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Posts Tagged ‘herb caen’


In a little over a month my wife and I will be returning to the place we regard as our second home (financial considerations dictate that it will never be our first) – San Francisco. In fact, this will be our twentieth anniversary since we first laid eyes on the imperious Golden Gate Bridge, sampled clam chowder in a sourdough bowl or cracked open a fortune cookie in a Chinatown restaurant.

After our initial trip in 1995 ( http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/you-were-so-right-louis/ ), it would be another three and a half years, and a further three years after that, before we settled into what became a routine of bi-annual visits. We would combine our stay in the city with a skiing trip to Tahoe and a few days elsewhere, such as Las Vegas, San Diego, Death Valley and Yosemite.

Invariably, after the eleven hour flight, we would stay the first night in a budget hotel, having dinner at Calzone’s on Columbus Avenue (but not without a visit to Tower Records first), followed by drinks at the Vesuvio Café nearby. Breakfast would be taken at the Eagle Café on Pier 39 the next morning, and I would buy my holiday reading at the Barnes and Noble bookstore (now long since closed) in Fisherman’s Wharf before driving over the Bay Bridge.

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On returning to the city we would stay in a hotel, making the small step up (or was it down) from the Tenderloin to the Civic Center on our second trip before heading to the Holiday Inn at the Wharf for three of the next four vacations.

With each passing visit, we became less inclined to rush around ticking off the guidebook highlights, and began to venture off the beaten path and discover those places, within the city and wider Bay Area, where the only (other) tourists we might encounter were getting wind burn from the top of a tour bus.

It didn’t concern us that we hadn’t jumped a cable car for five years, stepped foot in Nordstrom or Macy’s or taken the rough ride across the bay to Alcatraz. Of course, we didn’t avoid all of the more celebrated spots, always finding time, however short the vacation, to eat at the Cliff House, shop on Haight Street, drink in North Beach and ramble round Golden Gate Park on a Sunday afternoon.

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San Francisco quickly became the place where we wanted to live. Without the riches required to buy our way into residency, we would have to content ourselves with alternating between staying in the city (spring and autumn) and the UK (winter and summer) for three months at a time – and only then when we had both retired.

For now, it was a matter of a week here and a fortnight, and, more recently a month, there.

We wanted to “live like locals”, and staying in someone’s (second) home was a good starting point. There would be no maids knocking at the door in the morning anxious to clean the room, no loud, drunken conversations outside the room at 3am and no lift bells ringing or washer / driers humming at all hours.

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So in 2010 we abandoned the lazy predictability of hotel living and rented an apartment in Hayes Valley, following that up a year later with similar accommodation in the Western Addition, a short stroll from Alamo Square. The migration west from downtown, however, took a sunny south easterly turn in 2012 when we chose Noe Valley for our base. It was during our second residence there that we discovered Bernal Heights ( http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/a-hike-up-bernal-heights-hill/ ).

Much as we had enjoyed living in the other neighborhoods, we immediately felt an affinity with the quirky, artsy, small town feel of Bernal and rented a cottage there last year. Our first impressions confirmed, we will be returning to that same cottage twice this year for a total of six weeks.

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It might not have gone unnoticed that our original bi-annual visit strategy has now become annual – and, at least for this year, twice a year!

Over the past two decades, our time in the city has taken on a different, more relaxed tenor. It has become a familiar and habitual part of our lives, somewhere we have now spent more of our time than anywhere else, other than our permanent UK address.

Moreover, we try, as befitting aspiring locals, to engage  more with the city and its residents on a regular, deeper level. During those interminable months in which we are incarcerated nearly six thousand miles away. we maintain a daily interest in the life of the city, and indeed, I comment on it in a number of online forums.

In addition to my Facebook presence, through which I now enjoy a number of personal as well as virtual friendships (even bumming (pun intended) prime seats at AT & T Park to see “our” Giants), I started a blog on the last day of 2010 which focuses on the history, culture and characters of San Francisco.

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And I plan to explore our experiences in more depth in my upcoming book Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco, scheduled to be published towards the end of this year.

In our temporary home in the city we neither have to pretend to be what we are not, nor do what we or others feel we ought to do. We can watch the Bay Area news on KRON4 while catching up on household chores in the morning, stroll out to a neighborhood café for brunch, swing by the local wholefoods store and return to the apartment for a bottle of wine on the patio.

All dining options are also possible. We might have dinner in the apartment or we might try out one of the local restaurants. Or we might brave Muni on a trip downtown and eat in Chinatown or North Beach – or even Union Square. We are under no pressure to conform to a set tourist pattern.

What has happened is that our version of San Francisco has shifted, not only geographically but also psychologically, from the waterfront to the southern neighborhoods. In a sense, our journey has mirrored the historical expansion of the earlier city residents from Yerba Buena Cove to the hills.

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But, of course, there is still room for those sights that first enthralled us as much as they have millions of others. They are still only a short drive, bus or taxi ride – or even walk – away. We still make a conscious effort to revisit those attractions we might have neglected on recent trips – for example we plan to explore Coit Tower and Grand View Park again after an absence of a few years – as well as sampling new locations altogether such as Glen Canyon, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill.

If that sounds as if living in San Francisco has become routine, less exciting, even a chore, that could not be further from the truth. We have become, in a modest way, San Franciscans, interested in its history, politics, culture and, undeniably, its sport (Go Giants!) – just as we do at home.

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I invariably turn to legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, for an authoritative, maybe definitive, view on such matters. Here he ruminates on what makes a San Franciscan:

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.

Increasingly, our hosts  marvel at our knowledge of, and adoration for, the city. I doubt, however, that the more strident members of online forums would agree with Caen’s loose, but characteristically generous, sentiments here, but I like to feel that we have moved beyond being “sophisticated tourists” who are “charmed and fascinated” by the city to warrant that title of “honorary San Franciscans”.

