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It’s near two hundred days since I slouched atop green Bernal Hill,

Dismissing the dogs drooling over my “Progressive Grounds” wrap.

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I watched with increasing heavy heart the planes fly towards SFO,

Doleful omens that my own flight home grew ever nearer. 

Now, finally, my next pilgrimage is as close as the last,

But it might as well be another two hundred years as days;

With the city again in the grip of World Series fever,

I yearn to bask beneath the evening city’s orange glow.

So much I miss about this cool, gorgeous, dirty, expensive place.

The soulful song of the foghorns out across the Golden Gate.

That heart stopping moment when you crest the hill at Hyde  

And pier, park and prison under a pristine sky come into view.

Community singing with Elvis and Snow White in Club Fugazi 

Before following Casady, Kerouac and Ginsberg to Vesuvio Cafe

Where I sit beneath James Joyce with a glass of Anchor Steam.

Bowing dutifully to Emperor Norton as he leads his latest star-struck

Subjects round the now scrubbed and polished Barbary Coast.

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Standing on stairways in Sunset and Bernal,

Gazing open-mouthed as Karl the Fog weaves his moody magic,

Slicing Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro Tower in half before 

Rendering them clear and whole again in a heartbeat.

Mouthing along to “O Mio Babbino Caro” 

While wrestling a ristretto at Caffe Trieste.  

Devouring warm, thickly buttered popovers by the Pacific

Among the toffs and tourists at the Cliff House.

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Scouring for the latest tie-dye tees in still heady Haight.

Getting through a minor novel on the F Streetcar as it

Clanks and clatters down Market and along Embarcadero.

Savouring the scents of jasmine and lemon on the backyard patio.

Marvelling at the Mission murals and their passion and exuberance

Reassures me this changing city still harbours an independent spirit.   

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Sharing stories of Dead concerts at Lyceum and Fillmore 

In the line for breakfast at Martha’s on Church,

Where the Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves

Its bunting at “Lovejoy’s” ladies taking tea and tiffin. 

Shovelling down “Gilroy’s” garlic fries at the ballpark before 

The circling seagulls, mindful of each innings slipping away,

Prepare to swoop to reclaim their birthright.

Watching a liquid sun decline over the serene lagoon 

Of the soon to be centurion Palace of Fine Arts,

What better resting place after the Lyon Street Steps descent?

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And breathing a sigh of relief as the recycling police

Leave me alone for yet another week. 

These and many more images flood my brain.

But never mind.

For now at least, there’s more baseball torture to

Endure from afar in the dark of the night.


A little under two thousand days ago (is it really that many?), I snapped my wage slave chains and took early retirement from the public service. It hadn’t been planned, though I was of an age to leave, but it was a sudden opportunity that presented itself that was just too good to ignore.

Even on that last day in service, as I strolled the streets of Paris with my birthday girl of a wife on a balmy spring day, I gave little thought to what I might do next, to what my “second career” might be. After all, I was only fifty six – “nobbut a bairn” as they’d say in Yorkshire.

Cue excuse to post a gratuitous photograph of myself on that fateful day.

Do I look happy?

Relieved?

Too young to retire? (Don’t answer that one).

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And now I am about to return to gainful employment for the first time since.

But more of that later.

There was no rush to find alternative employment at the time – I had a decent occupational pension, though hardly the golden handshake that many believe awaits anyone, irrespective of finishing grade or length of tenure, that leaves the civil service. And it would be another eight and a half years before I was eligible for my state retirement pension.

But I received an income that supplemented my wife’s continued full-time salary (she would have, barring a lottery win, another eight years before she could follow suit). Once a handful of debts had been paid, the residual lump sum could sit in a savings account growing ever fatter with a 0.5% interest rate.

Although the process of offer, acceptance and departure was a swift and painless one, there were sound personal and professional reasons for my decision. I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the commercial and less caring direction in which the organisation was moving, and felt unappreciated by immediate line management and employer alike. When I added in twenty three years of long distance commuting, I’d had enough.

