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Posts Tagged ‘Cortland Avenue’


It started within minutes of leaving the cottage on our first morning back in the city.

As we crossed Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights to indulge in a Progressive Grounds brunch, an elderly woman walking her dog launched a cheery “hello British people” in our direction. No sooner had we digested this unexpected salutation than she had moved on her way, satisfied, I hope, that she had made us feel immediately at home in the neighborhood.

And, less than a week later, that feeling has only grown progressively stronger.

I suspect that it has been partly fuelled by a request from the moderator of the Bernalwood website and associated Facebook page to make us feel welcome if we were spotted out and about.

If so, it has certainly worked!

But the reaction has still been remarkable. I feel like a minor celebrity every time I step out of the cottage.

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But I think it has more do with the fact that the people in this neighborhood are just so nice and welcoming.

Yesterday, a woman leaned out of her car window as she pulled up at Cortland and Ellsworth and called out:

“Hey, are you the British guy?”

As I stood in my Grateful Dead t-shirt taking photographs of a sign explaining how to dispose of your dog poop, all I could muster in my surprise was:

“Is it that obvious?”.

But by this time she had moved away, though not without a friendly wave.

Perhaps she had recognized me from photographs.

Or rather assumed that the clichéd touristy garb and eccentric behavior had me clearly marked down as a crazy limey.

Either way, I was grateful (no pun intended).

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Much as I have enjoyed staying in other neighborhoods in recent years, I can comfortably assert that Bernal Heights has captured my heart like no other.

Pretty, civilised, quirky and friendly (everyone on the street, in the cafes, restaurants and stores says hello – even the dogs), only birdsong and the gentle hum of the occasional automobile or 24 or 67 Muni bus (and next door’s dog on the past two mornings) ever disturb the calm.

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I have two other examples of how willing and accommodating the residents have been to me.

I visited the local branch of the San Francisco Public Library in pursuit of printing my latest blog article on our second morning. I was impressed by the free fifteen minute internet computers but utterly bewildered by the complex process for printing the pages out.

A lady librarian patiently talked me through – twice, or it may have been even three times – the registration and payment procedure until I was able to achieve my aim.

In the course of this, we got into conversation about my arrangement with Bernalwood, which she was fascinated by. We talked briefly too about the fact that, perhaps unlike other San Francisco neighborhoods, Bernal Heights had a genuine sense of community and a real village atmosphere.

I was already beginning to appreciate that.

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Shortly after this I called into the Heartfelt gift shop and enquired, understandably sheepishly, whether they stocked a pencil sharpener. The girl who served me could not have been more helpful,  and eventually, after several false trails – mainly in the children’s section – and mutual chuckling, I parted with $3.81 for a pencil that not only had a sharpener appended to one end but had the added if unnecessary bonus of an eraser at the other. 

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The next morning, after a splendid brunch at the Liberty Cafe, my wife and I called in again. The same girl recognized me and was immediately chatty about what our plans for the day were, joking that she never made it down to San Jose because she could never get up early enough!

Friendly attentive service was also the order of the evening when we had dinner in Piqueo’s, a superb Peruvian restaurant on Cortland. It was so comforting too not to feel pressurized to eat up and leave as soon as possible, as can often be in the case in American restaurants.

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And the list goes on.

Thank you people of Bernal!

I hope our second week produces further examples of your hospitality and generosity.

 

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Our first morning in Bernal Heights was spent in getting the washing done from the week in Tahoe (one of the most welcome features of having your own place in the city), catching up on the morning commute and weather forecast on KRON4, trying to avoid re-living the Giants’ frustrating defeat in Phoenix the night before and re-acquainting ourselves with proper granola and sourdough toast.

We finally slipped out into the warming sunshine (was the rain really so torrential when we arrived last night?) a few minutes before one o’clock, heading for our favourite lunch spot (well, actually our only one up until now) of Progressive Grounds on Cortland.

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Lugging – perhaps unwisely – bagels filled with cheese, egg and peanut butter in our stomachs, we set off on one of the neighborhood stairway walks described by Adah Bakalinsky in her extraordinary book entitled, strangely enough, Stairway Walks in San Francisco. Bernal Heights has the greatest number of stairways, around fifty four, in a city boasting several hundred.

