I love the T.S. Eliot quote, "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." It describes exactly how I feel now to be blogging about Arts, Culture and Society in my hometown, the great city by the Golden Gate, San Francisco. No matter how much exploring I do, California is in my walk and beats in my heart. This is a labor of love to join into the rhythm, writing here and on San Francisco, this city that is so consistently beautiful; it needs the fog to preserve its complexion.
San Francisco is a writer's town. Songs, poetry and books have been written lustily and lyrically over the years by writers who feel the magnetism of this charismatic city's energy flowing through the tips of their fingers coaxing words into their pens. But it's the cronies who do it every day in their columns in the newspaper you read every morning that sit with you while you are drinking coffee. Those daily writers ramble and quip and sometimes get misty-eyed because they own this town with their words. The columnists are as much a defining part of San Francisco as the fog horns because they sound off and point us through the mist, holding up the mirror and telling us who we are.
For me growing up, the voices that stood out in the San Francisco Chronicle were Herb Caen, Art Hoppe and Pat Steger. Everybody read their columns. Herb chose topics and mused, always looping in characters, foibles, facts and fun. He captured it all, down alleys or up town, dropping in names of personalities around town that both delighted and irked depending. He described San Francisco as a town as he rick-a-shayed around, reporting in a style that often included streams of names coming from all different neighborhoods, a volume so encompassing that you felt it inevitable that at some point, everyone would somehow work into his on-going storyline of San Francisco, or Baghdad-by-the-Bay, as Caen coined it.
Art Hoppe was world class wit, a gentleman with a satirical smile that you could see as you read his column. Art could write about anyone or any situation he felt like by creating fictional characters and having his fun with them. Art's columns were romps that required you to consider why he was weaving that story; he wanted you to get to the golden nugget he had tucked in there. His columns were current, topical, political and witty. The east had Art Buchwald. We had Art Hoppe.
Society columns were never so entertaining as with Pat Steger spinning the story. She always had a kind heart as she wrote "Emperor's New Clothes" tales. She was not so much interested in society events per se as she was in telling the human stories within them. Pat was a wise, gifted writer who happened to cover "high society," if you want to call it that. You can't replace those great writers who are no longer with us but you can still read their columns thanks to SFGate.com.
Some of San Francisco Chronicle's columnists today are Leah Garchik, C. W. Nevius and Carl Nolte. If you want to jump into the goings-on of the city, these writers will lead you there. I am hooked on them all. Willie Brown's column on Sunday is alot of fun to read, and is so conversational you feel you are a part of Willie's World, and that this cosmopolitan, sophisticated city, is a town, just like any other town with everyone affecting everyone else. Kathryn Bigelow covers the Society column and does a great job. She learned from the best. She was lucky enough to work with Pat Steger.
I can't leave out Armistead Maupin whose columns, Tales of the City, have such poignancy and popularity, that they have morphed into an A.C.T. Musical production. His Tales are a keyhole to an era in San Francisco. His columns about fictional characters ran five days a week in the Chronicle.
So for my first blog on this great city by the Golden Gate, I want to tip my hat to the daily and weekly writers of our newspapers who keep us posted by their artful and well crafted columns as they write here in San Francisco.