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Regular readers of this blog will know of my admiration for Herb Caen, the celebrated San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Indeed, it is often through the prism of his vision that I see the city myself, and I find myself turning to him invariably for an apposite remark in a variety of circumstances. It is why too I chose him as one of the first subjects in my “Great San Franciscan Characters” series, the revised version of which can be found at:

http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/herb-a-very-able-caen/

That post explored his life and career and contained a sprinkling of some of his most famous quotes. I have selected fifty for this article from a variety of publications, though I could have included ten times as many. Some illustrate his customary wit, but others are more wistful and contemplative. Above all, they illustrate his literary skill and “loove”, as he put it, for the city.

No photos, just words.

1. I’ve been living here man and boy, since nine months before I was born, having been conceived during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition on what became the Marina.  (No, my parents were not in a sideshow, they merely spent the summer here, complaining about the cold).

2. A city is where you can sign a petition, boo the chief justice, fish off a pier, gaze at a hippopotamus, buy a flower at the corner, or get a good hamburger or a bad girl at 4 A.M. A city is where sirens make white streaks of sound in the sky and foghorns speak in dark grays. San Francisco is such a city.

3. Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?

4. San Francisco has a bond of self-satisfaction bordering on smugness.

5. A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.

6.One of my pet ambitions is to run screaming through the lobby of the Fairmont, bowling old ladies off their red plush perches and tweaking the noses of aged elevator boys.

7. No mystery about the 60,288 San Franciscans missing in the Census. They’re all down in the Union Square Garage waiting for their cars.

8. San Francisco, city of the world, worlds within a city, forty-nine square miles of ups and downs, ins and outs, and going around in circles, most of them dizzy. A small “d” democrat city run by big-buck conservatives, a place where the winds of freedom will blow your mind and your hat off, where eccentricity is the norm and sentimentality the ultimate cynicism. Cable cars and conventions, boosterism living uncomfortable with sophistication, a built-in smugness announcing simply that we are simply the best.

9. The number of foggy days over the city is never reported reportedly. But take it from me – there’s enough to satisfy everyone, and dissatisfy somebody.

10. I rose in my mythical helicopter and looked down on the hippies and the heppies, the brokers and the broken, the champs and the charlatans, the Mime Troupe performing on the Marina Square, the fog chasing the boats off the Bay, the old geezers lounging in the sun at Powell and Market, the kids playing in the alleys of the Mission, and I knew I was still in love with the whole beautiful mess. And I knew I was not alone.

11. Fresh cracked crab with Boudin’s “dark bake” sourdough and a well-chilled bottle of Californian Chardonnay is still the quintessential S.F. meal.

12. one has to wonder how the San Franciscans of today would deal with a catastrophe of similar proportions (Earthquake and Fire of 1906). If the evidence is to be believed, our forerunners faced that disaster with a smile and a Jeanette MacDonald song, and, whistling while they worked, built a city even more glittering and glamorous than its doomed predecessor. Out of the ashes rose the cliche about the phoenix bird that would haunt cub reporters furthermore. “Like the phoenix bird, the Milpitas Mustangs rose out of the ashes of defeat to” – to what? To make the boozy old copy reader spit on the floor in disgust as he applied his big blue pencil.

13. Gray Line buses hauling gray-faced tourists through the gray city on a gray day, a city crew waking the Broadway Tunnel as the rain splashes outside, Chinese selling Japanese trinkets to South Americans carrying German cameras…..gee, what a crazy town.

14. The Sounds of the city. Once they were a heady mix of sidewheeler splash, seagull scream, Ferry building siren, sea lion bark, click-clang of birdcage signal and “one more for the road”. Today, the auto horns blow impatiently, amid hippie bagpipe, flutes, bongo drums, “Any spare change?”, a blind man’s accordion wheezing out “Wabash Cannonball” and – lest we forget – “Have a good day, have a nice day” and smile, damn ya, smile.

15. The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.

16. On the top-most corners of Nob Hill, I see tourists go crazy. Standing in the intersection, they whirl like dervishes as they shoot photos in four directions: hills, valleys, distant peaks, the cables, the bay, Alcatraz and Angel, sailboats and freighters, Chinatown’s pagoda’d roofs, a snatch of the Bay Bridge. From their antics, you can tell they’ve never seen anything like this before and they are entranced. The jaded San Franciscan looks twice and becomes entranced all over again.

17. The only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever.

18. nobody runs a headstrong city like this for long. She is still untamed. A wild streak of rebellion simmers and stews just below the surface, refusing to conform to the orthodoxies of religion and society. That is why San Francisco is a mecca – that non-Christian term – for those who have been cast out from lesser temples.

19. San Francisco is a city for all seasons (sometimes four in one day) and various reasons. A city that thinks nothing of spending $60 million and rebuild a cable car system that was obsolete a century ago, and even less of letting drunks lie on the street as long as they aren’t in the way of the cables.

20. This is the 14th largest city in the country, has the fourth largest number of so-called homeless, and the gauntlet of paper-cupped pitifuls gets longer and longer. I’m still good for a quarter but that pittance doesn’t go as far as it used to!

21. On foggy nights, where memories grow suddenly sharp in the gloom, you know the old city is still around you, just below the surface – an Atlantis on the Pacific. Maybe it’s the foghorns calling mournfully to each other, the only voices still around that evoke the swish of paddlewheels on ghostly ferries. Or, barely visible in the mist, a cable car disappearing over a hill on its plunge into yesterday. Halos on streetlamps over empty sidewalks that knew the tread of feet long gone….On a long January night in the quiet city (just before it stops being late and starts to get early), the ghosts begin dancing again, atop the creaking ferry slips, through the venal parking lots where lovely buildings once stood, across the steel bones of cable car lines that were buried without funerals. Bits and pieces remain, the leftover pieces of a jigsaw puzzle we could never quite fit together.

