25 January 2018

Frisco

Continuing the account of our California family holiday in 2005...
The Golden Gate Bridge seen from Alcatraz
We descended the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains, leaving the majestic sequoias behind us. Soon we passed through Fresno to meet The Golden State Highway and then continued heading northwards along The Central Valley.

Increasingly, the landscape seemed colourless, tending towards desert and not green and colourful like the California dreaming of my youth. Where were the orange orange groves and the red tractors ploughing rich, black earth? We passed Merced and Modesto - flat, low-rise working towns and then onwards towards Highway 580 which curves westwards through humped and sunburnt hills  towards San Francisco.

The Bay Bridge took us from Oakland, across San Francisco Bay. There was Alcatraz Island to the right and beyond it in the misty distance the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I was wishing that Frances's road trip CD had included that Scott McKenzie song..
All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion
With minimal navigational difficulty we made it to The Travelodge on Lombard Street. It was dusk by now with street lights blinking on and so we set off to find an evening meal in our bohemian neighbourhood. How cool to be in San Francisco at last! The hilly geography reminded us of Sheffield. Further up Lombard Street we strolled to the summit of that famous snake-like section that careers downhill like a slalom course at a ski resort. I intended to drive our black jeep down there before we left!

The next morning we headed for Fisherman's Wharf where blubbery seals were basking and we  soon found the pier from which ferries leave for Alcatraz. It was a diamond day and soon we were disembarking at the famous prison island.
On Alcatraz Island. Can you see the word "Free"?
Audio headsets enriched our tour. We saw where so many bad men were once incarcerated. It was good to observe that the place has not been gentrified or turned into some kind of Disneyland attraction. There's a palpable sense of decay and  emptiness at Alcatraz and if you closed your eyes you could almost hear the echoing of prisoners' footsteps and the shouted commands of the prison guards.

The next day we crossed the famous Golden Gate to visit Tiburon and later I took my family on a selfish pilgrimage to the famous Haight-Ashbury district which was once the very core of the so-called hippy movement of the late sixties. What is a hippy anyway? Did people who were labelled "hippies" ever describe themselves in that way? I doubt it. They were just people seeing the world in a different, kinder way. They said "Make Love Not War" and "Bring Our Brothers Home" and some of them tie-dyed their T-shirts or smoked pot.
My family at Haight-Ashbury
I loved San Francisco. It felt so "right" to me. In another life I could have easily been a San Franciscan. I had plenty of conversations with local folk and we saw terrapins in Golden Gate Park, dodged roller skaters, rode on a tramcar, visited The Mission and walked around Russian Hill and saw the Camera Obscura at Cliff House and watched Pacific waves crashing on Ocean Beach:
I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
I have visited many cities in my life - from New York  to Johannesburg and from Bangkok to Marrakech - but of all those foreign cities only San Francisco felt like it might have been home. Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was "my kind of town" but to me it would be San Francisco every time. Oh, and I did drive our trusty jeep down the west end of Lombard Street...Wheeeeeeee!
The Camera Obscura at Cliff House

31 comments:

  1. I had an uncle who lived in San Francisco his entire adult life. When I visited him in his retirement years in 1966 I was driving us around the city and he directed me to the Haight-Ashbury district, which he said used to be a nice neighborhood of elderly people but he'd heard it had been taken over by young folk. When we encountered the crowded sidewalks full of hippies and I slowed to take a look he shouted at me "Don't stop!" in a terror stricken way. I was amused, he was most definitely not. His city wasn't the same as it was through his working days.

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    1. Wow! That's a great story Mr C. I didn't realise that Haight-Ashbury was becoming a hub for so-called hippies as early as 1966.

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  2. san fran was a city I wanted to love but didnt

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    1. Yes...and I am not quite sure why

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  3. I think most were proud to call his or her own self a "Hippy", and/or being referred to as one.

    There are still some around who do. Many who have retained a similar frame of mind from those days that now seem so long ago; and yet, in another way, seem not so long ago.

    It was a time of awakening, whether one was of the "hippy" frame of mind or not.

    I loved, and still do love, Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco".

    And, like Tony Bennett...I, too, if I'd visited San Francisco, may easily have left my heart there.

    I love this post. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. I went to several big pop festivals in the late sixties/early seventies and I never met one person who would refer to himself/herself as a "hippy" but when others used that term we didn't mind too much. Thanks for calling by again and leaving another well-considered comment Lee.

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    2. Sorry to be persnickety, but the singular form of "hippies" is "hippie".

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    3. In The Oxford Dictionary both forms of the word are included. Besides, hippies weren't too pernickety* about spelling.

      *= English spelling (Oxford)

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  4. You cover lots of space and time. Hippies were a very long time ago. I think you get a better trip when you travel on your own rather than on a tour. Would you ever have had the excitement of Lombard St if you'd been on a tour?

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    1. I am a naturally independent guy Red, not a sheep. It was fulfilling to tailor that entire holiday myself. It was our own story - nobody else's.

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  5. Interesting observations and photos, and yes I did find the word FREE - is there a story to go with that?

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    1. Well-spotted Jenny! It is a tiny piece of evidence of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz - November 1969 to June 1971 - long after the prison facilty had been shut down.

