My boyfriend snapped this photo by some train tracks in Berkeley over the weekend. After a week-long heat wave, the city settled into its cool and breezy self. We crossed these tracks during blue hour, a time made memorable by Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. You can read her description of blue hour here.
I’ve lived in Berkeley for almost two years now. Most young people land in this city because they’ve been accepted into UC Berkeley. They spend four years here and then decide to take a giant leap into cities that promise to be even cooler, like Oakland or San Francisco, which is actually just a few miles away. I moved to this collegiate hub a couple years after spending my own four years at UCLA. My velcro-fastened acceptance letter from UC Berkeley had offered spring admission, which felt like a backhand compliment. That is the equivalent of being invited to a party on the condition that you show up several hours late. Because there is only so much food, drink, and room on the dance floor, you may arrive only after the first-string guests have settled in, only after enough of those guests have left early. Then there will be space for you.
UCLA gave me the the opportunity to live in Los Angeles and love it because I didn’t have to deal with the discomforts that would make me hate it. Admittedly, my version of LA is skewed because my travels were limited to where my feet and the bus could take me. Given that my everyday revolved around campus, I saw no utility in owning a car in a city that vows to make driving a gut-wrenching experience. “Driving” is putting it far too kindly, as what LA traffic actually requires is that you sit in your motionless car, surrounded on all sides by other motionless cars. As the exhaust slips in to mix with the stale air blowing from your AC, you unwillingly gaze at a sky littered with billboards worshiping famous people and their movies. If I did that every day I would be so anxious thinking about how much time I waste, how much time I spend thinking about getting somewhere yet not getting anywhere. Like a quarter-life-crisis in driving form. It leads to daydreams of using my feet to traverse pedestrian-friendly cities, swimming in the color blue. And now I’m in Berkeley. Though Joan Didion promises there’s nothing like blue hour in New York…
“Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”
“As a child I thought a great deal about meaninglessness, which seemed at the time the most prominent negative feature on the horizon… No eye was on the sparrow. No one was watching me. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”
The Year of Magical Thinking, pp. 189-90
By Joan Didion