I’m awake in the middle of the San Francisco night, maybe because my body’s still on London time, maybe because the moon is shining in the window. No matter. As always, I’m over-the-moon delighted to be here.
I’m staying at The Red Vic again. Founded by Sami Sunchild back in 1977, this B&B is quite a creation, with its imaginative guest-rooms, peace cafe and arts gallery, event space (I’ll be launching Before The Fall here on March 13th), hosted conversations about creating a better world, and living museum.
In 1967, when the Summer of Love swept through the Haight-Ashbury district of this city, the Red Victorian was right in the middle of it all — and for decades it’s been a centre for the peace, ecology and social justice movements.
This extract from Before The Fall, written on a previous stay here some years ago, summarises what both I, and the narrator Jo Devereux, love about the creative spirit of San Francisco.
From Before The Fall:
“San Francisco is my city. I knew that from the moment I arrived, from my very first morning walking through Golden Gate Park, entranced by sunny November skies.
I love this place, I found myself saying over and again to myself, as I walked around. Born out of gold and silver, built on a core of wild spending and carousing, this city was never a small town but wild and lawless, gaudy and greedy, diverse and world famous, right from the start.
In my early days here, I walked everywhere, revelling in winter sunshine and also in the fogs that billowed in from the ocean as if huffed through the Golden Gate by an unseen mouth. They shrouded me in a blanket of anonymity as I went, and ensured I never took the sun for granted.
I even came to love its faulty underpinnings: San Andreas and Hayward, San Gregorio, Greenville and Calaveras and the earth shudders they threw up, always hinting towards the long-anticipated ‘Big One’ that might come at any time and topple our town down on top of us or trigger a tsunami out in the ocean, a tidal wave that would swell and swell as it swept in from the bay, rising taller than the bridges and skyscrapers it broke against, smashing them to smithereens and sweeping away the bits in its flow, like so many pebbles and twigs.
I hadn’t been here long when I first heard the expression ‘only in San Francisco…‘ It came to be widely used afterwards – ‘only in Hollywood’, people would say, or ‘only in Europe’ – and usually used disparagingly. But I first heard it applied to the town I was beginning to own and I took it as a tribute. So many things could, and did, happen only in San Francisco. This city had given the world Beats and Hippies, Free Love and Flower Power, Multiculturalism and Gay Pride …
Only in San Francisco, it seemed to me, was American can-do culture applied so vigorously to something more than money.”