Friday, May 18, 2007

Nothing Better 

The real San Francisco looks just like the San Francisco in your head. Though it was our first visit, everything looked and felt familiar: the look of the streets and houses - and my goodness, they're beautiful - and the sunny, relaxed vibe. It was quite literally like that amazing Sony advert for rubber balls, only without the rubber balls.

We breakfasted at Mara's Pastry Place, stuffing ourselves to near death on pastries the size of baby elephants, then hit the streets at a slow waddle.
We spent a happy day strolling and gawping, me stopping every few seconds to photograph just about everything: houses, streets disappearing gorgeously into hilly infinities , Chinese people practising t'ai chi in Washington Square Park, and so on. Marilyn Monroe and Joltin' Joe DiMaggio had their marriage blessed outside that church in the background, but we missed it.

When colourful eccentric and volunteer firefighter Loopy Lillie Coit (1842-1929) died, Coit Tower was built to commemorate her 'special relationship' with the men of the fire service. The tower - designed to mimic that most essential part of a fireman's equipment - rises high atop Telegraph Hill, and we puffed and panted our way up there to take a look.
There are pleasingly folksy murals inside the base of the tower, and for a small fee a jolly Chinese lady will take you up an escalator to the top where on a clear day such as this, the views of the city are spectacular.
I passed a happy half hour coveting peoples' roof gardens with my zoom lens.

Meandering down Filbert Steps, in a pretty garden overlooking the bay, Girlfriend achieved nothing short of a lifetime ambition - we saw a hummingbird. Then another. They're astonishing little critters and we spent a long while pointing at them and saying excitedly "Look! Hummingbirds!" After that, we were both in need of a stiff bookshop, so we headed off to City Lights.
On the way, I picked up a thumb piano, or a kalimba as the girl in the shop insisted I call it. This makes me absurdly happy even still.
And in City Lights I bought copies of Howl ("I have seen the worst bands of my generation," etc.) and Kitchen Confidential, an important tome as it inspired Old Thingy to write Call Centre Confidential, which in turn inspired me to write what you're reading now.

We had a couple of beers in Vesuvio's - Dylan Tomas used to get pissed there watching highlights of Premier League Soccer on cable - then walked over to Lombard Street.
A short and famously bendy stretch on Russian Hill promotes itself as the crookedest street in the United States, not to say the stupidest too, and we spent a while watching cars descend very slowly indeed. Drivers would hop out of their vehicles to photograph their terrified passengers, then hop back in a few turns later. It looked like daft fun, but good fun nonetheless.

In the evening we caught a bus to Union Square and then another to the 'legendary' Fillmore rock venue, to see speccy indie superstar hero Ben Gibbard perform a solo gig. Support was provided by Johnathan Rice who we also love, and some other bloke.
To make an excellent show even excellenter, All-American Sweetheart Jenny Lewis, drop dead gorgeous in tight black dress, mmmmm, popped up for a couple of numbers. How much better do dream line-ups get? We were stood at the front, and I promise you she was - for the umpteenth time now - making prolonged eye contact with me and flirting something rotten. A truly trouser tightening moment.

We caught the bus back to Union Square, clutching our souvenir posters and chatting with a couple of sweet kids from Ohio who'd come over especially, then couldn't be bothered waiting for a bus back to North Beach, so walked instead. It was maybe a couple of miles! Well after midnight!! In the dark!!! But not scary!!!!
Columbus was waiting up for us. People everywhere, restaurants still busy. One old guy strummed an electric guitar on a street corner. A homeless guy beneath our window, loud and unaccompanied but quite tuneful, sang Stevie Wonder songs well into the small hours.

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