22. I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.

23. Waiting for the Muni. Spent some of the best years of my life waiting for the Muni at corner of Five and Mish’, where at is situated this pillar of veracity. It’s like Richard Armour’s catsup bottle – at first none will come and then a lot’ll…….While waiting for the Muni, must think about other things. Anything. “They’re doing the best they can,” is OK thought. Also true. One thing you mustn’t do, after, say, about 15 minutes, is step into street and look for buses that aren’t there. Watched bus never boils into view. When you look up street for buses and don’t see any, get very depressed. Wonder if a strike has been called and nobody mentioned it. You think about writing your District Supervisor, whoever he or she may be if at all. Kick mailbox, which is dumb.

24. It is hard to stay depressed in San Francisco, on a crisp November afternoon, with flowers and pretzels for sale on the street corners and the tourists going Instamatically mad at the bright wonder of it all. We are so lucky to have a proper downtown, where people can parade.

25. “What a great town!” The words come blurting out at dusk on the night of a full moon, erasing the doubts and returning the child-like shine to eyes grown cynical. The beauty is slowly vanishing, but enough remains, more than enough, as the lights come on and the bridges turn golden and a pinkish glow softens the hard lines of the marching buildings that could almost stamp out the spirit of a great city. Almost, but not quite.

26. San Francisco has a large gay population, and it keeps increasing, although exactly how gays multiply has not been explained. Nothing is ever explained in San Francisco.

27. The downtown streets of the naked city are peopled with rare and exotic birds, making their various jungle sounds: mating calls (“if you don’t like my sister how about my brother?”), cackles of insane mirth, pleas for help, attempts at music, poetry and sermons on stones. The scene is at once compelling and repellent – the smell of dirt and poverty, the flopsweat of desperation., If looks could kill, you in your neat suit, carrying your briefcase, hurrying along in your well-shined shoes, would have been dead a long time ago, bones left to bleach under the warm September sun blazing out of a washed denim sky.

28. San Francisco can be a perfectly maddening city. But when there’s a good bar across the street, almost any street, and a decent restaurant around almost any corner, we are not yet a lost civilization.

29. This past summer, the bee-busy Delancey Streeters somehow found time to take fifty kids a day, from “disadvantaged” neighborhoods, on tours to Alcatraz. One day, the guide pointed out a solitary confinement cell – “Just this tiny room, with a toilet and a bed” – at which an incredulous voice from the ghetto piped up to inquire, “You mean he had a whole room to himself?”

30. Nostalgia for a catastrophe may seem odd, but this is an odd city. We glory in our past while busily tearing down the evidence of it. Those who truly care about San Francisco know in their bones that there was something very special about the Founding Fathers, those grave, bearded, hang-the-expense types who built a world city overnight, saw most of it go up in smoke, and started all over again without, seemingly, a whimper.

31. A cable car may be the last surviving piece of public transportation that is still fun to ride. You see people actually smiling aboard them. You see people standing in LINE with a smile, just to ride them. A bus is a chore, a streetcar is infinitely better and a cable car is unarguably in a class by itself, being unique……I think most of us are willing to take their chances on the outside step of a cable, simply because it IS outside. The wind, the air, the view of San Francisco passing slowly by, to be savored – no other public transport provides these lifts to the sagging urban soil.

32. I don’t care what people call us as long as they call us, besides which “Frisco” is a salty nickname, redolent of the days when we had a bustling waterfront.

33. “I’d like to lunch at some place that’s typically old San Francisco,” said the Baron Philippe de Rothschild to his good friend, art dealer Bill Pearson – so Bill took him to Tadich’s, which, being typically old San Francisco, doesn’t take reservations. After they’d waited thirty minutes in the crowded little bar area, the baron sighed, “I dislike doing things like this, but perhaps it would help if you told them who I am,” “I dislike telling you this,” said Bill, grinning, “but I did – fifteen minutes ago!”

34. I ride Muni to get closer to The People, who I wish would get closer to deodorants.

35. 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 interest 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 Methuselah. 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.

36. The Tenderloin – so what’s to like? Rundown blocks, rundown people, rundown apartment houses between the big and sterile Federal Building on one side (is that what we really want?) and the Hilton Schmilton on the other. What’s to like is the action, the struggle to survive on one’s own terms, the togetherness of losers and loners…..Hands in raincoat pocket, head down, I walk among the poor, the sad and the ugly, one of them. It would be sentimental and nice to say that they all have hearts of gold, but I wouldn’t count on it.

37. Cockroaches and socialities are the only things that can stay up all night and eat anything.

38. The Giants were the perfect baseball team for San Francisco. They couldn’t win for losing in New York, and were going broke. Now they are going broke here. It figures. A lot of old-timers got nervous when they won a pennant in 1962, but they managed to lose the Series and everybody relaxed again. Who could live with a winner?

39. Spring training! One of the nicest two-word phrases in the language, along with “check enclosed”, “open bar”, and “class dismissed.”

40. Unaccountable millions of words have been written and spoken about San Francisco since the Guyana horrors and the City Hall slayings. In newspapers around the world, on radio and TV stations, this city has been loved and hated, praised and damned, discussed and dissected. Some of the words, and I include myself as a perpetrator, have been overblown, oversentimental, maudlin. There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathetic concern, and a surprising (to me) amount of bitterness. There has not been this much concentrated “analysis” of San Francisco since the hippie era of the 1960s, and what emerges is the jumbled outline of the city that is all things to all people. For every person who finds this “the most civilized place in the country” there seems to be one who regards it as a cesspool and sinkhole, awaiting only the wrath of God.

