Monday, July 30, 2012

Our June Trip: San Francisco!

My friends, if I absolutely had to go live in a big city somewhere, San Francisco would be high on the list. At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking since our trip there last month.

The thought struck me immediately as our taxi waited at an intersection with Market Street, on our way to our hotel our first day there: I noticed that all up and down Market, the “main street” of San Francisco, at regular intervals, there were rainbow flags. Big ones. As far as the eye could see.

June, of course, is Pride month internationally (it commemorates the Stonewall riots that occurred in New York in June 1969, which mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement). And San Francisco has one of the biggest LGBT pride celebrations in the world, with a huge parade that goes down, yes, Market Street. Everybody goes.

I was fortunate enough to have an internship in San Francisco during the summer of 1990, so I got to attend one of those festivals. I saw the parade and everything. By the end of that summer, I was practically a “resident” of the City.

(I used public transportation a lot!)

(But even though I used public transportation a lot, I still had a big hill to walk up to reach my house! That burned a lot of calories!)

People like to talk about how wonderful America is—about our diverse population, the immigrants cherishing their freedom and opportunities, and so on. It’s not so much of a “melting pot” as it is a stew, where people from various ethnicities and cultures blend harmoniously, yet retain distinctions from the “old country.” To be proud Americans, yet retain what is precious and colorful about our roots. At least, that’s the goal, I think.

Of all the places I’ve seen, San Francisco seems most “American” in this way. It is proud of its diversity. It goes well beyond tolerance—the citizens of that city seem pleased to have cultivated a place where everyone can be who they are.

Of course I wax nostalic—I know it’s not a utopia. But how can I not be irreversibly impressed, and deeply moved, when I come from the Midwest? Sue and I don’t dare fly our rainbow flag outdoors in our neighborhood, in our city. It would be begging for vandalism, because too many Missourians think that it’s cool to put down gay people. I know it will be many, many years before Jefferson City puts rainbow flags all along High Street!

Anyway, you just have to imagine how it feels to a gay person from the homophobic Midwest to arrive in a city that goes out of its way to show you that you are not just tolerated, but valued as a contributing member of society.

Here's another example. This is an inscription on one of the walks at the AIDS Memorial Grove at Golden Gate Park. The grove is an exceptionally beautiful, peaceful place. The city dedicated park space for this memorial grove.

Well, that’s enough words for now. This trip, we were flat-out tourists, and we had a great time trying to see as much as possible in the three days we were there.

We rode the cable cars!

We had a breakfast at the venerable (and touristy!) Sears Fine Food, on Powell Street across from the Sir Francis Drake! (I had actually never eaten there before, and you know what? It was really good! They deserve their reputation!)

Then there is the big Asian influence. Yes, Chinatown is always rather fun, but so are lots and lots of other Asian areas, such as Japantown, and the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park (this is the entrance of it):

Because of our interest in Asian art, we also had to visit the Asian Art Museum! (When I lived there, this building was the main branch of the public library!) The collections are spectacular and varied, including a wide geographical range, and ancient through contemporary works. Very impressive!

Do I even have to mention the excellent Asian food?

With all the delicious chow available, San Franciscans should be grateful there are so many hills to climb, and beaches to walk. Even when it's windy!

Anybody familiar with this part of the coast ought to know these flowers: ice plants! These are some of the plants that grow closest to the beach. They smile at you coming and going.

Another thing this little tourist was eager to see was the rebuilt Steinhart Aquarium, part of the California Academy of Sciences (and also in Golden Gate Park). The last time we were in San Francisco (2005), they had torn down the venerable old aquarium and had moved to temporary new quarters, and this new building was basically only a big hole in the ground.

So it was a real treat to see the "finished product," a "green" building with up-to-date displays and interpretive information. I'm not convinced that video screens, which need electricity to work, are in any way better than printed signs, but what do I know. Still--the state-of-the-art aquaria was neat to see.

Here I am at the entryway to the new Steinhart. That above me is a life-size model of the jaws of a megalodon, a Cenozoic shark that was 52 feet long and lived in ocean waters worldwide. The teeth are about 7 inches long. Whoa, nelly!

The aquarium is on the lower level of the California Academy of Sciences, though some of the larger tanks are two stories high and can be seen from above and below. There's a nifty tunnel beneath one of these huge aquariums full of large freshwater species. If I lived in San Francisco again, I think I would come here to just sit on the bench and read.

In this big tank are three arapiamas, which, I think, are the very same fish that lived in the Steinhart back in 1990. I used to visit them! I have a special appreciation for arapiamas. Did you know they are the largest strictly freshwater fish in the world?

