explore San Francisco through sound

There are many ways to explore a city, the most obvious being – you guessed it – in person. But in the age of Covid, we have to find new ways to travel, new ways to escape the banality of our daily environment without… in fact… leaving them. Many have returned to books, delving into fiction and travel literature to – if only for a short time – explore an unfamiliar and perhaps inaccessible city through someone else’s eyes – experiencing all the hardship. their pain and their joy along the way. But what about the sound?

Anyone who has been forced to side with an over-enthusiastic tourist will tell you that the character of a city cannot be captured by just a sightseeing tour – rather, it’s how the cityscape fills our senses (no reference to John Denver is scheduled) which comes to define our experience of it. We hear the cities as much as we see them, so why not join us as we roam the city of San Francisco with our eyes closed; discover another hidden side of this great American city. You are welcome to explore this article in any way you wish. You can listen to the above soundscape before, after, or (and that would be my preference) as you read. Either way, it’s your choice.

Perhaps the first and most pervasive noise in San Francisco is the traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. Unveiled in 1937, this iconic art deco-inspired suspension bridge spans the mile-long Gulf between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On the day it opened, some 50,000 people walked through it to celebrate, their footsteps pounding the sunburnt tarmac, sending vibrations through the steel cables flanking them on either side like a huge metal corset. There was certainly reason to celebrate. Ever since the Americans moved to San Francisco, the people of the gold-rich city have been gazing out across the ocean and wondering if the two sides could be connected. Even when engineers began to seriously consider building a bridge, many were left in awe and claimed that manufacturing something of such magnitude was simply not possible. But, then, impossibility is second nature to the Golden Gate Bridge. According to maintenance workers, several microclimates exist along its stretch, with temperatures varying up to 20 degrees between each end, leading to stories of workers’ brushes freezing in their pots in mid-July. .

In the city itself, the traffic does not stop. The street buzzes with an intoxicating vitality that seems to enter your bloodstream as soon as you arrive. It is not surprising that it is a city where revolutionary ideas are born. Close your eyes and you can hear the hard slide of countless skateboarders, whose punchy clicks bleed into the clatter of streetcars and the holla of future street patrons lining up for something fried and appetizing. In summer, you might even find yourself amid the joyous roar of the city’s legendary Pride Parade, the first of which was in June 1970 and saw 20-30 people walking from the water park to the Polk Street Civic Center. .

But, as you continue to wander blindly, you’ll soon find that the city’s clamor has worn off, replaced by the relative calm of one of the many tranquil parks and innovative green programs dotted throughout San Francisco. Take Golden Gate Park, with its Japanese tea garden and manicured hills, offering stunning views of the surrounding city. Or, perhaps, the Tenderloin National Forest – a leafy garden in one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods, which was once filled with the sound of the hottest jazz artists of the 1950s and 1960s. ‘it has long been known as an area with high crime and poverty rates, it housed the city’s outcasts, making it a hotbed of cultural fusion. The many concert halls that once lined the streets here have attracted such figures as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, who have all recorded live albums at Tenderloin.

Floating down to the docks we find the echoes of another legendary artist gently reverberating along the waterfront. I was here, across the street from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, which Otis Redding rented the hangar boat in which he wrote ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay ‘. The neighborhood still echoes with the sound of fishing boats slowly churning the water as they enter the harbor, ready to unload their dead-eyed fish onto the wooden pontoons, from where it will be transported to one for the many. restaurants and fishmongers along this stretch.

It is the city’s location on the shores of the Pacific that defines San Francisco’s paradoxical heritage. Because it is these expansive waters that have helped it become one of the most liberal places in America and, simultaneously, one famous for its incarceration of criminals. The ominous shadow of Alcatraz, the maximum security prison renowned for its impenetrability cannot be ignored. The cavernous cells of this fortress prison were built between 1909 and 1912. After being deactivated as a military prison in 1933, it reopened as a federal prison and became famous for detaining the most infamous criminals of the time. , like Al Capone, Bumpy Johnson, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud, also known as “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Despite their attempts, none of the prisoners incarcerated on Alcatraz Island ever escaped successfully – at least that is what we are told.

In 1963, faced with the financial difficulties of maintaining operations, the penitentiary was closed. Soon after, in 1968, the island was occupied by Native American protesters led by Richard Oakes and LaNada Means. The protest group, known as the Indians of All Tribes (IOAT), argued that under the historic Fort Laramie treaty, all abandoned or disused federal lands must be returned to the Indigenous population. who had previously occupied them. Seeing that Alcatraz had been abandoned, the IOAT claimed that the island qualified for reclamation and set out to do just that.

Back on the mainland, there was another protest going on, a protest of the spirit. By 1968 the countercultural “hippie” movement had reached its peak and San Francisco was at the center of it all. Growing up looking out over the endless expanse of San Francisco Bay, the young Franciscans of San Francisco were prepared for utopian thought. Eyes in the water, they imagined a new world defined by individualism, pacifism and ecocentrism. And the soundtrack of this utopian ideology was the brain beating of bands like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead – bands who came to formulate what was coined “The San Francisco Sound”.

So, you see, with your eyes closed, the city of San Francisco is easily revealed. Listening to the soundscape of a city offers us a new way of thinking about tourism. Rather than repeatedly honoring the same sights, we find ourselves wandering the streets without being tied down to any destination, which as any seasoned traveler will tell you, is the perfect way to find what you look for. So, the next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar city, take a moment to close your eyes and listen to the world around you.

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