41. The Hippies made their deepest penetration of the current campaign on Monday night…..By the hundreds, they poured into the heart of Straightville – by foot, via bus, on hogs, in psychedelically painted VWs, in buses so ancient they might have seen service in the First Battle of the Marne. Bells tinkled, beads jangled, beards bristled, plumes waved in the salubrious evening overcast, a brave sight, and no fuzz to tighten up the scene.

42. Wilkes Bashford revealed the Willie Brown formula for dating: “As he gets older, his dates get younger. That’s because the total of Willie’s age and the age of his date must never exceed 100.”

43. Cartoonist Charles “Peanuts” Schulz, resplendent in an out-of-date Nehru jacket, dined in the Sea Cliff home of cartoonist Marty “Bobby Sox” Links. “You should wear a medallion with that” said Marty, ” and I’ve got the perfect one – I bought it in the Haight-Ashbury.” She ran upstairs and reappeared with a heavy chain from which dangled a medallion reading “LOVE” in beautiful entwined letters. After fingering it for a few seconds, Schulz handed it back with a Charlie Brown smile. “It’s just a little too much for me,” he said. “Do you have one that says ‘LIKE’?”

44. Broadway today is just another wide street with too much traffic. North Beach is just around the corner, as charming and irresistible as ever.

45. Here’s Tinytown USA with big league baseball and football, major league opera and ballet and symphony, big theater, little theater, a thousand clowns in a thousand bars, world-class hotels, a financial district with 500 banks…..and all…..those……restaurants. And it all started because a gold miner needed a place to eat and a home-sick Frenchman needed a place to cook.

46. Can a town that has sour-dough bread and honey butter muffins be all bad? Not on your life! The crab may be frozen but it’s fresh frozen, and the Swan Oyster Depot is more redolent of oysters than swans and everything is fresh there, especially the paisans. The cheap white wine smells like a wet collie, so hold your nose delicately ‘twixt thumb and forefinger and drink, for tomorrow, keed, we die. I keep telling you, it’s a great town. You’ve got to be crazy to think so and crazier not to. Stay off the cable cars and out of the health food stores and you’ll outlive us all.

47. It is no longer the beloved city that poets rhapsodized over, visitors fell in love with and natives worshipped. Gone are the spires and minarets of Baghdad-by-the-Bay. The fight now is to save what is left, and fortunately, there is still a lot worth fighting for. If ever a city had an embarrassment of riches, it is this one, even after the squandering.

48. There is a new Mr. San Francisco, plural. Mover over Cyril Magnin – and make room for Bill Walsh and the 49ers, the new rulers of the universe of football and assorted galaxies…..I don’t really know what a Super Bowl can do for a city, but San Francisco must be a different place right now. A little more joyous, a little more confident and perhaps happy to shed the title of Kook Capital of the World. Now, we have the muscles, we have the Title, we have the kind of brawling image that goes back to the real 49ers.

49. Life is a bad item, short but pointless. You stand at the bar and play liar’s dice with fate. It’s the San Francisco way. You might win, and even if you lose, the scenery’s great and the weather isn’t too bad.

And, of course:

50. One day if I go to heaven…….I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”.

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During our tenth visit to San Francisco last June, we took the short walk one morning from our Noe Valley apartment to Bernal Heights, ascending the hill from Precita Park, having lunch at the Progressive Grounds coffee house and buying provisions for our evening meal at the Good Life Grocery before taking the surprisingly short stroll back to 28th Street.

We enjoyed the superlative 360 degree views from the top of the hill and the ambiance of this “village within the city” so much that we vowed to base ourselves on our next trip in what has subsequently been dubbed the “hottest neighborhood in America”.

That trip is now imminent.  After a week’s skiing in Tahoe, we arrive on the first day of April (St. Stupid’s Day) at our Bernal cottage where we will be staying for the next two weeks.

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This will be the fifth year we have rented an apartment in one of the neighbourhoods. In addition to Noe Valley (twice), we have also stayed in Hayes Valley and North of the Panhandle (or the Western Addition to traditionalists).

Although we will be doing some things that are unashamedly “touristy” (after all, it is those that attracted us to San Francisco in the first place), we have striven increasingly to “live like locals” when in the city. And a good starting point to achieve that aim is to stay in someone’s home (albeit their second one).

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No maids knocking at our door early in the morning anxious to clean your room, no loud conversations going on outside our room at three in the morning and no lift bells ringing or washer/driers humming at all hours.

Our time has taken on a different, more relaxed, you might even call it ordinary, tenor, one that more closely mirrors our home life. Being in San Francisco has become such a familiar and habitual (in the best sense of the word) part of our lives, somewhere we spend more of our time than anywhere else, other than our permanent UK address.

What has happened is that OUR version of San Francisco has shifted both geographically and metaphorically from the waterfront to the neighborhood we have chosen to live in for a few short weeks (oh, that it could be more).

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If all we want to do is “hang out” at the apartment in the morning, watch the news on KRON4 while catching up on household chores, before strolling out to a local café for lunch, followed by food shopping and a return to the apartment for a glass or two of wine on the outside private deck, then so be it. We might then have dinner in the apartment – or try out one of the local restaurants. Or we might decide to take a trip downtown and eat in Chinatown or North Beach.

We feel no pressure to conform to the expectations of others, to be perfect tourists (if that is not an oxymoron), although, inevitably, as the trip draws to a close, the realization will again dawn on us that we haven’t seen and done as much as we would have liked!

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But what of our stay in Bernal?

It would be disingenuous to claim that we will be spending the majority of our time in the neighborhood. But we will be exploring the celebrated stairways and gardens, not to mention every square inch of the hill itself, and patronizing the cafés, restaurants and stores (but, sadly, not Badger Books). And we could not visit without seeking out bargains at the Alemany flea and farmers’ markets.

