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Saturday, May 10, 2008

San Francisco keeping quiet

Seen some beautiful buildings today and a good exhibition of Leibovitz photos yesterday, when Hazel, a friend of Marcel’s drove us around town. Fun day, but.. After a few days in SF, I’m beginning to see what is lacking. I am a bit disappointed, because I had memories of a very vibrant city from my last visit in the beginning of the 90s. There was music coming out of bars then, and singing or actively talking people on the streets. Activist threw leaflets at you, and galleries had lively openings all around.
Now I found it sterile at first, though there is enough to see and do, there is no real lively feel on the streets. When we were having coffee in The Castro, today, it suddenly dawned on me. The city and the people, at least at the places we visited, have simply aged with us. What we were missing was the simple vibration of youth. They must hang out somewhere in this city, but we haven’t found it yet: the energy source, the vulcan on which true city life dances. May be the energy has gone underground again, as it should during cultural ‘winter’periods, as we are having the last few years. I hope so, because at the moment, SF almost looks like an average American city to me. As I am writing this, thunder is making itself heard. Hope it’s not the very real underground power that continuously threatens this city. A vulcano of youth could bring along a cultural spring, but an earthquake would overdo it a little, I feel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you're right about some element of that energy being gone with youth. Having lived there these last 17 years, since I was a lad of 22, I know exactly what you're talking about.

There is another aspect to it, however. Mostly the economy. The cycle we often see in the US is:

- artists are broke
- artists colonize cheap living spaces - warehouse lofts, run-down neighborhoods. these become havens for a while.
- artists show their work in open studios. a gallery or three pop up. a few cafés pop up to support that.
- some professionals, much more well-to-do than a working artist, who admire the artist lifestyle and surroundings, move into these areas.
- with the influx of these folks, the areas gentrify and get expensive.
- artists can't afford to live there anymore.

It's all kind of the same for musicians, writers, full-time activists, etc. Then you put that into a place like San Francisco, a mere 7 miles square. Add to it the huge number of people who want to live there, and the massive (and probably collapsing) real estate boom, and what has happened is that the havens have all but evaporated.

I say "all but" because they've moved. Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville. Zoning laws created 30 years ago to allow for artists to live in industrial space (live-work) have been used to build thousands of "lofts" that cost $600,000 or more.

I'll add in passing that seven years of struggle under the yoke of the Bush Crime Family has been really difficult for that energy you describe. People have been on edge. The term "San Francisco Values" has been used in elections as some kind of negative attractor, a reason to vote more right-wing.

I think (as much as I hope) that things will get a little more vibrant soon. A good real estate, if not economic, collapse should be invigorating!

- the guy in your house :)