Normally, we would wander aimlessly around the area, stumbling, or not, upon some natural or architectural gems purely by chance. But today I wanted to ensure that we didn’t miss any of the sights (though locals will surely disabuse me of such presumption when they read this ).

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Our walk began at Holly Park Circle at the intersection with Bocana Street. The view looking back towards the hill provided perspective and familiarity.

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One of the most satisfying features of a visually stunning city are the signs at the intersection of streets. For me, they are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz or cable cars.

Whilst Haight/Ashbury and Powell/Market may be among the most celebrated, it is those that you discover in half-forgotten corners of downtown or out in the neighborhoods that provide the real thrill, not least when the juxtaposition of names appears particularly incongruous.

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We circled Holly Park, stopping intermittently to scan the horizon – from downtown to Bayview, Hunters Point, Candlestick Park and McLaren Park. The marriage of sky and trees enabled some lovely photographic opportunities.

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The decision to follow a recommended walk was vindicated because we might otherwise have missed a number of delightful and ingenious gardens and stairway as we criss-crossed the streets of the western side of Bernal Heights.

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Stunning views of Twin Peaks, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley lay before us or peeked through overhanging trees at every point.

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The love lavished on these community gems was evident in the signage that accompanied them. How could you argue with such requests?

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This being San Francisco, the stroll was never on the flat for very long.

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Fortunately, there were rest areas laid out to enable the perspiring hiker to take a breather, notably on the long, steep Esmeralda Stairway that we dipped in and out of towards the end of the walk.

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Such a shame there isn’t a Wordsworth Street, especially in such a literary and artistic neighborhood.

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Why couldn’t this have been a downhill stretch at the beginning of the walk rather than the latter?

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Finally, proof that aliens are among us.

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At the top of Esmeralda we joined Bernal Heights Hill where, as had been the case when we visited last year, dogs greatly outnumbered humans. We sought out the mud and pebble path of the short Moultrie Stairway and, via Powhattan and Bocana, returned to Cortland where frappés beckoned at Martha and Brothers.

The walk had been every bit as thrilling – and challenging – as we had anticipated, undertaken in increasingly warm conditions.

A great first afternoon in the neighborhood!

 

 

 

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“You guys really love this city don’t you? You know it better than many people who have lived here all their lives”.

Thus spoke the balding young Oakland man with neat goatee beard, with whom my wife and I had struck up a conversation over our eggplant wraps and blueberry smoothies on the outdoor patio of the Progressive Grounds coffee house in the civilised neighbourhood of Bernal Heights one warm June afternoon.

 “You’re certainly no tourists – you’re San Franciscans”.

Whilst such a statement would have incurred the wrath of the natives who fiercely proclaim their privileged status on internet forums devoted to the subject, it was, nonetheless, pleasing to hear, especially coming from a lifelong Bay Area resident.

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As regular readers of my blog will attest, I invariably turn to Herb Caen, the legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, for his trusted opinion on such matters. In one of his many ruminations on what made a San Franciscan he said:

 I don’t think that place of origin or number of years on the scene

have anything to do with it really. There are newcomers who

become San Franciscans overnight – delighted with and interested

in the city’s traditions and history. They can see the Ferry Building

for what it represents (not for what it is), they are fascinated

with the sagas of Sharons, Ralstons, Floods and Crockers, they

savor the uniqueness of cable car and foghorn. By the same token, I

know natives who will never be San Franciscans if they outlive

Methusalah. To them a cable car is a traffic obstruction, the fog is

something that keeps them from getting a tan, and Los Angeles is

where they really know how to Get Things Done.

So, after ten visits of increasing length, we have gravitated from being “sophisticated tourists” who are “charmed and fascinated” by the city to anointment as “San Franciscans”. If I harboured any doubt, perhaps the existence of this article is further evidence. And statements like the one from the Cortland Avenue coffee shop, and that of the usher at the ballpark who thanked me for both loving her city as much as she did, and articulating that love so passionately in my writing, reinforce that judgement still further.

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Moreover, they act as a useful counterpoint to the recent assertion by Travel & Leisure magazine that San Francisco is the snobbiest city in the States. Anybody – whether natives, “transplants” or wide-eyed, first time tourists – with a willingness to learn, understand, appreciate and celebrate everything it has to offer, should equally be capable of qualifying for such an accolade.

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