I will be posting photos and thoughts on my blog and other social networks throughout, and would welcome any feedback from neighbours.

But, firstly, ou sont les neiges?

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Stretching from Pier 45, home to the marvellous Musée Mecanique and historic ships, the US Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito, to AT & T Park at 2nd and King, San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront thoroughfare is one of the city’s crowning jewels.

Its most prized asset is the great San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, or as it is more affectionately known by locals and other supplicants, the Bay Bridge. The widest bridge in the world, and also one of the longest at more than seven miles, its two decks carry nearly a quarter of a million passengers each day. It may not command the same celebrity status as the Golden Gate Bridge shimmering on the opposite side of Alcatraz, but the views, especially from the recently reopened east span, are stunning.

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But the Embarcadero is not all about the Bay Bridge as the following photographs demonstrate. Sinbad’s at Pier 2 is a fine seafood restaurant.

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One of its more unusual features is Cupid’s Span, a quirky but imposing sculpture, in the two acre Rincon Park, a welcome spot to rest feet wearied by the unforbidding pavement along the water’s edge.

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The main rival to the Bay Bridge in the affections of locals and visitors alike is the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street.

Once the City’s principal transportation hub and beautifully restored between 2003 and 2007, it is now home not only to two storeys of premium office space, but also a permanent gallery of stalls selling locally produced fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, wines, meats, flowers, chocolate and pastries, as well as one of a kind gift items, many related to the kitchen and garden.

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The historic streetcars trundle along the Embarcadero with their packed hoardes of tourists seeking fun at Fisherman’s Wharf, bargains at Union Square and Westfield or vintage movie going at the Castro Theatre.

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Apartment blocks and offices loom above the constant traffic.

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In a city renowned for the quality of its restaurants, Red’s Java House is never going to attract any Michelin stars, but it provides good honest fare for fans heading for or returning from a Giants game. It may be basic and unpretentious, but it boasts as many passionate advocates as Michael Mina at the Westin St. Francis Hotel or Quince in Pacific Heights.

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In summer, extravagantly colourful hanging baskets complement the profusion of palms along the roadside.

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Back to the Bay Bridge with a SFFD fire boat sailing under it.

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Finally we reach AT & T Park at the end of the stretch of the roadway named after legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen who wrote extensively about the Embarcadero and his beloved Giants.

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My 100 Favourite San Francisco Quotes


If the number of views is the true gauge of success, then the most popular of the two hundred posts I have submitted on this blog has been “My 50 San Francisco Quotes”. I’m sure that it is pure coincidence that it happens to be the one that contains fewest of my own words.

Moving swiftly on, and building on that success, I have now expanded it to 100. And with no more ado:

