"At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar, she said she would love to go." ~ excerpt from "Araby," Dubliners, James Joyce
As of 10:30am yesterday (and this is retroactive to at least the last twelve years of my life),
I have had it.
I am done with whiny, spoiled, helpless women who are entitled. Who substitute vapid feel-good platitudes for a personality.
Done. Had it.
Not interested in your demons, your dark side, your dragons.
Oh, you're an artiste? Whatever.
Oh, you're the center of the universe? Not my universe, lady.
Get over yourself.
That was my morning.
This was my afternoon.
She is the Queen of Sheba.
Yesterday, after meeting a new friend for lunch (who bears absolutely no resemblance to anyone mentioned in the preface), I ended up wandering in an entirely different direction than I had planned.
I meant to go to the Castro, but instead I ended up in the Tenderloin (again).
Walking up Sutter Street, it started to drizzle and I tucked my camera inside my coat. I'm learning. I'm not getting my camera wet anymore.
Across the street from a pawnshop was a corner market where most of the writing on the awning had faded or was rubbed out. But you could see where it said Middle Eastern Foods. That was enough to get me across the street. The open door with the smell of spices got me inside.
Near the doorway were three older women wearing long tunics and headscarves. The eldest woman had a blue painted line running vertically from her lower lip down her chin. (I am not sure what that marking means, if anyone else does, please enlighten me.)
A television was playing in Arabic.
Feeling somewhat shy, I ducked around the back of the store to see if I could find some of my favorite coffee. I love my Cafe Najjar with cardamom, and it's hard to find. And I was enjoying wandering the narrow aisles, looking at all of the juices (blueberry, mango, pomegranate, tamarind) and packets of spice blends (kebab, za' atar, baharat).
I came up to the counter with my little bag of coffee, and noticed near the register boxes of Turkish delight, and little candied fruits wrapped in plastic.
The woman behind the counter beams as I finger the candies. "Oh my God," she says, with a little lust in her voice. "I love those so much. I eat too many of them."
That's all I need for a testimonial, so I choose one of each. She takes an apricot. "Oh my God, this one is my favorite." She unwraps it and takes a bite of it like it's her last meal.
"You like cardamom?" she asks, looking at the coffee.
I love cardamom, I tell her.
You like tea? she asks.
Just tell me what to buy and I'll get it, I tell her.
Come with me, she says, and I follow her to the back of the store. She disappears into the back room and then emerges with a sizeable tub of black tea leaves.
She smiles as she takes the plastic lid off of the tub.
Smell this, she says knowingly. She makes it herself, she tells me proudly, mixing four different kinds of tea with cardamom.
OH my god, I think. It smells like heaven.
Ghalyia owns this lovely market on the cusp of a neighborhood that has still evaded gentrification, even though technically the address is Nob Hill.
She has owned the store for 10 years. The Queen of Sheba on Sutter Street.
Ghalyia offers me a cup of her tea. It tastes even better than it smells. She tells me how to prepare it. "Just a pinch in hot water."
She tells me she is from Yemen. She says she raised two children (one is with God now, she says) as a single mother and never got to go to school. But she has a beautiful granddaughter, Nadia. "Look, there is her picture," she points to a photograph of an infant next to a photo of Barack Obama. "That's my granddaughter, right next to the President."
There are Obama posters and t-shirts about, and I'm not quite sure if they're for decoration or for sale. She shows me an article that someone wrote in the paper about her. An American reporter who speaks perfect Arabic came in to visit regularly and wrote a whole article about her. It's laminated for sharing.
"Where did you come from?" she asks me. "Did you hear of me?"
I tell her I was just wandering by and she says, "That happens every day. I love when people find me."
I tell her I'll be back to talk some more, and to give her a copy of the photos she's so goodnaturedly let me take. She gives me the realest hug I've had in a long time. It's such a lovely hug that I don't want to let go. But I do.
As I'm leaving, it's starting to pour. An old homeless woman, barefoot, comes in, clutching a dollar in her arthritic looking hand. Ghalyia waves after me, smiling. "See you soon! Next time, I'll make coffee."
That is an antidote to the preface.
There are false queens and then there are real ones. I think I've met a real Queen today.
ps.: I was thrilled to see that I'm not the only one to have discovered Ghalyia and her lovely welcoming manner. You can read reviews here on yelp, as well as get her address so you can stop by and buy some tea. And maybe even get a hug.
Queen of Sheba
1100 Sutter St
(between Larkin St & Polk St)
San Francisco, CA 94109