Saturday, 12 August 2017

Golden Gates

We breakfasted this morning in a little diner called Sam's which is opposite our hotel. It wasn't quite as classy as yesterday's fodder up in the North Beach, but it filled our stomachs us up for a busy day of trudging around this majestic and very special city. 

It was incredibly murky this morning, so we jumped into an uber and demanded it take us to Golden Gate Park where Sam was particularly keen to visit the Japanese Tea Gardens. It was rather exciting to enter Golden Gate Park with mist shrouding the tops of all the trees. This is the park which became profoundly synonymous with the Summer of Love, which, I realised today, was exactly 50 years ago. It carries an almost mythical significance.

The Tea Gardens are utterly magical. They are so beautifully kept, and are built around waterways which are filled with giant coy carp and made accessible by a series of little paths and stepping stones. Your ears can't escape the soothing sound of trickling water. There's an almost vertical wooden bridge over one little section. To scale it is a test of nerve and endurance. It's almost like climbing a ladder. Pagodas and ornately carved gates watch over the garden whilst stretching up into the mist.

Sam is something of a Japanophile, so it was a treat to be with him, explaining the thinking behind a zen garden and encouraging us to try mochi for the first time, which is a Japanese sweet not dissimilar to Turkish Delight but made from ground down rice. For the record, the best flavour was strawberry. 

From the tea garden, we went to the wonderful AIDS Memorial, which has to be one of the most special places in the city. Rock and stone-lined winding walkways lead people through a verdant gully to a giant spiral of names of San Franciscans who have been effected by or killed by the disease. Many of the men were listed as couples, which I found somewhat heartbreaking.

As we stood and stared at the names, a family arrived. They were Latino. There was a mother and a father, two teenaged children and a pair of grandparents. They carefully laid two roses on two names in the circle and then wandered off, as a family, to walk, in contemplation around the rest of the memorial. I think it was that which set Sam off. But the experience felt incredibly powerful in general. AIDS affected all gay men, really. Even my generation were forced to endure Thatcher's brutal Section 28 because gay men were considered to be so dangerous. I could spit blood when I see the pathetic and illogical fringe feminist lesbian agenda which attempts to remove the G from LGBT because we're just too successful these days. We're successful because we fought tooth and nail for our rights to be recognised as human beings and we will not let that be forgotten. As you walk out of the memorial, you're left with one phrase, carved into stone blocks in the floor: "Walker within this circle pause. Although they all died of one cause remember how their lives were dense with fine compacted difference." Thom Gunn, 1986.

The next part of our journey took us down towards Ocean Beach through a somewhat dull part of town where there were no busses, no trams and no coffee shops. In the end we called an Uber just to escape.

Question: What's the main difference between American and English people? Answer: Americans think 100 years is a long time whilst Brits think 100 miles is a long way!

We reached Ocean Beach at about mid day. It's the part of San Francisco which sits on the Pacific Ocean, and, because our adventure revolves around traveling coast to coast in this huge county, paddling in that distant, alluring ocean felt important, despite it being freezing cold! Packs of pelicans kept passing overhead. They're such peculiar-looking birds: prehistoric like pterodactyls!

Surfers surfed in the misty waves as we walked up to the Cliff House, which looks down at an area of Beach where a huge Victorian swimming pool once stood. We learned today that it burned down in the 1960s. We dissed the Cliff House itself as an over-priced foodery, and chose instead to eat at Louis', slightly further along the cliff, which prides itself on well-made, reasonably-priced food. It's one of those 1960s, slightly grotty-looking diners with booths and friendly waiters and views across the sea to die for.

The uber driver who took us to the Golden Gate Bridge had lived in San Francisco all of his life. He'd been in a commune in Haight Ashbury during the Summer of Love and explained that all the self-respecting hippies had moved out when they turned Haight Street one way so that bus loads of tourists could come in and gawp at the hullabaloo.

Golden Gate Bridge looked extraordinary when we arrived. The tops of its famous uprights were shrouded in fog but a feint sun was making the whole thing glow like the dying embers of a fire. It's how I always wanted to see the bridge, but every time I've visited in the past, it's been overcast and a little disappointing. I tried, for the third time, to make it across, and, for the third time, failed miserably. I get on that bridge and immediately think a huge blast of wind is going to take everything I'm holding over the edge and into the deep, turbulent waters below. Sam and Matt were a great deal more successful and had a wonderful time taking photographs from the middle of the bridge, where, in Sam's words, it's "much scarier." I can't imagine anything I'm less likely to do!

Another fascinating Uber driver took us from the bridge back to the Castro and explained, as we passed it, that the Italianate Palace of Fine Arts was once made of papier-mâché as part of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. The flim-flam structure proved so popular that locals demanded it be rebuilt in stone. It's therefore really nothing but an eccentric and highly decadent folly.

The cab took us through the Presidio, a vast area of the city which used to belong to the military. These days it's the site of scores of stunningly beautiful eucalyptus trees imported from Australia. The trees are controversial. They've spread out of control and are considered a invasive alien species. They're apparently also rather quick to fall down, and have caused a number of deaths.

Castro was bathed in beautiful late afternoon light. Sam, Matt and I went to a post office to buy stamps for postcards. There's a really cool set of internal postage stamps which have just been released which celebrate the eclipse in two weeks' time. If you hold you finger over the stamp, the sun depicted turns from a sun in eclipse to a sun shining normally.

Nathan was running a "meet and greet" at a local knitting shop, and I went along to find a little cluster of male knitters, all of whom follow his podcast, sitting in a circle knitting everything from socks to cowls. A lone girl knitter was working on her first ever double knitting pattern - inspired, of course, by Nathan.
We ate our tea in the Castro again, in the same restaurant as last night. At one stage, three elderly gay vicars came in, two of whom were holding hands. It was a curiously moving sight.

As we walked home, we stumbled upon a group of people desperately trying to keep a faulty public loo door open whilst some poor woman inside was trying to pee! Only in San Francisco.

No comments:

Post a Comment