When I first came to California, in 1998, it was to study at the University of Californias Davis campus for a semester. Davis is about 75 miles inland from San Francisco, and is a quiet, bicycle-loving cowtown kind of place, with a few bars, my favourite american pizza place in the world, and a college team nicknamed the Aggies, which is short for Agricola which is something to do with farming. There was quite a lot to do with farming. And cows. There were cows, I was told, with holes in the side kept open with plastic hoops so you could look right in, and even open a little door in the plastic to have a poke, if you wanted. And, possibly, if you werent there studying with the Theatre grad school prgramme. Still, though. Davis is nice. If small, and a bit, you know, agricultural for your urban-to-the-bone correspondent. Basically when the wind was in the right direction it smelled of silage. But thats the countryside for you. Nice, but, you know, country.
So it stands to reason that every time I got to go to San Francisco during that time (and it turned out to be only about three times – a couple of nights in all) I tended to get a bit over-excited by the scale of it all. It was the biggest major American city Id ever been in. It was the ONLY major American city Id ever been in, yes. But also the biggest. I would take lots and lots of pictures, and so would C, who was my roommate on the trip (and at home) and then we would take the film back to Davis, get them developed with doubles of each, and then share all out pictures with each other.
By the time I got home to the UK, leaving California early rather than taking time to travel because we both missed out boyfriends so horribly much (oh, stupid youth), I realised I had about eleventy billion pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Thats a bit of an exaggeration, sorry.
It was only about thirtyteen billion, I think. After you take out the over-exposed or over-excitably-hand-shaky ones.
I had pictures from far away, from up close, from under the bridge, over the bridge, from on the bridge looking up, on the bridge looking down, from either side of the bridge, from a boat, from Alcatraz, from the city, from a beach – pictures of golden gate bridge ornaments, or murals, or if it was red, and suspensionny and could straddle a great thoroughfare of seamen, I had a picture of it. In multiple. Multiple multiple.
[NB:Not “if it wore red suspenders and greatly straddled semen thoroughfares”. That would apparently suggest I spent my entire time in North Beach taking pictures in lapdancing clubs.
And I didn’t.
You’re not allowed to take pictures in there]
Anyway, since moving here two years ago, my mania for taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge has not seemed to have subsided much.
Maybe because, while flying into SFO, its one of those first things that you can spot (fog permitting) and say Look! Im in San Francisco!, and start to feel excited because youve reached your destination.
Or perhaps because it is partly because it happens to be my favourite colour – this bright, popping, orange-red standing in contrast against the cloud, or the sea, cloud, or city. Or cloud. But Im a little obsessed. The study where we take turns in working one framed engineers drawing of the structure of the bridge, another framed map of the seabed under the bridge that makes up the Golden Gate. On the other wall, a set of black and white postcards from the early thirties show the bridge in various stages of construction.
When Im out walking in the city – which I still am, I just am finding writing about it (about most everything) hard right now – my heart still flips a little when I round a corner and suddenly see its two points rising up over the park, or past another couple of hills and a bunch of neighbourhoods. Sometimes youll just be walking along and suddenly it will creep around the corner and pop up like a friendly ghost between two buildings.
And since I always have a little camera on me (unless you are a robber or a brigand and happen to be reading this, in which case I certainly do not, am not going on holiday any time in the near future, and do not know my pin number, sorry), it seems rude not to take a picture. Or seven. Every time.
Ive made a set of just some of the pictures Ive taken of one damned bridge – and this, of course, doesnt include the ones I took all those years ago or the ones Ive deleted along the way. And Ive deleted a LOT.
Even from ON the bridge (worst picture ever, yet almost exactly precisely identical to one I took in 1998):
Thinking about it, that original picture was of the railing on the OTHER side of the bridge. Otherwise looks very similar, though.
But then, when people come and visit, they always, invariably, want to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. And we ended up doing that quite so much that I made a little guide on Next Stop (ace website, havent had time to use it enough recently. Must amend that) about the best places you can take people to a) get a picture of the golden gate bridge and/or b) a picture of them AND the golden gate bridge.
And, while there, I always take pictures too. Because while there are many other things now that remind me Im in San Francisco (and why I am) its such an iconic structure, and ALSO, luckily, such a beautiful thing, that I can never stop myself taking as many pictures of it as my guests. In the morning sun, in the rain, in fog, and, most of all from my second favourite vantage point (after Baker Beach, fact fans), at night:
And occasionally – well, only once, really, but youll notice Im just trying to sneak it in here without sounding all la-di-da – from directly overhead, in the seaplane ride that My Beloved booked to surprise me on my birthday.
And then, recently, Ive been trying to work out how to get the feeling of crossing the bridge and how excitingly hypnotic it was, I started taking pictures at several second intervals and making them into mosaics (some of the others are in that set I linked to)
[Those are always better bigger, mind you]And now Ive graduated to videos. And sooner or later Ill work out how to put music soundtracks to things like this, and then, Ill just keep pointing the camera up at the hypnotically swooping cables and snapping away like Id never seen it before.