The last bitter-sweet moments of San Francisco left us pining as our departure grew near. We fell in love with this city and met wonderful people in the process. As time grows shorter, each moment seems all the more precious and there is just too much to fit in.
Aunt Sue had given us passes to see a ballet dress rehearsal of three of the masterworks of Balanchine to the music of Tchaikovsky. We had been to the Opera house previously to see the Nutcracker with Sue and this was quite a contrast to the elaborate and showy Christmas production. A lot more focus was put on the dancing with stage and costume paired back to a minimum, allowing us to really see the intricate art of choreography and each dancer individually. Keeping with the dance theme, Dotahn discovered a free dance performance taking place at the town hall, just down the road from where we live. A prominent choreographer from San Francisco had been commissioned to do a series of performance works around the concept of love and matrimony for Valentines day. Although same sex marriage had once been legalised in California by astounding popular demand, the Mormon church poured a mass of funding into sending a huge group of protesters from all over the country to influence the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. After less than a year of passing their decision it was forced to be reversed. Although California as a whole still believe in the idea of same sex marriage, the power of the Mormon church showed its teeth.
Valentines day coincides with chinese new year of the tiger. So with hands held we mingle with the crowds swamping the streets of China town. Having our ear drums torn apart and our eyes full of smoke as the whole suburb erupts in fire crackers.
The next day we had another lovely visit to Grandma with stories of Dotahn’s mum’s childhood and Grandpa Frank. We loved to hear of their sailing exploits, family trips and Grandpa’s flying adventures. Afterwards we went to a Yoga class with Aunt Sue. An extremely relaxing and peaceful candlelit Yoga. Meditive and healing. After a couple more days of wandering Aunt Claudia took us out on a day of sightseeing to discover the areas of San Francisco which we had yet to venture to. We made our way to a gay and colourful suburb, the Castro, renowned the world over as a Mecca of gay culture. Colourful queens stood beckoning on street corners, spruiking the passers by to vote them to glory at the upcoming election of Empress of Castro. Many of the queens were enamoured by Emmily and her fashion sense.
From there we made our way to Haight St. made famous in the late sixties as the focus for the hippie movement. Long since faded into another shopping strip, Haight St still maintains some cool elements. We had dinner at Cha Cha Chas’s a decadently furnished Spanish bar and restaurant. With plates of delicious tapas and a giant bucket of Sangria we made merry into the evening.
Upon realising the time through a haze of wine and conversation we made our way to the civic centre to greet our long awaited friends Tom and Nina. Tired and bedraggled they stepped from the train after a small but uncomfortable flight from LA. The next day we awoke and headed straight to Stacks for a giant breakfast and a tour of our neighbourhood, before heading downtown to SFMOMA so Tom and Nina could see the wonders and we could wander about the city and photograph pigs.
After our fill of walking the streets we headed to Elbo Room for some happy hour pints. A great bar with booths, dark lighting and a nice range of pinball machines. Tom and Dotahn rediscovered their lack of talent when it comes to pinball and we went on to discover the wonders of a Mission burrito. The best of burritos come from the plethora of taqueria’s around the Mission district. Simple restaurants with long lines and sizzling deliciousness which is wrapped into huge parcels of Mexican awesome. To walk of the giant foodening we ventured south of Market to the expensive and uninspiring opening exhibition of the NoisePop festival. Our hasty departure was met with aimless wanderings and finally we came full circle to Cha Cha Cha’s reliable sangria haze.
The next day we toured our over-sized local art store before heading on down to the Mission. We showed off the Pirate store and discovered a hidden zine and comic shop. We had to punch in a code on the door and be buzzed through. We followed a hall leading to a small room with a man beckoning at the door. It was filled with unseen treasures and we gave in to our urges and bought a little, quirky, local comic whilst Tom and Nina patiently waited for us until we finally emerged.
Nina had an insider tip about a sandwich place called Ikes, so we walked over through the sunny hilltops and parks. As we reached our destination we realised that the place we were heading for was the same place which played host to a gigantic line stretching for half a block. As a line generally signifies a great place to eat we decided to risk it. We waited and waited and waited and waited, getting to the front of the line and placing our orders over an hour after our arrival. Luckily the sandwiches were awesome!!
That evening the festivities began with happy, happy, happy hour bar hopping around Divisadero. $1.75 Pints!!! Meeting weird individuals and having a thoroughly drunky time. David came by and picked us up and drove us to the spectacular Midnight Mass. Hosted by Peaches Christ the show began with a hilarious and sparklingly fantastic performance by Peaches and her troupe, including her tragic sidekick Martiny. Recreating the best tunes from the showcased movie Teen Witch, Peaches demonstrated why she is the most popular girl. The pre-show culminated in extremely reluctant audience members being given fabulous 80’s make-overs. The movie was hilarious and was enhanced by enthusiastic audience commentary.
After a late start the next morning the four of us ventured out once more to explore the streets and found ourselves in the always bustling Chinatown. ( The biggest one in the USA a bar napkin was to tell us) We got caught in a classic San Fran down pour and found refuge in a tiny dim sum eatery were we ate our fill of delicious and extremely cheap dumplings before braving the grey world outside once more. Taking a detour home, wondering through the Tenderloin and finding ourselves in an interesting and slightly scary neighbourhood, we settled in for the evening with home made mac and cheese, bottles of wine, celebrity heads and charades.
