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Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson Airplane’


I blame it, of course, on Scott McKenzie.

And Alan Whicker.

Now I trust that many readers, notably those of a certain age and transatlantic disposition, will recall that Scott McKenzie was the singer who advised the world in 1967 that, if they were going to San Francisco, they should “be sure to wear some flowers in their hair”. That song alone had a searing impact on an impressionable fourteen year old boy living five and a half thousand miles away.

But Alan Whicker?

In appearance, with his English grammar school upbringing, clipped accent, Saville Row suit, slicked back hair, thick-set glasses and brisk moustache, he was the antithesis of the young people flocking to the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood at the time.

Whicker was an English journalist and broadcaster who forged a career spanning nearly sixty years until his death in 2013. His finest work was Whicker’s World which he presented for thirty years, travelling the world and commenting in an inimitable ironic fashion on society, and interviewing many prominent figures of the time, including the Sultan of Brunei, reputedly the richest man in the world at the time, the Haitian dictator, “Papa Doc” Duvalier and numerous high profile actors and aristocrats.

His stiff upper-lip style made him the affectionate butt of many comedians, none more memorably than the Monty Python team who delivered a sketch entitled Whicker’s Island, in which a succession of Whickers would walk on and off the screen uttering in his customary hushed tones, the catchphrase “here on Whicker’s Island”.

On 9th September 1967, the day that Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Byrds headlined at the Family Dog and Fillmore Auditorium, two of the emerging and competing concert venues in San Francisco,  Whicker broadcast a programme on the BBC entitled Love Generation. The episode was groundbreaking not least for the fact that it showed scenes of drug taking, despite the corporation’s “horror” of the practice, for the first time on British television, notably in 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead house (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir figured prominently). In the light of the recent Mick Jagger drug bust, it was put out very late at night. Among the individuals invited to expound their hippie ideals, emerging music promoter, Chet Helms, outlined his plans for taking music and light show “happenings” to London.

It was an incisive, literate and surprisingly sympathetic piece in which Whicker spoke over footage of the large influx of youth who had hitchhiked from every state to “Hashbury”:

In the States, pot is going middle class and spreading like prohibition liquor as more and more citizens   get zonked out of their minds. The drug culture enters the blood stream of American life. Like it or not, we’re living in the stoned age.

Later he was to lament that the:

Summer of Love was a short outburst of happiness that lasted only a few months. When I returned a year later the flowers and the innocence had died.

I was, like the thousands of young people that sought escape from the drabness of middle America, inspired by the message of “tune in, turn on, drop out”, though I hadn’t the means of joining the tribes.

The broadcast also gave my first experience of the Grateful Dead in performance with a beardless Jerry Garcia taking the lead on the Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion). A song title was never more apt.

News bulletins featured scenes of Gray Line tour buses crawling down Haight Street with bemused middle aged, provincial passengers staring at the carnival on the street.

And then there was Scott McKenzie.

Another character with a splendid upper lip growth, it was his song, full title San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair), which topped the charts in the UK but not (quite) the US, that so enthralled that fourteen year old boy in what was, despite the emergence of “swinging London”, still a monochrome etched country.

I took to decorating my Beatle mop with an occasional fresh daisy or buttercup. I commandeered my mother’s chocolate and purple paisley print blouse to wear to the home games of my local football team, guaranteeing that I would be bullied as mercilessly on a Saturday afternoon on the terraces as I was already being five days a week at school.

But I didn’t care.

I was a hippie.

My home grown musical diet of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and a dozen other pop groups began to be supplemented by the weird, thrilling sounds of San Francisco. But it would still be another three years before I could get my hands on the music of the  Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service (thank you Keith Mason wherever you are), and before I could justifiably claim to be aboard the bus – the magic, not tourist, version.

During those same three years, I became increasingly fascinated by American culture and society. My political awakening was borne more out of opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the blacks in the Deep South, and students at Berkeley and Kent State than with the Rhodesian question or devaluation of the pound in Britain. I chose American history as one of my “A levels” at school and later studied American literature at university.

Underpinning all this was the music – my adoration for the San Franciscan bands was extended to embrace the country and folk rock idioms of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the Eagles and, of course, Dylan. I devoured every American film I could, especially those with a counter cultural bias like Easy Rider, Two-Lane Blacktop and Alice’s Restaurant, and read George Jackson, Angela Carter and Tom Wolfe.

