Reading San Francisco


I’m in love with San Francisco, completely smitten with the city. I returned from a week-long stay last weekend and I can’t wait to return. 

I went to San Francisco mainly for a work-related conference, but I managed to take a couple of days of vacation while I was there. I prowled around the city soaking up the atmosphere. The wild, steep hills. The Edwardian and Victorian houses and buildings. The sidewalk cafes. The tiny restaurants in Nob Hill. The bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf. The barking of the sea lions. The awesome majesty of Golden Gate Bridge. The fresh air. 

I didn’t have a lot of time to plan my trip to San Francisco before I left, so when I was free, I just let my fancy carry me through the city. I loved walking the streets, even in the not-so-nice sections of SOMA and riding the cable cars – a little like a roller coaster. This is a writer’s city and it has been home to many of the greats, such as Mark Twain and Jack London, not to mention the Beat writers –  Kerouac and Ferlinghetti. I had started reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City on the plane ride to San Francisco, which I enjoyed, but during my stay I picked up A Writer’s San Francisco: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel at the Borders on Powell Street. I finished reading it on the plane home, but wished I had read it before I arrived in San Francisco. 

A Writer’s San Francisco is a series of short meditations on San Francisco and writing, as well as a guided tour of the city for writers. I really enjoyed the book and will definitely consult it before my next trip to San Francisco – because I must return to this city. Maisel refers to San Francisco as a stop along the Bohemian International Highway – Paris is another major stop. There is a freedom and spirit to these cities that most other cities can only imitate. In San Francisco and Paris it is perfectly acceptable to be a creative spirit, to be a writer, to be a painter, to be out there. This thought came to me as I rode one of the cable cars, standing on the running board and clinging to the pole as it swept past taxis, around corners and up and down the steep hills. My home town of Toronto (the Good) would never allow people to stand on the outside of a moving vehicle – it would be too risky, not safe! (nor practical in Canadian winters, but that is beside the point.) Toronto tries to be writer-friendly, but I find that it is still a bit weighed-down in Protestant purity. For example, I Googled “San Francisco writer’s group” and came up with pages of groups, mostly run by the writers themselves, independent centres or organizations. When I did a similar search for groups in Toronto, the top links were to the Professional Writer’s Association, Canadian Authors Association and the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. I long for the freedom of San Francisco.

Oh well, I’ll just have to return to San Francisco and take Maisel’s advice to spend a day walking around the city, stopping in different neighbourhoods to sample a cafe and write. Now that is my idea of an ideal vacation!


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