petaluma: paul’s house


When I was back in Petaluma this summer, I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my friend Paul’s house. Paul works for Pixar as a painter and has always had an incredible aesthetic sense — and he’s a perfectionist to boot — so his house is a kind of domestic canvas that you can walk into and let wash over you. When I first met Paul, he worked at a café in Petaluma called The Apple Box, and he made the most perfect cappuccino of anyone that I knew. After the rampant worldwide Starbucks invasion, and its easy appropriation of the cultural currency generated by the sweat-equity of innumerable local coffee houses, it’s hard not to laugh at the clichéd trope of the ‘handcrafted’ coffee drink. “It’s so bourgeois!” But there was a time when coffee house culture was really vibrant and special in California, and that time is related to both locality and economy. There are still a ton of great coffee houses in San Francisco, of course, but what seems to have changed about all coffee houses is the sense of leisure, community, and productive excitement that surrounded them before California became so expensive that everyone had to start spending all their time making money. Of course, there are still plenty of people who have the time to ‘hang out’ at the local, but the tendency runs towards students on the one hand, and the leisured dot-com class on the other. The middle-class of coffee drinker, so to speak, can only afford enough time to grab a ‘to go’ cup. Paul’s coffees, on the other hand, were really special, and it didn’t matter if it took five minutes to get one because you were sitting at the counter, or outside on the deck, talking with your friends, or just looking out at the river, or listening to the steam-hiss of the espresso machine.

Here are three things I love about Paul’s house:

1) It’s small. I hate big houses. Unless you’re a Lord or a King, a big house is an unconscionable waste of space. All those acres of carpet in the suburban home are nothing by empty vistas of nylon to me. In a small house you can live on a human scale, and each room can be meticulously and beautifully ordered — or wonderfully cluttered beyond belief — as your heart desires. Any house that’s so big that you need a maid or a wife to keep it clean is beyond my pleasure.

2) Since Paul is a painter his house is an attention to light. Soft white light (Vermeer light, for Christ’s sake!) filters in through lace curtains, and through paper curtains, deflecting off of the soft, blue, Robin’s egg walls. At night, candles and dim incandescents create a quiet glowing. The word “aesthetics” comes originally from the Greek αἰσθητική “aisthetike,” and was first used by the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten in 1735 to mean “the science of how things are known via the senses,”* though it has since come to be associated with the idea of ‘taste.’ Paul’s house has good taste, but not just because it’s decorated “correctly” or because he has all the right “stuff” in it, but because the body feels good inside of it. It’s a cool, quiet, and beautiful house. Except at night, when it’s warm and perfect for wine drinking. This combination makes for the best sleeps in human history.

3) There’s a nude portrait of a former girlfriend of mine up on the wall. Since Paul paints and sketches from life, he often — especially as a student — would attend life-drawing classes where models would sit for the class. Not surprisingly, many of these models were students who didn’t mind spending a bit of time with their clothes off for some extra cash to pay for books, books, and rent, and all the other things that students need to spend money on. Imagine Paul’s surprise when he walked in and happened to find that he knew the model. Well, it’s been years and years and years since this model and I were a couple, but I certainly won’t say that I wasn’t happy to see her again.

Of course, the best part of staying at Paul’s house was spending time with Paul drinking red wine and eating the most incredible mascarpone toast with garden-fresh tomatoes — put together by Paul himself, of course.

* You can find this information in Wikipedia’s “aesthetics” entry, but it’s also part of what I work on for my dissertation, which is why I can’t stop myself from going on, and on, and on. At length. Apologies.


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