Those enthusiasms have endured to this day, though it would take me another quarter of a century before I first gazed adoringly on the Golden Gate Bridge or strolled down the street that had been the epicentre of my cultural life for so long.

But that is another story.

To finish, another of those siren songs that sucked me into a San Francisco state of mind.

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Many who have read my pieces on San Francisco will have concluded that Haight-Ashbury is my spiritual home, and they are probably right, principally because of the music that exploded out of there in the mid-sixties. But it is the cultural movement that pre-dated the hippies by a decade and more that most plays to my sensibilities.

The Beats, with their emphasis on free expression in literature, poetry, music, theatre and lifestyle (sex and drugs), were, whether they knew it or not at the time, the major inspiration for those young people in London and other urban areas in Britain who flocked to coffee bars and folk clubs in the late fifties and early sixties, just at the time that I was becoming aware of wider societal issues. Moreover, many of the rock stars that, a decade later, I worshipped, for example Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, learnt their trade in the coffee houses of the Bay Area, heavily influenced by the events a few miles away.

Although the Beat Generation originally emerged in New York with the early works of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it was San Francisco’s North Beach, the “Little Italy” neighbourhood nestling beneath Telegraph Hill and rubbing shoulders with bustling Chinatown, where it arguably took root.

And, although North Beach may not quite be the Italian enclave it was half a century ago, the influence of the Beats remains to this day. Certain landmarks are place of pilgrimage for both my generation and anyone who believes in free expression and alternative perspectives on the issues of the day.

My walk begins at my favourite San Francisco watering hole, Vesuvio, interestingly still called a café rather than a bar, and not just because it is where Neal Casady, inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s classic Beat novel On The Road, first met the writer at a poetry reading in 1955.

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A few groggy steps across Jack Kerouac Alley stands one of America’s most famous and important bookstores, City Lights, which celebrates its sixtieth birthday this year. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, now 94 and San Francisco’s unofficial poet laureate, and Peter D. Martin, first opened its doors at around the time of the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth II, across the Atlantic.

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I never leave San Francisco without visiting the bookstore and coming away with at least one book. Many of the more interesting and challenging books on the city’s past, present and future are published by City Lights and they are not easy to get hold of elsewhere. Two and counting at present on this trip!

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With the addition of The Beat Museum on Broadway in 2003, the devotees’ experience of the area has been enriched still further. Aside from the fascinating exhibit in the museum itself, the adjoining shop sells an amazing collection of books, DVDs, posters, t shirts and other Beat memorabilia. Whilst I managed, at least on my previous visit, to resist the blandishments of a signed book by Wavy Gravy at $45 (but there’s still another trip), I still bought another. If distance makes visiting the museum itself out of the question, they run an excellent online store too.

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Although I am not qualified to say whether Broadway, which cuts across Columbus, has the same caché as it once had (though I think I do know the answer to that), there can be no question that the days of Lenny Bruce’s risqué comedy act at the hungry i and Carol Doda’s historic breast baring at the Condor are long past.

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North Beach is still awash with coffee houses, many of which were haunts of unemployed writers and musicians in the heyday of the Beats. Café Trieste is perhaps the most prestigious with its live opera, oh so cool attitude and blisteringly strong espresso. Seats are hard to come by for all those reasons – well, at least inside! 

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I think it’s only fitting that we should finish back at Vesuvio – I hear that Bob Dylan has dropped in for an espresso.

And I’ll leave you with an image that describes the Beat’s relationship to polite society like no other.

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Stow Lake is frequented more by residents than tourists who are rather drawn to the heavily promoted, and undeniably impressive, adjacent attractions of the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences and Japanese Tea Garden. Yet it is only a few minutes walk away.

We stumbled upon it purely by accident on our second trip to the city fourteen years ago. Venturing west from those headliner venues, you quickly come across a pathway and 26 steps that lead to the south side of the lake. In the dense trees on the island opposite you soon encounter the charming Chinese Pavilion, a gift from the people of Taipei, shipped in 6,000 pieces and reassembled in 1981.

As you stroll along the path that encircles the lake you gain an immediate impression of both serenity and bustle. Young families, pushing strollers and trying to contain excited children, compete with joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and elderly immigrant couples reliving their first date 50 years ago for the narrow path. Ducks, gulls and other bird life glide along the placid surface, scanning for potential feeding stations wherever humans congregate by the water.