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  6. This was a very good morning coffee read for me, thank you!
    The only time I have ever been (so far) to the US was in Florida, far, far away from San Francisco. But most of my American friends have said that San Franciso is, for them, the most beautiful city of the US.

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    1. It wasn't just the physical attractiveness I liked - it was the homely low-rise ambience and the sense of tolerance. In San Francisco it seemed easier to be who you wanted to be and to say what you wanted to say. I base this not only on our four day visit but on reading too. Have a nice day at work Meike!

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  7. Did you visit Tommys Joynt?
    They have a website if you want to look. We had a very large plate of steak and potatoes and a very large glass of merlot each for a very small price. The atmosphere was amazing.

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    1. I am sorry we missed that place Christina. It sounds so typically San Franciscan - quirky and independent.

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  8. I visited Alcatraz back in 1979; that place really gave me the creeps.

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    1. It is surprising that they didn't lock you up Sue... I am not sure what for but you must have done something wrong.

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  9. I loved San Francisco when we went there in 1989: the hills, the trams,those elegant houses, China Town. Those seals were basking in Fisherman's Wharf when we were there too (though obviously not the same ones!) We didn't go across to Alcatraz, but now I'm wishing we had. You've stirred some great memories.

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    1. Happy to have stirred those happy memories ADDY. Have you thought about your next trip?

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  10. Sorry if I'm not commenting in correspondent to today's post but I'm catching up and I wanted to say how happy to read that the Sunday Brunch went off very well. Well done to Ian and Henry.
    I'm looking at Bosh videos on YouTube and I'm loving them!
    Your drawing is wonderful and I think it is lovely as it is, in black and white. I wonder if colouring it can distract the onlooker from the characters' facial expressions that you managed so well to bring out on each person?
    I also loved San Francisco.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. Thank you for this encouraging comment Maria. Regarding the picture, it was always my intention to add colours to the scarves at least and I think I am returning to this original plan but Donna (Peace Thyme) made the interesting suggestion of using different shades of payne's grey for the clothing.

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  11. I went to San Fran YEARS ago -- 1991, I think. I loved it too, and had a great time seeing Haight-Ashbury and visiting Cliff House and Lombard Street. I didn't go to Alcatraz, though, and I never saw the big Central Valley. I did see Big Sur and the coastal road down toward Los Angeles, which was spectacular -- did you do that drive? (I've never heard San Fran likened to Sheffield -- that's an interesting comparison! Obviously I need to get to Sheffield! Are there cable cars? :) )

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    1. I am sure that Sheffield is the hilliest city in Britain but sadly no cable cars as the city is not "down south" where all the funding goes. And yes we did drive down the Big Sur coast road after stopping in Salinas to see The Steinbeck Museum.

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  12. You were very lucky to have SUN in SF. Otherwise, that famous mist can chill you to the bone on a Summer day.

    As a teenager I lived in Reno with my father, and I used to tell him that I was spending the weekend with a girl friend and then she and I would hitch hike across the Sierra Nevadas to The City. I am now amazed that we didn't get killed, and only got propositioned once. Mostly, we only met wonderful people on the road: a Buddhist who showed me how to meditate, a Hell's Angel who was so nice that I think now he must have only been Hell's Angel-adjacent (although he hooked us up with outstanding Purple Haze that we took at a Led Zeppelin concert in Kezar Stadium); a famous football player who was driving a huge Jaguar; some Air Force guys who kept telling us that we should NOT be hitch hiking because of all the dangerous men out there and drove us from Sacramento to San Rafael because they wanted to be sure we got to our destination safely. Those were the days: it was 1972 when I got to the Haight, and the scene had long passed away.

    I think it's interesting that you felt so much at home in SF. Just asking: isn't it OK to "be who you want to be and say what you want to say" anywhere? Even in Yorkshire?

    I like Peace Thyme's suggestion of using shades of Payne's gray for your picture. Because I am an inept colorist, I make a photocopy of my original art and test-drive my color schemes on the Xeroxs before I commit them to the real thing.

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    1. You are right we can be ourselves anywhere but some places feel more comfortable to be in than others.

      As for hitch-hiking - I hitch-hicked hundreds of miles in the seventies and I feel it is a crying shame that hardly any hitch-hiking happens now. They were great adventures. You never knew who would pick you up.

      Thank you for your colouring test idea Vivian. I have seen your excellent art work and I think I will follow your example with a couple of similar experiments.

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  13. Did you remember to wear flowers in your hair while you were there? :)

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    1. Of course Jennifer - and my rainbow-coloured kaftan too.

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  14. I was then and am now what some people call "hippy." And proud of it. More than anything, it is a state of mind. Having a cranky heart from childhood, I knew better than to use drugs. Maybe that is why my performances were not as good as others were.

    In 2015, just after selling our home there and before leaving California for good, our family sailed on the San Francisco Bay (do you sail on or in the Bay, teacher?) for the last time and watched as whales breached right near our boat. It was such an odd thing to happen that the fact that it did happen made national news! It was a fitting farewell to California.

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    1. I think you can sail both "in" and "on" a bay but you are in trouble if you sail "under" a bay - unless you are in a submarine! What a wonderful way to say goodbye to your Californian life. Even the whales knew you were leaving.

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