Monday, April 18, 2011

The City That Has Fallen

A strong sense of beauty somehow clung to the mental image of the town, even to one who, as I, had never seen the place, its glamour always had a sort of hidden foreboding in it. There was ever the same suggestion of lethal malefic genius behind all the story that was told of its curiously morbidezza, amorousness of the day, and its childlike desire to forget the night. It was too far, as it sometimes seemed, and in the glory in which it lay and in which it lingered in thought, there seemed something of a light that held a pale tone of bale back of all its bliss. Its people loved it with that intensity with which we love what we are likely to lose. William Marion Reedy (h/t)

Despite having adopted Philly in recent years, I am a San Franciscan in birth and heritage. I haven't been back very much since I went off to college in 1998, especially now that my parents live elsewhere, and whenever I do return the city grows less and less recognizable. In 1998 the internet boom had started but had not yet fully transformed the city; there was no Pac Bell Park or expensive farmers market in the Ferry Building. It was impossible to look at the waterfront and in your mind's eye not see the horrible Embarcadero Freeway rushing by. Traces of the 1989 earthquake were, in fact, still visible everywhere--scaffolding intermittently going up to do repairs, various operations to buttress sagging walls, and condemned buildings still pitting the city. I was back in the city for a wedding this fall, and it was as beautiful as ever, but I felt like a tourist. Certainly my parents could never afford to live there now, at least not in a two-bedroom apartment in the Marina they rented from a retired Italian barber for a ludicrously low price in the 1970s.

Something about the annual observance of the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. Over a century later, the city still observes it, and I'm glad it does. I had family in the city back then; I think it was my great-great grandfather's generation? Something like that. Recent enough in the past that my grandmother knows stories about her grandfather (I think it was?) sitting on a hill at the Presidio watching the city burn down. That's the quintessential San Francisco experience, as Reedy says, loving something you know you are going to lose.


Mom said...

I think it was Granny's father and uncle who told the story about watching the fire from the Presidio (they were young boys; their father was in the Army there).

Anonymous said...

Silly question, but I can't resist: the motivation for this post doesn't have anything to do with the next AMS meeting or program committee notifications, does it?

PMG said...

Ha! Not consciously, no.

Daniel Wolf said...
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