For now, pass the rustic stone bridge on your right and continue along the path  that leads to the boathouse (new photo) where you will be able to rent paddle boats, row boats – new, I believe, this year – bicycles, and in-line skates. Restrooms, picnic tables and a surprisingly well stocked snack bar greet you here also. Indeed, it has the distinction of being the first place in the U.S. where I tasted a vegetarian hot dog (whilst Janet ate ice cream!).

On a bright day you may be lucky enough to observe a row of turtles sunbathing on the rocks and logs alongside the boathouse.

For the more adventurous there is the short but relatively steep hike up to Strawberry Hill, the 430 foot high artificial island in the middle of the lake, which rewards you with fine, slightly tree obscured views across the western part of the city, and even as far as the Farallone Islands 26 miles out to sea.

You can either retrace your steps from the boathouse and access the island across the stone bridge (new photo), or you can approach it by crossing the second “Roman” bridge which appears shortly in the opposite direction. Be sure not to miss Huntington Falls which cascade down into the lake close to the Chinese Pavilion.

Encircling the entire lake and climbing Strawberry Hill amounts to around two and a half miles.

So if you want a few hours respite from the frenetic environs of Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown or Union Square, take a bus out to Golden Gate Park and visit Stow Lake, grab an ice cream and paddle gently for an hour in the civilising company of ducks and turtles.

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Finally, after a pre-season match against the Oakland A’s in 2008 and a rain-curtailed “friendly” against the Seattle Mariners two years later, I made it to my first two Major League Baseball (MLB) games at AT & T Park for the opening weekend of 2012.

On Saturday evening the San Francisco Giants entertained the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second of a three game series, and then hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the opening game of three on Monday evening.

This is not a match report on either game, though I will briefly outline  the action. It is more a series of impressions on the baseball experience.

So – the figures. On Saturday, the Giants squeezed out a 4-3 victory in the ninth after trailing both 2-0 and 3-2 earlier in the game. CRedit should go to much-maligned, and many believe, grossly overpaid, starting pitcher, Barry Zito’s second quality performance at the start of the season.

A disastrous first innings by star pitcher, Tim Lincecum, in which he gave up four runs, meant the Giants were always chasing the game against the Phillies’ Roy Halladay. Despite Buster Posey’s three hits and improved pitching by Lincecum and the bullpen, the deficit was too much for Giants to pull back, eventually losing 5-2.

One win and one defeat, not altogether unexpected, so I’ ll take that.

Although we had already printed our tickets at home back in the UK, we wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance of Saturday’s 6.05pm first pitch. We disembarked from a Muni Metro car at 3rd and King at around 4.30pm, just in time to be welcomed through the turnstiles with a large number of equally excited fans, most wearing the Giants’ orange and black colours.

One of many reasons for wanting to get to the park early was that it would guarantee us securing the day’s free gift on entry. Although on Saturday this was a rather modest foam finger, the use for which is modelled in the photograph below, we received a far more elegant A5 size Giants 2012 schedule fridge magnet at the Phillies game. This was the first of a host of fan-oriented activities on both nights.

And it is this emphasis on ensuring that the spectators, especially families, have a memorable experience at the ballpark that is so impressive about American sports in general, and the San Francisco Giants organisation in particular, and which I want to concentrate on in this article.

Amongst the other gifts scheduled to be handed out at future home games during the season were bobbleheads of the most popular players, including Sergio Romo, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval, a Brian Wilson gnome, a Matt Cain t-shirt, fedoras, knitted hats, texting gloves (sic), trading cards and caps. Some of these are limited to the first 20, 25 or 40 thousand fans through the turnstiles, one of many clever marketing ploys to get the spectators eating and drinking early inside the stadium rather than at the bars and restaurants around the “yard”.

For children aged 14 and under, they would be greeted at selected games with snap watches, rope necklaces, and Super Hero capes. Many of the above gifts were presented by companies such as Subway, See’s Candles, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area and PG & E.

And then there would be the games that celebrated past glories such as the “Turn Back the Century Game – 1912” and the 2010 Giants World Series Team Reunion. On another day Virgin America would be providing two for one flight vouchers for all fans.

And it still doesn’t end there!

San Francisco is renowned for its commitment to diversity, demonstrated in a range of festivals and street fairs throughout the year that showcase its ethnic communities.

