Views of the USA (4)

 San Francisco, California

A flight from Savannah to Houston, then on to San Francisco for just two days. What can one write of any interest about San Francisco, based on a visit of two days?
A family member born here would be far more qualified to highlight the changes that have taken place over the years, but this wasn't my first, brief visit.

Fisherman's Wharf is no longer as I recall it. Then, over thirty years ago, it still appeared to have the aspect of a 'fisherman's wharf', at least it was more a wharf where one could find good, unpretentious little restaurants, than what appears to be a tourist-trap corner of a mini Los Vegas, which it seems to have since become. But there's no doubt that one can still eat well here, on the terrace, watching the pigeons and seagulls, and finish the meal with an excellent cappuccino.

San Francisco will always have its own climate, its own special charm and magic, even if one has the impression that China Town has overflowed immoderately into many parts of the city.

Even if you arrive very late, and need to get whatever for the following day's breakfast, you'll find a store open. You might be served by someone as deaf as yourself, who willingly grinds down good Italian coffee for you, so that you'll enjoy real expresso to start off the following day.
Thus it seems that San Francisco never sleeps. As restless as the active faults on which this unique city was nonchalantly built.
I once read somewhere that even after an earthquake, property prices never fall in San Francisco. Even risks have their price, a sort of carefree, status value.

Yet there are parts of San Francisco, around Union Square, for example, where one sees impressive highrise buildings that seem out of place in comparison to the typical San Franciscan private residences.
I also learnt recently that after New York City, San Francisco is the most densely populated major city in the USA.

In spite of limited time, we did board a tram- indeed briefly- because the controller, a man of few words heaving his lever, told us curtly to 'move down'. Naively I wanted to pay our fares, and no doubt didn't get the message. Does one pay a fare on trams here, or do these controllers heave their levers all day long just to give tourists free joy-rides? I never found out because his curt-'move down' mutated almost immediately to a curt- 'get off', which of course we did, to everyone's amusement.

After Savannah, the much cooler temperature of San Francisco comes as a relief. It's strange how one only needs to drive east from San Francisco for perhaps even less than an hour, to find oneself in a totally different climate. It's as though in the space of such a short time, one has moved to another country. Naturally the insular climate is also characteristic of San Francisco, and part of its intrinsic charm.

So there will always be the mists over Alcatraz, or half shrouding the Golden Gate Bridge and even the Coit Tower. It will always be a favourite cosmopolitan city, with its Lombard Street and Larkin Street that invariably bring to mind Steve McQueen's legendary Bullitt, and not only for old nostalgics.
Text and photographs © Mirino (PW) July 2013

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