Sunny California. The Beach Boys playing on the plane over promising summer. Sun-bleached, geometrical, mock-Victorian buildings. A pock-nosed cab driver taking me from the airport to the Savoy Hotel, past municipal planting made up of luxuriant, exotic plants I'd kill to grow in my cold, damp garden. Packs of homeless people wandering around the Tenderloin near my hotel: some in wheelchairs, some staggering drunk across the road, some pushing shopping trollies seeming to contain only plastic bags. Hills so steep they made my shins ache.
No tea in the hotel room, but a personal percolator. Fan in the ceiling. Quotation from a Belinda Carlisle song on the covine and a child's surfer suit framed on the wall. On the TV, alternating adverts: junk food, health product, junk food, health product... Embedded food: you can't just buy a cheese roll, you have to get a roll with a pancake inside it, with cheese in the pancake. Wierd toothpaste flavours like cinammon, citrus, vanilla.
On Sunday, went to Fisherman's Wharf, where you embark for Alcatraz. It is a shit hole, a bit like Margate in Kent, but with more begging. Exhibition of antique amusement machines on the pier: metal horse, bizarre monkeys, terrifying father and mutant children. Alcatraz poised on the edge of utter deriliction, populated by sea birds and Agaves, crouching among the fallen stones and inscrutable machines. A gruelling, matter-of-fact narrative about the games prisoners played in "The Hole" (solitary confinement with no light): throwing a button into the dark, then trying to find it, over and over; or pressing eyes shut so tight it created hallucinations of light. On the way back, hunted down a couple of locations they used in the film "Vertigo" and took some photos.
Next day, through Pacific Heights, Alta Plaza Park (where they filmed parts of "What's Up Doc?"), Union Street, down to the Marina, then onto the Golden Gate. Walked along the bridge a bit, but felt strangely unaffected. More interesting was the withered beauty of the nature reserve, including wild Echeveria and Echium in massive drifts. Caught the bus to the Golden Gate Park, then through to Haight-Ashbury. Full of mock hippies and poseurs. Extremely seedy; I walked through quickly. Less like the centre of the hippy movement and more like Camden. Returned to my hotel via the gauntlet of Market Street, dodging people lunging from doorways, thrusting plastic cups at me.
Tuesday and Wednesday were taken up with the Open Source Business Conference. Tuesday night, Sun provided a very nice buffet of food from around the city, and I sat and ate mine with a nice fellow called Randall Stewart Baird, a resident of California. I informed Randall that London isn't really that foggy, and he told me that San Francisco is foggy in summer. I thus demonstrated to him that British people really are obsessed with talking about the weather, so that cliché is true at least.
On the last day, I didn't walk too far, and went to a fantastic cult/pulp bookshop called Kayo. Tried to go to the Museum of Modern Art as well, but it didn't open until 11:45 and I had a plane to catch at 14:00.
So overall: A beautiful city, with some great things to see. Alcatraz is a good day out. I can't comment on the food, as I was very conservative in what I ate (mainly pizza). It could perhaps be said that I squandered my opportunity to sample the rich tapestry of Californian cuisine. The conference was interesting, though I was a bit disappointed with some of the talks; but there were a few gems.