As mentioned in my last post, I just recently moved to San Francisco. That has occupied a lot of my curiosity and (limited) creative thinking, so it might be something worth writing about. There are several disjointed lines of thought coursing through my head, which I’m hoping to split up into three slightly less disjointed pieces. The other two I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to write about yet, so I’m going to begin with this.
Two years ago in a Melbourne hostel someone told me that Melbourne was a city in which once should either spend one week or six months. There were sights, but not that many. Yet to understand the place required living in it: surveying the coffee shops, appreciating the efficient transit, enjoying the culture that has built up to make life exciting and absent of envy in the Australian city with perhaps the worst weather.
This explanation makes me cognizant of how superficial a limited experience in a place can be, how as a traveller or tourist we undertake an entirely different set of experiences, and tackle them differently, than we would as a resident. The theory does not apply solely to Melbourne. Perhaps every city has a short timeframe in which one can understand a place widely, but superficially, and a longer timeframe necessary to understand it with some depth. The gap could be shorter in other cities. In this way I am too new to have anything grand or conclusive to say about San Francisco. So with this space I want to share my visual vantage point, to explain in photographs how I am coming to view the city.
Murals and other art in the Mission
My vantage point has to begin with the Mission, the geographic and social centre of my experience thus far. This is where I live, the focal point from which I visit the rest of the city and region. Most, but not all, of the pictures here come from within or near it.
Here are several of the interesting vehicles I have spotted. I never before realized how much vehicle selection can be a part of a city’s culture. Here it matches so tightly with the colourful nature of the Mission. It’s hard to imagine such a colourful palate surviving the vicious weather that Toronto occasionally receives. Yet even if it did, these cars wouldn’t fit in there. In all of these photos they look beautiful in the sun, against a blue sky and in the presence of green trees. They’re on small mixed-use streets with slow traffic, not on highways or in cookie-cutter suburbs. There is something free and lively about this pleasant weather, inspiring free and lively vehicles.
The cars aren’t alone in being free and lively. People express themselves in ways that show little self-doubt or hesitation.
In San Francisco one quickly learns the art of evading hills. There are many of them, some as small as only a city block in each direction. When one encounters a sharp incline, the trick is to shimmy. Travel a block sideways (especially since we rarely need to go exactly in the direction of one street) and then see if you’ve outlasted the hill. The bike riders of the city have mastered the art of the wiggle. An overhead map of San Francisco, without altitude measurements, is at most a loose guide of how to get anywhere.
Walking is a very me way to experience a city. I like to walk through it, to feel the ground beneath me and to take it all in at eye level. I’ll go for a walk in a loop around some natural starting point (like my apartment). Each time I’ll push that loop out further, covering new ground. I’m making spirals with my steps.
As much as I dodged small hills, I sought out the big ones. Going from A to B, I saw a hill with a rock peak and went up it. Althought it’s called Corona Heights, but I climbed all the way to the top and didn’t find any beer. I must have taken exactly the hardest way up, for the other side was a smooth descent and probaby levelled off at a higher elevation. At the top I sat on the rocks and took in the view. I wouldn’t say I’m an ambitious man, but when I looked to the side and saw my view dominated by a taller peak, I knew I must eventually take that one on too.
Getting to the top of Twin Peaks wasn’t easy (remind me, I need to finally watch the show!). I (mostly) followed a fantastic route. In my deviation from this plan, I walked straight up, and then straight down, another hill. I thought I was gaining altitude on a slow incline to Twin Peaks, when really I was massively slowed by an entirely different hill!
From the flat valley in which the Mission sits one is overshadowed by the steep green face of Bernal Heights. My favourite views of it are walking down Shotwell or across Folsom. Let me tell you, jogging up to it (let alone up it) will get you sweating!
San Francisco is known for its tiny houses on steep inclines. I’ve avoided such photos because of how ubiquitous they are, and for how insufficiently they capture the hilly experience. However I’m very intrigued by how urban design has to change to accomodate the hills.
As an aside, I have not been to many hilly cities, but the one that fascinated me the most in this way was Hong Kong. In most cities you can understand the sidewalk network as a two-dimensional pattern. Yet in big parts of Hong Kong it simply isn’t legible without a third dimension. That’s a city where the walkways and roads have layers, like Donkey Kong.
There’s not much connecting these last few views, except that they all intrigued me.
It should be obvious by now, but I love the Mission. As much as photos of it dominate this set, there is a conspicuous absence of photos of other famous parts of the city. The Mission hasn’t lost any allure for me so far, and I hope it never does. It’s beautiful, sunny, densely packed with food and drink, and bordered by gorgeous parks. I had never been here in my first two visits to San Francisco, yet now not only is it my favourite part of the city, but it’s the centre of how I experience it.
There is so much that happened in my first month here, from my new job, to the two apartments I’ve stayed in, to the friends I’ve met or met up with, to the restaurants and bars that I have explored (the great burrito tour of 2016! I stopped counting when I hit double digits). The topics I’ve been thinking about, or the aspects of life that are new to me, are a little much for grouping all together here. I hope this has left a visual clue to how I’m taking it in.