And the Giants play their part. Certain games are designated “heritage nights” where the culture and history of peoples that have played a key role in the history of the Bay Area is celebrated. The list includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican (Cinco de Mayo), Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polynesian, African American, Filipinos, and, this being San Francisco, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

And then there are the games that are dedicated to firefighters, law enforcement officers, masons and even singles! And, again, it wouldn’t be San Francisco without a series of food festivals, including one where leading chefs from around the area set up stall and offer their wares at a fraction of the price that one would pay in their restaurants.

Once inside the stadium, the off-field entertainment, both before, during and, on occasions, after, the game, is excellent. In the lead up to the start of the Pirates game, the crowd was treated to Jefferson Starship ripping through their – or rather Jefferson Airplane’s – catalogue of classic songs, including Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. They returned to lead the traditional pre-match rendition of the American national anthem – not perhaps their finest hour, but I doubt the great majority of the crowd, wrapped in the emotion of the moment, were too concerned about that.

Although the breaks between innings in a ballgame are rarely more than a few minutes, the gaps are filled invariably with quizzes, competitions and interviews played out on the large screen / scoreboard, with yet more prizes and special offers available to the lucky fans. The middle of the seventh community singing of Take Me Out to the Ballpark is another tradition that raises the crowd’s spirits, even if the Giants are faltering.

Perhaps the most popular moments are when the camera scans round the crowd to hone in on unsuspecting couples whose duty it is then to kiss each other in front of 41,000 other people. These bring huge cheers, notably when a chaste peck turns into a more passionate clinch. On more than one occasion I wondered whether the “victims” had ever kissed before, might even be on their first date, such was the embarrassed on some faces. But most carry it off with good humour.

The antics of Lou Seal, the Giants’ larger than life (particularly around his midriff) mascot, contribute to the party atmosphere. A feisty character, his finest moment is when he strides and struts on the roof of the Giants dugout, leading the ninth innings rallying cry of Dont Stop Believin’ by Journey, which has become the team’s unofficial anthem since the World Series season of 2010. And it had the desired effect in the Pirates game in inspiring the team to pull round a 3-2 deficit to secure a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth, adding a triumphant note to the spectacular fireworks display at the end.

Oh….and there’s always a baseball game going on if you get bored with all the ancillary entertainment!

I shall now turn to the other visible demonstration of the fan-friendly approach that epitomises the Giants organisation – the provision of refreshment.

For anyone unfamiliar with American sports, and, as a result, erroneously supposing that the food and beverages at venues barely extend beyond Coca-Cola, Budweiser, hot dogs and hamburgers, would be astonished to see the variety and quality on offer at AT & T Park.

Amongst the dozens of outlets at the stadium are California Cookout, Clam Chowder, Crazy Crab’z, Mission Creek Cantina, Cinnamon Roasted Nuts, First Base Carvery, McCovey’s 44 BBQ, Gourmet Sausages, Tres Mexican Kitchen, Long Taters Baked Potato, Doggie Diner, Haagen Dazs, Outta Here Cheesesteaks, Pier 44 Chowder House, Say Hey! Speciality Sausages, Port Walks Pizza, Ghiradelli, Mashi’s Sushi Bistro and Edsel Ford Fong’s. Some of these have multiple stands.

But the crowning glory, the signature dish, the product singularly responsible for the unmissable, pungent aroma of the ballpark, apart from on Grateful Dead Day when it is overpowered by the heady waft of dope, are Gilroy’s garlic fries, served up in generously filled trays at many of the aforementioned stands. These are the must eat” option, not only for the human visitors but also for the savvy seagulls that swoop and hover over proceedings in the latter stages of the game.

And yes, of course, soda and beer dominate the drinks scene, but this is San Francisco and elegant dining is available too, as witnessed by the Francis Ford Coppola wines my wife and I gravitated towards on both evenings.

My only quibble with all this eating and drinking – which clearly provides the Giants organisation with massive income – is that it is so enjoyable that a significant proportion of the sell-out crowds that flock to every game feel the need to keep going back for more – and more – and more – during the actual game, meaning that they miss a not inconsiderable part of the play. If you have the misfortune to sit behind someone who is constantly getting up out of their seat to stock up on yet more food and drink, it can be very annoying.

Now, I like a drink and something to eat when I watch football, cricket or baseball, but not at the expense of missing the play. I will get that out of the way before the game, or, occasionally, during a scheduled interval in play, such as half time in football. After all, I am there for the game, no more, no less.