  1. One day if I go to heaven…..I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”. (Herb Caen)
  2. San Francisco has only one drawback – ’tis hard to leave. (Rudyard Kipling)
  3. You know what it is? (It) is a golden handcuff with the key thrown away. (John Steinbeck)
  4. East is East, and West is San Francisco. (O. Henry)
  5. San Franciscans are very proud of their city, and they should be.  It’s the most beautiful place in the world.  (Robert Redford)
  6. If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco.  If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life……San Francisco is a world to explore. It is a place where the heart can go on a delightful adventure. It is a city in which the spirit can know refreshment every day.  (William Saroyan)
  7. Every man should be allowed to love two cities, his own and San Francisco.  (Gene Fowler)
  8. Of all cities in the United States I have seen, San Francisco is the most beautiful.  (Nikita Kruschev)
  9. I prefer a wet San Francisco to a dry Manhattan. (Larry Geraldi)
  10. The cool, grey city of love. (George Sterling)
  11. I never dreamed I’d like any city as well as London.  San Francisco is exciting, moody, exhilarating.  I even love the muted fogs.  (Julie Christie)
  12. I don’t know of any other city where you can walk through so many culturally diverse neighbourhoods, and you’re never out of sight of the wild hills.  Nature is very close here.  (Gary Snyder)
  13. I’m proud to have been a Yankee. But I have found more happiness and contentment, since I came back home to San Francisco than any man has a rigo deserve. This is the friendliest city in the world. (Joe di Maggio)
  14. San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.  (Paul Kantner)
  15. The ultimate (travel destination) for me would be one perfect day in San Francisco.  It’s a perfect 72 degrees, clear, the sky bright blue.  I’d start down at Fisherman’s Wharf with someone I really like and end with a romantic dinner and a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.  There’s no city like it anywhere.  And, if I could be there with the girl of my dreams, that would be the ultimate.  (Larry King)
  16. The port of San Francisco……is a marvel of nature, and might well be called the harbor of harbors….And I think if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world” (Juan Bautista de Anza)
  17. Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart.  You want to linger as long as possible.  (Walter Kronkite)
  18. The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here. (Billy Graham)
  19. San Francisco can start right now to become number one. We can set examples so that others will follow. We can start overnight. We don’t have to wait for budgets to be passed, surveys to be made, political wheelings and dealings…….for it takes no money……it takes no compromising to give the people their rights……it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression. (Harvey Milk)
  20. There’s no question this is where I want to live.  Never has been.  (Robin Williams)
  21. San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the world…I would probably rank it at the top or near the top.  It’s small but photogenic and has layers…You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done.  (Ang Lee)
  22. When you get tired of walking around in San Francisco, you can always lean against it.  (unknown)
  23. It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time. (Jack Kerouac)
  24. There may not be a Heaven, but there is San Francisco. (Ashleigh Brilliant)
  25. I have done more for San Francisco than any of its old residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more – I could have gone earlier – it was suggested. (Mark Twain)
  26. I find no objection to turning Hollywood into a suburb of San Francisco, the most photogenic city in the world. (Mayor Joseph Alioto)
  27. The City that knows how. (William Howard Taft)
  28. San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful. (Frank Lloyd Wright)
  29. You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist.  The wonderful sunlight here, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes.  Beautiful Chinatown.  Every race in the world.  The sardine fleets sailing out.  The little cable-cars whizzing down The City hills….And all the people are open and friendly.  (Dylan Thomas)
  30. (San Francisco) is a rich, lusty city, rippling with people, with movement, with girls in summer dresses, with flowers, with color; one of the great and wonderful cities of the world….the great seaport of the Pacific now, one of the great naval bases. Through it have poured a million men…..And the sea is always just on the other side of those hills. (James Marlow)
  31. I certainly was surprised to be named Poet Laureate of this far-out city on the left side of the world, and I gratefully accept, for as I told the Mayor, “How could I refuse?” I’d rather be Poet Laureate of San Francisco than anywhere because this city has always been a poetic center, a frontier for free poetic life, with perhaps more poets and more poetry readers than any city in the world. (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)
  32. In all my travels I have never seen the hospitality of San Francisco equalled anywhere in the world.  (Conrad Hilton)
  33. San Francisco! Is there a land where the magic of that name has not been felt? (Clarence F. Edwards)
  34. Your city is remarkable not only for its beauty.  It is also, of all the cities in the United States, the one whose name, the world over, conjures up the most visions and more than any other city incites one to dream.  (Georges Pompidou)
  35. It’s a mad city, inhabited by insane people whose women are of remarkable beauty (Rudyard Kipling)
  36. Somehow the great cities of America have taken their places in a jythology that shapes their destiny: money live sin New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk café in San Francisco. (Joe Flower)
  37. I was married once – in San Francisco. I haven’t seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There’s no legal proof. Which means that earthquakes aren’t always bad. (W.C. Fields)
  38. It is a good thing the early settlers landed on the East Coast; if they’d landed in San Francisco first, the rest of the country would still be uninhabited.  (Herbert Mye)
  39. What fetched me instantly (and thousands of other newcomers with me) was the subtle but unmistakeable sense of escape from the United States.  (H.L. Mencken)
  40. The City of San Francisco (the metropolis of the State) considering its age, is by long odds the most wonderful city on the face of the earth.  (G.W. Sullivan)
  41. Any one who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. (Anthony Boudain)
  42. There are just three big cities in the United States that are “story cities” – New York, of course, New Orleans, and, best of the lot, San Francisco. (Frank Norris)
  43. You have in San Francisco this magnificent Civic Center crowned by a City Hall which I have never seen anywhere equalled.  (Joseph Strauss)
  44. A city is where you can sign a petition, boo the chief justice, fish off a pier, gape at a hippopotamus, buy a flower at the corner, or get a good hamburger or a bad girl at 4 A.M. A city is where sirens make white streaks of sound in the sky and foghorns speak dark grays – San Francisco is such a city. (Herb Caen)
  45. Caen’s San Francisco may not be the city we remember, but it is the city we want to remember. (Mayor Willie Brown)
  46. Of all American cities of whatever size the most friendly on preliminary inspection, and on further acquaintance the most likable. The happiest-hearted, the gayest, the most care-free city on this continent.  (Irwin S. Cobb)
  47. No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.  (William Saroyan)
  48. God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay.  (Fiorello La Guardia)
  49. I always see about six scuffles a night when I come to San Francisco.  That’s one of the town’s charms.  (Erroll Flynn)
  50. San Francisco is a complex town that lets you be yourself, that accepts you even if your family doesn’t. No matter how uncomfortable your own skin feels, you can move to this city, discover who you really are, and plant your feet on the ground.  (Jack Boulware)
  51. San Francisco, open your Golden Gate, you’ll let nobody wait outside your door, San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one, saying I’ll wander no more. (Gus Khan, Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurrman)
  52. San Francisco! – one of my two favorite cities.  There is more grace per square foot in San Francisco than any place on earth!  (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen)