It “helped”, if that’s the right word, that my father was not in the best of health, and I could now devote more time to his care. And my wife would have her dinner on the table every night when she got home from a ten hour day.

But back to the question of what to “do” next (as if caring and maintaining a home were “doing” nothing).

My preferred part-time job would have been working in a bookshop, but they were already dropping by the wayside in the face of the economic downturn and e-book onslaught.

Book selling had been a long shot anyway, but surely, working in travel and tourism, for which people told me I had a passion and aptitude, would be a better bet?

So I wrote to around twenty travel agents in the area, extolling the inestimable benefits I could bring to their company.

No response.

My education in what happened in the brave new, recession-ridden, non-governmental world of work was expanding daily as my letter box grew rusty with misuse.

I soon realised that, in order to compete for a career in tourism at any level, especially given my age, I would need to “go back to school” and acquire some vocational qualifications. Time was too short to embark on a three year degree course to become a tour guide – for which there were few openings anyway – so I plumped for working towards a prestigious professional diploma from the Home Learning College.

Within a year, I had passed with distinctions in all three elements of the course.

But jobs were still at a premium.

And, by then, having prepared fourteen dissertations, I had rediscovered a long term itch that screamed to be scratched – writing.

There was nothing else I wanted to do. It wasn’t going to pay, at least in the short term, or possibly ever, but it would be the most fulfilling and satisfying thing I could do with my time. I started a blog on New Year’s Eve 2010, focusing principally on my affection for San Francisco, which I maintain to this day – the blog and the affection of course.

In 2013 I published, along with Martin Moseling, my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, which received critical acclaim, but modest sales, in the admittedly niche world of cricket writing. My next book, Smiling on a Cloudy Day, which will attempt to articulate my love for the City by the Bay, is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2015.

I believe that, on the whole, I have managed my time away from the world of “working for the man / woman” over the past five and a half years fairly effectively. And I have certainly never been bored. In fact, how did I ever find the time to go to work?

Do I regret having “retired” when I did?

No.

Have I missed the social interaction, the camaraderie of working in a team, the sometimes unbearable stress?

Maybe, sometimes.

But now an opportunity has arisen that has made me reconsider whether my fierce commitment to customer service, a trait known only too well by my wife as she listens to yet another Victor Meldrew-like rant on the subject, might yet have an avenue of expression outside the home.

Which brings me neatly back to the new job.

A high-end, award-winning cookware company is opening its new state-of-the-art branch in Bluewater, Europe’s largest shopping centre, in October, and I have been successful in securing a part-time position as a sales assistant. As with my early retirement, the process of sending my CV, being interviewed and offered the job took just three working days.

It’s not my first venture into retail – I worked for six months in a local charity shop in 2010 which I enjoyed immensely, though I acknowledge that this will be a far more intense working environment.

Although I had essentially given up on returning to such work, I find myself intrigued and not a little excited at the prospect.

It will mean, of course, managing my writing and other responsibilities more rigorously. And spending less time on Facebook can be no bad thing can it?

But my wife will have to make her own dinner when I’m on an evening shift.

But oh to be back in Paris in 2009! (Another gratuitous photograph).

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Now, I know that title alone will already have raised the hackles of many readers from the City.

But it is a rhetorical question, believe me.

I can state without equivocation that I have NEVER uttered the word myself, apart, of course, from when singing along with Otis Redding. Nor, by the way, have I ever said “San Fran”, which I find an even uglier term.

I prefer to use its full name – and why wouldn’t I, it’s a beautiful name – or the City.

Now that might mark me out as a long term native, at least a white one, but I’m not, as you will gather from the strapline above, even if you weren’t aware before.

So what’s a crazy limey doing stepping into a debate that has raged among San Franciscans since Emperor Norton first proclaimed that “whoever, after due and proper warning, shall be heard to utter the abominable word Frisco, which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of High Misdemeanor”?