But baseball, with its short breaks in play between innings, doesn’t allow one to do that. There is no lunch or tea interval as in cricket, where you may have between 20 and 40 minutes in which to satisfy your hunger or thirst.

So I do understand, not only the urge, but also the compulsion to eat constantly during the game, particularly when the fare is so tasty. And if you have children badgering you for a hot dog, coke or ice cream, during the play, it’s hard to resist.

But for some people, and not necessarily those with families, the actual game appears almost incidental – or rather that it is no more than a part of the overall experience or the excuse for attending a foodie extravaganza.

By the end of Saturday evening when we sat in section 324 View Reserve Infield, overlooking from the clouds (if there had been any) third base, I wondered whether I had been the only spectator in my block who could honestly claim that they had seen every single ball pitched during the game. Even my wife had had to make a call of nature (your fault Mr Coppola – who was at the Phillies game) during the seventh innings!

That said, I was one of the first in the extensive queue for the gentlemen’s restrooms at the end!

By way of contrast we sat in section 135 Lower Box Infield, immediately to the right of the bleachers on Monday evening and the “problem” was almost non-existent. The higher you sit in the stands the more likely you are to have people leaving their seats obscuring your view.

The situation would be worse – if that is the correct word, if it weren’t for the army of incredibly hard working vendors of hot dogs, cotton candy, ice cream and beer that flit amongst the crowd from beginning to end. Their energy, good humour and efficiency are a sight to behold.

Lessons to be learned for future visits?

1. If it’s a night game in spring or autumn (or summer for that matter) take a blanket. Although both evenings were clear and relatively still, it became decidedly chilly when the sun went down.

2.Choose seats at a lower level than section 324 – few fans struggled to make it back to their seats without pausing for breath. More chance of catching a ball there too.

3. Take more photos to supplement my report. This article  would certainly have benefited from that.

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Anyone with the merest acquaintance with this blog will observe a strong bias towards the city of San Francisco in it. If the heading of “A Golden Gate State of Mind” and accompanying photograph did not immediately give it away, the preponderance of posts on the city certainly will.

So what, you ask, is the attraction of what San Francisco based Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti called “this far-out city on the left side of the world” to a cricket loving, warm beer drinking Englishman?

Well, that is a very good question (I do wish you hadn’t asked it).  It’s not sufficient to say it is because I “love” it.  After all, there are many things that I love – my wife, my father, my football team, my favourite rock band, skiing, fish and chips, and the BBC Breakfast presenter, Susanna Reid (I’d be grateful if you didn’t tell my wife about that one) – the list goes on.

But “love” – like “great” – is an overused – or rather over abused – word today. In fact, I may have proved this conclusively in the preceding paragraph. Everyone will have places that they “love”, whether it be Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New York or even Leysdown-on-Sea. Few of us would deny “loving” their favourite holiday haunts, particularly if they return to them time and again.

So I think you deserve a more substantial explanation than that. After all, it took me nearly 43 years to finally feast my hungry eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, even though I had venerated the city from afar for nearly three decades before that. So what do I find so special about it now?

Before I answer it – and I’m not prevaricating, honest – I think it is worth considering what it is about a place that makes us become attached to it. After all, isn’t it nothing more nor less than a collection of natural features and man-made buildings?

I suppose that many of us, including myself, claim that we “love” the place in which we were born and / or raised. It is this emotional attachment, linked to childhood memories, that, I believe, is the crucial factor here. And the acknowledgement of that attachment may not manifest itself without the aid of age and distance.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “there’s no place like home” may be cliches but they still have a sturdy ring of truth. James Joyce – that incomparable chronicler of place – could not, as he himself admitted, have written so profoundly or entertainingly about Dublin had he stayed there instead of leaving it to work and live in Trieste, Zurich and Paris.

My last post (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/walking-with-our-mutual-friend/) conveys my affection for my own home town of Rochester in Kent, and an earlier one (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/to-my-home-county/) describes the pride I have in being a Man of Kent, a grateful product of its rich embrace of coast and countryside.

So our attachment to place begins, as with so many of our passions, with our childhood experiences.

But I digress. We’re not in Kent(as) anymore, Toto. You want to read about why I “love” San Francisco. Well, I presume you still do or you would have given up by now. So here goes.

