Ikea makes you look at things differently, like color combinations and light fixtures, at least until you realize you can't really see anything anymore because there's too much stuff and no windows.
When that happens, you go up to the cafeteria on the second floor, the one that looks right out over the San Francisco Bay. This is surely the best view in the East Bay — at least the best view on a small budget. Here, under light fixtures that look like they could only really live in a cartoon (they are that bulbous and big), you can watch people — of every ethnicity, family income, and choice of life partner — eat Swedish meatballs.
And you realize from the amount of happiness in that big cafeteria that all people love meatballs. And then you realize, as you run through your mental index of all the kinds of meatballs you know about (the ones at the Vietnamese sandwich shop on Larkin, the ones at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Jack London Square, the ones you get in pita bread at the Turkish place on Gough near the San Francisco Public Library) that indeed everyone in the world eats meatballs and it might be important to remember that next time you read the front page of the New York Times.
Tail of the Yak. There's nothing like this store anywhere else in the world. In fact, it's a little world of its own. Even though it's not on a particularly scary street, you get buzzed in. In French. "Sonnez vous," it says above the buzzer. You guess that means "buzz off," except that when you push the button, the nice woman who runs the shop buzzes you in. Perhaps it means "buzz in." In the back of the shop there's a really big, beautiful wooden cage, the kind that Elizabeth Bishop would see in a shop in South America in one of those travel poems she's always writing. There are doves in the cage. This does not seem at all weird.
The last time I was there they were displaying Basque wine glasses. I wouldn't have guessed they were wine glasses, but a neatly lettered sign told you so. They looked like no wine glass I've ever seen. They were flat, two inches high at most. Who says a wine glass cannot be a shallow, saucer-like affair? They were beautiful in their oddness, like the Basque language with its many words that have x's in them. Why the Basque people like x's is unclear. It is possibly a stubborn insistence that, just as wine glasses do not have to be tall and skinny to be beautiful, a people can rely on an underutilized consonant and still sound beautiful when they speak, though both the wine glasses and the language are inaccessible without a little sign that tells you what they're about.
Next to the Basque wine glasses were some other ones that had this etched on them: "Verre de amitie." I tried to picture the earth of friendship. But that couldn't be right. In fact, it's not. These glasses want to say something less abstract and more sensible. They are the glasses of friendship. You can raise them with your friends over a plate of meatballs and talk about the beauty you've found in unexpected things.