Sunday 5 July 2009

Thoughts From A Broad - Part Deux

It seems that whenever I go to San Francisco I leave something behind. Last time, it was underwear all over the luggage carousel, this time, it was my coat. And maybe I did also leave a little bit of my heart - it's a beautiful, slightly eccentric place that serves great food - how can you not love it?

Last time the disaster occured just as I arrived and was waiting for my luggage. As the suitcases went round, I was horrified to see that the stitiching had come away from around the edge of my suitcase and there was this gaping cavern with a pair of knickers sticking out of it. Yes indeed, the hole had developed in one of those little nooks and crannies of the suitcase where I had stuffed my underwear. This was a moment when I wished that I'd gone for the silk and lace g-strings rather than the comfy cotton Big Knickers which could comfortably house a family of hibernating bears. I feverishly scanned the carousel but luckily there were no offending items lurking ready to embarrass me.

I wondered idly whether my frillies were now gracing the tarmac at Glasgow, Amsterdam and San Francisco airports and hoped that this wouldn't cause an international incident when the pilot of a Boeing 747, 30,000 feet up, looked down and spotted an unconventional enormous pink landing field. I toyed briefly (for maybe, ooooh, half a nano-second) with the idea of going to lost luggage to see whether they had found any underwear, but the idea of them holding up a pair of knickers the size of Liechtenstein (which is not really that small a country) made me break out in a cold sweat.

"Please could you describe your underwear ma'am."

"Yes, well, it's ...ummmm....delicate flimsy and petite."

"Sorry ma'am we only have THESE, which look as though they were made for an overweight elephant."

"Oh, goodness me, no, they're definitely not mine."

This time I left my jacket in the shuttle bus on the way back to the airport. But I digress. Here are the edited highlights of our visit to San Francisco.

Our hotel was lovely. Unlike our compact, smart, bijou New York hotel, The Mayflower was bohemian, spacious and scruffy. We had a walk in wardrobe with a huge ungainly chest of drawers out of the 1950s, and big old-fashioned sash windows.

Everyone kept telling us that we had arrived during unusually glorious weather, and it was really hot and sunny, so we decided to be really touristy and do the open-topped bus thing, which turned out to be a great way to see the area. First of all was a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. On the way, a stop at this magnificent building - the Palace of Fine Arts.

While Fisherman's Wharf is horrendously touristy and a bit tacky in places, the sea lions at Pier 39 were one of the highlights of the trip and we spent ages just watching their antics. From a distance they look like big brown sacks. From close up they look like big brown sacks too, until they move.

Then it was over to Alcatraz. As part of the trip you get a fascinating audio tour which takes an hour or so, telling all sorts of interesting stories about the former residents and their lives there. I was struck with how weird it must have been to have been a child of one of the guards and to have spent your childhood on this little island which is both magical and forbidding.
Also, how close it is to the city, and how tempting it must have been when you could see the big city so close and yet so far. Apparently, it was the only prison in the federal system at the time to have hot showers. "How forward thinking and kind." I thought. But was just so that the prisoners didn't become acclimatised to cold water and try to swim across to freedom.

Our bus trips also took us through Chinatown, North Beach, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury. Our tour guide told us that there was a house they passed on this tour that always had a naked guy in the window. I got my camera at the ready. Sadly, he appeared to be taking the day off.
We also walked a lot, from Nob Hill to the Tenderloin (via the Tender Nob?), all around Union Square and Market Street, up those bloody great hills, and through Haight Ashbury. On Haight, I went into a shop to buy some jewellery and Ewan waited outside. He decided to sit down on the pavement as he was hot and tired and this guy came up to him "Hey buddy, you OK? Want some food?" "Do I look like a jakey*?" he said to me, half horrified, half proud, when I emerged from the shop. "Well, now you come to mention it..." We also went to Amoeba Records and spent about 5 hours in blissful browsing. I bought a Clash CD I thought I didn't have (but, of course, got it home to find out that I already have it), something by the wonderful Flaming Stars (not to be confused with the Flaming Lips and who are a great band to check out if you are a fan of noir - with tracks such as Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Face on the Bar Room Floor, New Hope For The Dead, and You Don't Always Want What You Get), Apples In Stereo and The Hives.

