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Posts Tagged ‘Haight Ashbury Street Fair’


A fanciful proposition?

Maybe.

Probably.

After all, there are no breathtaking bridges (unless you count the Foord Road railway viaduct), no crippling hills (no, not even the Old High Street), no $40 million properties (how much IS the Grand worth?) and no former high security prisons once claimed for Indian land sitting off the shore in Kent’s garden resort.

But, having spent a lot of time in San Francisco over the past twenty years, and written extensively about it in the past five years, I believe there are enough similarities to entitle me to suggest that it has more in common with my childhood playground, and now home, of Folkestone than one might at first think. The only differences are ones of scale and international repute.

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Before I plunge into this pool of fantasy, a brief disclaimer.

The only photographs included in this piece are those of Folkestone – for a variety of reasons: 1) Many people will already be familiar with some of the sights I refer to in San Francisco; 2) If they don’t, there are probably millions of images and billions of words on the internet to fill them in, and 3) I have posted hundreds of images elsewhere on this blog and I’d be delighted if you were inspired to go hunting for them!

Back to the proposition.

Firstly, they are both marine ports with world famous stretches of water/land on their doorstep (the Golden Gate and the White Cliffs of Dover) as well as glorious bay/sea views in all directions and weathers.

The boats in Folkestone’s pretty harbour hardly match up to the million dollar vessels you will find docked in Sausalito or Tiburon across San Francisco Bay. But the scene has a timeless charm that is endlessly captivating, whether at high or low tide.

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Both places teeter on the edge of their nation. Folkestone, with its proximity to mainland Europe, cemented by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, has long vied with neighbouring Dover for the title of “Gateway to England” (personally, I think it’s a draw), while San Francisco is on the seismically challenged tip of a vast continent.

And because of that position, they have both served as major embarcation points for their nation’s military in time of war. In the 1914-18 conflict, it is estimated that as many as eight million soldiers marched down Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance to the Harbour Station en route to the fields of Flanders and France, while in the Second World War, more than a million and a half soldiers left for the Pacific conflict from San Francisco and its neighbour on the other side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland.

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“The City” (as (we) San Franciscans call it) is consistently placed high (invariably first) on culinary surveys. The Foodie Capital of the U.S.A is no idle boast. Folkestone may not have attained that elevated status (for a start it’s not in the U.S.A. but you know what I mean), but a number of fine cafes and restaurants have sprouted in the town in recent years, a visible and tasty manifestation of the regeneration, courtesy in no small part to the beneficence of Sir Roger de Haan.

Rocksalt, the seafood restaurant perched alongside the small railway bridge that separates the inner from outer harbour, has recently been named the thirtieth best in the U.K and Googies has been adjudged Restaurant of the Year in the 2016 Taste of Kent Awards.

There are a number of other quality restaurants (Copper and Spices, Blooms @1/4 and Follies are personal favourites), both in the town and dotted along the recently reopened Harbour Arm, capped by the lovely Champagne Bar at the foot of the lighthouse.

And one can’t forget, this being a seaside resort, that there are many establishments serving up fish and chips (not forgetting the mushy peas, white bread and butter and mug of tea).

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Coffee culture is strong too – many shops provide coffee and cake in addition to their primary products – and there is a distinct hipster vibe about Folkestone that mirrors – on a smaller scale of course – the atmosphere in neighbourhoods like the Mission, Cole Valley and Potrero Hill on the “left coast” of America.

Any self-respecting coastal resort would not be complete without its harbourside seafood stalls selling freshly caught crab and lobster as well as cockles, whelks and prawns. Bob’s, Chummy’s and La’s are all well established and popular purveyors of the denizens of the sea. A Fisherman’s Wharf in miniature you might argue.

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Home to Jack London and Dashiel Hammett, the Beat poets and the Summer of Love, inspiration for the WPA and Mission muralists, San Francisco has always had a reputation for being a town for artists, writers and musicians. After all, it provides a gorgeous natural canvas upon which to create. However, one of the consequences of astronomical rents in recent years has been to drive many artists out of the city.

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In contrast, Folkestone’s star as an arts venue of international repute is rising. Every three years – the next is in 2017 – it becomes host to a prestigious arts festival (Triennial), where artists are permitted free rein about town to create public artworks (there are already twenty seven pieces on display by luminaries like Yoko Ono and Tracey Emin).

This is the most high profile manifestation of a burgeoning arts scene centred on the Creative Quarter where galleries and performance space adorn the once run down Old High Street and Tontine Street. Indeed, it is the arts that has been the fulcrum of the regeneration that has become the envy of other coastal resorts around the UK (which, admittedly, have not had the benefit of a sugar daddy like de Haan.

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The City by the Bay is renowned for its year round cavalcade of neighbourhood and city wide festivals and fairs celebrating its cherished devotion to diversity, including Pride, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, North Beach Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Folsom Street Fair.