I suppose it’s just another symptom of my affection and fascination for the City. And perhaps, as an Englishman, I might be able to provide some perspective.

Emperor Norton’s claim that the word had “no linguistic or other warrant” was not strictly true. It derives from both old Icelandic and Middle English. Frithsoken meant a refuge, sanctuary, safe harbour – all words which would appear to fit San Francisco’s image and purpose perfectly, even to this day.

Interestingly too, it might derive from the Spanish and Italian word for a romp, gambol or caper, a possible sailors’ reference to the activities of the Barbary Coast in the late nineteenth century.

Immigrants during the Gold Rush sang of finding “gold lumps” on the ground when they got to Frisco, and generations of sailors, soldiers, longshoreman and other blue collar workers since have called it by that name.

That said, the view of the self-styled “Emperor of These United States” received powerful endorsement in the following century. At Christmas 1907 the ladies of the Outdoor Art League formed an Anti-Frisco Committee, “for the purpose of discouraging the use of the term, “Frisco”.

The punishment for those “possessed of the poor taste to use this obnoxious term”?

To wear diamonds for breakfast.

After enduring the fourth reference to Frisco in his testimony from Hal R. Hobbs, a Los Angeles automobile dealer in a divorce case of April 1918, Judge Mogan warned him to desist because:

No one refers to San Francisco…..by that title except people from Los Angeles. I am the Chairman of the County Council of Defense, and I warn you that you stand in danger of being interred as an alien enemy.

And most famously, legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, published a book of his newspaper columns in 1953 entitled Don’t Call it Frisco. He implored that you should:

Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. That’s the way Easterners, like Larry King, pronounce it. It’s more like SanfrnSISco.

On another occasion he wrote:

Don’t call it Frisco – it’s SAN Francisco, because it was named after St. Francis of Assisi. And because “Frisco” is a nickname that reminds the city uncomfortably of the early, brawling, boisterous days of the Barbary Coast and the cribs and sailors who were shanghaied. And because “Frisco” shows disrespect for a city that is now big and proper and respectable. And because only tourists call it “Frisco”, anyway, and you don’t want to be taken for a tourist, do you?

The reverence with which Caen was held ensured that such a view held sway for a long time, and judging by the comments on internet forums, still receives vehement support to this day.

During Caen’s heyday, the word continued to figure strongly in the public consciousness. Movies, including Fog Over Frisco starring Bette Davis in 1934 and stage productions like Hello, Frisco, Hello nine years later, celebrated the name. In addition to Otis’s (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay, Pink Floyd delivered a live album entitled Darkness Over Frisco and the Youngbloods, the band that gave us one of the great anthems of the hippie movement of the late sixties, Get Together, could also sing about going to Frisco-o-o. 

Beat poets Kenneth Rexroth and Bob Kaufman referred to Frisco in their work, Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road talked of heading to Frisco, and John Lee Hooker, another revered San Francisco cultural icon, was one of many blues musicians to record Frisco Blues.

Which brings me to another dimension that is often overlooked in the contemporary debate about the use of the word. Most of San Francisco’s African-American residents have historically referred to their city as Frisco, and there are innumerable hip hop and rap songs with it in the title, including Frisco is the Bay, In a Frisco Minute and Frisco Niggers Ain’t No Punks. 

And Caen actually changed his position late in life when remarking that:

I was never sure about the reasoning behind the objection, even while voicing it. Other old-timers don’t know either. They stumble around with words like “undignified” and “bawdy” and “coarse”, as if there’s anything wrong with a city being any of those, which every city is. Maybe it has to do with San Francisco being “the city of St Francis”, and there is no St. Frisco. My recollection is that it’s a waterfront-born nickname that the sailors used lovingly, back when this was the best (i.e. wildest) port of call in the Pacific.

