…be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
The Golden Gate bridge, a maximum security prison, and a howling Pomeranian. My trip to the beautiful city of San Francisco gave me a wonderful insight into three very different experiences.
San Francisco is a charming city. It’s a little bit European, a little bit British, and very American. The streets of San Francisco are long and incredibly hilly, each giving a spectacular overview of the paper-white city surrounded by a deep blue coastline.
There are so many beautiful places to see in San Francisco. My favourites are Twin Peaks, the Golden Gate bridge and Lincoln Park. I like the fact that these places have so much natural scenery and I enjoyed taking a bike ride down the scenic route from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate bridge.
Contrasting this pretty picture is Alcatraz, located on an island fort in the San Francisco Bay. It used to be one of the most intimidating and heavily guarded security prisons. Even hardened criminals who were sent to Alcatraz were terrified to be sentenced there.
Alcatraz is no longer in operation, and is now accessible to the public. But while devoid of occupants, the prison retains all of its haunting memories, cramped cells and smelly lavatory blocks, and eerie isolation from the rest of the world.
Alcatraz reminded me a lot of the movie Shawshank Redemption in terms of interiors, criminal psychology and prison sub-culture. When you visit Alcatraz you are invited to let the former inmates tell you their story – literally. An audio tour on the headphones is not something I normally enjoy, but on this occasion, it was necessary to get the full essence of being imprisoned in Alcatraz. The narrators – men who committed heinous crimes in cold blood – talk calmly in your ear; they describe their daily encounters in Alcatraz, ranging from the mundane and domestic to the deeply disturbing.
Despite this serious tone, San Francisco, being a tourist city, is full of Alcatraz-themed novelty gifts , and yes, they are very kitsch. But I love buying little gifts, so while I was in the Alcatraz gift shop I bought a silver harmonica engraved with the phrase “where music was a privilege”.
I bought it for my sweetheart, and he made the amazing discovery that whenever he plays it, the family dog, Pipkin, starts howling. And not in the way dogs bark at other dogs, but deep and primal like a werewolf. I didn’t know animals could have such a strong response to music, and whenever I hear Pipkin howl to the Alcatraz-harmonica I am reminded of the mesmerising opera scene in Shawshank Redemption. To this day I have no idea what that little Pomeranian is singing about; truth is I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid.