A Day in San Fran

by MT

A city is a place to display work, as if you slice open your body from the throat to abdomen and turn every organ inside out, exposing them, their connection with veins and arteries, and the cells that moves across, unlike the suburb, where everything is enclosed inside big boxes and everybody feeling content in their small little bubbles—this I thought, sitting on the terrace-seat that surrounds the Montgomery station, jotting down these words on my mind as a blank paper. Yes, a blank paper, as I waved goodbye to the “holy and brown” East coast and came to California where everything is clean and white, or sort of. San Francisco –where greed and capitals gather, pigeons and seagulls flying above and cars, buses, trolleys, trains, and people flowing through, across, and underneath the streets—is indeed my utopia of different kind. What am I looking for? Parks, plazas, squares, or every inches of ground trodden by Larry. I finished my Gyu-don shortly and set out toward the financial district, or, rather soon, I am already in when I passed by the Bank of America building at Kearny and California St, whose rugged façade always intrigued me, and then the goofy Hilton fortress with Chinese Cultural Committee at the bottom and a Chinoiserie urban park across it. Approaching Columbus, I decided to seek William Stout the architectural bookstore, only to find that it was the City Lights bookstore that I was heading toward. I called my friends for the location of William Stout, but soon realized it was exactly same thing I’d done two years ago when I first visit, so I hanged up, took pictures of City Lights—I did not go inside. The legendary City Lights, where Ginsberg’s Howling was censored and the owner was arrested, is too neat for a bookstore, and charged with its own story too much. Up the second floor window paste hand-written poster-size signs saying “Impeach Bush,” “Where is the Rage?” etc. Based on my vague memory I search along the triangular block of Pacific and Columbus St., only to find myself returning to where I began. I gave up, back to Columbus heading North-east, then I spotted East Wind, another bookstore—only this time, a Chinese bookstore. I went inside. What a descent Chinese bookstore, its literary section in particular will shame many of those in Taiwan. Scurrying among the stacks, I found Book of Ritual (Chou Li), of antique thread-binding and folded rice paper, the three-volume complete essays of Su Shih, an anthology of solid interpretive essays on Book of Ritual, and a compilation of Ming and Qing dynasty miscellanies (zaji). Even there I could smell the excitement of the Olympic, with all those new books about Beijing and the implicit or explicit portentousness. Not surprisingly, too, I have to sift through vast amount of words to find real insights in contemporary works. I take the essays on Book of Ritual and the Ming Qing Miscellany. The owner is chatting with Cantonese, so I speak English instead. Going back to Columbus, passing through the ubiquitous outdoor café seating on the sidewalk, what do you know, a church of San Francis of Assisi, the patron god of the city. Too close I was to take pictures, I read through the signs and posters at the door—read Fresco inside, authentic Renaissance painting, something like that. Then come the Washington Square, or course. Who would know? A Tommy Church curving paths contrived by Larry, carried out by Douglas Baily, in bituminous!! The people, if you look beyond objects, it is as if the people on Larry’s drawings come alive, siting, running, chasing and kicking soccer in front of a grove and a statue of—I didn’t even bother to check—Washington, perhaps. A fleet of F-18 Wasp Fighter Planes has been showing off their skills and still controls the vision on the ground. They roared on the sky of the Bay Street while I headed toward the Russian Hill. A block away, I began to take photos of the site contexts dexterously: the boundaries, the panoramic view, the buildings. So steep the site is, that it was divided into four parts: a remnant of an old estate drive way (I guess), a steep slope, a reservoir like rectangular concrete tank, and then another steep slope, up above the hill are the row houses and high-rise apartments. Climbing up the steep sidewalk, I see pairs and groups of tourists taking photos against the bay, I turned back, and suddenly confronted by the panoramic bay view—the hill itself is a bay window! The next second after I took my panoramic collage set, I realized this is perhaps the only place you can see the Golden Gate Bridge to the left and Alcatraz to the right, indeed one-of-the-kind postcard destination in the world, yet the “park” so desolated and denounced. I searched eagerly for possible relics of Larry’s design that might had been built 50 years ago, only to find vines and secondary plants and, near the houses, traces of fenced backyard gardens. So upscale is the high-rise apartment of 1080 Chestnut Street, that’s probably its address, that I took it for a hotel and, trying in vain, to talk to the guard to let me take a look at the backyard. At the western end of Chestnut, where the hill drop dramatically and form a cul-de-sac slope garden surrounded by stairs on two sides and a path at the bottom, where you can overlook on the cliff to the dropped street below, I am reminded a photo of a cascading Montmatre stair. Two blocks away I bumped into another memorial park of some early 20th century romantic poet. I climbed up the stairs, with impatience, and escaped by the sight of its ordinariness. I headed toward Van Ness, down toward the municipality palace erected by the civic minded (now I finally realize why the city transportation is called MUNI), this time riding on the bus. From afar I glimpsed the rugged-façade Bank of America building and cannot believe I had crossed such area of the city. The streets and parks and prospects really “moved” me, propelled my movements in the city, and here the movement is on the bus. Off the Civic Center stop, skirting around this vast wasteland of the civilized center, I aimed for the United Nation Plaza. Stranded by the oblique intersection of Grove, Market, and Hyde street, I bumped into another Church-like zig-zagging configuration with a small plaza near the BART station, the ubiquitous California school. I turned left at Hyde on Market, and there the herringbone brick pavement and tree-lined mall and an outdoor market reveal its corner and a deja vou of Charlottesville downtown came to me while I turned around and aligned myself with the imaginary axis of the civic compound. On this shortened brick-paved mall inserted several granite with inscriptions of quotes of “united” sentiments—quotes about united nations in the united states. As I progressed along the mall, the market is wrapping up and the vendors putting off their jewels, ear rings, clothes, the glittering evening sun shone on everything while the fountain glistened. Yes, the fountain—beloved by Larry and the pigeons and seagulls and people. But this one in particular, forgotten by the press and scholars, still shines with quotes of FDR and John Muir inscribed on piles of granites, as the later reads: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” And so are the BART and MUNI systems, so I thought as I was already late for the party at the Lundberg on the third street, as well as the party of the world, perhaps, but who could ever claim to be always on the schedule? With that demurring thought and torturing process of exchanging coins, I descend, ascend, and descend again into the dungeon of BART and MUNI. On the wall of the tunnel, the vertical granite strata, this made-up, mock-up eons of geological deep time, swallows me, waiting for another agony of life as ever.

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