The debate continues on social media to this day and stirs the emotions of natives and long term residents as much as do issues such as the tech explosion, dog poop and the role of Tim Lincecum in the Giants’ rotation.

Several websites and blogs celebrate the name, exemplified by the Facebook page, RAISED IN FRISCO which proclaims that “They say don’t call it Frisco, real San Franciscans don’t call it Frisco, shit we got Frisco runnin thru our blood, “Raised in Frisco!”

So why all the fuss when the term still seems so embedded in people’s minds?

And does it really matter anyway?

Well, some will say it does.

A commonly held belief among its opponents is that it is a term only used by outsiders, by people who don’t know any better, by that increasingly used hate term of today – tourists. How would New Yorkers or residents of Chicago feel if people called their cities Nork and Chico, they say? 

Nicknames are intended to reflect a prominent feature of its subject, not merely a lazy contraction of the full name. Frisco denotes a lack of respect, a wilful dismissal of the place and its people. It makes you sound like a doofus” as one, now defunct, website claimed.

And there are already thirteen places in the U.S. already called Frisco, though none in California.

Perhaps the The Bold Italic  online magazine and store should have (almost) the last word in its characteristically wry and forthright manner:

San Franciscans have a reputation for being uptight jerks about the nickname. Don’t play into that stereotype. They’ll eventually notice you never call it that anyway.

Whatever the merits of the issue. I still won’t be calling it Frisco or San Fran or S.F., as much on aesthetic grounds as any other.

But then I’m not from San Francisco.


It had taken us eighteen years to heed the words of the Neapolitan composer, Ernesto de Curtis, and return to Sorrento. But even if the heat (it never dropped below eighty degrees, day or night) was challenging for this easily burned Englishman at times, it was great to be back.

During the week, we made the obligatory excursions to Amalfi and Ravello (sadly, on this occasion, seeing no more of Steinbeck’s “vertical town” of Positano than a distant one from further along the coast), Pompeii and Vesuvius (by sea and bus) and Capri by boat.

But it was Sorrento itself that I will concentrate on here. Toying initially with staying a little further afield, we decided to base ourselves in the centre, a few hundred metres from the bustling heart of the town in Piazza Tasso. The images below may not confirm that description, but that is due to the fact that most were taken early in the morning when the indigenous population were slugging their doppio espressos in their favourite tabaccheria, whilst the British were standing around in hotel dining rooms waiting for their bread to be toasted, a process that takes nearly as long as the arrival of a postcard back home.

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Framed by lively bars and restaurants, Piazza Tasso is invariably noisy and congested as humans, scooters, cars, coaches, bicycles, horses, miniature trains, those tiny pick up delivery trucks designed to squeeze down the narrowest of streets – oh, and did I mention scooters – all vie for space. But that is what we were seeking – – an authentic slice of Italian life, if inevitably infused with a heavy dose of Anglo-Saxon.

My countrymen and women were, of course, conspicuous by their pale skin, poor dress sense, refusal to even utter a single per favore or grazie and naive belief that cars and scooters were ever going to stop for them, even on the many crossings painted on the streets.

Sorrento is not a beach resort in the accepted sense – the coarse, dark sand at the foot of the mighty cliffs that front up Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples could not compete with Margate or Blackpool, let alone the Caribbean. But it does – admittedly at a price – provide a number of private beaches, primarily along the stretch of water between Marina Grande and Marina Piccola. There are also small patches of public beach scattered along this coastline which are packed by mid-morning with Italian families.

Our cabina (chalet, just about big enough for changing and storage), sunbeds and umbrellas at Leonelli’s Beach cost us a little under fifty euros, a price that would appear to have scared off most of the British visitors, judging by the preponderance of tanned and stylish Italians in our vicinity.

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It is secluded Marina Grande, however, to which I gravitate as often as I can. It requires a fifteen minute downhill walk from the town centre and more demanding hike back up, but it is worth the effort (only the Englishmen walk it, the locals – and mad dogs – tend to take the bus).

