Monday, 19 April 2010

San Francisco days

I left you, dear reader, lounging about in San Bruno, cuddling babies and generally making myself (a little bit) useful about the house. But the following day Dad and Vanessa joined me in San Fran, I moved down to the boutique Hotel Frank in the city, and the serious sightseeing began...

And thus started the pattern of the next four days: in the mornings the three of us went to some major attraction, and in the afternoon D&V went to rest (Dad's just had a tendon injury) and I pounded the streets checking out the neighbourhoods, before we met up again in the evening and I showed off the photographs - virtual sightseeing!

The results of this punishing schedule will be up on Flickr, as soon as I can find a computer terminal that lets me upload photos (God bless the YHA for being so security conscious, but it's killing me that most of a normal computer's functions have been disabled!). Day One we saw the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a glorious collection with some new names for me (the emphasis was very much on American and local artists, with a bunch of Diego Rivera stuff too, which I absolutely love). Day Two was Alcatraz, which should have been cheesy but was awesome - they had an audio tour you could follow as you went around which was superbly atmospheric (lots of slamming doors and distant shouts and cries), and the place itself has a lowering atmosphere all of its own. We went into one of the cells in solitary at one point, and had to hold on to each other because it was so damn scary.

Day Three our joint excursion was to the Golden Gate Bridge (of course!), and it was a lovely clear day - something that doesn't often happen in SF, I hear, but which happened for me twice so I feel very privileged. Again, it's something that you think might be overrated, but it's hard not to feel dwarfed and overawed by the sheer miracle of engineering you're walking across, and it's given a human element by the phones spaced along the bridge that connect directly with a crisis counsellor, in case you feel tempted to jump.

On my own I had some fantastic trips too - an afternoon exploring Chinatown, and another following in the footsteps of the Beat generation in North Beach (the City Lights bookstore was a particular highlight, as was the first club to feature topless waitressing, commemorated - believe it or not - with a plaque on the wall! Beats our Blue Plaques, that's for sure). I also climbed the crookedest street in the world (so steep it has 10 switchbacks on the way down), and admired the gilt-and-stone Classical wonderland that is City Hall. But one of my favourites was Coit Tower, endowed by an eccentric (but rich) lady named Phyllis Coit, to beautify her beloved San Francisco; as well as building great towers on the highest hill in the city (gorgeously decorated with murals inside - Rivera is here, too), she was given to wearing a fireman's helmet and joining them whenever there was a call-out. And who wouldn't, given half a chance?

My favourite of all, though, was when I went back to the Castro district to have another look around on my last day in the city - I felt it was appropriate. I saw the Harvey Milk Plaza, and 575 Castro Street, where he ran his camera shop in the Seventies, and I ambled around the "gayest four corners of the earth" on the corner of Castro and 18th. But best of all I got to see inside the Castro Theater, one of the most amazing movie theatres I have ever been in. It's a mixture of Spanish, Oriental and Italian influences, with great golden panels and starbursts in the ceilings, while the front was designed to be reminiscent of a Mexican cathedral. It's hardly been altered since it was built in the 1920s, and it's about the most luxurious place you can think of to watch a film - and, even better, I saw A Single Man in it. In the heart of gay San Francisco. I was so excited I was bouncing up and down when I got my ticket - and not just the film, but the circumstances too made me cry like a baby throughout. [In an aside, and having now seen all the competition, Colin Firth was robbed of that Oscar.]

So there you have it - San Fran in a nutshell. Now I'm in Portland, Oregon, having come up the West Coast via a very scenic train journey (and this is for the Americans in the audience - the train was on time. I thought the UK was the place with the worst trains in the world, but it's not so, folks. Sure, we have leaves on the line and the wrong sort of snow, but here it's not unusual for trains to be three days late. Kind of puts my journey from Liverpool Street to Stoke Newington into perspective). Anyway, this too is a delightful place, all hippieish and liberal and full of AMAZING restaurants (the residents pride themselves on their food, and rightly so). It also has the largest independently owned bookstore in the States, but more of that in another blog. For now, it's dinnertime so I'll sign off and go in hunt of something delicious to eat. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it!

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