|| love cities, those artificial places emerged from man's imagination, ingenuity and labor. Cities are frescoes where passion, happiness and love are carved beside tragedy, pain and solitude. Cities are pieces of humanity. I have a particular tenderness for them in the early hours of the day, when half asleep they have not yet become feverish buzzing hives: this is I believe the moment when they reveal the best the soul of their dwellers. So I was pleased to learn that I would have to complete a temporary early commute through San Francisco: it would be an opportunity to add the poetry of a morning to the multiple facets of this city, among the most beautiful and engaging that I have ever known.
The starting point of my journey was Market Street, where I had to wait for a bus. Famous for being the central artery leading to San Francisco business and financial heart, Market Street, usually a frenzy place, was empty, calm and dark. The complete absence of traffic and human agitation made the silence deathly heavy. I felt as if I was the only person alive after a catastrophe, and this sentiment made me feel unease. Thus, in order to dissipate my discomfort, I took refuge in reading the newspaper.
A brusque splash of water thrown over the sidewalk startled me. Glancing in the direction where the sound came from, I saw somebody sweeping the shop entrance next to the bus shelter. During a while I listened to the relieving gurgling of the water in the ditch, until I noticed a shop owner approaching. He nonchanantly lifted a grating iron curtain and then undertook to place advertisement signs on the front of his store. I was captivated by his robot-like way, when my attention was suddenly drawn toward a close building first floor lit up by blinding neon illumination. I could now hear the monotone murmur of the radio commenting the news; salutations were exchanged over each side of the street; a car passed by, then another one, followed by the hurried steps of a pedestrian. Sounds and activities were getting multiplied at a rising cadence. Similar to a cardiac pulsation, the beat was accelerating, and when the bus arrived, Market Street was slowly coming back to life.
The bus took me in Stockton Street, where a dense serenity was filling the air. An extremely effervescent avenue of San Francisco, Stockton Street is a place where life breaks up in colors and movements. In the day, the many Asian food stores overflow on the sidewalk with every kind of fruits and vegetables, while regular customers wander from one to another, stunned tourists meander and stressed workers stroll. But when the bus drove me through it, Stockton was deeply asleep; it had the uniform gray color of the closed front walls and was completely deserted. I saw only an old Asian man on the sidewalk engaged in Tai-chi exercises. His body was describing elegant figures in slow motion; his arms raised were cutting down the compact texture of the space and his inclinations seemed to be supported by the density of the atmosphere. There was so much harmony between the old man's poses and the stillness that during a moment I thought he was touching the silence covering Stockton Street.
The thickness of the silence instantly vanished when the bus entered into the clear opening offered by Washington Square. Columbus Avenue, a descending straight line leading to the shoreline and framed by Telegraph and Russian Hills, encouraged the bus driver to dangerously accelerate. I had just enough time to glance and smile at the Coit Tower shiveringly wrapped in a mellow cloud as if it was snuggling under an eiderdown. A glimpse at the white smooth bell towers of Saint-Peter Church brought in my mind and in my mouth the illusion and the taste of a big meringue decorated with whipped cream. The pleasant insouciance and sweetness infused by the Italian influence of North Beach induced in me an immediate need for a coffee.
But it was not the right moment to ask for a stop. After an exciting course, the bus driver was very busy in operating a right angle turn. We were now nearby Fishermans Wharf and she was there: the Bay. A thick foggy coat was concealing its coastline, shaping Alcatraz and Angel Island into ghost ships and tracing in filigree the outlines of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. All sounds and contours were muffled. In this universe of haze and mystery, the foghorn alone was alive, expressing a doleful complaint to call for the humans to wake up.
As the bus was pushing into Chesnut Street, the foghorn voice faded away. I needed urgently a coffee and a pastry to comfort me. I was not so far from Presidio, my final destination and the intimate aspect of Chestnut Street invited me to go on a promenade. When I pushed the door of the modest coffee shop I found open, I was immediately snatched up in a whirl of morning flavors: early customers quickly dressed and hairs still entangled were reading newspapers while sipping their coffee; news and music were flowing from the radio; coffee names were resounding like an Italian opera; huge portion of cakes coated with chocolate, honey or sugar were ostensibly displayed. The ambiance was cozy: I felt fortunate to begin a new day in San Francisco. A coffee in hand, my whole happiness embodied in its fragrance, I went on my walk alongside delightful pastel color houses. The grotesque attitude of the Juniper trees, either sticking closely to a front wall as if they were afraid of me, or on the contrary agitating their multiple branches to frighten me, amused me.
Lombard Street, which bears the serious responsibility to be the 101 highway, was my last step before entering into the Presidio. There, hordes of cars, maintained in leash by the red light, were vrooming. At the green light, they spitted, jumped and disappeared in a thundering din, replaced immediately by new cars. The quietness of an early morning in San Francisco was giving place to a different world.
San Francisco was now ready to play its daily show.