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The bearable lightness of palm trees

Palm trees at home on Crissy Field Photo: Carole Isaacs

For my morning walk across Fort Mason for coffee and scones at Greens To Go, I enter through the Fort Mason gates, cutting across the kept lawns and roadways that bloom with something different every week.

I pause to take in the particular pleasures of the Community Garden, with its various patches of self-expression. There’s no end to the ingenuity of these neighborhood gardeners, some of whom waited years to snag a plot of land there. With its lemon trees in one patch and climbing morning glories winding around pyramids of trailing peas in another, this part of Fort Mason is unique.

Then I come to the Eskimo Madonna – or at least I call it that. Actually, it’s a granite sculpture by the Italian-American artist Beniamino Bufano (1898–1970) and the mosaic work at its base is one of S.F.’s art treasures. I took to calling it a Madonna because it looks like one, and I dubbed it Eskimo because it looks like other Eskimo art I’ve seen. The gorgeous mosaic of a girl with four different colored parts to her face speaks to racial inclusion and how the mother loves all her children, ergo I call it the Eskimo Madonna.

When I turn from admiring it, I see through the trees a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that represents my new hometown to me. The first time I came upon this view I gasped, and the pleasant shock of it never fails me. Seeing something that grand in scale, so balanced and brave, sets my day right no matter what my mood on waking, and as my Momma used to call Chicago’s team “her Cubbies,” when I see that view I call it “my Bridge”!

Then I turn and see that particular thing that tells me I’m now living in a very new place – the thing that resonates within me, that encapsulates all I’ve dreamed of when hearing the phrase “go west.” It’s the palm trees bordering the Great Meadow. Symbolic of all things desert isle, all dreams of escape, of all things that drop coconuts on your unconscious, jolting you into your dreams, they are exotic, graceful, silly, and fine. I see them and know that by moving here, I’ve changed my life in wonderful ways.

Palm trees make me happy. Whether it be the tall, lanky, Dr. Seuss-looking variety, or one of those squat, self-satisfied fat ones, just seeing a palm makes me smile. I grew up in Atlanta, where there were plenty of crepe myrtle, magnolia, dogwood, and Southern pine trees, but no palms, so for me they represent the “other” coast and a chance to explore new horizons. And now I can see palm trees every day.

New York City does have palm trees. If you visit the Plaza Hotel, you’ll see several urban palms sitting in their pots, gracing the luxurious Lobby Palm Court. They look a little sad, however, those tropical beauties, and bored too, sitting there year after year, listening to pouty Upper East Side matrons chatter about their latest trips to “the shows” in Paris. But, like those well-fed matrons, it’s the palm trees’ job to sit and look pretty, and indeed they do.

Another place to see palm trees in NYC is downtown on Vesey Street at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, a lovely place to spend an afternoon, especially since it borders the Atlantic Ocean and reminds us that Manhattan is an island. The palm trees seem happier there. They may not be able to feel the breezes blowing, but these downtown palms shoot skyward nonetheless. Still, they are fixed in pots and they are still indoors.

I imagine a beautiful smile on the frondy head of every New York palm as they dream of moving out here, like Peter and I did. They’d be awash in the welcoming sun and soft air of the Pacific Coast, and they’d sway with joy. They’d be happy.

They’d be home.

Evalyn Baron is an actress, director and teacher who worked on Broadway and in theaters across the country. Here in San Francisco, she’s finally getting some writing done. E-mail: [email protected].
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