I was in the city in the first place to see a play. ("Into the Woods" at the SF Playhouse. It was fabulous. Musical. Toe-tappingly fun. Deeply thought-provoking. As the best theater is, of course.) I stayed overnight and decided to do a bit of sketching and a bit of shopping around Union Square.
I started the morning in a cafe right on the square, where I could sit in the sunshine and sip my latte and watch the people lining up for the tour buses. It was a great place to sit and absorb the place.
And it amazed me. I think I heard a whole planet's worth of foreign languages swirling around me as I sat there sketching. People making plans. People poking at their cell phones. People eating breakfast and chattering away about... well, who knows, because it wasn't in languages I could understand.
Later in the day, after some roaming and shopping, I returned to the square, found a bench with a good vantage point, and pulled out my sketchbook again.
I was near some young, beautiful Muslim women who had set up a table and were telling everyone about Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. (I taped the little card the woman gave me right onto my sketch which made her smile broadly.) I could hear them chattering musically in their language, interspersed with their conversations as people stopped at their table. I could hear the group of young guys behind me talking about their girlfriends and their party plans. At one point, a big group of students gathered to announce a protest (about the political situation in the Philippines) and then they chanted for 20 minutes or so before they marched off, banners waving, to take their protest through the city.
At another point, I felt a quiet presence beside me and I looked up to find a young girl, maybe 10 or 12, standing beside me. I said hello. She told me she was from China and she wanted to know what I was doing. Drawing, I said, did she draw? Not very well. I told her my daughter was from China, which earned me a surprised look. She told me where she was from. Your English is very good, I said. I like to practice it, she replied. And off she went.
I had a good time sketching. But what I'll remember from that day was how sitting and listening as I sketched gave me a whole difference experience of that place.
I think we all need to just sit and listen a bit more in this world.