Spring at the Palace of Fine Arts

On a warm spring day in San Francisco, we walked through the forest of the Presidio toward the Palace of Fine Arts, a relic from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Until a couple years ago the Exploratorium made its home there but now that grand creative chaotic haven has been tamed and bound on a pier. We sat on a large granite bench in a semi-circle with a twin bench across from us, both facing the little pond. Pulling out our picnic, we wondered why there were no swans, for there had been swans at this pond since we were both children. Maybe they had not migrated north yet? Something to look up later, we thought, for in that moment we were enjoying being by the fictional ruin with the high arches of faux greco-roman domes, sculptured ladies on the lookout above us, and the lovely little ducks lazily dotting the pond alongside orange tiger lilies and pale pink magnolias. In that moment we loved our city.

As we peacefully ate our corned beef sandwiches, a group of about six young men approached in extra large t-shirts, baseball caps, and hoodies. Stomping their thick soled, padded, unlaced high-top sneakers, they took big, powerful steps toward us, their brows furrowed, staring at us with set eyes, determination in their stiff necks, shoulders, and clenched fists. I braced myself, uneasy about their possible intentions, but they walked passed and sat on the bench across from us in the semi-circle. They bounced a bit on the bench even though it was granite, and suddenly seemed not to care about us, so we went on with our picnic.

I finished my sandwich and began nibbling on a fine piece of chocolate, while sneaking a peek at the young men. They had taken off their bulky shoes and were walking about in their white socks.

I assumed their feet were tired from walking all day. We continued to discuss the birds and how the mean seagulls bullied the poor little ducks and wondered again, out loud, “Where are the swans?”

I looked back again at the boys, and this time, they had pulled shopping bags and boxes out of their backpacks and were unwrapping shoes from huge mounds of folded white tissue. The beefy ringleader was strapping on six-inch high stilettos created from wide black leather straps with a tassel down the back. Tres chic! He began to demonstrate his cat walk for the others who were mesmerized by his skill. The others slipped their feet into their “glass” slippers, all sexy high stilettos, and gave them a whirl. The ringleader coached them. They were all so graceful, gliding almost silently around the circle, far exceeding my ability to walk in even one-inch heals. They practiced walking without looking at the ground but rather holding their necks tall, chins high, and focusing on the reflections in the pond before them.

I was so impressed, I called out to them, “Those are hot shoes and you wear them so well!”

The leader responded, “Ross Dress for Less!!!” with a swing of his hips, a wry smile, and a wink. The other boys pretended not to notice us, a bit shy. The leader yelled gleefully, and pointed to the others with a flick of his wrist. “It’s their first time!!!”

With a huge smile, I called back, “They’re lucky to have you as a teacher. You are all gorgeous! Have a wonderful day!”  And we left, feeling our day was complete.