It feels like summer here in San Francisco. Unusually warm for almost December, the sun is shining, with just this morning demonstrating the cold wet fog San Fran is famous for.
We made a brief foray into Haight Ashbury before our karaoke evening a couple of nights ago. The place to be for hippies in the the Seventies, it is still a haven for tie-dyed stoners and alternative hipsters favouring the vintage fashions, Emma purchases a white fake fur coat from a vintage store, which, along with her blond-virtually-white hair, completes the polar bear albino chick look..
So far I have explored…
Fort Mason, the area where the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel is we were staying at initially, an old military base an hospital with views across to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge; further west to the Marina where many private yachts are kept and where we stumbled across a film set in progress by the old military barracks; up near the Golden gate bridge, which contrary to it’s name is actually painted red…not it’s intended colour, it was kept the same colour red as it’s initial undercoat apparently; Cal Hollow; Embarcadero, North Beach, the Italian area where all streetlamp poles have the Italian flag colours painted in band around them, plus the best pizzerias in town and a garlic restaurant called the Stinking Rose, where ‘the garlic is seasoned with food’; Chinatown, the biggest Chinatown outside of China, a busy, bustling, colourful place.
I caught a bus yesterday further south beyond Chinatown, along the freeway then got off at Fulton, walked three blocks past a park to stay with Shannon, a hospitable native San Franciscan we met in the shuttle bus from the airport on our first day. We were lucky enough to hear about a sunrise ceremony taking place on Thanksgiving (or ‘Thankstaking’ as I heard a Native American refer to it). We (Emma, David and I) arose at 4:30 am Thanksgiving morning following a night’s sleep in a friend’s car. Slightly hungover from the previous night’s whisky fuelled karaoke antics, we revived ourselves with showers in the nearby hostel and leftover pasta for breakfast, then set out to pier 3 to catch a ferry to Alcatraz. There was quite a turnout queuing for the boat, and many people returning from earlier ceremonies too.
The atmosphere was joyous and convivial, a carnival feel in the air, despite the undeniable sombre serious undertones of the occasion. The solidarity and shared vision of the people was heartwarming. There were speeches and performances from musicians, singers and dancers as we disembarked, all supporting Indigenous people and their rights to return to the land. Proceedings were preceded by the honouring of the directions. The ceremony itself was a visual, auditory and olfactory delight; full ceremonial costumes, feathers, facepaint dancing along to a primal drumbeat around sacred fire, letting myself feel the rhythm and be moved by the powerful purpose of this event, the copal incense enveloping everything, mingling with the sweetgrass, sage and palo santo. As we wait in line for the ferry to leave, we are blessed with more musical performances, Capoeira dancers, and singers and rappers communicating the messages of Indigenous rights, anti-capitalism, anti-GMO and honouring our Mother Earth.
I shoot most of a roll of black and white film, making portraits of the Indigenous people, with permission, post ceremony. I guess-timated the aperture and shutter speed settings on the camera as the battery which powers the light meter has run out and not yet been replaced. I think my guesswork is pretty accurate though. Will find out when I get into the darkroom to process it back home… Funnily enough, Shannon has a darkroom in his garage. It was set up and used by his father who worked as a news cameraman. It is not currently in use, ie there are no in-date chemicals to use for processing, yet all the equipment is there; an enlarger where one can vary the hight of the tabletop underneath and therefore create large scale work, also a safe light which is bright enough to read a book by without fogging paper, along with an archive of negatives and shelves of rolls of 16mm film footage. I have been offered the opportunity to view some before I go…what a lucky serendipitous meeting this was!
I shed tears whilst witnessing this ceremony. It is all the more poignant as I am a third of the way into reading ‘Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee’, the account of the Native American’s plight written From their own perspective. I also experienced an overwhelming feeling of connectedness, unity, purpose and peace with a huge smile on my face. It feels like a remembering…we all used to live more communally like this, connected to the land and celebrating the turning wheel of the year, holding ceremonies to mark occasions, employing the universal language of music and dance. I enjoy catching snatches of Mexican Spanish and understanding a lot of what I hear, and later conversing with an elder, who took part in ceremony, in basic Spanish. Plenty more practice needed before Peru in the new year though! Mucho mass…
Back on the mainland we seek out sustenance in the shape of bread bowl clam chowder. This is clam chowder served in a bowl consisting entirely of a loaf of bread. Full-on stodgy nourishment right there. So far America has done my waistline zero favours. Oh no wait, that’s my lack of willpower. In some sort of balancing act I bought (diary free soy free) chocolate ice cream made from coconut milk…
We ate a hearty Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening with our San Fran host Shannon and his partner Wendy. This morning’s fare was eggs, crispy bacon, pancakes and maple syrup. This afternoon saw us ordering veggie burritos in El Taco…I failed to manage it all. Portions here are huge. Bring on the raw vegan diet please!
After a stroll in a nearby pine woods park, walking the little shitzu who goes by the name of Roxie, we took an inspiring wander around Mission to view the murals (images to follow) and paid a fruitful visit to the community thrift store (one velvet green jacket and beige corduroy hat). Tonight we are chilling with the first two thirds of the Lord of the Rings trilogy viewed on a projector with surround sound. In all honesty I paid attention to the first one, but became distracted by typing this post throughout a lot of the second one! It’s good to have a cosy night in. We are saving ourselves for tomorrow’s Reggae gig. Shannon works as a sound guy for the band Native and is getting us in for free. We will be joined by Amy, a friend from Liverpool who also happens to be travelling at the moment, entirely coincidentally also in San Francisco! Great minds think alike so they say….
Sunday’s plan is to take it easy in Dolores park with a day of people watching and recharging ready for our departure for pastures new on Monday. America rocks!