San Francisco as you might not have seen it before

In 2011 I made a trip to see my friend, who was visiting her husband in San Francisco. This couple has an ingenious and original kind of marriage: they both live in separate cities, no, countries, but manage to get together frequently enough to maintain a healthy and interesting relationship. It is for each a second marriage. They first met in their early fifties while in Mexico. My friend was visiting as a tourist, her soon-to-be husband was on a visit to his relatives in his home town. Their serendipitous encounter there was a twist of fate: three years later they married. That was ten years ago.

Theirs might just be the perfect arrangement for people who are independent and want to retain their separate identities within a relationship. Having an income is part of that identity and independence. Although it is not their choice to live separately (and after retirement they will settle down together in the locations of their choice), it works for them now to continue to have their occupations and social circles, for the time being, separately from each other.

They meet several times during the year and spend vacations and the 2 months of summer break (she is a teacher) together. Each enriches the other’s life and their relationship stays fresh and exciting, possibly also because of the separations.

After having met an interesting and handsome man on a vacation in Canada, I eventually moved to my lover’s country thirty-odd years ago,  under the category of reuniting families (as his fiancee), as we tried to develop our budding relationship. I gained status as a landed immigrant and we married three months later, as a requirement of the immigration office. It was for me a jump into the abyss, as we hardly knew each other, having spent at the most 3 weeks consecutively with each other. Even so, we stayed married for about 16 years and had a child together.

In hindsight, immigration under such forced circumstances is quite a drastic and almost traumatizing step, for the person leaving everything familiar and all loved ones behind, for the sake of one person. An inherent inequality follows, at least for a good number of years until the immigrating partner is fully assimilated, if ever.

What do you think about this new way of maintaining a marriage across nations, each partner staying put in their own country or city, like Living Apart but Together? Would you like it better than a marriage after immigration, just to be together in one place?If you live separately as a couple, how do you cope with questions of trust, of not knowing what is the other doing in your absence? Or is this even an issue?

Do you have any experiences with arranged marriages where the bride  comes from another nation and another culture?

I would be interested in hearing your experiences.

In my novel On Thin Ice the immigration experience of the protagonist Adrienne is a factor that made everyday life harder.

In the photos of San Francisco below I tried to show its Mexican neighborhood (the Mission) and photos of the art and culture there, and contrast it with the upper-middle class, Caucasian neighborhood of my host. Both have their attraction and artistic value.

As I see it, California was historically Mexican territory and the original culture would have been from Aztec roots, mixed with the colonial Spanish influences, and much later, with other European influences; now California  is seen as part of the cultural melting pot of the Unites States.

Still, I sensed a culture that is not mainstream American, as the social structures and policies of the city are much more tolerant and obviously multi-cultural than  the northwest and mid-western US states. I loved the city and found it exciting, vibrant and beautiful, sort of un-American, no offence intended.

The street artist’s work

Replacing the sunshine in this city where fog often clouds the sun.

Pinatas for sale in a kiosk occupying part of a former bank building.

The ceiling of the kiosk, located in a former bank building . Don’t forget to look up while in San Francisco….

Beautiful girls out for a night of fun in the Cava bar in the Mission

The Mariachi, always a joy to behold…and expensive


The Mariachi perform at your table and expect their fee;  the bar owner or guest who arranges for them to visit your establishment has to put out the fee up front. It is a sign of wealth to have them play for you and largely (of course) intended to impress the ladies.

Mariachi music is not a dying music form,  as some might assume, just because it is traditional music. Not at all: Mariachi is alive and considered the most prestigious Mexican music. The musicians must be accomplished and already have made a name for themselves to be hired on with the best orchestras.

I experienced that most Mexicans really, really like music and it is everywhere, in many shapes and forms, and just about everyone plays an instrument or sings.

The “Banda” music is played at rodeos and other big parties and is an exuberant form of music, less stylized than the classical Mariachi, and played by much larger orchestra with many brass players and a large rhythm section. To me, it seems comparable to a form of folk music, where often the tales of the famous folk heroes, liberation fighters, and also banditos are recounted. lately Banda is developing into a  heroic sort of narco tales. The favourite rhythms are 2 step, waltz and salsa with also some calypso thrown in.

The more classical, old fashioned Spanish ballads, often sung by a trio of guitarists on classical Spanish guitars,   lends itself very well to more quite, intimate dinner parties or romantic dates. This type of music performance is a dying art form, and is seldom taken up by young guitarists. If you have a chance to enjoy this, my suggestion would be to not pass up that opportunity.

Then there is the singer Chavela Vargas,  all by herself in a class apart, who has achieved status of a diva with her passionate ballads, much like Edith Piaf in the olden days. (Who still know who she is??)

