july 17, 2000. I read the July 3 San Francisco Call
the other day and enjoyed it very much.
I do have a quibble. At the end of
your excellent cover piece [Dancing on the brink of the
world] you say, "But souls are fragile constructs,
easily smashed or stolen." I disagree. I think
souls, real souls, are pretty durable entities, able to
endure injury, survive damage, heal themselves and go on
In my experience, the phrase "the
soul of San Francisco" isn't a metaphor. When you
cut through all the tourist hype and restaurant ads and
City Hall BS, San Francisco has a real personality. Not
to get too metaphysical about it, I think the place is
When I first got here in 1977, it was
like moving to another dimension and I knew it the
moment I saw it. Tales of the City and all that. Magic
around every corner and down every street.
I read everything I could get my hands
on about the history of San Francisco. I think the thing
we call San Francisco has been here since they threw the
third plank down. It burst into being in a matter of
months and it's always been the same since.
I would read about the characters who
put this place together in the 1800s. It was like
reading about the people I was seeing and meeting every
day. Not in external particulars, but in essence.
Spirit. If people make a city, the San Francisco we know
and love was here in 1849. Those people were us.
Ungrammatical but true.
I had a few sips of fifty-year-old
Caen the other night. A different world. A white,
blue-collar town, pre-TV, pre-hippie, pre-Pride, pre-dot.com.
But the same place. Herb wasn't making it up. He knew
his town because he walked it and saw it and talked to
it. The San Francisco he loved is the one I love.
Whatever it is, it's still here, still alive, and it's
been alive every day I've lived here.
Souls have to struggle to be
themselves in the world. There are always dark spots,
mistakes made, things that could be better. The Twin
Peaks pictures in your issue certainly make that point!
But if this were someplace else, you wouldn't even be
able to see Twin Peaks by now. There'd be thirty-story
apartment towers right up to the top. So things could be
And they will be better. I'm confident
of that. If we can't do it here, it can't be done.
San Francisco in 1848 - before they threw the
third plank down?
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints &
Photographs division, Historic American Buildings
Survey, Habs, Cal, 38-SANFRA,81- )