Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pilgrimage: Left Our Heart In San Francisco

Yesterday, we dared a trip to our beloved San Francisco. Actually, it was more of a pilgrimage, since the my wife's miraculous recovery from chronic pain. As she lay in bed in agony these past years, she spoke often of taking a trip to the coast, or just to walk the streets of her beloved San Francisco, Chinatown, once again.

It begins with breakfast on the Embarcadero at one of our favorite haunts, "Red's Java Joe's", directly beneath the Bay Bridge. The view is stunning. We eat outside on their deck. The bridge, especially the span West of Treasure Island is so underrated, fogged (literally) by its dazzling brother, the Golden Gate Bridge.

A blimp hovers overhead. After, we drive the length of the Embarcadero, with its incredible cosmopolitan mix of tourists and colorful locals. Sightseers, cyclists, joggers, skateboarders, farmer's markets, and street people. Lines of tourists, dragging baggage, line up at piers to board Monsters of The Seas, off to who-know-where, Mexican Riviera or Alaskan cruises.

Past Pier 39, street musicians and performers galore, buses, trolleys, street cars, past the smells of sea food wafting from Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, the impossible contrast of the old and new buildings, Coit Tower, its head vanishing into the fog.

All the while, I click photos from my camera like a mad tourista! Odd, I have never done this before in the many years I have visited "Pantico", as my son Fernando used to call it, trying to pronounce "Francisco."

Am I getting old? Do I sense this may be the last time I get to see all this?

Continuing, we follow the train of cars snaking their way down the world famous Lombard Street, something I never tire of. All I can think of is "Do people really live here? I mean how can they dangle their lives on this impossible street with this impossible view? Do they work for a living? Do they ever get bored?

From there we drive along Columbus St. with its barrio of Little Italy Restaurants, some only a few feet wide, sidewalk cafes, past the infamous North Beach, it's stripjoints, and Vesuvio's Cafe, home of Jack Kerouac!

We park beneath Washington Park, brimming with Chinese old timers, Asian Comadres, shooting the breeze on benches, bundles of card players, seriously obsessed, men in groups, women apart, and huddled crowds of onlookers chirping in Chinese, as the games looms on.

I watch the joy on my wife's face, scouring it for a grimace of pain, a frown, a sigh, but she only smiles and repeats, "I feel good, me siento bien." I break from the group to shoot these impossible composititons of facades, people, signage and storefronts. Click, click, click. Oh, the insane concoction of shapes and color.

Old St. Mary's Church, a dinosaur shrouded by towering white skyscrapers in a modern mode. We gawk at the trashy tourist trinkets, the incredible treasures of art, bronze and wood carvings worthy of temples, priced from $1.95 to $95,000. for a pair of hand carved ivory tusks, on sale yet.
Languages of the world encircle us. We speak in Spanish, just to fit in.

From there, time fleeting, we head for Golden Gate Park, to a favorite spot, the lawns in front of the exquisite Conservatory of Flowers, to nibble of fresh fruit, beer and wine, and sandwiches of San Francisco style bread and cheese, in the midst of tall pink and lavender, Larkspur, and artistic flowerbeds, of yellow, white, purple, white and red flowers.

The euphoric moment is acutely interrupted by the visage of a shadowy man, dark, heavy, mechanically pushing a shopping cart, stuffed black garbage bags tied to the sides and front, hair matted, bearded, dirty faced, wearing a heavy soiled nylon jack and filthy jogging pants, looking like he has just surfaced from the depths of the ocean. The almost sweet Rhine wine I sip on turns tart.

He makes his way to the nearby dumpter, opens it, dives headfirst, halfways in, deftly sifting the glass bottles from the aluminum cans. He is working today. As he drifts into the distance, I feel guilty. I feel useless. I feel almost ashamed. He pauses to toss something into a bed of flowers.

I sense it is a gift of bread crumbs for the insects and birds.

It's getting late. We reluctantly pack and head for the pickup and load up for the trip back to the hot valley. As we pull out of the park I tell my son "Turn right. Let's take a trip down Haight Street. "This was the hippie capital back in the middle of the 1960's", I tell Stephanie who probably has no idea what a Hippy is! Yup , the streets still brim with street bums, left-overs, 2009 wannabes.

"Dad, where's Pacific Street?" My son asks. "It's a few blocks that way", I point left as we continue down Haight St. "Wanna take a drive before we leave?" "Yeah, let's go". We turn left on Pacific Street. And there we are in Pacific Heights, and there they are, the army of Victorian homes, huddled one against the other, competing for attention, these Ginger Bread masterpieces, ornate and and painted in brilliant almost gawdy combinations, highlighted in gold leaf.

We reach the top of the hill and turn right onto Broadway St. and slowly descend, and there, there perched atop a magificent cliff, are magificent homes, with a magnificent views, one with a tennis court in the backyard. Far below them are the roofs of houses and apartments extending to the bay, and in the distance shrouded in fog is Alcatraz Island, and far beyond that the shores of the East Bay, UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Hills. I could easily wake to this each day.

Who are these people who live here? I would die to know someone who knew someone who lived in one of these, and who invites me to dinner! How is it possible to have acquired these homes? Fate? Destiny? Luck? The great Mandela? How is it one man winds up diving into trash bins in Golden Gate Park and others wind up living here?

As we descend into the hot valley, it is about 10 PM. and we are exhausted but renewed. My wife thanks us all and we know in our hearts that today was special, a gift, and we are grateful.


#167 Dad said...

A blog like yours makes a guy want to go to San Fransisco...

Rick Rivers said...

We locals tend to take its beauty for granted. It's breath (sigh) taking.