In contrast, Folkestone’s admittedly more modest, but nonetheless impressive, calendar of annual events, notably Charivari, the Harbour Festival, Leas Village Fete, Armed Forces DaySkabour and the Folkestone Book Festival among many others.

I cannot resist including a pet (not literally) subject of mine – gulls.

Both places boast a feisty, ravenous population, hardly surprising given their coastal position, but these, reflecting their human compatriots in each town, are genuine “characters”. The giant seagull artwork, now serving on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm as an unconventional tourist information kiosk, has become an unofficial poster boy (or is that gull?) for the town. But generally, so far, I’ve found the local birdlife noisy but reasonably friendly, especially when I cross Radnor Park of a morning when they waddle up to greet me (but don’t let me get too close).

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The same cannot be said for those that begin to circle San Francisco’s (base) ball park during the late innings of a Giants game in anticipation of feasting on leftover garlic fries. Fans remaining until the end of evening games have to have their wits about them.

There is one aspect of San Francisco life that I would not want to see replicated in Folkestone. San Francisco rents and the broader cost of living are the highest in the States, due largely to the influx of tech workers from Google, Facebook and Oracle to name but a few.

Now, the Alkham Valley doesn’t have quite the same cudos as Silicon Valley (pretty as it is – Alkham not Silicon), but there are other forces at play – improved accessibility to London through the high speed rail link, continued development and gentrification and relatively cheap house prices (for now) – that increase the risk of Folkestone becoming a town split between affluent “transplants” and residents who cannot afford to live in the place they were born and brought up in.

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There is a more substantial analysis called for here, and I may attempt it in due course. Moreover, there are other issues I might have explored – dogs and drinking spring to mind (that’s not about the bowls left outside the Leas Cliff Hall for the delectation of our canine colleagues but rather two very distinct subjects).

But, for now, there is certainly one further similarity between the two places that I must mention – I left my heart in both, in Folkestone as a ten year old gleefully gambolling (not gambling) in the rotunda and in 1995 on a fateful West Coast tour of the U.S.A.

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Readers of this blog will already be aware of my affection for the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Several articles have been devoted to its history, architecture and culture.

Following my recent trip I have revisited my collection of photographs of the neighborhood. It started off as just a series of images but I have found it hard to resist commenting on a number of them in passing.

I will start with the store in which my vacation dollars and I are most easily parted – Land of the Sun, the  best place on Haight Street for tie-dye shirts and hippie paraphernalia such as jewelry, beads, throws and other household accessories.

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The other store in which I have often satisfied my craving for tie-dye is Haight Ashbury T-Shirts.  It might not be as enticing as Land of the Sun from the outside, but it is a great place to hang out in, even if it does mean you having to spend much of your time craning your neck to view the merchandise that occupies the entire ceiling space.

But it does have the added kudos of being sited at the iconic Haight  and Ashbury intersection (though not the definitive corner – that honor now goes to Ben & Jerry’s).

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Haight-Ashbury is not just hippie clothing and smoke shops of course. It also boasts some of the finest Victorian architecture in the city, as illustrated by this fine pair of Queen Annes situated literally yards off the main drag.

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My first port of call on hitting the ‘hood was once Positively Haight Street, a wonderful hippie-oriented store with stunning facades.

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In June 2012, new owners opened Jammin on Haight on the same premises. Still dedicated to tie-dye fashion, it is undeniably a beautiful store but I haven’t yet quite warmed to it.  Much of the overtly Grateful Dead apparel and accessories – despite the sign in the window below – have gone (or do I have “two good eyes” but “still don’t see”?), and it exudes a more upmarket, well scrubbed vibe that I can’t readily relate to. The window displays, though sporting different designs, remain beautiful.

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I once sang (I use the word advisedly) the Grateful Dead song, Ripple, with a young busker on that corner above. I often wonder whether he was still able to eat that evening.

Though I have not had cause to visit these establishments much, here are some more colorful shopfronts.

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Although I’ve still not managed to beat the lines at the legendary Pork Store Café, the following have provided hearty sustenance over the years. And we will get to eat at Cha Cha Cha one day too!

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Familiar and long gone (but not forgotten) look out on you every few yards along Haight Street.

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No photo gallery of the Haight would be complete without a full frontal view of 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead’s home between 1966 and 1968.

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Back to Positively Haight Street, once the retail king of the neighborhood for an unreconstituted Deadhead.

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With every visit to San Francisco I learn of the demise of more quality neighborhood bookstores. Even since my last trip less than a year ago, Badger Books in Bernal Heights and Phoenix Books in Noe Valley, the latter replaced by an inferior alternative, have closed. I was shocked also to find that Aardvaark Books on Church and Market had been remodeled as a secondhand store.

It is reassuring, therefore, to find that Booksmith on Haight Street appears to be flourishing. I continue to make my small contribution to its future.

