Ok, I’m here, now what? Nothing about me has changed. Wherever you go, there you are. Ah, such a cliché…
Sleep, sleep, sleep. All I do is rest, ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes even more. Completely polar bear, I spend most of my first week in San Francisco hibernating. Living like a child, having time, doing little, needing nothing. Daydreaming in bed.
As they already did five years ago, also during a transitorily moment in my life, the Vella family adopts me. There’s no way I can express the gratitude I feel towards them in words, they represent the idea of hospitality at its best. Under the sheets, sometime around noon, I think about the ancient concept of philoxenia: loving strangers. In Greek mythology Zeus was both the God of thunder and of visitors, who could actually be sent by him… or even be a God themselves.
I spend many of my initial days at the Zocalo, a cafe in San Leandro. There’s nothing special about the place, but it’s spacious, functional, and works perfectly as a coffeehouse. It reminds me of Sándor Márai, when he described his favorite coffee shop in Budapest and said that it wasn’t fancy at all, that it wasn’t even at the center of the city. It was in a peripheral area, on the limit, and that was precisely what made it special. The feeling of nowheredome, of a waiting room, of somewhat generic and anodyne… a limbo. It is in such as place where I review my past year in LA, where I ponder my choices in the Bay Area and think about life, in general. Slowly, I start to accept that I’m not ready to find ‘a place’ yet.
On Saturday Jannette, a friend from Sundance who now happens to be working for the Telluride Film Festival in Berkeley, takes me on a tour around the city. We go to the Mission District, the Castro, Dolores Park, the City Hall, Marina… With her highly developed ciceronian skills she leads you to perceive San Francisco in a charming and unexpectedly pleasant way.
Once the tour is over, I start walking around the streets alone with the “fly of the Valkyres” playing in my head. Frisco is definitely a gentle city, I’ve just corroborated that, but there’s also a specific roughness to it. Many unstable people roam its streets driven crazy by the wind and fog that perturb their souls….
Tired of walking, I end up sitting in a Starbucks, trying to read Aristotle’s Rethorics. An old man with long white hair and powerful blue eyes asks if he can take a sit by your side. “Of course” I say, before he finishes his question. The man places his Venti Frappuchino Caramel Latte with whip cream on the table and starts sucking it mechanically. A few minutes go by absorved in that routine he doesn’t seem to enjoy anymore, till he unexpectedly takes a huge rosary out of his pocket and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Then he starts praying some incomprehensible orations with deeply felt passion. He is really loud. Everybody turns around to look at him, but he obviously doesn’t care, and keeps on mumbling his personal credo. Although he is disturbing my reading, I let him be, and after a while I don’t even notice him anymore. Thirty minutes later he suddenly stops.
I can’t help asking him what’s up with all that public performance. “Are you loosing your religion?” I ask, ironically. He smiles and locks his fiery eyes with mine. “Discipline. Truth and discipline” is his laconic answer. Commitment to crazyness, I guess… Respect.
On Sunday I think about it all day and finally decide to stay in San Francisco, for a while. On Monday I’m already looking for a job, without the slightest clue of where to find one. The moment I step down the Powell Bart station I realize that it’ll be much harder than I thought, and that I have to be realist. Suddenly everything seems extremely difficult, almost impossible, and I just want to give up and go back home, for good. At that point something inside of me says: “to be realist is a luxury you can’t afford”. If I want to survive I must keep on dreaming.
Today, for the first time in my life, I dreamt on Facebook. That’s serious stuff. Since I am already in the Bay Area, I decide to visit Silicon Valley, where everything is happening. I take my car and drive 45 minutes to Facebook’s headquarters. I just want to be close to the place that has completely changed human interaction in the past few years. Once I get there, I don’t really know what to do, so I basically drive around the parking lot and end up leaving the car beside all the electric Nissan Leaves. I step down, walk for a couple minutes in front of the offices, trying to peek inside – where everything looks like a normal corporation, only with more random stuff hanging from the walls and ceilings – but I’m sure there is much more than that. Then I approach the security guy and ask if it is possible to see the place, to what he reacts nervously saying that you shouldn’t be there, that Facebook is a really private place, and that you should immediately leave that area. I ask him if Apple is more relaxed in terms of privacy, to what he replys that they are actually much worse and invites you to leave once again… so I end up leaving, with a security car smoothly following me till the exit.
Days go by, and I don’t find anything better to do than volunteering for the San Francisco International Film Festival. During the two weeks it lasts I do everything, from delivering film tickets to tearing them off at the door; I even accommodate Val Kilmer at the Kabuki theater…
As in Sundance, I’ll have some memorable moments, like when I ended up watching Fritz Lang’s House by the River just a couple of sits away from Alexander Payne… I’ll also attend the premiere of Twixt, the painfully autobiographical Francis Ford Coppola movie at the mythical Castro theater, where I’ll experience a highly cathartic and truly cinematic experience with 1400 more people filling up that old movie palace.
But unlike at Sundance, I am just a volunteer there, and I spend half of the time people watching and chatting with other volunteers. During those days I’ll realize that I’d rather be busy, be in charge and stressed, than just hang out doing practically nothing. And I actually like such reaction in myself…
At the Café Royale, one of the many great coffee shops in San Francisco, I overhear a conversation among old ladies who are sitting around a table commenting on a book. They start really serious, analyzing the characters’ decisions with heartfelt tones and heavy voices, but they end up talking about how each of them cuts onions. One of them explains that her husband wanted everything perfect, even the onion cubes, and that he probably had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. What started as a literary symposium ends up becoming a confession in which on of the women admits that she had to divorce from her husband because he wanted to have both men and women…
Her husband has a boyfriend now. She ended up letting him cut the onions as he pleased, and determined that the best option was to let the control freak have control, as long as it didn’t affect her too much. But who has more control then, the person who wants everything his own way, or the one who understands that and allows such person to be obsessive?