  53. I don’t think San Francisco needs defending.  I never meet anyone who doesn’t love the place, Americans or others.  (Doris Lessing)
  54. There are a thousand viewpoints in the viewtiful city. (Herb Caen)
  55. San Francisco has always been a haven for misfits and weirdos. I’m both of these, which is why I came here. (Michael Franti)
  56. I think San Francisco is the best place in the whole world for an easy life. (Imogen Cunningham)
  57. San Francisco is perhaps the most European of all American cities. (Cecil Beaton)
  58. San Francisco is Beautiful People wearing a bracelet of bridges.  (Hal Lipset)
  59. I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved (Mark Twain)
  60. It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attraction of the next world. (Oscar Wilde).
  61. Every city on earth has its special sink of vice, crime and degradation, its running ulcer or moral cancer, which it would fain hide from the gaze of mankind…..San Franciscans will not yield the palm of superiority to anything to be found elsewhere in the world. Speak of the deeper depth, the lower hell, the maelstrom of vice and iniquity – from whence those who once fairly enter escape no more forever – and they will point triumphantly to the Barbary Coast, strewn from end to end with the wrecks of humanity, and challenge you to match it anywhere outside of he lake of fire and brimstone. (Colonel Evans)
  62. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, if you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there. (John Phillips)
  63. San Francisco is the greatest…the hills…fabulous food…most beautiful and civilised people.  (Duke and Duchess of Bedford)
  64. The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest hearted, and most pleasure-loving city of the western continent, and in many ways the most interesting and romantic, is a horde of refugees living among ruins. It may rebuild; it probably will; but those who have known that peculiar city by the Golden Gate, have caught its flavour of the Arabian Nights, feel it can never be the same. It is as though a pretty, frivolous woman has passed through a great tragedy. She survives, but she is sobered and different. If it rises out of the ashes it must be a modern city, much like other cities without its old atmosphere. (Will Irwin)
  65. I love San Francisco.  It would be a perfect place for a honeymoon.  (Kim Novak)
  66. San Francisco is a breathtakingly beautiful city, with lots of great contrasts between dark and light, often overlapping each other. It’s a great setting for a horror story. (Christopher Moore)
  67. Now there’s a grown-up swinging town.  (Frank Sinatra)
  68. 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 Misdemeanour, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars. (Emperor Norton)
  69. If civil disobedience is the way to go about change, than I think a lot of people will be going to San Francisco (Rosie O’Donnell)
  70. I don’t like San Francisco.  I love it!  (Dorothy Lamour)
  71. “Queen of the Pacific Coast! Fair city whose changing skies for half the year shower down mist and rain, and the other half sunbeams of molten brass! Metropolis of alternate sticky mud and blinding dust! In spite of these and more thou art a city of my heart,  O Ciudad de San Francisco!” (T.S. Kenderdine)
  72. Two days in this city is worth two months in New York.  (Robert Menzies)
  73. I’m just mad for San Francisco.  It is like London and Paris stacked on top of each other.  (Twiggy)
  74. I fell in love with the most cordial and sociable city in the Union. After the sagebrush and alkali deserts of Wahoe, San Francisco was Paradise to me. (Mark Twain)
  75. San Francisco is poetry.  Even the hills rhyme.  (Pat Montandon)
  76. San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every house a poem, every dweller within immortal. This is the whole truth. (William Saroyan)
  77. I love this city.  If I am elected, I’ll move the White House to San Francisco. Everybody’s so friendly.  (Robert Kennedy)
  78. I like the fog that creeps over the whole city every night about five, and the warm protective feeling it gives…and lights of San Francisco at night, the fog horn, the bay at dusk and the little flower stands where spring flowers appear before anywhere else in the country…But, most of all, I like the view of the ocean from the Cliff House.  (Irene Dunne)
  79. San Francisco is really fun and liberal, and it’s my kind of politics. It’s like being Jewish in front of Jewish people. (Elayne Bossier)
  80. I love San Francisco and Brighton has something of San Francisco about it. It’s by the sea, there’s a big gay community, a feeling of people being there because they enjoy their life there. (Brian Eno)
  81. We’re crazy about this city.  First time we came here, we walked the streets all day – all over town – and nobody hassled us.  People smiled, friendly-like, and we knew we could live here……Los Angeles? That’s just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for a trip to San Francisco……And the beautiful old houses and the strange light.  We’ve never been in a city with light like this.  We sit in our hotel room for hours, watching the fog come in, the light change.  (John Lennon and Yoko Ono)
  82. The extreme geniality of San Francisco’s economic, intellectual and political climate makes it the most varied and challenging city in the United States (James Michener)
  83. But I would rather be with you, somewhere in San Francisco on a back porch in July, just looking up to Heaven, at this crescent in the sky (Robert Hunter)
  84. I have seen few things as beautiful as a 6.30 am lift-off from San Francisco International Airport in the autumn. From above, the rippled fog layer laps against the shores of the foothills like a voluminous cotton ocean (Eric Chang)
  85. San Francisco is a city with the assets of a metropolis without the disadvantages of size and industry.  (Jack Kenny)
  86. Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there? (Herb Caen)
  87. San Francisco is one of the great cultural plateaus in the world….one of the really urbane communities in the United States…one of the truly cosmopolitan places – and for many, many years, it has always had a warm welcome for human beings from all over the world.  (Duke Ellington)
  88. The Golden Gate Bridge’s daily strip tease from enveloping stoles of mist to full frontal glory is still the most provocative show in town (Mary Moore Mason)
  89. No visit to the United States would be complete without San Francisco – this beautiful city, center of the West, very well known for its beauty and the place where the United Nations was born.  (Queen Sirikit of Thailand)
  90. To a traveler paying his first visit, it has the interest of a new planet.  It ignores the meteorological laws which govern the rest of the world.  (Fitz Hugh Ludlow)
  91. Cities are like gentlemen, they are born, not made.  You are either a city, or you are not, size has nothing to do with it.  I bet San Francisco was a city from the very first time it had a dozen settlers.  New York is “Yokel”, but San Francisco is “City at Heart”.  (Will Rogers)
  92. God! I loove this city! (Herb Caen)
  93. This is the first place in the United States where I sang, and I like San Francisco better than any other city in the world.  I love no city more than this one.  Where else could I sing outdoors on Christmas Eve?  (Luisa Tetrazzini)
  94. The San Francisco Bay Area is the playpen of countercultures (RZ Sheppard)
  95. I have seen purer liqors, better segars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier women courtesans here in San Francisco than in any other place I have ever visited. (Hinton Helper)
  96. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories. (Jack London)
  97. San Francisco may soon become the first fully gentrified city in America, the urban equivalent of a gated bedroom community…..Now it’s becoming almost impossible for a lot of the people who have made this such a world-class city – people who have been the heart and soul of the city for decades – from the fishers and pasta makers and blue-collar workers to the jazz musicians to the beat poets to the hippies to the punks and so many others –to exist here anymore. And when you’ve lost that part of the city, you’ve lost San Francisco. (Daniel Zoll)
  98. San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home.  (Benjamin F. Taylor)
  99. It’s the grandest city I saw in America.  If everyone acted as the San Franciscans did, there would be hope for settlement of the world’s difficulties.  (Frol Zozlov)
  100. To this day the city of San Francisco remains to the Chinese the Great City of the Golden Mountains.  (Kai Fu Shah)