I could cite the stunning beauty of the bay and its glittering “bracelet of bridges”, the gorgeous skies, the cute, clanking cable cars, the abundance of fresh seafood in its classy restaurants, the diversity of its music and theatre scene, the richness of its ethnic neighbourhoods, the thrilling exploits of the Giants and 49ers, and, of course, its renowned tolerance and reputation as a haven for the otherwise discarded and disaffected – all of these are part of it.

However, thousands of other visitors have been equally captivated by most, if not all, of these qualities. It is not for nothing that many leave their heart in San Francisco.  But their “love” is invariably on loan, perhaps until the next trip or another geographical gigolo snatches their affection. Mine is permanent, organic, forever.  

So what is it about this place that has lured this individual into spending what time he can’t reside in it dreaming and writing about it?  Why has this place gotten hold of my heart” where other cities I delight in visiting, such as Venice, Florence, Barcelona, Dublin and New York have not? And why, with relatively little time left, and  just as I am about to resolve to go somewhere else, does it sing its siren (or is that sea lion) songs to me, steering my boat back into the dock of the bay?

For much of my life it was a platonic, long distance affair.  It started with the Summer of Love (1967) when San Francisco snared the imagination of many people across the globe, including one 14 year old English schoolboy an entire continent and ocean away. Intrigued by the love and peace mantra, he was inspired by Scott McKenzie and the Flowerpot Men to commit fashion suicide by wearing paisley shirts and, on at least one occasion, flowers (almost certainly plastic) in his hair, to football matches that year – fortunately, it pre-dated the skinhead era or he may not have been given such an easy ride!

Three years later, the music of the Bay Area, in the form of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service began to fill my head. “Everyone’s favourite city” had become the epicentre of my cultural universe. However, another two and a half decades passed before I set foot on San Francisco’s ever shifting soil.

And, for me, Haight-Ashbury, from whence that dazzling music came, still represents, more than any other location in the city, MY San Francisco, and where I gravitate to on every trip, however short. Free concerts by the Dead on flat bed trucks in the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, tie-dye shirts and the pungent waft of marijuana smoke remain enduring images of that time.

And there is just enough of that atmosphere – at stores like Positively Haight Street, Haight-Ashbury T-shirts and Pipe Dreams, as well as Sami Sunchild’s Red Victorian (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/great-san-franciscan-characters-14-sami-sunchild/) – to keep me enthused as I saunter down Haight Street today.

That is not to say that other parts – the Tenderloin and Civic Center no less than the trendy neighbourhoods and tourist honeypots – are not equally “real” embodiments of the modern city, all too real some might say. Though I embrace them all, the Haight remains the heart of my San Franciscan experience. Its only failing is that it does not aford bay views!  Or does it? I really must check on my next trip!

Another earlier post (www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/my-san-francisco-top-ten/) summarises those parts of the city that captivate me most, so I will not bore you by repeating them here.

It’s not just the physical sights and sounds that appeal, but the literature (Armistead Maupin, Jack Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Dashiel Hammett, Jack London) and history (the Barbary Coast, the earthquake and Great Fire, the cultural movements of the fifties and sixties) that fascinate me too.  And has there been a better chronicler of a city anywhere than Herb Caen(www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/great-san-franciscan-characters-6-herb-caen/), renowned columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle?

Indeed, it was Caen who wrote half a century ago in one of his many ruminations on what made 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.

I like to think that I fit into Caen’s San Francisco “newcomer” category, though I’ll settle for being the “sophisticated tourist” who is “charmed and fascinated” by the city.

I have used the word “home” in a number of features on San Francisco, and that, I think, is the key here. That is not to say that it replaces the town in which I was born and raised – though, equally, it might – but rather that the city engenders those same feelings, not just of comfort and security but also of confidence and pride that allows me to engage with it on all levels. Venice and New York do not. Nor even does “dear, dirty Dublin”, despite my Irish ancestry.

Back where we started then.

And my wife and I have deliberately fostered this feeling in recent years where, by staying in apartments in different neighbourhoods – Hayes Valley and North of the Panhandle, and for our upcoming (ninth) visit, Noe Valley – we aim to “live like locals”, whilst continuing to take in the traditional tourist sights too (our stays are still too short to omit them, even if we wanted to). It is another of San Francisco’s virtues that we can do both.

How many of us can say that anywhere, at least beyond the place in which we live, that we can call it “home”?

Do you have any place that exercises that same grip on you?

I’ll end with Herb Caen again:

thank God or Allah or whoever it was that blessed this small, special, annoying, irresistible place at the tip of a peninsula and the end of the world.

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