After the confession break, the ladies keep on talking about the book characters as if they had actually met them in real life, and they argue over their motivations and actions. I can’t stop listening to them. I virtually become part of the conversation and feel so affected by what they are saying that it even concerns me. Then I suddenly realize that I’ve spent the last two years without that kind of furtive social life, and that I really missed it.
In the meantime, I look through the window, hypnotized by the abundant flux of people. Sanfranciscoans have a magnificent walking style, their strong legs – muscled up from the steep hills of the city – give them an enviable gracility in their moves. It’s getting dark and the neon lights start popping up. It’s chilly outside, but warm inside. I start to feel at home.
On Saturday I meet with some friends and friends of friends that who in the Bay Area. That night I am introduced to Lynn, who happens to be working at Google. I spend half of the dinner trying to find the right moment to ask if it would be possible to visit her some time, but before I ask, she offers, and I obviously accept.
On Monday morning I’m already visiting Lynn at Mountain View. Google is no Facebook, they allow you to hang out, walk around, take pictures… there’s even a gift shop. Google is abundance; unlocked multi-colored bikes are left all over the place, some get stolen but they don’t even care, since it would be a hassle to create a system to control them. And the food! Lynn brings me to one of the many free food courts, and as I eat the whole buffet with my eyes she talks about the “15 pounds rule”, an insiders’ joke that refers to the average amount of weight that most newcomers gain once they start working at the Googleplex.
“If you want to make people healthy and happy, give them good food” I think to myself, as I devour as much sushi as I can. But not only that, aside from the delicious food, the facilities have gyms, pools, creative games, strange sculptures, fake flamencos, dinosaur skeletons, people with blue hair… They want to generate a healthy creative environment in which the nerds can sometimes leave their cavern and give their very best. They have to be constantly inspired by the immediate environment; it feels like a fancy fish tank for over capacitated people.
Lynn tells me that there’s lots of competence and privacy, a team doesn’t even know what the other is doing… She was part of a ‘start up’ company that was absorbed, but she can’t tell me any more, it’s a secret. You need passes to go anywhere and you can’t even go from one department to another. She refers to Sergey Brin and Larry Page as the “founding fathers”, and informs me about their weekly talk in which they explain what’s happening in the company… Later in the evening I visit Stanford with my friend Carlos, who shows me the first Google server, placed at the engineering building, and exposed like a relic. It’s really small, has Lego pieces in it, and it actually looks pretty funny…
Google is a large number. 1 followed by a hundred 0. Look:
I google Google to find this information… Earlier on, that same day, I took a picture at the Facebook entrance and posted it on Facebook. Paradoxes of the digital era…
Only a few of the new start ups actually work in the long term, the rest of them die young or are even born dead. Death is also part of Silicon Valley, recently one of its most promising new talents, a 22 year-old guy who was trying to create a new social network named Diaspora, committed suicide. His expectations were too great and difficult to match with his inexperience. There’s pressure there. It’s a weird race. Plus, depression, autism and schizophrenia go hand by hand with programming skills.
What does it mean to be human in this day and age? How can we define the human experience? There’s a new lexicon, a new language, a new way of writing: the programming code. In the Prometheus Bound Aeschylus shows how that titan not only gave fire to men, but also writing, so that they could expand their memory. That’s what happened again with the digital revolution… we live in a brand new world, in which the arts of civilization have been renewed from a little Promethean town by the San Francisco Bay.
As I do almost every night, when I get home I sit in a couch in front of Toni, your American mother, and go through your day. Once I’m done recounting, she does the same. Sometimes hours fly by and none of you really seems to be willing to stop talking… However, I notice in her, as I do in myself, that the most excitement comes when referring to your own experiences.
According to recent investigations from Harvard, to communicate one’s own visions and thoughts activates the same neuronal circuits as sex and food. Apparently, between 30 and 40% of what we say is about ourselves. Subjectivity is then a sort of public masturbation (which you are obviously addicted to). I have always been an Egohedonist and never been afraid of self-indulgence in my writings, but I’m aware that in order to make friends I must listen to them, and I guess I’ve also learned to do that. Therefore, when I’m with other people I try not to talk too much about myself… but instead I do it here, with fair play, where nobody really needs to read me.
But actually the great novelty about such experiment is that, when the “guinea humans” knew that someone else would hear their answers, the activity in their accumbens nucleus and ventral tegmental area fired up. That means neurological pleasure… However, when nobody was going to hear the answer, the activity in those areas remained the same. They also say that talking about oneself is beneficial, since it generates emptathic bonds and alliances among people, and it multiplies the knowledge that any given person can acquire during her or his life. To sum up, it is valuable for the extreme sociability of our species.
But am I really writing to better know myself? Who do I write for? Perhaps I’m just writing to exhibit my experiences and tribulations… Is it pure literary love? Is it therapeutic? Does it really free my Id? At least I’m saving some money in psychoanalysis, I’d like to think.
Anyhow, I’ve always seen the literary act as a sensual act, almost like painting, that’s why I love doing it in coffee shops. The environment is paramount. But the real key aspect is whether when I listen to someone else the inverse effect occurs and the other person experiences neuronal discomfort. I’m always concerned about that, and that’s why I try to offer some variations, be critical with myself, even talk shit about me… Can you see I’m just trying to obtain your condescension?
But I’ve become so self-centered that now I’m even starting to think about becoming a sort of professional of the Ego. That’s, sadly, the only way I have of believing in my Self. The oracle of Delphi recommended mankind to know itself and do everything with measure… Should I then combine both precepts and just attempt to know myself with measure?
Just try to acquire a literary propioception Pau, and keep your Ego as a metaphor.