Monday, 9 March 2015

Memories: San Francisco

Of any place I've visited, San Francisco is a town which really defies singular identification despite being not only a city of the United States, but also a city in California.

And yet I would never have gone there if it hadn't been for a friend's suggestion.

The United States and California especially, being so over popularised in Western culture my interest in it has been slowly desensitised. A bit like how seeing the Tour Eiffel in real life was more of a "oh, it's a metallic structure, with all these important scientific and engineering names on it. Cool. But slower than that.

So when a friend of mine suggested we spent a week in San Franciso before going down to San Diego for the biggest geek, nerd, comic, media and more, convention in the world (being San Diego International Comic Con), I largely agreed because I wanted to travel with a good friend. Only to find I enjoyed the city's quirky spirit.

A spirit which takes memory to the next level in terms of how the city immortalises the past.

It doesn't.

Okay, not quite. The city is rife with evidence of antiques and former residents. But the key is in how it makes a lot less fanfare about said antiquities. While in London you regularly see buildings with the date of construction stamped front and centre on the main roof peak and tidy circular blue plaques will proclaim so and so soap-maker and philanthropist lived "here." Which is not to say San Franciso doesn't have those. I happily came across the house where the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived for a time, according to a plaque.

Except the city is so alternative and artistic that the old parts are more like the constructions of modern art like that which I saw in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art.

At heart, modern art is not about the looks but about the ideas. The inferences. The memories. The people.

It is what twenty different people can see from a shopping cart overflowing with purposefully placed garbage or one of those stereotypical tropical huts decorated in bank notes from all over the world.

In the roller-coaster hills framed with colourful buildings which lean into the streets and stare at you with rectangular windows, down to docks dotted with battered ships and tugboats, old warehouses of antique circus games and curios, to an entirely authentic Japanese garden, not many streets off the way of obvious drug shops an Victorian taxidermy place where I purchased a pair of jewel beetle-wing earrings. This is San Francisco's skin.

It's heart sits in the people. Ranging from the traditional hippie with flowing clothes and locks, to the typical leather-bound rocker, goth or biker. Down to the Spanish vibe which permeates all of California in general but comes off with more of a flamingo feel then the back-alley grunge of poor, illegal immigrant Mexicans. Back to flying on the cars which are either antique or sleekly new. Nothing in between.

It's in the cracked brownie smile of the six foot five cafe owner where you and your friend drop your bags for a cool drink and shade after getting more than a bit lost and exhausted, in city streets that don't know the definition of flat.
It's in standing on the highest point, gazing out to the famous bridge, the prison of Alcatraz and then discovering a spy shop.
Permanently stuck in the modernist ideals of the early 20th century. When the world was just off the back of a world war, but still bright, new and getting deep in the pyschology and psyche of humanity.

The art of memory.

From one world to the next. One genre to another.

Most cities have this quality. We live in a globalised world after all. But San Francisco makes it feel like you've walked on to the set of an art exhibit. Everything has a place. Even if it is just a pile of garbage giving a frame to graffiti.

Onwards and upwards my friends. Adventure awaits. Let your imagination run the streets.

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