February 28, 2012, Washington, DC: We tend to see it when we travel, but not so much when we return back home. Hidden beauty just around the corner. Unnoticed oddities right under our noses. Rarities we tend to forget are not the norm as they gradually become a steady part of our everyday scene. We notice these things away from home. We’re less observant back on familiar ground.
February 25, 2012, Washington, DC: As celebrities prepare to pile into the Kodak Theater for tomorrow night’s Oscars, it seems like a good time to pay tribute to our tiny old neighborhood movie theaters — local joints that kept us close to home, burrowed into a cramped seat surrounded by fantastic ornamental decor, for a Sunday afternoon film. Places like old theaters once anchored their neighborhoods in a small but meaningful way, and too many of them have since closed their doors. I’m rooting for those of them still going strong.
I have a view of one such shuttered movie theater just outside my apartment window. The blue lighted sign still flickers on at sunset, showcasing the old art deco building even though the theater hasn’t shown a film in decades. I’d give anything to walk out my front door, meander around the corner and go to a movie. I imagine someone who lived here years before must have enjoyed such an outing quite often.
February 24, 2012, Washington, DC: Location, Location, Location. Cities sprung up where they did in the first place due entirely to their geographical assets. New York City: A trading post in a sheltered harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River that would later take shape as a critical terminus linking the Atlantic to the Hudson and the Erie Canal. Chicago: A short portage that would eventually connect the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the 1848 opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. San Francisco: A fort called the Presidio at the mouth of the Golden Gate marking an entry to a Pacific trade route.
Geography has long played a pivotal role in the identities and growth of our cities, not only for the promise of protection, but for the promise of access. As natural terminals, first by water, later by rail, public transit and air, our cities have always served as hubs that facilitate the transport of both people and goods.
But how many of the historic hubs of your city remain relevant to your life today?
A weekend visit to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, followed by a return to my own neighborhood at Eastern Market, has me thinking about the ways in which some longstanding urban cores still have the ability to anchor our cities and our neighborhoods.
“The sea and pine scented air fills me with hope and the belief that all men and women are made better by a visit to this place. The dream of San Francisco is that humanity might live in harmony with nature but at the same time enjoy the benefits of civilization.
Call yourself down through the centuries and see if it is not here that you will return. San Francisco isn’t just a city, it is a jumping off point to eternity. In an ocean of light, this is the place.
-Sean O’Reilly, “Lady of the Avenues”
February 22, 2012, Washington, DC: I’ve held onto this passage by Sean O’Reilly for awhile now, ever since moving from San Francisco to Chicago. O’Reilly’s confidence in the belief that we all come back made me feel better about leaving, and I admired the way he succinctly explained the balance afforded to those who experience life here. “In harmony with nature,” we retain a quite physical, active and tangible relationship with the environment while “the benefits of civilization” provide us with opportunities for cerebral, intellectual and artistic expression.
February 21, 2012, San Francisco: I wake up early this morning in a land of grayscale. Cold fog lingers here on the hill on this south slope of Broderick. The severity of San Francisco’s colors have all but disappeared. This place can change on a dime.
It won’t last, I know that by now. But I recall too that this place is not only neon greens and bursts of yellow and radiant whites and blinding sunlight. There are grays here, too. They come with the marine layer. They come with the city. They come with the coast.
“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.”
This is one in a series of morning photo essays documenting neighborhoods around town.
February 20, 2012, San Francisco: I have the strangest feeling here this morning. I have a feeling I’ve written this post a million times over, like this whole concept started here years before I knew it. This neighborhood on Russian Hill is documented in my memory in this very format. This morning on Russian Hill was mapped out long ago.
On that note, here are the photos I never took back then, snapped just this weekend, accompanied by words I wrote circa 2003 sitting right here where I sit now, sipping a latte at Royal Ground:
February 20, 2012, San Francisco, CA: We take the high road, the Sun Trail, at its intersection with the Dipsea, winding our way to the wide wooden porch of the Tourist Club along the slopes of Mt. Tam. I gravitate towards the narrow dirt paths that weave through the landscape north of San Francisco, especially this one that ends at such a special place. Open to the public just a few short weekend hours, this place is a place to breathe deeply, to inhale the pine, to soak it all in. Some are here for snacks and beers and board games with friends in celebration of a 25th birthday; others have hiked in with their children for an afternoon picnic. It’s just as easy to imagine ourselves here years from now as it is to remember being here many times before.
It was from the slopes of Mt. Tam, not within the city itself, that I first felt the pull of this sliver of west.