Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weekend in San Fran

The first thing I did when I got home from San Francisco was pull out Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City: A San Francisco AtlasWhen my friend Lu first handed me the book, I didn't know how to look at it: I'd never gotten San Fran as a city; it was too small and too big at the same time, too baffling in its hilly and divided neighborhoods. It also brought up memories of passing through in the seventies when the Mission District was a scary run down 'hood and Haight Ashbury had turned into a needle park. Some good memories too, like Green Gulch Zen Center—again, my guide Lu—and Tassajara Bakery on Cole Street, which, if you've never tasted Tibetan Barley Bread you might not get the reference, but sadly, it's too late; the bakery closed its doors in 1999.

This visit was different, though; I saw the city for the magic, infinite city that it is and opened Solnit's book immediately. It's a series of atlases around which she and a bevy of artists/writers/cartographers dissect the city, a city whose demographics and history have changed as much as any great city in the last 40 years. She writes about getting her sources from great books, but also from "living atlases,"  misfit characters who she interviews extensively: "I live among...these books. I also live among ghosts. For better or worse, the familiar vanishes, so that the longer you live here, the more you live with a map that no longer matches the actual terrain. After the great 1972 earthquake, Managua, Nicaragua, lost many of its landmarks; people long after gave directions by saying things like, 'Turn left where the tree used to be.'" 

And that's what this book is like—getting the perspective of ghosts, hobos, migrant workers, thieves, queers, Zen masters, trees, fish....

My own understanding is slight, but on this trip, I came to translate the city (plus Oakland, not the wasteland I expected) in my own way. Bear with me, dear reader, and then read Solnit's book for true illumination.

Rat's Nest basic understanding:



The Castro

The Guggenheim

The Gap at Union Square


Temescal and Telegraph Ave District, Oakland
(great art, restaurants and thrift stores found here!)

Tenements, NYC


Luxury Apartments, San Fran

Mill with sheep

As part of the Middlebury Language Program at Mills College, 
signs in Arabic, French, Spanish and Japanese appear across campus.
No sheep.


  1. What wonderful juxtapositions of images. Seeing freshly.

  2. Thank you outwalkingthedog! So great to see you back on the boards; looking forward to a new post from you (whenever!).