Carnet de Voyage USA #2
After the countryside, we’re now in the city… and what a city! We spent four days in San Francisco. Before we left, all my friends had said, “You will love this town, San Francisco is awesome, it’s the most beautiful city on the west coast!” Here are my first impressions, very mixed! First of all, it’s true: San Francisco is a very pretty city. To my great surprise, I loved the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s more than a simple tourist attraction, it’s simultaneously impressive (truly) and beautiful. I can’t tell you why, but this bridge is a compendium of architectural beauty… The very European style of the streets, the colorful houses, the small markets at the edge of the bay, Pier 39 (the pontoon of the sea lions) are the places to see. Then, San Francisco is a unique city. The streets of the city literally form the hills. Many times, we found ourselves stretched out in the car, the backrest horizontal, and that was scary, believe me. For a little story, one morning where we had parked the car for just 15 minutes, we had the pleasant surprise of seeing a beautiful $66 fine for “bad parking”, even though we were well parked! Later, we passed a meter maid and asked him why we had been fined. The response was astonishing, but logical: “in San Francisco, the law penalizes all parking where the tires of the vehicle aren’t angled, you left the tires of your car straight. It’s forbidden. If your breaks let go on a sloped street, your car will leave with a bang!” Huhhhhhh…. Yes, but we’re Frenchys, we didn’t know! The agent suggested we go to the address on the ticket to make a claim. Before we could get there, J. already made a bet with my sister and me: “But why would you want to go down there and lose an afternoon… Aaaahhhh because you seriously think they’ll cancel our fine….. You overestimate the administration….. Really!” I think not! It’s at this point in the story that something happened that had surely never happened before in France (it’s my only point of comparison- sorry). We went to the city office for disputes, a sort of after-sales service where the drivers with infractions have the opportunity to plead their case and defend their situation before the law or, rather, in front of a local judge. In less than 40 minutes, we had been welcomed by a very kind secretary, then appeared before a judge, who also spoke French, and who cancelled our fine. Reason: we didn’t know the law. Well, I won’t hide from you that this victory works once, but not twice. This could seem to you like a harmless situation, but I know certain people who allot a budget of 500 € per month just to pay for parking violations (and no, this is not a joke). So when you live in Paris or a suburb of Paris, where it takes 30 minutes each night to park your car, just to see it disappear from its place the next day and see it reappear like magic in the pound a few hours later, this type of ultra-efficient service that is also guaranteed by the officials, that inspires respect.
Apart from that, I can’t tell you any more about San Francisco. Despite the fact that I was there to visit the city, I spent a big part of my time doing what I would’ve done at home, that is to say watching YouTube videos… Let me explain. Everyone finds San Francisco magnificent, eclectic, artistic… The opinions on blogs and web sites sing its praise. But what surprised me (even still today) is that either people are blind, or their tolerance for suffering is much higher than mine. Because this is what I found in San Francisco: human suffering. I have been confronted with poverty and social and human misery, but the ambiance on the streets of San Francisco is another story. In less than 10 minutes in the streets, I met countless junkies. Drugs show up in plain sight and “the need” takes priority over restraint and the complexities of life. I still have a scene in my head where on a detour in the street, a man was sitting on the sidewalk, sticking his calf with a syringe, right in front of an apartment building where the apartments rent for $2,000 or more for a mere 375 ft2. It’s also this San Francisco, a city on a hill where in its basin has amassed a population of lifeless souls that never managed to turn the corner, a city where here and there I surprise myself by not being surprised to pass zombies on crack, with absent and empty stares. San Francisco, it’s a sort of little remake of New Jack City, but less murky, and more rich and more beautiful. I wanted to understand how a city so prosperous, cradle of Silicon Valley, of exorbitant rents, can harbor so many homeless druggies. In the course of my research on the web, I came across a multitude of documents explaining the war on drugs in the US. It’s quite confusing when you aren’t familiar with this dismal place. I know my story is not too cheerful, but I warned you, my impression of the city was very mixed. And the fact that I had to shorten my trip to return to work surely didn’t help me to learn more about this city. As it happens, the four days spent in San Francisco were during the New York Fashion Week where I had the chance to witness the creation of time for an afternoon. A real change of scenery, as you can imagine. Twelve intense hours where I worked and met with friends, notably the creator of the brand On This Rock, Janet Talbert, who I particularly admire. I then closed out my day on the roof top of the Empire Hotel: a first for me. Then I returned to San Fancisco by way of a red-eye flight, dead tired, as you can imagine. But I am not complaining, far from that. The continuation and end of our trip was spent in Los Angeles where we got the opportunity to rest and unwind. The only downside of the trip: the jet lag!!! Two weeks to catch up on my sleep, but now I’m refreshed and happy. Kisses to you and I wish you a very good end to your week.