SAN FRANSCISCO A pulsating city that looks good and feels great, says Rishad Saam Mehta
A s I munched on San Francisco's famous sourdough bread from the Italian French Bakery, perfect notes of foot-tapping jazz came riding along and drew me in like a cowboy's lasso snaring a mustang.
I was on Grant Avenue in San Francisco's pulsating North Beach locality, and the jazz flowed from Savoy Tivoli, a cosy little pub where three septuagenarians made merry with their trumpets, flutes and trombones. The tunes were so ancient that they first came to the world in mono through vacuum tube radios, yet they had the young 20-year-olds to 40-year-olds enraptured. The music was so sweet, vibrant and superb, that if it were a picture, it would be vivid in colour, perfect in composition and pin-sharp in focus.
In a sense, that moment embodied my stay in San Francisco. The place was full of such moments, because it simply is a pulsating city with an infectious keenness for all things good.
Take restaurants, for example. ‘Frisco has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S., and this is immediately apparent, walking down Columbus Avenue.
More than the soft whine of electric buses or the noise of traffic, it was the tinkle of crockery and hum of happy conversation that formed the soundtrack of this busy street. On a sunny day (and there were plenty!), cosy tables lined the pavements, and apron-clad waiters rushed along carrying platters of pizzas and casseroles of crab to customers seated at little tables dressed in chequered tablecloths.
As the best way to discover this pretty city by the bay is on bicycle, I set off on a bike hired at Fisherman's Wharf. And, the best part was waking up to a sunny day. The banks of crab restaurants at the Taylor and Jefferson Streets junction were enveloped in steam as boilers started preparing the day's supply of huge Dungeness crabs.
Tourists were already seated at the sidewalk tables, eating that most famous SF snack — clam chowder in bread bowl, a bowl made out of a scooped out sourdough bread.
Buskers set up their impromptu sidewalk stages, twanging their guitars or testing their trumpets.
The famous San Francisco streetcars now and then trundled through, bringing in visitors. The electric trams varied in colour, shape and size, as they were acquired from different cities that had made trams redundant.
It was fun to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and at a leisurely pace, the 22-km stretch took two hours. It was a lovely day, and on my way back, I noticed that the famous San Francisco fog had enveloped the ‘Frisco side of the bridge. So, it seemed as if the bridge were suspended mid-air, and that I actually cycled into a cloud bank!
The Golden Gate Bridge is a landmark, and many of the city's activities took it in some way or the other. I flew over and under it in an helicopter, watching San Francisco from the air. I sailed past it during a gorgeous, rich-hued sunset on a luxurious catamaran. I also stared at it from ‘the Rock' or Alcatraz, and tried to imagine how the prisoners there must have felt looking at the bridge across the bay where fellow human beings were happy and free.
I spent five days in San Francisco taking in popular sights, riding streetcars and photographing boisterous sea lions at Pier 39, ‘Frisco's most happening place, with food, an interesting aquarium and museums.
This vibrant, happy and liberal city calls to me; it so easily charms the visitor. Go to ‘Frisco because, as Tony Bennett so emphatically crooned, “When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me”.