Spanish style Tapas restaurant PICA in the Mission, delicious food in small portions meant to be easily shared among friends.

The Women’s Building in the Mission neighbourhood.

The Women’s Building is mural-ed on all sides and is spectacular. I took some time and went back a couple of times to see all of the murals in the Mission, a very unique and special place.

The Women’s Building recounting history and how women of all races help other women.


More historic context….modern women could take courage from how natural breast feeding is depicted….compare how in north American Caucasian culture the breasts have been demoted to just becoming a lust object for men…

The front entrance

Yet another view of the bridge, with a Muslim twist….

How small can you make that darn bridge look….did we succeed?

My hosts…Kim and Miguel

More street art

Taqueria with the Virgen de Guadalupe, or the Queen of Mexico, in the Mission district.

Don Francisco.



Balmy Street: maybe a spot to take your children to if you have trouble telling them about the facts of life?

The Balmy Street mural project off the 24th  Street corridor is a community project and is maintained by volunteers. The whole, I mean the WHOLE, street is one large display of murals, all over homes in which people live and on fences and walls. The murals are sometimes painted over when restoration is not feasible,. A group of dedicated artists and volunteers decide what will take its place when one mural has to go. There are mural tours for those who want someone to explain or guide the visitors through the district; the art and book shop on 24th Street can help you.

All through the Mission quarter one can find paintings and murals; it’s a wonderful neighbourhood to stroll around in.


The Butcher in the Mission. The building’s front decor must be easily 100 years old with beautiful lettering.

The only billboard-size advertising I have seen anywhere, to combat on line child abuse….San Francisco obviously has a strong social conscience.

An attractive social housing development


View of the city from the living room window on Laidley Street.

My host lives in a upper middle class neighbourhood on the hills with spectacular  views of the city and the bay in the distance.

Building on a slope has its own challenges.

Challenges for parking as well: use that parking break!

Making the most out of a small (expensive) building lot.

Two different lots, two different styles. Anything goes.


Diversity in building styles on Laidley.

The little neighbour

More homes….

Laidley, a beautiful street, no doubt about it.

As I arrived in this neighborhood, its beauty enticed me to start walking and to explore the ingenious building methods and the diversity in this street’s building. The individual homes demonstrated an applied creativity and the wish of its owners to put their dreams into reality.

The neighbors that were out in the street doing their thing were approachable.  People where watching us and were obviously curious about what we were doing in their neighborhood, so we started speaking first, complimenting them on their beautiful houses and  on the landscaping. We chatted, together with my friend, about how they came to move to this street and the particulars about their building styles. It was obviously a white upper middle class neighborhood, without rental units, and owners who possessed comfortable cars.

That is to say, diversity in building styles, I’m not so sure about people diversity. When I shared my information about the neighbours and their houses with my host, who is obviously of Mexican descent, he was surprised and wondered why people talked to my friend and me, what we had said, and if we had spoken first. He had never exchanged one word with any neighbors while out in the street. They would not look at him or greet him.

My Canadian friend has had the experience many times before while travelling in Mexico and the US that others assumed that her spouse was her taxi driver, or the guide, or what have you, so here on Laidley the neighbors likely had assumed that her guy was the gardener or the cleaner of the owner’s home he shared: a Caucasian male.

Boy oh boy, we Caucasians have a long way to go….

The street and homes of  next door neighbors

To the houses built above Laidley street level.

A humongous Jade plant (Crassula argenta) in the Mission growing out of the side walk.

Its cousin next door, that was broken off. Some friendly gardener is trying to nurse it back to full size, in a rather effective, but funny-quaint way with a doily around it that must have been especially crocheted for this plant!

A last photo and a goodbye from San Francisco with this joyfully different character playing out his fantasy in the Castro neighbourhood.

I  have not put photos of  the many mainstream tourist attractions, such as the waterfront and Fishermen’s Wharf area etc. as these places have too many people mulling about to my taste, the prices  of everything are vastly overwrought and  it feels to me like this is not San Francisco, with exception of the Buena Vista Irish Cafe, a saloon since 1916, where we had a few wonderful hot  drinks that were welcome on this cold, foggy day.

Please, push the like button on Facebook, or comment on my comment pages. I am interested in your feedback on the dating/marriage situation and immigration for a mate….


About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in architecture, Babyboomer, Diversity issues, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Green living, Immigration, International politics, travel, Uncategorized, woemn and murder, women's issues; torture of women, world issues and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to San Francisco as you might not have seen it before

  1. Great pictures. Loved the story of your friends and also your story. Will contact you via email re: book review swap.

  2. Thanks Lynn,
    I appreciate your comments and the follow.

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