Saturday, 6 September 2014

Alcatras

We met Brother Nathan, Sascha and our old friend, Daniel, in a hotel on Union Square this morning. It was such an unbelievably happy coincidence that we'd all decided to be in San Francisco at the same time and it was utterly surreal to be walking around the city with them.

First stop was the Apple Store. I decided to "go Mac" for my 40th birthday. Windows has become completely unusable since they inflicted Windows 8 on the world, and I'd decided some time ago that I would buy my lovely new computer in the US. It turns out that this decision saved me somewhere in the region of £150, which is quite extraordinary.

Computer purchased, we took ourselves back to North Beach via China Town. I'm told 40% of city residents are of Chinese descent, which is a figure I find quite extraordinary, particularly when you consider that only 20% of the population is gay. Somehow this city seems to scream its gayness more loudly than its Chinese-ness. China town is enormous, however, and occupies block after block of the city.

It's a fascinating place which seems to be full of shops which sell grotesque and enormous ornaments made of glass. All sorts of buskers sit on the pavements outside shops playing Chinese instruments which resemble tiny one-stringed 'cellos which are bowed from underneath the string. Most of the musicians were utterly rubbish. One appeared to be staggering his way through Auld Lang Syne which was utterly surreal.

We had tea and cake sitting in Washington Park before walking up to Pier 33, where we boarded a boat for Alcatras.

Ah Alcatras! What an extraordinarily atmospheric place you are. Nathan and I did the audio tour, which takes you through the network of ghostly cells and the bizarre and chilling stories associated with them. There were tales of escape, food riots, solitary confinement and disappearance. I was moved to hear about the inmate's music hour in the evening when people were allowed to play musical instruments, and to hear the story of New Year's Eve when prisoners could hear the sound of partying in the yacht club across the bay in San Francisco. For many, it was the only women's voices they ever got to hear...

From Alcatras, the Golden Gate Bridge looks particularly majestic, all silhouetted against the misty sun. It's a shame we weren't there this evening as we've just seen on the news that a massive traffic jam occurred on the bridge when two deer decided to cross it. There's some wonderful footage of the two creatures trotting across looking completely unconcerned. I wish I could say that I'd been as relaxed crossing it!

Back at Fisherman's Wharf, we were treated to one of San Francisco's famous eccentrics; a cool older black dude on a mobility vehicle, who sailed past us, disco music blaring out of a boom box, dancing and singing like an absolute lunatic.

There are a lot of drugs casualties in this city, and a huge number of homeless people, many of whom sleep like dead men on the sidewalks and walk about with shopping trollies filled with their lives. We saw a bloke yesterday whose trolley was proudly flying an American flag, which seemed a little strange. Your life falls apart, and yet you're still proud to be American!

We had drinks in Castro and tea in a Middle Eastern restaurant in the uber-cool Mission District, which, I'm told, is where all the wealthy people who work in computers are now living. On our way to the restaurant I solved an enigma which has plagued me since arriving here...

Fourteen years ago, when I came to this city with Fiona, I remember spending a few hours sitting in a beautiful park, on a grassy lawn with a steep sloping gradient. Until I returned here I'd always thought the park was Beuna Vista, but instantly discovered that this wasn't the case when we visited that particular park on Wednesday. From then on every park we visited in the city disappointed me because it wasn't the one I remembered.

Until today... It turns out the park I'd sat in exactly fourteen years ago was Delores Park, known locally as Delores Beach on account of the fact that when it is hot, hundreds of people go there to sun themselves. Despite the fact that it was almost dark when we arrived there, the whole place felt very San Fran. There was an overwhelming smell of dope, people were strumming guitars and a number of girls were playing with Hoola Hoops.

After tea we came back to the hotel to watch a bit of television, marvelling at how ghastly American news is! It's so profoundly biased. On one occasion an interviewer was talking to an Ebola survivor about his belief in God, without irony, and with a clear sense that he didn't think the man was a nutter for suggesting it was God and not medical science who cured him of the disease. Later on there was a news story about how Starbucks were opening special "express" branches with limited menus. In England, this news story would be called an advert!

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