Once upon a time, I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. I went to school there (Carnegie Mellon University) and lived there for several years after that, running the General Surgery Research Lab at Allegheny-Singer Research Institute on the Nor’side.
I would loyally, unfailingly defend Pittsburgh against critics. Unlike person-to-person criticism which can often be constructive, attacks of opinion on a place tend to be denigrating and abjectly, irretrievably bitter-dour-hateful. Rushing to her aid, I could be counted on without fail to point out the wonderful things aht ‘n’ abaht in Pixburgh, the soft, roundness of the lazy accent, the almost bucolic feel of city life, the comfort of triangulating its place in the world even on the meanest map by finding the nexus of its three rivers.
I moved to San Francisco almost ten years ago—it will be exactly ten years on June 30, less than two weeks away!—and not once have I felt called-upon to defend the City.
It is what it is, I thought. And if some couldn’t see the magic of it, well, one had to feel bad that their eyesight did not capture as full a rainbow of light as those of us who did see the magic lurking in the near infrared and almost-ultraviolet wavelengths.
As I endure this airline flight back to the Pennsylvania (not Pittsburgh, the other side of the state) to visit my family (which is currently enduring its own travails) I take with me a certain residual tingle of the ambiance and atmosphere of my City. Of our City. San Franciscans’.
My very-liberal bent allows me to self-identify as a San Franciscan even though I was born a Pennsylvanian; self-identification is the right of the individual, I have learned over the last decade; it’s remarkable what a slight shift in grounding can do to one’s finer sensitivities.
The Bridges in San Francisco not only connect the City to the rest of the Continent, but also bridge, in a certain way, the distance between the real and the ideal.
Where else on earth does the sky live so close to the fundament? The moon hangs, I swear, just a few hundred feet above the tallest of our hills, and no further. The Earth is still flat, and the heavens still move for the benefit of those of us perched on the City’s hills or tucked into her valleys. In San Francisco, you can touch the sky, and the infamous San Francisco fog is only the heavens descending on a tourist’s visit to our City. Infinite Angels dance (often shirtless and sweaty) on the head of a peninsula.
I remember one evening, climbing to the top of Bernal Hill, with the purpose, I had thought, of admiring the photographic quality of the cityscape, a special contrast against the watercolor skies of a seaside dusk. But no: it was the sky that captured all of my attention. The eventide sky that hung over the city was an alarmingly intimate shade of indigo. The quietude of the night on the hill, the appealing generosity of stars festooning a clear night and the solemnity of the gold limned hills to the west all stood counterpoint to the discomfiture of that sky invading our individual personal spaces, a directness and candor so intense that even the moon sent its apologies and stayed at home.
The City’s buildings, most of which were thrust up to stab our skies during a lamentable “Manhattanization” in the 1970s, nonetheless are now part of its terrain. Nature and Artifice agree on a non-compete clause, because Artifice knows it cannot best Nature, but Nature knows we can be distracted away from Her by Artifice.
The Cityscape never wins, and our Natural beauty cannot lose.
We are all here because we choose to be. It is not an easy place to remain within because of expense and density. It is not contentedness that appears on most of our faces, but rather it seems that the faces we wear contain whatever it is that remains when glee—a typically transient emotion—remains overlong, becomes chronic.
Anyhow, I was sitting just beneath the fenced-in compound of the old microwave repeater atop Bernal Hill. This was long before it was bespotted with cellphone antennae San Francisco is an odd place for machinery of the military-industrial complex, maybe it was even a sacrilege of sorts. I remember thinking, at least there is the fence to keep it contained,” suddenly struck with the notion that maybe—just maybe!—that fence was built to keep people out, not keep the machinery in and away from the rest of the world.
I smiled at the twist of things there at the Top of the Hill, here at the End of the Rainbow.