San Francisco – I walk like someone waiting

Grace Cathedral-2

I walk from my hotel to a park on Nob Hill, steep above the city, where a three-hour walking tour starts at one o’clock. It is a fogless day and the sun is burning.

The park is opposite Grace Cathedral, a hollow pastiche of Middle Ages architecture with Norman towers, Gothic arches and a copy of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth inside a flamboyant Gothic doorway that mimics Florence’s Baptistry and faces east, not west. Its bells peal off descending semitones over three mournful octaves. I walk away.

The guide comes and after three days of walking I’m relieved she is fair skinned, greatly overweight and wearing a shadeless Florentine hat thing that flops on her head like gathered velvet. Then the eighty-year old Richard and his sexagenarian partner, Richard, from Palm Springs shuffle up and we spend most of the afternoon walking downhill in the shade.

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San Francisco – I walk and I walk


San Francisco

“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Gertrude Stein, born 1874 in Pittsburg, raised in Oakland.


I walk and I walk and I walk and I walk.

I walk on the steep carved hills. I walk to the tops of the hills and over the tops of hills. I walk down the hills. I let the busses go past. I do not get on the streetcars. I hear the cables whirring below the tracks. I cross streets of black veined tar that fills the fault lines of tired and rubbed out roads.

I walk on the pavements and pass by many people. I walk along long streets of three-storey houses, their walls conjoined, their textured and coloured facades and the shapes of their windows all different.

I walk into the cafes on Columbus Avenue that make thick syrup espressos and listen to the talk of animated men getting older. ‘Can you imagine having Eugene O’Neil as a father-in-law? Holy shit.’ The best coffee is made by quiet men in black cotton shirts.

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Sunset over Brooklyn

Sunset over Brooklyn

A fact of travel

It is a fact of travel that one type of photographer will want to want to shoot another in possession of a palm-sized camera – to observe, imply or accuse them of indiscriminately documenting a trip without having experienced travel, or for just getting in the way.

Seeing a trip only through a camera lens may increase focus on subjects of interest, but it does so at the expense of perspective and instinct – most photographs are still two dimensional and their limited angle of view cuts out the chance of experiencing something unexpected in our peripheral vision.

Yet it does not follow that indiscriminateness leads to illegitimacy of experience. Continue reading

Travelling with Ernest: Havana

It is sixty years since Ernest Hemingway published the Old Man and the Sea and just over fifty since he leant on the trigger of his favourite shotgun in Ketchum, Idaho, with the barrel in his mouth.

He wrote the novella at his house in the outer hills of Havana and set it in Cojimar, a small town twenty minutes east of Havana’s Prado by the No.58 bus, where he moored his boat after fishing for marlin in the Gulf Stream.

CojimarIn Cojimar the sun is hot and the air is clean and cool. The sea is calm. The roads are quiet. There is only one tout who says I am paying too much for my hotel and that I should stay at a bed and breakfast he knows. There is almost a breeze.

It feels far away from the heat and humidity of Havana and its taxi? … taxi? taxi drivers, cigar, sir, cigar cigar sellers, I want to buy your hat hat sellers, Cuban Musicians playing high-school rhythm for tips in public plazas and the prostitutes who sit in pairs along the Malecon.

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Travelling with Ernest: it is easy to be happy in Paris

Ernest Hemingway tagged Paris as A Moveable Feast in 1950 more than 20 years after he had left. Its meaning is often misunderstood as the number of good restaurants and markets people can discover if they are adventurous.

For Hemingway it was not the person who is moveable, but Paris itself:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” he wrote to a friend “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The following post was written in Paris a year ago. It half brings this blog up to date with my previous writing on Travelling with Ernest; but mostly it is here because Paris and the friends who are there stay with me.


Luxembourg GardensIt is easy to be happy in Paris and if you go to the Luxembourg Gardens on a clear afternoon in early Autumn the sun will be shining into the lower branches of the almost leaf-fallen trees and people will be facing their chairs to feel its warmth.

Every sound will be distant: the barely audible traffic from the Boulevard St-Michel, the emptying rustle of leaves on the trees, the crunch of fine gravel under walking feet, the slow metal scrape of heavy chairs when old women drag them over dirt into the light, and young people laughing anywhere.

Around the centre, the last crimson geraniums of summer will be blooming in large pots on a stone white balustrade that rings a sunken garden.

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