John Walker's Electronic House

San Fran

by on Apr.11, 2008, under The Rest

Arriving into San Francisco’s beautiful sunny afternoon was an excellent shock to the brain. First of all, it should have been the evening, but it was apparently before 2pm. Secondly, I left an England covered in frost, and I think some snow, and then by the afternoon it was a glorious summer. Splendid.

San Francisco is a peculiarity. It doesn’t fit in California at all, and yet would be completely inappropriate up near Seattle, or over on the East coast. It bears the effects of having the sun shine on it so much of the year, but without this having boiled the place’s brains.

The architecture is the most immediately odd thing. Leaving the airport on the train, and winding north toward the city itself, the houses pour down the hillsides, beginning with luxury mansions, and ending in what look like shanty-towns, if only it weren’t for the property prices. The buildings are strikingly unlike typical suburban America, their flat, open roofs looking like they should more likely appear in a Middle Eastern town. But a Middle Eastern town coloured in by a My Little Pony-enthused eight-year-old with a box of pastel crayons.

It’s hard to tell how much San Francisco is caught up in its own legend of being a cultural capital – how much is calculatedly commercial reinvention of previously poor areas, and how much is the result of opium-addled writers planting themselves and being fruitful. But here you feel like any of the considerable numbers of homeless people lining the streets could break into beat poetry at any moment. Starbucks look like dirty stains in streets filled with independent obscurities, and every street announces an exhibition of some nature is waiting for you.

And there are trams.

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