Following five days in Austin, I ventured on to San Francisco. A quick stop arranged primarily to catch up with friends, I made sure my stay would be long enough to see all the sights I neglected to visit whilst I was a resident.
On my first day in the city, I took advantage of my hosts proximity to the Marina district and visited Fisherman’s Wharf and the Sea Lions at Pier 39. I have no shame, I enjoyed being a tourist.
After finding some lunch in the Ferry Building, I began my hunt for an Internet cafe. Not long ago I suspect this city had more of these per capita than any other, but it’s probably Wi-Fi hotspots that maintain this position now. Only once I had crossed the poverty line that is Fifth and Market was I able to find a friendly cafe with a suite of connected iMacs — and a proprietor all to happy to charge me 16 cents a minute for their use.
The following day I visited SFMoMA, a modern art museum that is far more spacious than you’d suspect from the outside. I was struck by how consistent this building is styled; its strong linear patterned brickwork exterior imitated inside with rough and smooth marble walls and careful wood detailing.
Before going on to visit the equally impressive City Hall, I enjoyed a discussion about the role of technology with Tristan in South Park, whilst sipping an Iced Latte — when in Rome do as the Romans do. That evening I shared a selection of scrumptious pizzas at Zero Zero with David and Athena whilst catching up on the latest gossip and industry insight.
On Friday, I headed south to Palo Alto, where I wandered around the beautiful grounds of Stanford University — why I never did this whilst I lived so close I don’t know, as the free Marguerite shuttle made doing so all too easy. That evening I had dinner with Steve in a Redwood City pub that had a subtle British theme; the table service supplied a well prepared selection of dishes, including many inspired by traditional English faire, with the background music sourced from my side of the Atlantic.
On Saturday, my final day in the city, I traversed the rain drenched streets to visit the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. Given the down pour, this proved a popular destination with many of its exhibition rooms crowded, not helped by the accompanying and rather garish floral displays that reduced floor space even further. I found many of the artefacts of little interest, but encouraged by David I spent some time looking at their Papua New Guinea collection, which made the visit worth while.
On both visiting the de Young and SFMoMA, I couldn’t shake the underlying feeling that these institutions exist to foster exclusivity rather than inclusivity; this may just have been my reaction on having to pay so much to enter. Here again, America presented itself as a reminder that life in the UK could be far worse, and I left thankful that I can visit similar museums in the UK free of charge.
It’s such comparisons that surely led to my leaving the country in 2008, yet other reasons seem all too ready to be questioned every time I return — either by me or by others. Perhaps rightly so.
Indeed, when asked how it felt to be back, I was surprised by my immediate defiance: “I’m not back” I retorted, “I’m just visiting”. Even the slightest notion that this visit may become permanent, became strangely concerning to me.
As I walked the streets of San Francisco, buoyed by their comfortable familiarity and unique soundtrack, I knew that this was still a city I could never call home.