The Hilaria: Ostara 2021

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

Looking into ways that humans celebrate the turning of the seasons I discovered the Hilaria (plural of Hilaris). They were spring festivals celebrated by the cult of Cybele, the great mother of the gods, in Asia Minor and Greek and Roman cultures from about the 5th century BCE onward. Cybele’s consort, Attis, was born of her via a virgin birth and resurrected in the spring (sound familiar?). The day of this celebration was the first day after the vernal equinox, or the first day of the year which was longer than the night. I imagine there was a lot of laughing.

I write these pagan holiday letters eight times a year following the pagan wheel of the year, the annual cycle of seasonal festivals observed by modern pagans. Pagans and wiccans have divided the year into eight parts consisting of the chief solar events (solstices and equinoxes) and the midpoints between them, called cross-quarter holidays. Many of these holidays were stolen by the christian religion while colonizing and absorbing pagan customs. Think Christmas and Easter.

Wiccans have named the spring equinox Ostara with a nod to the ancient Tutonic goddess, but of course equinox celebrations have been practiced by humans for millennia. The Anglo-Saxon goddess is Eastre or Eostre.

I can call myself a pagan even though I don’t worship any goddess or god. Pagan is just a pejorative term used by early christians to refer to polytheists, animists or other non-christians. But modern pagans and wiccans have embraced the term and fashioned a religion of sorts. They borrowed the holidays from various pre-christian traditions. This earth-centered practice beats all to hell the christian teaching that humans have dominion over the earth and its animals (interesting that Genesis leaves out the plants). 

I appreciate the wheel of the year because there is no beginning and no end. Life is a cycle. I find this a compelling way to look at and think about the year. The holidays are just far enough apart for my taste. They correspond with the seasons and the movement of nature. The next holiday is only eight weeks away from the current celebration. Now at Ostara I find it easy to think ahead to the next holiday, Beltane on May 1. What flowers will be blooming then? What will I be planting and harvesting from the garden? When will nesting birds be fledging?

One great thing about these holidays is we can make up our own. My version of paganism takes into account the earth and all its beings, not just humans. My version is anti-capitalist and all-inclusive. My personal Hilaria celebration begins on the Ides of March, maybe a bad day for Caesar but an auspicious date in my life. 

One year ago at this time I had spine surgery at Oakland Kaiser, the last of the elective surgeries just as the pandemic was announced. We had our last restaurant meal on Piedmont Avenue and at the time I thought it might be my last out meal for months, maybe years (I was right). A year later, I’ve recovered from surgery and covid restrictions are being lifted. I’ve just had my first shot of Moderna vaccine.

It was on the Ides of March three years ago that Holly and I hired movers and said goodbye to our San Francisco home, Richlandia, moving to our new home in Santa Rosa, Hylandia.

And here is another reason the Ides of March is auspicious. We are selling the last of the property in San Francisco that I bought in 1980 with my then-collective house of lesbians. I lived there for 38 years. That three-unit building has been the center of my life for four decades. I spent nearly a decade (the 2000s) with my partner at the time, Barb, remodeling the units and turning them into condos with the help of tradeswomen friends, especially carpenters Carla Johnson, who died in 2016, and Pat Cull. See my blog posts about the building:

When we bought Hylandia, we sold the condo we lived in and continued to rent the other two units. I was committed to never evicting anyone from their home, but I did want to get out of the absentee landlord business. Then, last month, both the tenants gave notice allowing us to sell the apartments. 

I was so very attached to Richlandia, into which I put so much blood, sweat and tears. But because letting go has spanned years now, I think I’m ready. And the building, given new life by me and my tradeswomen friends, awaits a community of new occupants.

It is a time of new beginnings and as I write this I think What a cliché. Everyone is writing this. Still it seems momentous, life changing. I know that after this year of trump and covid and the fires and fascists assaulting our capital and Black Lives Matter uprisings and the growing throngs of homeless that things can never “go back to normal.” Nor do I wish for that. Life is a circle with no real endings or beginnings. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Real San Francisco

That’s real as in real estate. When I first moved to SF from Seattle in 1976, I lived with two other women in an apartment on Chattanooga Street in the Noe Valley neighborhood. My bed was on the floor of a closet and I paid $85 a month rent. Noe Valley then was a working-class enclave with a bustling main street (24th St.), a couple of great dive bars and a brunch place where on Sunday mornings you could see who had spent their Saturday night together. We hooked up at the laundromat across the street. Not surprisingly, things have changed. My cousin Richard, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, just sent me this email.

The property next door to me (939 Sanchez Street) was owned by a San Francisco native plumber (Harold Christiansen) since the early 1970s.  He paid 21K for it in 1971.  After retiring, he wanted to move to a more suburban area with his long-time companion (Lisa) so he sold it in 2016 for 1.9 mil.  It was a very narrow lot, only 27 feet across and it was very run down.  The new owners planned to demolish the old house and build their dream home.  They were a young techie couple with a 1 year old.  He (Ran) was a brilliant Israeli immigrant who had just sold a start-up to Facebook for 68 mil and she was a pretty Irish-American woman (Sasha) who kept the family organized, grounded, and socialized.  Little did they realize what a huge ordeal it was to work with the San Francisco Planning Commission to demolish an existing building and build a new one, especially a really big one, sarcastically called a “McMansion.” It would take over 3 years from start to final approval. 

But they persisted.  They introduced themselves to all the neighbors and endured the feedback sessions where the neighbors whine and complain about every minute detail of the proposed new building. Many neighbors feared that a very tall building would block their light or that people would peer into their windows. Plus the Planning Commission has endless rules about new construction.  They want new buildings to blend into their neighborhoods, nothing too bold or ostentatious.  Their new plans were scaled back several times.  Still, the new building would be 4 stories, 4700 sq ft, 5 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, maybe a mini McMansion.  And all this on a lot that was only 27 feet wide.  A quick google search indicates the average size of a newly built US home is 2,687 sq ft.

But then POW BOOM.  Ran had taken an executive position with Lyft, the Uber alternative, and they were transferring him to New York City.  So all that work and planning had come to naught and he and Sasha were left with a rundown piece of property with a huge property tax burden.  So they decided to sell the property, hoping the approved building plans would lure a new buyer who would want to live in their dream home. But, really now, would a new owner be willing to pay over 2 mil for a small piece of property and then spend an additional fortune to build someone else’s dream home?  Not too likely.  And on top of that, Ran’s transfer to NYC came just as the pandemic was striking and no one knew what would happen to the real estate market. The house went on the market Apr 2020.  No one was interested.  They changed real estate companies in Jan 2021, opting for Sothebys.

And then, BINGO, they had an interested buyer a month later.  He was Kieran Woods, owner of Woods Family Investments, LLP.  Kieran is from Ireland.  He is a contractor with 35 permanent employees.  He will build Ran and Sasha’s dream house, beginning this coming week, and sell it for a profit.  The closing date was 5 Mar 2021.  Selling price was 2.75 mil.

And what will be the next selling price? I’ll send you a follow-up email in a couple of years.

BELOW:  1) is the current line-up on Sanchez St.  939 is the small house with the white van in front.  My house is the large green one.  2) is the architect/artist’s rendering of the proposed new building at 939.

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