One of the most...interesting parts of San Francisco is the Tenderloin. With its smoke shops, dive bars and...massage parlours ("With hot showers"!) and the gauntlet of sometimes quite aggressive homeless people, drug dealers, people peeing in bus shelters, people begging and people with serious mental health problems (I didn't think that the sight and sound of someone blowing a kiss at you could be quite so creepy), it can be a bit daunting. But it's also one of the most fun areas with great bars, restaurants and music venues. From the top notch Bourbon and Branch cocktail bar (of which more later) to the wonderfully grungy Hemlock Tavern with its friendly staff and great music ( plus the ladies restroom that only has a curtain to preserve your modesty and graffiti that is well worth the price of admission).

On the topic of people begging, we saw this guy outside Macys one day. He was standing like this for about 3 hours and I felt really bad for him. The next day, I felt better. As we walked through Union Square, the same guy, dressed in the same outfit, with the same stick and begging cup, bounded off the back of a van, waved cheerily to the driver and sauntered towards Macys. As he got closer his steps became slower, his back more hunched, his face more pained until, as he reached his favourite spot, he was hobbling painfully into position. Cheeky beggar.

The day we were leaving was the Gay Pride festival so there were all sorts of preparations going on for it, including some people with placards protesting against it "God Hates Dykes on Bikes" - we couldn't work out whether God's aversion was to lesbians or two wheeled forms of transport. One of the nutters with the placards called out to a pretty girl walking past eating an ice cream "You're lickin' that ice cream all sexy, like you want the boys to notice you. They're all watchin' you lickin' on that ice cream and wantin' you to lick on them." Errrrr, actually mate, I think that says more about you than the girl.

We ate and drank. A lot. Amongst many great meals we had lunch at John's Grill with the lovely Simon Wood and his even lovelier wife Julie. We ate Brazilian Italian at Mangarosa in North Beach with the charming David Corbett (may I recommend the Brazilian cheesebread and David's books - both of which are tasty, hot and melt in the mouth). And I had one of the best steaks I've ever had at The Daily Grill, in the splendid company of two of my favourite people - Eddie 'Czar of Noir' Muller and his wife Kathleen. I've been a big fan of Eddie's since I read his first book THE DISTANCE which is one of my top 5 books of all times and should be much better known than it is.

Eddie and Kath also accompanied us to Bourbon and Branch which is an old speakeasy. You have to give a password before they let you in, and then you're seated in a quiet booth and given an enormous cocktail menu. Well, I just had to try a few. "But don't worry," I said to my companions, "I won't be mixing my drinks - I'll stick to tequila." So I started off gently with the Ambajador - kaffir lime infused tequila, passionfruit nectar, fresh lime and simple syrup. Next was the O'Farrell Street Fizz. Oh. My. God. Bourbon, blackberry liqueur, Allspice dram (a type of rum), lemonjuice, eggwhite (well, they say you should always have something to eat while you're drinking) and soda. Then the Claremont Affair - pear infused rye whisky, Amaro Nonino (which is a type of grappa), simple syrup, grenadine and egg white. Finally, the Clover Club. It had gin in it. Frankly, I have no idea what else.

We finally staggered home through the Tenderloin at 2.30 am. Strangely enough, it didn't seem quite so scary. I would definitely recommend Bourbon and Branch. One word of warning though - I felt a bit ropey the next morning - I think it was all those egg whites - I must have a dairy allergy or something.

For our last evening Eddie and Kath invited us over. David Corbett and the delightful Cara Black were also there and we had great chat and loads of laughs. Eddie made us cocktails in the Tiki lounge (including one he'd invented especially), we had a barbecue that included the most delicious corn on the cob oever, and listened to the Pogues.

A perfect end to a perfect holiday.

*Scots for tramp/bum/homeless person


  1. Donna, I think you need to create a new writing genre Noir-Travel-Humor! It's always nice to see what you are up to.

  2. Ah, the Claremont Affair. A personal favorite. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

  3. Pammy! Thanks for dropping my - lovely to see you.And thank you :o)

    Vince - it was wonderful. I looked for the Rye Maple Fizz but didn't see it. Quite frankly, after the first 3 cocktails, I couldn't see ANYTHING.

  4. Groan ... that's a terrible pun (just the sort I like :-) Glad that tonsillitis hasn't stopped you writing!

  5. LOL - thanks Tim. And the tonsils are all pink and healthy again rather than red and raw - yippee!