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Traditionally, Sorrento’s fishing harbour, it has become distinctly more tourist-friendly since our last visit. Again, bars, restaurants and a modest beach dominate this small area overlooked by a number of imposing hotels.

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But it does still have an air of authenticity. People, mostly elderly, still live in the apartments that fringe the harbour, washing hangs from every window, shrines greet the pedestrian on every corner of the steep, cobbled steps, cats skulk for fishy remnants, and nonno and nonna still sit together in front of the lovely Chiesa di San Francesco and watch the foreigners ordering their calamari and lachryma christi.

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It was the appropriate place, therefore, for our last evening meal where we ate at the highly rated (#2 of 225 restaurants in Sorrento on TripAdvisor), Ristorante Bagni il Delfino, sat on the glassed-in pier on the water.

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Shopping along narrow Via San Cesareo with its bunting draped across the street and the aroma of fruit, especially lemon, and vegetables, is one of the most popular activities for visitors, especially during the evening passeggiata. Ceramics, inlaid-wood, leather and jewellery are particularly sought after. Corso Italia, which runs either side of Piazza Tasso, has a more modern feel and is home to a number of noted Italian fashion houses.

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There is so much more to admire, including the restaurants and religious buildings, about Sorrento that I do not have time to cover because another port on another continent commands my attention. But I hope these photographs and short description have demonstrated why most of the people who visit the region are enchanted by it and vow to return.

 


I haven’t always been obsessed with San Francisco.

There was a time when I was obsessed with Italy.

My affection has never diminished for the land of olives, arias and elections. It’s just that since we first – belatedly – discovered the United States, and San Francisco in particular, the siren call from across the Atlantic has invariably proved too hard to resist.

But for a decade in the eighties and nineties, it was Italy that held us in its thrall.

Our first date, however, did not go well.

Midway through a twelve day cheese and wine driving tour of France, we made a short detour into Italy via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. That excursion might have lasted a little longer had it not been for the fact that, having realised we had the taken a wrong turn on the outskirts of Courmayeur, we reversed onto the newly laid tarmac driveway of the startled, and more worryingly, burly owner.

Fortunately, our hire car had sufficient power to outpace him, his even sturdier wife, three small children and fearsome German shepherd dog as they gesticulated in a manner that seems to be every Italian’s birthright.

Having lain low from Interpol for a couple of years,  diplomatic relations were restored when we snuck back on a ten day coach tour that included Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice and Assisi (our earliest encounter with San Francisco?).

Over the next few years we took short breaks to Florence, Venice and Milan. Longer holidays followed to Sorrento (twice), Lakes Garda and Como and, loveliest of all, Taormina in Sicily. We even abandoned France one year to base ourselves in the Aosta Valley resort of La Thuile, from whence we could ski over the border to La Rosiere.

No matter that public life was mired in scandal and corruption, and that television was a boorish blend of babes, boobs and Berlusconi baloney. We were now besotted with the breathtaking natural beauty, history, sense of style and the ravenous appetite for life of the people. We enjoyed la dolce vita, worshipped la bella figura, and did our best to blend seamlessly into la passeggiata every evening. Puccini, Giotto and Michelangelo became my cultural icons. The whole country was one large show and we loved it.

Climbing up from Piazzetta Michelangelo to San Miniato al Monte in Florence, coming upon the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa for the first time, getting lost among the remoter calle in Venice, gazing on Santa Lucia in Naples, walking the Circus Maximus……the list goes on.

In 1992 I began to learn the language (that, acording to Lord Byron, ” sounds as if it should be written on satin”) in earnest, and attained a Royal Society of Arts Level 1 diploma with distinction.

And then there was the calcio.

