Friday, July 28, 2006

San Francisco diary

Shaking off the jetlag wasn't too hard. Since I reached in the middle of the day all I had to do was stay up till around 8 or 9 pm. Went out for a walk and saw a grungy side of San Francisco which I hadn't seen on my previous two trips. The last time I came here was with my older brother and we stayed in a hostel on the north side. The hostel I'm in on this trip is on the south side (SOMA - south of market) and it's not as gentrified as the other side. Went out for a walk as staying in the hostel would have resulted in crashing out and waking up at an awkward hour. Saw more weirdos and homeless people in 30 minutes than I could recall from the last two trips. Walked around aimlessly and then headed back to the hostel. Am sharing a room with a guy called Ben who's been living in the same hostel room for more than a year. He's about 50 and makes Tamales for a living. Told me he came up from LA to San Francisco for a weekend 2 years back, loved it completely and then never went back. Decided he'd had enough of working for other people and decided to live here. The hostel owners treat him like one of them and he's converted the 4 person dorm into a small home with his bike, CD player, TV, clothes neatly organised. He goes to bars which don't have food where he makes and sells Tamales. He was on his way out to *work*, tied a bandana, put on a bowler hat, shrugged his shoulders and said "I guess I'm just an old hippy".

The other guy (he moved in tonight) is even weirder. A 48 year old Hungarian immigrant, Gabor's here to run the San Francisco marathon tomorrow. It's his 45th marathon. Yes, 45 marathons. He ran 12 marathons last year all over the world including one in Sydney where it was 104 degrees. 12 marathons in one year! What's even funnier is how stingy he is. He's a self employed tax lawyer but is staying in a cheap rundown hostel after taking the greyhound to come up here from LA. He has two daughters who are now in college and was talking to me about expensive it is to pay for college tuitions. The marathon starts at 530 tomorrow so he was grumbling about missing the free breakfast. I told him *breakfast* consisted of a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and starts at 9 am. He thought it about and realised that he wouldn't be able to make it back from the marathon in time so he asked me to make a sandwich for him and keep it on his bed. Since there's no free pre-marathon pasta dinner he's just drinking some water and maybe a couple of energy bars. His rationale for running marathons is to avoid illnesses and diseases when he gets older which would mean saving money on doctor's fees. Wow!

The last time I came I loved the Italian district especially Cafe Trieste and City Lights bookstore - both within a minute's walk of each other. It's a 30 minute walk from the hostel through the grungy south side, chaotic chinatown to the hip Italian district. Since I need to get back to math mode, I've been camping out in Cafe Trieste with my laptop and papers trying to shake of the rust of not having done any math for more than 2 months. Much harder than shaking off the jetlag. Cafe Trieste is an interesting place. It has a large number of regular customers who the staff knows well and who sit around and just chat, tourists who come with cameras and keep staring at the pictures on the wall and students or independent professionals plugging away on their laptops. But, it's not overly crowded or loud. Almost the perfect atmosphere and decor with a staff happy to let people sit in a corner all day. After pottering around with math and surfing in between (free wifi) I've rewarded myself by going up to the reading room loft in city lights bookstore with a bunch of graphic novels.

The bookstore has a great section on graphic novels and till 2 days ago I'd only ever read one or two of them. I read R Crumb's Kafka and Spiegelman's Maus I and Maus II. I found all of them riveting especially the Kafka one. I never quite understood or appreciated Kafka's books nor a few films based on his books. This one captured and explained a lot of things about his life and work in a medium I've just started to explore. Maus I and II are about how a Polish Jew survived the holocaust and I finished both of them in one go.


socket32 said...

funny. the only time i stayed up north was with you. the three other times i've been to san francisco, i've always managed to find a hole in the SOMA area. it's not as tough as it appears. even the homeless bums are quite benign - some are quite educated and alert. i never quite got a taste for the rest of town after getting seduced by the tenderloin district. it had a great art and music scene in the 90s. everything else feels like a pretty shopping mall. of course like with everything in frisco, this place is getting institutionally hip too. still a great place to live in. i wouldn't go anywhere else.
keith gave me that crumb kafka for my birthday last year. it's really well written by an academic too and i'm glad crumb did the artwork for him. while you're into it, try and get a hold of this brilliant graphic novel "la perdida" by jessica abel.

i've been leaving skype on, let me know when or where to call

Mrinalini said...

Hurrah for the Hungarian immigrants.
I swear by the Crumbs words!!

30in2005 said...

I loved SF. Never did stay in a hostel although the experience sounds delightfully interesting. Do tell if the guy finished his marathon or not. More importantly, did you leave a sandwich on his bed?

bandafbab said...

I couldn't leave a sandwich for him as the bread was over by the time I went down for breakfast the next day. Tried checking online but couldn't find a Gabor on the website but I'm sure he must have finished. When you've run 45 marathons you know you can do it.