After a reluctant goodbye to our friends we spent some time trying to recover our livers. With many a soggy day and too much drunky, Emmily came down with a bad cold. The next day, although pouring with rain, was one of our few remaining days in San Francisco and so we braved the weather and made our way to a church downtown. With this year being the celebration of Chopin’s 200th birthday we were tipped off by aunt Sue that a recital was taking place. The church was very old and housed magnificent stained glass. The pianist was Eliane Lust and she was magnificent, playing a large selection of Chopin works. At times we were left wondering whether she had grown extra pairs of hands to accommodate the flurry of notes. After the uplifting recital we once again entered the downpour, making our way up the impossibly steep hill to Grace Cathedral. One of the most impressive cathedrals in San Francisco, Dotahn remembered this church from his childhood as it was the venue of Aunt Sue’s wedding.
Upon leaving the church and wandering in the rain countless figures huddled in makeshift structures and bundles. The homeless of America are so different to those of Australia. The consumerist trend rubbing off on even those who have no money to buy. Kathy once told us the story of trying to give a homeless man a blanket on a cold night in Melbourne. He refused the gift, explaining that by having nothing he was less likely to be harassed by the police as he was making no mess. In America the homeless generally have trolleys piled high with random refuse from the city. Particularly recycling which gives them a pittance of refund per bottle or can. You can’t help but notice that the streets have no rubbish which can be recycled. Trolleys and carts filled with dirty blankets, radios, rubbish and decorations. Treasures which can only be held in the eye of their possessor. Makeshift, but elaborate structures are built, like spiders they are constructed at night only to be pulled apart by day. Their is a lot of pride in individuality even in the various techniques for begging. Trends seem to spread, even amongst the homeless. A simple stick fashioned into a fishing rod, with a cup on the end and a sign saying ‘gone fishin’. A popular one is signs saying ‘Why lie, I just need a beer’ or ‘what the f*%k, it’s just a buck’. The attitudes of a lot of the homeless is that of over-polite shame. Once while waiting for a bus, a man standing near by apologised repeatedly, saying that he was actually waiting for a bus and not loitering. He obviously felt he was in our way, or was making us uncomfortable. We hadn’t even noticed until he spoke. We were even apologised to by a bum walking past us on the street, even though he was far from close. This is a common attitude and probably comes from the way the homeless are treated, driven from place to place constantly, there are signs everywhere saying ‘no loitering’. An ominous reflection of the US mental health care system, a huge number of homeless people are mentally ill. It is rare for the streets to not be echoing with a muttering, a yelling or a barrage of figures talking to themselves or ranting to the footpath.
Emmily’s cold was coming alone nicely by this point, but there be rest for the adventurer. Aunt Claudia wanted to show us more of San Frans showy side and decided to take us to Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest running show in the world. A parody of current american politics and popular culture, the shows shifts to accommodate the times but follows the central and original theme of an annoying snow white finding true love. Flashy costumes, altered pop ballads and most importantly, GIANT mechanical hats. Afterwards we meet with the leading ladies and joined them for coffee and cake.
In the last days of San Francisco we wanted to do something fun with the boys of Linden, unfortunately Emm’s head was stuffed with gross. However our temporary housemate Vince was performing at a gig called Something and this was the perfect opportunity for celebrating. We decided this was a show we couldn’t miss. We went to dinner with David before the show at a little French restaurant on Haight St. A delicious experience with our first attempt at escargo. After dinner we strolled down to the Stud bar where the show was being held. The Stud was dark with chinese new year decor and DIY cupcake decoration in the front bar. The stage was up the back with a cardboard forest set, the room was littered with colored lamps, dark red velvet curtains and brass. The bar was pretty busy by the time we arrived. David introduced us to the owner and other colorful characters, so with our free drinks we wondered around before the show amazed at the fantastic outfits, soo many boas and tiaras. Emm felt very under dressed. The male toilets were open to the bar with a simple long urinal and a strip of mirror strategically positioned at groin height along the length of it.
How to express the awesomeness that was the Something show. It consisted of around 8 performances, each unique in their story telling. The music was was some of our favorites including Fever Ray, Bjork, Antony and the Johnson’s, a Cure cover and more. The costumes where gorgeous with fantastic makeup. Each performance had an interesting and strange edge, not just a costumed lip-sync. Light covered umbrella geisha dancing, little red riding hood complete with wolves and dress bongos, projections, transsexual mammals, hand puppets and emotionally charged performances. It was a strange and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Vince’s performance was our favorite, dressed in Manatee clothing on a mission of gender reassignment, he and his partner in crime with their powers combined became Trannatees. Performed to Antony and the Johnson’s as a tribute (or parody)
Find our video medley of the performances here – http://www.vimeo.com/10129578
The night followed through with fun filled shenanigans, followed by a day filled with pain and a hazy memory of where the feather boa and tiara on the bedroom floor came from ( well, for Emmily anyway)
During the day of extreme agony we gradually gathered our belongings together, pausing on the roof to take one last look and saying our goodbyes to our awesome friends. Dreading the 4:30am start and 6 hour bus trip the next day, but it’s all worth it for the next adventure. A visit to the ranch in Sierra Nevada with Cathy and Vince.