Castle and the first woman to gain entrance to l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. And it’s an AMAZING ode to death…….. Not that you’d know by the festive decor.

Stunning entry...

Stunning entry…

And it DID win 2009′s Best of the Bay award for “Best Place to Spend Eternity.” I find this award hilariously inappropriate for so many reasons.

I find this insanely hilarious.

I find this insanely hilarious.

Like most writers, I am fascinated by things like death and cemeteries and I’ve visited a LOT over the years. But I’ve never seen anything like this. The place is full of exquisite detail. Unlike somewhere like Highgate, which is chaos, this is uniform even as nothing is the same–not the carvings, or the pillars, or the placement of the various urns.

All the details!

All the details!

And some of those urns were in the shape of books…

The urns were all sorts, including books...

The urns were all sorts, including books…

And there were all sorts of open, green spaces with decorated trees. There’s also tons of natural light and I’ve never been anywhere as peaceful as I found this place. Although we did have a hilarious moment where I asked Sophie what sort of tree that was, and she gave me a funny look and said it was the little known “multi-fruit true, which grows both pears and apples, and is native to California.” I gave her a wide-eyed stare for at least three and a half seconds till I realized she was taking advantage of my innocence and naivete. That scandalous Sophie!

I want to live here, amongst the fake trees and the dead.

I want to live here, amongst the fake trees and the dead.

Sophie also uses the Chapel of the Chimes and the huge surrounding cemetery to find names for characters, a practice I love doing, too. And you can’t help but want to tell the stories of the people interred or memorialized within, especially when you’re confronted with things like this–stories begging to be told.

Begs to be told...

Begs to be told…

After our AM constitutional, we went back to Sophie’s and worked, worked, worked.And then Sophie took out her enormous meat to massage it with a garlic poultice she’d made the night before. Soon she covered it in bacon, ready to be baked. But it wasn’t yet time for dinner…

It was time for a taco truck and dress shopping with Rachael, naturally! The taco truck was delicious, although they did try to kill me with a burrito that was bigger than an anaconda. It was perverse. Here’s the evil on wheels:

Street meat!

Street meat!

Then we went dress shopping in San Francisco, at Bettie Page in the Haight. I did not find a dress, but I did get a contact high from all the smoking hippies and a terrible craving for Ben & Jerry’s, which I curbed, not least because Sophie’s enormous meat awaited us.

And boy, did it await us! That night our friends came over to partake of Sophie’s meat. It was the annual Christmas dinner of the Pens Fatales, although we were short a few Pens. But we had enough food for hordes, of course, and we ate a lot of it. We also might have drank a lot, and for some reason I made everyone watch this video of John Tavolta and Jamie Lee Curtis:

I’m not sure what inspired that video, although the ridiculous burrito followed by Sophie’s enormous meat probably had something to do with it. We ate a LOT that day, and I distinctly remember lying on the floor at some point, moaning I’d never eat again…

Until the next day of course. We wrote all morning, being Very Good Girls. But then we were less good girls, when we went to the Merritt Bakery in Oakland. Merritt’s will not let you bring laptops, but they will serve you one of my all time favorite things:

Fried chicken hurling itself onto a waffle, presumably in heaven.

Fried chicken hurling itself onto a waffle, presumably in heaven.

Fried chicken and waffles. Oh sweet baby Jesus. Here’s the real thing:

Gah!

Gah!

Ironically, because we couldn’t bring our laptops, we came up with the Best Idea Ever. It was Julie, Sophie and me, although Rachael was with us in spirit. And I can’t talk about what we came up but it’s genius and amazing and wonderful and a group project which we’ve all been secretly in our heart of hearts preparing for all our lives. Or something. But really, we were so excited about it and I really think inspiration hit because we were eating fried chicken and waffles, with lots of butter and syrup, because that is a sacred act guaranteed to bring us closer to the divine.

Or just angina.

After lunch we worked more, then Sophie and I went out on a date to a Spanish restaurant. I love these ladies for so many reasons, but one of the big ones is we never run out of things to talk about. And the things we talk about! So bizarre and wide-ranging. I adore them.

I think you’re probably sensing a pattern, by now, and the next morning was no exception. Soph and I got up and went on a long walk over HUGE hills to get bagels, and then back again by Oakland’s lake. Then we went over to Julie’s to work, then we went for Thai food. It’s definitely the food I miss most living where I do, but that’s not to blame Pennsylvania. I don’t think you could source the ingredients to make a salad like this anywhere but California:

Grapefruit salad.

Grapefruit salad.

After we ate (and spent all morning plotting our Super Sekrit Project), Sophie took me to the airport. I finished Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu! on the way home. I loved it. And I had some drinks to go with it, as, on the way to San Francisco, I’d given my seat up so a nice couple could sit together. It’s a long plane ride to be stuck apart, and I’m feeling romantical at the moment. Anyway, she turned out to be a Southwest stewardess in disguise, and she gave me all these drink tickets.

Eeeep!
Eeeep!

It was like karma that gave booze! I passed two to my seatmates and kept the other two for Gin o’Clock, which my liver needed like a perforation or two.

And eventually I found myself in Illinois, where I’m bonding with family and writing. But I am writing, and part of that’s because I was with the girls. I know it sounds ridiculous to fly across the country to write in various friend’s kitchens, but it was so worth it. They are a reminder of how to write (they are such professionals where I am still so much a fumbler in the dark) and why I write–I write to meet people like them and to spend time with people like them. They’re really as much muses as they are friends, and it was funny that I was reading Sacre Bleu while there, which is all about a muse.

I am not getting overly sentimental. I think I might still be drunk on laughter (and not the Glenfiddich, really). So that was my latest trip to Oakland, and I already have another planned for this summer.

What about you guys? Where or with whom do you find your inspiration?

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