Wednesday, September 5, 2007

San Francisco, Day 2

The Hotel Beresford is situated on Sutter Street in a burgeoning district of galleries, an art school, art stores, theaters, small restaurants and bars, and other small hotels. The Beresford is an oddity in the United States. It’s a small hotel with small rooms, a tiny lobby, and a pub. The pub serves double duty as the breakfast room each morning, where they serve cereal, pastries, croissants, and fruit, all included in the price of the room. At $99.00, it’s also one of the best values smack dab in the middle of San Francisco.

Apparently, there are a good many of these kinds of hotels in San Francisco: small, comparatively affordable, including breakfast. Very few other American cities have places like this anymore. New York and Boston perhaps. But the small hotels in DC are obscenely expensive “boutique” hotels. Or they are rather seedy places, more flop houses that rent rooms by the hour than tourist hotels. I suspect this phenomenon has something to do with the decline of American cities over the past half century. As the car culture became more prevalent, and the middle class fled cities, people saw fewer and fewer reasons to stay in the city, unless they stayed at a mega-conference hotel. Better to stay at a cheap motel on the out skirts and drive into the city to visit any sites worth seeing. But San Francisco, like New York and Boston, didn’t empty out like other American cities. (For instance, between 1950 and today, DC has lost 250,000 residents, or nearly ¼ of it’s population. Pittsburgh has lost 500,000, or nearly 2/3 of it’s population. San Francisco and Boston have basically held steady, and New York has actually gotten bigger.) The small, affordable city hotels still worked in San Francisco, and so remained.

The second day, we went to Chinatown early in the morning and experienced the crowds of older Chinese women, and some men, doing their shopping. I love Chinatowns and Asian markets. Everything seems so fresh, so natural: live frogs and fish, unknown fruits and vegetables, animated conversations. Blocks and blocks of activity. We had a coffee and what turned out to be pork buns (although I thought they were butter buns, which would have been much better for dunking in coffee) in a little place on Broadway that was filled only with old Chinese people. Our waitress didn’t speak English, which partly accounts for the pork buns.

From there we went on to the Ferry Terminal Market, which was a bit of a let-down after the frenetic activity of Chinatown. The Ferry Market is a larger and Disneyfied version of Eastern Market. It was very nice, and had great views of the bay and the Oakland Bay Bridge, but everything was a bit too upscale and polished to be of any real interest.

So we headed back to Chinatown for a late lunch at another restaurant filled with only Chinese people. The place was loud and chaotic, the way it should be. The food wasn’t great, but it was good, and it was authentic. The tea was wonderful, served in plastic water glasses. After that, my wife had an acupressure foot massage while I wondered over to City Lights, which must have every work of fiction ever published. They only stock paperbacks, which is an interesting (and affordable) concept. (A side note: check out Red Onion Records and Books at 18th and T Streets, just south of Adams Morgan here in DC. It’s small, but they have great used books and records.)

After my wife’s feet were back in working order, we went to the Chinese Historical Society of America museum in what used to be the YWCA. I was amazed at how much discrimination the Chinese faced in the United States, right up through the 20th century. I felt ignorant and uneducated there, and I’m eager to learn more. After that, we headed back to the hotel for a rest, before going out for the evening.

Next: Fisherman’s Warf and sushi.

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