Bonjour, fellow SFTs. (Sifties? Nifty sifties? Can I get away with calling us that?) Pardon the bilingual lede and my absence -- I was fortunate enough to spend the past two weeks on vacation in London and Paris, taking in tourist sites and turning an ignorant eye to the painfully disadvantageous exchange rates. And of course, as I consider myself a writer, I also took the opportunity to gather my thoughts on these two cities. Without further adieu, here are my sweeping generalizations about London and Paris and most likely unfair comparisons between them and our city by the bay. Take 'em or leave 'em.
I should stress that I did not have much of a TE in London or Paris; a two-week stint abroad barely allows one enough time to get comfortable in lumpy hotel bed, let alone interact with a decent sampling of international twentysomethings. Yet, after several weeks of San Francisco-induced restlessness, I found myself returning to the bay with a newfound appreciation for it. Even more surprisingly, I felt patriotic. Like, Team America patriotic. Where did that come from?
London and Paris are magnificent cities, chock full of rich history and culture. But somewhere in between being mystified by Stonehenge and losing a staring contest to the Mona Lisa, I realized these "historical" advantages also weigh them down. Sure, the public transportation over there is crazy efficient, but the situation above the ground is another story. It doesn't help that both London and Paris were built before there were cars, either. I actually started to appreciate the daily traffic jam on the Bay Bridge and the inevitable 45-minute parking space search in the Mission. Another urban landscape-related observation: Both cities are very low to the ground; that is, they contain few skyscrapers. Call me newfangled, but I love a good skyline. I think iconic skylines beat iconic standalone buildings any day of the week. Take that, Eiffel Tower.
In London, I was struck by the overwhelming presence of pomp and circumstance and tradition and expectation and... I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it. Witnessing the changing of the guard, peering at the crown jewels through glass, avoiding sitting on the leather chairs in Parliament, and watching footage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation were all momentous occasions, to be sure. But they didn't mean anything to me. It's not just because I'm an American with poor taste and a short attention sp-- ooooh, puppy! Kidding. It's that I, like many Americans, have never had an appreciation for the Ornate and Ceremonial. Favoring circumstance over pomp sort of unites us as Americans, doesn't it? I'd like to think that the colonists back in the day regularly talked shit about the regal decadence that they left behind in the mother country. Plus, all of those aforementioned occasions have never meant anything -- they're "meaningful" because, back in the day, someone said so. I'm proud to come from a country that fast-forwards through all the pomp. (Full disclosure: I totally watched the Royal Wedding. Live. I'm a ball of contradictions.)
Paris reached me on a much deeper level. At first, I was caught up in the city's cliché, romantic embrace, longing for Gil Pender's Midnight in Paris hallucinations. Not long ago, the City of Light was aglow with talent -- artists like Picasso and Dali, and authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway all lived and breathed the same smoky air. And their era was just one of many of Paris' so-called Golden Ages. San Francisco has a miniscule fraction of that creative history; we were only founded in 1850, after all. But San Francisco shouldn't be ashamed of its age. Paris, in all its beauty and light, is passé. Its past, rather than its present or future, is often evoked for artistic inspiration, which just leads to an overdose of nostalgia. However, youth means potential, and our city is teeming with it. We've made some history so far, but not much. Our Golden Ages, at least artistically, are ahead of us. We can find artistic inspiration by creating it ourselves because the proverbial slate is clean. Isn't that exciting?
I'm not saying that San Francisco is superior to London or Paris -- all three cities are lovely, and I'd love to live in London or Paris at some point in my life. Besides, New York is the city with the superiority complex. But I am damn proud to be a San Franciscan. Wikipedia refers to our city as the Paris of the West, but I'd just as soon skip the comparison altogether.