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San Francisco can proudly boast more than its fair share of eccentrics, but few can rival Joshua Abraham Norton, the self-proclaimed “Emperor of these United States” and “Protector of Mexico”, for their presumption, bravado and, at times, visionary genius.

Born of Jewish parents (somewhere) in London, England (sometime) between 1814 and 1819, he spent his early manhood in South Africa, serving as a colonial rifleman.  He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849 with $40,000 to his name and quickly amassed a fortune of $250,000, primarily from real estate but also from speculating in commodities. However, he lost it all when his attempts to corner the market for imported Peruvian rice (China had banned the export of their own) backfired spectacularly.  Lengthy litigation resulted in the Supreme Court of California ruling against him, forcing him to declare bankruptcy in 1853.

He fled San Francisco, only to return several years later, a changed man.  Embittered and, many might argue, severely mentally disturbed, by his earlier experiences, he spent the next two decades perpetuating a one man campaign to denounce and dissolve the nation’s political and financial infrastructure.

On 17th September 1859 he issued letters to the city’s newspapers declaring  himself “Emperor of these United States”, adding that:
“At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton……….declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States, and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity”.

On 12th October he formally dissolved Congress.  Amongst his numerous subsequent decrees were an invocation to the Army to depose the elected officials of Congress, the ordering of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches to publicly ordain him as “Emperor” and a telegram proposal to Abraham Lincoln that he should marry Queen Victoria to cement relations between the U.S. and Great Britain. He also thought nothing of issuing orders too to the German Kaiser and Russian Czar.

And on 12th August 1869 he abolished the Democratic and Republican parties (now there’s a thought)!

One portentious pronouncement would have struck a chord later, not only with legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, but many other San Francisco natives:

“Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abonimable word “Frisco”, which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of High Misdemeanour, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars”.

Irrespective of his mental state, Norton was, at times, a real visionary and some of his “Imperial Decrees” demonstrated great prescience.  He urged the formation of a League of Nations and forbade conflict between religions.  Most dramatically, he called persistently for a suspension bridge or tunnel to be built connecting San Francisco with Oakland. Both eventually saw the light of day with the constructions of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s Transbay Tube in 1936 and 1974 respectively.

Another proclamation ordered that a huge Christmas tree should be erected in Union Square. Duly accepted, it has stood there ever since.

Each day for more than 20 years, the “Emperor” would leave his “Imperial Palace”, a minute room in a boarding house at 642, Commercial Street, to walk the streets in a grand blue uniform with brass buttons, gold-plated epaulets and royal purple sash, a beaver hat embellished by a peacock feather (his “dusty plume”) and a rosette.

He was rarely seen without his cane or umbrella as he inspected the condition of the cable cars and sidewalks, the state of public property and even the appearance of police officers. After an over-zealous young police officer had been soundly reprimanded for arresting him, and subsequently been granted an “Imperial Pardon” by Norton himself, all police officers made a point of saluting him when they met in the street.

Many cities would have persecuted, incarcerated or, at best, ridiculed him for being insane. But this was San Francisco in the full flush of post-Gold Rush glory, and the citizens loved and revered him.  He was welcomed at the best restaurants, where he would dine for free, enabling the owner thereafter to erect blass plaques proclaiming “by Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States”.

Front row balcony seats were also reserved for him at local theaters, including the Opera, where he was cheered on arrival. His active involvement in civic affairs even led to him being granted a reserved seat in the visitors’ gallery of the State Senate, from which he was occasionally invited onto the floor to speak on matters close to his heart.

He was alleged to have been accompanied often – including at the theatre – by two mongrel dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, local celebrities in their own right, whom he supplied with food scraps from the free lunch counters that he frequented.  Lazarus died after being run over by a truck of the same fire company – Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 – that Lillian Coit revered and subsequently befriended. When Bummer died shortly afterwards, allegedly of a broken heart, Mark Twain wrote: “He died full of years, and honor, and disease, and fleas”. Their fame led to them posthumously being depicted in Life in San Francisco, a comic opera.

Now, he could not have been a true Emperor without the right to coin his own currency, and his “Imperial Government of Norton” notes, all bearing his royal image and ranging from 50 cents to 10 dollars, were accepted wherever he did business.  Every day he used one of his own fifty cent bills to pay for his lodgings. And when his uniform started to deteriorate, the Board of Supervisors bought him a “suitably regal replacement” and the city charter was amended to permit Norton to collect $30 annually for its replacement and repair.

On the evening of 8th January 1880, after completing his daily rounds of the city, Norton collapsed on the corner of California Street and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in front of Old St. Mary’s Church as he was on his way to a lecture at the California Academy of Sciences.  He died before medical attention could arrive.

The following day the San Francisco Chronicle published his obituary on its front page under the headline “Le Roi est Mort” (“The King is Dead”).  He had died in abject poverty.  His funeral, two days later, was a sad, dignified event, honoured by the attendance of the Mayor and the playing of a military band. Upwards of 30,000 people, a seventh of the entire population of the city at the time, lined the streets to pay their respects to the two mile long funeral cortege.  The City of San Francisco and Pacific Club paid all his funeral expenses.

Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, amongst others, paid homage to Norton by modelling characters on him in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  and The Wrecker respectively. Seventy years after his death, the Chronicle sponsored an annual treasure hunt in his name.

But perhaps his, and his adopted city’s, finest epitaph is that provided by Stevenson’s stepdaughter, Isobel Field, who wrote that he “was a gentle and kindly man, and fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being “let him be emperor if he wants to”.  San Francisco played the game with him”.

More, in the words of John C. Ralston, a “tourist attraction in his own time” than a “significant historical figure”, there can be few lives that better personify that much-quoted phrase “Only in San Francisco”.

Postcript:

Emperor Norton Lives! Not only does he conduct walking tours of his empire but he maintains an excellent Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Emperor-Nortons-Fantastic-San-Francisco-Time-Machine/104510419615984

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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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