San Francisco sigh
Ding. ‘Next stop, Chinatown. Little Italy, Union Square’. The Mason-Powell line. ‘Everybody gets off on the trolley’. The rattle and rumble. ‘Hold on, now! Left turn!’ Mai Wen Beauty Parlour. Hilton Hotel. Macy’s, Barneys, Walgreens and Nordstrom. Super Bargain Basement. Uniqlo. Down coats, silk slippers, parasols, and fans. Sweaters and deodorants in racks and rows. Easels on Washington Square. Artisanal jewellery, millinery, confiserie, patisserie. ‘We all have hard times sometimes’. Hand-written menus pasted onto walls. Turnip, chrysanthemum, a deconstructed cauliflower. ‘Need prosthesis’. Won ton, tacos, chowder and gelato. Crabs stacked on stalls on Fisherman’s Wharf. Cars sliding by in the dark. Del Monte, Ghiradelli shucked for shopping. Sea lions loll on the pier. A Monterey memory: warm bodies, distilled fish, and the gag in my throat. ‘There’s more than one way to smell’, Nina tells me. Breathing in trees on a Muir Woods morning. ‘No seafood left here,’ says the guide. Airport to downtown at 3am, shuffling streets peppered with people. Kelp forests. Muttering aloud in the middle of the road. Udon, sourdough, nopales; slippery and bitter. Man with leg stumps on show. The cable-car queue looks elsewhere. Hoppy Hops, Sauvignon, Anchor Steam Beer. A fifteen dollar glass of wine. A two million dollar houseboat. Chinese chefs stirring stoofvlees, Mexicans making pizza. The police cars roll up and down. ‘What controls the speed? I do!’. The driver grasps the lever. The sole woman conductor as strong as any man. Gripping and grinning; the judder through the body. Golden Gate glimpsed in the hollows of streets. An owl hoots. Hoot and howl. City Lights Bookstore: ‘take a book, sit and read’. A homeless ex-marine dreams of Oxbridge. Zoopolis. Metropolis. Hobopolis. Scratch that: insulting and nostalgic at the same time. Or reclaim it: riding the rails with Riding the Rails; Josée Yvon’s lesbian hobos in mind. The chill sea mist and the regular commuters. I’m the only one who pays. Beautiful Wheat Field Bakery. ‘I won’t lie, it’s for beer’. San Francisco, I love-hate you. I walk past, I don’t see. I’m ashamed of myself, yet I’m falling for you: shadows of Victorian bays tracking my skin; cedar leaves puncturing pavements and veins. Maupin, Solnit, Giscombe and Halebsky. Hejinian signs her name. Seven dollar fare in my pocket. ‘No coins’.
Ceri Morgan is a Senior Lecturer at Keele University, UK, where she teaches classes on the Canadian urban novel, spatial theory and place-writing.