"America's Favorite City," boast the tourist brochures. The rest of the country often looks askance at San Francisco's unabashedly eccentric ways, but their indignation is often tinged with envy. "How do these guys get away with it? Don't they know life is suffering?" To which locals, many of them marinated in Buddhist practice, nod and respond, "Suffering indeed. Shall we head for the hot tub to chant the Heart Sutra?"
But the city's reputation for easy living and lax mores, for which it is rightly parodied, is also enormously attractive. Its appeal extends far beyond North America, and much to the region's benefit. Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans have been drawn to the Bay Area for generations by job opportunities, a benign climate, and a refreshing freedom from the constraints of ancestral identities. More recently, they've been attracted by a homegrown, garage-spawned innovation culture and venture capital to match.
San Francisco is not alone in its spirit of irreverence and free thinking, nor in the exceptional beauty of its natural setting. Coastal Northern California from Big Sur to the Oregon border is a natural and cultural ecosystem of rare diversity and abundance built on what was once one of the richest collections of flora, fauna, and native peoples anywhere. Sadly, much of this original glory is now buried beneath malls, freeways, and cookie-cutter housing developments. But to a degree greater than virtually any other urban space, the Bay Area and greater Northern California are graced with expanses of what local governments call "open space" in astonishingly close proximity to the concrete and steel of downtown towers. Just feet from the north entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge is a little-noticed two-lane road leading up the hill to unparalleled vistas. To the east they reveal the bridge's north tower, Telegraph and Nob Hills, the Bay Bridge, and the bay itself in its misted, luminescent beauty. Turn west, clamber just a few steps over crumbling fortifications from another era and the city's roar is eclipsed by the thundering seas beyond the Gate's entrance hundreds of feet below. On a good day you can see the Farallones Islands twenty miles offshore while beneath you pass giant freighters heading through the Gate after weeks steaming across the Pacific.
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed by a confluence of several benign attributes that coalesce in mostly fortuitous coincidence. A topography of hills more dramatic than the legendary seven of Rome meets a vast bay with some eight hundred miles of coastline. Trails ring most of it, with headlands and beaches offering endlessly varied perspectives on its most celebrated features, the Golden Gate and Mt. Tamalpais. Urban parks, from Golden Gate and the Presidio to half-block microparks with names like Michelangelo sprinkle the cityscape with respites easily accessed. The larger Bay Area's economic vitality, cultural receptivity, great research universities, public and private labs and robust nonprofit sector have attracted a vast range of immigrants, both highly educated and not, from every corner of the earth. Here, unlike many more racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods in places like New York and Chicago, many 'hoods of San Francisco and the East Bay are more like a mosaic than a melting pot, where widely diverse residents and migrants mingle with one another in ways that are at one and the same time utterly ordinary and altogether remarkable.
North of the bay open vistas with a pastoral grace comparable to Tuscany or Provence. Comely swales remind one of the reclining contours of a woman's hips. The hills are studded with the filigreed canopies of valley and live oaks, grasses turning green to gold in early summer, than gradually greening again with autumn rains. Heading further north the hills and ridges grow higher, the trees taller, the forests denser. Rivers course through narrow gorges. The human imprint is less pronounced and nature reclaims its rightful place. And through all of it, from San Francisco's Emerald City to the Northcoast's Emerald Triangle, streams a luminous quality of light like no other on earth, a startling clarity where objects appear to glow from within.
This website is a paen to the beauty of this place and its people, an evolving series of multimedia love letters to the many-splendored glory that is Northern California. It is being composed by a non-native Californian who grew up in more modest surroundings, migrated here as a young adult, and has been rejoicing in his good fortune ever since. No, it's not nirvana, not even close. But for all its failings it remains a haven for eccentrics of every stripe, free-thinking nonconformists who take comfort in the presence of others with equally quirky sensibilities. This is a "live and let love" culture where for all our differences and difficulties we we share an inextinguishable sense of possibilities still to be discovered, futures still to be invented.
Maybe it's something in the air.
In San Francisco's Mission District
In San Francisco's colorful Mission District between 16th and 24th streets and surrounding alleys is the city's most vivid and creative concentration of street galleries, murals painted on the the backsides and sometimes front sides of businesses, warehouses, garages, schools and playgrounds. Every surface, it seems, is fair game -- anything that stands still long enough to paint. Muralismo began as political protest but between its cartoon figures, its flagrant use of color and an irrepressible sense of humor about itself, Mission style art is more exuberant than angry. Its appeal is visceral, meeting you at eye level amid the clamor of traffic and urban grit. The vitality of this uncredentialed art conveys a community's inextinguishable passion for life.