Serie A was at that time the most glamorous football (soccer) league in Europe. Real Madrid and Barcelona may still have attracted many of the bigger names, but La Liga was not televised on British television as it is now, or if it was, only to a miniscule satellite audience. And the Premier League in England was only in its infancy.

But Sunday afternoon on Channel 4 was one of the highlights of my week, when a top Italian league game was televised live. The Saturday morning magazine show, Gazzetta Football Italia, presented by the witty and well informed James Richardson (did he ever drink that cappuccino or eat that gelato that shimmered on the table in front of him?), showed highlights of all the previous week’s games and featured interviews with the top players, including Paul Gascoigne and Paul Ince, who took the rare route of moving from England to Europe.

It was bliss to an Italophile like me.

Roberto Baggio with his languid style, pony tail and hip Buddhist beliefs, and Franco Baresi, the epitome of the Italian hard man defender, became my footballing heroes. We even named our pet rabbits, Baggio and Schilacci after their namesakes’ exploits in Italia ’90. The spectacle and drama of that World Cup tournament only endeared me to the country more. I could not even get downhearted when the host country beat England 1-0 in the third place play-off.

And then, five years later, I realised an ambition and attended the San Siro where, in front of 83,000 fans, AC Milan “welcomed” eventual Scudetto winners, Juventus. I’d always thought that English football supporters were passionate, but the fervour and fanaticism in that stadium that evening was astonishing. One elderly gentleman next to me spent the entire game clutching his prayer beads and yelling at Milan’s mercurial Yugoslav playmaker, Dejan Savicevic, to produce a moment of magic for the hosts, but to no avail.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I kept my allegiance to La Vecchia Signora (Juventus) firmly under wraps as they strolled to a 2-0 victory with goals from Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli, both later to star in the Premier League. The contrast with the last match I had been to, between Gillingham and Bury four nights previously in front of little over 3,000, could not have been more striking.

It was later in that year that we made our first fateful trip to the American West. We didn’t abandon Italy immediately as we visited Lake Como two years later. But it was another decade before we renewed acquaintance with La Serenissima as part of my wife’s fiftieth birthday celebrations.

And now, another seven years later, we are finally returning for a third time to Sorrento. We may only be there for a week, but that will be enough to enable us to go back to Capri, Pompeii, Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Positano, Amalfi and Ravello).

Torna a Surriento!

 

 

 


Shortly after the publication of my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, I outlined my initial thoughts on what was already being referred to as “the San Francisco book”:

http://tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-next-book/

At that time, I was considering various options on its subject matter and format:

  • standard travel diary;
  • guide book;
  • reflections on aspects of life in the city;
  • features on some of its larger than life characters; and
  • analysis of the British influence on the City.

A year on, all of those options still appeal to me, and I would fully intend to tackle them all in the future. But if I am to make progress with this first book in the series, the time has come to set aside doubts and decide which course to take.

I keep returning to the idea of a combination of the first three options. Indeed, the material that I have written already has adopted that approach.

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The book will follow an English couple on a month long vacation in the City. From their rental cottage in Bernal Heights, they will explore both the most celebrated and lesser known locations, reflecting, not only on their experiences, but also the issues affecting tourists and residents alike in modern day San Francisco.

Those reflections will inevitably carry an English flavour, similar to the style of both my blog and the Tony Quarrington: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco Facebook page.

I have had an acceptable working title for some time – Smiling on a Cloudy Day Some readers may recognise the direct quote which, I think, reflects neatly my habitual engagement with the “City by the Bay”.

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I’ll confess that even reaching this point has not been easy, and progress has been slow.

Perhaps it’s laziness, perhaps lack of imagination – or, more likely, both – but I struggle to write authentically about San Francisco when I am domiciled most of the time more than five thousand miles away.

There is so much support material available online – not only websites and other resources, but hundreds of videos online on every aspect of life in the City.

Want to ride the Powell and Hyde cable car line?

Click on the one of several YouTube videos.

Want to know what it’s really like living in the Mission district?

