San Francisco, California, the second stop on my US travels of Summer 2013
San Francisco, California, has a much more complete world-view than my previous stop, Los Angeles. The feeling here is that San Francisco, leaning out into the Pacific, would rather find itself in Europe than the West Coast of the USA. The excellent Chinese food and surprising availability of decent tea marks this as an international city.
Where LA’s culture is reduced to its dominant industry, SF is alive with a variety of museums, ranging in subject from Japanese to Jewish culture. The latter was what I explored on a blustery, autumnal day (I am told every day is so in San Francisco). The Contemporary Jewish Museum was, as many of its kind are, quiet and bleak. It was not a weekend day, so its lack of business was excusable, but entering the white silence of the building was uncomfortable. If this was the purpose of the architect, it was crushingly effective, especially for someone visiting alone. The exhibitions themselves were interesting, with the Allen Ginsberg Beat Memories gallery revealing some poignant work, and the Beyond Belief pieces well-organised and emotionally captivating. However, I left both without buying post cards, which I see as the mark of an unsuccessful museum trip.
Despite the engaging photographs and wide range of spiritually inspired work, I think the use of space in the museum was designed in such a way that it was hard not to feel tense about any exhibition. This was the only building, apart from the distant Alcatraz, that made me feel this way in the city.
The rest of SF lived up to my considerable expectations. The architecture shows off its international origins, the tram (cable car) system was just as romantically dangerous as I had hoped (clinging to a railing and hoping not to crash into passing cars), and the city, renowned for its hippy culture, seems to indulge in art for the sake of fun.
Without the glorious weather that the rest of the state enjoys, the street art and places like Lombard Street (see below) shine instead. San Francisco has had a history of crime and difficulty, but having been scrubbed up by generations of hippies and hipsters, it is now not only safe but also alone in the happy atmosphere that may or may not have something to do with the city’s marijuana leniency.