Wednesday, October 5, 2022

One dozen destinations #9: The Palace of Fine Arts

       A dozen disparate places from my unpublished travel memoir to distract you while I explore new places I will no doubt later share.

     My favorite place in San Francisco is the Palace of Fine Arts, a rose terracotta dome and attached colonnade left over from the 1915 Pan-American exposition. Why? It has that beaux arts, Little Nemo in Slumberland quality of idealized architecture, of materials made ornate and space glorified for no particular purpose. Though for me the icing on the cake is the enigmatic, almost disturbing caryatids, enormous statues of women, 18 feet tall, forming the corners to the dome’s planter boxes. Not facing outward, as would be expected, but turned inward, heads bowed, as if weeping, displaying their broad backs. I’ve never seen anything like them, anywhere in the world. They were originally intended to convey a certain fashionable melancholy. Guards at the 1915 fair were told to inform curious visitors that the statues were “crying over the sadness of art.”


  1. I've only been to San Francisco twice in a lifetime...1969 and mathematically speaking, I need to go next year (at 76) to hit the trifecta...every 27 years. Maybe they're crying over the sadness of what their city has become in these times. The unhoused (and those being dehoused, by rapid gentrification) were just becoming a serious problem when I last visited, in the mid-Nineties.

    The area near the downtown Main Library was a minefield of human detritus. It was offal. One had to tread very carefully and cautiously, for obvious reasons, and I was strongly advised not to use the restrooms in the architecturally stunning library itself, the interior of which was a shambles, and resembled a kind of human zoo. The place (literally) took my breath away. It stunk. Compounding the horror, I soon learned that the shiny new facility had been dedicated and opened only a month before.

    For years (roughly from 21 to 35), this Chicago boy longed to live in San Francisco. For too many reasons, I haven't felt that way for a long, long time. The main character in Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" series was a naive and provincial young woman from Cleveland, who visits San Francisco while on vacation and impulsively decides to stay. Ironically, the Birkenstock is now on the other hoof, so to speak. Displaced, disillusioned, and pushed-out Californians are fleeing back East. These refugees have gravitated to far more parochial places. Like Cleveland, oddly enough, a city where I have yet to step in what I stepped in at the Main Library in San Francisco.

    It is to weep. No wonder those statues are crying now. But don't cry for me, San Francisco. Much as I hate the gray cold of winter, and shoveling snow, it beats looking for a stick when you've got to scrape the shit right off your shoes.

  2. Grizz, your last sentence reminds me of the lyrics in the song "Sweet Virginia" from the Rolling Stones. :)

    1. win a monthly MUNI pass!
      You get unlimited S.F. streetcar rides. But watch where you step...

  3. So glad we get to share the marvelous and the mundane as seen through the eyes and pen (keyboard) of a master craftsman. Pithily perfect.


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