Click on one of the many “vox pop” interviews with residents on YouTube.

Want to absorb yourself in one of the many festivals that abound in San Francisco on almost any given weekend?

I think you know the answer.

Easy then isn’t it?

No. It’s very hard – well, at least for me.

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James Joyce may have been able to capture the essence of daily life in Dublin despite only occasionally, and then briefly, returning to his native city a handful of times after first leaving it in the year in which Ulysses is set.

It helps, of course, if you have spent the first twenty two years of your life in that environment. Being a genius and a master of the English language too are hardly handicaps.

I can claim neither of those advantages.

So I’m left with memories from a dozen visits, bolstered by notes and blog articles at the time, and those YouTube videos to convey the spirit of life in the city.

Ultimately, the readers will be the judge of how successful I have been.

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Finally, there are a number of practical decisions to make over the coming months as the book comes together, notably the projected publication date and form the book will take (print or e-version).

On timing, my current plans are to publish midway between my planned trips to the City in May and September of next year, enabling me to promote it locally.

I will continue to use this blog to relay my emerging thoughts, and, where appropriate, trail some of the content.

 

 


For years we had avoided San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.

On our second trip we had walked from 17th Street along Mission to 5th where, leg weary, deafened by traffic noise and not a little relieved that we’d survived the ordeal, we slumped into Lori’s Diner on Powell and Geary. All I can really recall from that morning was a wary wander down Balmy Alley, home to the largest collection of murals in the city.

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And for several trips after that, we kept away from the area, spending our time in the northern and western parts of the city, with only occasional forays into the adjoining Castro district and Dolores Park.

Why?

It was not as if we did not like the culture or food of the area – indeed, burritos, enchiladas and margaritas might just be our favourite culinary combination.

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No, our reluctance to set foot east / south of Market stemmed from an anxiety that we might not be as safe, especially after dark, as in other parts of the city. Violent gangs and gun crime were – and remain (a man was killed near 16th and Guerrero only three days ago) – a constant feature of life in the Mission.

So we stayed away.

We actually considered renting an apartment on Valencia three years ago, because apart from being edgy, the neighborhood was also meant to be “hip”, San Francisco’s party capital. But, once again, we were deterred by its negative reputation.

So we stayed away.

But this continuing omission on our San Francisco CV was no longer tenable, especially as we have rented apartments in the adjacent neighborhoods of Noe Valley and Bernal Heights in recent years.

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How could we convince ourselves, and others, that we were locals in spirit if we did not embrace the Latino and Hispanic heart of the city on our doorstep?

So, finally a year ago, we ventured tentatively into the area again by taking a delightful sunny Sunday afternoon stroll down Valencia from 24th Street, crossing to Mission at 16th and walking back up to 28th Street and our apartment.

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A political demonstration outside the BART station on 24th Street was winning the battle for the attention of passers by with a handful of religious preachers on the opposite corner, but the atmosphere was restrained rather than confrontational. Cafes and restaurants were overflowing and Latin rhythms abounded. Coffee at the Borderlands bookstore was followed by a margarita at West of Pecos, where we were tempted to reconsider our plans for dinner that evening. A mariachi band serenaded the sidewalk diners.

We marveled at the murals on Clarion Alley, many of which reflected the current tensions in the city over gentrification (not least in the Mission), sky-rocketing housing prices and the closure of public parks at night.

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We repeated the expedition again this year, starting with a hike over Bernal Heights Hill, descending Alabama Street to the vibrant Precita Park Café for a Mitchell’s ice cream before crossing Cesar Chavez Street and into the neighborhood.

Next year, we will be staying in the same Bernal Heights cottage for a total of six weeks, and look forward to renewing acquaintance with the Mission district regularly. Several restaurants, including Taqueria La Cuembre and Cha Cha Cha, have taken our fancy. 

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We might even eat there after dark too.

And it is time we met the Tamale Lady.

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