Chinatown, Noir and Vertical Climbs

(More San Fran diary extracts)

A big day of walking today, I went from the hotel a few blocks down to Mission and then walked for about 2 hours. First stop was the  the Ferry Building for views of the (closed for Labour Day) bay bridge and what is billed as a farmers market but is more a collection of deli type shops.  Not that useful for tourists with no self catering facilities but a fantastic resource no doubt for locals and picnickers.

From the Ferry building I headed north up the Embarcadero to pier 39, the embarkation point for boats to Alcatraz and around the bay and Fisherman’s Wharf.  I was going to head up yo Ghiardelli square but became distracted by my supposed closeness to Lombard Street, the world’s crookedest street.  Off i went only to discover quite quickly that my route lay up a near vertical climb.  I made a valiant effort and those acquainted with my knees would be proud but the steepest hills in San Francisco were too much for me.  Just when i was about to expire of heat and pain I came across the Historic Street Car and decided to take a ride.

The Powell-Hyde line is apparently the cities steepest and at 21 degrees with the bay behind you it’s a little like a roller coaster. Ascending the car is attached to a cable but descending it is detached and free wheels down.  It goes surprisingly fast. I was sat in the relative comfort of the carriage but I can imagine it’s a bit of a white knuckle ride for those hanging on the outside.

I nipped back to the hotel for a bit at lunch and then decided to have a wander round Chinatown in the afternoon.  Aside from Tourist hot spot Pier 39, Chinatown is the busiest bit of San Fran I’ve been to thus far.  The brightly coloured buildings and opulent decor instantly set it apart from the other neighbourhoods. You can enter through a dragon flanked archway inscribed with the words “Xia tian wei gong’ which i am told translates as ‘The reason to exist is to serve the public good’. the street Chinatown gate opens on to has a somewhat salacious past, once home to numerous opium dens, brothels and gambling huts it’s existence served a somewhat interesting public good!
These days the buildings may not house such worldly pursuits but they are still not the most noble institutions, plastic Buddhas have taken the place of drugs and sex. Exploitation follows exploitation, where it was once exploitation of the individual it is now of culture.

From Chinatown gate it is only a block and a half to Burritt alley where Miles Archer met his fate.  Those of you not versed in the world of Noir may be wondering who but others will know of the death of Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade at the hands of fatalist of Femmes, Bridig O’Shaughnessey. Today a plaque marks this tragic spot.


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