Friday, March 02, 2007

San Franciso, in an Unpredictable Fashion

Committing Random Acts of Tourism
When I came to San Francisco I saw: a street in the water, a street in the air, a street that went in several directions at once, an eight-way spaghetti junction, a bus that thought it was a tram, a tram that thought it was a bus, and people carrying a tram instead of the other way around.

Clearly, this was a very confused city.

Maybe the whole place was still on drugs from the 1960s era when hippies came all over to Haight-Ashbury and did whatever hippies do while on Haight-Ashbury. Nowadays, though, there seem to be more yuppies than hippies on the street, and more tourists than both.

City Lights
On a hill, on the six-way intersection between Grant Street, Columbus Avenue and Broadway (there's a point when you're in the middle of all that that the street names lose all meaning and just become blocks of concrete and asphalt) is the City Lights bookstore. A large three-storey bookstore, it was set up by poet Laurence Ferlinghetti: it's where the Beat writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg congregated in the late 1950s and 1960s. There's a big photograph on the wall of all the Beat poets sprawled about on the pavement. Right in the middle is one sensible-looking woman. You've got to wonder what the hell she was doing with that lot.

Or maybe you don't.

If you go down into the basement of the bookstore, you will notice bookshelfs devoted to 'Stolen Continents' and 'Socialism' and 'Green Politics' and 'Anarchism' (there's nothing, on the other hand, about conservatism, liberterianism, or right-wing politics in general). In the loft of the City Lights bookstore is a huge poetry room, with a sign inviting browsers to sit down and read a book. It has poetry going back as far as ancient Greek times, as well as books by its own publishing label. (Ferlinghetti, as well as being a poet and a hippy, was one of the original entrepreneurs - one wonders if he was the original hippy-turned-yuppie.)

Random Street Names
You can tell a lot about a city from its streets. At least, for the purposes of a blog post, you can...

The Embarcadero
Divisadero Street
Haight Street
Noriega Street
Columbus Avenue
Masonic Street
Castro Street
Vallejo Way
Valencia Street
Union Street
Washington Avenue
Pier 1 and a half
Golden Gate Bridge
Lombard Street

Train Stations I Have Known, Number Three
Okay, it wasn't a train station, and it wasn't really a tram station, either. It's the cable-car stop-off point on the corner of Powell and Market Streets.

Purchase a one-way ticket on this cable-car, and as it travels up and down the rolling hills of San Francisco, you will become acquainted with various points on the compass between the vertical and the horizontal. Your body will sway back and forth like a metronome wand while behind you, the cable-car driver will be working like a madman on the switches and pulleys and levers.

It isn't the most efficient method of travel. When I bought a ticket, it definitely wasn't the quickest way to get where I was going.

Sometimes, you have to just do these things for the hell of it.

Random Conversations with San Francisco Strangers
"Are you Irish?"

"Are you Irish?"

"Are you Irish?"

"Are you Irish?"

"You're not from here, are you? Are you Irish?"

"Are you Irish?"

"I don't have an accent!"

"I guess I have an accent. I don't think about it."

"San Franciscans don't have an accent!"

"Accent? Me?"

"Are you Irish?"

Just when you thought there couldn't be any more trees in the world...
On Monday and Tuesday, Mark showed me around the countryside. Just when you thought there couldn't be any more trees in the world, woah! There you go, the countryside! Of course, you can't swap dirty jokes or have a conversation, political or otherwise with a tree... which is where Mark came in. We drove about a bit, gossiped about blogging and politics, and ended up that night at Mark's place in Cotadi.

California in the winter is unbelievably lush, and every few kilometres you come across another small community with a museum and a town-park and a statue of some guy who shot a bear or started a revolution or something. It's a fascinating state, although, as Mark explained, the modern history really only goes back one hundred and fifty years.

Though He Was An Ordinary Sized Man, His Personality Was Too Big For One Taxi
Returning from a poetry gig on Haight Street, I had one of my stand-out taxi experiences:

"You are Irish? No? You come from Australia? Yes! You see, my second guess right! Australia is a big country far across the sea. I tell you this: my geography teacher tell me this before me.
Australia has a principle industry of sheep and wheat. But inside, there is much desert. Australia has five state and two territories! There are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra. Canberra is the capital city of Australia!
And across the sea is Tasmania Island. And do you know the name of the capital of Tasmania Island? Hobart City! There are many types of kangaroo on Tasmania Island - yes, many types of kangaroo, very small kangaroo and very big kangaroo. And I tell you the name of another Tasmanian creature. Do you know name of this creature? I tell you: the Devil! The Devil eat lots of meat and he have big teeth!
The interior of Australia has much desert and not many people. It also has a big rock that is famous, all over the world! I tell you now the name of this rock: yes, I tell you! It is Ayers Rock! Okai, my Australian friend! I tell you okai, for it is word you Australians use! I wish you safe journey! I wish to see your wife and many children!"

Yeah, I wish to see them, too. He seems to know more about me then me does.

Oh, yeah, and by the way...
San Francisco rocks! California rocks! I love you guys!

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