San Francisco: Baghdad by the Bay

Photo by the author
“If I do go to heaven, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to heaven. He looks around and says,'It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco. – Herb Caen
The news about the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge closure this Labor Day weekend, to take the original East Span out of service and to open the new East Span to traffic, brought about a lot of nostalgia and added to an already very emotional week.

My sister and I found old newspapers, “The San Francisco Chronicle” and “The Examiner” dating back to the 1940’s while sorting out our deceased loved one’s stuff.   Reading Herb Caen's column reminded me of my mother. Herb Caen was a San Francisco Chronicle columnist who coined the term “Baghdad by the Bay” to reflect San Francisco's exotic multiculturalism.

Perhaps reading Herb Caen’s column every day, helped mom adapt to her new home. She became an avid fan of the 49ers and the Giants. My mother was a very good cook, but the outcome of the 49ers or the Giants game, usually determined the type of dish that mom would prepare. Before organic foods and local produce became a fad, my mom already practiced buying organic and local produce from Clement Street and the Alemany Flea Market. Both my parents were avid gardeners. My dad managed to create a vegetable and flower garden in the tiny backyard, in San Francisco. Watching mom’s last video taken a month ago reminded me of Herb Caen influence on my mother. My mom said, “I’d like to live in San Francisco, but I’m too frail. I cannot walk there every day, and see what they’re doing...very happy in San Francisco.”

I wrote this poem as a tribute to my mom and her beloved city.

On My Return from Travel

Greeted by the rolling fog
Never took a cab from the airport
My mother always made sure
Someone was there to pick me up. 
I’d set my suitcase in the hallway entrance  
Like the flapping of a dove, the door closed  
The mixed aroma of Dungeness crab, steak
and coffee filled the long hallway.
A juicy steak sizzling in the pan -  
always my mother’s way
of welcoming me home.
Our home stood still, a place we all called “Blake”
a gathering place  for Thanksgiving and
Christmas and any day in between.
I walked calmly on the tips of its planks
The sounds echoed with cheers
of Forty-Niners, the Giants and the goodnesses       
The tired traveler in me felt relaxed and easy
I went outside to see my father’s garden
Climbed the narrow stairway to the back porch
The sound of its steps echoed in my chest
like a foghorn,
And the last thing I remembered:
I shouted into the fog,
“San Francisco, where my mother felt at home”     
"When the lights go down in the city"  a song written about SF  (Photo by the author)



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