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A little bit of Haight-Ashbury, the Castro and Mission - The Lyorn's Den

Sun Nov. 12th, 2006

10:42 pm - A little bit of Haight-Ashbury, the Castro and Mission

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Another Sunday of books and sightseeing. When I was here first, San Francisco seemed gigantic to me, but in fact it's not much bigger than Frankfurt (Main) with regards to population, and only half as large (but much more hilly!) space-wise. Which is strange, because San Francisco has these wide streets every 100 or 200 metres, most of which seem to be lined by small houses. Be that how it may, it means that, if you want to go exploring and are not in a hurry, (and have good shoes,) you can cover a lot of ground walking.

Just like the previous weekend, I took the BART train and then the MUNI streetcar to a place near the south-east corner of the Golden Gate Park, but this time I walked straight north until I got to Haight street. As you know, Bob, Haight-Ashbury (= the neighborhood around the crossroads of Haight Street and Ashbury Street) was the place you were headed if it was the late 60s and you wore some flowers in your hair. Those years made the neighborhood's reputation, and even today you find a lot of shops with "imported-from-Nepal" clothes and jewelry, esoterica, record shops, book stores, places to buy pipes and bongs ("only for tobacco" as the labels inform you) stickers, post cards and posters for the coffee house revolutionary (yes, I bought some. Why do you ask?), and nice cafes, as well as a tattoo studio on every block.

A "please do not take pictures inside"-sign on the door of a used-books shop should have prepared me for the sight that greeted me inside: ceiling-high bookshelves (and that was a high ceiling) stuffed with books on anything and everything. Getting a book out was like playing "Towers of Hanoi", with a strictly controlled shuffling of stacks and heaps of books. I found three books from F___'s wish list, and a few from mine, and became very dizzy from alternately crouching on the floor to read the titles in the lowest shelves, to climbing on stools or small ladders and stretching to reach for the highest ones. So I gathered my booty and headed for the next cafe (with the traditional name of "People's Cafe", IIRC) where they had coffee in tall glasses, great sandwiches, and a wall covered in clocks, one for every state of the US, it seemed. Some of the clocks had red hands and ran backwards, other had blue ones and ran forwards. I wondered if there had been a great clock-changing in the cafe after the recent election, but did not know enough details about the election results to find out.

I had planned to walk south on Ashbury, to look at some of the famous houses, but couldn't motivate myself to walk up the steep hill, and there were lots of cute, strange and colourful houses everywhere. It turned out that my starting point had been strategically clever, because nearly all of the route I had chosen was downhill and offered a great view of the city and the bay, and the mountains beyond. I walked east on Haight Street until it met Divisadero (a street name that stuck in my memory because that's where Louis had given his interview to the young reporter), checked out a comic book store and a game store and found again that the comic shop at home is hard to beat. They had all the trade paperbacks of Strangers in Paradise, but I had forgotten again which of those I already own and which I had borrowed from Tiassa.

Houses on Haight Street:
Houses on Haight Street More houses Still more houses

More Haight Street:
Haight Street, looking east. An electric bus.

Next on my route was the Castro, to get a few images (and possibly reality checks) for Burning Bright and A Winter's Tale. They way Nikki keeps me travelling for research (we already went to Venice and Ravenna because of him), I suspect two things: 1. I take those stories way to serious, and 2. Istanbul is next. (Or maybe New York?)

The Castro, as true to its reputation as Haight Street, is full of Rainbow flags. I mentally tried to find a place for Nikki's shop, but the wide streets made it difficult. I also had trouble imagining the riot in A Winter's Tale actually filling a street that wide, but that's because I lack mental images of riots. I read in the local Newspaper that this year's Halloween party in the Castro ended with a shooting that left several people injured, when the police tried to enforce a "party's over, go home now" curfew around 11pm.

Some Castro Rainbows:
Castro Street and some Rainbow flags Stairs

The cinema:
The cinema in Castro Street

But there are news about shootings in the local newspaper ever other day. (And now I'm glad that my mother is extremely unlikely to read this.) For other things you better not write home about (but some people do), see here (in German).

I took a couple of photographs which you might get to see some day, [ETA: You do now.] and walked down 18th street to Dolores street. The large, white building with the bell tower and the impressive façade across the street from Mission Dolores park is not the church, but a High School. The church is one block to the north, and does not have anything in common with the one where Nikki meets the cultists in Burning Bright. (Wiki has a picture. I have one, too, but it's not good.) That didn't bother me too much, though: Changing things the size of city blocks is easily done in an AU.

The School:
The white building with the bell tower ... ... and the impressive facade

Mission and basilica
Mission and basilica front -- the not good picture


One of the buildings is a single-room dim church with white walls and a wood ceiling painted in Indian patterns. The side entrance of the main church has a small statue of a black St Francis with a dog, a cat and a rat, which is kitschy in a cute way. The outside of the main church looks somewhat Mexican in style (says she whose knowledge of Mexico comes from the "Desperado" trilogy, but bear with me). The inside is as catholic as is to be expected, but what came as a total surprise to me were the golden, blue and purple mosaics, which made me go all, "oh, shiny!"

I had planned to look around, buy some postcards and then walk to Mission Street and try out my few words of Spanish (reading, not speaking! What do you think!?), but that afternoon, a concert with a flute and harp duo took place -- in fact, it was about to start fifteen minutes after I had arrived. So, again glad for having as much time as I have and not needing to keep to any schedule, I sat down and listened to the concert.

When I got out, it was dark and I walked straight to the nearest BART station and took the train back.


BTW, here is a spectacular picture of San Francisco. The bridge to the right is the Bay Bridge. In the high resolution version you can clearly see the Golden Gate Bridge in the centre of the picture.

ETA: Now with images! Thanks, Marc!