Okay, now, a disclaimer: In this post, and in the last one (about Florida), the BEST pictures are the ones taken by Sue! Mine are the pedestrian snapshots. Here's one of my pedestrian snapshots, of Sue as she's taking a real photo!

My abundant thanks to Sue for letting me post so many of her photos!


Anonymous said...

Julianna, I absolutely love your blog, I am big on braunschweiger, I've had 12 different brands this year! Like you I enjoy my german roots. I have been enjoying your blog for a year now. Ok, now the but...your " Sue and I don’t dare fly our rainbow flag outdoors in our neighborhood, in our city. It would be begging for vandalism, because too many Missourians think that it’s cool to put down gay people." is not giving this area and a town you love proper due (it's insulting). I'm not sure why anyone needs to fly a flag to show their sexual preference, however I'm not gay, and perhaps I just don't understand. However in mid-mo, if it's your property I believe it would be respected as such. I'm a very conservative person, if we ever should have an incident of hate I will march with the areas LGBT folks, and still have differences that I hope are mutually respected. We all know a gay person at work, or in our families. This plus the tech and increased communications in this age have rapidly educated all that are open minded towards...well, reality. Keep up the great writing, it has truly been a pleasure to read, and all the best to you and Sue.

Art Leason, New Bloomfield

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, Art. You're right: I'm not telling but one side of it when I complain about our fears about putting our rainbow flag outdoors. I make it sound like everyone here is homophobic, and that's not the case at all.

Indeed, I love to tell people about the time Sue and I attended our first Old Munichburg Association meeting, and I introduced us as "partners." (Realize--our friends thought we were nuts to move to Jeff. So I had some real trepidation when I said it--but darned if I was going to introduce Sue as my "friend" or "roommate." So I said it.) At the end of the meeting, one of the other members came up to us with a big smile on her face: "I love it that you introduced each other as partners! I'm so glad you've moved to our neighborhood!" Yes, as you said--overall, people are becoming much more tolerant.

But there are a few bad apples who behave abominably when no one's looking, or when they don't know you. Maybe they're teenagers, or just people "passing by." But I no longer have a rainbow bumper sticker on my car because it WAS vandalized in the past when I had a rainbow sticker on it. (Good grief, even our yard signs for Democratic candidates have been pushed over and torn up!)

Why would I want to fly a rainbow flag? Because of this: Gay people are an oppressed minority. It's not clear if US courts will uphold our civil rights. We don't have equal rights. We can be fired from our jobs simply for being gay. We can't get our marriages recognized by the state, though there's no logical argument to maintain that our unions aren't as serious as those of straight people. Our deeply held religious views--in which our love is included among the many blessings God gives us--are denounced and denied, as if we're not Christian, or not religious at all! (This is a religious freedom issue!)

And there are hate crimes and bullying. I wasn't bullied, but I considered suicide as a teen. I had several gay friends who considered it, too--and some who actually tried it--and a few who succeeded. I feel horrible for gay teens, especially in small schools where they feel isolated and terrified, in places where the preachers claim God hates gay people, and the parents agree.

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Julianna Schroeder said...

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Gay people in the Midwest and in small towns are routinely vigilant about "who knows." I myself am very "out"--I don't make much effort to hide it. Not even in job interviews! (So how many straight people would spend time wondering if they should conceal the fact they're married from a potential employer?)

And think of this: If we don't come out, or fly our flags, people assume we don't exist! My own church enacted a homophobic resolution during a time we were out of town. When I returned and asked about it, people said they hadn't known I was gay! What was I supposed to do to have "told" them? It would have been nice to have had a discussion about it, eh?

But the rainbow flag isn't so much an indication of one's sexual orientation as it is a symbol of support--hence the flags lining San Francisco's main street. It's a "welcome" sign. It says: "You are valued. We are friendly." If Sue and I flew our flag, we would do it to tell the other gay folks in this town, particularly the teens: You are not alone.

Art, I love it that you would march to defend the rights of gay people--I love it that you even say that in public! But I fear you're in the minority; people hesitate to support our rights. They're scared even to talk about it. Leaders--church leaders, for instance--even when they personally support the rights of gay people, decline to cause "controversy" in their congregations, and in their silence become part of the problem. It's been an uphill battle to get straight people to just speak up. I know it's hard to talk about it at first--but silence empowers the "haters."

So if I pine a bit for San Francisco, you must forgive me, because that city DOES officially recognize and welcome gay people; it has for decades. It's not considered "controversial" there if a gay person is a pastor, a police officer, a doctor, a schoolteacher.

THANK YOU for calling me on my own bigotry: Jefferson City, and Missouri, have been very good to us, all things considered. But it can be better! And it *will* be better, with time, patience, and persistence. Thank you so much.