in Travel/Experience

A Night at the Embassy

I wrote this a few months ago directly after my visit, and since then the SF Chronicle has picked up the story. I’m puzzled as to how negatively the commentors (and thus world at large) sees this community – perhaps they’re simply dismissive of what they perceive to be the next wave of SF hippies living together.

I had the good fortune to attend the SF Embassy Network‘s Sunday potluck dinner last night. What exactly that means is hard to describe to a layman – the tenants would describe the Embassy as “an intentional living space”, which is one of those phrases that doesn’t impart anything of value to the listener until after they have had the situation explained to them.

The physical house is a gorgeous huge Victorian style house nestled in San Francisco’s Haight district, situated on the corner of the street and boasting a sauna upstairs complete with clawfoot bathtub washrooms, and a full length bowling alley in the basement. The real attraction is the vibrant people who live there, however, evinced by the numerous 3D printed doodads lying around, the clothing rack by the front door filled with articles ready for the taking, and the massive number of interesting books on a variety of subjects that reside stacked in bookshelves around the house.

The house has 12 permanent residents, not counting the impromptu hostel in a converted bedroom upstairs. I didn’t enquire as to specifics, but apparently only a few people live there full time, with the rest of the non hostel spots fluctuating, sometimes on a nightly basis. In this manner, the house ensures that the space is always dynamic, with new people coming and going at all times. The house is more of a communal hosting space than a living area.

The two regular events hosted there are Thursday night salons, during which there is a curated discussion or workshop, and Sunday night dinners, which are simply communal dinners where any friend of the house is welcome. This is what I attended, and while I entered the premises with no idea of what was to happen, I knew that it would be awesome.

And awesome it was. I realized at the end of the night that I had not participated in a single conversation that evening that I had wanted to break off early: every single person I talked to was either incredibly interesting on their own or had something very interesting to talk about. Usually in social situations you have at least one conversation that, after the initial small talk is conducted, you realize that you would rather not have started. Generally you suffer through for a few minutes more until you can find some excuse, like a need to use the bathroom or refill your drink.

Not at the Embassy. My theory is that this is because everyone in attendance there is actively involved in a personal side project that they are very passionate about. As a result, even if their passion is something you are not interested in, their side of the conversation is passionate, which infects the listener with interest as well. It doesn’t matter what it is: talking about someone’s passion is always interesting, because they have so much interest and information in the subject.

I spoke with a bearded gentleman outfitted in a red silk robe and Vibram Fivefingers about the book on post feminist dating that he had written and then lost on a thumb drive in Guatamala, a lightly tattooed, partly pink dyed blonde about the usefulness of 23andMe, which she subscribed to, a flamboyant NASA engineer about Buckminister Fuller’s concept of ‘tentegrity’, and the founder of the place, who had been raised by cultists in India and spoke as though there were a thousand more important things going on in his head and he had put them on pause in order to respond to your question( much like Jack Dorsey). And those were just a few of the many.

It was inspiring, and to be honest, made me incredibly excited to be alive and young. There were so many exciting things going on in these people’s lives that they were truly psyched to be working on, and it filled me with even more ideas and future possibilities to work on myself.

Every city should have a place like this, where you can drop in for a few nights at a time and join the vibrant conversation. Some members there spoke about similar spaces elsewhere in SF founded around certain different interests, as well as others in South America, Europe, and the East Coast. But I doubt that they are easy things to find, unless they have all described themselves as ‘intentional living spaces’. The strength of these communities are directly tied to the reliability and generosity of the founders, and I heard about more than one place that had fallen apart because the original members weren’t trustworthy enough.

That said, in one way or another these guys have succeeded in creating a vibrant dynamic place full of incredibly interesting people who in turn bring more incredibly interesting people around to weekly dinners. It’s a paradigm that I’d love to help duplicate elsewhere.