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Curiuously, in view of my love for the music that originally flowed out of San Francisco music scene in the late sixties and early seventies, I have never got excited about the prospect of visiting the massive Amoeba Music.

It might just be the sheer scale of the place and the fact that it occupies a single floor that disconcerts me. I am, or rather was, accustomed to the stores (Virgin, Tower, HMV) back in the UK  that occupied several tiers which made it easier to find what you were looking for.

Or it may be the legacy of my first visit when I was told rather aggressively that I had to leave the small bag I was carrying at the entrance. I understand that theft may be an issue, but I form an aversion immediately to any establishment that tells me at the front door that I am not to be trusted. I may be naive but this struck me as especially disappointing  on the street where the concepts of love and peace were once so trumpeted.

I haven’t been confronted recently but I still find it difficult to cope with the size of, and lack of warmth in, the store. But that’s as much my problem as theirs. As it happens, I am not a great fan either of Rasputin Music which has recently been providing competition for Amoeba on the street.

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I will finish where I started – with the Land of the Sun store and its reference to the familiar Grateful Dead lyric from Truckin’ of “What a long strange trip it’s been”.

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There are many other places, events and photographs that I could have included, some of which I have paid tribute to in previous posts, but I am conscious that this post will already have tried your patience.

Many will accuse me of having a romanticized, tourist’s – or even dippy hippie’s – view of the modern day Haight, and claim that what echoes there are of the Summer of Love are slight and inauthentic; that, effectively, it is no more than an open air museum (the number of tour buses that still crawl along the street might reinforce that argument).

I don’t presume to know whether there is any vestige of truth in that or not. What I do know is that, amid the upscale stores and expensive accommodation (the Haight boasts more single millionaires (283) than any other San Francisco neighborhood), it still means something valuable and relevant for many people – those who lived through the sixties and those who are their grandchildren. You only need to walk the area during the annual street fair or 4/20 festivities to recognize that.

May the trip continue to be long and strange!

 

 

 

 

 

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Nearly half a century after a procession along the same street proclaimed its demise, I can confirm that reports of the death of the hippie have been greatly exaggerated, at least if events at yesterday’s 36th annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair were anything to go by.

Baby boomers in tie-dye mingled contentedly with Mission families, young Goths and not a few bewildered tourists to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere along half a dozen blocks crammed with stalls selling the usual hippie fare – clothing, bags and jewelry, peace badges, organic juice and vegetarian burritos. Music from every era since the Haight’s “heady” days of the sixties spilled out from retail and residential properties alike.

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The street was closed to traffic from Masonic to Stanyan to make way for stages from which a succession of bands played throughout the afternoon.

Our day had begun with a J Church MUNI ride to the intersection with Duboce, from where we cut through the doggie paradise that is Duboce Park before taking the short hike up from the Lower Haight.

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Fortified with ferocious coffees from the People’s Café adjacent to the Masonic stage, we ambled up and down the street for the next few hours, stopping at either end to enjoy the non-stop live music.

Cannabis and BBQ fumes combined to assail the senses, though we managed to resist the giant Polish sausages, grilled chicken and corn that screamed “eat me” every few yards. We finally succumbed, however, to the deep fried Eastern European Jewish inspired potato and spinach knishs – classic, delicious street food.

For refreshment, we escaped to the chilled haven that is Café Cole for apple and carrot and orange juices. And later in the afternoon we dove into Happy Donuts for a coffee and apple turnover – well, it was one of the few places where we could get a seat!   

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I began this piece by declaring that the hippie was still alive and there was plenty of evidence on show that the fashion and values of its “Haightday”, endured.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACredit for the wholly unthreatening atmosphere must go in part to the not inconsiderable but, nonetheless, unobtrusive police and festival security presence. The SFPD even manned its own stall at which were sold baseball caps and other merchandise. The only occasion we observed them being called into action was when they calmly confiscated a bottle of beer masquerading as a brown paper bag.

The absence of alcohol contributed to the lack of aggression. There were, inevitably, some characters under the influence of drugs – after all, this was probably, notwithstanding the security operation, the best day of the year for panhandling – but they posed no threat to others’ enjoyment. And yes, I was asked at one point whether I needed any “good dope or LSD”! 

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The bands were uniformly excellent and enthusiastically received. Baby and the Luvies (above), winners of the Battle of the Bands competition that had predated the fair, rocked the Stanyan stage, but it was, understandably, the headline act, San Francisco based Pamela Parker (below) and her band who really got the crowd going.

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The only disappointing aspect of the day was the weather. Sunny intervals had been forecast for the afternoon, but the entire event took place under grey skies and in a fine mizzle. But it did nothing to lessen people’s spirits.

It seems any day we are in San Francisco, we are touched by the Giants, even when we had not intended to be. Resolving to warm up with a hot chocolate on our return to the apartment we stopped at the Squat and Gobble on Fillmore just as Sergio Romo was closing out a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix to win the series.

Icing on the funnel cake!

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